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.