You Can’t Even Get Diagnosed

 We Have Run Out of Diagnoses

Daily Observer

August 24, 1973



Lapius struggled into the house, wiped the summer sweat from his brow, staggered to the medicine cabinet and extracted a bottle of fine scotch.  Scotch alone would cure his staggers, a condition brought on, he confided in me, by tensions of the outer world.

“How was your day?”  I asked.  He glared malevolently.

“The country is in terrible trouble, Harry---“

“That can be cured only by spiritus fermenti,” I completed the sentence.

“No it won’t cure the country, but it will soften my reaction to it.”  He sipped and sighed, and sat down heavily in the wing chair.  America, the land of plenty!  We are a nation of shortages.  It’s absolutely unbelievable Harry. On the way to the hospital I decided to fill the gas tank.  The service station manager cleaned my windshield, filled my battery, checked the oil, and waved goodbye to me.  They were out of gasoline.  I pleaded with him, Harry, and finally persuaded him to donate a gallon from his personal supplies.

Then I stopped at the stationers for some manila folders, but they were out of them.  ‘Back order for two months’ they told me.  I enquired about the new desk I had purchased.  ‘Possibly December.  Walnut is hard to get.  Matter of fact a walnut tree is worth about $15,000.  If you have any walnut trees you better put a burglar alarm on them.’”

Lapius stopped only long enough to down the scotch in one measured dose.  “We don’t have any walnut trees, do we Harry?”

I assured him we didn’t.

“Then I asked for a refill for my ballpoint pen, and they told me that the manufacturer had discontinued the line.  Here I had wasted almost an hour of precious time and had accomplished zilch.  However, I still had to go to the bank to arrange for a loan.  But Dillingham met me at the front door, and turned me away.  ‘Sorry Lapius,’ he said.  We’ve run out of money.  But it’s only temporary, you understand.  Come back next month.’”

“Wow.  That sounds like a hard day,” I sympathized.

“That’s only the beginning, Harry.”

“How could it get any worse?”

“The office,” he murmured diffidently, a man clearly beaten down by events.

“How could it be worse at the office?”  I asked.  “After all, a physician’s office is his bastion.  Nothing can be allowed to go wrong at the office.”

“That’s what I always thought, Harry, but I was wrong.  When I got to the office Persephine, my secretary met me in tears.”

“’What’s troubling you?’ I asked, ‘surely it can’t be that time of the month again, so soon.’”

“’It’s not that at all,’ she whined, ‘It’s that our supplies haven’t arrived.’

“’Is that all that’s bothering you?’ I said, chummying her a little to make her feel better.  ‘Care not.  We’ll make do.  We have spare scissors, gauze, alcohol, cotton balls.  After all it isn’t the first time we’ve been caught short.’”

‘It’s not that,’ she cried, ‘it’s the diagnoses.  They were supposed to be here last week.  Then when they didn’t arrive we were promised that they would be here definitely today.  But I called the company and they said there would be a slight delay.’

‘The diagnosis!  You mean we are all out of diagnoses?  Impossible.  I had a closet full last week.’

‘I know,’ she whinnied loyally, ‘but we were so busy, you used them all up.  There are only three or four left, mostly liver and kidney, and you know how seldom you need those.’

‘Check again,’ I ordered firmly.  ‘Surely there must be a few heart and lung and ear, nose and throat diagnoses around.’

She shook her head.  ‘Not a one.  I’ve already checked.  The Diagnostic Corporation told us that if you would be willing to pay double fees, they could hand deliver a few of their spares to tide you over.  But that’s the best they could do.’

“I agreed to the invidious blackmail Harry.  What else could I do?  Within an hour their truck rolled up and they delivered a pitifully small array of diagnoses, under armed guard.  I should have opened the package before he left.  I would have returned them.  Look what the sent me, a medulloblastoma, a pheochromocytoma, and erythema multiforme bullosum, and a lupus erythematosis.”

“What a crazy assortment.  You wouldn’t use those in your office practice in a million years.  What will you do, send them back?”

“No.  I’ll keep them around for some clinical-pathological conferences we have at the hospital.  But lo and behold, who was seated in my waiting room, but Dillingham the bank president.  I ushered him into my examining room.  His face was puffy, he could scarcely talk, he kept pointing to his throat.  I peered in and saw the reddened most infected tonsils I’d seen in ages.

‘Sorry, old man,’ I said to him, ‘you’ve sure got lousy looking tonsils but I can’t help you.  You see, I’ve run out of diagnoses.

“He grasped his throat.  ‘You’ve got to help me.  I’m strangling, I can’t eat.’

‘I’d sure like to help you, old man, but it’s out of my hands.’

‘Can’t you just give me some penicillin?’ he gasped. 

‘Not without a diagnosis.  You wouldn’t want me to treat you blindly, would you?  He shook his head.  ‘Just put some ice on your neck and call me next week.’

‘I’ll be dead by next week.’

“Amazing, Lapius,” I said.  “Whatever happened to the diagnoses to make them in such short supply?”

“Well, as I explained to Dillingham, when the dollar dropped, the Germans and Japanese to say nothing of the French, found they could buy our diagnoses cheaply.  They bought several billion dollars worth and left us on the ropes, diagnostically that is.”

“So the day was a total loss,” I said.

“Not completely,” Lapius replied, lighting a cigar.  “The president of the bank said that if I could treat his tonsillitis he thought he might squeeze my loan out of the bank.  So I gave him some penicillin and got the loan.”

“But I thought you said you didn’t have any diagnoses left.”

“I didn’t.  But then Dillingham was the one who made diagnosis.  He called it tonsillitis.  It seems that his bank had bought some diagnoses cheap with Eurodollars.  They helped corner the market and create the shortage of diagnoses and drive the domestic price up.  As it turned out, the president of the bank now owns most of the diagnoses in the area.”

“What is he going to do with them?”

“Probably use them to become a member of the board of trustees at the hospital.”