In Which I Discover That I Am Indeed Headed for Surgery (Part 2 of 4)
I had several days to spend dreading my visit to the neurosurgeon, and I spent them profitably. Just what the heck does a neurosurgeon do? Don't they operate on your brain? Is something wrong with my brain? Just who is this mysterious Dr. Chong I'm supposed to see? These and other questions plagued me for several days, and I tossed and turned every night as I imagined the shadowy Dr. Chong slicing into my skull to remove chunks of spongy brain matter. Yeah. I'd probably wind up paralyzed, slurping up baby food and drooling into a bib.
My day finally arrived, and I showed up at Dr. Chongs office early. I limped into his cool, quiet waiting room, wrote my name on the patients list, and settled down for the usual 3 hour wait. Imagine my surprise when I was called after a 30-minute wait -- the first time something like this had ever happened to me.
A gorgeous blond nurse with glacial blue eyes and a sterile manner led me back to a holding room. "Good morning, Basil. Are you feeling well this morning?" she asked.
She didn't mean it: she spoke those words as mechanically as a soap opera actress reciting her lines. She didn't seem to think it was a very good morning, and she obviously didn't care whether I felt well or not. I responded with the mechanical, rote answer: Oh, I'm doing fine.
The Ice Princess asked me several questions about where I hurt, when my pain started and how I slept at night. After I answered her questions, she fake-smiled and said "the doctor will be in to see you in a few minutes," then she was gone, leaving behind a faint trace of an exotic, expensive perfume.
I looked nervously around the waiting room. The walls were a low-gloss cream color, and unlike most doctors' offices, there was nothing on them -- no pictures, no diplomas, no certificates, nothing. A badly creased two-year old gardening magazine sat in the seat of one of the two chairs, and a small examining table extended out of one wall. That was it: the place was as bare as a monks living quarters. I pondered on this for a moment. Couldn't Dr. Chong afford furnishing for his waiting rooms? Was this sterile, lifeless room indicative of his character and his surgical ability? I began to picture Dr. Chong. A heavy-set Oriental man, decked out like a hog butcher in bloody surgical scrubs with a stethoscope carelessly tossed onto one shoulder. He'd have a crusty scalpel in one hand, a broken tongue depressor in the other. "Lie down on the table, Basil" he would say, "and we will begin the operation. No need to waste time and money with anesthetics. Hurry up."
I was almost ready to bolt from the room when I heard a soft knock at the door, and a slender, well-dressed Oriental man entered and closed the door. He looked young -- maybe less than thirty, and his thick wire-rimmed glasses glinted as he extended his hand. "Good morning Basil. I'm Dr. Chong."
I shook his hand. Was this the doctor who would be cutting on me? He didn't look old enough to be a college graduate, much less a surgeon. He sat down, opened a thick folder and began leafing through a pile of papers.
"Hmm." Dr. Chong stroked his chin thoughtfully, then turned to me. "Let's see how much range of motion you have in your leg." He put me through a series of movements in which I pushed and pulled with my foot against his hand. I rotated my leg, raised and lowered it, and walked briefly around the bare room.
"Well, Basil", he said, "you have a condition called spondylolisthesis. A vertebrae has broken, shifted forward, and is pinching a nerve, and this is what is causing so much pain down your leg."
"Spondola&..spondylolothosus?" I struggled with the term.
"Spondylolisthesis. Basically, your back is broken. We're going to have to operate on you, and the sooner the better."