Verbal Medicine is a product of the collective ‘Writing Game‘ (CEO project).
Verbal Medicine 1
Stephen Steeplton meandered his aged blue Volvo 940 along the main road between his place of residence (he was going home) and his work-place. A man of fifty plus years, he didn’t feel the need exceed the speed limit or to even drive up to it. The car wasn’t powerful, and he didn’t care. It accelerated pitifully, it dragged up hills, he braked excessively at small bends. It generally annoyed the fuck out of every driver behind him. Today he possibly drove even slower on account of his mind pouring over the details of a patient at his Phytocorp clinic.
Stephen was a medical herbalist or at least that’s how he named himself internally. In fact, this name had been abandoned when the corporates swept through herbal medicine business over 10 years ago. Phytocorp and the rest of them had swept through the market purchasing every small herbal practice and health store in the country. The business model was appalling. These companies borrowed vast amounts of money to purchase and transform these shabby small businesses into sleek metallic operations. It hadn’t really panned out like that. Of course phyto-therapeutics had been getting increasingly popular as an alternative to the mostly wealth oriented ‘real’ drug biomedical industry —the poor turned back to the plants in desperation of their increasingly sickening plight. This made it look like the industry (if you could call it that) was ripe for corporatization -it wasn’t. Business after business failed, corporates lost vast amounts of money as they endlessly failed to turn small herbal clinics and health stores into shiny capital producing machines, because the poor were, well, poor.
However, determined not to let the shabby grass roots practices of snake-oil re-emerge, companies like Phytocorp grimly hung in there until this wasteland cleared somewhat. They then set up the Phyto-clinics in hotspots where the practices had been actually successful and bought politicians that banned the re-emergence of any independent herbalism of similar practice (in case you wondered, acupuncture suffered a similar fate of corporatizing, the independents were removed and lucrative deals were made involving the syphoning off bioelectricity from clients on the sly). These hotspots were of course places where the middle classes were wont to indulge themselves with every alternative therapy they could lay their hands on. These people initially expressed a mild disingenuous dissatisfaction at the lack of the feel of authenticity corporate world exuded (they wanted to feel like they attended something more earthy) but quickly embraced the smooth plastic curves and carefully manicured philodendrons that adorned the practices. Once reconciled with this herbalism-of-the-future image they came in droves to (mostly) have their chronic conditions mildly ameliorated and talk about themselves.
So Stephen Steeplton was not a medical herbalist, he was a phytoclinician. This was his official title. This was somewhat confused by the fact that the corporates had even created a new title in law for them: Pr. So he was Pr Steeplton. No one knew exactly how you were supposed to pronounce ‘Pr’; because they hadn’t thought about it that hard, someone in PR had just noticed that Doctor becomes Dr and they liked that. Running with this idea, the same ingenious PR operative board switched the D for a P to make the Pr title. In theory it was short for phytoclinician, but of course that didn’t make any real sense. Worse still, since the title came from the PR dept more confusion ensued when some covetous management officials started adopting Pr as their title despite not being phytophysicians (but working in PR). Professors from various universities chucked in their tuppenceworth by writing to the government, protesting potential conflation with their own titles but these complaints were burned.
The patient Steeplton was considering was one he’d seen earlier that day. He considered most of his patients to be malingerers of some sort, middle aged people with mithering complaints symptomatic of little other than age itself; infected with some kind of ecological ethic these people came to the phytocorp clinics rather than mainstream biomed for the holistic touch. Pr Steeplton was at least proficient in this. He invariably had a variety of plant allies that hovered around him in adjacent realms. These beings would often whisper diagnostics to him saving him the trouble of thinking about the patient himself or even listening to them. The only problem with taking his eye completely off the ball was that sometimes the allies would just make things up for their own entertainment, suggesting wildly inappropriate remedies for conditions the patient didn’t even have. One time based on such recommendations he gave an old lady an Rx of 50% Capsicum 50% Datura (10ml TDI) for what turned out later to be haemorrhoids. It all turned nasty and Phytocorp had to clean up the mess —quite literally. So nowadays he paid attention to his own mind and what they said. This was usually highly effective.
