Thursday, June 11, 2009

No Joke.

The Strange Doctor
a Gendankenexperiment.

A young man, having just moved to town upon accepting a promotion from his company, wakes up one morning to find his throat raw, his chest aching, and beset with terrible coughing. He phones his new boss, to call in sick and to solicit the name of an appropriate local doctor. His new boss, having a jovial disposition, tells the young man not to worry about missing a few days work and strongly recommends a local doctor:

"Call Doctor Levi! His work is world renowned!"

With such a glowing recommendation, the young man decides he would be a fool to see any other physician and immediately calls Dr. Levi's office. Surprisingly, the Doctor's schedule is open for the remainder of the day, so the young man makes an immediate appointment and, with great care, drives himself to see Dr. Levi.

The doctor's office is a clean little box tucked away on a metropolitan side street. Upon entering, a sprite of a receptionist shuffles the young man through a slender hallway and into the facility's lone examination room. The door quickly closed behind him, the young man's mouth falls agape to find that the room is without an examination table, but rather two simple chairs. He looks around the small room and finds that none of the usual accouterments of a physicians office exist. Gone are the tongue depressors, the cotton swabs, the bin of sterile hypodermics and the box of rubber gloves. Indeed the room is only two chairs and a low table between them tucked into a corner, most of the floor empty green and white tile.

With some trepidation, the young man lowers himself to the nearest chair and waits for Dr. Levi. He sits this way, sometimes crossing one leg over the other, sometimes tapping his sneakers against the linoleum tile for three quarters of an hour. If Dr. Levi wasn't so renowned, the young man may have just left, but as it were he sat patiently.

Finally the doctor bursts into the room, rotund in his middle age with a flowing pepper beard. His creamy lab coat billows behind him, the fabric pilled, a simple metal name tag proclaiming him as Dr. Levi.

"So Ruth tells me you have a cough and the aches?" he speaks without stopping, only a moment's glance to the young man, and strides to a spot behind the young man.

"Um, yes, that is correct," the young man answers. "I've had strep throat a few times before, and it kind of feels like strep."

"Certainly, yes, yes," Dr. Levi replies without hesitation or gravity, bony fingers probing under the collar of the young man's polo shirt.

"Um, do you need to examine..."

"A ha!" Dr Levi cuts the young man off, a silken tag pinched in the pads of his thumb and pointer. He inches bifocals down his nose, and leaning in, reads the tag. "This is your problem, here, son," he announces. With theatrical steps he circles around to face the young man, pointer finger held aloft. "I fear your shirt is to blame. A particularly nasty nylon/cotton blend."

The young man blinks with disbelief.

"My shirt?"

"See Ruth on your way out and she'll lend you shirt and pants - 100% wool." Dr. Levi clasps his arms behind his back. "You'll be right as rain by the morning!"

The young man rubs uneasy palms over the vinyl chair. It feels like glue on his skin.

"My shirt is making me sick? Usually I'm prescribed antibiotics..."

The Doctor makes great show of shaking his head to and fro. "Young man, my prescriptions are held in high esteem by the Mayor, the Judge, by the entire City Council! I assure you you'll be quite well by sunrise tomorrow."

Knowing nothing else to say against the mountain of circumstance, the young man, with a 'thank you' to the Doctor, stands and leaves, picking up the prescribed woolens on his way out. Once home, he changes, and for the remainder of the day and evening the young man lay on his sofa, writhing against the sharp claws of the fabric. He falls asleep in a fever and wakes the next morning worse for wear. He aches. He coughs. He itches like mad.

Following another phone call and another careful drive to his office, the young man finds himself in Dr. Levi's rubbery seat.

"Pray tell, young man, how many females are counted among your co-workers?"

The young man screws his eyes upward with counting, the phlegm in his chest rattling like a diesel engine.

"Um, I don't know? Fifty?"

The answer gives great pleasure to Dr. Levi; his face becomes a beaming smile, his limbs regain their sprightly bounce.

"I thought as much. It seems that you've grazed the skin of a menstruating female - their ratio in your building would make this all but certain."

The young man sinks back into the chair, the firm grip of vinyl squealing against his woolens.

