Brain Operations Add to Your Social Life


Roslyn Heights, New York.

My wife's parents are retired in Florida, having left New York after a lifetime of hard work. They deserve their little place in the sun. It's a modest, two-bedroom condominium apartment in a senior-citizen community where they can get a little peace and quiet. God bless 'em.

Now, the only time this bucolic atmosphere is disturbed to any measurable degree is around Christmas, when we sons and daughters cash in our frequent-flier coupons and head south. Then, for eight or nine days, the development reels to boom boxes toted about by our teenage sons and daughters, as they grow spoiled rotten by doting grandparents.

The swimming pool is the undisputed epicenter of activity, and it is here where one is given a lesson in anatomy of the type that you couldn't pay for at Harvard Medical School. The discourse ranges from gall bladders to hernias to ulcers to migraines to bad backs, to all and every other form of medical malady that can befall a human being after 60 or 70 tough years on this tough earth. And all we siblings can do is sit around and listen because for the most part, thank heaven, we haven't been subjected to any of this yet.

There's a definitive hierarchy of infirmity too. A hernia operation, let us say, takes preference over a slipped disk, but is subordinated to gall bladder. The gall-bladder person, therefore, "holds the conch" (as in "Lord of the Flies") and can ramble on about the ins and outs of his or her condition until hoarse.

Only then will the next person down the medical ladder begin to speak. These rules of protocol are strictly adhered to. In fact, in all my years at pool side, I have not once seen a minor malady sufferer attempt to crash the podium.

This season, however, there was a slight wrinkle. The previous summer I underwent brain surgery. Now don't get nervous. It was a rough, I'll be the first to admit that. But thus far it appears like everything has worked out all right. Anyway, back to the pool.

A woman with hypoglycemia was holding center stage, but she was bumped off in the middle of her dissertation by a quadruple bypass, always a heavily respected operative procedure (although as of late, it has lost a bit of luster as a result of a heart transplant having purchased a two-bedroom unit). The bypass knew he had her outclassed, and the low-blood sugar woman politely leaned back in her lounge to let him speak. When he began talking about his anesthesiologist and the kind of sedative used, I impulsively piped in. "Hey, that's the same stuff my doctor used." All eyes immediately turned to this young, 40-year-old whippersnapper, vaguely known around the condo as "Max's son-in-law."

"Young Man," the gentleman said, raising his eyebrows in theatrical annoyance, "do you realize that I had a triple bypass? What could your problem possibly have been?"

"Well," I answered innocently, "a couple of months ago I underwent brain surgery." There was silence, sudden dead silence of the variety in the old "When E.F. Hutton speaks . . ." commercial. This was big time. The bypass, not at all offended, settled back in his lounge, folded his arms across his chest and motioned for me to elucidate, wanting nothing less than all the gory details.

I went on for a full 25 minutes and then entertained questions for another 15. They were eating out of my hands. And when I rose to leave, the bypass said, "Let me walk you back to the apartment," and questioned me in even greater detail every step of the way. When my father-in-law opened the door, the bypass said to him, "Max, this is quite a boy your daughter married. You should be very proud," and he patted my back.

The experience gleaned from that first presentation has been invaluable. Over the past mouths, I've refined my spiel. At parties I mesmerize them, but it's at weddings and other such formal affairs that I really shine. When people hear the words "brain operation," they freeze. And if my audience is really deserving, I'll wheel around and push up the hair on the back of my head to expose the scar. It's quite effective.

My social calendar has been rather healthy as of late. In fact, I'm sure that I've been invited to several dinner parties on the strength of the hole in my head. And when my aunt Tillie, to whom my father hasn't spoken in forty years, sent me an invitation to her granddaughter's wedding, I realized that word had spread far and wide that I was a star.

Howard Karlitz is a teacher and free-lance writer.

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