Friday, January 5, 2007

Death Camps, Secret Codes and X-Rays

My wife thoughtfully fell through the garage ceiling just before I was scheduled for a nice, restful 13-day vacation. With all the doctor visits, home care arrangements and wheelchair handling, I didn’t get much rest. But of course, the goal was to get my wife on the healing path, so that she wouldn’t require surgery. Surgery would mean nuts and bolts and pins and plates holding her bones together, and a much longer recovery period.

Yesterday was the day where the doctor would tell us whether surgery would be necessary, and we had been looking forward to it with nervous anticipation.

I woke up at 5:30 to get my daughter ready for school. Because there is a limited supply of school busses, the school districts use them six times every day. The first trip is to get high-school kids to school. The second trip is to get middle-school kids to school. The third trip is to get elementary school kids to school. The process is repeated in reverse later in the day to get kids home. Anyone who has lived with a teenager (or anyone who has actually been a teenager) will tell you that this is completely the opposite of how it should work. Teenagers need their sleep, and are capable of horrible acts of violence against their well-meaning parents, who have to face them and fix them breakfast at that unreasonable hour.

Nonetheless, I was up much earlier than I like, after 13 days of sleeping late. Because I knew I would be up early, I scheduled a dentist appointment that morning at 7:00. I arrived, not yet fully awake, and was ushered into a room containing one of those electrically-operated chairs that can be configured to thousands of positions, none of which are comfortable. I think the CIA uses them for waterboarding.

The dental assistant was new, a woman about my age with a thick accent. I asked her where she was from, and she said, “Poland.”

I said, “Oh that’s interesting. What part of Poland?”

“Southern Poland,” she replied. I should have sensed that she was evading my question.

“Yes, but which city?” I asked.


I swear I had no idea there was a city where the famous Nazi death camp was located. I just assumed it was out in the countryside somewhere, to provide privacy for the atrocities that would be committed by members of the German Master Race. Where I live, school children are often taken on field trips to the clean, charming theme parks for which the city of Orlando is famous. I didn’t ask the dental assistant where school children in Poland go on their field trips.

I spent the next few minutes struggling to make light conversation, until the dentist arrived to jam a needle into my jaw, injecting what felt like a quart of burning Novocain. Frankly, I prefer a cup of coffee at that hour of the morning.

An hour later, slack-jawed and drooling, I drove home to pick up my wife, who had an appointment at her school to meet with her boss and clean up some paperwork. While we were in her office, a little boy from third grade was ushered in with his teacher. The teacher said, “Josh has something to tell you.”

Josh, looking very uncomfortable, said, “I think I’m in danger.”

My wife asked him what he meant, and he said, “Because bad men might find out that I know the secret code.”

At my wife’s school, there are electronic locks on all the exterior doors, and teachers who take kids out to recess must enter a numeric code to open the doors to re-enter the building. Josh’s teacher explained that he had shown intense curiosity about the code all year, and had been shoulder-surfing to try and learn it. Eventually, he succeeded. His teacher found him telling other students about it, and she had to explain to him why the code was a secret. Now she needed the administration to change the code, and she wanted Josh to know what pain in the ass he had caused. In about 10 years, look for a kid named Josh to be arrested for hacking into the Pentagon launch-control computers.

Finally, we headed off to my wife’s doctor appointment. They took some X-rays, and the doctor peeked at them briefly. I don’t know about you, but I always want doctors to show more interest in my X-rays than they do. It’s the same with auto mechanics. They are professionals, and they’ve seen so many broken bones and leaky head gaskets that they can identify them with just a casual glance. So it always looks as though they’re not paying attention, and might miss something.

He quickly spun around and said, “Everything looks good. No surgery.” He told us that my wife needs to stay off the ankle for 4 more weeks and she can then begin to hobble around. The shoulder will take a little longer, and she’ll need rehab, but probably just what they call “at home” rehab, where she does some exercises on her own time. She’s relieved to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Personally, I’m relieved to be back at work

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