Friday, July 17, 2009
The doctor went for oysters in the middle of surgery. He frequented a bar serving seafood several blocks from the hospital. The freshest oysters, a sparse lunchtime crowd. The shucker wore white gloves, pried open the shells with deft slices. Spinal surgery, fusing of vertebrae. I’ll be back in a jiffy, he told his staff, eyes above white masks. A half dozen and a Harp, he told the barkeep, and make it snappy. Barkeep gave him a funny look, like, what are you, rushing off to surgery, as he poured a golden draft, as if bartender trumped all occupations. Suspension, termination, malpractice. All the risks, but he’d made the incisions, started the procedure and froze. Never happened before; he panicked. A dribble of cocktail sauce covering the raw oyster, a slithery coldness that slipped into his mouth, down his throat. The bivalve was technically still alive, drowning in stomach acid. Fifteen minutes. His phone buzzed in his pocket. He realized that he was still in scrubs, donning medical blue from head to toe. His patient was not in this world, back sliced open, waiting for healing, a page back to living. He finished and ran back, thinking not about excuses but how he’d pick up a knife, how he’d ever operate again.