I’m in the clinic, the one I always visit when I need something medical done. Exactly one week ago I was in this same waiting room, awaiting the commencement of a physical exam. I was hungry that day because they’d asked me to fast.
Last time I was here my name was eventually called. I stood up, walked toward a nurse who asked me for some urine which would have been a strange request to make in any other context. (I remember how warm the plastic container felt as I peed into it.) And then she drew some blood. She made me walk down a hallway, opened a door at the end of it, showed me a large machine that could peer through my skin and look deep into my body. She directed me to remove my shirt, stand just so with my arms raised above my head. She then let the contraption shine its magical light on me so that an image of my inner workings could be captured and studied. Finally, she attached some electrodes to my body to learn more about my ticker.
Today, I am back to get the results of all those tests. I am sitting in the waiting room now. There are others here. Some are coughing and some, although certainly not all, are covering their mouths with handkerchiefs. One man has an odd coloration and makes me think he might be a touch jaundiced. Two young women have comically large bellies on their otherwise insubstantial bodies. (The way they keep smiling and whispering together makes me they think they feel a special bond and are cherishing the fact that they’re carrying life within their protuberant abdomen.)
I felt persuaded, after no more than five minutes of listening to those folks coughing up their lungs, to move to a more distant part of the waiting room. Who needs to be near those airborne germs? If I have anything to say about it, I won’t allow that sort of sickness to get inside my body and fiddle around. Sitting any closer than I currently am—now that I’ve put distance between me and them—is really asking for trouble.
I have a book with me, so I take it out and start reading. Its title is The Awakening of Intelligence and it’s written by Krishnamurti, an Indian philosopher and all-around swell guy. I’m drawn to the words of wise people, mostly because I’m so lacking in the wisdom department myself. A dumb guy can never go wrong spending a few moments reading what a smart guy has to say.
I tried to concentrate on the book but there was too much coughing and talking and such. This caused me to put Krishnamurti down and look across the room. Being around sick people usually makes me think that I’m about to die myself. This happens because the ill remind me of my own vulnerability. Actually, we’re all just flesh and blood and gelatinous, pulsating organs inside a wrapping of flesh. There’s not much more to us than that. It’s amazing any of us make it any time at all.
I’m reminded of a video that they showed us back when I was in middle school. It was a videotape of a surgery. (I still find it shocking that she showed such gruesome footage to a bunch of fifth graders.) So they showed the patient being cut open and what his guts looked like. To this day, I remember being shocked at what the insides of a human being look like. I was not impressed and almost immediately became a hypochondriac.
So I’ve just been called into the clinic’s inner sanctum to meet with my doctor and get what I hope to be good news—that I don’t have cancer or the palsy or the bubonic plague. I don’t have to wait long. He comes in and I stand and shake his hand. (He’ll certainly hose himself down with disinfectant as soon as I take my leave of him and this room.) He gets right to it and tells me that all my tests look good. They haven’t found a single thing to worry about. And then he informs me I’m free to go.
I step out into the waiting room and the coughing people are now gone—perhaps dead? Despite their absence, I hold my breath as I head to the door. I get to it, push it open, and step out into fresh, germ-free air.