I tried to put my blue swimsuit on but Michael Phelps had a problem. The drawstring was unusually long on one side and had disappeared on the other. I had a short and a long.

A short and a long. For months, everything is good, your drawstring is even on both sides and then one day, you pull out the trunks and it’s as if the swimsuit fairy has played a trick on you.

“Go ahead, try to wear these.”

If I had been a cowboy, the string on the right side would have been long enough to have lassoed a steer and tied it to the top of a water tower.

Without repair, the trunks were unwearable because the short side had retreated into the recesses of the inner lining. Had I worn them, they would have been trunks briefly and within seconds turned into ankle warmers.

“Momma, why is that man’s swimsuit resting on the top of his shoes?”

“I don’t know, sweetheart. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he had a long and a short.”

My heart sunk. My first reaction was disbelief. Whom can I blame?

Then I got a hold of myself. It was time to be a man, and a man of action. I do have that reputation.

The trunks would require surgery. Not general surgery, but long-and-short surgery, a subspecialty not everybody was capable of performing. The first few times this happened, I abandoned the shorts because all hope was lost, it seemed.

You mean I don’t have to throw them away? That was the revelation with a pair of black sweatpants, which I saved by ripping out several inches of the lining in order to retrieve the string.

The sweatpants were serviceable but in slight disarray since I had peeled back the lining. That’s when I graduated from general surgery to arthroscopic. If I were going to make a hole in the shorts or pants, I wanted it to be so small as to be invisible. It was the difference between the anterior and posterior approach to hip surgery; minimally invasive vs. you may have a scar that will make people faint in the locker room.

As the science has developed, I’ve learned, as have most people in my business, that an incision may not be necessary at all. What’s required is patience. Patience is a subspecialty of mine, along with humility.

First, identify where the knot and end of the short drawstring is. This may involve several false starts as many things try to masquerade as knot ends including lint balls or things that have no name but live in the recess of linings.

Once you grab the knot, pinch it between thumb and forefinger and do not let go under any circumstance even when your fingertips turn white because they have been drained of feeling, blood and nerves.

Hold on and gradually work the knot toward the hole. Imagine the Underground Railroad. The goal is freedom and sunshine.

This takes time and your job is not unlike an obstetrician’s, who guides a baby toward a seat at the table. Resist becoming excited when you draw close, because as a woman must wait until the right moment to push, the drawstring surgeon must wait until the knot is visible through the hole before he pounces and yanks.

When the black knot appears in the hole, it is as if a baby has crowned. Do not be surprised if you are moved to tears. The baby, your baby, is near.

I grabbed the knot and held on for dear life even though there were counteractive forces pulling the knot back into the inner recesses. It was like fishing somebody out who had fallen through the ice. Sometimes, one chance is all you have.

Suddenly, as if the gates of Heaven had been flung open, the knot and string pulled through the hole. Don’t get so excited to see Mr. Knot that you overcorrect and pull the opposing knot back into the other hole.

I’ve made that mistake before but this time I didn’t. I evened out the strings, perhaps admonishing the offending party. I was exhausted. Surgery will do that to you, even when it’s minimally invasive.

Herb Benham is a columnist for the Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at hbenham@bakersfield.com or (661) 395-7279.

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