SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
April 21, 2013

Dr. Joe Friday

 

My last doctor looked and sounded exactly like Adam Sandler. So far as I know, he may well have been Adam Sandler. Like Sandler, he wasn’t very funny, and he wasn’t a very good doctor. I never fully trusted him, but I kept going back because, well, at the time his office was a block away. Then last fall I received a letter informing me that he was no longer a doctor, for some mysterious reason. Maybe he got fed up or bored or had his license revoked or had to make another string of awful movies. It didn’t much matter to me, except it meant I had to find a new doctor.

            Being the lazy sort I went online and found the one closest to my apartment who wasn’t a gynecologist or pediatric oncologist. I’m starting to think I should be a little pickier in the future.

            The first thing I noticed when I made the appointment was that the name of the doctor working out of that office didn’t coincide with the name I’d found online. Well, okay, they were both foreign names I couldn’t pronounce, so maybe it was just a dialect thing. It seemed unlikely though, given that the name I found online was Egyptian while the name I was given on the phone was definitely Greek, but hell a doctor’s a doctor, and he was close, so I figured it didn’t make much of a difference so long as he wasn’t an unfunny comic actor.

            After filling out the forms and having the blood pressure taken, and after sitting in the waiting room for an hour subjected to the inescapable horrific monstrosity of daytime television, I was finally led into the doctor’s small, windowless office. He was a tall man of supreme confidence and no emotion, who immediately dug into the interrogation, spitting out the questions and directives in a machine gun monotone, barely letting me reply to one before jabbing me with the next. Even the questions sounded more like orders or accusations. It didn’t take long before I got into the Dragnet spirit of things.

            “Who’s your primary physician.”

            “Don’t have one.”

            “Why not.”

            “He left. He quit. I don’t know.”

            “All right. I’ll be your doctor. I’m associated with Presbyterian, NYU Medical Center, Mt. Sinai, and Beth Israel. In Brooklyn I’m associated with Methodist, Lutheran, and Coney Island.”

            “I’ve been to most of them.”

            (Note: it’s quite rare to the point of being extremely unlikely and at the very least suspicious that a doctor would be associated with damn near every hospital in New York.)

            “As far as diet is concerned you should focus on fresh fruits and vegetables. Understand that—fresh fruits and vegetables. Avoid animal products.”

            “I will.” (I had little trouble with this, as I consider ham a vegetable.)

            “Do you drink alcohol.”

            “Let’s say only to moderation.”

            “What does moderation mean.”

            “I haven’t passed out in public in a long time.”

            “Do you feel guilty when you drink alcohol.”

            “Guilty about what, exactly?”

            “Do you feel guilty or bad when you drink alcohol,” he repeated, just like Joe Friday would.

            “No.”

            “Do the people around you feel bad when you drink alcohol.”

            “I try to avoid the company of people who would feel bad when I drink.”

            “Do you ever have a drink of alcohol when you get up in the morning as an eye opener.”

            “Not in some time, no.”

            “When did you last eat.”

            “Six-thirty.”

            “Six-thirty this morning.”

            “Yes.”

            “What did you have.”

            “Granola.”

            “Granola and what else.”

            “Orange juice.”

            “Granola and orange juice and what else.”

            “Coffee.”

            “Granola and orange juice and coffee and what else.”

            “Nothing.” (I wanted to say “Wild Turkey,” but was afraid he’d slap the cuffs on me.)

            “Any history of diabetes.”

            “In the family, yes.”

            “Heart disease.”

            “In the family, yes.”

            “I’m not asking about the family, I’m asking about you. Any history of diabetes.”

            “No.”

            “Any history of heart disease.”

            “No.”

            “This is something you need to think about. If you find yourself in the hospital and your heart stops beating do you want me to resuscitate you?”

            Okay, now by this point I was about ready to break down and confess to stealing the jewels from old Mrs. Kellaway but that one threw me.

            “Pardon?”

            “Should something happen and your heart stops beating, do you want to be resuscitated.”

            “Isn’t the usual criteria brain death, not a stopped heart?”

            “That’s beside the point. You need to think about these things.”

