I looked up in a dreary stupor and, after rubbing my eyes awake, gazed at the handless clock above the clerk’s desk, wondering what its purpose could be. Before I could think too far on the subject, the clerk yelled “Jill!” Just on time (I imagine). I rose from my seat and walked the few steps across the bland white-walled waiting room to the front desk, behind which poked the head of the extremely short clerk and the extreme lack of hair upon his head. Upon approaching the desk, the clerk somehow noticed me from his obscure position and motioned for me to come “right this way, ma’am.”
Jill was my last name, my first name being “Mann”, but I didn’t bother to stop to correct the man about my gender and followed instead behind him to the second waiting room, which would become my examination room upon my doctor’s belated arrival. The clerk began to say that if I “need anything, don’t hesitate to—”, but he accidentally closed the door on himself earlier than expected. After he left I was alone in the second waiting room for some time. I considered sleeping but didn’t want the doctor to discover my snoring habit, so I decided instead to glance at the medical paraphernalia around the room to stay my boredom. Next to the hard plastic bed which pressed annoyingly into the backs of my knees was an intricate poster diagram of the human digestive system. However, the stomach of the diagram was missing, and the poster possessed a small paper note in the corner which read “Out of Order”. This was confusing but became progressively less interesting after some time so I looked further. I knew it had been a while since I entered the hospital clinic, but I again found myself staring at a handless clock. The doctor was late (I imagine). I next found myself looking at the jars on the doctor’s desk. There were cotton balls, syringes, the long sticks used to make one choke and gag, and even a jar of what appeared to be human saliva. Next to the jars, on top of Volume IV of Heinrich’s Stomachs, lay a half-completed drawing of a stomach, accompanied by the label “Stomach in Progress”.
Before I could concern myself with the stomach, the door rapped at me thrice. “It is your doctor, may I enter?” a voice asked. I questioned it, asking what sort of a question that was for a doctor to ask his patient. “A rhetorical one,” he said as the door creaked open in the wake of the pale doctor. A tall, lanky creature stood before me, draped with the official robes of a doctor. Below his malnourished and pronounced cheekbones his mouth hung open widely for an uncomfortable amount of time before it came into use when the doctor said, “The name is Dr. Bigman, M.D., and thank you.”
He sat down in his rocking-chair-on-wheels for a moment, and then stood up. He looked around, confused, and then sat down again. He eyes me silently for several minutes without moving a single muscle or taking a single breath. He sat leaned back awkwardly in his wheeled rocking chair sitting perfectly still, aside from a gentle rocking. His features were over-defined, like a skeleton, and he looked lifeless, as if he had inherited the quality from cadavers he had practiced on in medical school. After a while, he finally spoke up. “So what did you say was wrong with you?”
“Nothing,” I responded, “I haven’t said anything yet.”
“Ah, I see,” he almost whispered, then took a quick note on a small notebook and then returned it to his pocket. We waited a while longer, staring at each other blankly, listening to the hum of the air conditioning as it blew warm air through the room and to the ticking of the handless clock. “Well, Mr. Jill, what seems to be the problem?”
“Well, I’ve been having a bit of a cough.”
“A cough you say?” He stared at me as if waiting for me to cough. I told him that I had been coughing earlier, but that I did not need to know. He didn’t seem to believe me, but that was more likely my insecurity than his legitimate disbelief.
It was then that we began to discuss the details of my cough to get to the source of the issue. I told Dr. Bigman of how my father had been a coal miner and how I, too, had gotten a job at the mine. We discussed the topic briefly and Dr. Bigman came to the conclusion, after a quick few flips through Heinrich’s Stomachs VII, that my affliction was “probably, almost certainly” a rare stomach cancer.
I was bewildered. Cancer? Stomach cancer? I have stomach cancer? I knew that mining had its risks, but cancer was always something far away, something which I thought only really affected others, such as my grandfather or Mr. Briteman from the company. And besides, I breathe in the coal dust, I don’t eat it. Maybe a taste here and there, for novelty, but not a significant amount!
