The Zoo


"I just read your China Summary: Minutiae section. Hilarious, and all too true. You forgot one little pertinent subject though.

Privacy: Doesn't exist, whether it's keeping other people from entering your personal space and/or going through your own personal possessions without your knowledge and/or permission or prying into very private issues in your personal life. I could tell you a few horror stories from my own experience on this one, including at Shaolin. Do you know the little computer shop on Main Street there with the fake stained-glass windows on the doors? It's about half-way between the Wushuguan and the Temple on the Temple side of the street. Every time I went there to use Internet to write to my parents, I always had an entire group of boys from the kung fu schools in the neighborhood all gather around behind me to watch and scrutinize every single word that I was typing to my parents. Fortunately, few if any of them could read English at all. Good thing I wasn't working for the CIA. I've had some bad experiences elsewhere in China also. I was visiting some friends in Hubei last May. I made the mistake of letting them put me up in one of their compound's "guest" rooms.... I had people (including men) coming into my bedroom (without knocking-scary) and going through and messing with all my stuff (and I mean all my stuff) without my inviting them to or giving them permission. I was appalled. They were also constantly telling me what to do or not to do. I was also very badly taken advantage of by my host while I was there. I'll return to that place in particular over my dead body.

 One more issue to consider for the minutiae section. Being taken advantage of is definitely a reality in Mainland China. Mainland China's culture has a long way to go. I've also heard that they won't hesitate for a second to ask you how much you weigh, how much money you make, how old you are, why aren't you married, why don't you have children, is there a problem with your ability to have children, etc. I personally haven't had people do that to me yet, but I've talked to others who have."

From an email sent to me, the sender shall remain anonymous



This is actually a very significant, and enlightening, statement, which concerns an aspect of China that can be very disconcerting at times.  But, before I continue, let me digress. As I usually do.

A long time ago, in the dawn of my medical career, yet another part of my lifetime that I barely remember, I had the opportunity to take care of a very interesting patient in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). I can't remember his name; hell, I can't remember any of their names, there were just so many, but this patient, in particular, really stood out in my mind. He was in his early forties, and had appeared to be very happily married to a very petite young woman, who couldn't have weighed more than 90 pounds, that is, after you completely drenched her with a garden hose.

They had had an interesting relationship. No doubt it had been a very loving one, because the couple had produced a few handsome children. But what makes this relationship more interesting than most, is that it was a symbiotic one. One partner really could not exist without the other. Especially, in this case, the husband. For simplicity's sake, we'll just call the husband Fred. (If I had remembered his real name, I wouldn't use it anyway).

Fred, and his tiny little wife, oh, let's call her Wilma, lived in a small apartment somewhere in New York. Fred had had certain "needs" during the later part of his lifetime, needs which necessitated his spending the hours and the days either lying in bed, or, reclining in a specially built Lazy Boy chair. Wilma would bring food to Fred as he lay in bed, a bed, which had been built out of plywood, large pieces of lumber, and cinder blocks. The recliner chair was similarly reinforced. Wilma spent most of her days bringing food to Fred, cleaning up after Fred, and assuring that Fred had everything that he needed to get through his day. Fred, on the other hand, spent his days watching television, drinking his drinks, eating his food, and, performing whatever other bodily functions became necessary. Oh, and Fred ate his favorite food in bed too. Hostess Twinkies. Yes, Fred ate a lot of Hostess Twinkies.

You see, Fred's problem, the one which had brought him to the hospital ICU, was that he had pneumonia. Wilma could no longer take care of him, because Fred was just having a little trouble breathing.

Oh, and Fred had another problem. He weighed somewhere in the neighborhood of just over eleven hundred pounds.


Twinkies anyone?

Well, I and my associates had been in the medical field for quite some time, and we had taken care of many a "morbidly obese" person before. The term "morbidly obese" is an interesting one, the definition of which goes something like this: morbidly obese signifies a person with a body weight 20% more than the average for a person of a specified height. So, if you're six foot in height, and most people in your population weigh 200 pounds, you would be morbidly obese if you weighed 240 pounds.

