Dave Barry

Cough proves the existence of karma

Recently some people stuck a needle into my arm, then put me into a tightly confined space and ordered me to hold my breath repeatedly for nearly an hour. This was not an abduction; I paid them to do these things to me.

Why? I'll tell you why: karma.

Karma is the ancient Indian belief that what goes around comes around. For example, if you kill a mosquito, that mosquito's soul will be angry at you, and it will wait patiently - for decades, if necessary - for the chance to be reincarnated as the Comcast customer-service representative you reach by phone when your cable goes out during the Super Bowl. You'll know it's the mosquito, because there will be a slight whine in the representative's voice when he tells you he's placing you on hold.

I am now a big believer in karma. Here's why:

A couple of months ago, I was a judge in a Dancing With the Stars themed fundraiser at Temple Judea in Coral Gables. There were 10 contestants, who had practiced their routines for many weeks, gradually transforming from rank amateurs to whatever the rank immediately above rank amateur is.

But it wasn't supposed to be a serious competition: It was supposed to be a fun event, by which I mean there was an open bar. We judges scored the contestants on a scale of 8 to 10, with 8 being "Good job!" and 10 being "Good job!"

One of the contestants was Andy Sable, who's a friend of mine. Andy is a gastroenterologist; in fact, he once did a colonoscopy on me. (At least he claims he did; I was unconscious, thank God.)

For his dance, Andy performed the cha-cha-cha, and while he gave it a strong effort, I thought he was a tad mechanical. Instead of a smoothly flowing cha-cha-cha, he seemed to view each "cha" as a distinct maneuver, frowning intently as he mentally checked off the steps ("OK, time to execute a... CHA. Done! Now it's time to execute a second... CHA. Done! And now, finally, a third...").

Still, I was going to give Andy a 10. But then I found out that the other two judges were giving him 9s; so I also gave him a 9 (signifying "Good job!"). At the time, I thought nothing of it. Little did I know that - to use an ancient Indian expression - I had just squashed the mosquito of payback.

Now we fast-forward several weeks, to a Saturday when my daughter was playing in a soccer tournament. I was staggering around the sideline looking like a zombie who had been kicked out of the zombie community for being too unhealthy. I had this persistent cough, which I had been treating according to the Protocols of Guy Medicine, under which you assume that, unless you have a bone protruding at least three inches out of your body, you will, given time and plenty of fluids in the form of beer, spontaneously get better.

My wife, however, believes in medical care, at least for other people. So against my wishes, she consulted with another soccer-team parent, who happened to be: Andy Sable. Later that day, Andy came over to my house with a stethoscope and listened to my lungs in the kitchen (which is where I keep my lungs). He told me that, to be on the safe side, I should get a chest X-ray, which he would arrange.

So to summarize the karma scoreboard at that point:

  • I casually gave Andy a 9 instead of a 10 on his cha-cha-cha.
  • He, in turn, made a house call for me, for free, as a friend and a nice guy, on a Saturday.

No way was this going to turn out well.

So I went to the hospital and got a chest X-ray. A short while later, Andy called with the results: My lungs were fine. But it seemed the radiologist had noticed something else on the X-ray, in the vicinity of one of my kidneys.

Then Andy gave me the worst possible news.

"It's probably nothing," he said.

As you know if you have ever dealt with the medical profession, when they tell you something is probably nothing, they mean they are going to do more medical things to you.

So Andy arranged for me to have a CAT scan. This is when they make you drink what appears to be latex paint, except it tastes worse; then they put you under this Star-Trek-looking machine and turn it on, but not before they personally get the hell out of the room.

Also, of course they stick a needle in your arm. If you enter a modern American hospital for any reason, including to deliver flowers, they are going to stick a needle into your arm, and then they are going to put random substances into your veins. "We're injecting some saline now," they'll say, "so you might feel a cold sensation." Or: "We're injecting iodine now, so you might have a metallic taste in your mouth." Or: "We're injecting Hellman's mayonnaise now, so you might develop a sudden craving for tuna."

Hours after the CAT scan, Andy called with the results. I could tell right away, from the tone of his voice, that he had bad news. And I was right.

"It's probably nothing," he said.

So now I had to get an MRI. This is when they (of course) stick a needle into your arm, then put you into a confined tube and make you hold your breath while they expose you to magnetic rays that are extremely powerful.

Q. How powerful are they?

A. They are so powerful that, for the rest of your life, you point north.

I am mildly claustrophobic, so before I had my MRI, I took a tiny white mellowing pill prescribed by Andy. Let me just say to the person who invented that pill: I want to have your baby. Because I felt fine inside the tube. I considered refusing to come out, so they wouldn't be able to give me any more medical care.

But eventually I emerged from the tube and went home, where I sat around feeling mellow until Andy called with the MRI results. And guess what? It turned out his initial diagnosis was absolutely correct: It was nothing. At least nothing scary. We figured out, after some discussion, that there was some kind of harmless blob inside me left over from 25 years ago when I walked directly into an open hatch on a sailboat and landed on my side and spent the next two weeks walking like Igor in Young Frankenstein.

So basically I spent several thousand dollars on medical tests to determine that a blob - which I would never have known about without the medical tests - was nothing for me to worry about.

Am I angry? No I am not, and I will tell you why: I have more of those little white pills.

No, seriously, I figure I got off easy. I hate to think what would have happened if I had given Andy an 8 on his cha-cha-cha.

What life lessons can we draw from my experience? I think there are two. The first is: Always be generous to others, because whatever you do, either good or bad, will come back to you. The second - and more important lesson is this: If you're on a sailboat, close the hatch before you open your beer.

Finally, in case you are wondering: yes, I still have the cough.

©2011 Dave Barry

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