The patient he reflected on at the moment was, though boring in character, interesting in case. He had come originally about a series of paralysing headaches which biomed centre had at first diagnosed as idiopathic tumours. However subsequent scans has shown the tumours to be only occasionally manifest. Interdimensional tumour interference was something they couldn’t treat since even if they scheduled surgery there would be no way of telling if the tumours would be there that day or not, furthermore this came with the extra danger that an ego driven surgeon (and they all are) would not be able to live with not removing something in the operation and hence would remove sections of brain and pass them off as if they were the tumours. Biomed didn’t need the hassle so sent him to Phytocorp who immediately gave him to Pr Steeplton (being the most esoterically capable of the Prs and this unit).
Gary (that was the patient’s name) was a talker. He talked so much Pr Steeplton’s allies even got bored and switched off. Steeplton had a hard time staying awake enough to try to sift through the endless waffle ‘So Pr, how do I say that is it like ‘prr’?, doesn’t matter? Okay, I’ve been a little better, I took my medicine like you said. It doesn’t taste as good as the last one and I uh, feel it goes more left side than right if you know what I mean? My Cynthia says I can’t tell my right from my left, maybe she’s right I do sometimes get confused, I mean not so confused I don’t know which hand I’m writing with if you know what I mean. Anyway…’ and so it went on, and on.
Aside from the fact that occasionally manifest tumours was an interesting case, it was what Gary had said that had sparked Pr Steeplton’s interest, Gary had been talking about a dream he had had. Stephen had always been interested in dreams. He considered himself a bit of a Jungian on the sly, or maybe a neo-Jungian, whatever that was. Jung seemed so distant now that it seemed sticking on neo as a prefix might be a good idea. ‘So I had this dream Prr, just after the last headache, which was big but only lasted a short while, which is good as they used to last much longer, except it was more painful, do you think as the tumours get shorter in time, they might get bigger in space? Anyway I was sat in this armchair and a man walks in. He’s only small and he’s old but really spritely. He says, ‘get out of the chair!’ and I get out of the chair. Then he says ‘you know your problem pal?’ I say ‘No’ he says ‘You walk all wrong!’ ‘I do?’ ‘Yup, so listen up I’m going to show you the right way to walk!’ Then he walks round the room in this weird low walk, leaning slowing forwards as he does so. It looked pretty creepy to be honest but there was also something kind of, uh, powerful about it. Anyway he goes round the room a few times and then shouts ‘Now you!’ I start trying but I can’t lean forwards, I just lean sideways, then I wake up’.
Pr Steeplton was worried that Gary might be right about the tumours growing as they were temporally compressed. He obviously needed to adjust the prescription, the last thing he wanted was Gary’s haemorrhaged brain on his conscience. Gary wanted to know if he should try the weird low walk or not. Stephen felt unsure. He needed to know if the old man was a bad symbol or not. He tried asking Gary what colour his clothes were, but Gary couldn’t remember. This was frustrating as decoding dream clothing was his favourite interpretive device. He liked it so much he even had devised a whole a categorisation system of items of dream clothing, their colours and what the various combinations meant.
His mental flitting between the various areas of this conversation were suddenly interrupted by his noticing of a quickly approaching police vehicle in the rear view mirror. He attempted to pull the car to the side of the road to allow the vehicle by but it sped past him before he could do so. Upon passing him though, rather than speeding on its way, it screeched sharply to a stop forcing him to do likewise, or at least meander to a stop (given that he had only been driving at 42mph).
Stephen sat confused as a slender pale policeman swung himself out of the car and strode towards his vehicle. ‘Good evening sir’ ‘Evening officer’ ‘Any reason why you didn’t pull out of the way of our car just now sir?’ ‘Well, I was about to, but then you just went round me’ ‘Sir the reason we did go round you was because you were in the way, we’re on our way to a very dangerous incident you know.’ ‘Right’ ‘There’s no need to be sarcastic sir’ Steeplton was understandably confused. If the incident was so urgent, why bother him? It did however seem unwise to point this out.
The policeman stared in at him through the window, his eyes looked glassy and pink. Stephen shuddered and looked again and they seemed to looked more normal. ‘Well sir?’ Realising his mind has wandered and the policeman had continued talking for some time, he had no idea what he should say ‘Yes..’ he tried. ‘Yes?’ said the policeman ‘Yes’ said Stephen. ‘Right then sir, you had better come with us then.’