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Chris Erskine: This May Hurt a Little … WHAAAAP!

“Do not grow old,” cautioned Einstein. “And never get in line behind a disheveled woman buying 150 cans of cat food.”
Life is discordant, ruthless, boring, wonderful. A songbird sits outside your window repeating the same aria over and over, then “WHAAAAP,” a cat gets it. And the song changes.
Medical issues surface. In my case, they shoved some sort of bug-zapping device way up inside me the other day. The goal? To kill as many bugs as possible. And to take a few flecks of prostate tissue to test for cancer.
“Almost done,” the doctor says. “WHAPAAPA- ZAPPA-ZAP.”
I think I smelled smoke. With a trace of smoldering man.
Worst case, the biopsy comes back positive, and they have to remove the prostate — the tiny gland where all my hopes and dreams reside. No wait, I think that’s my gallbladder.
I’m not fully sure what the prostate does. Yet, like your tonsils, I know it’s not necessary for a complete and satisfying life. Sort of like ski boats. Or gym memberships. But they’re nice to have.
To me, the only true problems are medical problems because then you are in the hands of God and his universe, which is a lot like a Costco on a Saturday afternoon, full of amazing opportunities with a few agonies thrown in just to keep you on your toes.
Suzanne accompanied me to the biopsy, sitting with me when it was over.
“Not bad,” I explained. “It made a snapping sound. Like an industrial stapler.”
“You’ll be fine,” she assured me.
She’s right. I’ll be just fine.
So much to look forward to. Her, for instance. And Smartacus, and my daughters, and that little leprechaun with the full-on princess wardrobe, Cakes.
My granddaughter just turned 3. She is a wandering minstrel … She is “The Sound of Music.” There are a few people on the planet — Bittner, Jeff, Billable Bob — who can make me smile no matter my mood, and Cakes is one of them.
When she crawls in my lap, I feel like I’ve won at life, which I mostly have.
Amid the usual setbacks, the DMV crap, the unexplained charges on my debit card, my life is — for the most part — pretty great.
I’ve spent a month pondering the capriciousness of all this … how cancer seems to strike the nicest people … well, at least till it zeroed in on me.
While waiting two weeks for the biopsy results, I appeared on a Patients Perspectives Panel for graduating Keck medical students.
I told them about the bug zapper. They laughed. One thing I wanted to stress about modern medical procedures: They’re pretty hilarious.
I also cautioned them: Don’t finish your patients’ sentences for them. That’s presumptive and rude. It tilts the relationship even further in the doctor’s direction. That relationship is already out-of-balance.
To be fair, medical issues are riddles. Doctors are pressed for time. It’s understandable for them to want to solve the riddles quickly … to reassure you and get on to the next task at hand. All their lives, they’ve been the first in their classes to get the right answers.
But my life is not a race. Or a trivia contest.
If medicine is a soft-tissue art form, and I think it often is, doctors should do patients the honor of hearing them out.
Will the young doctors respond accordingly? Maybe. My own urologist noted that young doctors lack the social skills of older colleagues.
“Why be a doctor,” I wonder, “if you don’t like your patients?”
There are many answers to that. Porsches. Hubris. Hero worship.
I’d like to think most prospective doctors get into the profession for the right reasons. But what do I know for sure, other than — by and large — people are prone to do the right things.
Meanwhile, I just keep grinding away, hoping no one will notice me too much. That has always been my way in life. I don’t fear success. I just don’t completely know what the hell it is.
Seriously, define success. If you asked me, I’d probably say: Bittner, Miller, Jeff, Billable Bob. My kids, sweet silvery Suzanne. That big wolf who waits at the end of my bed each morning, hungry as a horse.
Think I’ll go walk her now.
By the way … if you must know, the results came back negative. No cancer. No surgery. Just a few meds to tame a jumbo prostate (roughly the size of a bobcat).
Such a life.

There’s so much to live for, including this wolf.

Email the columnist at Stay tuned for info on the upcoming May 18 hike.

First published May 9-11 in Outlook Newspapers.


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