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Friday, Jan. 21, 2005
Don’t let this get out to the media. Seriously, this is not for any manner of public display whatever. For if you were to buy into the notion that it takes a village to raise a child, it should follow that an entire county might need to be brought to bear on this one.

I went to the doctor today.

Actually it was yesterday, since it has now taken me nearly two hours to get those first two paragraphs out of this hacking, wheezing carcass. And it reminds me clearly, here in the nee cleft of a cold winter morning, of why I choose not to have a close relationship with any doctor. Doctors have prescription pads and a need to cement their bond with the drug rep who lets them win at golf.

But really. Coming up with a diagnosis of pneumonia? Dashing off not one, but three prescriptions? That’s just showing off.

I’m getting ahead of myself here. Rewind to early Thursday morning. It was, as usual, Ally’s idea.

“I want you to take this checkbook and this prescription card and go to the Doc in the Box up the street,” she said, wagging both under my nose and speaking very slowly. “I want you to do this today, this very morning, and I want to know exactly what the doctor said when you get done.”

I was munching a stale donut at the time, littering the floor with glazed goodness and considering her offer. “I’ll go. What’s the big deal?”, in a whispered quiz. My voice has been stripped of its’ timbre by 2 minute long coughing jags over the past week and more.

“No big deal. It’s just that you haven’t been in a while,” Ally said. Quick as a cat she had the warning finger up to silence the throaty protest from me. “Now wait, I know you’ve been around doctors for years, between me and the kids. But honestly, when’s the last time you had to go in for yourself? What’s it been, 24 years? The blood poisoning gig?”

Hmmm. It had been a sumptuous board of 8/4 Clear Fir in the rough, lovely stuff, might possibly have been off an old growth log and slipped in to a shipment of C-grade back in the day when you would occasionally see that sort of thing. I had it on the joiner, truing up a roughsawn face before taking it to the planer. I don’t know when the long splinter left the board and sank into the fleshy part of my left hand but it did. A daily thing they are, the splinters. Yank ‘em out and move on.

Except this one broke off deep and wasn’t coming out, and it was a week later that I figured I’d better mention it. By which time the spider-like tendrils of red streaks were radiating from my hand up my arm and down toward my heart and I couldn’t move the left arm at all. Beware the splinter of the sappy conifer tree, my children. Oh it was blood poisoning all right, it was absolutely textbook by that time.

My boss took one look at it, swore pretty inventively and sent me to the company bones, old Doc Goldfield. It was a fast ten minute walk across a railroad yard and down a side street and I don’t know what was burning more, the fir resin in my blood or my bosses glare in my back, watching me scamper over to the Doc’s for a hoof repair.

I’ll remind you of something. It was 1981, getting paid to really learn a trade was very tough to come by back then, nearly impossible now. It was a traditional cabinetmaker shop, probably the last of its’ kind in the area, set in the midst of a grand Southern Lumber Baron’s yard. I was 22 years old and married 15 months. Jimmy Carter had an anti-economy going on. I needed that job.

A dour but not unkind Doc G sat me down, held my hugely swollen left hand in his left. Made some deft off screen maneuver involving an instrument tray and a roll of cotton with his right. And I swear, in one of the coolest moves ever, and using one of the most bland conversational voices ever, Doc inquired about my walk over and slashed down with a wickedly fine straight razor in the same instant.

A suddenly depressurized release of light brown poisonous puss shot out of my paw a good foot, followed by a nice stream of Outfoxed blood. I swear the man was a magician. That hand had hurt badly. It hurt for me to have him cradle it in his own. But I never felt that blade, all I felt was the relief flowing out of my hand. He swabbed it all down with about one pass from the alcohol jar, wrapped it up in gauze and fished a cheap looking sling from a cabinet somewhere. “There ye are lad, ought to hold ye. Toddle on back to the shop now and tell old PB to call me.” PB being the boss, the Southern fireball whose family had owned the yard for 3 generations, and they had been pistols all.

I went straight to PB in the walnut paneled office. “Hmph. What the hell is that?” he started, pointing at the sling. “Thought you had blood poisoning. What, ya broke your arm on the way over there too? Goddam . . . “ and he was on the phone to Doc Goldfield before I could utter one word.

He listened to the Doc for a minute, grunted a “Izzat so?” and hung up, glaring at me. “Doc says you’re suppose to lay up for ten days, not a minute less. Says he called in a script for you at the Drug ‘cross the street. So you best go get that, and tell Doris that the Shop’s paying for it, and get your ass on home. Check in with me Friday.” And he spun his chair around and that was that.

I got my blood pills and went home. I was pretty sure I’d blown my apprenticeship barely a year into it. By the time Ally got home to our little second floor apartment by the river I was not in the best frame of mind.

“But honey, he did say to check in with him on Friday, right? Surely he’s just concerned about how you’re healing.”

“Ally, this is General Pickett we’re talking about here. He might act like a Southern gentleman but he’s got a business to run too. He could fill that job of mine in ten seconds. I’d be surprised if he hasn’t put the word out already to bring someone in.”

She refused to be miserable with me, which just made me worse, and she wound up drawing cute things on my sling and fixing fried chicken and putting me to bed. It was very simple living back then, just her and I.

