“Mama, come on! Play doctor with me!”
I tapped hurriedly at my computer. I was trying to list something on ebay while simultaneously keeping MJ company. She’d been patient, considering she’d been asking me to put the laptop down for over fifteen minutes.
“Give me…one…more…minute,” I muttered, as I tapped out a description of the hideous kids’ top I was trying to sell. What’s a euphemism for “I wouldn’t put my child in this if she were naked in a nuclear freeze?”
“To die for,” I wrote.
“OK, OK,” I said, not glancing up from my screen. “Are my patients ready?”
“I laid them out.”
Done, finally. “I’m coming right now.” I hit enter, waited for confirmation–Congratulations! Your item is for sale!–and shut my laptop. Standing up, I smiled gamely. “I’m ready.”
Then I saw the waiting room. Otherwise known as the row of small chairs MJ drags in from all over the house to prop my patients on. There were, like, fifteen. Each one containing a stuffed animal, fluffy and impatient-looking.
“Jesus. That’s a lot of patients, Myra-Jean.”
“I have errands to run.”
She looked at me sweetly. “Just do these guys and we’ll be done.”
I took a deep breath. We could start, I guessed, and see if she got bored.
Sighing, I walked to my office. The couch. “Bring me number one.”
MJ–who moonlights as the ambulance driver–hopped onto her plasma car, drove it all of three inches to the waiting chairs, and grabbed a small brown horse. Pivoting the car slightly, she drove it another half a foot and dropped her passenger on the coffee table.
I picked it up. “Hi, little horse. What’s your name?”
MJ replied squeakily: “Lisa.”
I petted my client’s mane. “Hi, Lisa. And what seems to be the trouble today?”
“I have a stomach flu.”
“Oh, dear. Let’s start by listening to your heart.”
As I tucked the hard plastic of the stethoscope into my ears, I drifted onto auto pilot. I was on script now, and frankly I could recite my lines in my sleep. The ailments never varied; neither did the treatment. Patients came in with one of three things: the stomach flu, a fever, or a cough. They got their hearts checked, blood pressure taken, ear mites removed (a mysterious process involving waving a strand of yellow straw around their heads), and a stool sample taken (don’t ask). Then they were declared cured. They left, another one took their place.
What a grind. I can imagine just a little bit what doctors under managed care must feel like. I often consider going into dentistry. But then I remember my patients have no teeth.
I was interrupted in these musings when, three patients in, something woke me out of my stupor.
It started with a dog. A small one, with dirty-white and brown fur. At first her visit seemed routine. Myra-Jean pulled up in the ambulance. The dog was thumped onto the coffee table. Her voice, when she told me her name, was as pipey as always.
In my mind I was way off at the mall, choosing a new suit for work. I said my next line absently. “What brings you in today, Mina?”
Myra-Jean smiled brightly. “I have cancer!”
I looked up quickly, pushing my stethoscope off of my ears. On the other side of the room, Mike glanced up from his reading, eyes wide.
“What did you say?”
“Cancer!” So cheerful. She might have been saying “ice cream!”
I shot a glance at Mike, then twisted my lips uncertainly. “Um, I don’t handle things like that.”
“Yes you do,” Mina/MJ squealed blithely.
“No, I don’t,” I told them pointedly. I looked directly at MJ: “Honey, where did you hear about cancer?”
My daughter smiled, clearly satisfied that she had stumped me. “Awigas told me.”
Ah, Awigas. The imaginary friend. Denizen of San Francisco, outer space traveller, expert on all things, and recipient of any and all free-floating responsibility.
I nodded sagely. And said nothing. I really didn’t know what to say.
Fortunately Mike chimed in. Thank God. With perfect eloquence and kindness he explained to Myra-Jean that cancer was a serious sickness. That she probably knew about it because she’d heard us talking. Because we knew people who had it. That it was so serious it didn’t really belong in a game. That if she had questions about it she could ask, but that Mommy wasn’t comfortable making light of something so grave.
Myra-Jean nodded, appearing to understand. I hoped things hadn’t gotten too serious for her.
“Anyway,” I added, more cheerfully, “if Mina really had cancer she’d need a specialist. And I’m just a general practitioner. So let’s give her a stomach flu instead, OK?”
MJ didn’t miss a beat. “My dalmatian doll is a specialist.”
Needless to say the doctor’s office had to shut down early. The physician needed a break. There were some unhappy customers left in the waiting room, but I assured them they’d get seen early tomorrow. They always do.
As for Mina? Her diagnosis is still in question. Mike and I know what we think it is…
But MJ, Awigas, and a certain spotted canine I know? They have a different idea entirely.