"Fats?" I blurted out in amazement.
"The Today Show!" said the Runt, eyes popping.
"The Today Show?" I yelled.
"Fats!" said the Runt.
My mind did a swan dive.
"But did you actually see him on The Today Show?" I asked.
"Nope," said the Runt, "but somebody said they saw him disguised as Dr. Jung, and Barbara Waiters was interviewing him about some crazy thing called?"
"The Anal Mirror. I know all about it."
"They say Barbara was giggling all the time. Hey, Roy, you wanna hear what she does with her mouth?"
"No, Angel. See, she takes her lips and wraps them around my?"
"Later," I said. "First I want to find Fats."
I knew I'd find him eating, for it was lunchtime, and although he'd been farmed out to the Mt. St. Elsewhere, he'd made some special deal?as he always made some special deal?with Gracie from Dietary and Food which allowed him to eat in the House of God for free. With my stomach flip?flopping, I sat down with this Gargantua of medicine.
"What a delicious rumor," said Fats, laughing. "I wish it was true. I sometimes daydream about a spot interview with Cronkite on the CBS nightly news."
"Why Cronkite?" I asked, reeling from the bizarreness of fatherly Walter Cronkite springing Dr. Jung's Anal Mirror on millions of great Americans expecting only war and jowly Nixon.
"Supposedly he has an anal fissure. Much of the disease in the world is reflected in the anus, you know, and I keep thinking that, somehow, packaged right, the reflection of the diseased anus could make me rich. Just think: if there was an Anal Mirror, and if Nixon owned one, every day he'd get a good look at exactly what he was. It's just the money, you know. I just want to be rich before Socialized Medicine kills me off. It's like what Isaac Singer said."
"Singer the writer?"
"No, Singer the sewing machine. He said, 'I don't give a damn for the invention, it's the dimes I'm after' But listen, Basch, that laetrile idea the other night was dynamite. There's money there."
"Laetrile? It's a hoax. Worthless. A placebo"
"So what's wrong with placebos? Don't you know about the placebo effect?"
"Of course I do."
"Well, there you are. Placebos can relieve the pain of angina. If you're cooling from cancer, placebos are hot stuff. Like dyspareunia."
"How?" I asked, my mind spinning around the simile.
"You know what they say: It's better to have dyspareuned than never to have pareuned at all."
"Imagine: we could get the laetrile from apricot pits from Mexico, by bartering the Anal Mirrors for apricots."
"You'd try to sell Dr. Jung's Anal Mirror to the Mexicans?"
"Of course not Dr. Jung's. Dr. Cortez's Anal Mirror. Lotta diarrhea in Mexico. You know how a Mexican knows he's hungry?"
"His asshole stops burning. Ha! But we'd have to be careful in Mexico-might get sued for malpractice."
"Why is that?"
"Well, even though we'd translate the warning into Spanish, there's always the danger that some jerk would use the Anal Mirror outdoors on a bright sunny day, and you know what happens then?"
"Well, the lens concentrates the sunlight and it bounces back through the two mirrors and WHOOSH you get one flaming asshole, I'll tell you. Suit City. Demand their money back and all the rest."
"And where would the money for all this come from?"
"From the raffle and the research project."
"What raffle and what research project?"
"Well, at the Mt. St. E., I'm thinking of running a raffle, like they did in a Vegas hospital. If you're scheduled for surgery on Monday, and if you come in on Friday instead of Sunday night, you get free tickets to a raffle for a cruise. That way the Mt. St. E. fills its beds and I get a cut. If you win the raffle but die in surgery, the cruise goes to your estate."
"And what about the research project,?"
"I'd rather not say. It would come out of your tax dollar, and it's completely illegal."
"My next rotation is the VA Hospital. Everybody knows how crooked the old VA is, eh? Big-time Watergate-style graft. Graft City."
"This is all fantasy, right?" I asked, thinking of what Berry might say. "To feed your idling mind? I mean, you wouldn't do any of this, would you, Fats?"
After a pause that sent a shiver through me, he said, "Money is not shit. It is nothing to be ashamed of. This great country has a long and glorious history of graft and corruption and exploitation. Just think of what we've done to whole continents and entire little countries chock full of underdeveloped little people we've treated like rodents, let alone what we do to individuals. Why should I-or we-hold back? Did that anti-Semite Henry Ford hold back? Did Spiro Agnew? Did Joe McCarthy or Joe DiMaggio?you know the Yankee Clipper is hocking instant coffee on TV these days?or Marilyn Monroe hold back from letting any subway grate in the world blow up her flimsy dress and whistle around her frigid genitalia? Did Norman Mailer ever, on anything? Did the CIA or the FB?fucking?I? The hell they did, Basch, the hell they did. You just gotta do it, flush it, and pick up the money you get for it."
"For dreaming the American Dream. In this case, the American Medical Dream."
The Runt and Chuck sat down with us, and the Runt, like a TV serial that you couldn't turn off, rolled out the latest thrilling episode of Thuunnnn?der Thighs: "She was her usual voracious self. We were watching TV, she rubbed the inside of my thigh, the news finished, she took off all her clothes, she walked into the bedroom. She didn't want to mess around with a lot of foreplay, and the first time, she said something?it got me so turned on I was short?circuiting left and right."
"Well, man, what'd she say?"
"I'm not sure, but I know it had the word 'cunt' in it. She's a gold mine. I'd been poring over her body quite a bit, and it was getting to the point where she was going to have to do some poring over mine. I'd been nibbling at her, labia-they're fine and thin, like puppy dog's ears-and since I've had this fantasy that she was knocked up in high school and had a kid, I was trying to get in there to have a good look for an episiotomy scar, but I got too close, and my eyeballs got all steamed up. Ha! We were really building —up to something big-we were in this crazy contortion sort of the Reverse Dog with her sort of sitting on my face like my old roommate Norman's women used to do to him and she was bending over fiddling with my cock and then I did it. I sort of gave her one big slump and gently nudged her head down between my legs and I'm telling you she . . . went . .
We all stopped chewing.
". . . bananas!"
"Bananas?" asked Fats, jaw slack.
"Very bananas," said the Runt. "HA! It was animal. We were all over the bed. She was moving around on my face and I could feel her teeth on the base of my dork. Wow! Those girls my mom liked, they'd scream whenever my pants would get lumpy at the sock top. And do you know what she said this time, when I was inside her?"
We did not know what Angela said with the Runt's penis inside her.
"She said, 'Oh, Dr. Runtsky, you're soooo big!" and the Runt did look kind of big, sitting there before our eyes. "This morning she handed me a toothbrush, and when I went to the bathroom, mine was the third toothbrush in the rack."
The Fat Man had stopped eating at about the time that Thunder Thighs had put her lips on the Runt's penis, and staring at him as if he were loony, Fats said, "What the hell's been going on with you guys up there anyway?"
So we told him. We told him about Chuck and Hazel and about me and Molly and about how the Runt with the help of Towl and Thunder was getting bigger. We told him about the Golden Age, where we were legendary in our ability to care for "the toughies" and legendary in our liaisons, which, because of Hazel, had produced clean sheets and bug-free bedding and, because of Molly, had produced snappy instant nursing care. We told him how we were as high as the golden leaves riding the crests of the October maples, falling through the gestating skeleton of the Wing of Zock.
"There's only one thing missing," I said, "placement. We still can't get the gomers placed. Anna and Ina are still there."
"No problem," said Fats, "placement is as easy as pie. Who's responsible for placing the gomers?"
"The Social Service."
"Yup. The Sociable Cervix. The third toothbrush means that Angel doesn't mind sharing, so why should you? You guys gotta scrog the Sociable Cervix. Oh, and remember: if you want to scrog the librarian, you gotta talk about Shakespeare. So long, and good luck."
Well, of course it was brilliance. Each ward had a Sociable Cervix, whose responsibility it was to get the gomers placed. It was an impossible job. No one wanted the poor gomers. The nursing homes would say the gomer was too well and didn't need them, and the families would say that the gomer was too sick and needed a nursing home, and the House Privates would say the gomer was way too sick and needed the House of God Blue Cross care, and the terns would say we couldn't stand having Broccoli Ladies who blasted us for keeping them alive, and would the Cervix kindly get them the hell out. The gomers offered no opinion.
The Cervix was the pimp. It was made up of two types of women: the first was young and energetic and idealistic, working out the guilt of separating from her parents and abandoning her grandparents, all the time jockeying for Mr. Right, who had to have a stethoscope in his pocket; the second was menopausal, divorced , abandoned by kids like the first, not energetic but empathic and tearful, cynical and masochistic, working out the upcoming old age and all the time searching for a second or third Mr. Right, who had to have something nonstethoscopic in his pants. The younger Cervix for us was Rosalie Cohen, a young woman who had that pizza?faced look of severe adolescent acne, the kind that sever responded to anything. She had the habit of opening her blouse down past Thursday, as a decoy from her pitted face. The older, or Head Cervix, was Selma, whose nose was big and bent. Billing and cooing with Selma would be more bill than coo, perhaps earning the tern a punctured eyeball, and yet from the neck down Selma was good. Struggling against the life force as it swept by her, Selma was sexy and suffused with the form fruste of the more?liberated?than?my?children syndrome that was ravaging America in the seventies, producing the pot?smoking mama, and the daughter wailing, "Pass me the joint, Mother, please." Selma fell right into my lap: "I attended that grand rounds where you made those points about keeping the patients in the House too long, Dr. Basch, and I want to tell you, the way you handled the flak was terrific."
Chuck looked at me and then at the Runt, who looked at him and then?at me, and I looked at Chuck and then back at Selma, who went on: "For thirty years I've been trying to learn to express my anger like that, and you've already got it. I wish you could show me how. And let me tell you, a lot of psychotherapists?the best in town?have tried and failed"
Smiling seductively, heart sinking, I knew that I was the one.
The next morning, Chuck was first to arrive at Jo's rounds, a half?hour late. An hour later I straggled m, and sometime later, in rolled the Runt. When we had a shaken off the foaming Jo, I told Chuck and the Runt how I'd gone over to Selma's that night, hove we'd started listening to hard rock, how Selma had started to talk about her loneliness and her burdenous nosh and how, after a drink and a joint, Selma had told me she wanted me to stay. Cringing at the way she reminded me of my mom, I'd thought of my obligation to my buddies and prepared for the worst, and, when Sehna rheostatted down the lights and took off her bra, I was shocked.
"Bad, huh? Man, we'll never get these gomers placed."
"Nope, not bad. Good. Great! Her breasts are beautiful. Vintage Ava Gardner, made in 1916 and still dynamite."
"Well, man, how does she do it?"
"I asked her. Premarin."
"Premarin. Estrogen supplements. Total?body female hormone. It's like making love to purified molecular woman. Stupendous!"
During all this, the Runt had been silent, but as I finished, he burst out with his story, which was that he'd spent the night with Rosalie Cohen, which prompted Chuck to grimace and say, "You did it with that ugly?bugly? Yecch!"
"It was grr?ate," said the Runt, beaming his maniac smile.
"The Man Who Scrogged 'Rosalie Cohen," I said. "Chuck, we have created a monster."
"Man, what was it like to wake up to ole Rosalie?"
