I’ll Take Cultural Illiteracy for $400, Alex

There’s no doubt that doctors — medical doctors, I mean — are smart. They know a whole lot of stuff about a whole lot of stuff, after all. That vast reservoir of knowledge can be intimidating to the rest of us, especially since we tend to have most of our interactions with MDs when we are sick and vulnerable and needing answers. They know so much, you think, about things that are beyond your ability to begin to comprehend. It’s easy to assume that they must know it all, right?

Wrong. It turns out there are vast dead zones in that reservoir of knowledge, a veritable Sargasso Sea of information into which a doctor has never even dipped his toe. At least, not the particular doctor I am writing about today, a very capable urologist who recently had the honor of blasting to pieces (with a laser, not a taser) my kidney stones, while also putting in place a stent (a thing hollow tube from the kidney to the bladder) that allows the body to pass the stones and pieces without anything gumming up the works. The stent is left in for 3 weeks or so, and then removed during an outpatient procedure that is so not a big deal that it would take more time to describe than to experience (and probably be more painful).

It was a week ago Monday when I returned to the urology clinic to have the stent removed, and there was the usual bored waiting for the doctors in the exam room. To distract me and relieve the boredom, the nurse turned on the TV and asked me what I wanted to watch. I’m not big on daytime television, but it happened to be about 2:30 in the afternoon, which around here means it’s Jeopardy! time. Of course, no sooner had the first round started when the doctors came strolling in. They both greeted me, and the resident came right over and started prepping for the procedure, which involves a tiny camera attached to a grabber thing to pull the stent out. The head doctor, the urologist, paid no attention at all to me or my kidney after that initial greeting. Instead, he stood next to the exam table with his head tilted back, seeming totally absorbed in — you guessed it — watching Jeopardy! Of course, over the past 4 months I’ve gotten used to the idea that it’s the residents that do all the work, and the doctor is just there to — observe? offer feedback? satisfy the insurance company’s liability requirements? collect $200 for an office visit? — I don’t know. Which is to say, I wasn’t all that shocked that the urologist had lost interest in me, but I kind of wondered what was so fascinating about the TV .

Finally, after about 5 minutes, he spoke. (I should mention, he is originally from Ireland, though he’s been here for 30 years, and still speaks in a lovely brogue.) “So, they give you the answers and you have to come up with the questions?” he said. And it dawned on me — he had never seen Jeopardy before! In fact, he had apparently somehow managed to escape even learning the rudiments of the concept of Jeopardy! I was so stunned by this that I didn’t even notice when the resident yanked the stent out a moment later. I get that doctors are generally busy in the afternoons, but how could someone live in this country for so long and never manage to catch a glimpse or a rumor of one of the most popular game shows in history? The mind boggles.

Postscript: I was relating this story to my friend Diane, who asked me what I had said when he dropped his bombshell of obliviousness. I’m not sure I said anything because I was in shock, but I wish in retrospect that I had been able to come back with one of her suggested ripostes, which I offer here for your amusement:

  • “Whaddya, new here?”
  • “Hey, doc, me and my kidney are down here!”
  • And my personal un-P.C. favorite: “The answer is German. The question is ‘What language would I be speaking today if it wasn’t for the U.S. freakin’ Marines?’ Now pay attention, limey!”
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2 thoughts on “I’ll Take Cultural Illiteracy for $400, Alex

  1. I’m sure your kidney stones appreciate it! As an employee of the UI, I go where the insurance is, and that’s UIHC. Of course, I’ll be perfectly happy to never have to go through that whole procedure again — it was worse than cheemo.

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