Fred was slightly under six foot in height. (When he was standing). We had been slightly baffled as to what should be put on the medical records, as "morbidly obese" just didn't seem to do him justice. "Hugely morbidly obese" didn't sound right, and "incredibly morbidly obese", or, "morbidly morbidly obese" just seemed to be a little cruel. It was a dilemma. For some reason, the numbers just did not add up. And this had caused us great concern, because as we were trying to manipulate some of his physiological factors, to assist him in breathing, and, while we were battling the pneumonia that ravaged his lungs, in the back of our minds, we were all thinking the same thing, though no one would tell the other that he was. For a guy that was less than six foot, who was supposed to weigh around 190 pounds, exactly what percentage over weight did 1140 pounds or so make him? I remember staying awake at night, just trying to figure out this very dilemma. I had given up early on the "what do you call it" part.

What had made the whole situation worse, was the fact that we could not get an accurate measurement on him, both with height or weight.  One could not stand him up against a wall, to measure where the top of his head was, because, "he" got real close to the wall way before his head did. And has for his weight, it took a small battalion of nurses to move him to the service elevator, so that he could be weighed, in not a very scientific or accurate way, on the truck scale outside. Yes, Fred was quite the dilemma. Especially since his wife Wilma, tiny little petite Wilma, was sneaking Hostess Twinkies into the hospital for him.


Little Fred appears!

Fred had the largest panniculus ever  seen by mankind. For those of you who have not had the pleasure of seeing a panniculus, you really don't have to look very far. We all have one, to some degree. I'm especially proud of mine.

A panniculus is basically, a belly. Of course, the bigger and droopier a belly is, the more a panniculus it is. Fred's panniculus, when Fred was standing (a feat which required more than a few people to assist him with), drooped down as low as his knees. Again, yet another dilemma for us to think about. For Fred's genitalia were somewhere beneath this panniculus, and, the question on all of our minds, as we were thinking of what antibiotics we should use to treat his pneumonia, as well as, exactly what percentage overweight he truly was, was, just exactly when was the last time Fred saw Little Fred? And, was Little Fred still there? We all thought that maybe, over time, Little Fred had gotten smothered and died, after all those years of living in the dark dank nether regions under Fred's panniculus. We didn't dare ask Wilma. But we did figure out that Wilma was sneaking Hostess Twinkies into the hospital, in her brassiere. Smart Wilma. So much for a great petite body.

We had a group discussion about what to do about Little Fred, and it was decided that for the safety of Fred's urinary tract, we had to catheterize Little Fred. It had taken about ten of us, but, we eventually shifted Fred to the edge of his "bed" (actually, two hospital beds put side by side), and, with a great amount of force, and, an even greater amount of divine intervention, we got Fred to his feet. Fred's panniculus swayed gently side to side, with a slight harmonic motion that a metronome could not mimic. We had all taken great delight in the fact that we got Fred out of bed. But it was then that we realized, that Little Fred was somewhere under this huge, gently swaying, panniculus. And that meant, somebody had to go underneath and find it.

Somebody had to "go in". It was quite the mission.

That had started quite the discussion, as we all stood by Fred with his swaying panniculus. And, early on in the discussion, it became readily apparent that the "lucky one" would have to be a female. It was an easy decision, because, at the time, there were more men helping Fred stand up than women. And, we then decided, in our democratic way, that the "lucky one" would have to be a nurse, as, nurses had more experience putting catheters in the little guy than did doctors. Besides, doctors just don't touch those things unless they have to. So, after a little deliberation, it had been decided that Debbie was going to have the honor. Debbie wasn't too pleased.

I had started to wonder if we would ever see Debbie again.

The thought of Fred, gently swaying side to side, in direct opposite but correlating harmonic motion with his gently swaying side to side panniculus, was, well, quite the thought. The thought of Fred, wearing a hospital gown on his front which barely covered his relatively huge belly button, and relatively nothing else. But, add to that, poor Debbie, who had crawled under Fred, in search of Little Fred, and the whole image becomes comical. Yes, comical. Because comedy arises from tragedy, and had Fred slipped, there was no doubt that Debbie would have befallen a horrible fate, under all eleven hundred and forty pounds of Fred. The thought had crossed my mind, that if Fred had fallen while Debbie was on her mission, that we would have a problem. How would we get Debbie out from under Fred? There was no portable crane in the hospital that could lift Fred's weight. And, the use of a chain saw just didn't seem appropriate. Hell, they're just too noisy for use in a hospital.

It was quite the dilemma. Now we had something more to think about, other than Fred's overweight percentage.


Let the show begin!

