Headmaster’s Thoughts — February 2015

This may not be an interesting month’s piece for you since I am going to talk about my back surgery and listening to other people talking about their surgeries is something I have always found uninteresting. My surgery came after a long struggle to avoid it. I had back pain extending down my arm to the little finger of my left hand. I saw every doctor except a surgeon since I had been told (quite rightly, I believe) that the day they operate on your back is not a great day in your life, and that you may have consequences that are negative and long-lasting.

But after seeing a psychiatrist for six months on the grounds that the pain may have been psychologically based and who, to be fair, was baffled as to why I was there happily talking about my mother when the discussion was clearly not helping my back, as well as seeing an acupuncturist, an acupressurist, and a chiropractor, I finally turned to a famous back surgeon (They are all famous.) and was scanned and X-rayed. He suggested surgery (surprise!) as soon as possible but warned me that he may have to fuse discs, and that the outcome of success was only about 70%. Yuck!

However, the pain was not getting better, and so surgery it was. I do not need to go into details about the actual event except to say that I woke up in a very nice suite in the hospital feeling terrific. The surgeon soon came to see me with a big smile, and he told me that the surgery was 100% successful because he had found a piece of my body (He described it as “gristle”; yuck again!) positioned precisely on my nerve, and he had removed it.

“Must have hurt like hell,” he said. I agreed. “Well, you can leave,” he told me.

“Hang on,” I replied. “You warned me that I would be in hospital for about four days, and Jayme somehow got me this very fancy room and has booked a private nurse for me. So I am staying the night.” I knew that they were going to charge for the night and the nurse anyway, so why not stay?

I was feeling very comfortable (if a bit groggy) from the anesthetic, when the nurse, a cheerful Irish girl, arrived. The operation had taken place in the morning, and it was now six in the early evening.

“Have you eaten?” was her first question.


“Oh, you need protein. You need steak after an operation!”

“Okay,” I said. “Maybe we can ask the hospital if they would serve steak.”

“No, you don’t want hospital food! You need good steak from a good restaurant!”

“Where would you suggest?”

“We’ll order from The Palm restaurant.”

I had heard of The Palm but had never eaten there. It was rumored to be very expensive.

“Do they deliver to a hospital?” I asked.

“They will for me. You will need real protein. I’ll do the ordering and get you a 12-ounce filet steak. And I’ll have the same. And let’s have fried onion rings with that – I really like their fried onion rings – and broccoli as well. How about caviar to begin? Do you like caviar?”

“I haven’t had it very much,” I replied, now with some idea of where this was going.

“It’s great protein so I will order two portions for us. And their crème brûlée is a good desert, so I’ll order two of those. Are you having difficulty going to sleep?”

“Well, it is a strange place, sleeping in a hospital with a nurse around, so I may tonight.”

“Then you’ll have a decaf cappuccino, and I will have a regular one. And you shouldn’t drink, so I think there is a ginger ale in the room, but I will have a whiskey sour with the order. Have you got your credit card handy?”

Within an hour, this sumptuous meal was delivered to our suite, served as though we were on an ocean liner, with silver cutlery and bone china and cloth napkins and all the trimmings (including condiments of every variety). It was a feast. I think I had a fraction of mine, but the same could not be said for the private nurse who clearly enjoyed her meal.

“This must be interesting work,” I said, trying to make conversation.

“Oh yes, I just got back from the Mediterranean. I was on a very big, private yacht.”

“Really, I didn’t know nursing paid so well.” In the re-telling, it sounds like a lame response, but I think that in my post-surgical daze, I was just being honest.

“Oh, I work as a nurse on these yachts.” And she named a few well-known billionaires whose yachts she had been on.

“Do you have a yacht?” she asked hopefully. I assured her I did not. “Maybe a plane?” Once again, I replied in the negative.

“Well, let’s play cards,” she said, totally switching the conversation.

I thought I would sleep but she wanted to play cards, and I was not in a condition to argue.

We played!

So, my memory of my back operation (highly successful as it was) is primarily of eating a huge steak and playing gin rummy until I fell asleep, having “knocked” for three.

Ronald P. Stewart
York Prep