A true story.
“Eh looks like she’s in Denver,” admits the ever-helpful director of Lost and Found. While simultaneously looking up the surf for Christmas Day, he explains how our luggage “Should be here in like uh, um, an hour or so. Do you like want a cookie while you wait?” Rejecting Brody’s generous offer of Santa’s jolly and edible head, my father leads us to the Promised Land. This was our reward, our trophy for surviving a day of delays, babies screaming bloody murder, passengers using the obnoxious reading light, and smelly Americanized Asian food. Desperate, we run like robbers through LAX’s Terminal 5 and I swear I can see the steam release from my father’s ears as he approaches the cold, steel bars imprisoning Starbucks. The bars lock him out of enjoying a bitter Grande black coffee and iced lemon loaf, maybe two because why the hell not? My attempt in justifying the baristas’ night to do Santa’s work fails as I mutter through my teeth, “They must have the holiday off.” My parents and sister were not having it, but I was oddly content because well, I’m weird. Trying my best to hide my contentment, I back away from the atomic bombs and towards this great glass window to watch the planes come and go carrying people. Real people. Humor me and think about it for a minute –these passengers have real, tangible lives just like you and I. The families, careers, lovers, heartache, happiness, and guilt they carry are nothing I know of. I know nothing of the patient and polite 27-year-old man from Pasadena in seat 24 B. He’s just garnered up the strength to meet his birth father for the first time in Jackson Mississippi. He wouldn’t admit it to anyone board, but he’s slightly nervous of flying on Delta Flight 1493. He’s especially silent about his distress because there’s a tired single mother in his aisle, wrestling to buckle in her four children for safety. I know nothing of this, but I wish I could.
I stray from Mr. 24 B because his flight is taking off and there goes another one… and another… soaring into the clouds. Until this moment, I don’t think I’ve ever really thought about it, but I find it fascinating, miraculous really, that this massive metal object can support itself in the sky. I’m not superstitious, but I’ve always pranced into the cabin right foot first, accepted the attendants’ offer of a beverage and peanuts because why the hell not, they’re free. I’d had this mundane way of traveling all 17 years of my life; never giving the surrounding engineering the consideration it deserves. I’ll admit it to you, they did teach us about the Wright Brothers in history class. However, what my private education failed to enlighten me on was how the brothers literally did it. It is here in the middle of the terminal at 11: 57 on Christmas Eve that I feel the urgent need to quench my curiosity. Connecting to the airport’s weak excuse for Wi-Fi, I spend the first minutes of Christmas day researching the logistics of aerodynamics on the Dummies website.
* * *
At 11 years old and fresh off the field from the “Pink Nightmare’s” semi-final soccer match against season-long rival “Blue Strikers,” I’m sitting in a cold, gray office hallway waiting for my mother to finish her conversation. They have pictures on the wall that you know were put up to comfort people and think to themselves “Ah nice,” but I wasn’t buying it. My mom was in advertising at the time, but I could never successfully wrap my head around why anyone would buy something just because they were exposed to it in a T.V. advertisement, or felt an emotion just from seeing a visual image. “Yes ma’am,” the doctor admits, “It is a possibility. However these scans only tell us so much. We will need to do further testing.” He was talking about me, and the possibility of bone cancer. I wasn’t as much scared, as I was anxiously confused and craving explanation. I thank God everyday that they ruled out cancer; however, in the absence of this diagnosis left years of uncertainty, continuing to present day.
* * *
It’s a beautiful Saturday in Southern California. I’m sure it was partly cloudy and 72 degrees, as usual. I’m checked in to the Hilton in Newport Beach, but I’m not on vacation. I’m a mentally and physically tense 15 year old lying on an operating table in the “Pacific Ballroom”. As stress related beads of sweat form on my forehead, I observe an ocean of unfamiliar faces with thick glasses and crisp, long, white coats staring me down. An elite squad of the coats move my legs in strange directions on stage. Without permission, they take clear plastic measuring devices to my hips, viscously recording notes with tense eyebrows and pursed lips. As the coats hold dozens of black and white scans to the exquisite ballroom chandelier lights, I kneel on the table in attempt to see and discover with them an answer to my undoubtedly frustrating question.
I understand the purpose these coats gathered here today, but why did they personally choose to be? Most of them weren’t paid to be here – so why do they care about the conference – why do they care about me? I figure they chose to be here so they can take their new understandings back to their countries or states and apply them. So then what? They go make some incisions, close ‘em up, prescribe some painkillers and have the satisfaction of curing the vulnerable? I was vulnerable at the time; however, I don’t feel any less vulnerable now than I did on that sunny Saturday in a crowded room. Following countless hours of collaboration amongst some of the most noble and curious coats that exist, they found what they believed to be a solution. People pat Dr. Radkins, my coat, on the back and congratulate him on my “successful” surgeries.
