A significant part of my early education took place in an open classroom, the alleyway behind my house on 77th Road in a gritty part of Queens. The faculty there consisted of immortal sages like Phil Caruso, Sol Korine, and Ronnie Rosenberg- guys several years older than me who set up shop and dispensed wisdom in the alley.
I looked up to these guys, I took their instruction to heart, and being the blank slate that I was I unknowingly and uncritically integrated more than what was necessary.
Among other things, they taught me about the birds and the bees.
These were the elders I turned to in the balmy but perplexing moments of early pubescence, those days when hormones were raging wildly and you’d get spontaneous erections at the drop of a hat. This too often impelled me to me feel both conspicuous and uncomfortable.
Presently, at my age, I look back fondly and view those times as being the glory days, but back then I didn’t feel that I could afford to be so relaxed. I dreaded the thought of popping a boner at the wrong time, like for example, when I would have to stand up in front of the classroom, or, much worse, while changing in a locker room.
So, I took this matter up with my alleyway masters, asking for methodology to help get rid of, or even better, to suppress a poorly-timed hard-on.
Their advice was to think seriously about unpleasant things like hospitals, ambulances, and deathbeds. I found that this was excellent counsel; it did the trick, it worked very well for me and saved me from embarrassment more than a few times.
Fast forward to my late twenties, I have been married for a few years. Very early one morning I get a call from my wife who tells me that, “I’ve got a bed, I’ve got a room, so get on over here as quickly as you can and don’t forget to bring your dick.”
She was not trying to be romantic.
About six or so months earlier she had graduated from medical school. She made the choice to specialize in neurosurgery, the art of cutting into spine and brain. She was then an intern at the beginning of an intense and grueling seven year residency. Eventually, she became known as a talented surgeon with skilled hands and good outcomes.
Her program had an academic bent which, in this case meant that after the first year, during which she was an intern, she was supposed to put in a year of carrying out research, either applied or theoretical. The reasoning behind this sequence was that if you intended to pursue a career as a clinical professor you could get a long-term project moving forward and carve out a specialized niche for yourself while you completed your residency.
In her desired circumstances, she did not want to become a professor so this ”clinical investigative period” felt like twelve months simply to take it easy.
We saw this as a very good time to start a family. Basically, a year of paid maternity leave and one that would never again be made available to her.
The research year started at the beginning of July. Thus, because we wanted the last few months of pregnancy to be spent at home, not in the operating room where she would be required to stand for long hours and be exposed to second-hand anesthesia gas, we aimed at a target date of sometime in September for the birth of the then not-yet-conceived child.
Rather she aimed, while I shot, for September.
My wife has consistently demonstrated obsessive compulsive tendencies, which is probably what you want to see in your brain surgeon, and had been both tracking her ovulation and taking her temperature regularly in an effort to divine the optimal time for conception. The night of the magic moment happened to be in the middle of her 48-hour shift at University Hospital. That was where the bed and the room were procured.
I rushed right there, parking by the emergency room, between ambulances. I arrived at the room and sat down on the bed, which, I noticed, was warm and I asked her how everything became available.
“I think that the patient in here just died.”
Suddenly, I didn’t feel so good about doing this here and now and she sensed my trepidation and discomfort.
“People in hospitals either die or they get better, so what do you expect? Be realistic!” she said matter-of-factly. I became silent. Her booksmarts were excellent but she hadn’t yet honed her bedside manner. Finally recognizing my unease; she went on, soothingly, a whisper close into my ear, “I must have made a mistake, in fact, the patient got better and went home and is now taking his family to Disneyland.”
She then left the room to go talk to somebody down the hall, instructing me, on her way out the door to “get started.”
So, here I found myself, in a hospital, surrounded by ambulances, undressing on a deathbed where I was expected to function sexually.
I wondered, what would Phil Caruso do?
I was a big boy, on my own now; no Phil, Sol, or Ronnie to approach for advice. One part of me realized that there is an exquisite irony here, namely that I had suddenly to unlearn the lesson which I had learned so well that now I got soft at any mention of death, Pavlovian style.
Yet I had no time to savor this ironic moment; I needed quickly to get in touch with another part of myself so that I might somehow circumvent this well-established neural pathway. I explored my options, however constrained and limited they might be, and realized why I was in this room.
I took sweet comfort in the fact I would shortly be with my wife, and that we love each other, and that we are sexually compatible, and that we know why we’re doing this at this moment in this place. We would do it right, that is, making long and exquisitely slow love, and that her affection would make me forget about the corpse who had occupied the bed barely an hour ago. As I told myself that my wife’s tenderness and patience would make everything work out ok, I became more relieved and relaxed, and I anticipated some gentle cuddling and extended foreplay.
Now, I can get started.
Or so I thought.
Just then, she bursted back into the room and excitedly, and told me that we had to hurry because they needed the bed and the room right away. I’d never practiced how to get started under intense pressure like this.
I needed time, I needed space, and I didn’t have either one. I began to panic; this was not a good start for a sustained sexual session.
This in-your-face stress required coping skills whose mechanisms were not included in the curriculum in the alleyway. I entered an advanced and unknown cognitive territory and I needed novel, more sophisticated guidance, preferably peer-to-peer. I believe that the education professionals call it “cooperative learning”.
She stepped up to the plate: she tickled me, she massaged me, she soothed me, and she quickly managed both to calm me down, and, most important, to lift my spirits. This enabled me to leave the alleyway guys back in the alleyway; they were decent and well-intentioned, and their advice served its purpose for a time, but I then recognized that it was obsolete.
As we collaborated together on this life exam, I realized she was destined to become a talented surgeon. For if she could work this miracle on me, she could do anything.
And all of her hard work paid off when we got our September baby. This is the first documented case of what was to become a long track record of providing successful hospital-based outcomes.