O Bitter, Bitter Gall
If you are planning to have a gallbladder operation any time in the next few years, do let me know.

They offered to operate on mine over at the Green Hospital not long ago, and I reluctantly accepted. I had this weird pain in the upper tum, and they told me that my gallbladder was on the warpath, and it would be best to get rid of it.

The various doctors and specialists I met beforehand made it sound like a lark. They told me that it was "most common among your age group" and that I'd be "up and about in no time at all." So I got scheduled to go on the cutting-room floor towards the end of September; thought I could take some time off from my job at the magazine; have a nice rest; see the whole thing as a vacation.

I never made it in for my appointed time. Gallbladders, like babies, have their own schedules. When they are ready to pop, they do it willy-nilly, no matter what their mothers may have on their calendars. (Me: mother to a bunch of pet gut-rocks.)

It was early on a Sunday afternoon, Labor Day weekend (of course!) when my belly-aching started. I put up with this stabbing in the breadbasket for a couple of hours - - - they warned me this might happen - - - then I headed over to the Emergency Room to get those miserable stones plucked out.

It took the ER crew a few hours to dig up a team to do the job. When the chief surgeon appeared at the side of my gurney about 6:30 PM, he looked about as hung-over and wretched as I felt. He was unshaven, pale, seemed unsteady in the dim fluorescent light. I thought, "They couldn't find anyone to open me up so they just went over to South Broadway and dragooned this guy from Central Casting to fill in." You may recognize the weird mind-set; these ravings turn up just before we go under The Knife.

Most GB operations are what they call "Laparoscopic," which means that they don't do the big slice all across your belly like they did 25 years ago. Now they fill the cavity up with carbon dioxide gas (the better to see what you've got going on in your paunch) and make four or five small incisions in the abdomen. Through these holes they can send in their tiny picks, shovels, sledge-hammers and dynamite blasters to do the dirty work of getting that swollen bastard out of there ASAP.

Dr. Slaughter - - - believe me, dear reader: that was his name - - - later told me that my particular Cholecystectomy was one of the toughest he had done over the years. Before he said any more, I had to tell him that I loved his name (guess how many times he had heard that one?) and then I asked him how many of these operations he had done.

He said that he usually performed about four hundred a year, and that he had been working at the Green Hospital for ten years. I suspected that I was lucky to be in the hands of this old hand . . . not one from down on Skid Row at all. I didn't have the heart to ask him if he was hung-over on that particular late Sunday afternoon, but thanked him profusely for his attentions to my rock festival. When I read the full post-operative report, it turned out the procedure had taken almost three hours - - - they usually clock in at less than an hour - - - to get that swollen, uncooperative, beastly, son-of-a-bitching (my words, not his) gall bladder out of there.

I also thanked him for the five days of morphine they had given me over my stay in the hospital, was thinking of telling him that if he had any other operations he'd like to schedule over the next few months, I might be willing to show up if it would help.

I neglected to discuss the morphine follow-up, what occurs to all patients after regular infusions of this and most pain killers. It's something that comes under the scientific name of "barrage hydraulique" (in French), "Hung Chow" (in Chinese), and "constipation" in plain English.

This condition, abetted by what the professionals call "the inability to pass gas" ("no lacher le pet") is enough to make one swear off any and all narcotics for the rest of our lives if we want to spend any time at all without our pipes unclogged, our brows perfervid, our bodies writhing about in brute animal agony.

I forgot to ask the good doctor to save me one or two of those stones that he had excised from my gut, so I could make an offer to my buddies,

    Dear Friends,

    I've recently come across some used gall-stones, fresh from the breadbasket, yours for the asking.

    High quality, the best stock, very colorful.

Your pal,                    

Those very stones, now plucked from the maw, probably will give me a bit more time on earth to finish my several projects . . . including an upcoming book which I had started work on before the GB reared its ugly head.

The book will be titled "Life Among the Walkies." It tells of sheer animal luck: You and I, surviving together all these eighty-three years . . . still a part of a world brimming with so many diversions. And I do believe that we've seen (and survived) one of the oddest centuries of them all.

The book should be coming out next year.

This essay is to be included.

You (and I) don't want to miss it.