Hello, my beloved worldwide web. Today we are doing grand rounds.
First, let us examine the case of Max Tepper, a 22-year-old gentleman from Toronto:
Dear Doctor Fusselman,
I have read your column and, while I am not a parent myself, I empathize with your apt description of skinned knees in a child’s eyes being the skinned knee of the entire cosmos.
Now onto me, because you have promised me a poem for my woes.
I am 22 years old and I have already developed sciatica. I’m an athlete, but I do keep in shape and stretch regularly everyday, and yet despite all that, my back, pelvis, and sciatic nerve have decided that 22 is the right age for a young man to be unable to bend down and touch his toes.
With all your years of fake medical advice giving, I hope that you and your intern can craft a poem to ease my existential body betrayal.
Sent from my iPhone
Dear Max Tepper,
Thank you so much for emailing. I was most moved to receive your note.
It is completely unacceptable that a young man of twenty-two should be afflicted with this old-person ailment. First, I want to ask a question. What kind of sport are/were you involved in, and are you still in training? This will help me make a better prescription for you.
Please let me know at your earliest convenience and I will continue working on your case.
Hi again, Doctor
Forgive the typo in my initial e-mail. I am NOT an athlete.
I’m actually an actor, primarily in theatre, and perform in many theatrical styles and periods. The injury occurred during the rehearsal for an adaptation of John Vanbrugh’s Restoration Era classic, The Provok’d Wife, and I was playing a servant carrying a drunken master out of the dining hall/off-stage over my shoulders. Though we brought in a professional fight choreographer to help myself and the fellow actor playing the drunk perform the lifts in a safe manner, after about 5 nights of rehearsal, my back started to call out to me, and about a month later, the pain had not gone away but in fact had become sciatica.
And of course, the show went on. The show always must go on.
And that’s the story of the injury. I am still a working actor, I just take it a bit easier on the more physical performances and have more stretching than ever to do.
All the best,
Now, this is very important information you have shared with me. I see now that your use of the word ‘athlete’ was not entirely false, as an actor who is carrying another actor on his back every night requires the skill and strength of an athlete. Perhaps you are an act-lete.
In any case, the scene you are describing in The Provk’d Wife sounds very powerful, and as it is my belief, as a fake doctor/real artist, that we cannot separate art from life, that indeed art is life and vice-versa, can you please briefly summarize your role for me? Also, what was your relationship like with your “master,” onstage and off?
The role I played (which was expanded for this particular adaptation) was Rasor, a dedicated, discreet, and pious servant in the House of Brute. (In Restoration Comedy, there is no subtlety. The names of the Characters are… what they are). My master was Sir John Brute, a rampaging drunk of a Lord, but a man utterly in love with his wife. I acted as a go-betweener, a carrier of letters, dresses, and Sir John himself, between the Lord and his Wife. There is a subplot to the play where the diva/lady-fop/foil to Lady Brute’s character (aptly named Lady Fanciful) tries to meddle in the affairs of the Brutes and uses her french maid, named simply Mademoiselle, to seduce me to gain the inside scoop. Might sound like a bit of a yawn in black and white, but much of the comedy arose from the physical comedy, and the puns. My god, the 17th-century puns.
My relationship with the guy (let’s call him Brendan) who played Sir John Brute was a very close one. He is only a few years older than me, but much taller, stronger-built, and over-all manlier. He would go on to play my father in a production of Hippolytus, where I played Hippolytus and he played Theseus. He grew up as a hockey player and has sustained two major injuries in his life, one that has left him unable to grip a pencil with his right hand, and the other with a shoulder that occasionally flares up (also, to reiterate: despite this he is still very strong-built), so he was very conscious when my back started to hurt and constantly trying to work with me to find ways of doing the lifts more safely, securely, and in the end we both got so much more comfortable with each others bodies that we found new elements of physical comedy that we hadn’t thought of before. (My favorite, and an audiences’ favorite, was when he would collapse onto my chest and his face would be in my face, and my arms would be stuck holding him up, so I had to use my face to move his face out of my face).
P.S. I keep better correspondence with you than my actual doctor.
I think you have given me something to work with here, and it has to do with your go-betweening and your faces. Now, as a “doctor” who is not working with your actual flesh, but who is instead operating with you in this in-between space we call the internet, we must acknowledge where we are, and the limits of our powers in this “place.”
I do believe, however, that despite my inability to perform a real, physical examination of you, I may still be of help. I will try to do this with my words. And as we all know, the most potent formulation of words is when they are compressed in short sentences and stacked together to make a poem.
