“Another one of those chopped-up weeks,” said Sam, a friendly Metra conductor on the 6:26, when asked how it’s going.
”Exactly!” I enthused, delighted at his unintentional double entendre.
He meant New Year’s Day coming midweek, like Christmas, breaking up his December schedule. I was thinking of why I was on an early train: to head to Northwestern Memorial Hospital to be cut open, the second time in six months.
”Chopped up” is not a polite description of the surgical process, ignoring the years of laborious training doctors go through, the great skill and care they exhibit. I apologize for that. But humor is essential for getting through even a fairly simple operation, like having my arthritic hip replaced with an artificial one. In the weeks up to the event, I developed a patter to explain to friends and, more importantly, try to convince myself just how easy hip surgery is.
”The thing is very quick,” I’d say. “You stroll in to the hospital, stop at a mark on the corridor floor. A medical team rushes out, like a pit crew at the Indy 500 changing a tire. One yanks your pants down, another swabs the affected area with Bactine. Meanwhile, the surgeon ambles by, whips out a knife, makes a few Hibachi chef-slicing motions — shwick, shwick, shwick — your old hip is glistening on a metal tray, and the new one is slapped in. Up go the pants, the surgeon puffs on his fingertips and strolls off in one direction while you stride happily away in the other.”
The reality was a bit more complicated. At Northwestern, we were given a number on a card, which my wife tucked away.
”944091!” a compact young woman in green scrubs announced. My wife fumbled in her purse, but the card eluded her fingers for a moment, prompting the woman to call out “Steinberg!”
We sprang up, babbling apologies. She marched us int o a room, ordered me to undress, followed by more instructions, with the air of a drama student in an acting class challenged to express contempt through a set of ordinary commands: “Take your clothes off.” “Put them in this bag.” “Put this under your tongue” and such. My wife and I exchanged glances. Maybe we’d picked the wrong day to do this.
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