Part I

It’s time for my annual tune-up, in preparation for my departure to points unknown. Yesterday was north-of-the-neck day. I had my mouth, eyes and ears probed, examined and cleaned. I managed to cram three doctor’s appointments into one muggy day spent tooling around the North Shore of Long Island in my parents borrowed minivan. This is the same minivan that, brand-new, shuttled me to college, and then shuttled my brother and I for eight consecutive years after that as we reconstructed our lives in tiny dorm rooms and palatial houses, one cube of plywood at a time.

Now the minivan has a few dents and its radio is all weird. As I went from one doctor to another, happily receiving good news (Your teeth are not going to fall out! Your eyes and ears work just fine!) I noticed that the minivan had deteriorated at a far faster rate than my own earthly vehicle. I noticed that getting good news at the doctor is a pleasure in itself.

Just like last year’s annual tune-up, I began with the dentist. Except I made my appointment at the last minute and I realize now that I saw the B-team of my dental practice. I didn’t know that dental practices even had B-teams, but they do. Dr. Lou Smolar was not in until the aftertoon, and Jen, my usual hygienst, was all booked up. As the song says, you don’t know what you got till its gone. Jen, I now know, is an artist of teeth-cleaning. The cleaning I received from her understudy was subpar. Jen gets in there with that tiny but powerful hose and she veritably detonates the plaque. Then she takes that little fishook pick and she expertly plumbs the gumline with never a mis-poke. She lets you rinse frequently and reassures you that the boxer-like loogie of viscous blood you expel is “perfectly normal.” Finally, she gives you a choice of polish flavors and finishes you off with some mouthwash. After a cleaning with Jen, I fast for the rest of the day, just to enjoy the pristine emptiness of my mouth.

Now, in the past I’ve been hard on Jen, because she also talks compulsively and loudly the entire time she’s cleaning and she’s really close, so she’s yelling right in your ear. But I now realize that this is just the price of her art, like a tick a great batter might have in his stance, or the way a talented but drug-afflicted musician might just forget the words. Jen, how I missed you yesterday as your less-gifted colleague scraped half-heartedly around my mouth, jabbing me with the pick, mis-aiming the tiny spray device, telling me to rinse with water–water!–and positioning the X-ray films uncomfortably in my jaws! Jen, next time you call me at 8 a.m. on Friday to remind me that I’m due for a cleaning, I won’t hang up on you, I’ll make the appointment right then and there, I swear!

Then the B-team dentist came in and told me I did in fact have to have my remaining wisdom teeth out, even though Lou Smolar, D.M.D., told me I didn’t. Unlike Lou Smolar, the B-team dentist did nothing to soften the blow. There was no philosophy, none of the soothing metaphysical dental conversation I’ve come to expect with my oral diagnoses. There was no dental Zen koan reminding me to roll with the punches, accept what comes my way, even to accept myself, all of which are lessons my true dentist, Lou Smolar, has taught me in his dental care. But luckily, there were also no cavities.

I’m not taking it too hard about the wisdom teeth. On the downside, it’s a half-hour of pain and the sound of your own jaw cracking and giving way. On the upside, it’s a week of prescription painkillers and sympathy. I’m trying to look on the bright side.

Then it was off to the optometrist. The optometrist and I go way back. He made me my first pair of glasses (bright blue satellite frames–it was 1987) and oversaw the installation of my first pair of contact lenses. He reassured me that no matter how legally or illegally blind I might become, he would always be able to correct me to 20/20 vision. He also used to try to fix me up with both of his twin sons, but I was haughty then and thought I was too good for anyone from Great Neck.

We exchanged updates of who’s in grad school (one of his twin sons, my mother, my boyfriend, assorted others) and who’s out of grad school (the other twin son, my best friend, assorted others). Maybe they’ll teach. Maybe law. But we don’t think law. There’s so much you can do with a policy degree. Yes, yes. And me? Still teaching, still writing, still in Brooklyn. It’s good, yes, it’s good. I read the bottom line of the chart, but that could be because it hasn’t changed in the twenty years I’ve been going to that office. I could be completely blind, cover my right eye and read the bottom line of the chart. The bottom line of the chart is TZVECL.

Then the moment I’ve been waiting almost twenty years for arrived. My presciption is holding steady. The technology is proven. We seriously discussed LASIK surgery.

The guy my optomestrist refers his patients to, he’s the best. That’s good, because it’s something of a value among my people (Jews) to see the doctor who’s name is always punctuated with the words, “He’s the best!” It’s like another set of letters after “M.D.” But you just use his last name, and no honorific. “You gotta go to Rosenbaum. He’s the best!” It’s the kiss of death to reccomend a doctor to us and if we ask, “Is he good?” to say, “He’s alright.” The only acceptable answer among my people is, “He’s the best!”

So this guy is the best. Very few complications, lifetime guaruntee if your prescription changes. And in the pre-op and post-op, my optometrist runs the tighest of ships. Not one of his patients has “ripped a flap,” as they say, which means opened up the incision they make in your cornea to turn your own eyeball into a permanent contact lens. Not one. “And I’m not about the start now,” he said with such emphasis I almost saluted him.

I have to be cautiously optomistic, because it still remains to be seen whether I’m a candidate. My eyes are so bad that it takes very thick glasses to correct them, and the same will be true of the permanent glasses they’re going to install in my corneas. They will have to be thick. Which means my corneas have to be thick enough to make them. If I have even slightly below-average-thickness corneas, it’s a no go. I’m seeing a plastic surgeon tomorrow to get a cornea job. Maybe collagen. Maybe implants. I’m not sure yet.

If I am a candidate, I’m gonna get corrected to vision like a fucking fighter pilot, man. I’m going to be able to shoot flies off a soda can at 200 yards. I’m finally going to be certain of just who that person next to me in bed is, without having to smell them. I’m going to see the fucking clock radio when I wake up in the morning and it’s three inches from my head, and just thinking about this, I almost weep with joy.

In addition to the myopia that is necessitating the LASIK surgery and the small inheritance that is going to help pay for it, my ancestors have given me, through the amplification of certain directives in their genetic code, a bizzarre and rather gross medical condition for which I’ve come to be thankful. This would be what I am told by a medical professional is a exceptional and exponentially-accelerating ability to produce earwax. (If you do not share my childish fascinaton with gross medical conditions, stop here. Here, go memorize the Bill of Rights or look at a pretty picture.)

I am thankful for my earwax, however, because it has brought into my life a very special person and a very special medical instrument. These would be Dr. Michael S. Cohen, Board-Certified Otolaryngologist and his magical wall-mounted ear-vaccum.

The story of Dr. Michael S. Cohen and his magical wall-mounted ear-vaccum and what they mean to me are indeed a story unto themselves, one that deserves its own boldface title and a bit of prologue and background. So for now I leave you in the four-hour shopper parking area adjacent to the medical buildings of Great Neck, trying to figure out how to step setting off the car alarm on your parents’ minivan. Tune back in shortly for Part II of the riveting story of a neurotic Jewish girl from Long Island who still goes to see a lot of doctors there.

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