Friday, November 16, 2007

Dr Jarvik Reflects

LIPITOR and Dr. Jarvik
A personal commitment

Having watched his father succumb to heart disease, Dr. Robert Jarvik dedicated his life to studying the heart.

Hi. You may have recognized me from the television. I endorse Lipitor. My name is Robert Jarvik.

The good people at Pfizer called me up some time back, and they asked if I would be interested in appearing in some Lipitor advertisements.

I immediately jumped at the chance, because I knew all about Lipitor. See, I'm a heart doctor. And I don't if it's rude to say this, but I'm very famous. Well, not Shaq famous or anything, but as far as heart doctors go, I'm really famous. I'm the Shaq of cardiologists. Instead of dominating the painted area of the National Basketball Association, I dominate the chestal area of the torso. The heart. It's inside the ribcage. A lot of people assume it's just to the right of center, but I assure you that the heart is smack flush in the center of your chest. If you made a line between your nipples -- if your nipples aren't crooked -- the midpoint of that line is where your heart is.

Gosh, I'm rambling about the heart now, aren't I? I apologize. I get excited when I start talking about the heart -- the whole circulatory system, really. My fascination with this area of medicine is linked to a critical time in my life. My father died of heart disease.

I'd like to tell you that his battle with cholesterol inspired me to study medicine and Syracuse and NYU, but that's only a half-truth.

I was a suspect in my father's death. Dad was a real fatty, but the authorities couldn't dismiss the possibility of foul play. The cops never considered my mother to be a "person of interest" in his death. Who could ever think that about Mom? Everyone in town loved her so much -- they still do! She's a sweetheart.

As a cardiologist, I should clarify that the previous statement is not a literal one. "Sweetheart" just happens to be a term of endearment that, coincidentally, includes the organ that I love so much. I love hearts, and I love my mom. Do you want a literal statement? Here it is: My mother has a good heart -- worn a bit from age, but a decent physical specimen. Her heart health is good. She doesn't even have to take Lipitor! She'll probably die as a result of her brittle bones.

But back to my dad, and back to the circumstances of his murder investigation. The police believed that I killed my father. Why? I'm not an expert on criminal investigation -- as I stated before, my specialty is the heart, and veins and ateries and so forth -- but I do know that detective work all boils down to motive. Motive and alibis. Opportunity. Motive, alibi, opportunity, and profiling. A lot of people would throw in "CSI", but in truth, that is just a means to an end. In heart surgery, the "CSI" would be, like, a scalpel. A scalpel is a special knife thing that we doctors use. For cutting. No, "cutting" isn't the right word. Slicing. That sounds brutal, doesn't it? But it's true! Like Shaq, slicing through the lane, I slice into ribcages. I am famous for it.

The detectives didn't like me from the start. They didn't trust me. Nowadays, people place a lot of trust in me. "Dr. Jarvik!" they say, "You invented the artificial heart! I trust you to operate on my blocked aorta!" Back then, no one would have said that -- and not just because I hadn't invented the artificial heart back then. No, the main reason why I was disfavorably looked upon was because I look like John Malkovich. They thought that was creepy.

Was it because people thought John Malkovich was a creep, and I was therefore a creep, too? No. In those days, the majority of Americans did not find Mr. Malkovich creepy. He wasn't in the public eye back then. His first major role came in the 1984 Oscar-winner "The Killing Fields". You will note that this was two full years AFTER I had invented the world's first permanently implanted artificial heart.

It's simple: teenagers that resemble John Malkovich look menacing, even if you have no knowledge of the acclaimed actor. Adults that look like him, I mean, fair game. Fair enough. I have to say, life as an adult, hearing people say, "Wow! Aren't you John Malkovich?". It's pretty cool. And yes, I have, on very few occcasions, just WENT FOR IT. I say, "Yeah, man, John Malkovich! Good to meet you? Are you a fan? Uh huh, yeah -- I've got to say, we all had a BLAST making 'The Man in the Iron Mask'. The crew was awesome, and it was REALLY REWARDING." I'm paraphrasing, but I have said things like that on occasion.

The cops thought I looked like a killer, and they had to follow their lead. My alibi was nonexistent -- on the morning in question, I was walking to school, alone. No classmate could vouch for my whereabouts. Even though my walk to school was through a crowded neighborhood full of stay-at-home moms (we just called them "Moms" back then), no witness came forward to say they saw me on the sidewalk that day. In those days, a lot of people would avert their eyes when I was in the vicinity, so this really wasn't a surprise.

They pushed me on the motive. "You always said you like his car," they'd say. "'Daddy, I wanna drive this vroom-vroom car real fast!' Were those or were those NOT your words, Robbie? We know you liked that car. Would you KILL for that car? DID you KILL for that vroom-vroom, Robbie?"

The interrogations went on for weeks before the coroner's report was finally released. Immediate cause of death: acute myocardial infarction. Back then, I couldn't understand those words. Now, as famous physician and inventor of the Jarvik-7 and the Jarvik 2000, I can say without hesitation that an "acute myocardial infarction" is, simply, a heart attack.

Of course, none of the police back home were cardiologists. Or famous. I can't help but think the police department should have consulted a heart doctor -- famous or not -- during that murder investigation, because it really is simple terminology for a physician to comprehend. One phone call, and they could have wrapped up that case and put a bow on it. Instead, with no additional evidence, the investigation went "cold". I was still a suspect, but they couldn't prove it. The distrust in the community was overwhelming. I was desperate to find a way to clear my name.

It hit me: reanimate Dad. Bring his rotting corpse back to life. Get Dad to clear your name.

Failing that: reanimate Dad. Bring his rotting corpse back to life. Distract the community with this unholy resurrection, and skip off to the Greyhound station with nothing more than the shirt on your back and a three-piece luggage set, packed to the seams with other clothes, food, and keepsakes. Take up residence on Easy Street in Baltimore.

Elementary School. Junior High. High School. College. Post-graduate work. Finally, I had created a device that could replace the heart, and I was ready to bring my father back to life, to once and for all clear my good name.

It was a long, terrible night at the cemetery. It took all of my strength to extract dad's cadaver from the cold ground. I lifted the lid of the ornate coffin. My heart was racing. My real heart, in my own chest, not the contraption in my knapsack that I planned to install in my father. And then, the body.

The body was not a body. It was a skeleton. All bones -- just like the ones you see in a biology classroom. No shit! The body had decomposed -- that egghead advisor at Syracuse was right after all. Without tissue to surround and sustain the heart, there was no way to bring Dad back to life. Not even with the Jarvik-7. I was disheartened. Not literally, though. That distinction belonged to my father.

But all isn't lost. My inventions have brought better health to others, garnered me fame, and restored my good name. Plus, I look a little like John Malkovich (see above). There's this Lipitor gig, for which I am handsomely paid. Yes, Mr. Robert Jarvik is doing just fine.

No comments: