Under the Knife

Sept 16, 1998
Albany Medical Center

I'm lying here on my back looking straight up, trying to ignore the
fact that this is an out-patient operating room in the Urology Surgery
wing of the Medical Center hospital. I'm waiting for the doctor to
show up while the attending nurse trys to calm my nerves. With time on
my hands I wait, and to aid in my self-distraction, I read more
of Saul Bellow's Herzog. Here's what is on the page at the moment:

"...Fine reading for the depressive! Herzog, at his desk, smiled.
He let his head fall into his hands, almost silently laughing.
All who live are in dispair.(?) And that is the sickness
unto death.(?) It is that a man refuses to be what he is.(?)
...Poor fellow, his health was not good."

I put down the book. Reading this is no help at all. I force
myself to look around the dingy blue tiled room. The Medical
Center has recently undergone extensive updating of the physical
plant, but they obviously forgot to do this room, which
reminds me of the old laboratory building I worked when I first
came to Albany. It was right across the street from here, before they
tore it down to build the new laboratory complex. This place feels
just like the old room where they operated on rabbits and guinea pigs.

Over in the corner is a rusty contraption with guages and dials.
It looks like a Maytag washing machine. It's got a couple of
yellow sticky notes plastered on it. I can't make out the words,
but I can see !!!!! on both notes. One of the side tables
has clear rubber bags like the ones used in the M.A.S.H.
operating tents. They are filled with ominous looking fluids, one
brown and one yellow.

The nurse asks why I'm so nervous. I guess she can read my eyes,
my heavy breathing, and the occassional chortle I don't manage to
contain. I remind her that I've had this procedure once before,
fifteen years ago.

"That was back in the dark ages," she says. "Things have improved
remarkably since then."

"I know, that's what the doctor told me," I reply, "but I also remember
vividly what happened back then."

Essentially, what I'm waiting for is a root-canal on my bladder. What
I remember from that other time when they had to "go in a take a little
look around" was lying on my back while they stuck ten feet of garden hose
into my bladder and then turned on the tap to see how many gallons
of fluid my bladder could hold before I burst like a water balloon.

Or maybe it was more like an expedition to explore the inner reaches
of the Carlsbad caverns:

"O.K. Mr. Galligan, this is Dr. Jimenez and he'll be leading todays
excursion. As you can see, all the members of our team are packed up
and ready to move inside."

I look down for a moment at half a dozen doctors and nurses outfitted
with enormous backpacks, miner's helmets with lamps, ropes, hoses,
picks, axes, video cameras, extra floodlamps, and other bags
and boxes of hardware, standing at the entrance to the tunnel that
leads to the interior of my bladder.

"You sure you need all that stuff?" I ask.

"It's dark where we're going," says Dr. Jimenez. "We need to get a
good look around and take some pictures."

For the next forty-five minutes they poked and prodded. They filled
me up and emptied me out a dozen times while I tried to have an
out of body experience. Float on the ceiling and look down at
myself while all these people run in and out of my urinary tract.

It didn't work then. I know it's not going to work now.
That's why I'm nervous.

The nurse says she hears the doctor coming down the hall. I put
aside my book and my glasses. I don't want a clear vision of
what's happening.

"Mr. Galligan, how are we today?" the doctor asks.

"Um, just fine, thanks."

"So with your co-operation," he says, "we're just going to go in
and take a little look around."

"Excuse me doctor," I interrupt, "when you're finished with me
today, will I be able to play the piano?"

"Well, of course, Mr. Galligan, why do you ask me that?"

"Great!" I reply. "I never could before."

The nurse pushes my head back down onto the pillow. The doctor covers
my private parts with a sheet, the same fabric and green color as
their coveralls. The sheet has a hole in the middle which lets just
my private parts stick out. The doctor swabs at me with a paint
brush loaded with the brown stuff.

"Is that the local anesthetic?" I ask.

"No, this is Betadyne." she replies.

The doctor grabs another paintbrush and applies it to my genitalia.

"This is the local." he says.

I'm feeling numb already.

"The beauty of modern science", he says "is that they've been able to
miniaturize all this stuff in the past fifteen years. The fiber optics
are now as thin as fishing line, the lenses are as small as pinheads,
and the roto-rooter is about the size of an electric nose-hair clipper."

"Just kidding!" he adds.

"O.K. Mr. Galligan." he says, "That's it."

"You're finished?" I ask.

"I told you things had gotten easier." he answers.

"And by the way, you look fine."

"Thanks, doctor." I reply, wiping a few beads of sweat from my eyes.

The nurse hands me a piece of paper to sign, after she's gone over the
instructions with me:


1. You may experience some burning when peeing the first few times
after the test. (No kidding)

2. You may notice a pink tinge to your urine for the first 24 hours.

3. If you are unable to pee after the test, call your doctor.
(You bet)

4. Drink plenty of fluids for the next 24 hours.

5. Schedule a follow up appointment.

Somehow all of this brings to mind a passage from the Office of the
Independent Counsel's Referral to the United States House of Representatives
(The Starr Report), Section VIII Continuing Meetings and Calls, Part C
July 4 Meeting:

"On Friday, July 4, 1997, Ms. Lewinsky had what she characterized
as a 'very emotional' visit with the President(508). Records
show that she entered the White House at 8:51 a.m.; no exit
time is recorded(509). Logs indicate that the President was
in the Oval Office from 8:40 until after 11 a.m.(510)

...they moved into the hallway by the bathroom.(513) There
the President was 'the most affectionate with me he'd
ever been...He remarked...that he wished he had more time for
me. And so I said, well, maybe you will have more time in
three years. And I was...thinking just when he wasn't
President, he was going to have more time on his hands.
And he said, well, I don't know. I might be alone in those
years. And then I said something about...us sort of being
together. I think I kind of said, oh, I think we'd be a good
team, or something like that. And he...jokingly said, well,
what are we going to do when I'm 75 and I have to pee 25
times a day? And...I told him that we'd deal with that...'(515)"

Mr. President, I know just what you're talking about.
Sir, I feel your pain.

Excuse me now, I have to go to the bathroom.

Copyright 1999
Jan Galligan
All Rights Reserved
Last modified December 12, 1999