I’m Not Delivering This Baby Until I Kill The Thief In Zork I


During childbirth, timing is everything, from marking the instances of contractions right down to the measured breathe-and-push moments that lead into crowning. But sometimes things need to be put on hold, and one of those times involved the classic Infocom game called Zork I, where, in this one part, you have to kill a thief who’s pretty much fucking impenetrable.

I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a cold February night in 1983. The woman birthing the child was breathing pretty rapidly, and it was getting close to crowning time, I could tell. But too many things were on my mind, and I’m the type of guy who needs to concentrate on one thing at a time—I guess I’m just OCD that way. The fact was, I wasn’t delivering a baby until I killed that dirty, thieving son-of-a-bitch in the Underground Empire. I told the mother this, as my team rolled in a gurney that held my Commodore 64. It was time. Time to kill.

I tried using my sword a couple times while, behind me, I heard the soon-to-be mother breathing incessantly. But my sword was useless against this foe, and the woman’s panting was really getting on my nerves. “Can we get her out of here?” I yelled over my shoulder. But nobody moved—they were intently locked into the game that played out before me. I died, was sent to that altar, then tried my hand again. And then, as that bitch behind me started crying like the baby that would soon emerge from her own Narrow Passage, I had an idea: the knife. Rusty though it may be, if I yielded it precisely it just might do the trick.

I made my way back to the Treasure Room, sweat beading on my forehead, my heart quickening. The nurse behind me yelled, “Doctor, she’s crowning!” I dismissed the nurse with a wave of my hand and reminded myself to fire the asshole when this was all over.

Before I knew it, there I was, face-to-face with the thief. “Well, well, well,” I said to my computer, as chaos ensued behind me, what with the crowning child and all. “So we meet again, my nimble-fingered nemesis.” And so I unleashed upon him my fury and thrust the rusty knife into his sad, filthy person. At last, he was dead. I kicked the gurney aside, wheeled around and delivered the screaming, troll-like infant.

And so it was: I removed one life from this world and, seconds later, brought to the surface yet another. And all on a cold February night in 1983.



“You Have Cancer”: One Of The Most Agonizing Messages I’ve Ever Had To Leave On A Patient’s Voicemail

Picture this: an empty house. A cell phone lying unattended on the dining room table. The phone rings and rings. Finally, the voicemail beep chimes, prompting you to leave your message: “Hello, Mr. Donovan? You have Stage II colon cancer. Give me a call.”

That’s exactly what I had to do three years ago. Mr. Donovan was a patient of mine who was complaining about a feeling of not being able to fully empty his bowels. I decided to do some tests—those tests, of course, revealing that Mr. Donovan did indeed have cancer of the colon. That’s when I left the message on his voicemail. It was harrowing.

But not as harrowing as the second voicemail message, when I explained to Mr. Donovan that the cancer had extended through the colon wall and into the bladder. Also, it looked as though it might have stretched into the tissue that covers most of the organs in the abdomen. “Probably not the news you want to hear,” I said, right before hanging up.

I was getting a cup of coffee from the vending machine when I realized what I did. I immediately cursed myself, and I called Mr. Donovan back and apologized. "I forgot to mention on that last call," I said to his voicemail, "that you'll need surgery and, quite possibly, chemotherapy." I took a deep breath, and either I thought the word 'Christ' or uttered it.

"Anyway," I said, "when you get a chance, drop me a line.”

Tom Petty once sang, “The waiting is the hardest part.” And he wasn’t lying. Waiting for Mr. Donovan’s call back was, in a word, horrible. But he did call back about 30 minutes after my last message, and he was not happy. Of course, who would be after learning they had cancer? I can’t say I blame him.

So, how does this story end? As all medical stories end: with a lawsuit. It’s not uncommon for patients to blame their doctors for their condition. And, unfortunately, this was one of those cases. But I heard that Mr. Donovan beat the cancer, and that’s great news. If only I could’ve been the one to have left that news on his voicemail. If only.

The Worst Time To Not Give Someone Your Undivided Attention Is When You’re Giving Him A Vasectomy

Every doctor has one of these stories. You’re in the middle of performing a routine vasectomy. You’re lowering the scalpel, slowly, carefully making the incision, and BOOM: you feel your phone vibrating in your back pocket. Obviously, you have to check it; it could be an emergency. But no, it’s not an emergency. It’s just a push notification from Words With Friends. It looks like your friend Janet has nudged you. Uh-oh: It also looks like blood is streaming out of your patient’s scrotum.

It just goes to show how important it is to give someone your undivided attention, especially when you’re slicing that someone’s vasa deferentia.

Take the patient I was referencing above. Let’s call him Brian. Brian was lying on his back, completely trusting in my ability to stop him from procreating. He trusted me. And what do I do? I stab the local anesthetic into the interior of his thigh, completely missing the mark, and why? Because my wife was texting me, wondering what kind of pasta I wanted that night: rigatoni or cavetelli? I texted her back “Cavetelli,” as Brian writhed in wretched pain due to the fact that I apparently stabbed his other leg with the local anesthetic shot as well—without even realizing it. Simply incredible.

You’re probably thinking, ‘James, why don’t you just leave your phone somewhere else when performing vasectomies?’ If only it were that simple.

