by Dr. Susan Block
An Insider Talks Candidly About Family Ties
To the Clinton Scandal
by David Steinberg
For Our Times
On the Immediate Aftermath of the Starr Report
& EntertainmentNeed To Talk?
T H E A W A R D
T H E V I D E O
T H E A U D I O
Heart of the Matter
Many are the mysteries of the heart. The heart of the soul and the heart of the body. The human body and the body politic. My Mom and our President.
As those of you who know me know, about a year and a half ago, my brave and beautiful Mom had a heart attack, compounded by multiple complications related to her diabetes. Her cardiologist recommended a bypass, but we were cautious, since invasive procedures are always a huge risk with diabetics. So Mom passed on the surgery and did pretty well for a while, enjoying her bridge games and luncheons, even creating a beautiful wedding at the Four Seasons for my brother and his bride. She and I talked on the phone every day, chatting about our lives, my work and her doctor visits, conferring about the state of the nation and, of course, Ken Starr's absurd, prurient and invasive procedure into the President's pants.
Mom's a staunch Clintonite. I'm less a supporter of Clinton than an adversary of Starr, Holy War Pornographer-Bully, and the reeking right-wing coup d'état. But Mom loves the President like a son. And she forgives him for his sexual peccadilloes. Why? Because he's a good son. He's worked hard, done well, gotten the economy on track, balanced the budget, kept us out of long bloody wars, helped make peace in Northern Ireland, aided women and families, and most important, he cares-or seems to, which is just as good. What's the difference if a politician "honestly" cares or just acts like he cares, if his actions do good?
My daily talks with Mom inspired me to create BlockFilms' now classic video, Kenneth W. Starr: A Pornographer for Our Times. Mom kvelled with pride, as they say in the Old Country. "Exposing Ken Starr is one of the most important things you've done with your sex expertise," she said fervently. In the past several months, Mom and I bonded in a whole new way. She gained a fresh appreciation for my work, and I for her spirit and wisdom.
The way the nephrologists examine that golden nectar with such interest, you'd swear they had a fetish for the stuff.
Then, I got the Call. It came from Thomas Jefferson Medical Center, one of Philadelphia's finest hospitals, where Mom had checked herself in after three days of agonizing angina attacks. Even in the hospital, the attacks kept coming. The cardiologist now insisted on surgery. Mom was ready, almost eager. Who was I to stand in the way? I hopped on a plane to be with her during the most profound fight of her life.
Triple bypass surgery, with lots of complications. Oy! Teams of doctors for every organ, with personalities to match their specialty. First, the cardiologist, guardian of the heart, conversational yet precise, like a talmudic scholar, weaving scientific facts with emotional considerations, matters of the heart. Next, there are the heart surgeons, not much for conversation; their power lies in their hands, their ability to fix what's under the hood. They're the car mechanics of cardiac. The kidney doctors-otherwise known as nephrologists or the renal team-are comparatively sensitive, patient: They just want to help you pee. And the way they examine that golden nectar with such interest, you'd swear they had a fetish for the stuff.
Then, we have the pulmonary doctors, here to help you breathe; they're very Zen. Also, a little sadistic, I think, since they tend to stick stuff down your throat. The worst medieval torture device is this horrific thing called an endo-brachioscope, a huge breathing tube that goes in the side of your mouth, down your throat and into your lungs. It looks ghastly and feels worse, forcible sword-swallowing in the surgical Starr Chamber. And those pulmonary docs love to stick it down your throat (maybe what they really need is a good blowjob).
The infection docs are hyper, like firefighters. The anesthesiologists sound like they're on drugs. It's the Jefferson Medical Circus featuring, instead of lion tamers, organ tamers!
If the Hospital is the New Temple, then the Holy of Holies…is Cardiac Surgery
"How do you feel?" I ask Mom, as they wheel her down to surgery.
