Heal Thyself


Dr Gray leaned back in his chair, rubbing his nose meditatively. Then he spoke, eyes still closed so I wasn’t sure if he was talking to me or himself. I always get the feeling he’s more of a philosopher than a physician and that in itself makes me feel better. In college we had a Philosopher in Residence. Every now and then I wandered down the hill and up long, narrow, switchback stairs to visit. It was like climbing the Sacred Way to consult the Oracle. At the top was a small, dark landing and a door. That’s all. I drew myself up to knock and the door opened onto a sanctuary. Sun poured in from long windows and stacks of books rose up everywhere like the vapors of Apollo himself.

There are no stacks of books in Dr Gray’s small office, but there are paintings. His wife is an artist, which is how we met. So we talk a lot about her and a lot about art and a little about my physical health. This suits me fine. As he walks me out I realize there is a life-size marble bust of Julius Caesar there in the hallway. He’s sitting on a faux woodgrain laminate desk as if the waiting room were too plebeian for him. Obviously the doctor would see him immediately. He’d wait right here. If it were a smaller sculpture I could imagine someone walked through and said: I’ll just set this down here a minute. But this is Caesar, large as life and ten times as heavy. He demands homage.

Dr Gray sighs. “That belongs to Dr Billons. I think he wants to put it on ebay.” Dr Billons, who I’ve never met, has been brought into the practice as a relief pitcher. I imagine him young and brash and wearing rubber gloves. He’s very clinical, probably diagnoses patients with his eyes open. This is his? Suddenly I don’t want to pull his name off the door. I want him to assess my lymph nodes speaking Latin. I picture him reading Catullus to the matronly receptionist between patients. “I entreat you, my sweet Ipsitilla, my darling, my charmer, bid me to come and rest at noonday with you…”  as she photocopies and files prescriptions for antibiotics and diuretics.

“You want it?” Dr Gray asks. Yes. YES.

No. Well, yes. But no, not really. What I really want is to have it at my doctor’s office. Julius Caesar wearing a bronzed breastplate and set on a chipped laminate desktop amid oil paintings of the doctor’s garden, his boat, his cat even. I want my doctor to know I was once 18 with a ridiculous crush on a colorblind painter and that I cut the tip of my finger off with a paper cutter trying to impress him. I want him to ask how many kids my sister has now and what I’ve been reading. I want to hear the funny story about his vasectomy and to have his home number in case I need it. I want there to be a huge marble bust of a Roman dictator sitting in his office for no particular reason. I want him to be a real live human being and to know that I am.

Isn’t that what we all want?

So I left Dr Gray the way I used to leave the oracle at the top of the stairs; no clear answers but lighter in spirit, with much discussed and more to think about.



  1. Jill said,

    June 13, 2009 at 1:41 am

    Did you know you spelled plebeian incorrectly? Must be karma for coming down so hard on Stephanie. I say this in jest whilst knowing if you challenged me to an editing duel, I would respectfully forfeit.

  2. flakyartist said,

    June 13, 2009 at 2:52 am

    Just wanted to see if you were paying attention! (What?? Where? My editor will be flogged!)

    First, my issue with editing in books is that someone is getting paid to do just that. When I’m stumbling over bizarre punctuation and indecipherable words in every chapter it affects my enjoyment of the story itself. It breaks the flow, you know? As demonstrated. 🙂

    Second, her name is Stephenie. She has misspelt her own name. Supposedly on purpose but having read the book, I wonder.

    Scurrying off now to fix those pesky places my fingers went too fast… Thanks, Jill!

  3. Ben said,

    June 13, 2009 at 9:56 pm

    A colorblind painter?

  4. flakyartist said,

    June 28, 2009 at 10:28 pm

    Yes, Ben. He had only one shade of green – which proved to be fairly monotonous in a landscape – and fainted at the sight of blood… but he was cute.

  5. Jill said,

    September 30, 2009 at 7:01 pm

    So, whatever happened to the tip of your finger? You didn’t mail it to the colorblind painter I hope! I just want to point out here that I am forced to re-read old posts since you haven’t provided your readership with new material….

  6. flakyartist said,

    October 1, 2009 at 10:22 am

    I performed my guillotine demonstration on a busy day at the picture framing shop where I worked. I was enthusiastically chopping up illustration boards and chatting, chatting, chatting the whole time. Then – ouch! – I’d caught my finger. The ouch didn’t go away. I stood there holding my finger tight in one hand and was too afraid of what I’d done to look. I thrust my hands at him and he went white and crumpled. As I said, he faints at the sight of blood. Who knew? And there was a lot of blood. A few hours and a lot of pain killers later, I was stitched together again. My right middle finger has a small angle that my left one doesn’t. It adds to the allure.

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