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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

How I am Married to a wonderful Woman

Sunday March 3, 1985     East 52nd Street, New York, NY

Friday all day I worked on the Mott Street apartment, rebuilding the falling masonry below my windows. Clouds of mortar mix and plaster once again settled all over everything, my papers, my bedclothes. Late in the day, as if some crisis were already in the brew, I went down the fire escape with a broom to sweep off Joe Terranova's landing, which had become covered with falling bits of mortar. He was after all, super of the building.

As I descended the steeply pitched staircase, my left leg fell through a hole where a step in the metal ironwork was missing. My shin slammed against the hard iron of the step below and I pitched the rest of the way down the scaffold to his landing, nearly breaking my neck. I bruised my shoulder and cut my hands which I put in front of me. Within seconds my leg was swollen to an awful size.

The whole experience is a repeat, almost exactly, of what happened to me nine years ago while I was a senior at Yale. There, I had succumbed to my youthful fantasy of invincibility one evening, and lept, on purpose, down one and a half flights of marble steps, so as not to wait behind a slow moving crowd that was exiting a theater. At that time I did not break my leg either, but I limped home. It swelled, and became septic. At around the same time, my love life changed. A young classmate named Donna, invited me to recuperate at her house in Greenwich. I still bless her for her generosity. Months later I was left with a hell of a scar at the front of my shin.

All this flashed before me.

I managed to get the leg under cold water to contain the swelling, showered quickly, to make myself somewhat presentable, changed, then in a bizarre feat of concentration, repaired the telephone which hadn't been working all day.

I contemplated trying to dress the wound myself. At one point I wrote a note to Ami, very clear-headed, telling her how I had gone to the hospital, then locked the apartment and went out onto the street. No cabs were to be had. The time when Ami would leave the Journal and head up here to Ruth's apartment was soon approaching. I decided to go back up, and place the call. I even washed some clothes. Finally I called her at work, she said was leaving work immediately and to stay put.

When she arrived we took first a bus then a cab to St. Vincent's Hospital Emergency Room. Between the time of the accident, and Ami's arrival, I had gone into serious shock. I know this now because the initial pain of the accident, while excruciating, quickly became almost painless, and I was doing non-sensical thing like getting dressed without covering the wound, and repairing telephones.

They didn't keep me waiting long at the hospital. The emergency room doctors were interns, brand-new, and suited green straight out of medical school. They were students, my age. The young woman that tended to me cleaned my wound with an iodine sponge, piled it high with an icepack, then sent me downstairs for some X-rays. Most of the time at the hospital was spent waiting, for X-rays, or for someone else to check things out. Later, the same intern showed me the x-ray photographs, all the bones were fine and okay. Before bandaging me up she attempted to clean my wound again, then started picking at it with her fingers! I suggested that she get another iodine sponge and clean it out again, not that I should win any awards for self-care. Later I saw her go to work on a tiny cut at the back of a man's head with a suture kit and gloves, a clean shallow cut, with no swelling underneath. Yet she picked at my enormous contusion, a veritable golf-ball sized blood clot, with poor circulation, with her fingers!

I began to think that some of the most elementary lessons in medicine might not be getting through to today's students. Perhaps the ideas of Louis Pasteur are not being transmitted in the same way as they used to. Perhaps the attraction these day is all drama and revolutionary the operating room theater, with all it's lights and mythos. Artificial hearts, hip replacements, bone-marrow transplants, etc. What will all the advanced technology of medicine be worth if the ideas of Pasteur, protecting the body from infection, or the simple rules of nutrition passed generation to generation, are forgotten?

Myths blind. They take over, and blot out memory. They rule, and so they rule us.

I spent all day yesterday here at Ruth Jhabvala's apartment with Ami, my feet up on the end of the couch. Ami made a trip out to buy more gauze bandages, and adhesive tape, and iodine to keep the wound clean. She also went to my Mott St. apartment and picked up an extra shirt, jeans, and my typewriter, albeit, covered with cement dust.

Monday March 4, 1985                                                   East 52nd Street, New York, NY

Leg much better, swelling is down, though it still looks ugly. Black and blue spots of blood clot turning yellow below the surface of unbroken skin. The wound itself is starting to close over. I'm afraid I'll have a larger scar.

Yesterday, all day, with Ami, here. Bright sunlight flooded into the windows and the songs of all types of birds, and a mourning dove which I never imagined lived in the city. We opened the doors onto Ruth's little balcony and put the mattress in front where all the sun would stream on top of us and lay there and made love, and slept for hours on end. Our conversations are fuller. We talk about everything, and without being conscious of it, as we were for so long a time. She told me a little story how, when as a little school girl in Ahmedabad, she went on a field trip with her school, and got a load of lice in her hair. She was so embarrassed and felt so defiled that she wouldn't step through the garden gate when she got home. She stood outside on the street and shouted and cried for her mother. I thought it was fascinating, that caste, and notions of cleanliness were so strong even in her family, which is so separated from those ideas, that a child feels contaminated and doesn't want to bring disease into the home. In other cultures, Japan particularly, dishonor was the dreaded contamination. A clan member who conducted himself dishonorably, brought that dishonor to the whole clan and family. Most often he preferred to excommunicate himself rather than return home, or if he was a samurai he purified his blood and name through ritual seppuku. As it turned out Ami's mother came running out and brought Ami inside, and made a shampoo of a special soap mixed with kerosine, and washed her hair in it.

In the spring, at her school, everyone gathered on a plot of empty barren ground, and planted a seedling tree. The youngest child in the school was made "Spring King" or "Spring Queen", and wore a special costume. All the children wore traditional dress for this occasion.

There was dancing, games, and music.

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