I sit in Dr. Victor’s small crowded waiting room, awaiting my turn. I am seated between two women, the one on my left probably 45, and the one on my right, somewhat older, both though younger than me.
The lady on my right doesn’t have much to say beyond telling me where she is from, and she is seeing Dr. Victor for the second time. The woman to my left is gabby and soon tells me a lot about herself, after first asking if I am here because I have pancreatitis. I say no, thank God. I know something about the disease; my sister in Massachusetts suffers from it. I tell the woman about her.
Dr. Victor is the man to see in our region for pancreatitis. My guess is that half of the 15 or so in the waiting room are here because of pancreatitis. I am here because a month earlier, Dr. Victor took out my appendix. This is a follow-up visit.
I listen attentively to the talkative woman. “I have had this for three years,” she says. “I am not doing well lately, though,” she adds. “He may put me back in the hospital.”
“Do you have good periods?” I ask, knowing that my sister seldom did.
My sister has had this disease for about five years. She is a bit older than the woman I speak with, ten years older, maybe.
“There are few good periods,” she answers. “And I have lately lost 15 pounds. And 35 pounds since this began. Does your sister lose weight?”
I tell her no. If anything, she gains.
The woman is blond, thin, and rather pretty. I get a sense of her constant pain as she shifts in her seat, trying to get comfortable.
I am relieved when finally I am called in to see the doctor.
I have known Dr. Victor for a number of years. My ex-wife Mary, an RN, said he was a good surgeon. She often knows about such things. Dr. Victor pronounces the healing of my surgical wound as fine, and there is barely a scar.
He knows I am a writer, also a social worker, and he likes to talk writing with me, saying how “one of these days” he is going to write. He wants to do short stories, he says. I encourage him, understanding he might never find the time.
Pronouncing me healed, the conversation turns to writing. He must get started soon, he says, because he has stories to tell. Likely medical stories, I think, but I don’t ask.
Dr. Victor is a small man. He might be five-foot-six. I doubt if he is 50. He is very expansive, verbal; I guess I mean. Not the silent type you sometimes encounter among doctors.
He is always carefully dressed, wears a tie but not a suit coat. We are both from New England — he from Connecticut, and I from Massachusetts, although there is not much else we have in common.
He also enjoys talking with me about his children. He has four, three girls and a boy. His youngest, a boy, is graduating this year from high school. He is very proud of them all. I asked what they are studying.
Two at Harvard are pre-med, he says, and one at the University of Chicago is in anthropology. She is going with the Peace Corps to Africa later in the summer.
“So, you will be Africa-bound yourself in the next year or two?”
“Seems so. Very likely.” I can tell her going so far away is a worry.
“With all these kids in such expensive schools,” I observe, “you must send your money there in boxcars.”
He laughs. “Just about. It isn’t cheap.” I don’t think to ask where his son is headed after high school. But soon we are talking about him. They are going on vacation for two weeks after today, just the two of them, he says.
“You mind if I ask where?”
“Not at all. We are going on a hiking trip in Wyoming and Idaho. Hiking the Grand Tetons for 12 days.”
“You camping out? On the trail, I mean.”
“Oh no, just day hikes. Organizing the equipment needed for staying on the trail seemed like too much to do.”
I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to go off with a 17- or 18-year-old kid just out of high school to the Grand Tetons.
Could be great, could be much less than great. The two of them likely are not used to spending a lot of time together and alone. Then 12 days.
He tells me they are flying to Denver and then on to West Yellowstone. Great opportunity at hand to begin your writing career, I think, perhaps scribbling notes as you recline on the motel bed after a day of strenuous hiking. But I wonder if he would see what I see, a wonderful story, and one only he can write? Also, I can imagine a nightmare. Either way, though, good copy. Perhaps better as a nightmare, especially if he can introduce humor into what he writes.
No, I won’t say anything.
I walk down the long corridor with exam rooms on either side, and Dr. Victor is slightly behind me to my left when his nurse approaches us from the opposite direction. She reminds him in a soft voice, I can barely hear her, that there is a doctor still holding for him on the phone.
“I know it, I know it!” he snaps at the young woman. I am embarrassed for him, but he doesn’t stop there.
“Don’t interrupt me when I am talking to a patient!”
Everyone has their moments; I understand this, and I am witnessing one of his.
Then I remember what this good man has waiting for him after me, a room full of sick patients, then two weeks traipsing around the Grand Tetons with his teenage son. Whew!
Raymond Abbott is a social worker and novelist.
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