|Genre||Short Story (20 pp.)|
|Keywords||Anatomy, Anesthesia, Children, Communication, Doctor-Patient Relationship, Family Relationships, Hospitalization, Loneliness, Medical Testing, Memory, Nursing, Ordinary Life, Pain, Parenthood, Patient Experience, Physical Examination, Professionalism, Society, Suffering, Surgery|
While on an airplane, Carson experiences abdominal pain. He is a divorced man in his fifties and a sales representative for a computer and information technology firm. He spends much of his time traveling and fancies himself "a connoisseur of cities." The increasingly severe stomach pain forces Carson to reschedule his business meeting and retreat to his hotel room.
His suffering mounts and he decides to visit the emergency department of the city hospital. Carson is evaluated by two young male doctors and later a middle-aged female physician. Despite blood tests and X-rays, his diagnosis remains murky and a surgical consultation is obtained. The surgeon suspects appendicitis. He postulates that Carson may have a retrocecal appendix and explains that in such cases the anatomical location of the organ often confounds the diagnosis.
Carson undergoes surgery. His appendix is indeed retrocecal and rupturing. He spends five days convalescing from the operation. During that time he acquires an intimate knowledge of the city from his stay at the hospital. The experience revitalizes him. Carson reasons that the world is miraculous in part because it is so simple yet still spectacular.
The hospital can rightfully be viewed as a bustling city. Its population is comprised almost equally of patients and the staff who care for them. The story provides an insightful glimpse of the details of hospital life. For example, acquiring the knack of walking along with an IV bag attached to a pole becomes a satisfying accomplishment for Carson.
The surgeon in the story is depicted as a savior. Not only does he make the correct diagnosis in the nick of time, he is imbued with grace. Unlike the other physicians who examine Carson, the surgeon is portrayed as wise and gentle but also decisive. He sits at the side of Carson's bed and does not appear rushed. He is the quintessential doctor.
Suffering is astutely illustrated in this story. Carson is convinced that "misery itself becomes a kind of home" (37). Furthermore he is embarrassed by infirmity: "For the sick feel as shamed as the sinful, as fallen" (45). He concludes that pain wears us down but perhaps no more so than time itself. Being sick is bad enough, but falling ill while away from home and by oneself surely amplifies the agony.
Traveling is seen as unavoidable. Carson journeys not only from home to strange municipalities, but also from marriage to divorce, a previous job to his current one, youth to middle age, and health to disease. He remains a curious man despite his setbacks and descent. By exploring new cities and meeting strangers, he just might become more familiar with himself.
|Publisher||Alfred A. Knopf|
|Place Published||New York|
|Miscellaneous||Originally published in The New Yorker.|
|Annotated by||Miksanek, Tony|
|Date of Entry||05/11/04|