Life before pain

by Ken Malloy

As a child, I was blessed with good health. When the occasional common cold would take its hold, my Mother would snap into action. Exiled to my bedroom, I became the recipient of all items meant to comfort and heal: extra blankets and pillows, hot soup and toast, liquids every hour on the hour. Aspirin as recommended.

If my aches and pains, sore throat and runny nose lasted for more than a day or two, Mom and Dad would confer and agree: “Time to call the doctor.”

Our family physician was Richard Zimmerman, M.D. On wintry days I could hear his tires scrunch the snow as his car pulled into our driveway and I’d tiptoe to the window to watch him negotiate his way to our house. By the time he appeared at my bedroom door black bag in hand, I had already begun a ritual that would occupy and fascinate me. I would study the man. Motivated partly by fear, partly by curiosity, I watched his every move. Always a dark suit, crisp white shirt and club tie. His thick black hair combed back framing a face that could have been sculpted, strong and serious, clear blue eyes that pierced whatever they laid upon and yet quick to show kindness and caring as needed.

With a hard, cold stethoscope and soft, warm hands he’d circumvent my chest, belly and back. Deep breath here, cough there. After a quick look into my ears, throat and nose, he would know what he needed to know. “You’re going to be fine, Ken, nothing serious.” he would say with a soft smile. His words were like a salve for my soul. Here was a man who knew all there was to know about the human body, health and treatment of disease. His wisdom rivaled the great thinkers of modern history. He could do no wrong. For me, as a child, medicine was magic that really worked.

Decades later as an adult, the hours I have spent in waiting rooms and the minutes spent with doctors trying to explain away their misunderstanding of my chronic back pain stand in harsh contrast to the warm and naïve childhood memories of Dr. Zimmerman.

These more recent recollections are a mosaic of white coats and harshly lit faces speaking while I half-listened to their drone of medical jargon — a voice ringing in my head: “Here’s another doctor that isn’t going to be able to help you get rid of your back pain.”