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Special Surgery

The building at the center of the photograph that is topped by a construction crane is the Greenberg Pavilion at New York Hospital, a/k/a Weill Cornell Medical Center or somesuch nonsense. (If I were Dante, I’d create a level of hell for living philanthropists deluded enough to try to glue their names on to their benefactions. As the song goes, Just You Wait, Sandy Weill, Just You Wait. I’ll get dressed and go to town.)

It’s the building in front of and below the Greenberg Pavilion that I’m off to today, at least figuratively speaking. The building with the bands of darkish windows that might seem to be the lower floors of Greenberg is actually a block closer to the camera, and it’s the Hospital for Special Surgery. Almost everyone in our very large apartment building who has heard about my broken neck has come out and asked me if I had it taken care of at “Special Surgery,” and my reply has always been a polite version of “Damn right.” This hospital, so long familiar to me as the site of a calm and quiet infusion unit (chemotherapy, without the cancer), became a “real” hospital in earnest three weeks ago, and it’s where for the first time in my life a scalpel was taken to my skin.

As it happens, the surgeon who headed the operation, and who will examine me today to see if if the wounds (not that anybody uses that word) have healed sufficiently for the two sutures to be removed (yes, only two, for an incision that’s 27 centimetres long), does not have his office in the hospital proper. My rheumatologist does. My rheumatologist’s office, together with the crammed chamber in which his two secretaries try not to step on each other as they do their work, would fit in our living room. The surgeon’s personal office is not much larger, but it is part of a vast suite of offices and examining rooms and whatnot, in a hospital annex two blocks to the north.

Kathleen is going with me, thank heaven. She was in Washington the last time I was in the surgeon’s office – when I was sent directly to the hospital as an “emergency entrant.” There is no emergency room at the Hospital for Special Surgery. Almost every patient has been suffering from some ghastly misery for ages, and is only now getting it fixed, on schedule. People who fall down and break their necks go to other hospitals, unless, like me, they’ve got some pre-existing bone problem. There aren’t that many such cases, so the hospital doesn’t really need an emergency room. But it does have procedures for “emergency entrants. ” I’m sure that it must. It certainly has an “emergency bustle.”

Did I mention that the other “emergency entrant” on the day of my admission was a woman who had just recovered from an operation sufficiently to be sent home, only to fall down in the lobby? How did that happen? Everybody leaves the hospital in a wheelchair. (I certainly did. Fossil Darling resisted the urge to push me into the East River, but we were out in the driveway by then, and he was distracted by stowing my gear in the trunk of the car. I suppose I owe my life to his ADD.) But that is what I overheard. The lady fell down in on her way out. It was too awful to think about, both for the woman and for her family.

Kathleen will be with me for however long it takes (within reason), and then she’ll go to the office, unless she insists on seeing me home. Once home (I’m painting pretty pictures here, assuming that the surgeon doesn’t discover any ill consequences of my having moved the Steinway grand), I shall reread vast swathes of Alexander Waugh’s Fathers and Sons, so that I can write it up. It is just the sort of book for me right now. The author’s father and grandfather compensated for the discomforts of life with alcohol and extreme wit. Mr Waugh, in contrast, appears to have a more gently cynical spirit, more inclined to smile with an intense frown than to say, as his father did of tourists from the Midlands who, in his opinion, besmirched his beloved Somerset with their litter,

The roads of West Somerset are jammed as never before with caravans from birmingham and the West Midlands. Their horrible occupants only come down here to search for a place where they can go to the lavatory free. Then they return to Birmingham, boasting in their hideous flat voices about how much money they have saved.

I don’t suppose many of the brutes can read, but anybody who wants a good book for the holidays is recommended to try a new publication form the Church Information Office: <i>The Churchyard Handbook.</i> It laments the passing of that ancient literary form, the epitaph, suggesting that many tombstones put up nowadays dedicated to “Mum” or “Dad” or “Ginger” would be more suitable for a dog cemetery than for the resting place of Christians.

The trouble is that people can afford tombstones nowadays who have no business to be remembered at all. Few of these repulsive creatures in caravans are Christians, I imagine, but I would happily spend the rest of my days composing epitaphs for them in exchange for a suitable fee.:

He had a shit on Gwennap Head,
It cost him nothing. Now he’s dead.

He left a turd on Porlock Hill
As he lies here, it does there still.

Write such things today, and you’ll be given the Carol Gotbaum treatment.

And when I’m through with Mr Waugh – or he with me – I’ve got eight other books to write up next. I’ll have to re-read them all in order to say anything halfway intelligent. In this way, I promise to spend the balance of my time here below, never lifting anything heavier than a pretzel stick – I promise!


The suture has been removed. There were actually two sutures, but the barber appears to have shaved off the one at the top of my neck, so we’ll just live with that bit of blue thread. Another suture, complete overlooked these past three weeks so far as dressing and cleaning is concerned, was removed from an incision over my pelvis. That’s where they got the bit of gushy interior-bone stuff that I became familiar with while watching Manda Bala. 

The surgeon, Dr Andrew Sama himself, showed up to congratulate me on my speedy recovery. It was a good thing that Kathleeen came along, because she wouldn’t have believed me if I’d told her that he said that I can fly, as long as I wear my brace. This means that Kathleen may get to see some sun on or around Thanksgiving after all.

I am one hell of a lucky guy. Once again, though, thanks for all your good wishes. They helped!

4 Responses to “Back to HSS”

  1. PPOQ says:

    Trust me, my ADD did not keep you from being pushed into the River : it was having to compose a funeral dirge…………

    And no more moving anything, young man!!!!! (I echo what I hope the doctor tells you this morning.)

  2. Yvonne says:

    Regarding your Happy Update:

    What fantastic news! Very happy for you.

    This calls for a celebration! Perhaps now we can finally have some *dancing* around here. (Oh, sorry, not you, RJ — you still need to rest — and surely you have some dreary book to read? So, off to the comfy chair with you.)

    To PPOQ: may I have the first dance? Gentleman’s choice…as long as it’s a novelty dance from the 60s.

  3. PPOQ says:


    You’re on! Hmmmm the 60s…lots of great dance tunes..


  4. Tony says:

    It’s wonderful to hear that things are progressing so nicely. Dan and I have both been concerned. Continue to mend so that the boys from Bear Hill can lead you astray some more. If I get to NY, I will happily contribute to your delinquency.