Somehow, someway mom became well- connected.
Mom is an accountant who works from home. She shops at Ross and is still mourning the death of the family dog 10 years later. I don’t know how this happened but she is cooler than me. Since my diagnosis, mom became my secretary. Doing research, making calls, scheduling appointments. And since she is well-connected Mom knew somebody who knew somebody that was important at Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia. So that important somebody asked Dr. Daniel Kremens, head of the Neurology Department, to come in on his day off to see me. The other two neurologists who I had previously seen spoke of Dr. Kremens with humbling reverence. Bowing their heads at his name as I often do when speaking of the Immortal Hulk Hogan.
My appointment was at 10:00 am on a Tuesday. We waited for the 8:20 train from Levittown to Market East. I was 33 years old and excited to ride the train. The last time I took a train was in 2008 when the Phillies won the World Series and I was heading to the parade with two friends and a case of beer. One of my friends, Filipino Mike, wore a Superman costume and everyone kept calling him “Chinese Superman” and saying things like “Go Phirries” and “Aw, Phirries numba juan.”
Mom and I herded ourselves onto the train with important looking people. This was not the parade crowd. If they saw Mike in a Superman costume they would say “hey there goes Filipino Superman” and raise their pinky and sip their lattes and ruminate ways to maximize their IRA accounts. These are people who took conference calls and had martini lunches. I felt underdressed. It was opening day of the NHL season and I was wearing a Flyers t-shirt. They were wearing three piece suits and shiny shoes. They all carried luggage. Briefcases and messenger bags. I felt that these people were all doing more important and exciting things then teaching suburban virgins about Jay Gatsby and his damn green light.
We exited the train at Market East. Mom rushed to the bathroom and I stood surveying the human traffic. I was nervous. Dr. Kremens was built up to be God and I was going to see God in my finest Flyers t-shirt. I leaned against the tile wall and thought maybe I should have at least worn a polo. Mom darted out of a doorway, wringing her hands and flexing her face as if she just ate something sour and complained about the dire conditions of the subway bathroom.
We hustled up the nearest stairs and pushed through the doors of the train station and into a great burst of sunlight. The streets were alive. Pigeons and cars and people coming and going all under an exhaust filled sky kissed with a hint of urine.
Mom and I looked like tourists mazing up and down the streets looking for Jefferson Hospital. It was embarrassing. Here we are in our home town looking for a hospital that covers five square blocks and we can’t find it. We asked for directions twice. Once we entered the hospital we asked a security office for directions to the Neurology office. Once we got to the right floor we asked directions again.
In the waiting room of the Neurology office sat a very fat woman who was wedged between the armrests of her chair eating a family size bag of Cheese Puffs. As I signed in, I watched her shovel handfuls of the orange baby dicks into her mouth. I moved across the room and sat next to mom who was flipping through a magazine whose cover featured a woman too clothed for me to care.
I was a bit startled when after only a few minutes of waiting and listening to the fat woman get fatter my name was called. But I was with mom and she was well-connected. It was like going to Applebee’s with Mic Jagger.
We were led by a male nurse who jumped into a conversation with me about the Flyers in order to announce his manliness and to divert attention from his lavender Crocs. We waited in a well light office with a nice view of the city. I watched Philadelphia move in silence. Traffic lights changed from green to yellow to red. Parking meters expired. Men and women hustled up and down the sidewalk. Philadelphia pulsed with aliveness. As if somehow knowing this would be one of the last warm days of the year. Before winter stormed in.
Mom bit her lower lip and cleared her throat as on the verge of speech but something pulled the words down and she retreated into the privacy of herself.
Dr. Kremens entered the room. He was the smartest man I had ever seen. He sports a white lab coat with his name embroidered in red over his heart. Tall. He was at least 6’2. Handsome. With smart silver hair-like God’s- hair that humbly suggested he was better than you. He asked me what I did and I told him that I teach English and he explained how many moons ago, after he created light and Adam, he was an English major and now he is a neurologist and I was impressed. He sat down next to me and told me to tell him about why I am here. I told him my symptoms and he wrote down everything I said on a yellow note legal.
He asked me if anything was bothering me right now.
I looked at mom. Her hand cupped my knee. As if to say “Go on son, tell God what’s bothering you.” I looked back to Dr. Kremens.
“Well doctor as a matter of fact there is something bothering me right now. There is a very fat lady in your waiting room with a mouth full of orange baby dicks. I’m worried that she may choke or die or worse catch mouth herpes.”
I didn’t say that.
Mom was there and she is well connected and I wouldn’t want the inner circle that she is somehow in to say things like “Donna is an angel but her oldest son is bit of an asshole. Did you hear what he said to God?” And they would shake their heads and raise their chins and bask in the glow of their connectedness. I told him “nothing.”
I gave him my MRI and he put it into the computer. When the image of my brain came on the screen he sat back in his chair a bit rubbed his chin. He was silent for too long. I looked at mom. She bit her lip and looked at the floor.
Then God spoke.
“Do you mind if I bring someone in to take a look at this?”
Not good. God needs backup. Maybe he was calling Jesus or Jonas Salk. He picked up the office phone and called someone and he told them to hurry and hung up the phone. He looked back at me in amazement like he was witnessing something even He had never seen before like a truthful politician or a three legged dog climbing a flight of stairs.
Enter a young Chinese/Korean /Pilipino doctor. He is my age but clearly more important than me. Like God, he is sporting a lab coat with “Dr. Chen” stitched in red above his heart. I’m hoping the Chen is Chinese/Korean /Pilipino for Jesus.
“Jason, this is Dr. Chen”. I shake his hand. They are soft and small and Stigmata-less.
Dr. Kremens points to the computer screen and says, “Take a look at this Dr. Chen.”
Dr.Chen looks and squints and looks at me and says “Is this you?”
I wasn’t sure if this was some Taoist philosophical question so I answer proudly, “Yes”. As if we were admiring a framed picture of me holding a large mouth bass by its tail on the shores of some mountain creek.
Dr.Chen looked back at the screen then back at me “How are you sitting here right now?”
Again with the philosophical questions. “I’m not sure. Why?”
“Because if I had to diagnosis this patient based on this MRI alone I would say that they are either in a hospital bed or dead.”
Mom cleared her throat.
Six eyes drilled holes through me.
And I thought the fat lady inhaling orange baby dicks in the waiting room had problems.