Excerpts from The Shadow Saver
GREINER: I remember very early, maybe Saturday Evening Post, something, this Norman Rockwell painting, the Family Doctor.
Suit, vest, belly, this big whiskery cherub, beaming like Santa’s rear end. And there’s a little girl, cute as hell, and—
No, I remember. First grade, the teacher was talking about doctors and nurses, and this was what a doctor was—
And she’s holding up her dolly, and he’s listening with a stethoscope. Examining the dolly.
And even at age six I thought this was idiotic. I hated that girl and her doll, and his fat face, it was all so sentimental and icky—
And that’s the kind of doctor . . . I’ve always wanted to be.
Lights up: another doll, a bespectacled man in his thirties, smiling.
GREINER: Mr. Stilly.
ERNEST: Ernest.
GREINER: Ernest. What seems to be the problem? Hurt your back?
ERNEST: No, I’m pretty good.
GREINER: Well it says you hurt your back.
ERNEST: I guess so.
GREINER: How’d you do that?
ERNEST: Cannonballs.
GREINER: Cannonballs? What are cannonballs?
ERNEST: Ok, what you do. Here. You stand like this. Then you jump up in the air, and then come down hard with your knees bent like this. That’s a cannonball.
GREINER: You could hurt your back that way.
ERNEST: Boy, could I ever.
GREINER: So why are you doing that?
ERNEST: The Olympics.
GREINER: Well, we’ve got some x-rays. Let’s look here. Mr. Stilly, this is kind of funny. Have you been swallowing coins?
ERNEST: For the minerals.
GREINER: No, I had a crazy thing last week. One thing, another. This woman comes in, Mrs. Sturgis. She’s been drinking, and she has some head trauma, scrapes and bruises, domestic violence thing which there’d been some history of.
And she’s had a headache, says she’d had some double vision, but my exam doesn’t indicate it, and of course that’s classic for subdural hematoma, but at the time, this was what, Sunday, and nothing was a real red flag.
So I say come back in two days, or if anything recurs come back sooner, and we’ll do a CAT scan if we need to. So she doesn’t come back. Period.
GREINER: So Friday she comes back. Not on my shift. Like two a.m. And she says she’s got headaches, so the doctor orders a CAT scan, but for the morning— this particular radiologist on call really does not like to come in in the middle of the night except for an emergency, which this didn’t seem to be.
So next morning she does not show up. Shows up in the afternoon. And the desk says no, now it can’t be scheduled till Monday.
ELLIN: Remember Friday is Sarah’s orthodontist.
GREINER: Right. So Sunday her husband calls, she’s comatose. Medics go out, bring her in— Fresh bruises, by the way— Put burr holes in, she’s improved, but—
Why didn’t she follow directions? “Come back in two days. One. Two.”
Med school, the joke was: Patients come to the hospital for one reason only. Not because they’re in pain. Not to get better. They just love to drive you nuts.
ELLIN: Not much of a challenge to that.
GREINER: You remember Rosenberg? Med school? Older student, Orthodox Jew? He’d go on this riff of suing God for malpractice. “See this ventricle, bad design, that should have been prevented! Would the Japanese, or the Germans, ever design a piece of crap like the lower back? The Messiah is coming, but not to save Israel. He comes to negotiate an out-of-court settlement.”
EDELMAN: It’s not the cigarettes—
GREINER: Well frankly you’ll continue having serious attacks and coming in here unless you can—
EDELMAN: It ain’t the cigarettes. It’s working thirty years in the tannery, that stuff gets into you—
GREINER: Nevertheless—
EDELMAN: That’s what it does to the lungs—
GREINER: Mr. Edelman—
EDELMAN: Thirty years.
GREINER: I sympathize. But you can’t do anything about that now. What you can do—
EDELMAN: I can die. They don’t care.
GREINER: Do you care?
EDELMAN: Yes I care!
GREINER: Then you must stop smoking. There are a number of ways—
EDELMAN: Poison you for thirty years and then say it’s your fault!—
Sudden plunge into nightmare. Lights on a bewigged male face in makeup, speaking in a broad falsetto: Greiner is re-enacting his med-school skit.
FALSETTO: Risk? Is there any risk?
GREINER: Well there’s always some risk. Less on a passbook account, but there you get only five percent. Municipals are still a good buy, but if your inner city deteriorates you’re gonna have problems with flushing.
FALSETTO: What about malignancy?
GREINER: It’s like inflation. Eats away at what you’ve got.
FALSETTO: How long am I in for?
GREINER: Well, you can put it in five-year certificates, but I’d recommend a shorter confinement unless you want long-term security at the cost of short-term inflammation.
FALSETTO: Wait! We’re not talking about money!—
GREINER: I am! I’m a doctor!
GREINER: So Eisenberg says, which is what I kind of had a hunch, it’s a condition known as polycystic kidney disease. There are cysts in the kidneys, which accumulate fluid, the kidneys enlarge, and there’s a long-term gradual impairment of kidney function. It’s genetic. Which I don’t actually have a history of, but my family was all farmers, they didn’t really pay much attention to what killed them, they just sort of died.
And it’s not showing significant progress. It could be short-term, it could be many years, I could die of something else at the age of ninety. I just need to watch my blood pressure, have some tests at intervals to see if there’s any movement of the key indicators, so to speak. It’s no big deal. Won’t make headlines.
ELLIN: Cliff. Don’t bullshit me. What are we looking at?
GREINER: Kidney failure at some point. Then either dialysis or transplant. Possibly five years, possibly fifty. No way to tell.
ELLIN: So what’s to do?
GREINER: Cut down on salt.
GREINER: So things are clearing up.
ELLIN: Great.
GREINER: If we could only do the dishes so they stay done. I’m relieved.
ELLIN: Good.
GREINER: I shouldn’t have got so hairy. There really are procedures. Sometimes they even work.
ELLIN: Cliff—
GREINER: Let me do breakfast.
ELLIN: This might come as a surprise—
GREINER: No, I think it’s great—
ELLIN: But I need to take some space. Between us.