I voiced my frantic feelings to the feeble Dr. Bigman, and he scoffed. “Stomach cancer from your coal business you say? Nonsense, I’m afraid, Mr. Jill. Now let us leave the medicine to the professionals, shall we?” Upon saying so, he jabbed the back of my throat with a swabbing stick, as if to prove a point. He turned to his desk and began fiddling with jars and flipping frantically through various volumes of Heinrich’s Stomachs. While he did so, I listened to the buzz of the fast-flickering fluorescent lights and coughed a few times. Not because I felt the legitimate need to do so, but because I wanted Dr. Bigman to believe that my cough was not my imagination.
“Alright, Mr. Jill, after some analysis the cause of your stomach cancer has been definitively determined.” He swung his chair around and raised a small beaker full of purple liquid which held the swabbing stick. “You see here, Mr. Jill,” he said confidently, eyes looking up at the beaker,” your stomach cancer is most likely the effect of having swallowed far too much bubble gum as a child. Yes, this would clearly explain all of our evidence here.”
“Bubble gum? Nonsense! Pigsprinkles! What a useless idea. Everyone knows that when you swallow bubble gum it doesn’t actually take seven years to digest! What kind of a doctor are you? First stomach cancer and now this— whatever it is! What are you telling me? That I have some huge cancer-causing bubble gum mass in my gut?”
Dr. Bigman looked at me during my hysteria, unamused. When I finally calmed myself down, I noticed that he had begun to speak. “Mr. Jill, now, now, I say, be calm good man. Like I said previously, leave the medicine to the doctors. Now, of course, gum does not take seven years to digest. That myth is obviously fallacious. No, no, it’s not that at all. The true evil of bubble gum is that, when swallowed, it is actually a nasty carcinogen. A horrid cancer-causing agent. It’s a wonder that the substance has any government approval at all, but fortunately it is only harmful when swallowed, and everyone knows that bubble gum isn’t to be swallowed.”
I was astounded. The doctor was trying to convince me that I had stomach cancer which was caused by bubble gum, and that the cancer was the cause of my cough. He seemed serious but, judging by his self-impressed half-smile, was more impressed with his own diagnosis than he was concerned for my health. Before I could fully ruminate on the absurdity of his conclusion, the door swung open, causing me to flinch back a bit on my creaky plastic bed with its crinkly paper covering.
A fairly rotund but not entirely unattractive man walked, or turned and squeezed, through the narrow entryway, which was more suited for the passage of the gaunt doctor. I could see a large wedding band partly concealed by his chubby fingers. The fat man also wore a fine round suit which seemed to be holding up under pressure. Once he had fully squished through the doorway, he stood, visibly breathing for a while until Dr. Bigman asked him, with a spiteful tone, “What on God’s blue earth are you doing in my exam room, Dan, especially given that I am with a patient?” He gestured to me. The fat man took his time in formulating a response and, while he did so, his mouth hung open a bit, which for some reason sent a shiver up my spine and up my neck to my head. It was as if a completely empty and vast abyss beckoned me from beyond the inky black darkness of his mouth. I felt small. The fat man broke my rumination by criticizing Dr. Bigman’s use of his first name.
“Dr. Bigman, that will be Mr. Torusfeld to you, if you’d please. I am your superior after all.” Dr. Bigman suggested that supervisor may be a more suitable term than superior, and that the two were not equivalent, or sufficiently synonymous.
“I’ve the fancier title, the prettier wife, and the bigger house, Dr. Bigman, that makes me your superior, I think.” The fat man then let out some short blubbery laughs, “hep, hep, hep”, and on each “hep” his cheeks puffed out.
Dr. Bigman was quick to respond. “I don’t care much for your petty wife, and you and I, Dan, both know that you live well beyond your means. I am a king in my home, and you are a slave in yours. How, while in such evident financial distress, can you claim to have the wisdom required for leadership?”
