“And what do you think of Helicobacter pylori?” the scientist asked. “I like to think of it as a grave political mistake,” said the doctor, as he washed down his creosote, mastic, bismuth and licorice pills with a short glass of chartreuse.
The angel brought the blindfolded doctor into the shade where the dark woods began. This is the border, said the angel. I will escort you into the darkness in a moment before leaving you. What is this place? The doctor trembled, feeling the cold hyrcanian air blowing through black needles and dripping undergrowth. It is the silent wood, also known as the forest of suicides. When someone wants to die, they lose themselves in its depths, walking for days until hunger, exhaustion, hypothermia, wolves or bears finish him off. Then I am to be murdered? Not at all, the angel laughed. You are a man of skills; it will be much easier for you to survive. It is more of a contemplative retreat offered freely. The doctor inhaled the fresh, ozonous air and wanted to believe the angel. Why this punishment or this forest? Some revenge for a tragedy long ago, a malpractice case? Not quite, the angel sighed. They say there are some 164,000,000 life forms in this particular forest. It is the perfect place for you to contemplate the 164,000,000 deaths that will occur in the next ten years from unnecessary or adverse medical interventions—and that is a conservative number. It is also the tonnage of waste your hospitals produce throughout seven countries in only one year. Sadly, the amount of debt created, money wasted or stolen, and the poverty figures far exceeded anything we could dream up in a practical manner—there was no forest big enough to match your needs in that respect, but this one will suffice to give you a general idea. They say that the silence and darkness have a calming, soporific effect, and nothing is better for beginning pure contemplation, confession and penance than a good night’s rest.
A man wanted to live and work in the infirmary, but the admitting nurse would not allow it. All of our patients and staff are sick, terminally sick. In order to live and work here, you have to have our sickness. You have none of the right symptoms. The man complained of how exclusive and medieval the infirmary was. The admitting nurse said that if he really thought of it as a vocation, then he could be injected with the pathogen. The man would have none of that, even when the hypodermic was freely offered. It was not sickness that he wanted—was that not obvious? The man departed. Along the way, he happened to come across some scrubs. He dressed in the scrubs and got back into the infirmary by stealth. For days and nights, he worked as a clerk, typing charts, requisitions, prescriptions and reports, for he had always been a good bureaucrat, and he even noticed that his mere presence was good for the infirmary. Although he saw little of the patients, he heard from an orderly that there had been a few miraculous cures. One day, the admitting nurse found him, and announced his immediate expulsion. The man remonstrated and argued. Were patients not getting better? Some are, the nurse admitted, but more are dying, for you have brought your own sickness into the building, the wrong kind of sickness, and they have no immunity to fight it. Were there no other hospitals for men with your illness? It was too late. The disease was spreading fast, and within a few years, the infirmary was only remembered for its vast and ornate cemetery.
In the days of the great plague, there was a woman who was stricken and who would most likely die in a fortnight or two. Some friends came to her and whispered of a phantom doctor, who would come and heal her if she secretly summoned him. First of all, the woman wanted to know why he was a phantom. Secondly, she doubted that this doctor even existed. The friends gave her testimony of their own cures. They showed her letters and prescriptions the doctor had given; they could even perform some of the minor surgeries and treatments to keep her alive until he appeared. They had other scraps of evidence, but the woman was an expert logician, and destroyed all of their bits of evidence with clear, cold, cutting and seemingly irrefutable arguments. It seemed insane that a doctor would only come if summoned. Why all of these intrigues and phantasms? It was simple, her friends explained. The doctor had been banished for treason by the princes, scholars, bishops and magistrates. They blamed him for the plague, and feared his visitation would make the realm sink deeper into the ravages of contagion. I would rather see a witch doctor, the woman said. At least I can find some entertainment in his traditions and culture. As for this phantom doctor, keep him far away from me, and do not lay your hands on me with any intention of mimicking his treatments. Some of her friends praised her for her bravery and honesty in clinging to her principles and respecting the laws of the realm. Most of her friends mourned her senseless death, but had to flee the realm to live elsewhere, for the laws of the land were ensuring the swift and violent extinction of all life.