Premiered – April Fools' Day, 2004
The bloodsucker's small clinic was, if we are to credit Earl's failing credibility, even more ostentatious than anything he had seen to date. It was so ostentatious in fact that it's scarcely worth the description, other than perhaps, to mention that its appearance was synonymous with unbridled wealth. Much of the building and grounds had no apparent value, use, or hint of taste, other than as a means of squandering ill gotten gain.
B.S., however, was personable in the extreme and loaded with charisma. The man had absolutely no shred of decency, but was nonetheless really quite charming. His reaction to Earl was, "Hey! Call me B.S.!"
"Nice place you've got here," Earl said, in one of ancient history's greatest moments of under- and/or mis-statement.
"It's comfortable," B. S. replied, in his own small attempt to challenge Earl's recent entry into the contest for ancient history's greatest moments of under- and/or mis-statements.
"It's also rather large."
"Nonsense!" B. S. smiled with all the agreeability at his disposal. "Just enough room to include the fourteen essential examination rooms, the twin staff lounges, the executive class lounge, the nineteen bed, fully automated and equipped hospital, the twelve various laboratories, recovery rooms, and gift shops, and of course, my part-time Koala kennel."
"It's a tax write off!" B. S. chuckled to himself and said, "Got the idea at the last medical convention I vacationed at! Marvelous conference! It offered tips on every tax and investment angle you can imagine. Koala kennels! Can you imagine? I was really amazed at all of the possibilities of those furry little monsters and what they could do to the bottom line of an income tax return!"
Missing the point, Earl offered, "The convention sounds like it would be just the thing to keep up with new developments in medicine."
"Yeah," B. S. admitted, wistfully, "I think they had a session on that too. For the die-hard medicos, no doubt." Then B. S. regained his enthusiasm. "But let me tell you the ultimate! You're going to love this one!"
"Oh?" was Earl's semi-brilliant reply.
"The very latest idea in sheltering taxes is to buy a fourth world country! All you have to do is to agree to pay off its national debt. But in reality, you don't have to put up any money. Instead you pay off the debt by issuing junk bonds. The Prince's Internal Money Fund then steps in and requires the country's locals to ratchet down their poverty to a yet lower level. When that blows up in everyone's face, more non-recourse debt is issued to cover the previous non-recourse debt. All this provided by the IMF! Just goes to show what can be accomplished when money has no intrinsic value, but is actually just figures on a ledger. For the investor, it's an absolute steal!"
Earl couldn't seem to catch up with B. S.'s enthusiasm. His side and neck were beginning to reassert their independence. "Sounds fascinating."
"Oh it is; it is. Shuffling money around and making it grow is fantastic fun. I absolutely love it!"
"So," Earl ventured, "How's your medical practice?"
"Great! In fact, the Prince has just come up with his own idea of one gigantic money-maker. The idea is that he puts out this big campaign to convince everyone in the kingdom that they have too much of something or another. Might be cholesterol, fatigue, or whatever they make up! Isn't that a riot!? The truth is that there's really no evidence to suggest that too much of anything is bad for you, whereas we've known for years that not enough is fatal! Is that a kick in the ass or what!?
"Can't someone just do some tests to prove it one way or the other?
"Takes decades! Which is the best part! It'll be twenty years before anyone figures out what a con the whole thing is."
"I don't think I understand," Earl mumbled.
"The best part is the money we're going to make. You start with this enormous program -- at Kingdom expense -- to convince half the population they've too much, oh say, cholesterol. Then we get to put them through deliciously expensive but inconclusive tests, and then force the little hypochondriacs to take this really foul medicine for the rest of their lives. Between us and the Apothecaries, we'll be making more money than the Prince's latest budget for education! Now is that the greatest thing that you've ever heard or what! Man, we haven't had anything this great since the advent of the military-industrial complex!"
Earl's face slowly turned white. "Actually, I think I'm going to be sick."
B. S. suddenly shifted into his professional attitude. "Oh, I'm sorry Earl! I had no idea you were feeling bad! Here, why don't you sit down?"
Earl allowed himself to be helped into a chair. "It all started in my stomach... I think... or my side, maybe..."
"Probably cholesterol deficiency. But no problem! I'm already ordering tests. I figure about seventeen different ones..."
Earl gasped. "Seventeen...?"
"It's the standard Multitude of Tests. MTs, as they're called in the trade. They're always quite comforting to our patients, not to mention our medical liability insurance agents." B. S. laughed at his aside, but then forged on. "Everybody figures with that much testing, it's almost inevitable that we can discover what's wrong. I mean, how could we miss?"
"Do you ever? Miss, I mean?"
"Of course! Constantly. The tests are horribly inaccurate. But that's only because modern medicine constantly needs new money to fund new research on finding new diseases with which to make even newer money curing the newer diseases with newer technological devices."
"Ohhhh," Earl groaned. "I hope I don't have anything... unknown."
"Don't worry. We'll find something to treat. Guaranteed. Maybe even something old and traditional."
