Tuesday, May 27, 2008
After my recent "Family Guy" post, and a comment by the estimable bongi, I've been thinking about sharing. In the new-age sense of the term: letting people in on what you think or do or feel or other nerve-grating uses of the word. Y'know: "Thanks for sharing..."
What I mean is that the esoteric world of surgery, so dramatic, and intimately knowable only to a small and generally comprehending audience, is quite isolated from those with whom we might most like to share it: family, close friends. I always wanted my son to see me do an operation (my wife did, once, when I was in training. But it was a small deal, and I wished she could have seen something more complicated). As much a part of my life as it has been, and as much as it took me away from his, I'd have loved to have had him watch it, just once. Demonstrate; explain. Perform, impress. Yet it's nearly impossible for a surgeon really to let people from the outside in on what it is that he or she does. I suppose it's not unique, but I think in most other fields it's more possible, easier to gain access. As thoroughly as it envelops us, as proud as we might be of what we've accomplished in learning it, what we do in the operating room must remain hidden from those we love. The fascination, the beauty, the talent (if that it be!): forced, by its nature, into secrecy. How many are the times I've wished it were otherwise. One of my proudest days was when my father-in-law, an anesthesiologist, came to town and spent the day in the OR with me. But he had business there. He's the only one.
Which reminds me of a story.
After years as a trial lawyer, my dad was appointed to the bench (meaning, to be a judge). As his days in front of the bench were winding down, I -- a freshman in high school, as I recall -- mentioned to him that I was sorry I'd never seen him in action, in court. Okay, he said, how about we have you come? Great!! Don't get your hopes up, he warned. It's pretty boring stuff, not like Perry Mason. As it turns out, he was entirely wrong. Other than the fact that the case was about a taxi and traffic, it was exactly like Perry Mason.
Dad was defending the taxi driver. There'd been some sort of accident in which the passenger was (not very seriously) hurt. It had been determined that the taxi was not speeding, but in Oregon there's this thing called the "basic rule:" when conditions warrant it, speed limits don't apply. If it's snowing, driving at the posted speed limit of, say, 35 mph, might be too fast. Common sense. So the plaintiff was on the stand, being interviewed by her attorney, and at some point claimed it had been raining. I saw the taxi driver lean over and whisper something to my dad. In turn, my dad leaned over and whispered to his Della Street, (actually, her name was Frances) who got up and left the courtroom.
When it was Dad's turn to cross-examine, after taking plenty of time, he got around to asking the witness about the rain: You're certain it was raining? Oh, yes. Do you recall seeing puddles in the street? I sure do. Splashes. Were the taxi's windshield wipers on? Yes, they were. People on the streets, using umbrellas? Absolutely. Umbrellas up the ass.
While he was doing this, Dad paced around the courtroom doing his tongue-of-death maneuver. It's hard to describe. When he was angry, my dad stuck his tongue part way out, flexing it (if that's the word) so that it became as thick as a Porterhouse steak, and clamped down like he'd bite it off if it weren't so impressively muscled. To us kids, it was a sign to head for the hills. One can only wonder what the hell the jury thought.
The doors at the back of the courtroom banged open, some heads turned that way. Papers in hand, the barest hint of a smile on her face, in trundled Della Street. Excuse me, Your Honor, my dad asked. May I have a moment? A nod of the judge's head, a back-flick of his hand. After Dad and Della conferred, Dad looked over the papers, and handed them to the judge. May I have these entered into the record, marked as an exhibit? So ordered.
Tongue active but unbloodied, Dad gave the papers to the witness, and asked her to read the title. They were, she read, from the Weather Bureau. The date? The day of the accident. And what is this column here? Precipitation. Can you find the heading for rainfall? Yes, here. And what does it say? Zero. Do you see the place for hail? Yes. Is any listed? No. Was there any snow that day? No. Was there any precipitation at all, precipitation of any kind? I guess not. Thank you. No more questions.
Well, yeah, okay. No sobbing confession on the stand, no close-up of those buggy eyes. There was no da dah, da DAH. But otherwise, it followed the script pretty well. I was impressed.
Later, I mentioned the tongue thing to Dad. Did he know he was doing it? Sure, just to impress the jury. That I didn't believe, not for a minute. Too creepy for that. Way too creepy.