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Snatch the pebble from the master

Barry Smith

I fear I may have snatched the AV Guy pebble. You know – the pebble. That pebble that you snatch from the master’s hand before he can close it, proving that you are ready to move on. The pebble. C’mon, I can’t be the only one who thinks of his life as an ongoing episode of “Kung Fu,” can I?Here’s the thing: I’m sitting in the back of a dark conference room, working as an audio visual technician (AV Guy), overseeing yet another medical conference. The doctor at the podium just said, “I’m quite comfortable putting this through the colon and small bowel.” There was a time when I would light up at such a proclamation from the speaker. As a way to make the time pass more quickly I’d perch at my AV station, pen poised over notebook, just waiting for such nuggets of out-of-context scatological silliness to fly my way. But now, well … go ahead, put things through the colon and small bowel, what do I care? I’ve snatched the pebble.Years ago, when I first started the AV Guy gig, the medicalese spoken at these conferences – “bezafibrate anticoagulants,” “adventitia atherosclerosis,” and so on – was an exciting new language. I was fascinated by the musical, poetic sound of it. Since I didn’t know what these words meant, there was none of the baggage that comes with the diseases and conditions they correspond to. The proclamation of “subarachnoid hemorrhage” was not a life sentence, but a bit of beautiful verse. Even after having heard “subarachnoid hemorrhage” thousands of times, I still can’t tell you what it means. Same with “atrial fibrillation,” “necrotizing pancreatitis” and “segmented ECG-gated TrueFISP.”Sure, I could look this stuff up, but that would ruin it for me, and I have to hang on to my survival mechanisms.Back in the meeting, I see that the new AV Guy (second day on the job) has fallen asleep. I don’t mean he’s nodding off. No, he’s folded his arms atop the table and is nestling his head in their inviting crook. His right foot is kicking a little bit, indicating sound sleep and a bad dream. Poor guy. I’ve seen this before. If you aren’t able to rationalize early on (“it sounds like poetry … hee, hee … “), then being bombarded by a language which you know to be English, yet are unable to get even a toehold of understanding of, well … it plays with your brain, and it doesn’t play fair. It’s a slow, deliberate, tortuous confusion the likes of which I suspect George Bush must experience at times. The new AV Guy is at a crucial phase. He may or may not make it. For me, though, years of exposure have formed a layer of psychological scar tissue, which protects me from this excruciating boredom.Alas, today this scar tissue also seems to be protecting me from inspiration, because hearing “aortic regurgitation” has me absently nodding my head in feigned understanding rather than scrambling for my notebook. Time to move on, Grasshopper.Another thing: we’re videotaping this meeting from the back of the room so that future generations can enjoy it. We have the camera up high, so no one can walk in front of it and cause us to miss any of the high-thrills action, like the speaker suddenly busting out with, “inducible ischemia with vasodilatation.” Despite its height, some people instinctively duck at the sight of the camera. Watching this groveling used to delight me. I’d say, sometimes not entirely to myself, “Ha! Bow before me, you worthless toad,” as the poor attendees went tottering along, hunched over like Quasimodo, struggling to balance their bran muffin on a saucer. Earlier today I actually told one of these people that, for future reference, it’s OK to stand up in front of the camera. What the … !? The speaker is finishing up now. “Sorry I didn’t get to unlock all the mysteries of the small bowel,” he says. “But my time seems to be up” The old me would have written “the mysteries of the small bowel” in large, block letters in my notebook. But this morning all I did was take a sip of coffee. In fact, my pen is still in my back pocket. Along with the pebble.


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