1991 Pulitzer nominee Body, House, Yard, Street

Where Do You Go When You Want Humane Care?

Mirthology column, 1st run Wednesday 7 March 1990 in the Arkansas Democrat

By Ben S. Pollock
Copyright 1990 Ben S. Pollock

Waking up with a stopped-up ear is a nuisance. You know the cause — the previous week’s head cold — and that it’s not infected — no pain. Yet, the ear needs fixing, because people are having to shout for you to hear them.

The hardest part of getting my ear treated recently was persuading my cat to help. She hates going to the doctor.

Would this make better sense if I started at the beginning?

A couple of weeks ago, my left ear closed up completely. The right one wasn’t hearing so good, either.

I went to my internist, Rufus Finkleman, M.D. As usual, I sat for an hour in his waiting room until I was called to an examining room. Five minutes later, a nurse came in for my blood pressure and to say the doctor would be in right away.

I shivered, half-dressed, for another 25 minutes until Dr. Rufus flowed into the cubicle, dapper in a black turtleneck.

“You got the ‘crud’ that’s been going around?” he asked pleasantly in his closed-mouth drawl.

“I guess so,” I said, adding it was centered in my left ear.

Just then, Dr. Rufus was called away to take a phone call from another doctor. When he returned he glanced in my ear with a small flashlight, having written, while out of the room, prescriptions for 10 days’ worth of antibiotic and decongestant pills.

When the full course of pills didn’t work, I decided I wanted an old-fashioned doctor, one with compassion and patience, one who returned phone calls directly, not through a nurse.

I contacted the office of Finkleman’s sister Doris Finkleman, D.V.M. To avoid suspicion, I made the appointment in the name of my 5 3/4-year-old kitty, B.C. (for Ben’s Cat).

The veterinarian was known for rapport with her patients.

My long-haired calico was reluctant to go along with this plan. I had to drop her, butt first and by surprise, into her carrier, like when I take her for the annual car ride for vaccinations.

The receptionist asked, as all vet secretaries do, “What’s our problem today?” in the royal we.

So I answered similarly and thus honestly for once, “Our ear.”

She led me immediately into the antiseptic-smelling cubicle and sprayed disinfectant automatically on the Formica table. She said I should get B.C. out of her cage once she closed the door.

I placed B.C. in her box on the master’s chair and climbed onto the examination counter, waiting there on all fours. Within seconds — this being a vet’s office — Dr. Doris entered through the room’s second door.

You should have seen the look on her face.

Once I explained my situation, the alarm left her face. “Does Rufus know you’re here? Did my brother,” she said, chortling, “refer you to me?”

The preliminary interview taken care of, my new Dr. Finkleman offered to take my temperature, avoiding most of the obvious jokes. I declined.

She asked if I preferred my penicillin shot in the middle of my back or in the meaty part of my thigh. When I flinched at that, she stroked me under my chin with one hand and tickled the space between my eyes with another finger, which was surprisingly calming. I almost purred.

Doris then found a penlight in the pocket of her white lab coat and looked carefully into my ears.

“I don’t see any wax, Ben, but there is some fluid in the left canal that didn’t drain after your cold. It will go away in a week by itself. You can help it along by pinching your nostrils and blowing gently — like after a plane ride — to help clear your Eustachian tubes.

“Do that a few times a day. When that left ear pops, you’re cured,” she said.

“You’re not going to give me any medicine?” I asked.

“I don’t prescribe pills, I dispense them here. Besides, you certainly wouldn’t want to size tablets I offer. I was just joking about the injection, too.”

Dr. Doris hesitated. No doctor criticizes another lightly.

“I don’t know why my brother wrote those prescriptions. He must not have looked closely in your ear. I could see the fluid through your eardrum.”

I hopped off the table. Dr. Doris gave B.C. a sample chewable vitamin, like a pediatrician gives a child a lollipop.

I got a different sort of treat: Dr. Doris signed my insurance claim form. I’ve been laughing about that ever since I turned it over to the personnel office at work.


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