I could always tell when Bill was in the waiting room. His telltale bullhorn honk and blow preceded a loud guttural reach into the bottom of his lungs in order to expectorate that last piece of inhaled microbial mass. This would usually garner stares of revulsion and comments of utter disgust, primarily from his wife. Bill had a few ongoing medical problems. In addition to a chronic cough he battled depression but one would never have known given his more than cheery demeanor and backslapping as he entered the exam room. I would slap his back in return, partly hoping to dislodge the alien that appeared to be jammed somewhere deep in the roots of his bronchial tree. His appointment was always punctuated with several “Doc, you’re the greatest” a couple of times each visit. Before he left there was a quick yet manly “How about a hug doc, you’re the greatest”. Bill was good for the ego and soothing to the soul.
Bill was poor. Can’t-buy-new-socks poor. Formerly he was a navy cook who now couldn’t get work doing what he loved but rather ended up cleaning kitchens all night long so that the working cooks could come in and prepare food in ways that Bill never approved of. He was a little bitter about that. His three teenage sons were a concern to him as Bill didn’t want them to feel poor. But every second visit Bill would bring me a gift. A ball cap he had found on a bus, a coupon from one of the restaurants he cleaned, a belt or a tie. He had no money. I have always recalled the words of an accountant friend who commented that he had clients who made small fortunes yet contributed little if anything to charity. Little money or little thought. They hoard their gains and will clutch onto them until they die.
That cough turned into lung cancer, years of smoking in the galleys of the navy ships, ashes dropping from his cigarette into the soup of the day, cream of Marlboro. The day I revealed this to him I was met by a flood of tears from his wife. Bill, initially stunned, recovered quickly with, “I knew you’d find out what was wrong with me. You’re the best doc.” Ya, sure Bill, I did a great job. “Doc how long do I have.” Not long.
The next week he returned with his Disneyland bound sisters who decided they would take him to his heaven on earth before he was taken to his heaven off earth. “I’ve always wanted to go to Disneyland doc. Can I go?” Sure Bill but don’t delay. “I won’t take any really long rides doc. How about a hug.”
The cancer did the usual lung cancer thing and spread voraciously. It was killing Bill too quickly. There is no miracle cure for lung cancer. Bill died. People wept at his funeral. I am a people. I thought of how impoverished Bill has now got the same amount of money in his pocket as the kazzillionaire who inevitably dies… bupkiss. Back at the office there was a gift waiting for me, a beautiful expensive mahogany framed picture. This gorgeous sketch of a Disney character adorns my wall today. It is one of the seven dwarfs. You guessed it… Doc.