Before I present you with a poem, however, I also want to offer the following suggestions. One is that, despite the fact that you understandably characterize this affliction as a betrayal of your body, try not to view your body as your enemy. If it is at all possible, try to soften your resistance to your ailment and to be curious about it. If it is impossible to be curious about it because it is too painful, please investigate pain management until you are comfortable enough to be curious. It is my fake-doctor belief that physical ailments are messengers, so it is important to try to hear what they have to say, even when they are babbling incoherently. As a side note, please remember that the things that can help pain may be illogical and surprising, i.e., I just read a study that showed that patients who exercised their phantom limbs reported greater pain relief than those that didn’t.
Speaking of illogical, let us now move on to poetry. Now, aside from my fake-doctor abilities, I am also a fake magician. As a magician is already a type of fake, this makes me about the fakest person who ever lived. But let me assure you that I am real in my words. And I have crafted for you an incantation, because poetry plus magic equals incantation. If you can have this recited by someone who loves you as you lay on the grass on your back, outside, under a sunny sky, with your arms outspread, it will work best. You can also recite it to yourself at any time.
Thank you for helping to make me a better fake doctor,
An Incantation to Banish Sciatica
Sciatica: You try to frighten me
with your slithery-sounding name
with its twin Cs
one biting, one oily.
You are a two-faced affliction
and I am a razor. I will shave
none of you.
Carry your stupid bum self
out of my leg, back, and pelvis:
cease to pester me.
I bow to you:
you have had me.
Now I rise, and am whole,
complete: And you, and you
have no choice: You must
Now, worldwide web, let us move on to one more letter, this one from Catty Marrin, who is writing from the fair city of London.
I need to be a good parent to my children, in a team with my husband. I don’t yet have any children. Or a husband, though I may have met a suitable candidate. I have, in fact, not even attended university yet. But I sorely need your help. Give me the laws. Give me the rules of goodness. Show me the way of the parent!
— Catty Marrin
I am very happy to hear that you believe you have found a suitable candidate with whom to embark on the yacht, I mean trawler, I mean dinghy, of matrimony and then parenthood. I am most humbled by your plea.
I could take a very long time to try to answer your question, and hopefully I will, in the form of one of those spine-saddled paperweights the old folks call “books.” Until I get around to doing that, though, I wanted to give you something to go on, because you are a young person, and what young people need nowadays, more than anything, is immediate, snappy guidance from fake doctors.
You are very wise in writing to me now, before you are even married, or pregnant, in your desire to know the Way of the Parent, because by the time most people have children, they are so busy trying to undo the mistakes they endured in their own childhoods that it is very hard for them to take any parenting advice.
Therefore, Catty Marrin—you single, young genius; I hope your beau appreciates that—you are in the perfect position to learn, so let me break it down for you as simply as I can, in a few sentences, and thereby ruin my chances at building a perfectly good, paperback-book series that I could possibly sell later for twelve cents.
My theory, which is backed up by all the scientific reading I have ever done, which is mostly over the shoulder of my sons, who subscribe to periodicals with names like “Popular Science” and “Robot,” is that, as we go through life, we expand. That is, we come in through the narrow canal, and then we slowly expand into our bodies, into our families, and once we are too big for our families, into the world, where we make new connections, and perhaps those connections lead to a coupledom, and then a child or children, and, if we have grown without undue trauma as we have come to this point, the end result is that it will be difficult to think of ourselves as completely single people anymore; instead we will see that we are solidly and unequivocally part of a larger system that has to take the needs and concerns of others into account, and we operate within that system until it contracts, and its members leave for other places, and perhaps begin other systems of their own, until finally, having been through several, family or family-ish iterations like this, with ties to many people, some of whom may have actually emerged from our bodies, we expand out of our bodies into the next place, which I don’t know much about personally, but it seems, based on all the expanding and connecting that we have relentlessly and rapaciously been engaged in since the moment of our births, that it would likely be a further expansion and a greater connection, and this must be a good thing.
In that sense, Catty, the way of the parent, as you so aptly name it, is the way of expansion and connection, and the fact that you want this, and are allowing us to witness that desire in you here and now, is like a jaw-droppingly wonderful magic trick, where the future pokes its head for just a second into the present, the way a boy’s face will, at a particular moment, looking down to read a magazine, say, give a hint of the man to come. Because the most good, most noble, most un-fake way of the parent is already very clearly in you, in this wish to connect, and to become greater, and to be good. And I wish all parents, including myself, your beautiful, wide-open approach, and I thank you for sharing it with us, and bringing it to our attention, because it is truly the most important thing about parenting that I think any person can hope to bring to the task.
Now, I must return to my office to help Josh with the blender.
P.S. Please keep those excellent medicalizational questions coming.