PATRICK MCVAY

WRITER

Way Back

I was recently visited by a young stonemason (that is, a stonemason, not a stoned mason), who mentioned something about his training “back in the day.” He didn’t look old enough to have an actual period in his life that could be called “back in the day,” but you couldn’t say the same for me, and suddenly I was transported to my very own “back in the day,” when I worked at Mass General Hospital as a young 20-something, some 100 years ago.

I was a brain surgeon back then. I’d cut into people’s heads to fix aneurisms and so forth, and occasionally would screw with people’s minds by performing a little sneaky rewiring, as a kind of practical joke. It was hilarious to visit patients afterward and see them try to drink from a cup of water but instead pour the water over their heads or throw it into their faces. (Don’t worry – I’d always fix it later, for a relatively small fee.)

When I wasn’t performing high-end brain surgery, I was ordering supplies, making photocopies, and answering phones for the cardiac unit. I’d get calls from vendors about bills, and sometimes from lab personnel calling in sick. “Cough, hack, achoo! Tell Dr. Stragglebeard that I’ve got the dreaded cantankervirus, and I’m very contagious.”

One guy always used to tell me when his wife had diarrhea. “Can you tell Jerry that I have to take care of the kids today? It’s my wife: she’s throwing up, diarrhea, whole bit.” I heard this often over my tenure. When he called in sick, diarrhea was often involved.

I was made to tell his boss these details each time. The throwing up. And the diarrhea.

Now you understand what life was like back in the day. Wasn’t pretty, that’s for sure.

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