My wife left me because I was too short, so I flew to Shanghai to have my legs lengthened.
It was a private clinic. I found them online. They could take me right away.
I met the surgeon in a carpeted consulting room with white walls and leather furniture. A signed photo of Tom Cruise hung next to a Keurig machine on the stainless steel counter. Barry Manilow drifted faintly from speakers in the ceiling.
“I’m in a hurry,” I said. “My wife wants a tall man. I need to get back before it’s too late.”
The surgeon wore a shiny maroon suit, checkered tie and Photograys. He turned to a younger man in a long white coat and Nikes and fired off a string of Chinese.
The younger man translated:
“One inch – two months. Two inches – three months.”
“What about three inches?”
They exchanged a flurry of cryptic chatter.
“Also three months. With graft. Extra charge.”
“Let’s do it.” I’d liquidated my pension for this. The taller the better.
I woke up with broken legs. Pins were screwed through the bones into metal cages that ran from my hips to my ankles. Nurses extended the frames a fraction of an inch every day, teasing the fractures apart as they tried to heal. This went on for weeks.
I grew impatient. I developed bed sores. I learned how to say things in Mandarin that made the nurses blush. Finally, I was allowed to wheel myself through the pristine corridors, my caged legs jutting out. I imagined the look on my wife’s face when she saw the new me.
The young man in Nikes checked on me every few days. I had x-rays weekly. On day 58 he came in with the surgeon.
“Problem,” he said. “Bone spurs.”
“What does that mean?”
“Bones fused prematurely.”
“Can you fix it?”
“Must be broken to be fixed.”
“Fuck,” I said. Then I said it in Mandarin. “How much longer till I get out of here?”
“Three more months.”
They rebroke my legs. I was flat on my back again for two weeks. The nurses rolled me over to treat my bed sores. I learned more Mandarin. Finally I was back in the wheel chair roaming the halls. I discovered the elevator to the “penthouse,” where celebrities recovered from their treatments in seclusion.
A smooth-faced man of indeterminate age sat in the solarium smoking Marlboros. He flicked ashes into a brimming crystal ash tray perched on a stack of books on the coffee table. He looked familiar.
“No names here,” he said, cutting me off.
“You look different in your movies.”
He glared at me and puffed furiously.
He loaned me Lewis Thomas’s The Lives of the Cell on the condition that I leave him alone.
The nurses screwed my legs daily. I paid bills using my iPhone app. I stalked my wife on FaceBook. She was dating an ex-marine with large, white teeth. I wondered how tall he was.
The surgeon and his assistant paid me another visit.
“Problem,” the young man said.
“Infection,” he said, pulling up the sheet and pointing to the angry red skin around one of the fixator pins.
“Can’t you just load me up with antibiotics?”
“In the bone. Must remove.”
“Oh, that’s great. Remove how much?”
They men whispered together.
“As little as possible.”
“How much longer am I going to be here?”
“Three more months.”
I woke up in a hyperbaric chamber. My nurse smiled cheerfully through the Lexan porthole. When they wheeled me out, I was relieved to see I still had both legs, though the one they’d worked on felt spongy below the knee. I was assured that the bone could be regrown through stem cell treatment.
Three weeks on my back this time. I learned to play mahjong. The days grew shorter. The doctors shaved skin from my stomach to patch the bedsores. My legs were skinny as sticks. More pictures of the ex-marine appeared on my wife’s FaceBook page. She changed her relationship status to “It’s Complicated.”
The first day I was able to get back in my chair, I wheeled up to the penthouse solarium. I needed a new book. The actor was sitting there just as before, smoking and reading.
“Do you live here?” I asked.
I dropped The Lives of the Cell on the coffee table and cleared my throat. “You know,” I said, hungry for conversation, “Lewis Thomas says that the great secret of doctors is that most things get better by themselves.”
He glanced at my legs and blew a smoke ring. “What does he say about the other things?”
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