Croup

Croup: (n) any condition of the larynx characterized by a hoarse cough and difficult breathing.

One of the more annoying aspects of writing a column or posting a blog on the Internet is what seems to be the incessant need to talk about life beginning with how it relates to yourself.

I will be honest—I don’t think I am as interesting as other folks do.

I don’t know whether this is even possible, but I have often felt I was boring myself.

But when I saw the word “croup” today, I couldn’t resist relating a piece of personal identity concerning the condition.

Up until five years of age, I was sickly.

Chubby, round-faced and ill. (Very attractive for young parents.)

Every time I caught a cold, it went into my chest and I mustered a hacking cough which eventually made it difficult to breathe. So my mother often rushed me into the bathroom, turned on all the faucets with hot water, and sat there with me in the steam, hoping my croup would clear.

It was so bad one night that the town doctor was called to come to our little bungalow.

He  felt compelled to give me a shot of adrenalin in the heart to keep me among the living.

Yet somewhere along the line—about the age of six—I began to improve. It was a good thing, because on top of my croup, I was festered with an inability to master swallowing pills, and the only real treatment for my condition were these huge, white sulfa tablets, which greatly resembled horse pills.

So yes—because I could not swallow them, I had to chew them up—two at a time, every four hours.

When the reprieve came and “croup” decided to become a part of my past, I was jubilant. Later on we discovered that because my dad was a cigarette smoker, the air quality in our little home was not conducive to my fussy lungs.

So even though I shared this story with you in candor, and the years have certainly passed, and I have proven myself to be more balanced for the human environment…

I still feel like a Willy Wonka Wimp.

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Crocodile Tears

Crocodile tears: (n) insincere tears

It’s difficult to determine what ends up making something popular.

I guess most folks would think that some action gains notoriety because it’s so successful.

Yet there are many things we do in our society that are not successful at all.

But we insist on continuing them out of tradition, politics or religion.

No, there’s more to it than that.

For something to be truly popular, everyone who participates needs to feel they’re getting something off of it.

Recently it has become prevalent to share your life story in front of a camera on television and to cry.

Everyone is supposed to feel great empathy.

Therefore, you can win over the favor of an entire audience while simultaneously making them feel generous with their concern.

The hitch in this plan is that ultimately, we all favor winners. Otherwise there would be no need for trophies, awards and accolades. So how is it that we are convinced that a close-up on our face with crocodile tears, sharing the tragedy that has happened to us, is supposed to be powerful enough to place us in a preferred position?

We now have singers who don’t sing for the joy of it or write songs because they feel energized or compelled. Rather, they hope that in singing or writing they can gain enough money to move their poor little family out of the trailer, and the youngest daughter, who was born with a third arm, can finally get that operation which is only performed by one doctor, whose clinic is in the Alps.

The ingredients are all there:

  • A sympathetic character
  • Crocodile tears
  • A nearly unbelievable story
  • And a wish that somehow or another, those who are listening will assist by voting this particular singer to the winner’s circle.

It works around this horrible assertion that bad things happen to us:

We are victims.

There were no opportunities to improve our situation to this point.

And there are forces at work to destroy us which we don’t seem able to curtail.

Now, if this is the case—in other words, if there’s truth to the fact that any one of us can be impaled by a mysterious destiny that’s targeting us—then I have to admit, the human life journey seems fruitless.

If I have no say, I’d rather not speak.

 

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Colon

Colon: (n) large intestine or large bowel

Talk about “it’s a dirty job but somebody’s gotta do it.”

How’d you like to be a colon?

“What’s your job, Mr. Colon?”

“My entire function is to take the shit to the hole.”

I’ve had two colonoscopies in my life. That’s where they go into your intestine with a camera to make sure that it’s ooey-gooey and doing its job. They want to confirm that you don’t have cancer or polyps, which are possible precursors of the disease.

The first time I had a colonoscopy I went into the hospital feeling really bad. A beautiful young woman from China was my doctor. She was so sweet–but I knew
she thought I had cancer. It’s not that I believed I was free of the affliction, but I saw no particularly good reason to etch my tombstone until I had more information.

So they prepared me for the whole process.

The day before the event they brought in a gallon of fluid and told me to drink all of it in as short amount of time as possible. The drink loosens the bowels and empties everything inside–or at least, everything that is willing to be dislodged.

I was faithful. I pooped until my poop looked like water. (And that is a little weird.)

Well, long story short, she went in with her camera and found out there was no cancer and gave me a clean bill of health.

What I remember most about that experience is the legitimate joy on her face when she came to tell me I was alright. It was so intimate, tender and childlike that I teared up and cried.

Was I crying over her gentleness, or was it releasing tension I didn’t know I had about the possible diagnosis?

I don’t know. But it was beautiful.

So every time I go to the bathroom–well, nearly every time–I think about my colon and how patient it is to do its job.

And I also think about someone who was a complete stranger to me–a doctor–who possessed such empathy that she took a moment of grace and the memory of it will last for my whole lifetime.

 

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Clavicle

Clavicle: (n) technical term for collarbone.

He weighed eighty-five pounds.

I, on the other hand, was a hundred and ninety. We were both eleven years old, and close friends.