"Well," said the Runt, "I did try hard not to look on her face."
The gomers began to get placed. The true Golden Age had arrived. From the Leggo to the Bruiser, no one in the hierarchy could understand how the nursing-home beds seemed to open at a touch for ward 6?South, and only for ward 6?South. Gomers as close to legal death as possible were described by our Cervix as being "of excellent rehabilitation potential" and were admitted to the homes the day the beds fell free. Incontinent gomers who were shitting all over the ward were described as "continent of feces and urine" and, shitting on the ambulance stretcher and shitting on the down elevator and shitting in the hallway leading to the ambulance and shitting through the wailing ambulance ride; came to rest to shit their way to immortality in the nursing home of their family's choice, in homes like the New Masada, their bodes stacked floor by floor in order of morbidity, those imagined closest to death put on the topmost floors, imagined closest to heaven. Anna and Ina had been around for four months, and so it was sad to see them go, but if they sensed our waving good?bye, they answered only with ROODLE and GO AVAY. Heaving and smelly, the Broccoli Lady left too, and the exodus went on and on.
As the gomers left, the ward filled up with more toughies, and every once in a while one of these dying young would be saved. One day, in Saul the leukemic tailor's latest bone?marrow biopsy, like a rash of crocuses in the charred fields of Hiroshima, normal white cells sprouted.
"What?" I said, peering through the microscope at these millions of flowers that meant that Saul might live. "A remission! Look!"
"Damn! Somethin' else!" said Chuck, looking.
"Rr hhmmmmm rhmmmm, now, ain't that some fine shit!"
"It's wonderful!" I said, realizing how I'd kept myself from hoping anything for Saul, given the odds: against these buddings, these buds, and I ran up to his room, and panting, yelled at him, "Said, you've got a remission"
"Sounds bad," he said, "first leukemia, now remission. Oiy."
"No?remission means cure. A miracle! You're not going to die."
"I'm not? What do you mean I'm not going to die?"
"Not now you're not, no."
The bruised little man stopped, still. He let go of his banter, he looked me in the eye, he slumped down on his bed. "Oh . . . I'm not going to die now, I mean right now?"
"No, Saul, you're not. You're going to live."
"Oh . . . Oh, thank God, thank . . ." and he grabbed me and put his head on my shoulder and with all those centuries and years of never daring to hope, he sobbed, and his thin body trembled against me like a child's. "So? So some more of this wife of mine, eh? Oh, it's good, it's real good. Thank God-mind You, Dr. Basch, till now, for me, He hasn't done so much, but this . . . this is life . . . this is a new baby, born . . ."
We were so happy. The whole world was curable and sexual and fun, and we were high, we were redhots at the bosoms and nipples and bangles and thighs of the House of God. It was as comforting as had been the trucks rumbling down the cobblestone hill in the Bronx lulling me to sleep as a child when we stayed at my Aunt Lil's, and it was all so easy and it was all so damn much fun.
It wasn't easy and it was not fun. Our crooked Veep resigned and honest Jerry Ford started right in bashing those helicopter doors with his head. On the Sunday after Nixon's Saturday Night Massacre, when he tried to stop people trying to get rid of him by getting rid of them, I awoke to a blaring late?fall day leaved with all the leafy colors, glad to be alive, until I entered the living death of the House of God for the next thirty?six hours. Sundays in the House always made me feel like a punished kid, locked inside and looking out. Jo, the outsider, spent her life looking in, and, reluctant to entrust her ward to sex fiends and maniacs like us, she'd always come in on her day off, Sunday, to help.
Jo had invited me to dinner the previous week. Her apartment was motel?cool. The stereo was still not unpacked. There were no plants. The dining?room table had had to be cleared of journals and texts. Struggling stiffly through dinner, we sat and talked. I became immersed in her loneliness. When she talked about how hard it was to be a woman in medicine, to meet men outside the field, what could I say? She wanted to try hard to understand us, even be friends with us. She didn't like the tension on the ward. Choosing me because I was the oldest, seemingly the leader, she asked me what I thought was getting in the way.
"You've got to trust us more," I said. "Loosen up. It's no crime not to do everything for every patient always, is it?"
Nervously she said, "No, it's not. I know that, but it's hard for me to accept it."
"What can I do?"
"Well, I guess one thing would be not to come in when I'm on call next Sunday. That would be a good start."
"Right. I'll try. Thanks, Roy, thanks a lot."
On that Sunday, Jo was in the House of God earlier than me.
Trying to restrain myself, I said, "You had to come in?"
"I tried not to, Roy, believe me I tried. But I'm studying for Boards, and I can only study so much. Besides, you might need some help:"
I realized I was trapped. Enraged, I couldn't tell her, for fear it would send her hurtling down off a bridge. Even with her terns tormenting her with their sexual carnival, each hint of which hurt her, making her feel more and more left out, her only happiness was inside the medical hierarchy inside the House, where she could kill herself by doing super-dedicated medical stunts.
The admission brought me to my knees. The admission? Henry was a twenty?three?year?old with no workable kidneys, who'd been sent from one of the Mt. St. Elsewheres after they'd parlayed his renal disease into an infected dry dribbling uremic mass of flesh just this side of the grave. Henry was also retarded. To save Henry, I had to be able to understand the chart sent in from the Mt. St. E. It was lightly photocopied, unnumbered, and written by a Foreign Medical Graduate and I could not read it. The Bruiser came in and tried to help by reading some of the chart out loud. I told him that this was not a BMS case and to scram, and, leaving, he asked, "What's he got?" "Microdeckia," I said.
"Look it up."
He left, and once again I tried to read the chart and I could not. I looked out the window at the autumn.
