American Consequences - September 2018

Dr. Zaki is a Coptic Christian who emigrated from Egypt in his late teens. He and I talked about Middle Eastern politics, which, as far as I’m concerned, is the second most interesting blood sport after upland-game shooting. Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center is a sparkling edifice, full of light and air and surprisingly good art. The architectural style is higgledy-piggledy 1980s modern — two million square feet, every one of which is between you and where you have an appointment. Finding your way around is a trial run for Alzheimer’s, but a small price to pay for the pleasant surroundings. Even the food in the cafeteria is good. Various scientific studies have shown that patients recover better and faster in cheerful environments. (I don’t know what the scientific studies say about patients who don’t recover and might wish the cheeriness would foff.) The staff at DHMC is also cheerful, but not too cheerful. The staff members don’t make you feel like a small child at the receiving end of an overambitious preschool curriculum. Perhaps they know better because DHMC is a teaching hospital. The Dartmouth Medical School is the fourth-oldest in the nation, founded in 1797. DHMC is venerable as well as modern. But not too venerable. It doesn’t use leeches. Being at a teaching hospital puts a patient in a democratic relationship with the institution’s staff. People are expecting to learn something from you, not just do something to you. But let’s not push the idea of equality too far. There’s a current notion that you should “take charge of your disease.” No thanks. I’m busy.

I’ve got cancer. I’m willing to face having cancer. I’m not willing to face having cancer with homework. I promised Dr. Pipas and Dr. Zaki that I wouldn’t show up with sheaves of printouts from the Internet containing everything on Wikipedia about malignancies. They laughed with detectable notes of relief. (Although I suspected that my wife had made her way into the health-blog ether. Fish-oil pills, raw kelp, and other untoward substances started showing up on the dinner plates after I was diagnosed.) “I’ve got cancer” is more than an excuse for rational ignorance about medicine. It’s an excuse for everything. From a niece’s wedding to your daughter’s piano recital to an IRS audit, you’re off the hook. I even tried my excuse on the Pope. I couldn’t go to Mass because of the effect that germ-swapping Vatican II “sign of peace” handshakes could have on my radiation-weakened immune system. And I continued to employ cancer as

D.C. is a city replete with

flaccid old guys like myself who spend their time blowing smoke out of you-know- where and being full of you-know- what and sitting on their duffs.

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