Random Memory of Medical Terror

I am facing some major surgery that is both necessary and very scary. As I have been absorbing the situation and processing it, I have found that it has dredged up some very old memories. One is of one of my earliest experiences of sheer terror. Fortunately, the passing fifty-plus years have shaved the horror off and left, of all things, a bit of humor.

It would have been the mid-sixties at, I believe, Boston’s Floating Hospital for Children (this was after the time that it actually floated). I was perhaps eleven years old, and it had been decided that part of the process of Figuring out What Was Wrong with Me required that I have a spinal tap. All I was told was that I must lie very still, lest the procedure paralyze me for life.

With those reassuring instructions, I was stripped naked and told to lie on a stainless steel table in the middle of a cold, medium-sized, tiled room. No nurse, no drapes, no sedatives — just barely pubescent me, newly menstruating and horrified by the changes happening to my body, shivering on an icy metal slab.

Behind me I heard two doctors enter in mid-conversation. One was an older female physician (then a rarity) and a younger male. She said to the other, “You’ve never done one of these before? No worries, I’ll guide you through it.” That wasn’t reassuring, but what came next was worse.

There was a pause, and then I heard seven of the most terrifying words that could have been uttered in that situation. The older doctor barked, “That’s not how you put gloves on!” Immediately, I froze in my shivering and teeth-chattering long enough to imagine a protracted existence spent in a wheelchair or an iron lung. OMG, even I knew how to wear gloves. What the hell was going to happen to me now?

Fortunately, the procedure went off without a hitch.

The moral to this story, for young medicos everywhere, is to remember that your charges, even the wee ones, have ears and may overhear your casual conversations.

Posted in Chronic illness, Health care, Medical training

How I was “groomed” in the 60s to be gay

I know that far-right conservatives are concerned that itty bitty kids will be “groomed” to become lesbian, gay, transexual, etc., if they are exposed in any way to ideas that are tolerant of anything other than binary heteronormativity. I’m sure that this is a sincere concern and is not at all bigoted, and so I’d like to share my experience in the hope that it will help them in their quest.

I was born in 1953, and I so I grew up in the 50s and 60s, a time when, as the saying goes, one wouldn’t say “gay” if one had a mouthful. 

It is truly astounding that I turned out gay, given that my parents, my siblings, my first-, second-, and third-degree relatives, my neighbors, my friends, and even my enemies were all as heterosexual as is humanly possible. Given that none of my textbooks (not even my math textbooks!) included any non-straight, non-binary, or non-white references, how was I insidiously “groomed” to turn into the utterly lesbian person that I grew up to be?

I have spent hours deep in thought, thinking about my experiences and trying to understand how this happened to me, and I do believe that I’ve finally figured it out. 

Now, back in the 60s, if you were a white, non-Hispanic American who enjoyed the upbeat musical stylings of a mariachi band, it would be most natural for you to be a fan of the musical group called Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. Herb and the TJB ruled the charts from 1962 until he first disbanded the group in 1969. The group’s first hit, “The Lonely Bull,” was written by Sol Lake, who wrote many of the group’s original songs. 

Herb Alpert, 1966

Okay, so picture me, 10 or 12 years old, bopping along to my favorite mariachi band. Herb looked so dashing, and the music, littered with cheers and crowd noises, seemed so authentically Mexican. Now, imagine me discovering that, in fact, the TJB was nothing but a case of crass cultural appropriation!

Herb Alpert was born in Los Angeles of Ukrainian and Romanian Jewish heritage. Sol Lake (born Solomon Lachoff) was a Chicago Jew. It is possible that one or more members of the infamous Wrecking Crew (who aside from Alpert made up the TJB), possessed some degree of Hispanic heritage, but let’s face it, the TJB was a big, fat lie. I was flabbergasted when I discovered this. It was like finding out that there was no Santa Claus or that up was down, black was white…. I think that it was at that moment that my head exploded and I was set on the path that led me to a life of queerness. 

Now, you may say that this is just a silly theory, and that could be true. So, to test it, scientifically, I dug out my copy of “Whipped Cream and Other Delights,” plonked it on the turntable, and listened to it. Almost immediately, I began to feel more gay. Knowing the truth about the TJB, you can only hear it as camp, and it can have an immediate and decisive influence on your sexual orientation or even gender identity!

