Mr. Morris went to see Dr. Garfield, who had been treating Mr. Morris for a year or so. At the end of their appointment, Dr. Garfield told Mr. Morris that a follow-up was needed within a few weeks and suggested that Mr. Morris make an appointment for the follow-up before he left the medical offices.
Mr. Morris hacked, wet and phlegmy, into his balled up fist. He said, “Well. I’m not sure I can do that.”
Mr. Morris was 75 years old. He had diabetes, high blood pressure, and a history of small strokes. With less than ten years of sobriety after a lifetime of excessive drinking, Mr. Morris, a chain smoker who refused to quit smoking despite his diagnosis of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, was the architect of vices that came together to form a perfect non-stop, express train route for easier travel of vascular dementia, signs of which he would most likely be exhibiting sooner rather than later.
When he balked at interrupting his exit with appointment-making Dr. Garfield assumed her patient was just overly tired from spending the morning in the office.
She smiled and said, “I’ll let my nurse know you need to come back, and she’ll talk to scheduling. We’ll call you with the appointment time.”
“You can make the appointment, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to see you again.”
Dr. Garfield frowned. “Why do you say that?”
While Mr. Morris was definitely ambling up the sidewalk toward death’s door, his oxygen tank making furrows in the grass beside him, nothing like sudden, unexpected death was figuring into his prognosis. All signs pointed in the opposite direction, a direction only the administration of morphine might curtail into something more existentially manageable for his loved ones when the end was near.
“There’s another doctor I might want to see.”
“Is there something else you want me to check? You’re on every medication that can possibly help you,” Dr. Garfield asked, much as she hated even pointing these things out.
She was a doctor who specialized in pulmonolgy. What her patients actually knew and understood about the very diseases that would eventually kill them, slowly and without mercy or consideration for their worthless opinions or tender feelings, would scarcely fill the asshole of a flea.
She unclenched her teeth. “I’ve been pretty thorough.”
“Oh, it’s not about you, honey. You’re a wonderful doctor, maybe the best doctor I’ve ever had, God knows. You’re A-number One, a real five-star gal. You really are, but you see, I–”
Dr. Garfield nodded, becoming shy and magnanimous at her patient’s praise, sexist thought it was, and out of respect for his fear of death, which she, as his doctor, knew was staring him in the face as dispassionately as a cat watching an injured baby rabbit take its last breaths.
“I don’t discourage second opinions at all—I think it’s smart. Who are you going to go see?”
“I’m not sure I will see him, but I’m waiting to hear about an appointment with Dr. Toonces.”
Dr. Garfield’s head swam. Doctor Toonces? What the hell?
“You don’t mean Skip Toonces, do you?” she asked.
Mr. Morris nodded. “I believe that’s his name. Everyone calls him Doc.”
“Mr. Morris, Toonces isn’t a pulmonologist.”
“Oh, I know,” Mr. Morris said. “But I like going to see Doc Toonces.”
“Toonces isn’t really a doctor, either. He’s a…” Dr. Garfield faltered, ready to clench her teeth again. “He’s a chiropractor.”
“I still like going to see him,” Mr. Morris said, a half-smile playing on his face.
Really? Dr. Garfield wondered.
“So you think it’s a good idea to consult a chiropractor for your lung problems?” she asked.
Mr. Morris shrugged. “It probably isn’t. But I have my reasons.”
What reasons? What was wrong with this fucking idiot besides being short a few sandwiches in his picnic basket?
Dr. Garfield said, “Toonces has no diagnostic equipment of any kind. He can’t prescribe medicine. I’m not a hundred percent sure he can even take an x-ray. The man knows nothing about actual medicine, let alone pulmonology,” Dr. Garfield said, and became disconcerted, her voice rising as she felt her cheeks flush with the rushing blood of annoyance. “Skip Toonces flunked out of medical school. Everybody knows this! He couldn’t even become a dentist!”
Mr. Morris shook his head slowly. “I’m not trying to make waves here. Go ahead, have your nurse make the appointment. I’ve never said I think Doc Toonces is better than you, but I did think it was fair to tell you I might have to cancel with you at the last minute.”
The click and hiss of the portable oxygen tank slung over Mr. Morris’s shoulder was the only sound in the room for a full ten seconds. Dr. Garfield stared into space at a spot above Mr. Morris’s shoulder, finally shaking her head violently to clear it of thoughts about Skip Toonces and vertebrae adjustments and prescriptions of essential oils, magic crystals, Chakra-boosting. Why did so many people choose the vapor of magic over solid, reliable science?
“Just tell me one thing: why would you want to see a chiropractor about treating your emphysema? When I’m sure you know–”
Mr. Morris interrupted Dr. Garfield. “Look, my son asked me the same thing. He doesn’t understand, and you probably won’t, either.”
“Try me,” Dr. Garfield said, folding her arms over her chest.
She did this while backing away from the lunatic wheezing on her exam table, his labored breathing causing his frail body to shift just enough to make the paper beneath his thighs crinkle and crease, the smallness of the room magnifying and making the crinkling and creasing even more jarring. If such a thing were possible, she would say she hated that sound almost as much as she hated patients like this. But she hated nothing more than patients like this.
Mr. Morris slid off the exam table and cleared his throat, smoothing his thinning hair with a splotchy hand. “Let’s just say Doc Toonces has–”
“He’s not a doctor,” Dr. Garfield reminded Mr. Morris. “He will never be a doctor. Toonces is a quack. And you will die much sooner under the care of that huckster than if you–”
Mr. Morris threw up his hands and held his palms outward as a signal Dr. Garfield: save your breath.
“Maybe you’re right. You probably are right. But he’s got a waiting room like a doctor, and guess what? There’s a television in it,” he said, pausing as if he wanted that to sink in. He nodded his head once and continued. “Yep, and while I’m in his waiting room I can watch a channel on his TV that shows nothing but westerns. ‘Gunsmoke,’ ‘The Big Valley,’ ‘Bonanza’– everything I like. You don’t even have a TV in your waiting room!”
THE MORAL People like what they like, want what they want. Also, chiropractors are not real doctors.