“If you don’t mind my asking, Doc,” said the man with his sharp, piercing eyes fixed on me, “what was the incident that you spoke of?”
I looked into his eyes for a moment, but dropped my own eyes down on the table. I could feel my forehead burning, and I knew his eyes were still locked on me.
“Oh,” I said, still not making eye contact, “there’s not much to tell.”
“Nonsense!” he wailed, almost immediately after my answer.
“Well,” I replied in desperation, hoping to buy myself some time to think of something more clever to say. I looked up at the man and, not surprisingly, his focus was firmly on me. His lip was pushed out on one end, and his jaws were tightly locked. He was not going to change the subject.
“About three years ago,” I began, “there was a young girl who had been bitten by a snake. Her family brought me in, and when I left, she was well.”
The man’s face didn’t change much. His lip pushed out a little more, and his forehead wrinkled as he squinted his eyes.
“That’s it,” I said, engaging my eyes with his.
His face turned sour as he dropped his cheeks down slowly, and his eyebrows relaxed for the first time since he had spoken. Finally, he looked down from my face.
“Doctor,” he said, bringing his hands together to twirl his thumbs, “I seem to have made a mistake.
“Oh no,” I said quickly, “there’s nothing to be sorr…”
“I took you for an honest man,” he interjected firmly. “A man of sound moral character. It appears that I was wrong.”
He lifted his eyes back up to me, tilting his head to the side. The wrinkles in his face rolled back deep into his skin until they were tightly lumped together. I tried locking eyes with him, but his grisly change of demeanor boiled my skin, and I looked away quickly.
“I…” I said, speaking without any direction, “I’m not sure I…”
“Do I strike you as a fool?” he blasted, as if he had been waiting to interrupt me once more.
I looked up at him, speechless, and cowered behind the coming words.
“I’ve known squirmy men like you,” he said with a vicious growl. “Snails that hide in their puny shells, only to get squashed by the heel of a woman’s bare foot. When you answer an honest man’s question with a liar’s forked tongue, you best have a fighting bone in you.”
I glanced down at his hands long enough to notice how white the knuckles were on his boulder sized fists.
“I apologize,” I muttered faintly.
“I didn’t come here to be lied to,” he said harshly.
I swallowed and felt a large lump coarse down my throat slowly.
“The young girl,” I continued, “she had been bitten on her heel. She was no more than five years of age. She had been running around outside in her bare feet when the serpent locked its jaws on her, presumably in retaliation. She recalled stepping on something abnormal.”
I looked up at him as I was speaking and, much to my surprise, he had calmed down dramatically. He was watching me with restful eyes.
“My office wasn’t far. I was brought to the girl’s house soon after her father was made aware. When I arrived, the girl’s brother had cut an “X” on the wound and was sucking on it and spitting every few seconds. However, the girl had been very far from her house when she was bitten, and by the time I arrived, it had already begun to eat away at her leg. In fact, I could smell the infection the moment that I walked in.”
“Cold-blooded killers,” said the man, “taking shots at the playful. I’d see every last one of them made into boots.”
“As would I,” I said.
“What came to mind?” he asked.
“Well, unfortunately,” I continued, “after further observation of the wound, I knew there was nothing I could do.”
“Amputate the leg,” he said rather calmly.
“I considered that on my way to their house,” I said, recalling my conversation with the girl’s father. “I was well prepared to do so.”
“But?” asked the man.
“The infection was severe,” I said. “The girl was already shaking when I walked in. Not from fear, mind you. Her blood was turning as cold as the snake’s.”
“Nasty way to put it, Doc,” said the man with a sharp grin on his face.
“It was a nasty sight. The girl shaking, her mother crying, her father looking on in disbelief, and her brother pressing his lips on her rotting leg.”
“So how did this turn around?” asked the man.
“I asked the mother,” I replied, “for some olive oil, which she provided. We laid the girl out on the floor, and I held her leg down flat. I poured the oil on the wound and spread it all around with my hands.”
“And?” asked the man.
“Nothing miraculous that I could see,” I said. “I then told her family that they should bundle her up with blankets and keep her drinking water for the remainder of the evening.”
“And?” asked the man almost exactly as he had before.
“And… then,” I said, shaking my head, “I left and went home.”
The man looked at me for a moment, not breathing, and then he reclined back in his seat and let out a big sigh. We both sat for a moment in silence, neither of us making eye contact with the other. Finally, he spoke up.
“You mean to tell me,” asked the man slowly, looking down at his hands, “that you cured a young girl’s infection with some oil and water?”
I could see his face tensing up again as it had before. It was clear he didn’t believe me, but I could also tell that he knew there was nothing more to say.
“If that’s the way it makes sense to you,” I said, “then, yes.”
“But that’s not what you think,” he said curiously. “That’s a mighty strange thing to do in that situation.”
“Maybe,” I said. “What would you have done?”
“Well I’m not the physician,” he said firmly. “As I said earlier, I would’ve cut her poor little leg off.”
“And you would have killed her,” I said with more confidence than even I believed.
The man stared at me for a moment with a raging boldness, but he relented and moved his eyes away. He looked out the window and gazed for a few moments, then proceeded to move his eyes around the room, stopping for a moment with every change. Every so often, he looked up at me and searched me for an answer.
“Are you a man of faith?” I asked, breaking the silence.
“Faith?” He repeated. “Are you telling me that you think it was an act of God?”
“You said it yourself,” I said. “That girl did nothing to bring that bite on herself.”
“Yes,” he said, “but there’s plenty of innocent young children that haven’t come out so well from much less than that.”
“All I’m saying,” I said, “is that either way, the situation was out of my control.”
“So why the oil?” asked the man.
“Well I couldn’t just walk out!” I laughed. “Have a fine evening! Best wishes for your daughter’s recovery!”
“So,” the man queried, “you did that to make them believe you knew what you were doing, when in reality, you were just as lost as they were?”
I could sense his distaste for me in his words.
“I did what I did because I believe that sometimes, miraculous things happen,” I stated firmly. “Some people are willing to accept that, so yes, occasionally I appease them, to focus their attention on something other than the thought that the person they love will more than likely die before their very own eyes!”
The man sat further back in his seat for a moment, while I boiled inside, waiting for his agreement or rebuttal.
“Doctor,” he finally said, “you truly are a weak, sorry man.”
I scoffed at him in disbelief.
“It doesn’t take a man of faith to realize that most any sane man would pray in a moment like that,” He said. “If you truly believed that the child’s fate was in the hands of the Almighty, which, if I might add, was already the case before you ran out of options, then why not say so to a family who was most certainly sending up prayers of desperation at that very moment?”
I scowled at him in shameful dissatisfaction with myself. I felt too much guilt to even move, much less argue. He was right. Here I was posing a curious question of faith, and he was putting me in my place with my own argument.
“You know, Doctor,” said the man, no longer looking at me, but instead gazing out the window again, “you might have more success as a physician if you started running out of options more often.”
And with that, the conversation came to an end, and no more words were spoken.