© Merle Harton
The man sat on the edge of the padded table. His hands clutched the padding on either side of him, steadying him, as his legs dangled over the edge. He glanced around the small examining room and then at the closed door, and then leaned to the right and scratched some part of his chest with his left hand, which he quickly returned to the padded table; a moment later, he leaned to the left and scratched his chest with his right hand, which he also returned to its place on the edge of the table. Every few seconds he would repeat this maneuver. Later, during the middle of a quick scratch, the door opened.
"Doctor," said the man, "I tell you, this rash is really getting to me."
"Well, Mr. Skinner, I'm prescribing something for you that will control the itch. I see it quite a lot, especially in this kind of weather."
"That medicine isn't the jock itch medicine, is it? The kind that also removes corns and calluses?"
"Oh, no, no—it isn't. Hah, hah. Your rash isn't fungal. All indications say it's viral, but I can't be absolutely certain unless we run some more expensive—er, I mean, extensive—tests. I can schedule those, if you're concerned; otherwise, I'd just let it ride its course. I see this often enough in this climate. Do you have jock itch, too? You didn't say anything about that."
"No, I was just joking."
"Well, this prescription will give you some symptomatic relief?" Dr. Pearlman scribbled some words on his prescription pad and slipped it under the clip on Mr. Skinner's chart. "I'll have my nurse bring you to the front."
"Say, this isn't going to cost a lot is it?"
"You mean for the visit or the prescription?"
"How long have I been your doctor—ten years, twelve years?"
Yeah, uh huh. I see you once a year, and only then for a checkup. And I only do that because it's required by my health plan—and only because I get reimbursed. Other than that your always my last refuge. You bottom-feeding trash eater! You own two Mercedes and a Lexus. You're on your second wife, because the first one wouldn't fellate you. You're on your second wife now, and we have to pay for it. And a big three-story house uptown. Malpractice, medical school bills, office overhead, CME credits—liar! You greedy bastard. May your second wife suck you dry.
"My standard office visit hasn't changed since you first came to this office. As for the prescription, I don't think it's going to set you back much. Certainly not as much as a specialist—a dermatologist—might charge for this."
Oh, like you're somehow in a different moral class than those other bottom feeders?
"I didn't mean to sound cheap," Mr. Skinner said. "But things seem to be getting harder these days, and I've got to look out for number one, if you know what I mean."
"I understand," said Dr. Pearlman. "But don't let money give you a rash." They smiled at each other.
"You don't think I need to see a dermatologist, do you?"
"Not at this point," said Dr. Pearlman as he left the room.
Just as Mr. Skinner finished tying his tie, the door opened and Dr. Pearlman's nurse stuck her head in and said: "All dressed? Good?" She opened the door further, keeping her hand on the knob, and stood waiting for Mr. Skinner. Mr. Skinner accompanied her to the front office, where he paid his bill and took away the prescription Dr. Pearlman had scribbled.
He left the building, stopped a moment to look again at the receipt the nurse had given him, and then walked down the street to the Walgreen's store. He handed the pharmacist his prescription and waited. About twenty minutes later the pharmacist called his name and handed him a small tube of salve in an amber-colored plastic bottle. The instructions were on the bottle, but the pharmacist made a point of telling him what to do with the salve anyway.
At home, Mr. Skinner hurried to the bathroom and disrobed. He followed the instructions and dabbed the salve on every eruption on his skin. When he had finished, he looked himself over in the bathroom mirror, twisting his head around to look at his back to see if he had any eruptions left to cover with the salve. Satisfied he looked again at the red coloration on his stomach.
"Strange bumps. Never had anything like it before. This salve better work. Cost enough. Damn doctors. Crooks. Swindlers. Crooks and swindlers."
Mr. Skinner looked himself up and down again and then put his clothes back on. As he finished this task, he felt a movement at his ankles.
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