Southern California. A sunny afternoon.
A tiny life ring bobbed at the far end of the pool, where a cluster of children splashed and played.
A group of friends relaxed, conversing at the other end of the pool, enjoying the weekend.
Except for one. My wife was carefully surveying the children.
And the empty life ring.
The one our toddler son, occupied moments earlier.
She rose suddenly.
The world shifts in those seconds.
Jared wasn’t among the group of children.
So, oxygen deficiency? Genetic damage? Hard to say. But our son Jared is not like others.
Personally, I lean toward the genetics angle.
My paternal grandfather was the craziest, funniest, over-the-top man I’ve ever known.
Grandpa was a small pugilistic drunk. He stumbled over grace one day, and discovered a God who loved him unconditionally. He was never the same.
It did nothing, however, to allay his crazy, merciless sense of humor.
Growing up I was pretty crazy. Always blamed it on my genes.
Now, with our middle-aged son Jared, though, it seems there’s always more. More to come. It might even be exacerbating.
At least he found the perfect niche for his personality. He’s a special ed high school teacher. History.
He works tirelessly ensuring his students think critically. It’s important for them to fully understand all Native Americans were evil (Republicans, too. And that Democrats are essentially immoral). That the Negro slave was essential. And the industrial revolution built on the back of children was necessary for the construction of the American Dream.
He understands such important education has to be doled out in baby steps. So he entertains his classes, choreographing mass tennis ball attacks on his young aide when she enters the classroom. Stealing and hiding the principal’s golf cart. Which is usually then abandoned and parked tight against another old retired-in-place teacher’s door, blocking him in his room. Or, he gets the ladies in the office laughing, because, since he was a child, he’s always waited until it’s almost too late. So he calls the office and tells them he needs a temporary substitute immediately. So he can use the restroom. Like right now. Hurry. Because he’s ‘pushing cotton’, or ‘prairie doggin’, and he can’t leave his class unattended. (Imagination not required.)
Antics don’t always end the way planned however.
The other day he and a couple of his students were walking back to class. Carrying tons of books. At least a small library. (I think he said most were about the benevolence of Corporate America.) Jared was carrying an armful of them along with some papers and balancing his morning cup of coffee on top. Approaching a friend’s classroom in session, Jared told his students to turn around and walk backwards in exaggerated slow motion past the open door of her class. Her back was to the door. It took her a while to figure out why her students were snickering.
Walking backward has its hazards.
Jared didn’t realize his students had stopped. He tripped. Fell backward. Books and papers went airborne. He ended up lying in front of the open doorway; books, scattered papers, and clothes bathed in fresh coffee. Students laughing. Teacher confused.
One of my grandfather’s favorite gigs, honed to perfection, was harassing door to door salesmen. This breed of nuisance peddlers aren’t as common now a days as they were back then. Back then we had a plethora of encyclopedia, cleaning product, and Fuller Brush peddlers, to name but a few.
Grandpa worked nights in an oilfield and was home during daytime. Dollar signs must have lit up when they saw this smiling gentlemen open the door and magnanimously gesture them inside. Grandma must have watched this time and again. Told me she’d watch from the kitchen as the salesmen set up their displays on the coffee table and launched into their sales spiels.
The one she particularly enjoyed was an encyclopedia salesman. This guy had an elaborate folding display. Which he proudly set up on the coffee table. At some point during his well-practiced, long-winded presentation, he triggered on the fact grandpa had not yet done much more than grunt and smile encouragingly.
When finally pressed for a coherent response, grandpa cupped his ear, leaned forward and grunted unintelligibly.
Grandma said she’d never seen a salesman exit so quickly, angrily slamming his display closed and snatching up his brochures. He’d just wasted half an hour on a deaf mute.
If grandpa had the gift, he passed it along in spades to his great grandson.
It’s pure joy hanging with Jared and watching him work his magic on the unfortunate, unsuspecting public.
So it was the other day when he drove me down and sat with me on the day of my surgery.
We were admitted to a pre-surgery waiting area. A nurse came in to get the preliminaries out of the way. Which included a myriad of questions, getting me gowned, and starting my IV line.
Mathilda was nothing if not methodical.
She moved tirelessly between me, lying on my bed, her computer station and a table apparently with a check-off list. Paint by Numbers surgery came to mind.
The walls in these little waiting cubicles ought to be plastered all over with huge warning signs:
Don’t Mess With The Nurse!
It likely would have done no good.
Lying on my bed, I noticed my son sitting in the corner quietly observing Mathilda.
