Having woken up with a scratchy throat today I was reminded of the many nasty sore throats I had as a kid in the fifties. And what a different time that was for medicine.
The sore throats were bad ones and I tried to avoid the next painful swallow, feeling like I had gravel and sandpaper and steel wool gouging out my throat.
I would entertain a vision of the sore throat and of a general attached internal badness being pulled out of me, as if it was a giant tapeworm. Being the youngest, I compared myself to the rest of the family and by comparison I saw myself as not capable and not smart. I imagined that it was my sore throat and its connected badness that made me feel feel sluggish and stupid.
I tried not to complain because I knew what would happen if I did complain: a call would be made to The Good Doctor and he would come.
He would drive to our house, as he did for all patients in those days. He would work his way down our dirt road and up our scraggly paved driveway and poke his big black Cadillac up the hill between the barn and the shed, then back down in front of the barn and then roll down and park in front of the house, facing down the steep driveway, prepared to leave right away if needed.
And he would come right upstairs to my bedroom and examine me. He was gentle and sweet, but I was very much in fear of what was always coming next: he would open his black bag and take out the big hypodermic needle, load it up with the miracle drug penicillin and give the shot in my scrawny rear end.
The shot would hurt and I dreaded it; I would rather go through days and days of horrendous sandpaper throat than get one shot and be fine the next day.
Looking back I have to remind myself that, yes, the doctor came to our house, he came up to my room to examine me and fix me. This is unthinkable today, but it was the way it was done then.
I assume he sent a bill to my parents, but it was never enough that it caused any sort of discussion.
The night that The Good Doctor died my father, whom I had never seen cry, collapsed into massive, tortured spasms of tears and wailing. He shut himself into his bedroom. The deep grief he felt for The Good Doctor punctured a well of walled-off grief and he cried for every thing in his life he had never cried for.
I read somewhere that cancer can be set off by experiencing deep grief.
And it wasn’t long before cancer came for my father, a story I have not worked up the gumption to tell.
But I do know for sure that when The Good Doctor left us he was replaced by the Not Good Doctor, who misdiagnosed my father’s internal pain until it was far too late.
I don’t know if my father’s bottomless grief over the death of The Good Doctor triggered his cancer. I don’t know if he was crying for his own death that was waiting in the wings for The Good Doctor to depart so it could descend on my father and tear him apart.
But I am sure that the loss of The Good Doctor, Dr. Matty Jacobs, was felt deeply all over our little town, not just in the upstairs bedroom of one old farmhouse on Mexico Lane.