Jerusalem, Israel (Winter 2016)
This morning the pain in my back intensified. I decided not to drive to work and took a cab instead.
I answered with a faint “Yes.” “Here it comes” I told myself, “again questions about heartburn, skin rashes or hemorrhoids.” Perhaps I should tell him that I need some quiet, but I did not have the willpower to forestall the coming questions.”To the medical center, please,” I told the driver, who seemed to be in his thirties. My statement caused him to award me a second look. After noticing my leather briefcase and perhaps other signs, he asked, “Are you a doctor?”
“What kind of a doctor are you?” demanded the driver.
“I’m an internist”, I answered, well aware that even a veterinarian would not be spared at this juncture.
“Ah”, he uttered. But his disappointment lasted no more than a fraction of a second and he continued, “but you must be familiar with head problems” and he tapped his right temple twice with his forefinger.
“Only a little, but let’s hear it.”
“Well”, he said, “It’s my brother. Most of the time he is a great guy, but sometimes he has problems.”
He stopped, probably expecting me to say something, but I was focusing on the sharp pain in my back that was spreading to the right leg. “I see,” I managed to say.
“But what do you think?”
I replied, “You didn’t give me much information, give me more details. How old is your brother?”
He changed the subject and asked, “Do you want to go through the city center, or take the parkway?”
“I normally use the parkway.”
“OK” he said, and resumed the conversation. “As I said, my brother has problems and it worries us. Usually he is fine, but sometimes he has these moods and then he is difficult to deal with.”
“Did he see a doctor about this problem?”
“Well, it’s impossible to talk with him on these matters. He gets angry and keeps silent.”
I was looking for something to say and asked, “Is he the sensitive type?’
“Oh, sure. He is a good person. He used to write nice papers in school. He has beautiful handwriting. I wish I had an example of his handwriting here with me, so I could show you.”
I sneaked a look at him, trying to figure out what he meant by this. There are so many jokes about the illegible handwriting of doctors. But he looked quite serious. For a minute, I disconnected myself from the present and thought about my high school English teacher, who told to me during a school trip that I lost a whole grade just because of my poor handwriting.
The driver persisted, “So, what do you say?”
“Well, I meant to ask whether he is touchy about the topic of his behavior. Is he willing to talk about it?”
“No, when people mention this topic he does not answer, and wants to be left alone.”
I was beginning to lose patience, but made an effort. “How does his problem manifest in daily life?”
This was followed by a moment of silence and then the driver answered. “He acts a little crazy sometimes, yelling at everybody and missing work.”
I started to suspect that there was no brother and that the problems were the driver’s. I said nothing for a while. I tried the indirect approach, “What is your brother’s work?”
Instead of an answer he said, “Gee, the roads are really busy today. Are you in a hurry, because if you are I can take a shortcut.”
“No, it’s OK. We are not far now. I suggest that your brother consult a doctor. There are good drugs nowadays for mental problems.”
In a few minutes we arrived at the hospital. I paid the driver and wished him and his brother all the best. I did not expect any expression of gratitude, which indeed did not come. But the driver had a question, “Doctor, I understand that you usually drive your own car to work, what happened today?”
“Recently it’s sometimes difficult for me to drive. I have cancer, which has spread to my bones, including my spine. This can be painful. In fact, part of the time in the hospital I am busy with the treatment of my own health problems.”
I closed the cab door gently, and limped toward the entrance of the hospital.
The next day I found a hastily scribbled note under my door. It said, “Thank you for your advice. I’m sorry that I bothered you with my problems while you were troubled by your own illness. You taught me a lesson. Your cab driver.”
After receiving BSc and MSc degrees in chemistry and physics, Menachem Hanani completed a PhD in neurobiology and was a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, where he investigated the neurophysiology of the retina. Following that, he returned to Jerusalem as an independent investigator and conducted research on the digestive diseases and more recently on chronic pain. He is a professor at the Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Medicine in Jerusalem.
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