To this date I hold the utmost respect for him and his work, but I often question the intentions of his actions and interest, or curiosity, about my case. Throughout the years that he treated me we grew close. He was my role model in medicine and I was thrilled when he invited me to intern for his practice. However, I soon began to notice that he fits the stereotype of a doctor: brilliant and arrogant. His attitude is quite literally night and day depending on if the patient is conscious or not. He hates patient questions. Hates them. I found his initial consultations typically last 7-10 minutes with one foot out the door. In the operating room, it’s a different story.
“Hit me with the Kanye West, Hayley” he enthusiastically yells through a blue mask elbow deep in thy muscle. Everyone loves him in the OR. He’s a god and he knows it. He could not be more in his element. I spoke to the distraught patient on the day of the surgery and they admitted to me this is the worst day of their life. They haven’t slept in a week because the risk of surgery is terrifying considering her father died in a routine operation two years ago. Today Dr. Radkins is cool as a cucumber. He’s intensely rapping the Yeezus album and asking me how to “do instagram.” In an ironically safe space, he is doing what he truly loves. I’m on the sidelines genuinely fascinated by the medicine I’m seeing before my eyes, but it starts to worry me how curiosity can get the best of people. For Dr. Radkins he gets so caught up in satisfying his curiosity that he forgets who is under the knife and why he’s holding it in the first place. I think back to my experience with him as my doctor and have to wonder if his kindness and compassion is just a façade so he could tackle my case, forgetting to account for my age and how it would affect my life. It’s a pessimistic thought, but in success there is always sacrifice. He provided me a solution to the problem, but at the cost of what? Normality? A perfectly mundane childhood? I wasn’t aware in the moment of what Dr. Radkins was indirectly taking from me because my reality was the only reality I knew.
* * *
What if I never endured my series of unfortunate events? What if I never met Dr. Radkins? These “what if’s” give me the same feelings of anxiety and impatience I feel when I get existential. Why are we actually here? What is time? It’s obvious these answers are unattainable. Yet, I still manage to spend unnecessary amounts of time critically thinking through them and the alternate directions my life could have taken. If everything was perfect I might have been this ultra athletic, fit, tan, product of my unclean environment. I would have stayed in Orange County. I wouldn’t have stayed for the weather though. I would have stayed because I was comfortable living in that moral-less la la land as a girl who has it all and knows it. There are infinite paths, infinite life choices, both major and minor, that could have altered my path. I accept am on this one. It wasn’t a decision I could have made, or even Dr. Radkins could have made for that matter. I have to believe that there was a reason for the awkward middle school dances I was dancing with crutches and the super sweet sixteen parties I was on a sterile surface for. His aggressive take on my innocent hip directed me on a path that I doubt I would have ever discovered alone. As I walked my path, like Dr. Radkins and the coats, I began diligently questioning things myself.
* * *
The coats stroke their chins, periodically glancing at me and proposing solutions to one another in a language I don’t understand. I start to contemplate that while the coats do well financially, there has to be something more. I come to understand this deeper drive noticing how the coats weren’t really looking at me. They were looking at my hips. They weren’t “objectifying” me as a person, but rather as a question. Their drive to participate and think critically stems from their fundamental curiosity and craving for an opportunity to indulge in it. My case isn’t just another day in the office for them – it’s stimulating, challenging even. I can only assume that this curiosity is what gives them their purpose in life - that it fills some void on their path where they can combat uncertainties.
Face down, ass up in the Pacific Ballroom I question my tendency to be what I like to believe is curious, but others might call “nosy”. Why the hell do I care and why am I thinking about it now with a sea of white coats heavily breathing on me, desperately attempting to indulge their own curiosity? Am I no different than them?
“Try and bring your knees to your chest,” the coat directs.
“She’s barely at 85 degrees. It’s like a frickin’ wall,” another coat grunts attempting to break the 85 as if his life depends on it. They soon after realize I can hear him.
Everyone likes to tell me how awful my situation is and how scared they would be. They say I’m numb to my reality for not seeing the severity in the situation.
“A total replacement would provide maximum flow and flexion,” a tall coat suggests refusing eye contact with me.
I’m not numb though. I’m just confused, curious really. I want so badly to understand the things that even the leading orthopedic surgeons in the world can’t figure out.
Dr. Radkins reminds them with a caring hand on my shoulder, “Doctors, respectfully, it’s not plausible. She’s only 15 years old and would need a new one every 10 years.”
They seem to forget I can hear them, but I’m okay with it. I’m intrigued by the jargon.
* * *
I annoy myself at times. I focus on the minute details of anything from the most unimportant, uninspiring things to absurd questions beyond the scope of human intelligence. Why must I be so impatient and obsessed with knowing all things and resolving all things? I shouldn’t care where a tall businessman with a wedding ring tan line is headed to at the airport. I shouldn’t debate with myself if he’s cheating or if it’s just his Lipitor cholesterol medicine that causes him to retain water and make his fingers swell. I want to be okay with the unknown. I wish I could be truly happy with life - it’s uncertainties and imperfections. At the same time, I don’t feel like I am fully living unless I’m venturing uncertainty. Stillness is overrated - I need a purpose. Perhaps it’s my attempt to find something stranger than myself or maybe I’m just narcissistic. I’ll figure it out.
The very best,