A young couple was having a leaf fight, the leaves sticking to their white Irish sweaters. I got tears in my eyes. I was all choked up with what I was missing, the second cup of coffee in bed with the woman and the Sunday Times, the ache in the lungs from the icy morning air. Jo came in and asked me to "present the case." I blew. I forgot everything and screamed at her that if she stayed one more minute, I was leaving. I shouted at her, all kinds of dark green things about her, her emotional problems, her hunger to be on the inside. I stood up, towering over her, and I yelled until I was bright blue and tears were on my cheeks, and I didn't stop until I'd chased the little twirp of a victim of success out the door, down the elevator, and out of the House of God.
I went back to the notes on Fast Henry. I sat there and cried. It was a balancing act, and I slammed my fist down on the desk over and over, bashing away at the world. I could not go on. I thought what I'd thought as a kid, playing Superman: if I did my best, I couldn't be wrong. I went on. I went to see Fast Henry, a gray young fellow with a retarded look, a voice that leaped from bass to falsetto every other word, and his hair parted down the middle like Wrong Way Corrigan. I asked him how he was doing and he said, "Doc, if I died tomorrow I'd be the happiest man alive," and somehow that helped me and I went to work on him. The other help that miserable day was the Bruiser, who single?handedly destroyed Jo's ward. He'd started to work up the second admission, a young woman with black lace undies, suffering from ulcerative colitis. Although the Bruiser was excited at the blood and mucus he found on his finger on rectal exam and was all hot to sigmoidoscope her that day and go to the library to "read like crazy about stool," he was embarrassed by the erotic part of the exam. Unfortunately, the patient took a liking to the Bruiser and, naked head to toe, got the message to him that she was turned on, enjoying his exam. When the Bruiser got that message, he freaked, ran away, and came to me quivering.
"I've never seen a woman naked before, and never a young female patient. They didn't teach us about this. Oh, I'm so ashamed"
"Ashamed? What the hell did you do to her?"
"Nothing. I'm ashamed of the unprofessional thoughts in my heart."
He was so upset that he refused to continue to work her up until he'd talked it over with his analyst, and so I let him continue to work on Mrs. Biles, the woman with the fake heart disease, whom he'd bruised earlier in her House stay. At one A.M. the Bruiser stood before me and said, "Well, I've just finished hypnotizing Mrs. Biles."
"You did what to whom?" I asked nonchalantly.
"Mrs. Bites. I hypnotized her to take away her cardiac pain:"
"No fooling. Does Dr. Kreinberg know?"
"Nope. Didn't tell him yet."
"Hey, I'm sure he'd like to know. Why don't you give him a buzz?"
"Now?" asked Bruiser. "It's one in the morning."
"So? He likes hearing new developments on his patients"
The Bruiser called Little Otto Kreinberg.
"Hello, Dr. Kreinberg, this is Dr. Levy . . . Bruce Levy . . . No, you're right I'm not really a doctor . I'm a BMS but . . . right . . . well, I've gotten in the habit of calling myself Dr. Levy . . . Oh, yeah, wanted to tell you I've just finished hypnotizing Mrs. Biles for her angi? . . . hypnotizing . . . h?y?p?n . . . right, like a magician, and she . . . for her anxie and I . . . yes? . . . sure . . . oh . . . ohhhhh . . . it's an accepted . . . OK, sorry, yes, I'll awaken from her trance right away, sir, good?bye."
Looking sheepish, Bruiser started to slink out, I asked him if he'd do me a favor.
"Yeah?" he asked, thinking he might redeem himself.
"I've been busy all day and I haven't had a chance to go to the toilet. Could you go for me? A number two. I've done a number one."
"You can't treat me like this. Besides, I looked up 'microdeckia,' and there's no such thing."
"Microdeckia? Sure?'not playing with a full deck.' Night."
I went to bed. Molly was night nurse, and all our efforts to get to bed had been frustrated, first by the Bruiser, then by the gomers. But now the Bruiser was in the library and I'd BUFFED the gomers for the night, and I sat on the on?call bed, naked, awaiting my nurse. Hazel had BUFFED the sheets, and next to the House of God pillow was a doll made from rubber tubing and gauze pads with a note pinned to it: "Roy the noisy boy, Molly the jolly girl; am coming in if you're my toy and not too busy for a whirl. Call me." Finally!
In delicious anticipation I found myself looking out the window at the nursing?school dorm. In one of the rooms a nurse was undressing. She took off her uniform and then made that wonderful motion of hyperextending the elbows around her back to undo her bra. Just as Molly walked in, she let them fly. Fine, fine. I was a time bomb. Molly sat on the bed and I showed her what I was watching. I unbuttoned her dress and unhooked her bra and caught her little?girl breasts by their longing nipples. All over me, her dress was off her pantyhose were off her bikinis were off and she was going off. I thought of the Englishman's idea of perfection, when he, his alarm, and his mistress all go off at the same time, and just before we got that firm fun thing into her hollow funnelly thing, she stopped and in between her little gasps of pleasure said, "Did I ever show you what the nuns teach nurses to do when a patient gets an erection?"
"The nuns said to slap it and it would go down."
"Do you want it to go down?"
"No, I want it to go up me and fuck me:"
And we started doing that more and more and more and more, and just as we were about to go off, there was an incredible CRASH that rocked the bed and my beeper lady fired again and she wanted me right away, but Molly wanted me more right away, saying, Jesus Christ Almighty oh finish it off ah ahhh ahhhhhh!
The CRASH had come when the Bruiser, in trying to make up for all he'd done wrong that day, had decided to help me out by using the TURF?tool, the electric gomer bed to TURF Mrs. Biles, the bruised and hypnotized Little Otto'd Mrs. Biles, elsewhere. He'd chosen the Orthopedic Height, and it looked from the right?angle bend in Mrs. Biles's left trochanter that she'd broken her hip.
