I can give no logical reason for the selection of our family doctor, primarily because he selected us. The information came in a short note, saying that he was relieving our aging practitioner and that he had an overwhelming desire to be the one who would continue to practice upon us. We had, in effect, been purchased from our retiring medico.
Now, I had great faith in the old gentleman who deserted us. He was a gentle sober man, but not too sober. I mean, he was no boozer, but if one encountered him at an appropriate time, he would usually accept an invitation to tipple a toddy and join in a guffaw. If he knew you could hold your tongue, he might even treat you to a description of Mrs. Rigby’s rump ruffles. He was a man's man as well as a damned fine doctor, and I knew I would miss him.
My first visit to the new consultant was to get treatment for a toe in turmoil. I was accosted by the same nurse, or nurses’ aide (or maybe she was just somebody’s old nanny) who had taken temperatures under my tonsils instead of my tongue and bungled the billing since time began. Somehow her presence was reassuring. The vague uneasiness with which I had approached my appointment vanished.
It returned just as quickly. I can only describe the snowy-smocked young, man, whose grip tortured the feeling from my fingers, as a smaller, less-mature replica of the bewitching Samantha's Doctor Bombay. His face, however, was a veritable sunburst of smile. Moreover, it was a face a woman would describe as “aesthetically radiant.” During the entire ten minutes I spent with him, his smile never diminished. Now, I am one who becomes wary of another who displays an obviously forced facial feature. I am also wary of young professionals who wear thin black mustaches and trimmed black locks, but this one appeared, so openly, honest, self assured, and without design, that I could only respond to his radiance with a similar, although weak and ineffective attempt. Looking at the nurse’s consultation comment, he spoke. His voice was clear and decisive.
“A little tootsie trouble, I see.” He waited patiently as I struggled gingerly with my shoe and sock, then glanced very briefly at my exposed appendage. He didn’t touch it. I would have hated to do so myself. It was quite obviously gangrene infected, ready for amputation. “Ah, a bit of fungus there,” he smiled. Bouncing to his desk, he scribbled briefly on a prescription and passed it to me while I was still involved in the gymnastics of replacing my footwear. “Now,” he continued, “just apply this about five times a day for a week. I’m sure we’ll be as good as new again.”
I was ushered from the office, still under the smile. I hobbled away meditating. This was a type of medical mendicant that I had not previously encountered. I wondered what frightful castigation the AMA would inflict on a member who permitted his smile to falter and thus allow his patient to experience doubt regarding his professional competence. However, all in all, a twenty-dollar-physician and a ten-dollar-pharmacist seemed little enough to restore a digit that I had already abandoned. I could even smile — a little.
Our next encounter was not exactly personal. My wife, who has always detested, avoided, and lamented any physiological prying, medical or otherwise suffered a feminine malfunction that necessitated immediate professional probing. Her subsequent quiet good humor, after returning from the doctor's office, troubled me more than I cared to admit. My curiosity finally overflowed. “Oh,” she replied, “it was nothing, nothing at all. But isn’t he a fine young man? He’s so confident, so self-assured and gentle.” I wanted to tell her that I knew nothing about his gentleness since he hadn’t touched me, that this sudden alteration of her temperament was undermining my confidence, and that I was not so self-assured about him. Fortunately, I foresaw, in time, the possible resulting domestic mutiny. I managed to restrain the remark.
Worse was still to come. Our teenage daughter suffered the effects of a bit of broken bottle some boob had deposited on her bicycle bench. I found myself driving wildly toward our practitioner’s office while she whimpered and clutched a pressure pad to her bleeding bottom. She was soon face down in the emergency room. While I held her hand, our young man rapidly completed a few stitches. I couldn’t help thinking that her continued squalling was more from the embarrassment of bare buttocks than from pain. The task was defty completed. I rearranged her clothing and helped her up. With both hands on her shoulders, the doctor turned his sunbeam into her teary eyes. Damned if she didn’t stop blubbering and smile back! Later, at home that evening, I unintentionally overheard a confidence to her mother. “Oh, Mom, he’s just super, and I'm supposed to go down next week and have him remove the stitches!” I made a mental note and underlined it; check to see if the nurse-nanny was capable of the destitching process.
As time passed, my feelings, whenever I was faced with this manly marvel of medicine, were becoming unacceptably inferior. But every patient, as well as every dog, has his day, and mine came. It occurred in the local hospital ward during my recovery from a rather serious illness. In this environment our practitioner was even more formidable. No one ever seemed to see him enter or leave the ward. At a predetermined time he would materialize like a true warlock, make his radiant rounds, and dematerialize. Ward personnel and nurses, too, were awed by this uncanny ability. Bestowing his brilliant features on each patient, in turn, he would inquire, “Well, how are we feeling this morning?” While one’s mouth was still opening to replay he would answer himself. “Fine, fine, eh?” or “Much much better,” or “Excellent, excellent!” If he accumulated only a little of the pleasing sensations, indicated by his own response, it was difficult to understand how he kept himself from floating away under sheer pleasure-power.
On this particular morning he stood beaming, at the foot of my bed, unsuccessfully endeavoring to make an entry on my chart. The instrument in his hand was obstinate. Beating and shaking it were to no avail. It absolutely refused to make a mark. At last, the nurse beside him took a closer look at the problem. “Doctor,” she said, “I don’t think that’s your pen. I think it’s — well — it’s your rectal thermometer.” He examined it more closely and returned it to the breast of his smock. But then, as he searched vainly in an attempt to locate the elusive item, the eternal smile began to fade. Slowly it diminished, vanishing at last, and replaced by an expression of doubt and uncertainty. At that moment I read his mind. As clearly as if uttered from his lips, the question came out:
“Now, I wonder, what a— h— has my pen?”