Delivering the News – Round 4 : Page 1

June 5th, 2008

“Sorrow sometimes teach a lesson well,
And I know that good can come from bad
So let’s look into that morning Star
‘Cause you know just who you are…”

-Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, “All I Need,” Spirit of Music, c. 1999, Bob Marley Music

“Well, I’ll be frank,” the doctor intones gravely, tightening the knot of his tie. “The prognosis is…not good.” Could be paranoia, but it’s as if he’s biting his tongue to keep from popping a grin, or even a chuckle. That too- serious look. The bastard, I do believe he’s enjoying this!

Delivering the news, after all-that’s the signature scene on every one of the dramaporn clones that have been hastily plotted by failed playwrights since television began. The shows where dumpy looking, balding guys with glasses get to be unconscionable philanderers and still earn the love of grandmotherly near-widows who bake brownies all day for you after heroically snatch ninety-four year old Sylvester from the jaws of death by performing some unconventional radical surgery that you invent on the spot, mostly to impress the new nurse.

You know that sort of show. In fact, I believe that the ubiquity of this tired setting has less to do with it’s popularity among viewers (it’s a fact that most Americans will watch any crap put in front of them) or even
unwillingness to invent new and original premises (which in addition to being expensive and risky, requires exactly the type of minds that avoid commercial television) than with the patriotic zeal of network executives, who, in their unobtrusive way, are trying desperately to address the nation’s shortage of physicians.

I can just about see a teenage version of this geek, pocket protectors and calculators, Advanced Placement Biology text at the ready the minute he stops jacking off to ER. Standing in front of a mirror in blue thriftshop surgical scrubs and a white Miami Vice coat, practicing his lines. “There appears to be an abnormality,” and “I’m going to be frank, the prognosis is not good,” and “Nurse, please, I can’t. I’m a married man, and my mistress works on this wing.”

If I were writing the script, the next line would be, “However, there is an experimental therapy that just became available for your condition, and the early indications are promising…”

Instead, the Writer, who I sometimes think is boring and unnecessarily cruel, decided to insert a lecture into the monologue. “If you’d come to me earlier, when we first called you, it’s possible that we’d have had some options. Surgery might have been feasible. But it’s been over three months, and your x-rays are extremely discouraging. Chemo and radiation are contraindicated by the extent of the growths.”

He pauses, savoring his moment. “I’m afraid that the best I can recommend is a course of painkillers, and I will, of course, associate the research centers with your case. Breakthroughs happen every day, and one might be relevant to you.”

He hesitates again, and it’s obvious he’s waiting for the Question. It’s my big line, one of the last I will get to utter, since I am a guest on this show, just one among the legion of goners that portray the heartbreaking tragedy the Star must confront each day in his daily struggle to be true to his Oath.

There’s no escaping it; I need the information, if only for tax purposes, and he’ll never tell me without being explicitly asked. Would you? I surrender, nearly choking on the words. “How long, doc?”

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