A memoir of a drug-fueled medical education and coming-of-age in rural Kansas in the early 1970s.
From my first day in Radiology school in a dying and backwater Missouri River town, I attracted a collection of idiots and losers, exhibitionists, voyeurs, sex-starved geriatrics, alcoholic wife-beaters and drug addicts as my new friends and neighbors. I was an impressionable, naive and sexually confused eighteen year-old farm boy and still a virgin when thrust involuntarily into a world I had no intention of embracing. I somehow became the captain of this ship of fools and was instrumental in aiding and abetting criminal and anti-social behavior. My next door neighbor would climb a tree to expose himself and masturbate. An alcoholic eighty year-old woman was constantly trying to seduce me. During surgical procedures, a highly regarded surgeon would throw freshly extracted body parts at unsuspecting students. I was arrested for building the biggest bong in Kansas. I ingested mounds of hallucinogenic drugs with my friends, but I could never get laid. I am still sane despite the odds. Twenty years of therapy has not helped.
Wayne Patrick Buffoonery in the Bible Belt
The ominous specter of the second year of my sentence at school had reared its ugly
Methuselah-like head. The mass hysteria brought on by the ignorance of the new first
year students was off-putting but understandable. Killing them all off now would make
the most sense; respectfully bury those we could and let God sort out the rest. They had
nothing to look forward to but abject poverty, disrespect, mental abuse and cheap
cafeteria food. They were going to be miserable and nobody would be able to save
their wretched souls. Let them figure this all out by themselves. There was always a
surgeon willing to pull out a diseased liver and heave it at an unsuspecting freshman,
but to us, that had lost its cachet. Substituting K-Y Jelly with Gorilla Grip Glue for
enema tip insertion was also passé. We senior students were at a loss as to figuring
out something fresh to get a few newbies thrown out of school, or a least a week's
residence in the psych ward. This violent and twisted, but expected, hazing was a right
of passage. Fuck up with a sense of humor and be accepted or risk being shunned,
alienated and cast aside like so much three-day old excrement.
My fellow student, Bob, had a devious and wicked sense of humor-the qualities of his
personality that would endear him to me. He’d been a star football quarterback in
high school and was used to being the center of attention. He was an amiable and good-
looking specimen with brown hair and eyes, a square jaw with a quarterback's cocky
attitude and a rock-hard body from too many hours at the local gym. Married the year
year before with a twelve-gauge shotgun pointed at his temple by his pregnant bride’s
hillbilly father, he considered marrying her the honorable thing to do. A three month-old
baby at home had effectively killed his late night carousing but not his prolific
bone-jumping. He’d fuck anything with a skirt in any vacant x-ray room with me as his
look out scout. The darkroom on slow afternoons would be his preferred fuck station and
a cute young patient transporter his usual partner. He’d lure them in there with the tired
old line of, “Come into the darkroom and let’s see what develops.” They would all
laugh at this, but invariably would follow him in there.
A year at school had taken him down a notch or two and he
wanted to regain some semblance of respect. He and I decided that in order to
gain some respect from everyone, we needed to devise a new and devious form of hazing
which would go down in the annals of history as the greatest first-year student fuck-up
of all time.
Bob and I needed to take care of the two new female students. The two male
freshmen students had passed the hazing with flying colors after spending two hours in
the O.R. with Dr. Belkin and surviving two assaults of body parts hurled at them. The
two women, Monica and Cynthia, would be our next hazing victims. They were eighteen
years old, stacked and naïve to the ways of the world. They were exactly the kind of
victims we needed. We would constantly come up to them and pinch their nipples or pat
their asses. It was a cheap thrill and they never had any real objections. Sexual
harassment was an accepted form of courtship, or was considered at least an attempt
to secure a date to the drive-in the following Saturday night.
During a lull in the Radiology department and in our usual devious behavior mode,
Bob and I decided to take apart a power X-ray table to set it up for a new freshman
student to try to operate, or at least die trying. We had no idea of what the fuck we were
doing and had never seen a schematic, and even if we had, we wouldn't have known how
to read it. Elizabeth and Diana manned the front of the heavy lead-lined oak
door to signal any official interference of our new and perverted project.
"If we take all the roller bearings out of underneath the tabletop, it won't be able to
move back and forth or up and down. It'll just get stuck and won't move. That'll really
fuck those freshmen up!" Bob said.
"That's not enough,” I said “We have to get it to where the whole thing will slide off
if the switch is moved up to a ninety degree position. That's the only way to pull this off."
( X-ray table tops, made of a Formica-like material, float on bearings over the frame
base. It can move horizontally back and forth a few inches and up and down to make
it easier to position the patient, especially if the patient is unable to move themselves.
