Wednesday, March 21, 2012

“He looks mysterious to me”

A quick in-and-out visit to Houston yesterday to see my oncologist. Dr. Garrett R. Lynch has been treating me for nearly five years now, ever since I was first diagnosed shortly after Simhat Torah in 2007. It is always a pleasure to see him, even under the strain of an oncological exam, because Dr. Lynch would always prefer to talk about books.

“I saw your review of Coral Glynn,” he called when he glimpsed me in the waiting room. “It was weird.” He didn’t specify what was weird: the review or how he came to see it. (He googled Peter Cameron’s new book, he later explained, and my review popped up). He urged me to read Billy Lombardo’s How to Hold a Woman, I urged him to read Billy Giraldi’s Busy Monsters. We agreed that Jeffrey Eugenides’s Marriage Plot was spectacular. “I liked the ending,” Dr. Lynch said. “So did I!

The relationship between doctor and patient, at least from the patient’s side, is “what the French call un couple malade,” Anatole Broyard once wrote. I’m not sure Broyard appreciated how deeply attached a doctor is to his patient—how deeply he grieves for his patient. Maybe I only appreciate this because I am married to a doctor. “I want to dance at your [three-year-old] daughter’s bat mitsvah,” Dr. Lynch said with the clear implication that he wants me to be there too.

Before going to the doctor’s appointment I lunched with Patrick Kurp, the author and sole proprietor of Anecdotal Evidence, with whom I have been corresponding at least since 2008, when we discovered our mutual high regard for L. E. Sissman, the poet laureate of cancer. A good half foot taller and with a voice a good two three octaves lower, Kurp must have seemed my trainer or keeper. He offered me a touching note from Elberry; I offered him a volume of James’s criticism from the Library of America. Then we ordered enchiladas.

Kurp has already given his version of our lunch. He didn’t leave out much. He didn’t say that we discussed what has happened to newspaper reporters. Patrick and I both started out as newspaper reporters. When we were young cubs, we were drilled in skepticism and mistrust. These days young reporters see themselves as advocates for social justice.

How did we get onto the subject? Patrick marveled at my beautiful and brilliant wife, who was featured in a Columbus Dispatch story recently. “Wonderful story,” Patrick said, “but the reporter buried his lead.” Ed Ritter, my editor on the old Corona (Calif.) Daily Independent, would never have let me get away with such sloppiness.

Ritter taught me to write by calling me over to his desk and ripping my first story apart, then putting it back together in the correct order. Patrick and I remembered the human-interest stories we had written: he, on the grower of the largest kohlrabi ever seen in northern Ohio; I, on the winner of a pineapple cooking contest. “It may be mere historical conditioning,” Marilynne Robinson writes in When I Was a Child I Read Books, her latest collection of essays, “but when I see a man or a woman alone, he or she looks mysterious to me, which is only to stay that for a moment I see another human being clearly.” This is a creed to which Patrick and I can happily assent.

For dinner I went out for shawarma, blessed shawarma, with my old friend Rob Levy. We gossiped about the Houston Jewish community until I was too tired to talk anymore, and I collapsed in a Holiday Inn bed by 8:30.

Early the next morning I left for Hobby Airport. In the security line, the TSA’s full-body scanner picked up the cancer in my right pelvis, earning me a latex-gloved patdown. When the TSA agent found nothing suspicious, I sneaked my illness onto the plane and flew home to Columbus.


Rand Careaga said...

"Why is it when you lose your health the entire medical profession takes it as axiomatic you've also lost your mind?"
—Dennis Potter, "The Singing Detective"

It sounds as though you've escaped this with your oncologist (he probably also refrains from crooning standards out of the Great American Songbook during office visits). Did you know that John Updike and L.E. Sissman, whose work I first admired in the course of my original subscription to The Atlantic forty years ago, were close friends? JU penned an elegiac tribute in verse when the latter pegged out.

I join with Dr. Lynch in the hope that he, you and your daughter are all present for that dance.


Kimberly said...

After reading your blog, I just finished Broyard's Intoxicated By My Illness and am now working my way through Becker's The Denial of Death. I can already tell that it's going to be one of those books that changes how I view the world. So thank you for bringing them to the world's attention. I really enjoy your blog.

Anonymous said...

Okay, Professor Myers, I need a summer reading list. (Yeah, I'm one of those readers who seems to need the catalyst of someone else's suggestions.) You have included several intriguing titles in your posting about your Houston trip, but perhaps you would share some other recommendations. For example, what are the best of the year so far?

(BTW, I wish you (belatedly?) a blessed Passover.)

Your friend on the redneck Riviera, Tim

Please keep in touch via email.

Dick Stanley said...

You're quite right about modern newspaper journalism. I had to endure several years of it until I could retire. Worse yet, they're all j-school grads and schooled to promote multiculturalism and white guilt. Fortunately (for the reader), they're all headed for unemployment as their industry dies.