B. S. was true to his word. The result of the MTs was all that B. S. and/or Earl could have hoped for: Four kinds of traditional cancers, two shades of old reliable Parkinson's Disease, a smattering of recently traditionalized Karsoma's syndrome, two teaspoons of ancient gout, a dash of chronic TB (Terminal Blues) and an age old combination of Self-Induced Immunity Deficiency and chronic Rectal Dysfunction. Also a mild case of halitosis.
"I want you to know, Earl," B. S. said, in the most sincere, compassionate, emotionally-laden assurance that Earl had ever heard or felt, "That we're going to do everything in our power to help you through this. We're going to leave no stone unturned, no turn unstoned, no path less traveled, no byway not followed, no stream not forded and no mountain not climbed. We're in this with you until the finish! And I guarantee, if your insurance holds out, we'll push that finish into the next millenium!"
Earl felt B. S.'s warmth and genuineness, and was strangely pleased he could have all his physical ailments, if only as a means of joining B. S. in their joint Great Healing Quest. Because Earl had few other talents with which to contribute to the Quest, it seemed the least that he could do would be to suffer.
His fellow questee continued. "We'll start with the 'big three'." When Earl looked at him expectantly, B. S. explained: "The 'big three' are the Three Glorious Milestones of Medical Progress: Leaches, Lobotomies and Radiation Therapy. These are going to do wonders for you! You won't recognize yourself afterwards! You'll be a different man… or whatever."
"Sounds exciting," Earl ventured.
"It is. Trust me."
"I do. Implicitly."
"Good." B. S. became more serious. "Now then, let's get some of those nasty old administrative details out of the way. Who are you insured with?"
"Who's going to pick up the incredibly large tab for all this? You know... The name of your insurance company."
"I don't think I have one."
"Nonsense! Everybody's got insurance! The medical profession couldn't do without it. In fact, it was the medical profession that invented medical insurance -- just to make damn sure we got paid! Consequently, you have to be insured!"
For just a moment Earl thought he saw B. S. flinch. But years of medical and related training prevailed. Blood Sucker maintained an enviable outward calm and asked, "But what about the Kingdom's Preferred Aid for Failing Medical Practices and Morally and Financially Bankrupt Hospitals?"
"Oh yes, I remember now." Earl didn't notice B. S.'s sudden relief. "Only I didn't pick up the option. I've never been sick."
B. S. gasped, literally and figuratively. Struggling through the terrorizing thought, he managed to croak out, " No insurance?" Having never dealt with a non-insured person, B. S. could not imagine how an individual could be billed medical charges, which in themselves could cause the individual to go into immediate cardiac arrest.
Cheerfully, Earl answered, "Guess not."
B. S. looked down at his desk, filled with the results of the tests showing perhaps the greatest cornucopia of diseases and illnesses that the bloodsucker had ever witnessed. Then, as his composure began to return, his voice now sounding as if it were coming from some far away source, he said, "Of course, the tests could be wrong. Perhaps," with his voice gaining confidence, "we should wait a year or so and see if things improve by themselves. Like maybe you find yourself in a job with liberal fringe benefits."
Earl hadn't gotten past the first statement. "The tests could be wrong?"
B. S., still in another world, continued, "Right now the clinic really can't take a chance with losing another patient. The administrators of the Kingdom's Preferred Aid for Failing Medical Practices and Morally and Financially Bankrupt Hospitals have been getting a trifle upset over our current monthly mortality rate. We seem to be killing off our patients before the paperwork can clear. Terribly distressing. Slows down our collections for months."
"THE TESTS COULD BE WRONG!!?"
"Of course!" B. S. looked up, in a casual and charming manner. "It's probably all in your head anyway. Psychosomatic, you know. Almost every disease is. In your head, I mean!"
Earl was bewildered. "I thought it was mostly in my stomach!?"
"Which is tied to your head. Everything's tied together. The physical, emotional, mental... Even the spiritual. Just think good thoughts, keep a positive attitude, laugh a lot, and you'll be fine." Then as an afterthought, "But don't tell anyone I told you that. I could lose my license."
Earl's bewilderment had evolved to amazement. "All I have to do is think good thoughts and I'll be fine!?"
"Absolutely. Now if you'll excuse me," B. S. rose and began making his getaway, "I'm really terribly busy."
Rising slowly, Earl asked, "I'll be fine?"
B. S. was already making his way out the door. But then he turned and quickly added, "Please be careful on your way out. My liability insurance is suffering from chronic terminal overuse." With that he ducked outside the room and closed the door.
Earl looked at the closed door for a several seconds. Then he turned and walked slowly out. 'I think maybe I'm beginning to feel better already', he thought, ignoring the nagging dull pain in his side. He also had a crick in his neck from looking at B. S. at an angle designed to get a different point of view of what the man had been saying. The kind of look where you can't believe what the other person is trying to convey. It was all quite perplexing for the patient.
"I'll be fine," Earl said aloud, struggling to regain some semblance of sanity. "Besides... I still have my... Uhhh... Oh yes! I still have my family, my title." Then he smiled. "Calm seas and... All that other stuff." Then to himself, he thought, 'I'll be fine. It's very strange, but I really think I'll be fine! Just by thinking it, I'll be okay. Maybe.'
Chapter 5 – The Apothecary
Chapter 7 -- Defrocked
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