"Somehow, this is not the distinction I had in mind," I said. "I don't mean to seem ungrateful. And I don't mean that I was under any illusions that a Nobel Prize was coming my way. I suppose I was wondering whether there might be some appropriate honor in between."
I'm the sort of person who can settle for a middling distinction. I was perfectly content the last time I was officially singled out for recognition, in 1953, when my high school classmates voted me Third Most Likely to Succeed, Boys Division. Both of the first two went into insurance.
"And I don't mean to imply that I have any trepidation about the surgery," I told the doctor, "although I can't claim to be thrilled by the thought of my heart lying on a table at the side of an operating room somewhere. I know how forgetful those guys can be. I've seen Chicago Hope. I mean, I can picture them sewing me back up and then having some scrub nurse say to the rest of the team, 'Do you hear a noise coming from somewhere over by the door--a sort of bah-BAAM, bah-BAAM, bah-BAAM?'"
"They don't put your heart on a table for this operation," he said. "They just hook it up to a machine."
"That makes me feel a lot better," I said. "Well, maybe not a lot better, but better. I think we can take it for granted that they're more adept with machines than I am or than those Chicago Hope doctors are. The doctors on that show couldn't be trusted to operate a pop-up toaster."
I suppose that, all in all, watching Chicago Hope is probably not the best way to prepare for surgery. Just about all the doctors do on that program is complain about their lives or argue with one another about who left the scalpel in some poor bozo's lower intestine. I pointed out a long time ago that if anybody you knew in Chicago found himself in that hospital, the best thing you could do for him would be to put him in an ambulance and get him across town to the doctors on ER. Those guys seem to cure just about everyone they get their hands on, lickety-split, and they're only residents.
"Do you have any other questions about this procedure that you'd like me to answer?" the doctor said.
"Yes, I certainly do. For 12 years now, you've had me avoiding foods with fats that might clog up my arteries. If I'm going to get new arteries in two weeks, can I eat as much Italian sausage as I want to between now and then?"
"No, you can't," he said.
"I suppose that answer also covers pancetta, scrapple and barbecued hog shoulder," I said.
"Definitely," he said. "Is that everything, then?"
"Well, I was wondering if you thought that Ideal Candidate for Heart ByPass Surgery is the sort of distinction that might be accompanied by a small plaque. I'm not talking about anything showy."
"It might be hard to find one with a picture of a heart on a table," he said. "But I'll look around. Meanwhile, just sign here."
Editor's note: The author is recuperating from heart-bypass surgery, which was unaccompanied by an appropriate plaque.