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August 8, 2006
Can I have one of those collagen plugs when we're done? I asked the doctor halfway through my cardiac catheterization.

I think so, he said, intent on his work. And, when we were finished, I got my wish: a tiny ensemble composed of a spongy bit of collagen, a button-shaped stabilizer and a short length of suture: they insert it into a puncture wound, and it functions like one of those anchors you use to hang a mirror on a wall without a stud. When it's done its work, it dissolves. The whole arrangement is so much less painful than what they used to do, which was to apply pressure on the wound with a heavy sandbag for the better art of an hour, followed by a painfully tight pressure bandage for an even longer time.

The actual work inside the chest doesn't hurt at all -- not many nerves there. You don't feel the wire traveling up your torso and into your heart. You feel some of the things it does, and an unpleasant pressure comes and goes. At one point, the doctor says you're going to feel warmth, and you do: a sudden ballooning of interior heat, as if someone had lit you from the inside. You watch the whole thing idly on the television monitor, the arteries filling with blood and then the blood receding, beat after beat, the curious wire poking back and forth all the while to see what's going on in there.

Happily this time, nothing much was. I am delighted to hear this, although it leaves certain symptoms still unexplained. More tests are coming: one on a table that will tilt me up and down and try to make me pass out, another catheter test that will send little shocks through my heart to see how it fires its own.

But we will do none of them today. Today I will write and nap and not lift things. I will try to remember not to bend over.

How amazing, these things, these catheters, these medicines, these machines. The geniuses who have made them. The doctors who sit with the geniuses and say, You know, if I had something that could...You know, this scope would work better if it....You know, we should be able to insert this thing in a closed position and then have it open out as we withdrew it..... I would be dead now, I think, or well on my way to being dead, without them.

Often, I have fantasized about being a physician, although I have few of the gifts a doctor must possess. I don't create or invent anything that heals. As one who prays, I am a simply conduit for the blessing of God -- a tube, basically. I am a catheter myself -- I carry God's blessing to its destination.

This is an image I like. I like its indignity. The genius of the inventor is daunting. But anyone can be a catheter.
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