“Hep, hep, hep. Well it doesn’t really matter which way you twist it, Dr. Bigman, the board has taken my side and I am the boss of you, so you must do as I say! Hep, hep.”
“Well, what, exactly, I ask you if I may, are you saying, Mr. Torusfeld?” The fat man’s cheeks deflated and his mouth hung open for a few moments. I stared deeply – intently – into the void within which his voice hid. The hum of the lighting fixture above intensified my glare, forcing me into an unbreakable pact: If I kept staring and the lights continued to buzz, Mr. Torusfeld would stay silent. Mr. Torusfeld, however, was the type of person to barge into exam rooms, so he spoke anyways.
“Ah yes. Well, your patient here, Mrs. Jill, or Mann if I may call you that madam, seems to have an insurance contract which has… gone rotten.”
The renewal letter was addressed, stamped, sealed, and in the mailbox months ago, I was sure of it. And my mailwoman— I interrupted myself. Oh no. The mailspeople had decided around that time upon striking due to the “annoyance” of multitudinous complaints of lost mail. Regardless, this would easily be resolved. I could tell them that I definitely sent the insurance renewal request back in November, and that the letter simply hasn’t gone through. “No, Mrs. Jill, I’m afraid your request has been denied. You see, you have some outstanding charges.” My eyebrows bent into a frown. “It says here that you owe several thousand in overdue expenses from some antacids and local pain medication. You were diagnosed with heartburn several months ago, chronic too. I myself am aware of the dangers of heartburn. You see, I am something of a gourmet…”
The ticking of the handless clock and the circulation of the air conditioning machine became difficult to ignore over the voice of the fat man’s prideful speech of his glorification of gluttony. Several thousand. For a stomach ache? Maybe that stomach ache was relevant to Dr. Bigman’s diagnosis of stomach cancer. However, antacids shouldn’t cost thousands. I went to protest verbally my discontentment, but instead of hearing my own voice I heard the voice of the man who was still talking. “…and thus we have no choice but immediate repayment or pharmaceutical recovery.” Recovery? Of the drugs? I went again to protest, but this time I heard the voice of Dr. Bigman.
“Recovery? How? The drugs were taken months ago and have already long since been absorbed.”
“Yes, precisely Dr. Bigman. It seems we have no choice, really,” he turned toward me but looked instead at the plastic bed beneath me, “except for partial drug recovery via complete gastrectomy. That is to say, Mrs. Jill, stomach amputation.”
Amputation! Of the stomach too, you hypocrite! My eyes darted to Dr. Bigman who, despite his oddities, so far seemed to be on my side. “Gastrectomy? Not impossible I suppose. As you know I refuse to personally fund such an operation, otherwise, however, you are the boss…” Madness! The two of them stared at me. The lights accelerated to the electrical crackling and screaming of uncertain circuitry and the clock’s beats echoed through the room on every beat of my heart.
“There will be lifelong consequences, ma’am, however you don’t seem to have a small fortune on you, and we need those drugs, hep, hep. This hospital isn’t a charity you know.”
The peripheral noises of the room became my only overwhelming focus. The lights screamed and burned with electrical passion, the clock blasted the room with pulses of pressure, and the air conditioning unit rattled loudly at the window. The lights overhead pierced my eyes, filling my vision with a blinding whiteness as I was pushed back and restrained onto the plastic hospital bed — for my safety — and wheeled out of the hospital clinic. I squinted to see what lay before me. Everyone in the halls stared at me and gasped quietly in an unintelligible horror of overlapping voices, appalled at my being. I must have been screaming and shouting, but I could not hear myself. First I felt the warm trickle on my face from what must have been a self-inflicted injury, followed by a cool, chilling liquid spreading up through my veins towards my neck. The last thing I saw before my head became painfully chilled by the icy liquid and I fell unconscious were the doors marked:
Operating Room 006
(No patients beyond this point)
Booked until 4:00 P.M. for Dr. Heinrich Bigman’s emergency gastrectomy.