When the top is locked, the whole table itself will also rotate vertically ninety degrees
up or down in either direction on a giant gear-a Dr. Frankenstein wet dream. Depending
on which end of the table a patient's feet are, a metal step attachment is securely locked
on the table at their feet to discourage sliding off. It is however, very easy to rotate the
table in a manner which places the patient's head down and the feet up. If there's a
malfunction of the power switch or someone isn't paying attention, the table may
continue to turn until the patient effectively slides off the table head down out onto the
floor on their back. This is not a frequent occurrence or normal procedure.)
After unscrewing all the bolts and screws, we both gingerly lifted the top. A
loud and distasteful clanging and banging of a thousand tiny temple bells assaulted
our quiet and sensitive sonic serenity. Hundreds of cylindrical steel ball bearings
fell from the table onto the hard linoleum floor in great swells; hundreds of them,
not just a few. Bob and I looked at each other like we had just seen our careers float
down river. We were in shock.
"What the fuck? Where did all these come from? We can't put all of these back!
What are we gonna do?" Bob said.
"I don't know what you're gonna do, but I'm outta here!" I said as I headed for the
door. I was starting to break into a sweat and becoming very agitated.
"Oh, no you don't. You're not leaving me here to hold the bag!" Bob yelled.
Feeling that this was part my fault, I turned back into the room.
"This is a fuckin' mess. Who's idea was this anyway?" I asked.
"It was your idea as much as mine! We're both gonna take the heat. Let's just get it
back together as best we can and hurry up about it!" Bob said.
Just then, our fellow students, Elizabeth and Diana, who were keeping watch, cracked
the door open and with alarming looks on their faces loudly whispered,
"Who is it?" I nervously shouted in as much of a subdued manner as I could force.
“It’s Mr. Goering!”
Mr. Goering was the head of the department and a short bald man with an even shorter
fuse. Nothing got by him. He had been the chief technologist for years and had a
reputation for being a severe disciplinarian and used Gestapo tactics as a backup.
We furiously picked up as many of the bearings off of the floor as we could. They
seemed to be everywhere. Every corner of the room had tiny shiny steel bearings rolling
around in lazy circles and in perpetual motion. We had to do something to hide them if
someone walked into the room. We kicked as many as we could under the table,
threw some dirty sheets on a particularly large pile of them and stuffed bearings in our
pants pockets, shirt pockets, down our underwear and threw most of the rest under
some cabinets. It was Lucy and Ethel at the candy factory all over again.
We managed to put the top back on the frame sans bearings, hoping that it would look
normal: it didn't. It looked askew and uneven which would be a dead giveaway, but that
was all we had time for as the one with authority made his way down the hall.
As the door opened, Elizabeth and Diana, with nervous looks on their faces, walked in
followed by Mr. Goering.
Both Bob and I stood in front of the unnaturally pitched table looking as nonchalant as
possible and trying to divert attention from our fuck up.
With a suspicious look on his face, Mr. Goering said,
"What are you guys up to? It's too quiet in here. You look guilty."
"Oh, we're not up to anything, sir," I said. "Just shootin' the shit."
"Well make yourselves useful and clean this room up. That table looks really dirty."
"Oh, we'll take care of it right away," Bob managed to croak out.
"See that you do."
With that, he walked out of the room and into his office.
"Close that fuckin' door," Bob loudly whispered with urgency. "We gotta figure out
how to fix this fuckin' thing!"
The easy part was taking it apart. We’d need an engineer to put it back the way it
was and get it in a normal operational mode. We decided we didn't have time for an
engineer, so we put as many of the bearings as we could under the top, put the top back
on the frame, tightened the screws down and hoped for the best. There was no time for a
test run. The further away from this machine we got, the better. Whoever would use
the room next would be in for a surprise and not a pleasant one, but that was the whole
The central radiology scheduling station phone rang and I picked it up:
"Uh, yeah, x-ray? This is the morgue. We've got a patient, er.. body down here that
needs an x-ray."
"What do you mean 'body'?" I asked.
"He's dead and we need an x-ray." came the reply.
"Isn't it kinda late for that now?"
"Not for this guy, or his family anyway. He got shot in the head and the coroner's
ordered a skull x-ray on him, I guess to see where the bullet is or went or whatever.
Something about an inquest and forensics needs the x-ray films for the legal case."
This was a new one on me, so I sought administrative guidance.
"Can you hang on a minute?" I asked.
I put the phone on hold and walked down the hall to Mr. Goering's office and quietly
knocked and cracked the door open.
With a Kool dangling from his lips, he looked up from a huge pile of papers on his
desk over the top of his reading glasses,
"Yeah, Bud. What's up?"
I didn't know how to phrase it, so I just spit it out.
"Uh, do we x-ray dead guys?"
With a distracted and impassionate tone he said,
"Only if he has a doctor's order just like everyone else. Does he have one?"
"Yeah, I guess," I said.
