Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

Hey! It’s Not brain Surgery! Yes…it is (part 6)…by Robert M. Katzman

Filed under: Brain Surgery Rebellion,Philosophy,Social Policy and Justice — Bob at 9:17 pm on Friday, May 7, 2010

You enter a hospital with a name, your characteristic clothes, a personality and a problem.

Within 48 hours you have been reduced to a chart, a bed and a room number.  The person you came in as has disappeared.  Soon enough you are treated accordingly, as part of the room’s furniture.

My life is like that famed existential movie, Groundhog’s Day, about a clueless insensitive man stuck in a repeating purgatory until he fundamentally realized how much his callous attitude damaged other people.  Not many movie goers who love this movie understand that he has been trapped in this repeating day for thousands of days.  That is part of what makes that movie profound for me.  He’s in a Hell of his own making.

Except, people, my life is such that I keep waking up, cut up, in yet another identical hospital bed, somewhere…over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over…

Except it’s not fucking fiction! 

To defend myself from this reoccurring nightmare, every single time I’m forced to undergo yet another something, I silently re-join the Hospital Resistance, the Bandaged Underground swearing to not take any bullshit behavior lying down, even if I am actually…lying down.

Casualties?  Always 100%.

Treat me like an unwanted interloper in your day, or with the standard (and universal) hospital attitude of indifference, like I’m a wrinkle on a bed instead of a real person—and you’ll see the quiet person in Room 405, Bed One swiftly transform into one angry son-of-a-bitch, determined to hold onto his humanity.

A real person—not a number—in pain.

So, though this last day I just recounted was not a day I’d chosen to remember, but I did anyway.

So, listen to me:

When you go to a hospital and are treated shabbily, don’t take it, man.  Rise up!  Absolutely demand respect. It works. Under all your bandages, you are still you.  Plus, you’re paying all of those uniformed pod-people ignoring you a damn fortune.  And when you do that, think of me.

I’m Spartacus!!!

The second round of brain surgeries eventually led to my rueful realization that I wasn’t ever going back to college.  I’d sure tried, doggedly, but fate ultimately intervened.  It was my fifth attempt to see if I could earn any sort of degree.  I don’t really know why I even cared any more.  I mean, after over half a century of accumulating relationships and experiences like a stamp collector, I was who I was going to be.

But after trying the University of Illinois in 1968, Roosevelt University in 1970, the University of Chicago Extension in 1971,  Roosevelt again in 1980 and then—almost a quarter of a century later—DePaul University in 2003, I knew with a sense of resigned finality that it would never happen.

One nice moment I like to remember, amid all the above fruitless pursuits of a piece of paper legitimizing my existence, was when I was walking through the halls at DePaul University in Downtown Chicago, searching for the registration office in fall, 2003, and a young student approached me with a question about something, telling me he assumed I was a professor there.  I smiled to myself when he said that and said,

“Not quite, young man.  Not quite.”  

After my second brain surgery, the wretched gamma-knife experience, time passed.


One day, when I was working in my collectible periodical store north of Chicago, a person came in and greeted me warmly, like he knew me well.

I had no clue who he was.

After an awkward silence that stretched out too long, I finally asked him his name, which seemed to crush him.  He then told me who he was, with a curious look on his face, and immediately—everything I knew about that relationship came flooding back into my consciousness.  Just like that, I recognized him.

He was a professor at Lake Forest College who, in 2003, had agreed to let me sit in on his classes at no charge, and then afterwards helped me to learn how to read my stories in public with poise, confidence and projection so people could actually hear me.  He made me aware that my untrained voice was too soft and I must always remember to speak loud enough so people could clearly hear me.

He was patient, witty, compassionate and really interested in helping me.  We worked line by line.

This concerted effort went on for six weeks, ending with a performance in front of his class, and later to my first public reading of the story we rehearsed together, “The Mystery of Peter Levy” at the Chopin Theater in Chicago.  There were bright lights in my eyes when I was standing on the raised stage, and I couldn’t see the audience, but they laughed, clapped—and cried—at the right times.  Then they clapped for a longer time at the end.  I was thrilled.  That same story ended up in the first book I ever published, in 2004.  More than one thousand copies of that book have been sold, so far.

He was quite a guy and not someone I’d easily forget.  But, Reader, who was he?  What is his name?

In writing this part of this story, I still could not recall.  That is exactly what it’s like.  Everything, but.

I knew where, when, essentially who and some distinct details, like he had a couple of small dogs.  Everything, it seems, but his name, even today.  I can see his face and details like that.  But determined to give this man his due, I tracked down the Lake Forest (Illinois) College Theater Department phone number, spoke to his assistant, Andrea, because all this time later in 2010, she told me, he’s still there!

His name is Dennis Mae.

But he was just the first of a series of people whom I already knew, yet didn’t recognize when first meeting them.  It was, as you can imagine, very embarrassing for both me and the other person who naturally assumed I knew them so well.  Some people became angry with me, like I was some thoughtless flake and I was being deliberately rude to them.   They were insulted that I “forgot” them.

