Things That Go Thump In the Night

It is happening again.

When my wife and I were dating in the early 80’s, she was studying to become a Registered Nurse, or RN, or Regular Nuisance, as I like to say.

We would meet after our classes and she would enthuse about all of the medical things she was learning about, such as, it is generally not considered a safe healthy practice to eat a pound of sour cream and onion potato chips for breakfast every morning. I don’t know why she was telling me about this.

What she liked most was explaining various medical procedures like siphoning off blood, examining eyeballs and eardrums, listening to the beat of various organs with her stethoscope, and thumping on body cavities with her clenched fist.

What she liked even better than most was to practice these procedures on a willing subject. Never let it be said that I do not love my wife! We would sit there on the grass of the commons of our University and I would let my wife poke and probe me with her medical instruments, which I will say were not toy things but the genuine articles, all in the interests of medical science. This didn’t seem fair to me. I was studying engineering and it wasn’t like I could construct a bridge out of my wife.

After we were married in 1984, my wife worked as a nurse in Hamilton for about a year while I was studying for my Master’s degree. Then we moved back to Ottawa where she was unable to find work in her chosen career. So she worked in the Canadian government as an income tax assessor and a reviewer of pension fund applications. These jobs served us well as we submitted our tax forms every year and the company I worked for mutated their pension fund over the years. Without the inside knowledge that my wife shared with me, we would probably be living in a cardboard box under a bridge (constructed entirely out of nursing students) somewhere.

Note to federal tax and pension officials: We did nothing, I repeat, nothing illegal. We did not evade taxes in any way, shape or form, and we certainly did not pillage pension funds like certain unnamed executives of prominent corporations. In fact, we are so not prominent that there is absolutely no need whatsoever to break out the tray of dental implements like the one that Laurence Olivier used to try to pry the truth out of Dustin Hoffman in The Marathon Man.

Which brings me to the point of today’s column. It seems that, in the 17 or so intervening years since my wife last worked as a nurse, there have been a couple of changes in medical technology that requires my wife to go back to college to upgrade her nursing skills. And I am starting to feel a little bit like Dustin Hoffman.

Lately, when my wife returns home from nursing upgrade school, she has this funny gleam in her eye, and I know, I just know that she learned that the latest technique for siphoning off blood involves a harpoon-sized needle and a vacuum cleaner. At least, that’s the way it seems to me!

I was sitting at our computer the other night making things up for my latest column when my wife, who was studying a book that is at least the size of all of Stephen King’s novels put together, called me over.

“What are you studying this evening?” I inquired.

“Medical Surgery,” my wife replied.

I hesitated only a moment because I know, deep down to the very depths of my soul, that my wife is my soul mate forever, and that she would never ever do anything to really harm me; at least not intentionally.

As I approached her “work area,” I spied another smaller book beside the Medical Surgery textbook. This one was called, in all honesty, The Pain Manual.

She instructed me to take my shirt off and sit down and relax and stop shaking. Then, with a serious demeanour, she stuck out the first and middle fingers of her left hand, placed them on various parts of my chest, and thumped them with her right hand. She had an extremely serious demeanour as she was attempting to identify the various hollow parts of my chest cavity through the sounds that the thumps made. It’s a good thing she didn’t attempt this technique on my head!

“All your chest cavities sound the same,” she intoned. “They’re supposed to sound different.”

She studied me for a moment and I surmised that she was considering “opening me up” to see what was the matter with my chest cavity soundings.

Fortunately, she decided to place her nose firmly back in her book to try to determine why her husband had homogenous chest thumps.

I took this opportunity to scamper back to the computer, much like a squirrel scampers back to his hidey-hole after escaping a ravenous pack of wild dogs, to continue working on my latest column.

If you are reading this column, it means that I am safe…for now.

Nick Burn is a freelance writer, husband, father of three, engineer, teacher, and webmaster for the Canadian Catholic Information Network. In his spare time (hah!), he enjoys camping, skiing and reading.

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