Especially not after the fiasco that ensued after I found out my gallbladder was as useful to me as a leash is to a rainbow trout. The day after being told I needed surgery, I was on a flight to Philadelphia for the annual convention of alternative newsweeklies. I’ve been to dozens of such confabs—daylong meetings sandwiched between hours of heavy drinking and late-night dining. I figured Philly would be a fitting send-off to my gallbladder, but I didn’t count on the last minute advice my doctor gave me. He said, “You’re clear to go, but if you want to be safe, don’t eat any meat, cheese, onions or processed bread.” He basically described a Philly cheesesteak and, except for vegans, I’m one of the few people to fly cross-country to Philadelphia and not have one. I ate lentils and tofu in Philly. Go figure. Thanks, gallbladder.
We weren’t good friends, anyway. Over time and thanks to bundles of onion rings, macho nachos with jalapenos and extra cheese, and bacon burgers, my gallbladder—once a trusty abettor to an egregiously bad lifestyle—up and quit on me. I’d guess my gallbladder departed me at least 10 years ago. I just didn’t know it. Over the past decade, I’ve had fewer than a dozen burgers per year of any type, and except when I have mental breakdowns or have a particular calling like at newspaper conventions, my diet is a pretty healthy one. I don’t eat like a human anymore. I eat salmon like a grizzly bear, and I eat enough forage to satisfy even the hungriest goat.
Yet for all those years, I was also a Tums and Rolaids junkie. Despite having made the switch to nearly a full-on Mediterranean diet (low meat, low fat, lots of vegetables, red wine with backgammon), I’d get occasional pains (could’ve been the garlic), but after dosing with a Tums or Rolaids, I was no worse for the wear. I never would have guessed whatever it was that bothered me was a gallbladder issue—I had been taught by other men and Mr. V. that gallbladder problems are for girls and girly men.
Well, then, count me among the girly men. Gallbladder problems most likely occur equally among males and females, but like many other medical maladies (anxiety, fibromyalgia, ingrown toenails), men tend either to ignore them or self-medicate at the corner saloon. Or, as in my case, saloons, plural. But had I known that removing the gallbladder laparoscopically (especially the useless one that mine had become) would only keep me from work two days and from behind the barstool for five, I would have had it removed during the Clinton presidency, thus saving me the last eight years of George W. Bush heartburn. I can’t speak for everyone else, but my current diet is unrestricted, I haven’t so much as burped in a week, and whenever I look at the television and see our president cavorting all over Europe, my stomach neither burns nor turns.
I’m upset to all get out that I may not be able to visit Greece anytime soon, thanks to the economic policies of the Bush presidency that have effectively made the U.S. dollar a second-rate currency compared to the Euro. Lacking a gallbladder, I just don’t have any heartburn over it. My family first visited Greece in 2003. To do the same trip again in 2008 would cost nearly double what it did just five years ago—even if we cut corners. I may not have heartburn, but I do remain angry—perhaps Americans are spoiled, perhaps Americans are selfish, but to travel the country and globe easily was, until recently, considered a veritable American birthright.
I may suck it up and go anyway, maybe alone. Maybe to France on that new Delta nonstop. That’s the ticket—if I leave the family behind, I can still have myself a European vacation! Thanks, George, sign me up. I’d consider Canada, but their dollar beats ours now, too. There’s Mexico, but even if the weak peso creates a less-expensive vacation option, it’s just too hot there in the summer. I briefly considered a good, old-fashioned American road trip. Not.
When I was young, our family took road trips nearly every summer. But when gasoline goes over $4 a gallon, even the sacred road trip is sacrificial. I recently priced out what I thought was a simple trip through Colorado to the Four Corners region, the Grand Canyon, Lake Powell, then home. It’s doable, but at a ridiculous cost—including that we would leave one finicky teenager home. Years ago, we camped or stayed in funky motels and ate out of an ice chest. I like nostalgia as much as anyone, but I’m not going that route today. Not because I’m above that, but because I don’t want a starring role on Cold Case Files or The First 48—not only is America expensive, it’s damned dangerous, too.
Something has to give. I have to excise something from my vacation. It needs a gallbladder operation. I’ll cut out George W. Bush.