He loved to wrestle. He especially enjoyed doing it with me because it made him feel strong, tough and courageous to take on his massive
buddy.

Of course, I’m not gonna roll over and not wrestle (even though I guess rolling over is part of wrestling). So we would get into it.

One day, during a sleepover at his house, we were tumbling along, and he suddenly screamed out in pain. I thought he was just kidding, so I continued my vigil. But he kept squalling, and finally said, “Stop it!”

I pulled away as his mother appeared in the door, having heard the great commotion.

Well–they took him to the doctor. He had broken his clavicle. They explained to me that meant his collarbone.

It’s a design flaw.

The clavicle is a suspension bridge that goes across from one shoulder to the other, which should be thicker–maybe four lanes. But it’s pretty thin, and more like a gravel country road.

It actually breaks pretty easily. At least, that’s what my mother told me when trying to comfort my soul over hurting my friend.

His mother, on the other hand, refused to allow me to come over any more, for fear that I might snap her boy’s neck. I explained there was a difference between a neck and a collar bone. Her response was, “You’re not a doctor. What would you know?”

So whenever I hear of someone breaking his or her clavicle or collar bone, I have two thoughts deep in my heart:

  1. Ah, oh… No more fun with your friends.
  2. Can someone make that little thing stronger?

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Cholesterol

Cholesterol: (n) a compound of the sterol type found in most body tissues

She told me my cholesterol was a little high–“she” being my doctor.

She didn’t seem terribly concerned, but she still had a pill she thought would be jim-dandy to use. I took the pill, came back for my next visit
and my cholesterol was down.

She clapped her hands. She was glad.

I, on the other hand, felt no difference whatsoever.

I’m not trying to put forth the theory that there needs to be a physical or emotional pay-off for every good deed, but it sure helps. For if your cholesterol goes from 212 to 108, you should have some sort of bell that rings.

Maybe your eyelashes get fuller. I’m not asking for much.

Effort and reward. It’s the basis of the theory of human habitation. “If I do this, then I get that. But if I do THAT, then I’ll get THIS.”

I buy into the concept like everyone else.

Supposedly, cholesterol gums up your arteries and increases the possibility of a heart attack. But in a moment of true candor, may we state that what the medical field insists is beneficial in this particular season, will be completely out of fashion by the time autumn arrives.

Being a veteran of “oat bran,” and more recently, “gluten free,” I realize there are things that may be good, but not necessarily essential, and their worth is not equal for all humans.

I wonder why more doctors don’t encourage good cheer. It certainly does give immediate results, and may very well be good for your health

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Cabaret

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Cabaret: (n) a nightclub or restaurant where entertainment is performed.

Even though life is not a cabaret, it also is not a church service.

It’s not a funeral.

It’s not a long wait at the DMV.

It’s not sitting in a doctor’s office.

It is not watching a second television show because you have nothing else to do.

It is not reading a book and thinking it’s just as good as traveling.

It is not a night out with the boys or one out with the girls.

It is not a political party.

It is not intolerance.

It is not going to your job and being miserable.

It is not going to your job and offering a lackluster performance.

It is not favoring your culture over another.

It is not thinking that you’re better than other people.

It is not owning anything (but a winning smile).

It is not selfishness.

It is not well-advertised bigotry.

It is not…

Well, I could go on. Let me change my original thought:

Life is a cabaret.

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Buoyant

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Buoyant: (adj) able or apt to stay afloat

I was nearly sixteen years old before I worked up the courage to take my shirt off and slide into a swimming pool with other people my age.

I was fat.

When you’re a teenager and fat, you’re convinced that everything is much more dramatic and even bulbous than it actually may be.

For instance, I was frightened that my lips were too big. Matter of fact, I asked my mother if there were any blacks in our ancestry. There weren’t. For you see, my lips weren’t too big–they only appeared that way when they were placed an inch-and-a-half away from a mirror.

I also thought I might have accidentally inherited women’s breasts. I was sure if I took my shirt off, someone would notice this, or if there was a doctor in the house it could be diagnosed. Of course, nothing was further from the truth. My belly was so big it made my chest look flat. Nevertheless, the notion lived and breathed in my mind.

So when I finally did work up the courage to get into the pool on one summery afternoon, I waded into the deep end, and when I stopped waving my arms, I realized I could stand in the water without having to tread.

I was so damned impressed with myself.

I was buoyant.

The rest of my friends swimming around me were ferociously trying to keep afloat by moving their arms and legs. But not me.

I was so proud of the discovery that I shared it with everybody in the pool. Many people were equally as astounded.

For a brief moment I gained the status of “the man who could float on water.”

I was empowered.

And then one of the adults who was in the pool with us (for some reason feeling the need to be truthful) swam over and explained to me and all my followers that the reason I was able to float in the water without moving my arms was that fat floats–is buoyant–and was lifting me up in the pool and holding me in place.

One of the girls I was desperately trying to impress crinkled her face as if trying to gain greater wisdom.

“So what you’re saying,” she said, “is that he’s like a beach ball–because you can’t drown a beach ball. It keeps popping to the surface.”

The grown-up nodded, feeling he had successfully achieved explaining the premise.

I lost my entourage. No one was impressed anymore.

For after all, how attractive is a human beach ball?

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