Last Word Column by Terry Runté
“Deane suffered from an affliction more common than measles, more deadly than bubonic plague, more stupefying than a subscription to Reader’s Digest. Deane was in love.”
Dwight Deane was a typical patient. His symptoms went largely unnoticed at first. He thought his sleeplessness was caused by the weather or too much caffeine. Later he developed mood swings, which progressively intensified. Soon he lost all ability to concentrate, which his doctor blamed on lack of sleep caused by too much coffee, which Deane drank to improve his waning concentration.
Soon Deane was totally unable to function on a day-to-day basis. One week he would lose all interest in food; the next he would gorge. He groomed compulsively. Reeling from malnutrition and insomnia, he would alternately break into song or collapse into tears. His friends began to fear for his very life. Some suspected drugs. Others whispered darkly the words nervous breakdown.
“Whatever it was,” recalls one co-worker, “sent him packing for loopy land. He was a total Frito.”
In fact, Mr. Deane suffered from an affliction more common than measles, more deadly than bubonic plague, and more stupefying than a lifetime subscription to Reader’s Digest.
Dwight Deane was in love.
In another century, Deane would have been diagnosed as being beyond treatment, as “hopelessly in love.” Now there is hope for these “victims of love.” Every year thousands of incurable romantics travel to a floating clinic in the South Pacific, where they are treated, cured, and returned to productive lives in society. The clinic is headed by its founder, neuroendocrinologist Lorraine Ottoman.
Ottoman was the first to show that “true love” is not a behavioral disorder but a correctable medical defect. The disorder is caused by a benign tumor that grows on the hypothalamus, a primary regulatory center of the brain. “For years we’ve known about a similar tumor that causes an extreme fondness for Judy Garland,” says Ottoman. A simple operation to remove that growth, she says, corrects the ailment.
I interviewed Dr. Ottoman onboard the S.S. Hate Boat, the luxury liner that houses her legendary clinic. We spoke while lounging in the ship’s Tropic Room, as a gentle equatorial breeze wafted through the room, playing with the paper umbrella in my empty Cabana Coma.
Dr. Ottoman was relaxing in a daring maillot that sunny afteroon. As she talked she would take my hand and squeeze it lightly for emphasis. Her dark eyes held mine in an intense gaze.
Once the “love” tumor reaches a certain size, she explained, it causes the hypothalamus to distort the sensory messages that the brain receives. Ocular perception is altered, making people and objects appear considerably more attractive than they really are. Also the pituitary gland begins to secrete hormones randomly, causing wild mood swings.
“At this point,” said Ottoman, “the poor bastard falls in love with the first member of the opposite sex who comes trundling by.”
Ottoman said she can correct advanced stages of lovesickness by removing the tumor with laser surgery. She now boasts a cure rate of 100 percent and can list among the treated some of the most famous people in the world. “In the beginning our surgical techniques were a little cruder, so the tumor would sometimes grow back. We must have had Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in here half a dozen times before they were finally cured.”
Lorraine had just finished speaking when Dwight Deane entered the bar, a neat diamond of gauze taped to the shaved spot on the back of his head. It was his first day after surgery, and Ottoman watched him closely for any signs of his old behavior. She asked how he was feeling.
“I feel like a new man,” Deane said to Ottoman, pumping her hand. “So whaddaya say?” he said, turning to me. “When this ship makes port we hit the cathouses. I’m buying. My old lady’s insurance is paying for all this, so we might as well run up the bill.”
As he laughed like a drunken conventioneer, Ottoman and I smiled silently to each other. A thought passed between us, though she never once parted her sensuous lips: What a jerk.
Ottoman offered her hand to him. “Congratulations! You’re behaving like a normal male, Mr. Deane. Let me buy you a drink to celebrate. A Cabana Coma?”
“I’ve got a better idea,” Deane suggested, sidling up next to Ottoman and rubbing his hand up her thigh. “Let me buy you a drink. Let’s get to know each other a little better. I’d like to check out your bedside manner, Doc.”
Suddenly I found myself lunging across the table. “Get your hands off her,” I snarled, my hands throttling Deane’s throat.
In an instant Lorraine was between us.
“Easy. Eeeaaassy! Control yourself.” I heard her as from a distance. Her husky voice soothed me as she pried my fingers from his throat.
My mind reeled as I staggered dizzily back to my chair. Deane’s face hovered above me. “Jeezus, what’s got into you?”
Meanwhile, the doctor had grabbed her medical bag and shined a penlight into my glazed eys as I rambled: “Don’t you think she’s great? I mean, don’t you think she’s a nurse and a half?”
I felt the sting of a needle and in seconds began to lose consciousness. As the drug took hold, Ottoman and Deane seemed to be moving in slow motion. Ottoman grabbed a walkie-talkie and barked into it: “I want surgery ready in five minutes. We’ve got one who’s gone to Amore City.”
Before I blacked out I heard Ottoman comment gravely: “He’s got it bad.”
Deane nodded in agreement: “And that ain’t good.”
When last we heard, Terry Runté was recuperating in a Rio brothel. Get-well cards and telephone numbers can be sent to Chicago.