"Well, that's all he needs. His order's just as good as a live one’s."
"Thanks. I'll get on it."
I walked back to the phone and picked it up.
"Yeah, we can do it now. By the way, how long's he been dead?"
"About three months. He was exhumed yesterday especially for this x-ray," the
morgue assistant dryly stated.
"So, he was buried and then dug up?"
"Yeah, that's exactly what happened. So can we bring him up now?"
"Oh yeah, we can get to him right away. Send him on up."
As I hung up the phone, my stomach started to churn. I'd been exposed to all kinds of
blood and guts, but no gore like this had crossed my path yet. I was used to at least
half-alive patients with some communication abilities. The thought of a three month old
dead guy coming my way, and with a doctor's order no less, was beyond my scope of
experience and produced an acrid taste in my mouth. I could see nightmares and
sweat-soaked sheets coming my way every night for months.
After telling Bob about the next exam, he grinned and with his eyes dancing said,
"Let's throw him to the freshmen! They need the experience."
"Yeah, that's true," I slyly concurred. "Okay. We'll assign Monica and Cindy to him."
Being senior students, we had some limited authority in scheduling and assigning
exams; a lame but appreciated perk.
The freshmen, still in class, would be out in a few minutes and had no idea of what
was coming their way.
About ten minutes later, two young morgue assistants with serious and nervous looks
on their faces came around the hall corner pushing a gurney with a clean and crisp white
sheet covering it. There was no sign of a body anywhere. Clad in white shirts with
black ties and slacks, they looked like they'd just walked out of a Charles Addams
cartoon, but maybe it was my active imagination playing tricks.
The gurney had a false bottom. The body was underneath in a compartment below
the sheet-covered top. It finally dawned on me that it probably wouldn't be good public
relations to be pushing an obviously dead body around the hospital, even if it was
covered with a sheet. With the outline of a body completely covered up, it'd be a
dead giveaway. Patients in the hospital were stressed enough just being there. A sight
such as this coming down the hall might push them over the edge.
I asked the assistants to roll the gurney into room one, the general x-ray room. Bob
and I followed them and then closed the door for as much privacy as we could get. We
were anxious to get a look at this specimen. We'd been to the required autopsy class,
but that was a fresh body; this one was different.
"So, where is he?" I asked.
"He's down here," replied the one assistant. "You want me to slide the top off?"
"Well yeah, we can't very well x-ray him with the top on now, can we?"
With a crooked and perverted smile on his face, the assistant slowly and dramatically
removed the crisp white sheet covering the gurney. He looked like a veteran Las Vegas
magician ready to reveal the finale of his act. The sheet slid easily and elegantly to the
floor landing at the foot of the stretcher in ripples and folds like a neatly discarded
shroud. The highly polished stainless steel top shimmered in the bright overhead lighting.
It looked so sterile, so clean, so surgical and so, well, innocuous.
The assistant turned a small lever on the gurney unlocking the top. With the sound of
a subtle "click", he slowly slid down part of the top towards him at the foot. The top slid
effortlessly and quietly toward his feet. As the top slowly slid down, I could see a clear
heavy plastic-zippered bag obscuring a large distorted face inside. The face was bisected
with the heavy gauge metal zipper, something that would show up on the x-rays and
needed to be removed for a clear shot.
"Well, what do you want us to do?" the assistant inquired.
"We need to move him to the x-ray table for his photo op," Bob said, chuckling under
"Whatever you guys want," the assistant said.
The gurney top was then completely removed. This guy was, or actually had been,
very big. Over six feet tall and wide at the shoulders from what we could see, he looked
to weigh at least two hundred and fifty pounds. He was completely naked as I supposed
all corpses to be. He would certainly need no clothes where he was or was going. His
facial and body features were completely distorted from the plastic body bag.
"We need to move him over to the x-ray table," I said.
The two morgue assistants put the gurney up to the side of the x-ray table and locked
it in place. Bob and I got on the opposite side, the assistant flipped the side panel down
and after putting a fresh sheet down, Bob and I gently pulled the whole body over from
the gurney onto the x-ray exam table.
"Okay. Well get some really good films for you," I said with authority.
The morgue assistants left the room thru the lead-lined door to the waiting area
leaving Bob and I alone with the stiff.
"This metal zipper is going to be in the way," I said with an experienced tone.
"Well, pull the motherfucker down and get it out of the way," Bob said.
I went to the corpse's head, grabbed the zipper lead and slowly zipped it down.
As I slowly pulled the zipper down, my stomach started to revolt. I could handle
barely-holding-on-to-life blood-soaked motorcycle victims with severed limbs, but they
were still alive; I didn't know if I could handle this.