"On with the show!" she proclaims through her oxygen mask. On with the show at the Cardiac Theater, starring Mom, directed by the doctors, stagecrewed by the nurses and orderlies, attended by select friends and family.
But this is much more than mere theatrics. It is, I say with only partial irony, a religious experience. I feel it's no accident that my brother and I spend the High Holidays in the hospital, the Jefferson Medical Temple. We daven over the lifesaving machines, reading their diagnostics like prayer books, begging them to work miracles. We confer with the doctors, listening to their sermons on the state of each body part, their long white coats more holy in the modern age than the robes of a priest. We meditate in the waiting room among the magazines and snack machines. And we enter the sanctum sanctorum to gaze upon Mom's post-bypass body, the body of the Great Mother, lying like a wax figure on the gurney, still as death, yet living and breathing through the sacred machines, each of which has it's own beep, boop or squeal, delivering mysterious messages that only the Oracles of the Temple, can decipher.
If the Hospital is the New Temple, then the Holy of Holies-where a mere layperson like me may not enter--is Cardiac Surgery. Here is where the surgeon-priests virtually take away the patient's life, then give it back to her, if all goes well, remolded and renewed. They take away most of her vital functions and put them on machines. They temporarily "remove" her mind via heavy anesthesia, numb her feelings with a hefty dose of morphine. Her heart, respiration, circulation, kidneys all function via computer. It's as if the patient herself is part computer! Then, as she slowly recuperates, they remove the machines, one by one, and bring her back to life. Which is excruciating. And very strange. "As if I died a thousand deaths," muses Mom as she gradually and painfully awakens. The show has gone on, and she's the star, but she'd never imagined how profound and torturous this special Cardiac Theater Presentation would be. But she's a trooper, my Mom; she likes life, and the show does go on. I play a supporting role, the dutiful daughter, also, her straight woman. "Did you know my daughter is a sex therapist?" Mom loves to spring on the doctors, and watch them blush and squirm.
…a huddle of hoary-haired, pasty-faced Republicans, who couldn't get it up with a case of Viagra, deciding the country's fate based on their judgment of an adversary's sexuality…
Speaking of sex, Max was back in LA, so I had none. In fact, returning to the religious analogy, that's how I lived: like a nun. Well, a nun with a vibrator. I did manage to have phone sex with Max and my vibrator every night. I'd come home from the hospital too exhausted to do anything but have phone sex and sleep. Oh, I'd watch a little TV to prepare for phone sex; the Starr Report was as good as any porn movie. But it seemed even sillier to me than before. The image of a huddle of hoary-haired, pasty-faced Republicans, who couldn't get it up with a case of Viagra, deciding the country's fate based on their judgment of an adversary's sexuality, seemed to me to be the height of foolishness. The Scandal that had gripped me a few weeks earlier, propelling me into making videos, writing essays and faxing congresspeople, was now just a fatuous diversion from my real life-and-death problems. With Mom's heart on my mind, I couldn't be bothered with keeping ontop of the daily Bill-and-Monica-and-Ken-and-Linda soap, and what amazed me was that all of Congress and the Media could.
Wow, what if our economy had a heart attack, brought on by an infection caught from the diseased global economy, and needed the equivalent of bypass surgery? Could Congress operate? Or, obsessed beyond reason with Starr's Porn Report, would they continue conducting their invasive procedures on the presidential penis and ignore the heart of the matter?
"I'm worried," Mom murmurs as she sluggishly arises from her surgical stupor, "that everyone's leaving me."
"What, Mom?" I ask, a fresh wave of guilt washing over me, as we both know I have to return to LA.
"I'm worried," she amends, "that everyone's leaving Clinton."
"Not everyone's leaving him, Mom," I reassure her, though I too am worried.
Clinton's firmest supporters are Americans who tend to need a little extra help…who don't care if the President has a lover, just as they don't care if their cardiologist has a lover, as long as he helps them, cares about them, and gets the job done.