"I did it for you, Dr. Basch," said the Bruiser proudly, smiling. "I've already paged ORTHO."
"Bruiser, it's hard for me to tell you this: I appreciate what you did, but that gomer?bed thing was a joke."
"A joke. The Fat Man was joking."
"Oh, God. Oh, my God. I think I've made a terrible mistake. I'd better go and phone Dr. Kreinberg right away."
"Call your analyst first."
Many of the dying young died. Jimmy, in the SICU with the BALLS TO RIDE A HARLEY guy, was treated with the standard ratbane used to wipe out cancerous bone marrow, and, bald and infected and bruised and bleeding, he died. Fast Henry, who in fact also had a cancer, got his wish to be the happiest man alive one tomorrow when he died, and many other young ones died. When I asked Chuck, "Hey, how come the ones our age die?" he said, "Dunno, but we sure are leading a great life, ain't we?" Everyone knew that eventually the Yellow Man would die, and all that time Dr. Sanders had been dying.
Dr. Sanders had been dying a long time. Bald and infected, quiet and cachectic, he was getting his life in order. We were friends. He was dying with a calm strength, as if his dying were part of his life. I was beginning to love him. I began to avoid going into his room.
"I understand," he said, "it's the hardest thing we ever do, to be a doctor for the dying."
Talking about medicine, I told him with bitterness about my growing cynicism about what I could do, and he said, "No, we don't cure. I never bought that either. I went through the same cynicism?all that training, and then this helplessness. And yet, in spite of all our doubt, we can give something. Not cure, no. What sustains us is when we find a way to be compassionate, to love. And the most loving thing we do is to be with a patient, like you are being with me."
I tried to sit with him. I watched Molly take care to clip his fingernails and toenails so he wouldn't scratch himself and bleed or get infected. I watched everyone keep sterile around his bed. I watched Jo treat him like "a case," and I watched his oncologist chatter to him with perfect objectivity about his impending death, and all the time I hoped against hope that when he died, he would die neat.
His death was a mess. I was called in the middle of the night, and found him, despite massive platelet transfusions that had been dissolved by the cytotoxic rat poison in his system, bleeding out. Barely conscious when I got to him, his blood pressure almost nothing, he had trickles of geranium?red blood dripping from both nostrils and from the corners of his bloated bruised mouth, and I knew that he was bleeding from every little ruptured capillary in his gut. He was only conscious enough to say, "Help me, please help me."
I realized that there was nothing I could do to help him except what he'd said was the only thing a doctor could do, be with him. I took his head in my lap and sponged away the blood and looked into his sightless eyes and said, "I'm here," and I think he knew that I was.
"Help me, help me."
More blood trickled out, and I wiped it away and said, "I'm here," and I just cried. In silence, so as not to scare him, I wept.
"Hi, Roy boy, how's it going, anyway?"
Howard was in the doorway, filling it with his asinine grin and his pipe smoke, and I hissed at him,
"Get out of here." Sitting down in the chair across the room, he puffed and said, "Looks bad for Dr. Sanders, doesn't it? Gosh, it's tough."
"Get the hell out of here. Now!"
"You don't mind if I watch, do you? Follow?up, you know. It's tough in the E.W., because you don't get any follow?up on the patients you admit. I always like follow?up. Sense of completion. Ending. Learn a lot."
"Get outta here, Howard, please."
The blood ran. My lap was wet with it. The eyes were glazing.
"I'm here," and I hugged him.
"You gonna get the post?" asked Howard.
I wanted to leap up and kill him, but I couldn't I wouldn't leave Dr. Sanders until he left me. I begged Howard to leave, and he smiled and said how hard it was to have someone dying whom you cared about, " and he puffed his pipe, and stayed.
So I tried to obliterate Howard and as I was wetted with Dr. Sanders' thin blood I found myself wanting; only to be able to kill Dr. Sanders with something painless and neat instead of being with him in my helplessness.
"Help me, God, this is awf . . ."
I tried to think of good things, of a woman in a punt on the willowed Cherwell at Oxford, trailing her finger in the leafy stream, but all I could think of was the day's headlines, the sixteen?year?old girl who'd run away to see the world and who was found off a Florida beach naked folded up in a weighted traveling case, and a beaten child wheeled into a courtroom curled up in a fetal position in a crib, who was a vegetable and who "was not going to get any better" and the surgeon said that when he'd first gotten to the child he didn't even know what he was looking at because it was a mass of rotten flesh, days old, and on the abused child's back, burned into his flesh and scabbed over, were the letters: I?C?R?Y.
When I looked back down into my lap, Dr. Sanders was dead. Much of the eighty?percent blood?water that had been him was drained out onto me.
I held his head in my lap until his sick killer blood had oozed out of his heart and brain and into his gut and skin and all the places it should never have been, and, refusing to clot, had flowed out of all the open holes in his body, the last his lazing anus. I held his hairless head in my lap and in my arms until the flow stopped. I laid him back in his bed and covered him gently with his sheet and I wept. He was the first patient whom I'd loved who'd died. I went to the nursing station. The way I put my feet down, one in front of the other, made me think of a chronic schizophrenic I'd seen, a former Ziegfeld Girl who'd been at an asylum since the Follies, and who, each day, rain or shine, would trudge across the meadow with a determined and precise step in an unerring and, clean straight line that would have brought joy to a surveyor's heart, CLOMP CLOMP CLOMP, going nowhere, empty inside.
"Dr. Sanders is dead," I said, sitting down.
"That's too bad. Did you get the postmortem?" asked Jo.
