Friday, October 30, 2015

Ace Hardware, 10/28/15

     I was at Ace Hardware buying a few ounces of seeds for fall collards and mustard greens when the man behind me tapped my shoulder.  "You'ze Dr. Colasante?"
     "You'ze the doctor who used to see people down there yonder?"  He pointed in the direction of Hawthorne Medical Center, now weed-strangled, vermin-infested, defunct.
     I noticed his custodian's button-down shirt with the name embroidered over his breast pocket:  "IVEY."
     "Yes, I'm Dr. C.," I answered.
     "I know you!" he smiled broadly.
     "Really?"  I asked.  "But I don't recognize you,  Mr. Ivey.  I'm sorry."
     I was trying to place him, but we'd had eight thousand patients back then,  a lot.
     "I did take care of some Iveys," I recalled, ticking off a few of names for him.
     "I wasn't never one of your patients," he explained, "but a lotta my kinfolk was."
     In truth, I'd seen enough Iveys, and Williamses, and Manns, and Rutledges, and Gordons to fill a telephone book.
     Each family practically had its own shelf of medical charts.  They were good, cheerful, hard-working, belly-laughing, church-going, soulful, thoroughly respectable people, who made my job a lot of fun.  I did what I could to get them well and keep them going, but clinic visits with them were never only about health.
     We talked about politics, family gatherings, kids, school, the upcoming church picnic, fishing, shrimping, God's will, the weather at the lake, and how to cook collards.  We talked about justice and injustice, race, prejudice, hate, love, the Bible, and forgiveness.
     I was an extension of the community--honored to be so!--and office visits were one more way of "communing."  
     "So that's why you don't look familiar," I said, relieved.  "I'm sure I would have remembered you."
     We paid for our purchases and went out to the street together.  I covered my brow with my seed bags to cut out the glare of the morning sun ricocheting off the hood of my Prius.
     "You was a good doctor!" he exclaimed.  "Everybody says so."
     "Maybe I ought to go back into practice," I mused.  "I've been thinking about it."
     "You ought to!" he practically shouted.
     "Who's your doctor?"  I wanted to know.
     "Tell you the truth," he said, shaking his head, "I don't got no doctor."
     "Don't you have insurance?"
     "I have insurance, but no doctor.  Don't know where to go.  There is no place."
     In fact, there are two separate medical facilities in Hawthorne, each no more than a few blocks from where we were standing.   I said so, tipping my head in both directions.
     "Naw," he said without elaborating.  "No place to go, not really."  
     So we had an office visit right there in the street.  I parried him with questions, made some guesses based on his physical appearance, found out what his blood pressure was, and wrote him a slip for lab work.  He seemed grateful.
     "Hey, 'fore you go," he whispered hoarsely, pulling my shirtsleeve.
     I leaned in to hear, feeling conspiratorial.
     "How you gonna cook them mustards?"
     And before I could answer he was telling me to put a little sugar in the greens after draining the pot liquor, along with salt and onions, and maybe some pork, if I liked it.  "Sugar's the secret to taking out some of that bitter."
     "Thanks for the tip!" I said.
      "Sure thing."
      I was getting in the car, starting up the engine.
      "We can meet, or talk on the phone, once your test results are in," I suggested.  I'd taken down his phone number.  "But really, Mr. Ivey, you need a doctor."
     "Yeah, I know, Doc! " he called out jocularly, walking away.  "And you know what?" he looked back. " I'm waitin' for you!"

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