Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Of Razors and Vibrators

My razor is made by Gillette and is called a “sensor.” It is the last razor made whose handle is small enough to fit into the cunning little rack that also holds my shaving brush (yes, I am a traditionalist). I love my cunning little rack and would hate to abandon it. All current razors (a/k/a “shaving systems) sold by the major brands have handles fat enough to be employed by a gorilla. Some feature more blades than I can count—four, five, six of them. Advertisers no longer even attempt to provide a rationale as to why anyone needs to shave with five blades. Others have batteries in the handle to make them vibrate as you shave. Again, it is unclear why one would wish to have one’s razor vibrate, anymore than it is clear why one would wish to hold a vibrating toothbrush. Many things today vibrate to no apparent purpose—we have come a long way from the era when the only things that vibrated were vibrators, which clearly are required to vibrate if they are to serve their appointed purpose.

And now a riddle. How is a shaver like a computer printer? Answer: both are sold cheaply because the real products they want to sell are, respectively, blades and ink cartridges. A razor blade is good for about a week, and they are beastly expensive for what they are. So for years I have been purchasing off-brand blades designed to fit my sensor. A bit of research revealed that virtually all of these replacement blades are manufactured by Personna to be sold as “house brands” by various chains. I have purchased most of mine at Fleet Farm, where they are offered as “Good Sense” blades at about half the price charged by Gillette. But they are becoming harder and harder to find as the sensor fades into razor history books. Planned obsolescence is alive and well in the world of shaving—corporate America wants me to shave holding a fat, vibrating handle that will not fit into my cunning little rack.

I offer this rant because this week I was forced to purchase a pack of Gillette blades for the first time in years because I could not find the appropriate Personna blade in two stores that were once reliable sources. The sensor itself disappeared from the shelves many years ago. Clearly the relentless march of shaving progress is not on my side.

I note that there is a modest revival of the classic, straight-edged razor and accompanying strop. Interestingly, it appears to be led by women who are taking a straight razor to their legs. I wish I had learned that skill when I was younger. It is not a skill one should attempt to learn without instruction from a master, and likely not one to take on after the age of sixty. So I will haunt the stores for replacement blades sold as Tri-Flexx, Good Sense or whatever else they may be branded. I may be a dinosaur, but I do not wish to be a gorilla, a gorilla with a vibrating face.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Post-Surgery Thoughts

It is less than three full days since my surgery and I am feeling much better than I had expected to. Yes, there is still a fair amount of pain, and I have bruising and swelling in places that cannot be discussed on a family-friendly blog, but these are small things. My doc’s advice proved to be sound – forgo the Vicodin if possible, and manage pain with ibuprofen, ice-packs and whiskey with a milk of magnesia chaser. Worked like a charm; just wish I had thought to buy better scotch before the procedure.
I received the kind of health care reserved for the privileged in our society. I did not have to jump through hoops to receive permission for the procedure (somewhat oddly, even when a hernia repair is clearly needed it remains classified as “elective” surgery). The Groth Center for Outpatient Surgery at the Appleton Medical Center makes undergoing surgery no less pleasant than it needs to be. Everything happened on schedule; everyone was kind, friendly and courteous. Even the post-op muffin was of superior quality!
One interesting moment: before the procedure I had been tended to by several nice RNs, all of whom appeared to be named “Laura” or “Laurie.” There was “shaving your private parts Laurie” with her remarkable friend, “Mr. Sticky Hand.” There was “hook up the I.V. Laura.” So when another young woman stopped by I assumed she was yet one more RN, but it turned out to be my anesthesiologist. She explained that she would be giving me a “cocktail” that fell short of a full general anesthesia, and named its components. When one compound was named she grimaced and said “I assure you than when used by a skilled anesthesiologist it is both safe and effective.” A small light went on for me and I asked “will it instill in me an intense desire to own a chimpanzee and a giraffe?” She said it would not. Who knew that Michael Jackson’s death had made life more difficult for anesthesiologists?
As noted earlier, I know myself to be very privileged. That makes me both grateful and angry. Quality medical care should not be reserved solely for the fortunate. If I were already on Medicare I suspect that I would have needed to wade through some paperwork to demonstrate that this surgery was necessary. Fair enough. If our entire society were on a single-payer system, it is possible that my surgery would have been delayed for several months, and that it would not have been performed by the region’s most experienced surgeon who happens to be an old friend. And that excellent muffin might have been a stale graham cracker. I could live with all that if it would mean that quality, affordable health care was available to all. I mean, why should I be the only one privileged to have a blue, swollen groin?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

"There's Always Someone who has it Worse than You"

Next Tuesday I am having minor surgery. I have always liked the definition of “minor” surgery as “a surgical procedure performed on someone who is not you.” I have every reason to expect a positive outcome—my surgeon is an old friend who assures me that he is reviewing his 1973 anatomy textbook and that he plans to practice on a rat or two before cutting on me. Still I can expect to be sore and grouchy for a few days, and will not be permitted to lift anything heavier than an onion for the next several weeks.

Anticipating this bit of unpleasantness has brought to mind the sentimental platitudes we too often employ when a friend is dealing with difficult circumstances, including the one I particularly detest: “There is always someone who has it worse than you.” That may be true, but I have never found it comforting or helpful. If I am hurting, grieving or anxious, what I need from a friend is sympathy and support. When a friend says “someone else has it worse than you” it feels like I am being called a whiner. Don’t compare me to other people! Just be my friend!

Then there is the version that goes “I was sad because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.” Fair enough, I suppose. Given a choice between having no shoes and having no feet, I am pretty much going to go for the “no shoes.” But doesn’t basic human compassion require us to provide footwear to the person with no shoes rather than telling him about the guy with no feet?

Furthermore (he said, warming to his topic), if there is a guy who has it worse than me, then logic insists that there is a guy who has it worse than the guy who has it worse than me. And when I find that guy, there will be a guy who has it worse than him. Sooner or later you get to the end of the road and find the one guy in the entire world who nobody has it worse than. What do you say to him when you find him?

What you say to him is precisely what you should say to any friend who is hurting. “I’m sorry. I care. I’m here for you.” Don’t try to put your friend’s burden into perspective. Simply offer to share that burden. That’s what friends do. That is what we are here for.