Let me just say that tying two vas deferens tubes together takes focus and agility. And tying two vas deferens tubes together while connecting with someone on LinkedIn takes even more focus and agility—perhaps too much focus and agility for one man to handle.

And yet, these instances are inevitable. There’s simply nothing we can do to stop them, nor should we try to stop them. Think how many lives are being saved simply by carrying these phones with us in our back pockets at all times. Or at least think how many lives could be saved if such a life-saving call were ever to come in, which it hasn’t thus far.

Typically, vasectomies take 20 to 30 minutes. Brian’s, however, took an exhausting one hour and forty-five minutes. What was even more exhausting was telling Brian why his scrotum looked like an old catchers mitt caught on fire.

Putting aside the extra procedure time and the Frankensteined scrotum, it all comes down to one simple question: did the vasectomy take? That is, is Brian now sterile? And the answer to that question is a resounding “I don’t know.” I’ve yet to hear from Brian. In fact, I wonder if I’ll ever hear from Brian. I wonder this a lot. I wonder this even now, as I type this article on my iPhone’s Notes app while, at the same time, thread a tiny camera into a patient’s urethra during a routine cystoscopy.

Annal: You’re Pregnant, And It’s A Girl Named Jennifer

Annals Etcetera is a regular column in which our doctors go back into their medical annals to tell the stories of previous patients.


By Dr. James Shallot
People kept coming up to my patient, who I’ll call Laura Finnegan (the ‘F’ is silent), and asking her if she was pregnant. Of course, Laura had no idea whether or not she was pregnant—how does anyone ever really know? So Laura came to see me, and I told her the good news: “Laura, you are indeed pregnant, and it’s a girl named Jennifer.”

She was obviously speechless. But what really took her by surprise was the fact that her baby was due any day now. In fact, I could tell by the look in Laura's eyes that she was 98% effaced.

Laura then began repeating, over and over again, how she wasn’t prepared for a baby. I calmed her down by telling her nobody ever is prepared. The best anyone can do is stare blankly at a wall and wait for the regret to pass.

“I guess I should find an obstetrician?” Laura said. In fact, I had already taken care of it. I had been texting Dr. Sherwood, an obstetrician, during our entire conversation to see if she was available. To my delight, she was.

“You’re all set,” I told Laura, although I’m not sure she heard me because she immediately blurted out, “Isn’t there a book? What To Expect When Expecting or something?”

“Oh, Laura,” I said, shaking my head. “It’s too late for books.” That’s when she started hyperventilating and cursing some guy named Brad, who maybe was her cousin or priest or something.

You can probably guess how the rest of this story goes. Laura gets up off the chair, walks in circles, then goes into our practice’s bathroom and locks the door. Fast-forward to three days later. Laura finally comes out of our bathroom, and the three of us—Laura, Dr. Sherwood and myself—hop into the backseat of a Buick Skylark, preparing for the delivery of little baby Jennifer. You can imagine the excitement, and possibly even Laura’s confusion, as we delivered her baby on a very pothole-ridden section of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. Seconds later, Dr. Sherwood died of natural causes.

And so a new life was brought into this world. It was a true miracle.

Annal: You Either Have Mild Allergies Or Six Months To Live

Annals Etcetera is a regular column in which our doctors go back into their medical annals to tell the stories of previous patients.

By Dr. James Shallot

 Dr. James Shallot President of Doctors Etcetera

Dr. James Shallot
President of Doctors Etcetera

It's the type of news you dread telling a patient: it appears you either have mild-intermittent allergies or a menacing, incurable disease that leaves you with six months to live. But that’s just the kind of news I had to deliver the other day to a patient I’ll call Hon Hichardson.

I said to Hon, “Hon, the bottom line is this: I would strongly suggest getting a good nasal spray as well as start wrapping up anything you wanted to do with your wife and children. You know, just in case.”

What was Hon’s reaction after I told him  his symptoms undoubtedly pointed to pollen allergies or the late stages of a very painful, lethal disease? Speechlessness. Even a look of confusion, as if what I was telling him didn’t make any sense, despite the fact that it made perfect sense.

The moment was dispiriting to say the least.

I then did what any good doctor would have done: I told Hon I was ready to answer his call if he ever needed a shoulder to cry on or, if it turned out to be just allergies, if he needed a tissue. I said to him, “Hon, my team of doctors are always here for you in the years (or months, depending) to come.”

You can only imagine the look on his face.

The next few moments involved me explaining over Hon's sobs that, considering how at least one out of every 5 Americans suffers from allergies, he was certainly not alone in that respect. The hard part came when I had to tell him the nightmarish reality that he could also have something that has affected only two other people. Ever.

It was at that point when Hon started clawing at his tear-ridden face with his fingernails in a fit of despair.

Finally, before Hon staggered out of my office, I handed him a sheet of paper that would help him prepare for what he was in for. It simply read this:

- Sneezing or loss of fingers
- Watery eyes or hallucinations of clowns
- Nasal congestion or sudden quill outbreak
- Itchy throat or rapid digging
- Cough

- Antihistamines, or none

I haven’t heard from Hon since. I can only hope that he has decongestants at the ready and/or ticking things off his bucket list.