The album cover of “Whipped Cream & Other Delights”

And you know what this means, don’t you? Now that you, too, know the truth about the TJB, you must never again listen to their music, lest you abandon your wife, your kids, and your straight life, entirely. 

Kids aren’t “groomed” to be gay by having Heather Has Two Mommies read to them. It’s listening to Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass that does it. Beware!!

Posted in LGBTQIA+, Politics, Satire

Shukri

 

In the fall of 1971, I was a sophomore at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, studying Italian language and literature. Hoping to improve my fluency, I attended a weekly “Italian Table” held in one of the school’s dining halls, where we conversed, as well as we could, only in Italian. It was there that I met a charming and intelligent young man named Shukri, who told me he had recently arrived from Tripoli, Libya, and wondered if perhaps I would be kind enough to show him the sights in Boston.

I agreed, but when I showed up for his “tour,” he arrogantly informed me that there really couldn’t be anything of interest to see in a city that was, what, perhaps 400 years old? He admitted he was just hoping to get me to agree to a date with him.

While I had my misgivings (including the fact that I was a closeted lesbian), he was both charming and intelligent, and so I agreed to go out with him. On our very first date he told me he had worked for OPEC, where his special talent was pricing oil to maximize both sales and profits. I asked him what he was doing in the United States, a country he seemed to disdain. He launched into a diatribe like nothing I had heard before, about how amazingly stupid my country was, how they had invited him, a patriotic Libyan and profound enemy of the U.S., to come here to study — for free! — at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Why, I asked him, if he hated the U.S., had he agreed to come here? His response was, “Learn things, wear blue jeans, date pretty girls? Why not?”

Thus began our year-long relationship. Shukri loved to tell me about how much he loved his homeland and how much he despised the Italians who had still colonized his country when he was born. He told me, with tears in his eyes, of his first day of school, of how he, part of the first generation of Libyans allowed to get an education after Libya’s liberation from colonial rule, marched to school through streets lined with people who shouted encouragement or ran up to him to press candies or coins into his hands.

His feelings of love for his country and culture were profound, although his interpretation of his Muslim religion probably wouldn’t have sat well with Muslims holding more fundamentalist views. For example, when I asked him why he drank hard liquor — wasn’t that against his faith? He explained that Allah was great, all-loving and all-powerful, and that he, by committing a little peccadillo, was giving Allah a chance to show his magnanimity by forgiving his sin.When I asked him how he felt about being dedicated to a country ruled by a madman, he replied that if one were a small, relatively powerless country, constantly threatened by larger, more powerful countries, might it not be prudent for the leader of the weaker country to seem more capricious, less predictable, and hence more dangerous?

He enjoyed some American music, and I vividly remember him singing a folk song when we drove around in his VW bug. As soon as the light turned green, he’d sing, “Green, green, I’m going away, to the far side of the hill….,” in his heavily accented English. (I believe that he spoke a half dozen languages.)

Occasionally he would order me to show up wearing a “nice dress,” and he would take me to a party at the Fletcher School, where I would juggle his cigarettes and drink, and listen to the amazing array of diplomats, military officers, teachers, and government workers who would mingle and exchange ideas. Shukri’s roommate, when I knew him, was a U.S. Air Force officer, a Mormon from Utah.

Regardless of how much Shukri railed against the U.S., he was living cheek-by-jowl with Americans, and even dating one.

Why am I sharing my reminiscences of my long-ago dalliance with a U.S.-hating Muslim Libyan? Because long afterwards, Shukri Mohammed Ghanem became prime minister of Libya, and while he was in that office, he worked to thaw and improve Libya’s relationship with the United States.

Shukri Ghanem in 2010 (Photo by Υπουργείο Εξωτερικών)

Shukri Ghanem in 2010 (Photo by Υπουργείο Εξωτερικών)

Many Trump conservatives would agree with the 28-year-old Shukri that the U.S. was “stupid” to let him into our country and educate him for free, but would they be right? If Shukri never came here, would he have worked to improve Libya’s relation with us? This idea that keeping all of our potential enemies out of our country makes us markedly safer ignores the reality that to know a country and its people is the only way to build bridges. As the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, said, “Hatred never ends through hatred.”

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Posted in International Relations, Politics
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