I miss the catfish

By Ken Bradbury

I’m not telling you anything you don’t know or have not experienced, but I still find it amazing. On a recent trip to my doctor in the mega-health-complex that’s been surgically implanted onto Passavant’s eastern hip, I had to run the gauntlet. I entered the airport terminal of a lobby and ran into lady number one who told me where to find Dr. Coultas’ receptionist, lady number two, just across the lobby. Lady number two directed me to door number two where I was met by lady number three who escorted me down to doctor number one who examined me then introduced me to lady number four who made my next appointment and directed me back into the lobby to find lady number five who did something to or for me, which I frankly can’t remember right now. Lady number one waved at me as I left.

The problem is, I’m terrible with numbers. I drove out of the parking lot thinking, “Okay, what was wrong with me when I went in this morning?” and “Did lady number four give me an appointment card, and if she did, why did I talk to lady number five?”

Let me start by saying that the world of modern medicine is streamlined to the nth degree and it’s a real pleasure to be able to sit with the doctor and view my computer file containing everything that’s been added to, taken from, medicated or overhauled on my body since the day I was born. Saves lots of questions and we have more time to talk about the Cardinals – or in the case of my oncologist, his golf game. There really are huge advantages in having the entire medical profession networked into the same page and I suppose that there will sometime come a day when all this information will be fed into one end of a computer and your diagnosis will come spitting out the other without the aid of ladies one, two, three, four and five, or doctor one.

In spite of the advances in medicine I can’t help but look back fondly on the days when my folks first took me to a doctor. His name was Joe Panella and his office was right next to the fish market in Meredosia. There aren’t many doctors’ waiting rooms that are inundated with the smell of fresh catfish.

Dr. Panella had only lady number one, his wife. You didn’t make an appointment, rather you simply showed up and sat down. I don’t remember Dad ever filling out an insurance form and remarkably no one asked me my date of birth. How could they possible cure you of anything without asking your DOB 12 times? When your time came, Mrs. Panella would give you the nod and you’d walk into the only other room in the building, Dr. Joe’s office. Doc Joe was in a wheelchair due to a childhood bout of polio, but he could whip that rubber-wheeled machine around with the dexterity of a tonsil surgeon. He’d begin by sticking a dry board onto my tongue then check my ears and nose and tell me that I was suffering from bronchial infection. No matter your symptoms, you had infection of the bronchial tubes. I no longer have any disease that Dr. Panella diagnosed so I guess he was right and I’d been infested by a plague of bronchitis since the day I was born and was immediately cured the day I stopped going to him. Then every visit would end with a Tootsie Pop. I never got too old for a Tootsie Pop even though some of the Tootsie Pops were too old for me to actually eat. When you take off the wrapper and the candy crumbles into your lap you suspect that Doc’s candy was as old as the National Geographics in his lobby.

But it was simple, it was quick, and I never died from anything done to me in the doctor’s offices of my youth. And this is far from a scientific test, but the single doctor and his wife put me back into as good a shape as the five ladies and one doctor I saw this morning. Wait … wait … that’s not a condemnation of the miraculous gains made by medicine since I was five years old, but simply a quiet sigh for the days of simplicity. I’m reminded what my Grandpa Ralph said when I asked him how people got by in the days before modern medicine. He took a draw of his Prince Albert and said, “They died, I reckon.”

So, I sat waiting for my appointment, looking at the same magazines that Dr. Panella offered with approximately the same date. Everything around me was sterile although I didn’t inquire of each waiting patient. The floors were scrubbed, the TV blasted “The Price is Right,” my lap was covered with papers listing my current medications, and I didn’t have to wait long, but gosh … I really missed the smell of catfish.

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About the author

Ken Bradbury is an adjunct instructor of theatre at LLLC after retiring from Triopia. He entertains on the Spirit of Peoria riverboat and is the author of over 300 published plays. Website: creativeideas.com

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