Saturday, June 30, 2012
Pain Eater (The Summons)
I've decided to expand upon a previous story. It may make a bit more sense after reading the original story.
Jimmie climbed back onto the doctors table to await test results. His mind like an intellectual version of a gumball machine—millions of thoughts swirling in his brain until one peeled away and filtered down for processing. What a jewel of a thought it was—contemplating the irony of wait. How inaction bordered on negating the very definition of a verb, yet within a medical facility idle moments serve such vital purpose. Waiting perpetuated the eeriness of the unknown; fueled the idea that every worker knew more about a patient’s condition than allowed to divulge. Workers playing the roles of perfect minions; dancing in the hallways like puppets masquerading with painted-on smiles. Each peddling the premise of promise; that somehow through the pursuit of higher education a doctor acquired the ability to heal. As if simply desiring something so noble could make it true. The entire charade was nothing more than a higher form of hogwash.
Dr. Medina arrived carrying a packet of x-rays under his arm. Jimmie barely noticed the company in the room or the grim look on the doctor’s face as he did his best to temper the news. Words dribbled from his mouth rolling one into the other like vegetables into a blender.
“Tell me, Doc, do we have time for a serious question?”
Dr. Medina found Jimmie’s request for a ‘serious’ question uncomfortably amusing. Following an elongated stare in the direction of his watch he nodded, allowing his patient to speak.
“There’s a woman in the waiting room—probably middle thirties, thin, short hair, and a kind face. Glued to her sides are two of the cutest little girls I’ve ever seen. Each draped over an arm as if she’s their favorite carnival ride. Have you seen her?”
“It’s the second Thursday of the month, Jimmie. She’s due for another round of chemo—of course I’ve seen her!”
“Oh I understand you believe you’re treating her, but that wasn’t the question, Doctor. Are you moved by how pale and lifeless her eyes are; how the heaviness of her heart has seeped through her pores and settled like a fog around her. How day by day she’s losing the battle to hide her struggle with mortality from her babies. Are you able to see those things?”
The exam room became an experiment for displacement, as if every molecule of air was vacuumed out and thick layer of tension rolled in. The slap of x-rays against a metal counter echoed cold and still.
“Jimmie, you need to listen to me closely. There are time-sensitive decisions that need to be made. Can we avoid critique of my bed-side manner and get back to your condition?”
The woman in waiting touched Jimmie from the inside out. He was no more able to release the hold she had on his mind now than he could physically let go of her in the waiting room. They shared a hug that lingered; he brushed a tear from her eye and stroked her hand until they called her back, but perhaps the beauty of the moment was only the shared realization that modern medicine had lost sight of a patient’s true needs.
Disgusted by the lack of urgency on the part of his patient Dr. Medina cleared his throat a second time.
As thoughts of the woman faded Jimmie turned his attention to the row of plaques hanging on the wall.
“The best medical schools money can buy, and yet you don’t understand this at all, do you, Doc? How can you heal patients when you can’t even see them? You used to believe in a higher power—a creator in control of all things. As a young man you allowed him to guide you to the poison and watch over your methods of treatment. What caused you to leave those things, Doctor?”
An icy glaze swept over the physician’s face as his mind drifted to a dark and unsettled place. As uncomfortable as was the snapshot in time, more than anything he resented someone opening the door to it—a patient no less. The loss of control consumed him and so like a missile shatters its silo doors, his tone erupted sharp and cold.
“Jimmie, it’s not your day to play doctor! You’re not mentally or emotionally equipped for it. So if you’ll stop this superfluous nonsense I’ll deliver your diagnose now.”
The outburst produced nothing more than a wry grin from his patient.
“If you mean the cancer—I know full well what’s inside me. Soon it will be gone, as will the woman’s in waiting. In case you haven’t figured it out, Doc they are now one in the same. As much as you need to believe I came here to see you today, I came here for her. “
The consultation ended in a stalemate with Dr. Medina accepting a denial of treatment form while Jimmie continued to elaborate as he dressed.
“You see, Doc, God designs no one without purpose. He created with me with the ability to carry things for others; physical ailments they are unable to bear on their own. I inherited this ability from my Aunt Laura. She referred to herself as a pain-eater. Spent most of her life half-crippled by the afflictions of others, yet she chose to greet every morning as an opportunity to live out her calling. She saw a gift in what others would consider a curse. Most everything in life depends on perspective doesn’t it Doc? How is it that you lost yours?”
Jimmie didn’t require an answer just yet. He finished buttoning his jacket and placed a piece of scrap paper in the doctor’s palm. Folding the doctor’s fingers around the note Jimmie held them closed while he made his offer.
“After you see Jenny—when her test results come back clean and none of your journals offer a plausible explanation, please consider coming to our next meeting. You have the address, and we desperately need your help.”
Locating a reasonable parking spot turned into shear madness. Not even the finest play or sporting event warranted a five-block walk on such a frigid winter night but the doctor needed answers. In twenty-eight years of practice he had seen a single case, but in one afternoon a total of six terminal cancer patients walked from his office with a clean-bill of health and new lease on life, presumably because of contact with a man of questionable mental stability. One who possessed no medical qualifications whatsoever and identified himself only as a second-generation pain-eater.
Second-hand furniture lined the perimeter walls of an apartment designed to small. A single empty chair remained out of twenty or so. Doctor Medina passed on the front row and instead chose to stand near the door. If the appearance of the inhabitants was any indication he anticipated an early escape. Concert tees, brightly colored hair, or unusual piercings and tattoos appeared to be prerequisites for admission. Out of place didn’t begin to describe the doctor’s presence here.
Jimmie extended his hand.
“Thanks for coming Doctor. I’ll assume Jenny’s test results were the deciding factor on accepting my invitation. The other five cases were to avoid the understandable inclination to dismiss this as a freak occurrence. I assure you, everything that occurred in your waiting room was deliberate and divinely orchestrated.”
Dr. Medina leveraged the handshake and jerked Jimmie close.
“Why did you invite me here? Personal gain—you want to know how much you can extort from a doctor for your services! I’m telling you now I want no part in your black magic.”
Jimmie drew back matching the intensity with which the doctor delivered his accusations.
“None of us are for hire! If we even considered such a path our ability would be immediately and permanently be stripped from us. Funny you suggest black magic—there is a darker side to this and there are more of them than us. Through the same method of physical contact and transference they deliver disease and pain. In my mind the real question is how many in your profession would we be willing to arrange an endless pool of patients? Many already have. I needed to reach you first. Our group needs a spokesman who will be respected in the medical community, who can remind them of the Hippocratic Oath they all took. God directed me to you, Doctor Medina—are you telling me he was wrong in doing so?”
Jimmie’s attempt to keep the conversation private failed. All were innately aware of the importance of this moment. Every eye and heart in the room fixed squarely on the two—waiting for the pendulum to swing in one direction or the other.
“Doctor, time is of the essence. You assure me our group has your full support, and we’re on the way to your home.”
The physician’s face reflected an indescribable degree of perplexity. Indecision coursed through his veins like fire. He reached for the handle of the door, but the swing fell short as it met with Jimmie’s foot.
“Did you hear me say we would go to your home, Doctor? More specifically where your daughter is under the care of hospice? She has deteriorated to a point where your heart barely allows you to maintain eye contact. She understands you feel that you and your medicine have failed her. That’s why she can’t look you in the eyes, but we all know you have done everything within your power. The fact remains she’s broken beyond the scope of modern medicine. There is only one who can save her now. Damn it Doctor, are you too stubborn and prideful to let God use us to give you your daughter back?