Liver of Life
My name is Richard. Richard LaGreave, and if it were not for my illness, I would probably be a celebrated surgeon today. After all, hadn’t the doctors at St. Mary’s been astonished about the emergency surgery I had performed, even though I had never wielded a scalpel before in my entire life? True, it was pure textbook knowledge I had, never any actual practice until that day when so much was demanded of me. It was a good thing, therefore, that I had spent those many years scouring the diagrams in the surgery texts and plotting out the incision marks in blue ink on the life-size anatomy chart I had purchased at the medical school bookstore.
I want you to know that it was my illness, not my test scores, that prevented me from attending medical school. It has confined me to my home most of my life, although I have been able to maintain independence by doing my own shopping through the use of public transportation.
Of course, I would not want you to think that the study of surgery became a narrowly focused interest for me. I consider myself a liberally-educated gentleman who can converse intelligently about the most urbane subjects. Art history. Philosophy. Literature. The social sciences—psychology, sociology, anthropology. Music. And even film, though I do consider that an inferior art form. Furthermore, art and music are more than just intellectual pursuits. I am also an accomplished pianist, a painter and a sculptor. There have even been some art critics who have compared my work with that of the late Jackson Pollack.
Because of my illness, I have not been able to sustain many friendships. I have no siblings, and my mother and my father are deceased. Upon the death of my parents, I inherited a considerable amount of wealth, so I have no complaints, since I have been able to furnish my apartment in a rather grand style. There is no lack of books, art, fine furniture, china and hand-knotted Persian carpets to be found in my home. Besides all this, I am a gourmet cook. Why, on the very evening that I performed the surgery, I cooked myself a seven-course meal beginning with vichyssoise and ending with a silky crème brulee, served up with a rare French white wine.
Perhaps you are finding this recitation of my accomplishments somewhat tedious, but I want you to know something of my character and talents before I divulge the details of my illness and the circumstances of the heroic surgery.
My illness is no ordinary one. In fact, for years a true diagnosis eluded every doctor either my parents or I consulted. One thought that all I suffered from was a nervous tic while another proclaimed it was St. Vitas’ Dance. There was even a suspicion of Huntington’s chorea. But in the final analysis, it was I and I alone who was able to discern the true disorder, a disorder which turned out to be not only exceedingly rare, but cunningly diabolical.
At first all the signals were subtle. There was the queasy feeling in my stomach and pains in my lower abdomen. It was not until a few months later, on the afternoon of June the eighth, while I was mixing egg tempera with burnt sienna, that I noticed a stench radiating from my abdomen in the region of my liver. At first I tried to ignore it, but the sulfurous reek was too odious. I thought perhaps it could cajoled to recede, so I strode over to the piano and rendered forth Brahm’s “Lullaby” three times. As I played, I could see a snake of smoke emerge from my belly. It curled upward and then turned a menacing hiss in my direction. Even though this was a most terrifying event, for a few moments I believed that I had actually lured the Evil from my body with the sweet tones. But I was oh, so very, very wrong! The Smell continued to plague my waking moments and torment my dreams. I tried everything to rid myself of its noxious fumes, including scrubbing my abdominal region with acetone. This burned a hole in my flesh, which after several days began to fester, but still there was no relief from this olfactory scourge.
At last I knew what I had to do. It was blatantly obvious to me that the Evil Smell was dwelling in my liver and the only way to expunge it would be to remove the offensive organ. Without further ado, I located the appropriate surgery text, studied the diagrams carefully, then lying naked on my side in front of a floor-length mirror, I painstakingly marked the dissection line in blue ink on the pink of my skin. Having accomplished this, I located the scalpel I had purchased at the university medical supply store. After plunging it into my quaking flesh, I efficiently slit the muscle along the marked path, reached inside and plucked out a quivering red mass of protoplasmic tissue. It was at this moment that I realized I had not the means to stanch the massive flow of blood, so I temporarily pressed the organ back into the abdominal cavity, took a wet towel compress, which I had had the foresight to prepare ahead of time, stood up, made my way to the telephone and dialed 911.
It was only a matter of minutes before the paramedics arrived and I was on my way to the hospital. It was indeed a proud moment when I heard the doctors exclaim over the flawless execution of the surgical procedure. Before they anesthetized me, I made sure they understood how imperative it was that my liver be permanently removed from the abdominal cavity because of the Evil pervading that organ. They spoke reassuring words to me as my eyes blurred and then I lost consciousness. Much later I awoke in this place where I now find myself
spending my days. The walls and floors here are made of sterile steel and tile, a stark contrast to my luxurious apartment downtown. Nevertheless, I am useful in this place and because of that I am happy to forego the pleasures of affluence for a time. My schedule is very full: on some days I give lectures about surgical procedures. Other days I teach painting and philosophy classes. Often I am called upon to perform concerts on a piano that is missing a lower octave B flat and is also badly out of tune. But I persevere because of all those who flock about me seeking my advice and expertise.
Although one day I will return to my apartment, I have an additional mission to accomplish before I take my departure from this place. I must locate the kitchen and offer my assistance to the chef. Last night we were served a swill of gray pork liver and slimy pink beets with a soggy piece of apple pie for dessert. What I could have done with the same ingredients! Why, I would have made a piquant foie gras (dare I say faux gras since the liver was pork rather than goose?), a savory borsht and an elegant, flaky apple strudel.