Thursday, March 22, 2012


When I had my tonsils removed, I asked the doctor if he could preserve them for me so that I could see them. He laughed, because he thought I was joking. “No,” I said, “I’m really that interested.” And, creepy. As I was waiting in the recovery room, watching The Golden Girls and trying to convince my mom to push my morphine button again, my doctor brought in two infected looking pieces of tissue, baby shit green in the yellow preservative. They looked like pasty boogers suspended in apple juice. “To think—these were in your body!” Nice, I thought. These two pea-sized organs that had swelled to nearly golf ball size one month ago had the power to completely incapacitate me for 3 months, as well as keep me home so much my freshman year of high school that I almost didn’t pass. These little things could’ve killed me. It blew my mind. 

I had my wisdom teeth taken out in a pain study at the National Institute of Health. Wisdom teeth extraction is expensive. Even more expensive when one doesn’t have dental insurance—like me. So I when the offer appeared to have free surgery from a qualified agency, in addition to being able to help advance SCIENCE, I jumped at the chance. 

After a few preliminary questions to see if I qualified for free surgery (“Are you an American born citizen? Yes? Are you currently abusing pain medication? No? Alright, you qualify.”), it was explained to me that I’d either take a placebo or a pain killer before the surgery. I wouldn’t know, and neither would the doctors. A double blind test it’s called, if my twelfth grade psych class memory proves correct. They’d put me under heavy local sedation, give me laughing gas, and do the extraction. Afterwards, they would collect what was pouring out of the holes in my jaw and study the hormones and chemicals. I asked if I got to keep my teeth, and they said, “of course!” I was excited. 

The laughing gas made me feel as if someone had pumped my brain full of helium and circuses. I couldn’t feel the pain, but my fascination was more than alive, and heightened to an unbearbly obnoxious state. All I could see were huge chunks of teeth hitting the tray beside me, and even though I was completely numb, I could feel—and hear—the “yank”--and the instant hollow sensation being quickly replaced with blood flowing over the hole and down the side of my mouth. I kept trying to say, “wow let me see those fuckers—they’re soooooo huge” as they pulled more quarters of teeth out. The doctors kept muttering things to me, trying to get me to be quiet, but the laughing gas made me feel too stoned to do anything but giggle at the thought of me fighting a saber tooth tiger wearing a Rainbow Afro. 

In the end, they didn’t bring me my teeth. Bummer. And, as it turned out, I was in the placebo group. Even MORE of a bummer. This meant I sat in immense pain for 3 hours with tubes running from my mouth into sterile cups, while nurses measured my pain reaction from 0-10. 0 being, “eh,” and 10 being “HOLY SHIT TO FUCKING GOD I HATE YOU IF YOU DON’T GIVE ME MORPHINE I WILL RIP YOUR OVARIES OUT YOUR MOTHERING FUCKING ASSHOLE. Ohhhhh goddd I’m in pain, wahhh.” Clutching my throbbing jaw and feeling tears roll down my face, I guessed a level 8, although it’s definitely hard to judge what level of pain you’re in when they’ve just extracted 2 molars with roots about half an inch long from your jaw. I kept expecting the pain to get worse. And when it did, I wasn’t surprised. 

Such is my love for medical science, I would put myself in harm’s way just to further it.

I think it’s the lingering engineer gene from my father’s side lying dormant somewhere within me, but I love science. All but two men in his family became engineers of some sort: agricultural, civil, rail road, mechanical, etc. (of the two who didn’t, one became an Artist and one, a Baptist Minister. Go figure). The Turner family is really good with numbers, logic, spatial reasoning, music, and I’m really good at… drinking, writing, and complaining, more like my mother’s side. Believe me, if I weren't absolutely inept at math and science, I would totally be a forensic pathologist and it would probably kick more ass than I could possibly fathom. Science is fucking amazing.

Anyway, I have this mild obsession with learning how life sustains itself. The fact that millions of microscopic processes have to occur in specific moments just to keep me alive fascinates me. I hate cancer--obviously--but it’s amazing how the body can turn on itself, even if you lead a life free of smoking or drinking—or conversely, how someone can live to be 94 while smoking two packs of Lucky Strikes everyday (like my great-grandma on my mother’s side). How you can overdose on water, how toxic human shit is, how you went home with that asshole from the bar because you both were reacting to scents you were giving off that you weren’t even cognizant of—amazing! 

I was always the first one with gloves and a scalpel whenever there was a dissection in class, and most of my teachers made a comment on my “almost disturbing” excitement at getting to cut through an animal. Why not? What’s not to be excited about? It’s much like a teenage boy getting to see for the first time what’s really under the girl’s bra. I never get a chance to see internal organs in the flesh, so to say. There’s a whole factory going on inside me that I’ll never get to witness—outside of a glass filled with formaldehyde or on an ultrasound, or should I ever start that “murdering strangers in alley ways” side project. 

I read as much as I can, and took as many classes as my slacker-creative-writing-concentration-collegiate schedule would allow, but I’ve never really been satisfied. Really, more than anything, I want to sit in on a human autopsy—preferably someone who was mauled by a bear or murdered horribly. I want to see jagged, bloated, purple skin, gag at the stale, irony smell, get a glimpse of what a thousand mile stare really looks like. I want to take each organ out and weigh, examine, dissect, follow trails. I want to be utterly terrified that the cadaver will come off the table and rip my heart out of my chest. 
I'll just go ahead and add "sit in on autopsy" to my bucket list. 

*side note, I love forensic pathology, but I hate, hate, hate every incarnation of CSI. I feel like that's important to note here.


Kim said...

YOu forgot to mention your heroic mom who hates dentists, but brought you to Bethesda anyway. (Even tho I sat huddled in a chair in the waiting room with my hands over my ears making NO EYE CONTACT incase they decided that they needed another person to do a pain study on. Seriously. I don't go to an exam or even get my teeth cleaned without Valium.) but honestly, You could be whatever you want to be!

The Ikari One said...

If you start murdering people, you'd probably do it in Audrey Ways, not Alley Ways.

Also this:

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