Elmore Leonard writes my scene at the stomach doctor

[I can’t write another post whining about c diff. Argh. Instead, here’s a post about it in a roundabout way. I’m a big Elmore Leonard fan. And I wondered what my recent meeting with the stomach doctor would have sounded like if Elmore had written it in a book. Let’s give it a whirl.]

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The king of dialogue

“I’m going to press on your stomach. Let me know if I cause you any discomfort,” Dr. Wilson said.

“I have a high threshold for pain, doc, press away,” Unknown said.

The doctor pressed, but not hard. More like he loved Unknown and they were courting, laying in the grass falling in love, his hands gently gliding over Unknown’s bloated stomach.

“Don’t hurt your hands, doc,” Unknown said.

The doctor looked like he was watching water waiting to boil.

“I don’t want to hurt you,” he said.

“You’re miles away from doing that. I was hoping for an exam not a massage.”

“These hands know what they’re doing. ”

Maybe 45 years ago, when he was still in his 70’s. Not now. Perhaps back when leeches were state of the art.

“I’m glad you think so, doc, cause I’m not brimming with confidence.”

“I’ve been practicing medicine a long time.”

“Everything spoils if you leave it out too long,” Unknown said.

“I suppose it does, but stomachs don’t and yours isn’t unique. It’s just like the thousands I’ve examined before.”

“Did you feel up all of ’em like you’re doing mine? You’ll need a cigarette afterwards, huh?”

The doctor ignored him and continued his Ouija Board session, looking with his fingers, like he wanted to find the magic spot. Then when he found it, he’d raise one hand in a claw shape high above and plunge it into Unknown’s stomach, ripping the evil spirit out. Unknown would magically feel better. So simple. But it didn’t happen that way.

“Get your clothes on and meet me in my office,” he said, no kiss, no hug, no tug, as he turned and left.

Unknown buckled his belt and walked out of the exam room into the hallway with its stained blue carpet. Five steps at most to the doctor’s personal office. He sat down and waited, watching three fish swim in the dirty aquarium. One of them, something black and yellow, was covered in white fungus. Unknown took his antibacterial gel out of his pocket and cleaned his hands.

The doctor walked in, hunched, but not slow like he needed a walker, yet.

“You may want to clean that aquarium before you lose the last three fish, doc.”

The doctor looked over for a second, a tiny glimmer of recognition the fish were swimming in their own filth and perhaps a new pump might be in order. But that look passed in the time it takes to exhale and he went back to reviewing Unknown’s thick chart.

“I don’t think’s it C diff,” he said, pulling out a single sheet of paper and handing it to Unknown. “Here’s a list of foods I want to you eat and others you’ll need to avoid.”

“You don’t think it’s C diff?”

“No, I don’t. I think you have some inflammation and you need to eat a nice bland diet for the next week or so.”

“What about the low-grade fevers?”

“You don’t have a fever now.”

“I took two Tylenol.”

“We usually don’t see fevers with c diff.”

Unknown sat there, taking in the  doctor’s words, unsure what to say to the man with canyon-sized wrinkles in his face who was writing something on a form. Maybe c diff didn’t cause fevers back in the day when fire was discovered.

“Have you ever used Google, doc?”

“I’m a Yahoo man,” the doctor said, like he was hanging with a group of doctors who were bragging about their alma mater.

Unknown turned his iPad on.

“Maybe you should switch search engines. I’m typing ‘C diff symptoms’ into Google right now. Wait for it. Wait for it. Here we go. Let’s try the first site, doc. What do you think? Oh, my, look what information from 2010 says under symptoms, low-grade fever. What? How can that be? Here’s another site, fever. There must be Yahoo C diff and Google C diff, huh? I didn’t know there was more than one kind of it.”

“I think we’re done. I stand by diagnosis. We’re finished. Hand the nurse this paper on the way out.”

Unknown looked at the doctor holding the paper out, and placed his hands on the armrests to push himself up with effort and control, taking his time. With two fingers, he pulled the exam paperwork from the doctor’s hand in a manner that was correct and polite, and gave the doctor a nice smile, nodding his head like he agreed with his diagnosis, yes, yes, yes. But Unknown didn’t agree and didn’t say anything. Instead, he turned and took two steps, and looked at the aquarium and the fish facing their last days swimming back and forth in water that reminded him of a lake you wouldn’t want to swim in.

He took the paperwork in his hands and rolled the dietary sheet and the exam form up into one tube, like a kid creating a spyglass, nice and tight. Then he took the end of the paperwork like he was placing a round peg in a hole and dropped it through an opening in the plexiglass cover of the aquarium, giving it a push with one finger until it was all the way in and the paper expanded and soaked up the dirty water.

Unknown turned to the doctor and said: “You should Google ‘how to clean an aquarium,’ Yahoo Man, before you kill all of them.” Then he walked out, took the elevator down to the parking garage and drove home.

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