Bill fights his battle as Mom fights hers. I pray in the Jefferson Medical Temple before the altar of the ICU TV, that the President not fall on the sword of his reckless dick, since in a sense, his resolve helps Mom to keep fighting for her life.
As I pray, channel-surf and feed Mom mashed potatoes, I consider the fact that Clinton's firmest supporters are Americans who tend to need a little extra help--minorities, women, the poor, the elderly, the disabled, the ill. People who don't care if the President has a lover, just as they don't care if their cardiologist has a lover, as long as he helps them, cares about them, and gets the job done.
In medicine and government, truth is just not as important as life. Honesty is not as important as humanity. There's even such a thing as Ethical Dishonesty. When Mom asks if everything's okay at home, I lie and say "yes." Honesty is not always the best policy. Of course, it helps if you're not caught, like poor hapless, pantless Brother Bill.
Thanks to Starr's invasive procedure into Clinton's dick, the presidency has become infected with a social disease: shame.
Dorothy, Mom's 70-something-year-old best friend who comes to the hospital every day after she works as a docent at the Philadelphia Art Museum, wouldn't care if the President was caught with a harem of interns. "I'd marry him in a minute," she declares. "I like a man who likes women. So what if he has more than one woman? I think it makes him sexy."
Sexy, sleazy or simply human, thanks to Starr's invasive procedure into Clinton's dick, the presidency has become infected with a social disease: shame. Shame kills and certainly disables. And, even for those of us who despise the Starr brigade, the question is: Can the president lead? Some say no; he is too wounded. I say yes. It won't be easy, but he can be what some philosophers call a "Wounded Healer."
The Wounded Healer can be a great leader. He is hurt, sometimes even crippled, and everyone, even his enemies, knows it. But he uses his wounds and the wisdom he has gained from them, to regenerate himself and others. This is not just so much psychobabble. Recent reports have Congress acquiescing, somewhat surprisingly, to many of the President's key domestic initiatives regarding education, tax cuts, housing and social programs. The headline on the October 14 LA Times reads "Bruised Clinton is Poised for Legislative Win."
Can our prodigal Prez be a Wounded Healer? Can the Sex President become the Human President? Can he withstand invasion by Starr, insult and injury from bloodthirsty Republicans, defection from spineless Democrats, shame from his own foolishness? Can our wounded Commander-in-Chief survive scandal and impeachment and take us from sexual trauma to regeneration? Can my weakened Mom survive bypass surgery and take in more of life's precious moments?
I pray for Mom in the Medical Temple, for the President before the TV tabernacle. I pray for Mom because I love her. I pray for the President, but not because I love him; I'm still mad at him for firing Dr. Joycelyn Elders (and if he'd taken her masturbation advice, he might not be in this mess!). Yet I pray for him, because his survival somehow helps my Mom and people like her. And I pray for him because if the rabid Republicans succeed, if they yank down a popular, twice-elected president by his zipper, it will portend a new Dark Age for sexual freedom, for all our freedoms. The Religious Right will gain more power than they've had since the cold, dank, witch-hunting days of Cotton Mather and those buckle-hatted Puritans. History will look upon us with wonder and disdain. The more enlightened countries of the world will see us not as just a laughing stock, but as a horror.
Will America permit a rabid right-wing minority to overthrow the vote of the people over a sloppy blowjob? [Speaking of which, Monica darling, didn't you read my book? The 10th Commandment of a Gentleman's Pleasure is Thou Shalt Swallow!] Will our prodigal Brother Bill rise to the role of Wounded Healer? Will Americans let our preoccupation with the Presidential Penis, glorious, fascinating and horrifying as it is, make us neglect the heart of the matter?
Answers to these mysteries will emerge and erupt in the coming months. As the renal doctors say, we must be patient. In the meantime, pray for peace, pray for justice, pray for freedom, pray for sex, pray for us all and all our Moms.