"I'm sick because the secretary is on her period? Really, doctor, if I could just get some antibi-"

Dr. Levi waves the young man off and again darts for the door.

"No need, young man! Simply launder all your clothes and take a long bath sometime tonight. I expect you'll be back to fighting shape before the sun comes over the mountains!"

"You want me to take a bath and do the laundry?! I can barely walk!"

"Generations of the towns magistrates have rid themselves of illness in this way my dear boy, and they all lived long long lives!" The door shuts before Dr. Levi finishes his sentence, the final clause muffled by walls.

The young man has half a mind to crawl out the window and engage the services of another physician. But so lauded was Dr. Levi, the young man's boss being among the doctor's supporters (because who doesn't want to impress the new boss?) the young man instead sighs and walks out the door, through the hall to the exit. Picking up a gallon bucket of prescribed laundry detergent and a small cup of bath salts, the young man carefully drives himself home, coughing fits swerving his car every quarter mile or so.

Immediately he strips off his clothes and throws every one of his garments into the laundry. Nude, he runs a tubful of hot water and, carefully scooping cupfuls of salt into the water, lowers himself to the bath. He stays immersed well past the buzzer screaming that his clothes are clean, pouring handfuls of water over his head and forearms until the young man resembles a blanched first cousin to the California raisins.

Toweled dry and clothes retrieved from the laundry, the young man goes to bed, hopeful of a cure in the night. He wakes the next morning, the rattle in his chest a small explosion with each breath, his joints filled with dry cement. Again he treks to the doctor's office.

"Hrm." Dr. Levi strokes his hands one two one two through his flowing beard. "Have you ever eaten oysters?"

The young man shakes his head, his throat on fire. "Oysters? No," his voice plays like a scratched record.

A cloud floats over the doctor's face, his eyes searching the green and white tile for an answer. The young man leans forward in the chair and speaks, his mouth open wide.

"Really if you'd just take a look at my throat," he pulls a pen light from his breast pocket, "my nodules are inflamed, there's redness and irritation -- I hate to presume, but I really think antibiotics --"

"What about your breakfast habits?"

The young man falls back into the seat.

"Uh - I usually stop at Mickey Dee's on the drive to work and get coffee and a sausage biscuit."

The cloud passes from Dr. Levi's face and the sunlight returns to his brown eyes.

"Well, that will have to stop at once! I would suggest instead perhaps eggs. God willing, you'll be fixed by Saturday. Just stay away from the sausage and the bacon and the like."

The young man, exasperation hanging heavy on his face, stands up and pleads with the doctor.

"Please, will you just give me an examination? My temperature, the back of my throat, my breathing? Take some blood, even, anything. All I really want is a 'scrip for antibiotics."

Dr. Levi shakes his head.

"That's not the way the past generations have done it, young man, so it won't be the way we do it here."

Dejected, defeated, the young man storms from the office and speeds to the nearest free clinic. The attending physician there, upon taking his vitals, slaps a hand to his forehead.

"How has your strep throat gotten this bad?"

The young man gives his new doctor a plaintive shrug. Without hesitation the clinic physician scribbles a prescription for antibiotics. The young man, after stopping at a pharmacy for the medicine, drives home and immediately administers the first dose to himself. The weekend is long and filled with cold sweats and feverish dreams, but come Monday morning, his antibiotics exhausted, the young man finds that his fever is gone. His aches are gone. The rattle in his chest is only the whisper of a wheeze. Revitalized, the young man showers and dresses, preparing to go back into work.

Just as he's walking out the door, his telephone rings. Dr. Levi chirps on the other end.

"Just a follow up, my boy, we haven't seen you for a few days. Is your illness vanquished?"

The young man is tempted to slam the receiver down, but his mother raised him better than that. He mutters a terse, "yes."

"Excellent. I assume you've not cavorted with any deceased ferrets or engaged in any homosexual activity since our last meeting?"

Shocked, the young man blurts an incredulous, "No!" and listens as the doctor cackles with delight on the other end.

"You're welcome then, my dear boy, for I have cured you the same way I've cured the towns most well-regarded dignitaries! Ruth will send you my bill, post haste!"

The young man, able to take no more, hangs up the phone, wondering why so many esteem Dr. Levi a genius.

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