Apr/May 2008 Travel

Lucy, You Got Some Spleenin' to Do

by Larry Jer

On our very anniversary, we opted for "his and hers" ultrasounds. What better way to say "I love you" than with a good viewing of your spouse's internal organs? (Rejoice, oh ye Romantic Fools, for I have reset the bar!) And to sweeten the pot, have it in a developing country where one is language-challenged, and whose hospital vending machines stock cigarettes and a selection of sausages marbled with lardy bits.

It didn't start this way. My wife, Jun, was the one on a "mission of health." She had a melange of discomforts not meaningfully addressed by the medical community in Canada. We'd already planned to visit her parents in China, so we simply combined our pleasure trip with a medical second opinion.

There merely for support, I was somehow smooth-talked into taking a spin on the Doppler. Figure: a guy convinced to visit in-laws on the other side of the world can't be that hard a sell.

The day after arriving in Beijing, we started our booked rounds at the city's finest Army Hospital. The Chinese medical system is fast and cheap compared to Western standards, but with the affordability of treatment, come some, um, considerations.

For one, ignore your acculturated need for personal space. During my ultrasound, curious passersby stared at my on-screen innards with the same nonchalance normally reserved for watching the weather network. Indeed, the image of my working constitution looked much like every category-five hurricane shown on CNN. Never good.

What showed up, though, took everyone by surprise. And it triggered loud, fast Chinese spoken all at once-- pedestrians and professionals in the mix. The din fueled my growing anxiety.

"English, please," I pleaded toward the scrum, ultrasound goo oozing off my belly onto the technician's stiletto-heeled shoes.

She tugged her thrice-pierced ear, crossed and uncrossed her legs, cleaned her shoe off with a tissue, dug deep into her memory bank, and whispered through her medical mask, "Two spleen."

When I looked at her with the same vacuous expression I might've had if faced with, let's say, building a working Ferrari out of dominoes, she continued. "You spleen have accessory... a pet."

Befuddled, my questions poured out in disturbing, possibly sterilizing frequencies. The gathering of great minds surrounding me with no less than fifty-five years of post-graduate education, plus the wizened farmer who really has seen it all, finally issued up this bedside gem: "Not serious." Whew.

I'm tempted to tell you that I left it all out there in the hospital that day and leave you dangling along with my modifier and my spleen's fate, but let's tidy up loose ends for you.

Jun's tests revealed she is hale and hardy. There is no danger in keeping spleen "B" exactly where it has resided all its life. And for now, my freakish "pet" is but a rarely mentioned secret. I've become so accustomed and fond of it, though, I've since dubbed it "Charlie." That's right, Charlie Spleen.


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