I love San Francisco. I would make up almost any excuse to hit the Bay Bridge and watch The City skyline loom into view. Restaurants, museums, architecture, miles of rolling hills and narrow streets, cable cars, crystal air, the Golden Gate. It’s all there. If you have to endure Frankenstinian medical procedures to experience this, really, so what?
Yesterday I played another round of, “What the Heck’s the Matter with YOU?” at UCSF. In this game contestants dress in bizarre outfits designed to reveal their rattiest underwear while simultaneously enduring pranks thought up by the producers of “Fear Factor.”
All I can say is it was dark in my bedroom at 5:00 a.m. as I rummaged through my dresser drawer. Don’t we all keep at least a few pair of underwear that really should be thrown away but we know, when the laundry piles up, we might need them? They aren’t really fit for being in an accident but they will cover your posterior well enough for sweatpants and yard work. Well, those are the ones I wore. Of course, there was no way to discover this until I stood in the torture chamber preparing for my first round of competition.
The torture chamber is purposely deceptive and distracting. It is splashed with brilliant sunlight and designed to put you off guard. The room is fairly small but elegantly decorated. One wall displays an open-aggregate column with an arch right out of a castle motif. This would distract you except for the opposite wall which is solid windows overlooking San Francisco, the Presidio, and a huge expanse of the bay. And all this from an 8th floor perspective. The day must also be perfectly clear to enhance the effect.
It was in this environment that I donned my costume: the flimsy gown we all know so well. The one Dave Barry describes as making you feel more naked than if you were naked. However, when your underwear has gone as far south as mine had, you actually long for nakedness. Too bad. My only hope was the thought that perhaps I could lie on my back for the entire procedure and use my half-gown to cover my front half. As the “doctor” walked in she smiled and told me to roll onto my side.
Now, I put “doctor” in quotes because she wasn’t a full-fledged doctor yet. She was still in her residency. This is important because they don’t really want someone highly skilled to perform these tests. It might make the procedure entirely too painless to be entertaining for them.
As I lay gazing into the distance at the Fallon Islands, imagining myself running free and unseen in brand new underwear, I heard her voice, thick with an East Indian accent, announce, “I’m going to administer a series of shocks.” What she meant was a “series of shocks” in much the way a police officer means it when he yells, “STOP!” just before he tasers you.
In this round they are checking you for nerve responses. If your nerves are somewhat damaged your only response might be to bounce up off the table, smash into the ceiling, and land back on the table. Or you may launch face-first into the window and contort your features. If your nerves are all completely intact it could be bad for them because these shocks will catapult you across the room, leaving you in a standing position, where you are then free to beat them about the face and head with their own equipment. Fortunately for them, mine were not at the top of their game.
We repeated this step several thousand times with her shooting at me from every corner and jumping out from behind chairs. When she would find a particularly damaged and painful place, she would then proclaim, “I am going to do this nine times in the same spot.” Apparently, they don’t do it ten times because the smell of burning flesh is too unpleasant for the physician.
Next comes the bonus round.
In this event, needles are shoved into the muscles of your legs and feet. Just when you think you might black out or lose control of your bladder, the almost-a-doctor tells you to contract your muscles by using them to push against something. You volunteer the back half of her brain via the front half, but she only offers her hand. Now, at this point, you get Charley Horses big and violent enough to compete in a rodeo. She will then leave the room and come back with a real doctor so he can participate, too. He will say things like, “Let’s pull this needle out and shove it in her eyeball” or maybe he just mentions repositioning it, but it will all sound the same to you.
He pulls the needle out and jams it in somewhere else and when you don’t celebrate this by singing, “The Hills are Alive!” he will exhale dramatically, punctuated by his tongue flicking back and forth between his lips. They will continue to tag-team like this for another twenty minutes knowing they are safe since all their needles have effectively sewn your muscles together.
When they leave the room you and your ratty underwear are free to crawl over to your clothes and salivate on them. They will then return to tell you your test reveals more abnormalities but they have no idea why. At this point they will thank you for playing and invite you to return in six-months where they will introduce the newest event: “Toenail Removal for Fun and Profit.”
Your parting gift is the realization you may now head into the heart of The City to let it heal your wounds.
That’s what I did. The kids and I had already strolled the Botanical Gardens in Golden Gate Park that morning. Now it was time to limp toward comfort food and fortify myself for cultural pursuits.
The price of admission for this scintillating soiree may have been dear but, hey, so is beautiful San Francisco. I'll be back and I guess I have to bring my toenails with me.