”You’re recovering remarkably well, considering surgery was just six weeks ago,” beams my orthopedic surgeon. Doctor God smiles in appreciation, admiring the results of his life’s work. Harvard-educated and physician to the US Olympic rowing· team, Doctor God’s an accomplished orthopedic surgeon. The trust I place in him is unconditional. Some consider him to be the best orthopedic surgeon in New Jersey. The US Olympic rowing team considers him an actual God-a Doctor God. Based on his results, I’m not sure their faith in him is misplaced.
“I’m tempted to discharge you from my care, but before I do, I should ask if you’ve been experiencing any further symptoms?” “Well, now that you mention it~ I do have this peculiar tremor in my right thumb.” Having been granted an audience with Doctor God, I’m going to milk it for all it’s worth! “I’m stressed the fuck out, Doc. I’ve been shoutin’ on phones, hammerin’ keys and watchin’ news feeds.” I continue at my usual frenetic pace. “I mean seriously, I’m dealin’ in stocks, bonds, currencies, options, and derivatives-it’s like running ten hedge funds! I’m jugglin’ four screens with five lines on hold.” I. rattle on without taking a breath. “Half the time I don’t know if I’m even married anymore. Hell, my shrink tells me I’m married to my Bloomberg terminal! It’s 24/7 client bullshit. I need a drink and a quick decision!”
I’m still speaking rapid-fire New York fast–the language I’d learned while investing and spending over a decade as a Wall Street slave to greed and ambition. “Probably just carpal tunnel, huh? Maybe stress? I just read ’bout something called RSI-repetitive strain injury, I think they call it. I don’t know, you’re the doc, what’s the story? Shoot me straight!”
In typical type-A fashion, I expectantly await his validation of my best self-diagnosis: carpal tunnel syndrome. After all, Doctor God’s considered the best orthopedist-who better to confirm what the hell this pesky little tremor’s all about? I hadn’t really put much thought into it; I was way too busy to bother.
“Hmmm,” mumbles the good doctor. “Peculiar indeed. Considering you were in a car accident that damaged your knee, let’s take closer look.”
Gently taking my right arm into his skilled hands, he manipulates my thumb, then wrist, then elbow, before concluding his brief survey by rotating my shoulder. His expression promptly shifts out of character. That radiant bright glow of pride from yet another job well done reverses to a ghostly pale-gray shade. His typical jocular demeanor, that hallmark trait shared by a fraternity of East Coast professionals, is replaced with an almost reverent, deeply troubled disposition.
“You’d better· get in.to see a neurologist right away. My secretary will get you a referral if you need one.”
His delivery seems nearly rehearsed~ There must.be a Harvard class where prospective doctors learn bedside manners on how to deliver bad news. Deliberate, precise, clinical. Like that of a military casualty notification officer dutifully pronouncing the death of a loved one, his sullen expression betrays a lurking confession being withheld.
Clearly, he sees something, but what is it? Whys he withholding information? I sense the predicament he’s confronted by. With impeccable professionalism, he intuitively knows he’s not qualified to make such a serious diagnosis, even though what he thinks is readily apparent.
No, this kind of bad newsmust be delivered by an appropriately qualified adjudicator — a skilled neurologist.
* * *
The next twenty-four hours crawl by at a snail’s pace. I call in a favor to secure an immediate appointment with a local neurologist. No small feat, as even the average ones are booked solid for three months. The next day, my wife and I timidly walk up to the 1970s-fashioned complex of doctors’ offices to hear the judge render his official verdict.
“You have Parkinson’s disease,” he says flatly. With no bedside manner at all, Doctor not-God delivers the fatal blow, revealing his not-Harvard medical school qualifications. An ‘indescribable sense of fear and dread descends. The rumble monster returns with a vengeance. I’m stunned, shell-shocked, and everything goes numb. The world blurs as life begins to move in slow motion. I fall into ( dream-like trance and become the observer of my life, having ar1 out-of-body experience.
Frame-by-frame, I see the gavel fall in slow motion. I’ve received a life sentence, destined to live in a progressively decaying body without chance for pardon or parole. Who am I? asks a scared, uncertain voice. The future alters course in microsecond. My certain future based upon hopeful dreams and ambitions is suddenly replaced with uncertainty. One thing I’m certain of is that someday be in a corner, shaking uncontrollable with drool spilling out the side of my mouth. Nobody w1ll want to have anything to do with me. That’s where I’ll be spending my retirement.
In a flash, I go from being on top of the world to being. . . . I don’t know what, but I know its not-good. I’ll never forget sitting in the parking lot with my sobbing wife. I suppose that our response could be characterized as denial.