Read an Excerpt
“Miss Julia,” Dr. Bob Hargrove said as he clicked his pen closed and twirled himself around on his little stool, “you are the most boring patient I have. I can’t find a thing wrong with you.”
“Well, I’m sorry I can’t pique your interest with some small malfunction or another.” I ran my hand down the front of my blouse, ensuring that all the buttonholes were filled. It’s hard enough to undress in a doctor’s office, but even more difficult to redress, hurrying as one must to be put back together before he comes waltzing in to announce the verdict of one’s yearly examination.
“But,” I went on, “I get so tired. I don’t have the stamina or the energy I once had. And it’s hard to bend over or to get out of a chair. And my joints ache and my neck is stiff and my back hurts all the time—something has to be wrong.”
“Nope,” he said, coming to his feet with a slight groan—an indication that he might be dealing with some of the same symptoms. “What you’re describing is a natural result of aging.”
“I suppose,” I said, bowing to the obvious, “but I don’t like hearing it.” My age was a tender subject with me and I didn’t like him bringing it up and blaming everything on it. I could still recall the time in my life when every small complaint was laid at the feet of certain internal organs that are exclusive to my gender. Now, however, as those organs have taken themselves into retire- ment, doctors were blaming everything under the sun on advancing age.
“None of us do,” he said, as if all his patients were octogenarians, and I knew for a fact that his practice consisted mostly of young families. Then with a sidewise glance at me, he asked, “So, how’s your driving these days?”
“My driving’s just fine,” I said, stung by the question. How did he know that I’d backed into my boxwood hedge, crushing three of the bushes, gotten mired in the sodden ground cover, and had had to call a wrecker to extricate the car?
“Well, keep in mind that age affects the reflexes, and aging is a fact of life, if life lasts long enough. I’m happy to assure you that yours is lasting quite well.”
“And I certainly appreciate hearing that, but I declare, I hate to think of suffering through every day of what’s left of it.”
He bent his head and stared at me over the top of his glasses. “I can give you something for the aches and pains if you’ll take it.”
“No, I don’t want a row of medicine bottles on the windowsill over my sink, and I don’t want to have to keep a schedule of when and how much of each one I should take. I don’t want to have to be medicated just to be able to get out of bed each morning.”
“How much exercise do you get?”
“My word, Dr. Hargrove, I go up and down the stairs a half dozen times a day. I get plenty of exercise.”
“But maybe not the right kind,” he said, leaning against his desk and crossing one foot over the other. “Why don’t you consider some form of regular guided exercise? You might be surprised at how helpful it can be.”
“Well, I don’t know. I’m not interested in running a marathon for charity or walking ten miles for some disease or another.”
“No,” he said, straightening up and getting ready to move on to the next patient. “I’m talking about a low-impact exercise class that you’d do two or three times a week.”
“Like yoga, or Zumba, or some kind of aerobics. Tai chi is an excellent form of exercise. I recommend it.”
“Dr. Hargrove, I am a Presbyterian, as you well know, and most of those exercises include some all-encompassing religious view that is most definitely at odds with the Nicene Creed. I don’t want anything interfering with my spiritual well-being, thank you very much.”
“Well, think about it anyway,” he said, closing my chart. Then, as if suddenly remembering something, he said, “I guess Sue told you that we’re leaving for Europe next week—Monday, in fact.” Sue Hargrove was a friend, a fellow member of the garden club and the book club, and, in my opinion, a most suitable wife for the well-respected physician. She gave lovely parties.
“She told several of us awhile back,” I said, “but, I declare, I didn’t realize that the time is upon us. I must have you both for dinner before you go.” After that conventional invitation, it occurred to me that something more important was staring me in the face. “Doctor, if my memory serves me correctly, Sue said something about an extended tour—a matter of months, even. Will you really be gone that long?”
The thought of being without the services of my physician, even though I rarely had need of them, filled me with anxiety. I think he could see the dawning realization of looming abandonment on my face for he stopped and patted me on the shoulder.
“Don’t worry, Miss Julia,” he said. “I have a locum tenens coming in. He and his family will be staying in our house, and he’ll take care of my practice. He’s highly qualified, a graduate of McGill in Montreal, in fact, and—”
“He’s from Canada? What’s he doing way down here?”
“Came to his senses, I expect,” Dr. Hargrove said with a wry grin. “His wife’s from California, so maybe she drew him south. Anyway, he’ll be available just as I’ve always been. You won’t even know I’m gone.”
I wasn’t so sure of that. First of all, a locum tenens meant that his substitute didn’t have a practice of his own, otherwise he would be too busy to take over for someone else. And second of all, what was the reason he didn’t have a busy practice of his own?
The substitute would certainly bear keeping an eye on, but all I could do at the present was thank Dr. Hargrove for seeing me, wish him happy travels, and go home, hoping none of us would require medical care while he was traipsing around Europe.