I’d been with him enough to know that often times the genetic mischief just explodes spontaneously. (Grandpa, no doubt likely choreographing from on high) But sometimes, like now, the tell tale signs when something was about to bust loose were evident.
Even I was surprised when he finally spoke up.
“I’d like to assist with the surgery.”
Mathilda’s head remained buried in her paperwork.
Surely I must have misheard.
“I’m sure it’ll be okay. I tried calling him. His number’s listed, but I couldn’t reach him.”
Mathilda’s head remains buried in her paperwork.
“Do you have his cell number there?”
Mathilda’s head remains buried in her paperwork.
How do I get out of this?
Jared pulled his cell phone out. “I’ve got my cell here, can you give me his number?”
Mathilda’s head remains buried in her paperwork. But she’s formulating a plan.
“Are you a doctor?”
Her head remains buried in her check off sheets. But she’s thinking now.
“Where are you going to school?”
Jared threw out the name of some banana republic in South America.
Her head remains buried in her check off sheets.
“Did you graduate?”
“Not yet. I’m taking a correspondence course. Do you have that number there?”
Unbelievably, Mathilda still hasn’t made eye contact. I’m not sure she’s even aware she’s being pranked. A few moments ago her aide came into the cubical. And stood behind her. Listening to this dialogue. She’s having a lot of trouble keeping it together.
Mathilda’s got to be thinking by now. I’m admitting the wrong patient! But she’s moving into tactical territory now. Maneuvering her cannons into position.
“There’s a lot of paperwork and forms that would have to be completed.”
Jared still hasn’t smiled. He can run a straight face longer than anyone I know. If she did look up he wasn’t giving any of it away. The poor aide had to step out of the cube she was chuckling so hard.
Jared parried and thrust quickly, “I’ll call him. I’m sure it’s okay.”
Watching and enjoying all this, I’m also thinking about all those warning signs that ought to highly visible and plastered around the room. But aren’t.
Don’t Mess With The Nurse!
Shortly, this woman’s going to be jamming that IV line into some bodily orifice. And I’m lying here at her complete mercy.
It was time to end everything before I ended up in the ER.
“He’s just kidding,” I say.
Mathilda’s head remained buried in her check off sheet. Did she hear me?
I had to repeat myself several times before she finally looked up. At me. At Jared.
“Oh, you’re being funny.”
Minutes later, sure enough, she had quite a time of it trying to start my IV line.
She massaged and manipulated my left wrist for a moment, examining the back of my hand. Then went back and made more notes in her surgery-by-the-numbers list, then came and examined my left elbow. Landing strip number one must not have looked promising.
After some manipulation, I presented her with an enormous vein. Begging for recognition. Home free.
But it was not to be.
“Oh,” she remarked. “It’s bent.”
I looked down, admiring my handiwork. She was correct. My engorged magnificent vessel begging for attention, hooked sharply. No straight-in landing possible there.
Next she was around on the other side of my bed, massaging and patting the back of my right wrist. I could see she wasn’t liking the looks of landing field number three. She kept sneaking little surreptitious glances up at my right elbow, landing strip number four—the last one. It must not have looked very inviting. She was soon earnestly fencing with a vein in my right wrist.
If it hadn’t been somewhat painful, I would have laughed. This third-choice vein was a dancer. Needle thrusts in—vein slides left. Back out. Regroup. Reenter. This time the vein dodged right. It must have taken close to two minutes to corral that puppy. Dance over. Stop the music. My friend, Sherry Novak, a dance instructor probably could have figured out the rumba steps and done it quicker.
The surgery came and went. Successfully.
Night time. Peaceful. Quiet. I love this hospital.
Well, with the exception of some insomniac bird that chirped all night long. Right next to my ear. A nurse would come in, check everything out and reset the IV pump. Said I was probably blocking the line in my sleep. She’d no sooner kill the light and close the door and the thing would go off again. All night long. Around morning, a nurse came in and discovered it was Mathilda’s handiwork. Peeling the tape off my wrist, revealed Mathilida’s plastic sleeve where it went into my vein looked like the letter Z!
The following day, lying in my room, I overheard some nurses saying Mathilda had quit. I sincerely hoped it had nothing to do with her most recent patient. But according to the nurses, she had returned to Germany. Some family emergency.
My recovery was going well until it hit a bump around the third day. Actually more like a lump.
The doctor indicated he might have to go back in. Investigate.
All manner of imaginations came to mind. Those horror stories (urban legends, most likely) about finding surgical sponges, gloves, and forceps left inside.
It was nothing like that at all. Merely a note from Mathilda:
It’s not so funny now, is it?
Your great grandpa’s rolling on the floor up there.