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Signaling a bowel movement worthy of the Reagan 80s

Reagan Cardiology

I was waiting to see the cardiologist, a get-to-know appointment so he could figure out why I’m shopping for a stress test so early in middle age and I can figure out why my heart is reprising my father’s echocardiocroaks (his heart, my poor father’s, quit when he was 46). The office is located inside the local hospital. It’s the new Babushka trend in health care synergy: indenture doctors by making them feel like they’re part of a mall of medicine. It makes no difference in the care received, although it does intensify the nausea of the experience. Going to the doctor in the United States is, for most of us who can’t afford personal physicians, usually an experience comparable to a police line-up, an interrogation and a cavity search resulting either in additional summonses to other doctors or a big fat fine in the form of a bill. Going to the hospital is like going to state prison: you take your life in your hand and hope infections don’t rape you. Going to the doctor in a hospital—well now, that’s poetic cruelty.

So every doctor’s waiting room by necessity approximates death’s own: the eternal television in place of eternal flames, the crabby receptionist in place of Lucifer, the patients, vacant-eyed and clotting body-to-body, in place of headstones, and always, as if to remind you that even hell is too good for some people, the appearance of the overweight drug salesman in his two or three-piece suit, his black suitcase on rollies stuffed to the gills with samples and his gills stuffed to the eyeballs with a vague lust that eyes anything with a pulse.

This time the place looked unfamiliar. No television. No waiting patients. Carpeting instead of the kind of linoleum made to look like coffins’ lining. No crabby receptionist. This one smiled and kept smiling. Not those latex-gloved smiles that smack of insincerity but the kind that look innate, effortless. Maybe cardiologists’ offices are happier places for seeing fewer of the same people over and over. Heart disease takes you young. Good turn-over, good variety for the staff. Something else smiled at me. In the corner, a wooden, six-foot-high bookshelf with an odd variety of titles that made it difficult to pin the doctor’s allegiances: “The Baseball Book,” “The World Atlas of Wine,” “The Indispensable Calvin & Hobbes,” Michael Beschloss’ “Presidential Courage,” another book about the private lives of presidents, a volume or two about cooking, and then this: “The Reagan Diaries.” Yet another Republican doctor.

I took out Reagan, a fat thing heavy with memories of my own. I got to the United States in the dying days of the Carter presidency. Reagan was my first real American president, then much more of the bumbler and much less of the conservative colossus that myth and fermentation have made of him. Here he was, adding his own baking powder to the myths. I open the book at random. Page 434, from 1985, my junior year in college, year of “We Are the World,” of American hostages in Lebanon, of Gorbachev’s elevation to the Soviet Union’s helm, of Reagan’s visit to Bitburg’s SS-seasoned cemetery, of the Hezbollah hijacking of TWA flight 847, of the bombing and sinking of a Greenpeace vessel in New Zealand on July 10, and of … Reagan’s colon cancer operation three days later. It’s now July 17 in the diaries. Reagan writes, and makes, history: “A big day—they took the tube that ran through my nose & into my stomach out. It was the suction pump that kept my insides clean. I continue to have some bodily functions & now I only have one tube in my arm through which I’m fed. Nancy wasn’t here—she’s out on a carrier talking about drugs to the sailors.”

Always had something for them sailors, that Nancy (she was on the USS America. “Last night,” she told the sailors, “when I kissed your commander in chief goodnight he asked, he asked that I pass along a message. He said, ‘ Nancy, will you tell them how proud I am of them.” She did not relay messages from Reagan’s dearly departed colon. That would be left to Reagan himself, and HarperCollins, but she did mention that one of the sailors’ sons had played in a little league game and won 16-15, hitting two homeruns. That, unlike Reagan’s pride, got wild cheers. See the video here.) Ronald, meanwhile, in a more thoughtful mood, does mention the same day that “strange soundings are coming from the Iranians,” although he could have been confusing those with his bowels’ aftershocks. Or with his conscience rattling: he was about to birth the scheme of trading arms to Iran for hostages in Lebanon, and, thanks to Ollie North, the gun-runner and felonious mercenary playing secretary of state from his White House basement office, siphon off what excess profits he could to finance Reagan’s illegal war in Nicaragua. Reagan was proud of his contras, too, that band of terrorists he famously called “freedom fighters.”

Thursday, July 18: “A good night’s sleep until about 5:15 A.M. when I had a bathroom call.” The guy is obsessed with documenting crap for posterity. He then bitches about Helen Thomas referring to his cancer in the present tense during a news conference with doctors. “My Dr.’s said use of the present tense is a misstatement. ‘The President had Cancer—it has been removed.’” Note the capital letters for “president” and “cancer.” Neat conjunction, although Reagan wasn’t the first sign of cancer on the presidency so much as a metastasis of Nixon’s variegated contagions. Saturday, July 20: “Last nite [sic.] my routine was a hike to the bathroom about every 2 hours.” And we wonder why America went down the toilet in the Reagan years.

The nurse saved me from further reading.

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