Skip to main content

Bible Belt Doc

By Carl S ~

Bill grew up in Alabama. Since he and his daddy were never close, it wasn't a surprise when he left the state after getting his “basketball diploma,” vowing never to return. But the death of his father left him with an obligation to go back, despite his feelings. Also, because he's a journalist, he saw this as an opportunity to chronicle how things had changed since he left. It wasn't much different except for the developments going on in every community in the state: some fast-food places, a big box store ten miles outside town, etc. With time to spare, he went around interviewing the barber, city planner, cops; people like that. He couldn't get over it, but it seemed their awareness of the outside world hadn't changed a bit since the day he left.

Wouldn't you just know it, he contracted a “bug” that was going around? Now, you might think of this as one big misfortune, but it had the result of introducing him to the town's only resident doctor, who is quite an eccentric. Dr. Tom Waggers had been in practice there for thirty-plus years, and everybody swore to his efficiency. He had a small office building. There was nobody in the waiting room when Bill went in, so he looked around and saw the Doctor Certificate on the wall. He didn't recognize the issuer, but then, there are many schools of medicine. The doc walked in and apologized for his wait.

After an examination, “Doctor Tom,” the friendly name he was known by, gave his diagnosis. “What you have here is merely an excess of the phlegm humor. I have just the remedy, since I and my wife use the same formula from ancient times. Take 1 teaspoonful twice a day for 2 weeks. It'll clear up.”

Bill wasn't ready for this, and said, “Excuse me, but why aren't you writing a prescription?” Doc threw it right back at him, explaining he consulted his ancient medical manual, right there on the shelf - written by Galen himself. “If it was good enough to be used for more than 1400 years, there must be somethin' to it. It contains everything you need to know; you just have to know where to look.” Besides, he said, “I never had no complaints.” So then Bill said, “That's interesting. Are you telling me in all this time, nobody questioned your book? Nobody asked why you didn't keep up with new advances in medicine?” Doc Tom laughed. “Son, look outside. This here's the Bible belt. Do I have to explain why?”

Bill couldn't accept the explanation was that easy, so he persisted. “Okay, but it can't be that simple. Patients don't always get better, some may get worse, and if this goes on they'll begin to question you. What happens when they say the remedy doesn't agree with them, makes them nauseous or causes them to vomit it out? Then what?” The doctor frowned. 'Sometimes I tell them they can go to the “scientific” hospital 15 miles up the road, where they give you autism with inoculations. I usually tell them they're to blame, they're not following orders, cheating on their diets, stuff like that, but most of all I tell them they don't have enough faith in me. Besides, the reason they're sick in the first place is because it's their own fault. And if they don't want to accept that, I'll refer them to any of the preachers in town, who'll give them other
explanations, and tell them to get on the right path. There's demons out there. Everyone’s got symptoms as the result of sin, the original cause. That usually does it.”

“Well,” Bill said, “I don't know how you can live with yourself, because you must know the side effects of your medicines can be worse than, or compound, the illnesses you're treating. What happened to the 'first do no harm' oath you took?” Of course, the doc was offended. “My prescriptions match my diagnosis and The Book's. You couldn't possibly have a misdiagnosis if you follow the Book faithfully. So it figures- no harm can be done.”

“Don't people read this book themselves?” Bill asked. “Surely, they'd wonder why something just doesn't feel right.” He noted Doc had a “quick come-back” ready for this: “It’s habit and tradition. You see, my wife has this old adage: 'A woman uses 80% of her wardrobe 20% of the time, and 20% she uses 80% of the time.' I've got collections of books and Cd's that saying applies to. People read The Book the same way: some 20% of the passages 80% of the time. They'll make notes of 5% of those 20%. And 90% of the clergy quote about 2% from that book. So, I'm not worried; nobody's paying attention. They just don't get it because they're too lazy and trust people like me, you know- the ‘experts.’ I ain't rich, but it’s a comfy livin'.”

With this, Bill stood up to tell the doc, “Well, I've heard enough, so what do I owe you for the diagnosis and medicine?” After he paid, he couldn't resist adding, “Think I'll check with 'that scientific hospital up the road' for a second opinion. You're offended? Just because you're offended, doesn't mean you're right.” Doc said he should check with the preachers first, but by then, Bill was already outside.

He thought about submitting his interview to the local newspaper, but that would've been a waste of time. If you don't know why by now, you haven't been paying attention, and you've accepted 20% of what I wrote, if that.