It's 1971 and I am sick with a very bad cough. So at the urging of my wife, I visit the New Cumberland Army Depot Medical Dispensary. I am stationed here. I am an Air Force Recruiter here in eastern Pennsylvania.
The dispensary is small, as is the Army Depot, and there is only one doctor here during weekday hours. He is Dr. Wojewicz. He looks to be about 80 years old (to these 23 old eyes). Too old to be practicing medicine I think. And he speaks with a heavy eastern European accent. It crosses my mind that this doctor may have participated in WWII. It also crosses my mind that he could have been on either side.
My concerns are put to rest by the kindly doctor as he asks me "What is you here for?" I explain this brutal cough, and even demonstrate it for him. He listens to my chest, checks my throat, thumps me on the back and says: "you pretty well to me." Embarassed, I hack furiously, hoping some sputum will appear to vindicate my visit to sick call. I don't want to be known as a "goldbrick." But nothing comes up or out. Even my cough is kinda prissy.
The good doctor says: "Okay, G.I. You return to duty." He has obviously deduced I am a malingerer.
"What if I keep coughing?" asks I.
"Only two outcomes," he says, then he winks. "You will either get better, or you will die." He then hands me a bottle of green cough syrup, which is known to servicemen the world over as G.I. Gin.
Ed. Note: G.I. Gin was a term used for Army cough medicine, a combination of 50% grain alcohol, juniper berry flavoring and water and syrup. Soldiers would show up at sick call just to get a bottle of this potent cough suppressant.
Now it's 2009. I had both knees replaced 4 years ago last November. It's a pretty intense experience and I still have to take the prescription drug - Celebrex -- once a day to control inflammation. I have to call for renewal every three months My doctor is a very young, bright, thorough and intensely competent internist from India. I call the doctors office and leave a message for a renewal. I get a call the next day from a nurse who says that the doctor wants me to take a blood test and then come see her before she renews it.
Hmm. OK. She is very thorough, and that a good thing. I arrange for the blood test, take a half day off to go in for it, then schedule an appointment with the doctor.
The appointment day arrives. I am now in the examination room and the nurse asks me why am I here. I tell her. She says the doctor will be in shortly. And she is. She has my chart and is apparently studying it closely.
I am getting a little nervous. "What is it, Doc?" asks I.
She looks at me and puts her hand on my shoulder and says: "Just promise me one thing. "
She now has my complete attention.
"If you ever feel like killing yourself," she says solemnly, "please call 911!"
My mind is now racing. Did my blood test indicate suicide was imminent? Does she think that I will kill myself if she won't prescribe Celebrex? Is suicide a side effect of Celebrex?? And if I am suicidal, I should call 911, not even her? YIKES.
I blurt out "In my darkest days I have NEVER considered suicide! I am here only to get a Celebrex refill!" "Good idea" she says, abruptly leaving the death talk behind. "While you are here, let's get a blood test."
"Uh, I had one earlier this week at your request," I mutter, now wondering whose chart she was looking at. "Oh, yes" she says flipping through the papers. "Here it is. Looks good although your HDL is up a little. You should exercise more often" she advises. "OK," I lie.
Even doctors have off days, and this is one for my normally great doctor. I won't hold it against her. Even though she wants me to call 911 instead of her if I want to off myself!
As she writes my Celebrex script, I ask her what will happen if my HDL stays at this level for any period of time. She smiles. "There are two possible outcomes."
"Don't tell me, I know," says I.