The required Friday came and I presented myself in PB’s office. He was brisk, as was his nature, pressing a pay envelope into my hands with a “So, one more week for you, right?” in such a way that I couldn’t tell if one week was a good or bad thing. But my tools were untouched, and the cabinet I’d been working on was still there unchanged and unfinished. The men in the shop gave me some good natured jeering but eventually left me alone with the old man, my mentor. The master, a man with a 6th grade education and a world class skill level in wood mechanics. Old Louis. He caught up to me by my workbench just as I was opening my pay envelope and looking worried.

“Wha’ the hell you doin’ young’un? Did thee get fired yet? Stand up straight!” He was half deaf, he was loud of voice and was forever on me about posture.

“Um, Mr. Louis, they gave me two full paychecks here. Guess maybe they did fire me with a weeks severance. Aw shit.”

“Gimmee that,” he grunted, and snatched the envelope from me and shuffling. “You dummy, have I got to teach ye everything? That’s your workers comp check for next week! You think PB in that office ever gave a weeks severance to anyone in his life? Go home, boy!”

“Wha . . . ?”

He looked as if he was going to go off on one of his rants so I went home, boy.

A few days later I ripped that sling and gauze off and jumped back on the bench and never left it again, metaphorically speaking, for 24 years.

Until yesterday that is. I was actually starting to feel a bit better, albeit without a speaking voice of any kind. I stalled until mid morning with all sorts of rationalizations before I just got up and went. I’d promised Ally, after all. If it were possible to feel any sicker than I did she could find the way to bring that about. If I promised her something and didn’t carry through, that is.

The Doc in the Box is a big one, and was pleasantly empty of customers. I approached the thin faced white girl with horribly severe glasses and a permanent frown etched to her face. “Yes? What are you here for today?”

“Bad chest cold,” I whispered tapping the bronchial area.

“Fill out this visit card, and I’ll need your insurance.”

“There’s no insurance. Cash.”

“Oh. Well in that case, fill this out,” she said, and hauled over a clipboard with a half-ream of forms attached.

(By the way, there’s no insurance on me. Ally and children have lots of it, and hence are frequently at the doctors. This was my first visit in 24 years. Insurance? What, me worry?)

In short order (and an $84 entry fee to this racetrack lighter) I was ushered to an exam room and given a table to perch on. The doctor? Let’s say that she wasn’t Doc Goldfield by any means. 28 year old blonde resident I’d say. Very cute.

“Mr. Outfoxed I’ll need to feel your chest and listen to your breathing so if you could pull your shirt . . “ and I was way ahead of her. Blondes who wish for me to remove my shirt are becoming few and far between. She moved the stethoscope ’round my back and expressed some alarm. “Oh my,” she murmured (I shouldn’t have to tell you that blondes murmuring while grasping my back are not only few, they are unheard of) as I gave her an impressive demonstration of what a steam locomotive sounds like.

She stepped back, and for all her 28 years she was no fool. Gave me a little blast of the old green eyes, she did. “Mr. Outfoxed, your forms indicate you have no doctor and no insurance. So I guess it’s just you and me and your checkbook. But I’m gonna tell you. You need a chest x-ray, and you need some blood tests. They cost, but I’d really recommend them.”

She lectured me almost shyly about the smoking, that she could help me quit, that now was a good time to quit. Having not had a cigarette for 48 hours I was wishing for another subject. I wasn‘t smoking, but only because when I did try to puff one for a while the resultant 5 minute coughing fit just wasn‘t worth it.

She seemed a little shy about the whole money thing. Who was I to quibble? “Honey if you think you need this stuff then let’s get on with it.” They took the x-rays and wasted their own time trying to draw blood out of my calloused finger tips before finally jabbing a fat vein in the forearm (I actually overheard one nurse exclaim to another, “His fingers are just like wood!”).

Results weren’t long in coming. I think I really was the only patient in the place and there was no lack of nurses or tech support of any kind. Doctor Blonde stepped back to Exam #1 in short order.

“Well, it’s pneumonia, that’s for sure,” she offered. “Thing is, you’re not quite on the high danger side of it that would make me counsel a shot for it. I mean, it’s a heckuva good shot but it’s $135 a pop. Besides, I’ve got nearly all your meds right here in samples” and she began tossing generic boxes into a sack, along with a handful of written prescriptions.

The exam was over, and I slid my coat on and accepted her bag of meds. “Listen, it’s been nice having a lady doctor after all this time,” I whispered with a smile, and maybe just a little of the ‘ol blue eyed twinkle. “Last time I went was damn near 25 years ago.”

She blinked. “You haven’t seen a doctor in 25 years? Are you kidding me?”

“Nope. Last time I went it was so he could get a thorn out of my paw. Good thing I reckon, that blood poisoning stuff will kill you, I hear.”

Doctor Blonde smiled just a little more. “That pneumonia stuff will kill you too, Mr. Outfoxed. Go home and take my pills. And next time, don’t wait until you’ve got a fatal thing on your horizon before coming to the doctor, okay?”

I nodded, but she and I both knew the history of this thing, and of curmudgeonly stubborn men who live by their own devices. I don’t go to the doctor for just any old ailment. I’ll curl up in a hole and sweat it out if I have to.

Although Dr. Blonde did say that if it didn’t clear up significantly in a couple of days to come back. Just any old time.

I hate it when these kids try to hit on me.

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