Yesterday, I experienced an angiogram. When heart surgeons go in to fix your valve, they want to see if there’s anything else they can take care of while they’re in there, so they won’t have to come back later. They can fix whatever needs fixing while they’re in the vicinity.
OLD “FIREMAN JOKE”: (INTO PHONE) “Where’s the fire? On Maple Street? That’s too bad. We were there yesterday.”
This was my first angiogram ever. So…how, can I say this – I was terrified. How do I handle it when I’m terrified? I announce it to everyone in the vicinity. (And now, also, to you.)
As half a dozen strangers prepared me for the procedure, I informed the nearest one, but loud enough for all to hear: “Do not expect anything ‘manly’ or ‘heroic’.”
Translation: I may whimper. Or, if it hurts, get loud.
That’s my style. I like to lower all expectations of me, especially in the “courage” department, to sub-basement proportions. In the course my pre-procedure work-up, the nurse asked, “Do you have a high tolerance for pain or a low tolerance for pain?” My immediate response: “I have no tolerance for pain.”
I have a feeling that the person I’m really talking to during these “low-ball” assessments is myself. I’m reminding myself, “Do not be concerned about expectations of bravery. You’re a wonderful singer. You can’t be everything.”
The thing is, however, that sometimes I am brave.
Africa – 1981
Dr. M (when she was still M) and I are on a photographic safari in Kenya. (Someday, I’ll tell you the whole story. Today, I’m highlighting being brave.)
We’re in Samburu, one of Kenya’s magnificent game parks. Our guide, Patrick, parks the minivan, and informs us, that if we want to see crocodiles, we should walk down the path he’s pointing to. We want to see crocodiles. So we head down the path, while Patrick leans against the minivan, and fires up a Lucky.
We proceed down the underbrush-bordered path to a lagoon, we see a few crocodiles, and we take some pictures. We then turn around, and start back to the minivan. Except…
Now gathered in the middle of the trail, blocking our way, are, maybe, fifteen to twenty, large and noticeably muscular
Who show no intention of vacating their recently chosen gathering spot.
We are too far away to call Patrick for assistance. And unfortunately, we have, between us, zero experience dealing with baboons. These are not zoo animals. These are wild, ferocious scary beasts. Bunch fifteen or twenty of them together, that’s a lot of sharp teeth and pointy nails.
M is seriously concerned. As am I. The difference is, I have learned from my favorite comic book, Tarzan, how to talk to animals you are not entirely certain are on your side. Mustering inner resources I had no idea I possessed, I puff up my chest and march straight through the hairy assemblage, barking out Tarzan lingo like, Bundolo! Kreegah! as I go.
And I get to the other side.
I could hardly believe it. A baboon Red Sea and I had miraculously parted it.
If I knew the appropriate technology, which I don’t, I could show you a picture, taken by me, of Dr M standing precisely where I’d left her – owing to her skepticism over my Tarzanic yammerings – with the baboons massed directly between us. In time, the baboon congregation dispersed, she was able to rejoin me, and we continued up the trail.
But wait! That was just the appetizer. The astonishing main course arrived later that day.
After returning to the game lodge we’re staying at, we decide to unwind on the patio with a Diet Coke and a “cold one.” (The beer in Kenya is called Tusker.) As we pick out a table, we notice, at the pool area below us, a baboon (alone, but uncomfortably large) is harassing two middle-aged women, who appear at a complete loss as to what to do. They’re shrieking and carrying on, it’s all rather amusing, especially considering our multiple-baboon encounter earlier that day.
Until the baboon loses interest in the middle-aged women and heads directly towards us.
I’m telling you, this was one menacing-looking hairy dude. And unrepentantly anti-social. If this guy were a High School student, there is little doubt his full-time residence would be at the principal’s office.
The first thing the baboon does when he reaches us is he grabs M’s purse with her money and her passport in it (which we badly need, and would suffer greatly were it to be carried off into the bush).
M grabs the purse’s strap, and a tug of war ensues, which, if points were deducted for one of the combatants falling down, the baboon wins. What am I doing while this is going on? I’m pretty much standing there, shocked and confused.
And then I’m not.
From the “fight or flight” menu, I inexplicably choose “fight.” I pick up a nearby patio chair, and begin thrusting it in the baboon’s face. The baboon reaches for one of the chair’s legs, to wrest it away from me, but I’m too slippery for him. I continue my onslaught – thrust and retreat, thrust and retreat, driving him away from the fallen M.
M regains her feet and retrieves her purse, as I hold my own against my jungley adversary. Finally – I guess, after their break – two hotel staffers rush to our aid, sending our feral foe into sullen retreat.
When it was over, my heart was pounding like it had never pounded before, more powerfully even than when they were announcing the Emmy winner in the category I was nominated in. This was the real thing. A down-and-dirty primal challenge.
And I had emerged the victor.
Heroic proclivities are generally not my forte.
But sometimes you rise to the occasion.
At certain moments, that’s worth remembering.