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No one’s demanding nude harpists on 24 hours notice

By Heidi Wendel

Do you ever wish you’d become a doctor instead of a graphic designer with part-time work as a DJ?

No, you really don’t.

Sure doctors get to wear cool clothes – those long white coats they’ve worn since medieval times, and the sexy high tech scrubs underneath.

But let’s be honest – for most of us, cutting open live human flesh is gruesome. We’d rather draw things, write briefs, come up with punchlines, teach kids.

And that’s especially true of dentists and oral surgeons. Nobody daydreams about doing that stuff. It’s probably something that happens to you if you’ve just finished medical school and a position opens up as an oral surgery resident and they offer you more money than in the pediatric residency.

Three years later you wake up as an oral surgeon.

Gretchen, a 44-year-old, divorced, criminal defense lawyer, encountered such a surgeon recently with her brother Ethan when her mother had a pain in her jaw, probably caused by Gretchen and Ethan.

The Port City Chronicle is the continuing story of a woman and her family seeking love and happiness in the midst of the Great Recession.

You can buy Season 1 in book form, “Getting Off the Earth,” from GettingOfftheEarth.com.

And now for this week’s episode of Season 2:

When All You Have to Go On Are Turds of Wisdom

“You shouldn’t waste those on pain,” Ethan said, motioning to the Vicodin tablets our mother had been given for TMJ. “We have some general anesthesia at home in the liquor cabinet.”

Never having heard of Vicodin, she had no understanding of its magical powers.

“You can have them,” she said. “I always take ibuprofen.”

I could see Ethan struggling with himself but he finally did the right thing.

“No, I don’t do that anymore,” he said. “I find it’s bad for business.”

But I could sympathize with his dilemma. After waiting several hours in a windowless examining room at the oral surgeon’s office, I was tempted to take the Vicodin myself to ease the pain of going to the doctor.

Dr. Schliff finally breezed in, dressed in his green scrub costume to make us think he’d raced back from the operating room with barely enough time to wash his hands. It would help his act if he avoided talking on his cell phone in the hallways about his weekend plans on Cliff Island.

Anyway, his outfit didn’t give him any surgery creds in my eyes. Who doesn’t have one of those scrubs costumes in the back of their closet for playing doctor in bed? You can buy them for $10 at a Halloween store.

“Sorry I’m late,” he said. “We’re a little backed up today.”

We responded with hostile silence but since doctors are used to doing all the talking, he didn’t notice. Not that it would have mattered anyway. His apology for making us wait was as impersonal as the functioning of his autonomic nervous system.

At any rate, unlike Dr. Schliff we had nothing better to do with our time than sit around waiting for him, since we’d neglected to attend medical school or do a residency in maxillofacial surgery.

“So how are you feeling?” he asked our mother, picking up her chart.

That’s a trick question they always ask at the start of an examination in case you thought you were at a spa and hadn’t really intended to go to a doctor’s office in the first place.

But our mother had no trouble answering it.

“Not that good, I’m in a lot of pain and I can’t chew anymore.”

I found those symptoms disturbing but over the years Dr. Schliff has hardened himself against empathizing too much with his patients. Not only did he make no response but he seemed to have meant the question rhetorically.

Far more interesting to him was the book I’d been reading while we waited for the last two hours.

“Is that Proust?” he asked, seeing the words “Guermantes Way” on the cover.

I nodded tersely, but he was undaunted.

“That’s the third book in the series, right?”

Not only was it the third book, but I’d made a substantial dent in it while waiting for him to get around to us. As it turned out, Proust was the perfect thing to bring to Dr. Schliff’s office since a book by Hemingway or Gide wouldn’t have been long enough to make it through an appointment.

Interesting,” Dr. Schliff said. “You don’t see many people go beyond Swann’s Way.”

Ethan couldn’t help but respond to that, having bought the books for me himself at a used book store after watching me re-read Swann’s Way for the tenth time.

“That’s because you’re allowed to read Swann’s Way in isolation but once you start volume two you’re committed to reading all seven volumes.”

That further piqued Dr. Schliff’s interest in us, though not in a medical sense.

“Where are you people from anyway?” he asked.

He was surprised to hear we were mere un-exotic Portlanders.

“Really?” he said to Ethan. “And what do you do?”

“I’m a beer blogger. Recently.”

I hoped that would be a conversation stopper, given that my mother was still living the unexamined life, and with the added indignity of wearing a plastic bib around her neck while doing it, but Dr. Schliff was more interested in diagnosing Ethan’s condition than my mother’s.

“What did you do before that?”

“P.R.”

“How’d you like that?”

Ethan shrugged.

“Blogging’s better because you don’t have to deal with clients. No one’s demanding nude harpists on 24 hours notice.”

I was curious who that particular client was, given Ethan had mostly had accounts with fish markets and paper companies, but we really needed to get back to our mother.

“What do you think is wrong with her?” I asked.

Dr. Schliff picked up her MRI report.

“I don’t know yet,” he said. “I need to talk to the other surgeon in my office, Dr. Buchbinder.”

Then he excused himself and left, presumably to look for Dr. Buchbinder.

“Why does he have to talk to Buchbinder anyway?” I asked. “Can’t he figure it out for himself?”

Ethan shrugged again.

“Ever since he lost his license those rat bastards won’t let him render an opinion.”

We had to explain to our mother that he was only joking.

“Seriously though, we better make sure Buchbinder’s not out playing golf on the day of the surgery,” Ethan said.

That started making her nervous.

“Maybe we should get a second opinion.”

“First we have to get a first opinion,” Ethan said. “You need that before you can get a second opinion.”

Which only made her even more nervous.

It hadn’t been easy raising two kids like us, not to mention three grandkids that would grind anybody’s jaw down.

“Why don’t you keep your turds of wisdom to yourself,” I muttered to Ethan.

So he tried to be nicer.

“Don’t worry, mom,” he said. “Once we get out of here we’ll find you a real doctor and everything will be fine.”

“But how long will I be in bed after the surgery?” she asked. “And who’s going to help cook and clean while I’m recovering?”

“We are,” I said. “Me and Ethan.”

But he wouldn’t go that far.

“I can’t cook or clean.”

I rolled my eyes.

“You can too, you lazy bum.”

“No, I have a disability,” he said.

Then the nurse came in to take some more x-rays and measurements.

“Where did Dr. Schliff go?” I asked.

“He’s seeing another patient but he’ll be right back.”

But after another half hour of waiting we finally gave up on Dr. Schliff. Having spent so long in that tiny examining room with no access to the outside world, we were beginning to think all that was left to us was our remembrance of things past. So we headed home to forget the doctor, grab a glass of general anesthesia and sit on the porch in the sun.

And eventually Dr. Buchbinder, who still had some residual interest in oral surgery, did a great job reconstructing our mother’s jaw.

See story http://portlanddailysun.me/node/25680/

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