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12/24/98 The Parking Lot
12/10/98 Mountains
12/01/98 Garage Sale
11/12/98 The Car Salesman
10/29/98 What Is Money?
10/15/98 Sick People
10/01/98 Baseball
09/17/98 Dollars and Sense

Sick People

So I get this pain in my lower intestine that won't go away. My wife suggests that I visit the doctor, but I'm reluctant. I hate the doctor. He makes me feel guilty about what I eat and where I work and how I sleep at night. I remind my wife about how I once went 12 years between dental visits without a cavity. She rolls her eyes and says, "I know, I know..." But even as I make this argument, my lower intestine rumbles with a pain that I don't recognize. In the end, I agree to see the doctor. The deciding factor is a show I had seen about flesh-eating bacteria. I'm not afraid of dying, mind you. I'm afraid of looking like the guy who had the disease.

The next day I wander into the doctor's lobby, which is standing room only. The place is teeming with people who have deemed themselves ill. I pull up behind an elderly woman who is describing the plethora of drugs she is taking to the poor girl behind the counter. The people seated in the lobby take turns looking at me, but turn away every time I meet their gaze. People are funny that way. I look from face to face and notice a couple of things. The first is that almost everyone here is a senior citizen. I suppose they've got to be somewhere when they're not at church. The other thing I notice is that they all seem to feel sorry for themselves, as if they are bearing a burden that healthy people can't understand. They act like they could die at any moment. I continue to stare in case it happens.

The elderly woman in front of me continues her list of medications. "And I take Dagynil for my osteoporosis, and I take Claritin for my Rhinorrhea, and I take Accupril for my hypertension..." The woman is shaking from the drugs even as she names them. She rambles on at the speed of light as if she might suddenly pass away before she can get it all out. The girl behind the counter makes eight dollars an hour and frankly doesn't give a damn. I can see in the girl's eyes what she really wants to say: "Mrs. Johnson... Mrs. JOHNSON! Why don't you just tell me the medications you are not taking."

At length, Mrs. Johnson gets it all out and moves along. I sign in and find myself a cozy corner where I take my seat Indian-style on the floor. The others look at me with cocked heads as if to say, Can he do that? I ignore their looks. What do I care? It would be another five years before I return to this place, and most of these people can't remember what they ate for breakfast. I also believe they are cranky because they need their prescriptions filled. I sit in my corner reading Tom Robbins, America's best modern novelist, but cannot concentrate. It isn't my attention deficit disorder either; it is the fact that everyone around me is either groaning or coughing or sighing or otherwise feeling sorry for themselves. Self-pity hangs in the air like a dank cloud, like someone has really bad gas and I'm the only one who can smell it. I glance from face to pitiful face. What has become of these people?

Their pain is all they have left in life. It defines them. It makes them special. They come to the doctor as often as possible because the doctor will shake his head and say, "I'm sorry to hear that." More importantly, the doctor will prescribe drugs. You creak? We've got a drug for that. You stutter? We've got one for that too. You sway, stink, slobber, and shake? Wouldn't you know we've got a drug for that as well. This is America, the land of comfort, entertainment, and neurotic satisfaction.

Maybe these people feel cheated by society and are trying to squeeze every last penny they can from their HMO. Whatever the case, I begin to feel grossly out of place in this den of infirmity. My bellyache cannot compete with the pain of associating with the people in this room. I decide that I would rather turn a psychedelic shade of purple and die than relegate myself to the ranks of these coughing, moaning, self-pitying hypochondriacs.

Tom Robbins and I stand up and start to head out. The receptionist calls after me in her overworked voice: "Mr. Love, are you all right?" I tell her that I'm fine and continue walking. "Why are you leaving?," she persists. "Because the air is making me sick," I say. I march out of the lobby, followed by a roomful of eyes. When I reach the healing rays of sunshine outside, I exhale like I've been holding my breath for years. And with the exhale, my lower intestine begins to rumble with that ghastly pain. I want to run to a restroom, but it's too late. Without warning, I pass the worse gas known to mankind, a milestone in some twisted corner of The Guiness Book of World Records. The noxious vapor heads straight for the heavens. I smile. The pain is gone. I guess they scared it out of me.


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