It was last Wednesday afternoon when I noticed . I was shopping at Midtown Hardware on East 17th. I had gone for parts to fix a leak in the downstairs bathroom sink. Al, my “helpful hardware man”, had steered me to the right aisle, I found the necessary parts and it was when I reached to take them off the shelf that I noticed . My hand is rough and calloused. It does, after all, have to do the same amount of work that most people have two hands for. I’m used to wear and tear but I wasn’t used to this. I wasn’t expecting this. This scared me. I needed to get to a doctor fast.
I abandoned the washers I had selected to reseat the valve, went immediately outside and hailed a taxi. I told the driver to get me to 83 Medical Plaza on the double. I added that there was an extra 50 in it for him if he could get me there in less than ten minutes. He did. I leapt out of the cab and sprinted into the lobby. Running in place while I waited for the lift – come on, come on. I finally broke for the stairway and ran the eight flights up to Dr. James Thomas Payne’s suite of offices.
Jimmy and I had grown up together, next door neighbors. He had always been part of my life as I had been part of his. He was six days older than me. We went to each other’s first birthday parties. I know, I’ve seen the pictures.
We started school together, played ball for MacArthur High School together, and years later had some interesting drunken evenings together when we discovered that we had even lost our virginity to the same girl, at about the same time. She had been a senior, we were sophomores. I shudder when I think about it.
Jimmy and I were inseparable for 18 years; until he went to college and med school. I went into the Marines with the intention of being a lifer dog. I didn’t make it though. I took a medical discharge and came back home as a one-armed vet. Jimmy was a full-fledged MD with a fledgling general practice on the eighth floor of 83 Medical Plaza. He has been my doctor ever since, despite my initial trepidation of hiring a doctor with the unfortunate surname of Payne (rhymes with Pain).
I burst through the door to Jimmy’s office and went straight to the desk of his guard dog, Nurse Ratchet. That wasn’t her real name but it was what I always called her. I teased her and told her that she looked and acted just like her namesake from the movie. “Ratchet, I need to see Jimmy! It’s an emergency.” I gasped.
She clutched the top of her white uniform, pulling it tight at the neck, “Why, Mr. Barrett,” she said a bit flustered, “Doctor is with a patient now. If you’ll take a seat I’ll work you in somehow.”
“Never mind, I’ll wait in his office.” I told her and, as she protested, I opened the door to the back passageway. Jimmy’s office was the only door to the left, situated at the end of the hall. File rooms, equipment rooms, a toilet, and a few examination rooms opened off the passageway to the right. All the doors were shut. I hurried into Jimmy’s office and sat at his desk.
Opening the bottom drawer, I found his bottle of scotch and poured two fingers into a highball glass that I found on the credenza. I drank it in a single draught. I stood again and began pacing. Pretty soon Jimmy came in and looked at me with concern in his face. “What’s wrong, Ed? Louise told me you’re all worked up about something.”
“I guess, I am” I said, “Look at this shit.” I stuck my hand out, palm down, so he could see the back of it.
He grabbed my hand and pulled it closer so he could see it better, “Jesus, Ed, why did you wait so long to come in?” he asked, the sarcastic urgency apparent in his voice.
“Can you fix it?” his sarcasm was lost on me.
He dropped my hand. “Does it hurt, because I sure can’t see anything wrong with it?”
“What do you mean you can’t see anything wrong? Look at those brown spots. Are they tumors? Can you operate? Crap, Jimmy, I only got one hand, I gotta take care of it! You gotta take care of it!”
Jimmy pushed me into the visitor’s chair and walked around the desk. He sat down and opened the whiskey drawer, got another glass and poured us both a dram. He handed me one and sipped out of the other, “As your physician,” he said, “I am obligated to advise you that those discolored patches on the backs of your hands are what is known in the business as ‘age spots’. They’re normal. You’re probably going to live and, there’s nothing to worry about.”
“I want a second opinion. My grandpa had these same spots and he’s dead now.”
“Your Grandpa was 94 years old when he died Ed. And, he sure wasn’t killed by age spots. You, on the other hand, are 56 years old and these are to be expected. Now get the fuck out of my office and go home and make mad passionate love with your wife. You and Marie are still coming to dinner on Friday right?”
“You sure I’m alright?”
I turned and walked towards the door, “OK, I’ll trust you. See you Friday.”
“Bring beer” he shouted to the closing door.
I walked out to the lobby, “See ya, Ratchet.” I said. “Thanks.”
“Have a lovely afternoon, Mr. Barrett.”
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