            “I have a living will sitting in my lawyer’s office.”

            “In New York state living wills carry very little weight.”

            “But he’s a New York lawyer.”

            “It doesn’t matter. You need a health care proxy to make these decisions if you can’t. It should be someone you trust. I would be happy to take on that responsibility.”

            Things had abruptly taken a serious turn for the sinister here. I wasn’t so sure I wanted Dr. Kevorkian cutting off the feeding tube after I sprained an ankle. “Umm, I think that would be a job better suited for my fiancée.”

            “Is she here. I would like to meet her very much.” He began to stand from his chair.

            “She’s at work.”

            “Okay. It’s something you need to think about.”

            He then pulled out his stethoscope and listened to my back and armpits.

            “Has anyone ever told you you have a heart murmur.”

            “No.”

            “You do. I’m going to order an echo cardiogram to see what’s going on.”

            “Okay.”

            As I was being led back out to the waiting room it occurred to me that for all his harping and prodding about the booze, he never once brought up smoking even though I clearly reeked of it. He didn’t strike me as someone who would let something like that slide.

            After another hour of insufferable daytime television (maybe that’s how he tried to prompt heart attacks in his patients so he could let them die, and maybe that’s how he took over this office from the Egyptian) I was led into the dark and cool echo cardiogram room and told to lie on the table.

            “I have a headache today,” the technician, a small round woman with a heavy Brooklyn accent, told me.

            “I’m sorry to hear that.”

            “Ah, it’ll be here for three days . . . you know I’m at war with that doctor.”

            “Really,” I said as she slathered my chest with cold goo. “I honestly was not aware of that, given that I’ve never met any of you before. So why are you at war?”

            “‘Cause he don’t let me take a fuckin’ break. Just keeps throwin’ ‘em at me.”

            “I’m sorry to add to that.”

            “Ah, it ain’t your fault really. I gotta call and check on my daughter.”

            “Oh.”

            “She’s eighteen. Don’t know what the hell she’s doing.”

            “Eighteen’s when things get crazy, I guess.” She started rubbing the tip of her electronic wand over where my heart should be.

            “Naw, it ain’t. That happens when they’re ten. Before that they’re cute. Kid has a tantrum, people think it’s cute, y’know? ‘Look, the baby’s havin’ a tantrum.’ After that, though, you gotta start smackin’ ‘em. I was in the grocery store once . . . ”

            What followed was a long story about slapping her child around in the supermarket, and the nosy do-gooder types who tried to interfere when it was none of their goddamn business. After that things were quiet.

            “So,” I offered by way of lighthearted banter. “Do I have a heart?”

            “No,” she said. “Well, maybe you do, but it’s ice cold.”

            I guess she’d heard that joke before.

            “You gotta wife?” she asked.

            “Fiancée.”

            “Well, I bet she’d say you gotta heart of gold. But ya know what? You hadda heart of gold, I’d carve it outta you right here, dump your body in the corner. Price gold is sellin’ for now? Heart weighs about four, five pounds. Imagine one o’ those solid gold. You know how much that would be worth? Yeah, I’d kill you right here, I don’t care.”

            I said nothing, but lay perfectly still, wondering what I had gotten myself into.

            A few minutes later she swabbed the goop off my chest. “Don’t think you’re gettin’ any special treatment ‘cause your blind. I do this for everybody.”

            “I’m not asking for special treatment.”

            “Even my sister. She’s got MS, and I say to her, ‘Just cause you’re in that wheelchair don’t go thinkin’ I’m gonna treat you special . . . ”

            After viewing the results, the doctor informed me that I had a very strong heart, not mentioning another word about that supposed murmur.

            As I put on my coat and prepared to leave, the receptionist handed me an appointment card. Well, it wasn’t really an appointment card, just an irregularly cut piece of a notecard with a date written on it.

            When I finally stepped outside and onto the sidewalk again, I was starting to have some serious doubts that any of the people in that office were certified in anything, let alone medicine. But I’ll get a better idea when I return two weeks from now for a follow up. I’m not exactly sure what it is they’re supposed to be following up, since they told me I was in perfect health. Maybe they just consider me a person of interest.

 

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