"I said, did you get the postmortem?"
I had a vision of lifting the little prodigy up by her thin shoulders, shaking her until her brain splattered against her shell of skull and she convulsed, kneeing her in the guts until I'd wrecked her ovaries from ever spitting out another egg, and then heaving her through the sixth?floor window so she'd splatter arid have to be sucked up by noisy, powerful sucking?up machines and become a bag of goo, picked .over and strained by Hyper Hooper's Israeli Pathology Resident in the morgue. But Jo was pitiful, and so I gritted my teeth and just said, "No."
"I didn't want to."
"That's not good enough," said Jo.
"I didn't want to see his body ripped to shreds in the morgue."
"I don't understand what you're saying."
"I loved him too much to see his body ripped apart downstairs."
"That kind of talk has no place in modern medicine."
"So don't listen," I said, beginning to lose control.
"The postmortem is important," said Jo. "It's the flower of the science of medicine. I'll call the next of kin myself."
"Don't you dare!" I screamed. "I'll kill you if you do!"
"How do you think we're able to deliver such precise medical care to those entrusted to us?" asked Jo.
"That's bullshit, that we deliver medical care at all," I said.
"Have you gone mad? This ward?my ward is looked up to in the House for being the most efficient and having the most success with placement and handling the toughies with skill. My ward is a legend. Damnit," said Jo, jutting her jaw, "I want that post."
"Jo. Go fuck yourself."
"I'll have to report this to the Fish and the Leggo. I won't have sentimentality ruining my ward. My ward has become a legend in its own time."
"Do you know why it's become a legend? You don't want to hear."
"Of course I want to hear, even though I know why already."
So I told her. I started by telling her about how Chuck and I had, after our original empirical test on Anna O., become fanatics at doing nothing and had lied to Jo about it, making up all forms of imaginary tests and BUFFING the charts. I told her how in modified form we'd done the same with the dying young, who went ahead and died, but died without the hassle, pain, and prolongation of suffering that their care might otherwise have produced. The final thing I told her about was placement.
"Placement picked up because the Social Service liked me and I did such a good job running my ward," said Jo anxiously.
"Jo, everybody hates you and the only reason that placement picked up is that the Runt and I are fucking Rosalie Cohen and Selma respectively. Not to mention the clean sheets."
"What about the clean sheets?"
"Chuck has been fucking Hazel from Housekeeping."
"I don't believe you. No one would do this to me"
"Everyone would if they could, but your terns are in a privileged position."
"You just think you're above it all," said Jo. "Better than everyone else, like you don't have to stoop down to get postmortems. You're afraid of the dirty side of medicine, right?"
"No, sir," I said.
"You mean you're not afraid of the dirty side of medicine?" asked the Leggo, his eyes running up and down my bloody whites.
"No, sir, to my knowledge I am not."
Clad in his butcher?length white coat and with stethoscope, as always, wending its way down into God knows where, he was standing looking out the window, holding my curriculum vitae in his hand. He looked lonesome. Like Nixon must have looked. I stood in front of his large desk. Diplomas buzzed me from all directions, and I was mesmerized by a model of the urinary tract, filled with colored water and driven by an electric motor, bubbling red urine through everything at a healthy clip. My mind was empty of everything but how Dr. Sanders had become a bag of blood?squishy, bloated, and dead.
"You know," said the Leggo, waving my C.V. around in the air, "you look great on paper, Roy.. When I punched your name into the computer to match you for this internship, I was happy. I thought you could be a leader of the interns and of the residents, and even, someday, Chief Resident."
"Yes, Sir, I understand."
"Say, you've never been in the military, have you?"
"Yes, I knew that, because that's why you call me 'sir.' 'Sir' is the military form of address, do you see?"
"I don't get it."
"People who have been in the military never call me 'sir.' "
"Oh? Why not?"
"I don't know why not. Do you?"
"No, I don't. Except it seems to fit."
"It's the strangest thing. I mean, you'd think it would be the other way around, right?"
"What does it mean?"
"I don't know, do you?"
"No. It's the strangest thing. Sir."
"Yes, it's the strangest . . : "
As he trailed off out the window, I fantasized about him: his life had been lived with the vow never to be as cold as his own pop, and yet, like Jo, the Leggo had become a victim of success, had slurped his way up, and had become so cold that his own son must already be in treatment to work out his revulsion for his cold pop and his longing for his cold pop to be as warm and loving as his pop's pop, his grandpop. The Leggo had spent his whole life living for that electric moment in medicine when a concept cleared away the stench of a disease, and when this concept would be warmly applauded, as his cold pop never had applauded him. The Leggo was hell?bent on producing these electric moments in medicine. He thought that by being a kind of Van der Graaf generator in the House of God, he could get his boys to love him.
"You know, Roy, at the other hospital, the City, my boys loved me. They always?do you understand always?my boys always loved me before, we shared some terrific moments together, but here at the House . . "
"Do you know why they don't?"
"Perhaps it has something to do with your attitude toward medicine, especially toward the gomers:"
"The chronically ill, demented, geriatric?nursing home population, sir. Your idea seems to be that the more you do for them, the better they get."
"Right. They have diseases, and by God we treat them: aggressively, objectively, completely, and we never give up."
"Well, that's just it. I've been taught that the treatment for them is to do nothing. The more you do, the worse they get."
"What? Who taught you that?"
"The Fat Man."
The words plowed two furrows in the dry man's brow, and he said, "Surely you don't believe the Fat Man, do you?"
"Well, at first I did think it was crazy, but then I tried it out for myself, and, surprisingly, it worked. When I tried it your way?Jo's way?they developed incredible complications. I'm not sure yet, but I think the Fat Man had a point. He's nobody's fool. Sir."