Debbie did her thing. With a flashlight in her mouth and a Foley catheter in her hand. We were all proud of her. Terribly proud. What a girl. We didn't see her again at work for about a week and a half.

We all started to call that event, the "Little Fred and Debbie Show". I can still remember seeing her cute little feet sticking out from under Fred's huge panniculus. Yes, it brought Debbie a lot of fame in our big hospital. I'm not sure Debbie enjoyed it, but we certainly did.

And Fred got better. With time, Fred's pneumonia subsided. And Fred actually did things. Funny things. We would call them "performances". He probably considered them "necessities". Things like, getting in and out of bed. After a while, Fred started to want to get out of bed to stand. And, to use things, like a portable commode. (You know, one of those little sit down toilet thingies). Well, the commode idea got nixed pretty quickly, after thinking about the possible bad consequences of the previous "Little Fred and Debbie Show". But, we decided that his getting out of bed to stand would be a good thing. So, we helped him.

Now, getting out wasn't a problem. He would kind of roll to the edge of the bed, and, once he got both of his legs over, he just kind of "fell off". How he saw that his legs were over the floor was beyond me, but, hell, Fred was just one of those talented types of guys. The "See Fred Dance Show" all started when Fred tried to get into  bed. This act brought the most visitors. If we had charged admission, I probably could have retired right then and there.

Fred would stand next to his bed, holding his huge panniculus with both hands, one on either side. He would stand upright, tall and proud. And then, he would start swinging his panniculus, back and forth, back and forth, as it swayed every so gently, first towards the bed, then away. And, after a while, Fred's panniculus started to take a life of its own. It would start swaying, back and forth, back and forth, eventually picking up speed and momentum, all with the assistance of Fred's relatively tiny little pudgy hands. And as Fred's panniculus swayed back and forth, every so forcefully, the rest of Fred, in accordance with one of Einstein's theorems, gently swayed to and fro in an opposite direction. What happened next, was a matter of incredibly precise timing.

Once Fred's panniculus got enough speed and momentum, Fred would start thinking to himself the proper time to take action. We could tell by the intense look of fear and fortitude on his face. He just knew he could do it, yet, he also knew the terrible consequences of his potential failure. And just at the right, precise moment, as Fred's panniculus moved accurately and precisely towards the center of the hospital beds, Fred would let it go. And jump into bed right behind it.

When Fred did this successfully, it was just a sight to behold. With amazement, the rest of us watched this delicate acrobatic act. And we cheered. And Fred seemed happy.

And so, the days turned into weeks. And so, with inconspicuous visual brassiere searches at the door, which, for some reason I became a veritable professional at, Fred eventually lost weight. And so, when he hit about a thousand pounds, we had a party. And so, we discharged him from the ICU to a regular hospital floor unit.

And so, and so, and so. I never saw Fred again.

But while Fred was in the ICU, I saw a lot of people, people that I had never seen before. Our ICU was on the top floor, all the way towards the end of the hospital. It was dark, with lots of machinery, and "things that go 'beep'". It wasn't a pleasant place to spend an afternoon or an evening. But, tons and tons of people found some sort of reason to come to the ICU during that time. And that reason was Fred.

Everybody wanted to see Fred.

Not that Fred was comical. No, yet that might be a reason why people would go out of their way to view something. If that something was comical, and had brought laughter and joy to the observers. No, Fred was not comical. Not at all.

Fred was tragic.

And that's why he was comical.

The ICU became a zoo, more so than usual. Yes, every medical student has a strong desire to see some rarely seen deathly debilitating diseased patient in the ICU, sometimes out of medical interest, sometimes out of morbid

And it was sad.

Because no one truly understood how Fred had felt about all of this.


Back to the future! In the Center Ring! Presenting, Doc!

It was a Tuesday night, or, no, maybe it was a Wednesday night. I don't know for sure. For some reason, the housekeepers of the Feng Yuan hotel I was staying at in Dengfeng, China (near Shaolin), had removed the "Tuesday" or "Wednesday" floor mat from the elevator. God, don't these people know I get terribly disoriented when I can't tell what day it is when I go onto the elevator? In any event, it was later on in the evening, after a long day of working out one on one with my master, Shi De Cheng. Review this, review that, why don't you remember this, "once again", "slowly, from the beginning"; on and on the days went. And my old and worn out body was just completely old and worn out. So, it was off to the usual nightly ritual. The massage.

