Doc What's Up?, Humor Writing, Personal Essays


As many of you know, in addition to writing I also spend my days as a doctor. Here are a couple memorable experiences I’ve had with patients:


One of my very first patients was a robust, elderly gentleman who complained that his rectum itched. Dutifully, I examined him but I couldn’t find the source of his itching.

“Try Preparation H,” I advised.

The next time he returned, he complained, “It doesn’t work.”

So I examined him again. Still, I found nothing.

I tried another prescription, “Soak in the bath and try Vaseline.”

Again he returned with his itch. But this time, he brought a flashlight to help diagnose his problem. It was then that it dawned on me that his real interest was in supervising my exams—not curing his itch.

Always willing to go along, I used his flashlight for yet another look. The unnecessary illumination, however, didn’t change a thing. Catching on to his modus operands, I decided to play it his way.

“I can cure you,” I said definitively.

“He can cure me,” he mumbled, mocking me to some invisible companion next to him. I figured his accent to be Russian or Polish Jew—immigrated around 1910. He eyed me and picked up the gauntlet.

“Okay, Mr. Doctor, so tell me—how you goin’t to cure me?”

“We’ll cut out your anus.”

He scratched his head and looked me in the eye, not sure if I was kidding.

“So, without my anus, would I still be able to go the bathroom from my tocus?” (Yiddish for butt)

“Absolutely not! After we remove your anus,” I said, “you’ll shit from here!” and I poked him in the left side of his belly.

The old face turned white from shock as he backed away from me until he met the wall. After ten seconds, he regained his composure.

“Listen here, you pisher (whippersnapper), you v’ill not be cutting out my anus or any’ting else on me!”

“You’re the boss, alter kakher (old fart),” I smiled back at him.

That was the last I ever saw of Flashlight Man.

One day, my nurse came to me with a question. The nursing home sponsored all sorts of trips into the community. This month’s trip was to Arlington Race Track. One of our residents, Max Silverman, was a horse-racing aficionado who desperately wanted to go but suffered from angina. My nurse was nervous.

“Should we let Mr. Silverman go and risk exacerbating his heart condition? You make this call.” She said, exacerbating her own reluctance to get involved.

“Well, send him down here and let’s see.”

Mr. Silverman came into my office with his head hung down, saying nothing. Instead he sat down “before me” as if I was G-d, Himself. A quiver ran up my spine at the power he’d just imbued in me. I thought about his current life—What life!? I asked myself. Was this the way to live the end of your life? All he wanted was a little entertainment. He wasn’t asking for anymore.

I sat up straight and looked him over. Wouldn’t it be good for his health just to have a little fun? No contest there. Well, if I had the power to make him happy, I was damned well going to do it. Still, I needed to medically justify my actions, so I posed this situation to him.

“What if you’ve got 50 bucks on the nose of a 30-to-1 long shot and in the stretch your horse has a half-length lead—?” Max suddenly came to life, “Then…two other horses begin closing in on him as he’s coming down to the wire. Now, with two strides to go—all three ponies are nose-to-nose and you’re jumping out of your seat scream- ing, ‘Run, you SOB!’”

His head nodded like a wild man, his face inflamed with the imaginary race.

“And then…you keel over—dead.” I paused and then asked, “Would that be O.K. with you?”

Still overwhelmed with the fantasy, he howled, “You betcha!” and then keeled over, clutching his chest, pretending to die. Rising from his fake death at my laughter, Silverman said, “Now, chochum (esteemed gentleman), that’s the way to go…”

That cinched my “medical” decision.

Read more patient stories in Doc, What’s Up?

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