Eventually, abandoning any sense of shame or embarrassment as hopeless and a waste of time, I started telling these apparent strangers that I’d had brain surgery, twice, and this must be some mysterious side- effect of the operations.

It was.

In one of my most awkward moments, I went to see my surgeon, Dr. Francois, for a regular post-operative check-up, and when his longtime nurse, Jackie, whom I knew very well for more than a year of visits, came out to ask me to accompany her back to an examining room.

I had no idea whatsoever who she was.

As we walked down a long hallway, I tried to see a look at the little brass nameplate pinned to the left side of her white lab coat.  Then I realized this strange woman might wonder, uncharitably, why I was evidently trying to stare at her breasts.  It was so frustrating, plus…I was still unable to see her name, as we swiftly walked toward the room.  Funny that I could remember the cure, but not the name.

Once there, I confessed my maddening situation and begged her understanding that I wasn’t really looking at her chest.  But in an unexpectantly humorous moment, Jackie responded to my embarrassment by saying,

“Oh, hell, go ahead and look!  I have no figure to speak of, so frankly I’d of been kind of flattered!” 

It was a nice thing for her to say to me in that kind of situation, and not actually accurate (for the record) but then she immediately told me who she was, meaning Jackie, and that my condition was not so unusual.  She also assured me her feelings weren’t hurt at all.  She told me it wasn’t like I had any choice in the matter.

I told her that it seemed like my memory had a rusty door in it when it came to people’s names and sometimes their faces, and it seemed to me like it opened so very s-l-o-w-l-y.

But when the unknown person told me who they were, all I knew about them was instantly restored as if my hearing their name was the trigger to reinstating recognition.

Jackie agreed with my “rusty door” analogy, liked it in fact, and gently explained to me that it was unavoidable incidental damage caused by their highly sensitive effort to isolate and kill the inoperative tumor deep within my brain, and that the damage to my brain was permanent.

I absorbed that statement soberly.


A truly nice person, Jackie continued that it would be best for me if I adjusted myself, emotionally and philosophically, to my new reality and its accompanying limitations rather than suffer endless embarrassment and humiliation.

She told me: Just tell people, as I already had begun doing, and it would ease the tension for everyone.  Once people know my situation, as I have subsequently learned, generally, they would be very understanding.

It was harder for people in my kind of situation, she continued, because it wasn’t some obvious disability like missing a leg, or being blind, etc.  It didn’t appear to her, she said, or likely to most anyone new I would meet, that I was limited in this particular way.

The damage to my recollection mechanism, which is actually what it was, was limited to names only, and my not recognizing people’s faces would gradually improve.  She cautioned me that it would never be perfect, but that the incidents would become rare.  She then repeated that the name problem, however, was…permanent.

Jackie was giving it to me straight and I was grateful to finally know the truth and what to expect going forward.

I didn’t like it, but, damn it, I was still alive and damaged, which was a hell of a lot better than being perfect…and dead.

Which brings me to Joyce.

Part Seven next week


Publishing News! 

Bob Katzman’s two new true Chicago books are now for sale, from him!
Vol. One: A Savage Heart  and Vol. Two: Fighting Words

Gritty, violent, friendship, classic American entrepreneurship love, death, heartbreak and the real dirt about surviving in a completely corrupt major city under the Chicago Machine. More history and about one man’s life than a person may imagine.

Please visit my new website: https://www.dontgoquietlypress.com
If a person doesn’t want to use PayPaI, I also have a PO Box & I ship anywhere in America.

Send me a money order with your return and contact info.
I will get your books to you within ten days.
Here’s complete information on how to buy my books:

Vol 1: A Savage Heart and Vol. 2: Fighting Words
My books weigh almost 2 pounds each, with about 525 pages each and there are a total together of 79 stories and story/poems.

Robert M. Katzman
Don’t Go Quietly Press
PO Box 44287
Racine, Wis. 53404-9998                                                                                                                    (262)752-3333, 8AM–7PM

Books cost $24.95 each, plus shipping

For: (1)$3.95; (2)$5.95; (3)$7.95; (4)$8.95 (5)$9.95;(6) $10.95

(7) $11.95; (8) $12.95; (9)$13.95 (10)$15.95 (15)$19.95

I am also for hire if anyone wants me to read my work and answer questions in the Chicago/Milwaukee area. Schools should call me for quantity discounts for 30 or more books. Also: businesses, bookstores, private organizations or churches and so on.

My Fighting Words Publishing Co. four original books, published between 2004 and 2007 are now out-of-print. I still have some left and will periodically offer them for sale on my new website.

 Twitter handle:bob_katzman

1 Comment »

Comment by lorra

May 8, 2010 @ 5:50 am

really good. then, signing in to ‘leave a comment,’ i enjoy the ironic instruction: Name (required).
Thanks, Bob Katzman.

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