Honestly? Brain surgery was really hard.

My dad is a small-town doctor.


Specifically, he’s a small-town gastroenterologist. Other kids got to have career days where their fathers talked about firefighting and farming and banking. I got a particularly traumatic “take your daughter to work day” where it finally dawned on me that my father had probably shoved a tiny camera up the ass of most of my elementary school teachers. I asked him once why, after years of medical school, he had ventured into this particular branch of the profession. He started to give me a fairly articulate answer about his fascination with the complexity of the human body, with the necessity of the digestive system, his desire and ability to save lives… and then he got this mischievous twinkle in his eye and said, “Honestly, brain surgery was really hard, and there’s a lot of money in shit.”

So there’s stuff from my childhood that I didn’t realize was weird until much, much later. Other kids, for instance, didn’t sleep with an anatomically correct stuffed animal named “Funny Tummy,” let alone pretend Funny Tummy was their imaginary best friend. Other kids didn’t know how to define and spell “esophagus” by first grade. Other kids didn’t accompany their fathers to the grand opening of the “Colossal Colon” display at the Aviation Mall and crawl through a 40-foot replica of the human digestive tract to learn about diverticulitis. (Remember when Katie Couric had a colonoscopy on the TODAY show? This is the closest my father’s ever come to media stardom: he was interviewed on a local cable access channel about Katie Couric’s colon health, where he promptly taped over the VHS with a golf game, to my intense dismay, because that interview was YouTube gold).


But mostly, you know, when I come home to visit, I never think, gee, I wonder how the ol’ poop business is going. I think, oh, hey, great, I get to spend some time with my dad. That aspect of his life feels mostly off to the side: it’s just not the first thing I think about when I hang out with my father.

He is generous when it comes to charity, and I sometimes help him send out his end-of-the-year gifts: March of Dimes, Toys for Tots, Special Olympics, Make-A-Wish. I sat on the floor of his office, licking envelopes, writing return addresses, enjoying the task at hand and the opportunity, just for a few moments, to work alongside him.

And then I found this.


Of course he would donate to a charity that would use the colon as catchy marketing eye-candy. Of course. 


When you’re gone from a place long enough, you forget the everyday weirdnesses until you’re asked to believe they are totally normal.

I tried to ask him about it. “Dad,” I said, “You’re donating at the rectosigmoid level!”

He smiled. “How far up is the next one?”
“… Splenic flexure?”
“Oh. Yeah. That’s pretty far up there.”

We exchanged thoughtful and tasteful Christmas gifts after that, but I’m pretty sure that next year, I’m just going to buy him this instead.




16 thoughts on “Honestly? Brain surgery was really hard.

  1. Alright, Katherine, I’ve got to share this story with you after reading your latest post.

    I play fiddle in a band that has played every week in a little bar in W. Philly for about 12 years. We don’t promote our selves, but from playing every week for so long we end up with gigs now and then. In this particular instance, a band mate of mine was un able to perform at an annual piano gig at a hospital in the burbs. She asked me if I wanted to cover the gig this year with some fiddle tunes. $100, to play on the stage for 10 minutes before the powerpoint lecture, and 10 minutes at the end while the doctors are mingling on their way out of the auditorium.
    Apparently, there is a doctor who feels that there is too much separation between medical disciplines in the hospital. In the spirit of bridging the gap, they organized a symposium once a year, on St. Patrick’s day, in which selected doctors from different disciplines lecture together on a common topic to an audience of their peers. They wanted to incorporate live music, as the theme was “harmony”.
    So, I asked my pal Kevin (the guitar player in our band) to come along and play the gig with me. We arrived at the hospital, found the auditorium, connected with our host and played three fiddle tunes on the stage while the doctors trickled in and took their seats. When we finished our first set, we took two empty seats in the front row, instruments in hand to watch the power-point lecture on the screen that towered above our front row seats.
    “Wonder what this is gonna be about.”, I said to Kevin.
    The lecturing medical professionals took their place behind the podium, and cued the power point. There on the close too Omniverse size screen appeared a colossal photograph of an asshole. Kevin and I looked at each other. The tone of the room was very serious, and the voices at the podium began to drone about colons and such and just as I thought it couldn’t get any stranger, the still image of the asshole began to move, or rather the camera began to move, towards the asshole and then into the asshole. Over the next 25 minutes or so, Kevin and I sat in the front row trying not to look at each other, while the camera kept tabs on a scalpel that cut the asshole out, and dropped the asshole on the operating tray. I think they removed a tumor and put it back, but mostly what I remember is the moment when the lecture ended, everyone applauded and it was indicated that we were to step onto the stage and play our final set of fiddle tunes.

    Strangest gig ever.

    • Okay, so I love this story, and I’m pretty sure you witnessed a video feed of a colonoscopy. It’s basically the same experience I had when I was a kid during “Take Your Daughter To Work Day,” except without the fiddle tunes. (And now I’m really curious what your setlist looked like. I mean, how do you really follow that act?)

  2. Wonderful article and I laughed until I cried at the follow up comment. Just shows what is familiar is so easy to be around and what is strange is a hoot..w,e sure don’t know our own bodies very well, do we. Thanks for making my day again!

  3. Interestingly, there’s been a lot of discussion in the world of biological science about how the gut could actually be considered a “second brain,” being an organ with some of the most complex nerve innervation. So in a way your dad’s kiiiiiind of doing brain surgery 🙂

  4. It was pretty normal to talk about stuff like that at our dinner table too when I was in my later teenage years. My older sister was a nurse and I was studying to be a vet and out greatest fun was to talk about gross stuff to put people off their dinner. And I can still get her to dry retch just by saying pilonidal abscess.

  5. I get it. My dad was a surgeon, and I distinctly remember slides of 25 pound ovarian tumors among the family, wire-haired fox terrier in the plastic pool and First Holy Communion slides on the Kodak Carousel rotation.

  6. I often wonder how our genes would have helped us to get evolved to the present level of sophistication of our bodies. This post touches upon the same wonder from a different perspective.

  7. Oh Fritzi. I enjoyed that so much I laughed out loud! Please wake up every day and tell yourself how damn special and bright and adorable you are!

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