Long ago and in a place that seems further and further away the older I get, I befriended the oral surgeon who operated on my jaw. She had—it seemed to me at the time magical—ability to anticipate the next spike of pain: a microsecond before the pain escalated to intolerable, she firmly pressed with her left index any one of a number of precise points on my cheek, forehead or neck. Instantly, the pain subsided.
In a post-op consultation, I inquired about this magic: had medical school made her memorize the precise location of all the dendrites (more numerous than the stars of the Milky Way or the grains of sand on all the beaches of the world) of the Trigeminal and Phrenic nerves? Was this some secret ancient wisdom, or common-knowledge acupuncture? She told me she was not aware that she was doing what I described. I asked her if she knew about the story of Utzi, the Neolithic traveler who was murdered in the high Alps 8,000 years ago, and whose perfectly (nature-made) mummy was found in a melting glacier of the Ötzal Alps right at the border of Austria and Italy. This 8,000-year-old man, I told her, had tattoos marking specific acupuncture nodes. A traditional Chinese doctor told the world’s scientists that Utzi must have suffered from kidney stones and digestive disorders. She thanked me for that tidbit of esoterica, and we both agreed that a practice does not survive 8,000 years if it is not at least somewhat effective. However, she was much more interested in the fact that in the waiting room I had been poring over the collected poems of an obscure surrealist poet of Post-WWI France. It was then and there that we became life-long friends, I think—it is all so far away, I cannot be sure. And, ultimately, such details are not necessarily relevant to this story.
Fast forward to Spring 2015. Shortly after Spring Break, a student in my College Composition course entitled Writing About European Civilization, approaches me after class and tells me that because she is pre-med she needs an A in my class but, because Literature and Civilization are so much less important than science, it is even more crucial that she ace a BIO class, and would I please give her an A even if she misses the last 3 weeks of my class in order to cram for the Bio final? The reason, you see, was that she simply did not have time for French Surrealist poetry.
A dozen potential responses flooded my brain, including “well even doctors need to know time management or the idea of seeing a commitment through to the end…” But I bit my tongue and instead—to my own surprise—I heard myself saying “Ok, but your final paper is now 20 pages instead of 15 and… what do you know about acupuncture in Neolithic Europe?”