Thursday, June 2, 2011

16306--A Fire of Unknown Origin...

     Another life lesson already?  Really?  We're going to ease into it and it will all lead to writing.  Trust me.     "You just had to say it."
     That's what they say up on the screen.  One character says some fate-tempting line like "How much worse can it get?" or "At least it isn't...", thus inviting some ironically appropriate doom to come crashing down upon them.  Another character of course says, "You just had to say it."
     Me?  I just had to take a poke at Underdog and ended up in the hospital myself.   C'est la vie.  I just couldn't resist.  Anyway, I didn't think it was anything serious.  It just seemed to be a minor infection that was causing a swelling in one of my sublingual salivary glands.  You know, those funny little flaps under your tongue.  Like most of the things in our bodies, we can usually ignore them quite easily until something irritates them.  Mine was swollen and didn't seem to be squirting saliva anymore.  OK, so blocked and swollen.  I noticed that it got worse when I would eat.  OK, so more saliva building up in there because production increases for food.  Simple, except that that made it go from mildly uncomfortable to very painful.  As a result, I decided to put off eating for a while to give the swelling a chance to abate completely.  Unfortunately, after eighteen hours without food, the gland was only giving me more pain and my stomach was no longer in agreement with my plan.
     The Emergency Department of Vanderbilt University Medical Center doesn't top my list of places to spend an evening.  That's not to say I have anything ill to speak of it or its staff.  It's obviously a great place to be if you need to be there, but I'd rather not have the need.  Anyway, after a few hours in the general waiting area (a suitable place for writing, at least), I was finally moved to an exam room where I could continue waiting in private.  Soon, I was seen by two nurses, a resident physician and her attending physician, none of whom had ever seen my increasingly painful condition before.  As the senior medical professional present, the attending decided to pull out his iphone and take a picture.  That sound, modern thinking allowed him to seek consultation without having to parade still more people through my new waiting area.
     Before I got too comfortable, another nurse brought me a pill to alleviate my pain and, a little later, another nurse had me move to a new exam room.  That one had a TV.  I found something worthwhile on the Science Channel just before the oral surgeon arrived.  He, too, was mystified, but curious.  As with the others, we talked about my diet and health and medical history and what on Earth could possibly be going on in my mouth.  He left to go talk with other people about tests and scans.  By the time he returned, he agreed with me: something must be blocking my salivary gland.  The best course of action seemed to be to attempt to drain the swollen gland to see if any source of infection could be found.  He would use a syringe first and, if necessary, proceed to cut it open.  "Fine," I said.  "Numb it and do what you need to do."
     Now, all this has been set-up for the point of this rambling.  What?  Yeah, I know, but bear with me and I'll get us through this as quickly as possible.
     Probing with the syringe yielded nothing and, to really enhance the experience, he tried that before numbing the tissue.  Oh, boy.  Moving on to the surgical portion of the evening (this was two hours since the first exam room), we moved to a third exam room (no TV in the last one).  He proceeded to numb everything under my tongue and start cutting.  Accompanying the suction tube, he also wrestled several latex-clad fingers into my mouth and then a couple of other metal tools.  Finally, after minutes of bloody struggle, his eyes lit up with astonishment and then a smile.  "Wow.  You are gonna be glad we found this," he told me.  Rare and odd and something he'd never seen happen before, he showed me a bloody stone that he assumed was composed (like kidney or gallstones) of calcium that had worked its way into my mouth.  I should hear the lab results next week.  Still, he marveled at the fat little thing, measuring 23mm, that had apparently tried to come out through my salivary gland.  Naturally, he and the resident from earlier (she'd returned to check on me) both pulled out their phones for this new photo-op.  There were two new nurses who came in for a look.  One ran off for a specimen jar.  Such a fuss.
     Now, on to the point of all this (Finally!) writing.  As noted, the staff and I chatted.  At one point, a pair of doctors went wide-eyed and slack-jawed before asking me if I was still in school or perhaps a nutritionist.  I told them I was merely well-read.  Later, the attentive resident also asked, "Wow, are you a nurse or a doctor or a PhD?  You really seem to know your anatomy."  Had they all really been thrown off so much by a little intelligent conversation?
     I laughed politely and told her, "I'm a writer.  I study a lot of things."
     That seemed to lessen her puzzlement a bit, freeing her to turn and go.  Like other "professionals", doctors seem to have a hard time grasping that people outside of their elite club also have the capacity to handle their secret language and guarded knowledge.  They got theirs through study and practice.  No one is born to it.  If you find yourself interested in something, take the time to learn about it.  Study and, if appropriate, practice.
     Writing is the same: it is learned through study and practice.  Though steeped in wonder and mystery for many, including doctors apparently, it is a craft that can be taught and learned.  Dedication and focus can bring improvement.  I started with reading and, with my imagination sufficiently sparked to activity, started writing.  It began with cobbling together ideas and eventually building those into stories.  Some I liked, others I felt needed polish.  Some of them needed a lot of polish.  There were classes in college, even leading to a technical major being coupled with a non-technical (creative writing) minor.  I've found myself plotting and planning to great delight as delightful elements emerged to be eagerly fitted into place.  I've also found myself flying by the seat of my pants and making things up as I went along.  Both methods have their place and neither is perfect.  If they were, no one would ever have to do rewrites.  What would we writers do with all that free time then?

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