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Pie and the Operating Room

I was just in LA for a medical treatment. Nothing major, just a part of a body part needed to be removed. I wouldn’t normally write about such matters (then again, I write about every other private and personal matter), but pie features prominently so I couldn’t pass up sharing this funny tale of my experience on an operating room table.

I was in the pre-op room, dressed in my cotton hospital gown, when a tall, intelligent looking blond nurse came in to attend to me. Small talk ensued and I happened to ask the nurse, Kate, where she was from.

“Keokuk, Iowa,” she answered.

I bolted upright from my gurney, nearly pulling the IV needle out of my hand. “You’re kidding! I’m from Iowa. I live in Eldon.”

“I’m going to move back someday,” Kate said. “I’m from a family of seven kids and they’re all still in the area. I go back a few times a year. All my friends there think I’m so glamorous because I live in LA – they think of Hollywood – but I try to set them straight and remind them it’s still just me.”

My mom, who accompanied me to my appointment, sat there quietly by my bedside, not saying a word. She has no desire to go back to Iowa. She and my dad moved to LA ten years ago, when three out of five of her kids (including me) were living in LA at the time. She loves living in California, loves the people, the energy, and especially the ocean view from their waterfront apartment.

“I loved living in California and I certainly never thought I would end up in Iowa,” I told Kate. “But I am really happy there.”

“You bake pie?” Kate continued. “I love pie. I went on RAGBRAI this past summer and ate pie every day along the bike route. All those church ladies had made so much pie.”

Angela, the fair-skinned beauty who was smearing a sample of my blood onto a microscope slide interrupted and said, “Excuse me. We need to focus on the surgery.”

“Right,” said Kate. “Okay, please confirm your name, birth date, any allergies….” And then, she couldn’t stop herself. She looked up from my chart and asked, “What kind of pies do you like to make?

“Mostly apple,” I said, sneaking a knowing smile up at Angela who gave up on trying to steer our conversation.

Then my doctor appeared from behind the curtain. Dressed in a flannel shirt and a down jacket, he put his hand on my arm and greeted me warmly. I introduced him to my mom. “Mom, this is Dr. D. I’ve been seeing him for over twenty years. This is the most consistent relationship I’ve ever had in my life. He is the reason I flew half way across the country just to have this procedure done. I wouldn’t trust anyone else.” I added, “One of his many attributes is that he doesn’t buy into drama. You tell him you’re in excruciating pain and he just shrugs. “We were just talking about pie,” I told him.

“Apple is my favorite,” he quickly replied. “The Dutch kind with the crumbly topping. The double crust kind just has too much crust.”

“You like the crumble topping because it’s made with brown sugar and butter,” I told him. “My pie teacher [Mary Spellman] always told me, ‘You can’t go wrong with brown sugar and butter.’”
I was eventually wheeled off to the operating room and the last thing I remember saying to Dr. D as the anesthesia was pumped into my veins was “I’ve never seen you in scrubs.” And then, I was out.

About an hour later I was nudged awake in the middle of having a bad dream about H. (You know something is out of balance in your relationship when your subconscious is trying to work things out under the influence of heavy sedatives!) I noticed I was no longer in the operating room, but in a different room. Dr. D was standing by my bed, once again dressed in his flannel shirt and down jacket. “I was having a bad dream about my boyfriend,” I dumbly said in my groggy state.

“Everything went well. You did great. You can get dressed now. Come back in a few months for a follow up and hopefully one of these days I’ll get to have one of your pies.”
I laid there for a while trying to collect my bearings, observing how my body was feeling – surprising fine, as if it hadn’t just been invaded by scalpels and tubes — and imagined how the conversation must have gone between the surgical team as they worked on me:

She bakes pies, she lives in Iowa, she has a book coming out in April, I read the opening pages on her website, interesting story, what’s your favorite pie, my grandmother used to make a really good coconut pie that I loved, how’s her blood pressure, I can’t believe she flew all the way here from Iowa, she should open up a pie shop here, LA needs more pie, I’m going to buy her book, almost done here, just one more stitch, I’m going to tell my sister in Keokuk about her, did you know she lives in that Grant Wood house from American Gothic, that’s so Americana, I really like pie.

Of course I’ll never know what they said. But I do know this: everyone, everywhere I go, lights up when you start talking about pie. And there, in a Santa Monica surgery center on Wilshire Boulevard, it was no exception. What better subject to put a patient at ease, what better way to connect with strangers, like with the doctors and nurses into whose hands you are putting your life. It was as if the conversation transformed the cold and sterile room and instead filled it, warmed it with the scent of butter, apples and cinnamon. It proves the point yet again that even when just talking about it and not even eating it, pie comforts, heals and nourishes the soul. Pie connects people and their stories, their histories, their hearts. Even in the most unusual of times and circumstances, like at 6:30 a.m. in an operating room.

Next time I’m in LA I will definitely be returning to the surgery center and am already greatly looking forward to it. Why? Because next time the surgical team won’t be cutting into me, they’ll be cutting into the apple pies I deliver to them as a thank you. I can already imagine the crumble topping melting in their mouths.