"I don't understand. The Fat Man taught you that to deliver no medical care is the most important thing you can do?"
"The Fat Man said that that was the delivery of medical care."
"What? To do nothing?"
"Ward 6?South is the best ward in the House, and you mean to tell me it's from doing nothing?"
"That's doing something. We do as much nothing as we can without Jo finding out about it."
"That's another story."
"Yes, well, there are enough stories for today," said the Leggo, perplexed and haunted by the Fat Man, whom he'd thought he'd farmed out to the Mt. St. E. "So all this looseness that Jo talks about?IF YOU DON'T TAKE A TEMPERATURE YOU CAN'T FIND A FEVER?that's really trying your hardest to do something by doing nothing, right?"
"Right. Primum non nocere with modifications," I said.
"Primum non . . . But then why do doctors do anything at all?"
"The Fat Man says to produce complications"
"Why do doctors want 'to produce complications?"
"To make money:"
The word "money" hit the Leggo hard, and he was reminded of something else, and said, "That reminds me: Dr. Otto Kreinberg said that you're abusing his patients: bruising them, hypnotizing them, raising their beds to dangerous heights. He's quite a little guy, Otto, was in line for the Nobel, years ago. What about that?"
"Oh, that wasn't me, sir, that was Bruce Levy:'
"But he's your BMS: "
"So, damnit, you're responsible for him, just like Jo is responsible for you and Dr. Fishberg is responsible for her and I'm responsible for him. Levy is your responsibility; understand? Talk to him. Straighten him out."
Thinking that I'd better not ask the Leggo to whom he was responsible, I said, "Well, I tried to do that, sir, but I failed. Levy said that I couldn't take responsibility for his actions and that he had to take responsibility for them himself."
"What? That goes against all I've just said."
"I know, sir, but he's in psychoanalysis and that's what his analyst keeps telling him and he keeps telling me," and I found myself wondering who?when both Agnew and Nixon got thrown into the stammer at the same time?who would take responsibility for the rich pageantry that was America.
"And you're telling me you believe what the Fat Man said?"
"I'm not sure, sir. I've only been an intern four months"
"Good. Because if everyone felt the way he does, there wouldn't be any internists at all."
"Exactly, sir. There'd be no need. Fats says that that's why internists do so much, to keep medicine in demand. Otherwise we'd all be surgeons or podiatrists. Or lawyers."
"Nonsense. If he were right, why in the world would sensible men like me and all the other Chiefs believe in medicine? Eh?"
"Well," I said, seeing Dr. Sanders oozing his blood from his nostrils into my lap, "what else can we do? We can't just walk away:"
"Right, my boy, right! We cure, do you hear, we cure!"
"Four months here, and I haven't cured anyone yet. And I don't know anyone who's cured anyone yet, either. Best so far is one remission."
There was an ugly pause. The Leggo turned back to the window, took a few deep breaths to blow the Fat Man from his nose and oropharynx and lungs, and, satisfied that he'd proved something, turned to me again: "Dr. Sanders died, and you didn't get the post, why not? Did he ask you not to have a post done on him? Sometimes people?even physicians?are squeamish."
"No. He said I could do a post if I wanted"
"Why didn't you?"
"I didn't want to see his body ripped to shreds downstairs."
"I don't understand"
"I loved him too much to have his body dissected."
"Oh. Well, you don't think I did too? You know Walter and I were buddies? First Nigro in the House. We were interns together. Gosh did we have times. Those electric moments in medicine, you know? When a warm thrill goes right on through you. Fine man. And with all of that," said the Leggo, turning to me with a papal humility, "with all of that, let me ask you, do you think I'd be afraid to get the post?"
"No, sir, I don't think so. I think you would get the post."
"Damn right I would, Basch, damn right I would."
"Can I say something, sir?"
"Of course, my boy, shoot."
"Are you sure you can take it?"
"I didn't get where I am by not taking it. Fire away."
"That's why your boys don't love you."
We loved them, and since I was leaving ward 6?South in a week to start my new assignment in the Emergency Ward, we decided that the only thing to do given the third toothbrush, was to show them our love and to do it in the bastards' House. And so Chuck I and that four?dimensional sex fiend the Runt who by that time was assaulting everything in skirts, including a pubescent Physical Therapist with the face of a chubby eight?year?old and the body of a chubby fifteen, whom he enticed by ordering PT six times a day on his gomers and whom he fondled amidst the parallel bars and artificial limbs while she was distracted by trying to teach his gomers to walk?ruminated on how in the world we could show three big women like Angel and Molly and Hazel and maybe even another big woman like Selma how much we loved them and how we appreciated their part in making us into dynamite terns on a dynamite ward of the House.
It was colorful and it was illicit. In an on?call room of the House where we were not supposed to be, the Runt and I awaited the others. Halfway snickered on bourbon and beer, dressed in a House nightie with a wig to make me look like a gomer, I lay on the bottom bunk while the Runt babbled about pubescence and hooked me up to a cardiac monitor. As the monitor flashed its green BLEEP into the red?lighted room, I thought that all we'd need was a yellow blinker and Chuck would think he was back home on a street corner in Memphis. When I'd told Berry that Dr. Sanders had died, she'd asked, Where is he? and I'd said, He's only in us, and I'd thought of how his life had fluttered round me like a butterfly in dying autumn, chilled, beating against my lashes, frantic, calling me to still the birth of winter. What had been in my, father's latest letter?
. . . Winter is coming and you are undoubtedly becoming accustomed to the hours and the stresses. You have a great opportunity to learn medicine and start dealing with people . . .