As I gingerly pulled the zipper down, the face of the dead presented itself. The face
was that of a black man, but he was no longer completely black. His face was covered
with grotesque splotches of blue-green and slimy looking mold that sprouted fine long
hair-like tendrils reaching in branches like spider webs to all parts of his face. His
facial demeanor didn't reflect any peace at all. It reflected anger. I was surprised the
mortician hadn't tried to wipe this unpleasant frown from his face. But then I thought, I
suppose I'd be pissed too if someone had shot me in the head. It wouldn’t have bothered
me a bit to carry that demeanor into eternity. Surprisingly enough, there was no real
offensive odor from the corpse, only a kind of alien sterile and chemical scent that was
akin to a freshly scrubbed men’s room at Kansas City International.
"Go out and see if the freshmen got back from class yet," Bob whispered.
"Why are we whispering? He can't hear us."
"You gotta respect the dead. You want someone yelling at you after you've bit the
"Well, no, I guess not."
As I went out and closed the door behind me, I heard loud giggling coming from down
the hall and assumed the innocent lambs for the slaughter were arriving. All the first year
students approached the central scheduling post.
“Any one of you guys wanna volunteer to do a skull x-ray? You know you need the
experience,” I said.
“Yeah, I guess I will,” replied an unenthusiastic Monica.
“Cindy, why don’t you go in with her to assist?”
“I’ve already put the patient on the table for the exam. Go ahead and start taking
the films. We’ll Q.C. them as they come out of the film processor. If you have any
problems, Bob and I’ll be just outside the door.”
“What kind of views do they want?” Monica inquired.
“Just an A.P. and lateral view.”
“So, just a front and a side view, then?” Cindy asked.
“Yeah, just two views is all the doc needs.”
Being a conscientious student with a good bedside manner, Cindy asked,
“What’s the patient’s name?”
“Uh, the patient’s name is uh, Mr.Molding,” I replied as Bob covered his face to
try to conceal his laughter.
“That’s a strange name. What’s his diagnosis?”
“Uh, he has really bad migraines, blurred vision and pains in his left temple area. He
also has a really bad facial skin condition, so the doc wants to check him all out, so
we’ll have to make sure we get really good diagnostic films. I turned the lights in the
room down very low because light hurts his eyes.”
“Okay,” Monica said, “ Let’s get to it, Cindy.”
With determined looks on their faces, Monica and Cindy cracked the door open,
peeked inside and entered the eerily silent dark exam room. The heavy lead-lined door
creaked behind them and then closed silently with authority.
About ten seconds later, a chorus of high-pitched blood-curdling screams came from
the room. Despite its weight, the door opened with a fast “whoosh” and both girls ran out
bumping into each other and pushing each other to the side in an effort to try to be the
first out. They were both shaking and the color had drained from their faces. Their white
pallor matched the white of their uniforms.
“What are you guys trying to do to us?” Monica said out of breath and in an
“You guys need the experience. You’re gonna run across a lot of shit in your career.
Might as well get used to it,” I said.
“You guys are a bunch of pricks! Why didn’t you tell us this guy was dead?” Cindy
“Because, if we’d told you, you never would have volunteered,” Bob said.
“Well, thanks for being so considerate,” Monica said sarcastically.
“We still need those films,” I said. “Go back in there and do your job.”
“I will not,” Cynthia said with a definite finality in her voice.
“Want me to call Mr. Goering and tell him about your insubordination?”
“He’d understand. You guys just want to fuck with us,” Monica said.
“Yeah, that’s true, but you gotta admit, it is good experience.”
“What you consider experience and what I consider experience are two different
things,” Cynthia retorted.
“If you guys won’t do this exam, it’s not going to look good on your evaluations, and
you both know Bud and I have a little pull in that regard. So quit your bellyaching and
get in there and just do the exam,” Bob said with authority.
“Yeah,” I added.
“We won’t forget this,” Cynthia said thru clenched teeth. “Come on Monica, let’s get
out of these asshole’s way.”
They both slowly opened the heavy door again. I saw Monica turn the rheostat light
switch up higher. The lead door closed with an authoritative “thump”.
“Guess we got them,” I said to Bob.
“Don’t be so sure. They might complain and then we’d be in some deep shit. Chicks
don’t want to do this kind of stuff. If they complain, we might get a firm tongue
“So what? We’ve all had to pay dues. What makes them exempt from an unpleasant
“Well, we’ve never had to x-ray a dead guy before for one thing.”
“Well, we’ve x-rayed almost dead people a lot of times,” I said.
“Almost doesn’t count. They were almost dead, not shot in the head and dead for three
months and then dug up. They also didn’t have green mold growing all over their face.”
The door slowly cracked opened and Monica peered out and said,
“How we gonna get a good angle for a frontal view? He can’t move his chin down.”
“Rotate the table about fifteen degrees and then shoot the film. It should be okay,” I
“Fifteen degrees with his head down or up?” Cynthia asked.