Unfortunately, "girlfriend number one", from this past summer, was not working there. I had the fortune of having one of the others, a young girl, but, strictly a professional when it came to beating up some poor creature's muscles. There I was, laying shirtless, with nothing on but dirty sweat pants, on this tiny, and short, massage table.

Now, this doesn't sound all that horrible. But, one must imagine what it is like to put a six foot three, two hundred and fifteen pound American body on a massage table built for a five foot six, one hundred and forty pound Chinese. And, it was a sweaty, dirty, and smelly American body at that. Not at all the image one would look for in a dirty magazine. No, it was quite the visual feast. For this poor massage girl, who, in my mind, is not worthy of being called "girlfriend number two", and therefore, shall remain "nameless", was having quite the time. She had decided that it would be best if I laid on two massage tables. Apparently, some of her cohorts, who were in the room watching this event, agreed. All five of them.

As I was being tortured, with this fist pummeling this quadriceps, and that fist probing that groin, I had the distinct feeling that I was being watched, and watched oh so intently. And, I was right. For some reason, all the rest of the work in the shop had stopped, and the other hairdressers, massage girls, and god know what passerbys, decided that it would be more fun to come into my little massage room and watch me get beaten up. And, after a quick perusal  of the room, I decided that they were enjoying it. Especially when my little massage girl started beating up my upper thighs and groin. Some of them, even decided to get into the action, waiting for the right moment, when the phone would ring. For ring it did, and ring it did a lot, and ring for some reason still unknown to me, for my little massage girl. Massage my chest, massage my arms, talk in some Chinese gibberish with gleeful little smiles on their little faces, all of them found a way to take a turn beating and rubbing the big fuzzy guy on the table.

The big fuzzy guy, who had done too many gong fu kicks that day. The big fuzzy guy, who eventually discovered that the bottom of his sweat pants had split right down the middle. The big fuzzy guy who finally figured out where that draft was coming from.

And for some reason, I had thought of Fred. On two beds, in a hospital gown that barely covered him.

It was a long interminable hour. And when it was over, I was followed out of the beauty parlor by a bevy of young massage girls, all wanting to wish me a safe journey back to my room. And when it was over, and when I was safe in this mattress thing they call a bed, the phone started ringing. On the other end, female voices, gibbering and jabbering in Chinese. And it happened for days.

But this was none too bizarre. What really struck me, was what happened about two days later. I can't remember the day, though, I do remember the "day" floor mat was back in the elevator.

There had been a phone call that evening, and on the other end, seemed to be an older Chinese woman, again, gibbering and jabbering incessantly at me. I did what any normal human being would do under similar circumstances. I hung up. And I continued on with my rest, as the next day had held the promise of yet more intense training with Shi De Cheng. But, so much for that.

Ten minutes later, there had been a knock on my door, which, in my usual New York kind of way, I decided to ignore. And then, the pounding began. Still I ignored it. And yet, it wouldn't go away. It was when the door bell started ringing that I decided to throw on some sweat pants, and, stumbling half naked, see who was at the door. What I found was disturbing.

It was a woman, a well dressed woman, an older woman, not exactly old enough to be my mother, but definitely old enough to be her friend. And when she saw me, she did what we Americans might call, a "double take". I had started to wonder if she had ever seen an American before. A half naked one. And then, she started yelling at me. And pointing inside my room. And, moving to enter my room. And I hadn't the slightest idea what the hell was going on.

With speed and power only rivaled by my rarely good gong fu performances, I intercepted her, and got the door closed and locked before she could capture my hotel room. I double locked it, shut out the lights, put in the ear plugs, and disconnected the phone. And I prayed.

I prayed, that if any woman tried to enter my room again, that she be half my age.

Cute would be nice too. But I never push my luck with the Big Guy.


Welcome to the Zoo

And so it goes. Whether it be quietly swimming in the hotel pool, or, walking down the street, being big and American, or, just being different than the usual Chinese, brings great curiosity, intrigue, fear, enjoyment, or, just plain inquisitiveness. And, one has to remember that it's all harmless. But, as I had laid there, on the massage table, being visually dissected as one would a bug under a microscope, I had thought of how the animals in a zoo might have felt. I thought about fish in an aquarium, hamsters in a cage, and dogs in a pound.

And I thought about Fred.

And I thought about feelings....