There was a knock at the door, and then two more, which was our code. There; in nursing uniform, were Angel and Molly. I watched Thunder Thighs throw her arms around the Runt and kiss him. He seemed embarrassed, and she said, "Hi"?gesture toward the Runt "the Runt. Howthehellareya?"
"Hello, Angie Wangie," said the Runt shyly.
Angie Wangie took his hand and put it under her skirt, cupping it around her?stormy ass. The Runt looked at Molly, wondering how she would take this openness. Molly went behind him and started to kiss his neck and run her hands up and down his front between his clavicular notch and his crotch. In a gomer falsetto I wailed HALP NURSE HALP NURSE HALP and they came to me. They flung back the curtain covering the lower bunk and bent over me, and the fronts of both their dresses were open, showing four elastical fantastical breasts in a sea froth of lace with two clefts in between. Oh, to nuzzle there, to lay my angry grieving head nuzzling in there and nuzzle and guzzle like a thirsty dumb horse muzzling water. To suck. One two three four nipples. When I tried to do that they pushed me back down and decided that I was a gomer and that since GOMERS GO TO GROUND I needed to be restrained, and they began to work hard to do it.
. . . You will look back on this period of hard work and the experience will stay with you for life, for who else but man would do it? . . .
Restrained, struggling, I was to be given an alcohol sponge bath. I struggled enough to rip open Molly's dress almost to her waist, and I reveled, as they pushed me down again, in her glossy yet transparent French bra that flowed like silk over iced nipples, the kind of bra that lets breasts jiggle as they stroll down the Champs Elysees so the horny Americans can gape. Asking how long were her nipples, I began to be a gomer with an erection. They started to sponge me, with Angel discreetly covering my risen rod and my happily bounding balls. I saw both the Runt and Angel ogling Molly's breasts, and I thought that the third toothbrush might just be Molly's, why not? The stimulation was intense?tied down, helpless, with two half?naked women bathing my hot in vaporous alcoholic cool that rolled me back toward the fevers of childhood. My BLEEPS rose like a skyrocket to about 110, and with my impending explosion the Runt dragged Angel away.
Heaven. Molly sponged me up and down, kissing me lightly but not letting me out of the restraints, and every time she came near I'd make a motion to get at her, and my BLEEPS went to 130. She passed the damp sponge up and down against the corpus spongiosum , the erectile tissue on the underside of my penis, and then began to nibble and nip and nosh and suck, cradling my testes like eggs in a velvet glove. I begged her to let me out of the restraints, but she kept giving me these little bites and fondles. Well, that was it. Up and down and bites and boobs, and just before I blasted off she slipped out of her dress, took down her panties, straddled my face, her lips on my penis again. My olfactory lobe seized up and our machine, spewing camshafts hubcaps and racheted gears slammed out into the wild blUE YONDERRR!!
. . . Political news is overwhelming with Nixon a maniac liar and I hope he will get it but good…
We lay with each other until the bleeper had detumesced down onto the scale and was breathing a bit easier, and then she got up. She kissed me and slipped out through the curtain. She came back and I asked her to let me out of the restraints now for Chrissakes. Saying nothing, she started back in on my cock and soon it wasn't weeping anymore but standing up straight singing a good Old Testament?fashioned Maccabean Army Song and she straddled me and took the tip of it and put against that midget helmsman in her rowboat, her clitoris. Electric sparks slashed the dark and her snuggling labiae embraced me and let me squishysquish on in. At that point I decided, Oh, what the hell, if I'm going to be a gomer, except for my putt I'll be a gomer, and I relaxed. She moved around on me slowly, rhythmically, as only women, laced into their rhythms, can move, and then, starting to go off, bent down to me.
. . . Hope you are your usual self and not working too hard . . .
"I thought I'd"?gesture toward sky?"thank you for"?gesture toward curtain?"sending me"?gesture toward floor?"the Runt."
So she did by moving up and down and making little noises that I didn't hear too well and as she sat up and grabbed the springs of the underside of the top bunk she said with gestures more than with words how this was like making love on a night train in Europe, and she bounced around like a kid in a jungle gym, and then she stopped.
"What's the matter?" I asked.
"I think there's someone"?gesture toward heaven-"up there."
We listened, and sure enough there was:
"Oh Jesu Jesu Chuckie HAAY?ZUUUU?"
Thunder Thighs untied me, and as soon as my arms and legs were free I wrapped every one of them around her with me inside her and outside her all at once and then like a gomer who'd gotten the Ponce de Leon Rejuvenation Treatment?a Fat Man scenario??I rolled her over on her back and really started doing what a crude person might call fuck and as I bashed away like a Leon I thought of smashing the Leggo in the nose and then Angel started groaning and saying something that sounded, without gestures, like Fuck my cunt baby fuck my cunt and the BLEEPS shot off the scale again and my coronary arteries got all pinched and protesting and BAM BAM BAMMmmmm there it was again.
. . . Hope you are well and we will get to see you soon . . .
Later, with all of us more or less huddled and humming nice tunes and Chuck singing "There's a moone out too?night" while we hummed the "Dooo?wahhs" there was a knock on the door.
"A raid!" screamed Hazel.
But there were two more knocks, and there was Selma, who said, "Sorry I'm late, kids," and joined in. Things melded. I remember seeing the Runt cuddling in Selma's lap, and also Molly and Angel and Selma snuggling together, and as I floated in a sea of friendly genitalia feeling this and poking that, I thought that the third toothbrush could have been male or female and that these women were more liberated than any of us and more fun, and right at the end we all remarked upon what a nice party and sang in a sort of tickertape dulcissimo:
WHAT A GRAND GOOD?BYE, TO THAT COLORFUL GUY
THE SEXUAL ***MVI***, DOCTOR ROY G. BASCH.