THE MEDICINE

The Monthly (Australia) - - THE NATION REVIEWED - by Karen Hitch­cock

Some days are pes­simistic. You walk out the front door and overnight your bi­cy­cle’s be­come a reck­less and lethal means of trans­port, so you walk to the tram stop grum­bling and dodg­ing pedes­tri­ans with eyes in their phones. Your clothes pinch and crease, your shoes are un­sta­ble, and your hair’s kinked all wrong. You’re crushed at the stop, then crushed on board. Gar­gan­tuan pri­vate-school back­packs bruise your ribs, peo­ple sneeze in your face, and when you try to look out of the only win­dow that’s not plas­tered with ads the guy sit­ting in front of it war­ily looks up from his screen ev­ery few sec­onds be­cause he thinks you’re star­ing at him. So you stare at your knuck­les white-grip­ping the pole. It’s all nox­ious stim­uli and you know the wards will be over­flow­ing with so­cial catas­tro­phes you can’t pos­si­bly fix and surely there was some other job you could have cho­sen? One that in­volved stay­ing at home in your py­ja­mas, breezily chain-smok­ing (be­cause you haven’t seen up close all those peo­ple drown­ing in air their lungs can no longer reap). A job where the boss wouldn’t haul you in for be­ing con­sis­tently three to eight min­utes late (bad role mod­el­ling for the ju­niors). Bins every­where over­flow with the dis­pos­able and your regis­trar cheer­fully tells you she’s aim­ing for a sin­gle jam jar of rub­bish per week. Which re­minds you to stop at the su­per­mar­ket on the way home to buy food that is palat­able, nu­tri­tious and can be pre­pared in three to eight min­utes for your chil­dren’s din­ner. Which re­minds you that you’ll be car­ry­ing it home in sin­gle-use plas­tic or adding to a col­lec­tion of 99-cent re­us­able bags so mam­moth it can no longer be housed. A jam jar’s so small. Your regis­trar’s op­ti­mism is glo­ri­ous and ex­haust­ing and you are dis­in­clined to see Planet Land­fill as any­thing other than strange and te­dious. Too far gone. The planet, your pa­tients, your col­leagues. You. If there’s a dis­ease whose symp­toms are a com­plete lack of so­cial en­ergy cou­pled with a com­plete lack of know­ing what the hell to do with your­self, you def­i­nitely have that dis­ease. The weary days just keep on com­ing. You won­der if it’s just a va­ri­ety of lazi­ness in a dark­ish dis­guise. You won­der this thought out loud to your brother, a pan­el­beater who has worked at least 70 hours a week since the day he be­came an ap­pren­tice and who says, “Kaz, any mildly evolved hu­man be­ing has a ten­dency to­wards lazi­ness.” That dis­tracts you for a few min­utes. There’s an over-the-counter treat­ment widely avail­able from any shelf in any bot­tle shop that of­fers rapid re­lief, but luck­ily or un­luck­ily – de­pend­ing – you find the side ef­fects in­tol­er­a­ble. You hope the malaise will pass. That there’ll be some­thing that com­pels you to pry your face-plant off the pil­low each time the sun comes up. Some­thing that’s not bad for you. At work you split the day into hours, and count them down. To­wards the end of a con­sul­ta­tion, a longterm pa­tient stops at the clinic door and ner­vously says, “Are you think­ing of quit­ting medicine?” The thought had crossed your mind about four thou­sand times, but you were pretty sure you’d kept act­ing nor­mal – en­gaged, con­struc­tive, nod­ding, lis­ten­ing, re­mem­ber­ing key de­tails, or­der­ing your pa­tients the ap­pro­pri­ate in­ves­ti­ga­tions. You hadn’t once sighed, cried, in­ter­rupted, or handed over a bull­shit pre­scrip­tion so as to end the con­sul­ta­tion within the al­lo­cated time. You hadn’t thrown your notes into the air or said “Fuck it.” Be­sides, you are gen­uinely very fond of her. That con­sul­ta­tion had been the most pleas­ant part of your work­day. You ask her why she asked and she says, “I don’t know, just a feel­ing.” You want to say sorry, I’m do­ing my best here, but you aren’t sure what you’ve done be­sides wak­ing up one day to find your­self so sat­u­rated in gloom it’s ap­par­ently leak­ing out your pores. She tiny-touches your arm, as if it’s an em­ber. “Please, hang in there.” You close the door, find your eyes sting­ing, feel ridicu­lous and bet this shit never hap­pens to the pro­fes­sors. Then, af­ter work, some­one steals your dog from out­side the su­per­mar­ket. You’re at­tempt­ing some multi-bloody-task­ing (dump bag, grab dog, so you can walk dog, buy food, and be home in time to greet your chil­dren). The dog’s small and silent so you carry her into the shop but are im­me­di­ately or­dered out by a guy in a red uni­form. So you tie her up and ten min­utes later she’s gone. Ev­ery­one shrugs. You go home feel­ing sick. Your daugh­ters are be­side them­selves, which brings on a deep ache that can only be em­a­nat­ing from your ac­tual peri­cardium. And you’re re­minded that emo­tions are phys­i­cal sen­sa­tions, and that pain is a sen­sa­tion and an emo­tion, and you press your palm to your chest and feel a mem­ory-of-won­der, if not out­right won­der, at the mys­tery of it all. The ache and your daugh­ters’ faces spur you to ac­tion. You re­mem­ber that you’ve al­ways been good in a cri­sis. You march back to the su­per­mar­ket, howl­ing chil­dren in tow. The man in the red uni­form (guilty, sens­ing you are sec­onds away from noth­ing-tolose) agrees to show you the CCTV footage – two pretty young pony­tailed girls un­ty­ing your fam­ily pet and hot­foot­ing away. You film the footage on your phone with­out ask­ing and call the cops (who, sur­pris­ingly, give a shit). Your daugh­ters text the footage to their friends, one of whom lives in the nearby flats, and, yes, she saw those ex­act girls with the old man from down­stairs. He turns out to be their grand­dad and con­firms that, yes, they did “res­cue” a small silent dog from out­side the su­per­mar­ket and took it home: 50 kilo­me­tres away. Ev­ery­one piles in the car and you start driv­ing. By now it’s dark and you’re still in pinch­ing clothes, your pulse is in your neck and no one’s eaten a thing, but no one’s cry­ing, it’s a road trip in a movie about a miracle, and the dog, the dog is so happy to see you she jumps and spins as if the con­crete is a tram­po­line and then – adorably, heart­break­ingly – she vom­its on your shoes.

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