THE GOOD DOCTOR
When I’d suffered long enough with the ear infection, and thought it was long past time to take action,
I picked up the phone. After taking a deep breath, I held the receiver long enough for fate to
intervene, should she so choose, before beginning to dial. In the midst of this my very dear caring
and perpetually wonderful wife came in and, on fate’s behalf, asked me what I was doing. I told her
that I had suffered long enough—a conclusion she’d arrived at weeks earlier—and that I was on my
way to the hospital. She suggested that I simply call her father’s personal physician, Dr. Codger. It
would save time and money and I’d get the very same results…pills.
“But, he is your father’s physician.”
“Yes, but he’ll see you without an appointment; he will charge you little if not less; and,” she added,
“he’s just around the corner; you won’t have to take the long ride out to the hospital.”
I was convinced, and shortly found myself in the old physician’s office, where I sat filling out a form.
Smoke?- No. Drink?- No. Diphtheria? - No. Walk with a limp?- No. Speak with a lisp?—No. Am I now
or have I ever been a member of any political party other than the one that represents doctors,
lawyers, runaway corporations and CEOs?—No. (I failed to say that I have never been a member of
any political party whatsoever and have no intentions.) In a few brief moments I was whisked on into
the good doctor’s office.
Dr. Codger was a rapidly aging, frail, older man, balding, with wisps of white hair floating away from
his head on either side in small tufts, and a crazed look in his eye. He looked like a demented
duckling in a lab coat. He began grilling me about the financial state of things at the hotel as soon as
I entered the room. His questions were all non-specific and my answers were all evasive. I didn’t know
what he knew or what he should know or why he should be asking me. So he took my blood pressure
(low) and my temperature (normal) and weighed me (just fine) and asked me to sit on a padded table
of some sort while he held each wrist in one hand and looked intently into my face (which gave me
Then he looked into each eye with some device which projected light. Then he looked down my
throat and shoved a dry wooden paddle into my mouth and asked me to gag—which I did. Then he
took a device and stuck it first into my right ear, then into my right nostril, then into my left nostril and
then into my left ear, in that order, without hesitation (and by that I mean without taking the time for
thing before, but I expected more from a doctor. “Gosh,” I thought. (Yes, that’s precisely what I
thought, Gosh.) Admittedly I know nothing at all about medicine, but I do know something about
hygiene. (Hygiene is that thing which anyone in the restaurant business usually lacks.)
During all the time he was observing me I was keeping a very cautious eye on Dr. Codger. He
reached into his lab coat pocket, extended his open palm before my eyes, offered me a choice of a
wide variety of sample pills.
“Which one would you like?”
“There are so many…I don’t know what any of them do.”
“Let me narrow it down for you then.” He re-pocketed all but two bottles and held them up for me to
“Well,” I said hesitantly, “what’s the difference between them?”
“These are made by one pharmaceutical company and these by their competition; they both do the
same thing. I think either would work well in your case.”
I selected a bottle. He commended me on my wise choice then gave me instructions. Though I’d be
well long before the pills were all taken, I should take them all. If I needed more, just give him a call.
This all seemed very strange to me, but he was strolling through it pretty casually, which gave me a
queasy kind of hope. We shook hands, and when we shook it became evident to him that there was
something wrong. Specifically, I have a torn tendon in one finger; the sheath of that tendon has
detached itself and gathered in a kind of unseemly clump near the base of that finger. The bump is
seldom ignored by anyone I shake hands with. It prevents me from extending my little finger in a way
that might be desirable, while, say, holding my wife near and smothering her in the kisses her warm
hugability seems to demand from time to eager time. So, Dr. Codger said, “What’s this?” He turned
my palm upward and looked at the lump and then said, “Viking heritage.”
I said, “What?”
He said, “You have Viking heritage. Those damned redheads all have this tendon problem.”
“Really?” (I am not a redhead, never have been.)
“Oh yes; it’s typical.”
“Ah,” I said, and prevented myself from saying anything more. “What do I owe you?”
“Nah,” he said waving it away. “Tell M. Bertrand he should come in and I have some more depression
pills for him.”
“I won’t do that,” I said.
He looked at me startled, and then dismissed it. “Oh, OK, I’ll have the receptionist call him.”
“That might be a better idea.”
Of course I could have gone to a “real” doctor at the organization with which we insure our health. I
hesitate to go there however because they have no catch and release policy. Going there is like
taking your car in for one of those free inspections: of course they are going to find something
wrong, and of course it is going to be expensive. Put aside, for the moment, the fact that they have
called both my wife and me liars on one occasion or another.
When I returned to the hotel my wife asked me what had happened at Dr. Codger’s office.
I told her, “It’s amazing to me that your father is still alive after using that quack.”
“He’s been seeing him for years,” my dear wife said.
“All the more amazing,” I said, and told her of my wonderland experience.
A couple days later I was in or little rooms, sacred cello bow in hand, immersed deeply in the music--
my fingering was flawless, my bowing far beyond any skill that I could honestly claim—and the warm
fragrance of the sound was drifting slowly up, engulfing me, gently caressing and comforting my
feverish mind. I was at peace…
when the phone rang.
“Yes!” I barked. “What?” I whined.
“What?” I sighed.
“Yes.” I softened further.
“This is, Shamequa, Doctor Codger’s receptionist. I have to tell you something.”
“Yes?” I said quizzically. Could the quack have discovered anything at all with his weird, cursory
inspection of my corpus gros? “Yes?” I said using my most charming irritated mode.
“I just wanted to tell you that, when you walked in the other day I thought you looked like someone.”
“I looked like someone?”
“When you walked in I thought you looked like someone, but I could not figure out who it was.”
“I…I’m sorry, what?” I was completely confused. The good doctor’s secretary (sorry, receptionist)
was calling me to say what exactly...?
“When you came in for the first time the other day I kept looking at you because I thought you
reminded me of someone and I couldn’t really put my finger on who it was.”
“Uh…OK…what can I do for you?”
“It’s Peter Lawford,” she squealed breathily. “You look like Peter Lawford!” This discovery brought
her school-girl like delight.
“Oh,” I said. “Anything else?”
“No, but, you really do look like Peter Lawford,” she whispered.
“Thank you,” I said, “Dr. Codger thinks I have a Viking heritage.”
“Codger told me I have a Viking heritage.”
“The doctor told you that?”
“Yes, he said I have a Viking heritage. Perhaps Peter Lawford had a Viking heritage.” I said, “What
do you think?”
“I guess that’s possible,” she said.
I could hear her enthusiasm deflating. At that moment I think she realized that talking to me wasn’t
anything at all like talking to Peter Lawford. Even over the phone I think she could sense that I wasn’t
standing around posing nicely, smoking a cigarette, holding a fine crystal highball glass with scotch
and soda in one tastefully bejeweled, nicely manicured hand, and smiling in that soave, married-into-
the-Kennedy-clan way that Lawford had.
“If you need to make another appointment anytime, feel free to call,” she said with a hint of lingering
disappointment. This conversation hadn’t worked out the way she’d supposed;
“Thank you. I will,” I said, putting down the phone and picking up the cello bow.
I had no idea what kind of response she had expected. After toying with the bow for a minute—
admiring its line, tempting its balance, rubbing the fine wood under my thumb--I put it down, stood up,
and went over to looked in the mirror.
I didn’t look anything at all like Peter Lawford.
|This is an excerpt from
How a Good Marriage Can Nudge and
Unwary Man in the Direction of Civility