In Praise of Modern Medicine
by William Michaelian

Not long ago, the doctor told me my days were numbered. Monday, he said, is 67. Tuesday is 3. Wednesday is 817. Thursday is ó Wait a minute, I said. Where are you getting this? ó 47,000. Let me finish, he said. Friday is your lucky day. Friday is 7. Saturday is 81 to the twelfth power, and Sunday is 0. Zero? I said. Why is that? Is that the day Iím going to die? Most likely, the doctor said. Of course, thatís only a guess. A guess? I said. You know the exact numbers, but my dying on Sunday is only a guess? The doctor shrugged. What can I do? he said. Iím not God. Well, I said. Iím glad to hear you admit that, anyway.

The following week was a busy week. Monday morning on my way to work, my car broke down. Luckily, I was right in front of a gas station when it happened. How much? I said to the mechanic in charge after heíd looked it over. It isnít serious, he said. Itíll only be $67. So he fixed the car and I paid him. It wasnít until I had driven my newly repaired car out into the street that I realized the mechanic had charged me the exact same amount as my number for the day, 67. Amazing, I said to myself. Absolutely amazing. Thatís modern medicine for you.

Tuesday was a good day. I got a lot of work done on Tuesday. While I was at the office I wrote a lot of letters and solved the companyís budget crisis. Everybody was happy, especially my boss. This earns you a nice fat raise, he said, happily pounding me on the shoulder. This afternoon, come to my office and weíll discuss the amount. Thatís great, I said. What time shall I come? Three, he said. No sooner, no later. I was on the phone with a client when it dawned on me that 3 was the number the doctor had assigned to Tuesday. Amazing, I said to myself after hanging up. Thatís modern medicine for you.

On Wednesday I was supposed to play golf, but there was a big storm, so I stayed home. Too bad, my wife said. But that gives us a chance to go shopping. Shopping? I said. I donít want to go shopping. I want to play golf. But we need a new sofa, my wife said. And in the paper I saw one on sale. On sale my eye, I said. Just how much is this sofa of yours? The one I like is $817, she said. But itís really nice. It will be worth every penny. So we went to the furniture store and bought the couch. When I signed the credit card slip, it hit me: 817. Amazing, I said to myself. This modern medicine is really something.

Thursday during my lunch hour I decided to renegotiate the loan on our house. When I was taking care of the matter at the bank, I was shocked to find out that we owed exactly $47,000. Once again, the doctor was right. Amazing, I said to myself as I signed the form. Modern medicine is indeed a miracle. Inside, though, I was beginning to get a little nervous.

Friday was casual dress day at the office ó a good thing, because it turned out I had to work late. Thereís nothing worse than working overtime in a suit. At the end of the day your clothes are stuck to you and you have to use a can opener to get them off. But not this time. This time I had an open collar, and a pair of nice, soft pants, the kind you wear when your kids are with the babysitter and youíre out having drinks with your wife. While I was getting ready to leave, I glanced at the clock on my desk. It was exactly seven.

Once again, I was amazed. I was also scared witless. Every day that week, the doctor had been right. Now only Saturday remained. If the doctor was right on Saturday, too, then the chance that Iíd be dead on Sunday increased dramatically ó unless there was some sort of miracle and Sunday turned out to be a 1 instead of a 0, or a 2, or a 37 ó it didnít matter what number it was.

Saturday is usually a pretty good day for me, but this one wasnít. I didnít sleep a wink all night. Eighty-one to the twelfth power, I kept saying to myself, over and over. How is that possible? I donít even know what 81 to the twelfth power is. Eighty-one times eighty-one times eighty-one . . . and on and on and on, etc., etc.

When morning finally came, I was exhausted. I was sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee and reading the paper when my son came in. Dad, he told me, Mom says I canít play baseball until I finish my math. Can you help me? Sure, I said, whatís the problem? My son plunked his book on the table and opened it. This, he said, pointing to the first problem on the page. What does this little 12 next to the 81 mean? I couldnít believe my eyes. It means Iím dead, I said.

The rest of the day, I could barely function. Thereís no use, I told my wife. Iím finished. My days are numbered. Tomorrow is Sunday. You might as well call now and make funeral arrangements. Donít be ridiculous, she said. Youíre fine. Youíre not going anywhere. Thatís what you think, I said, and I reminded her about my recent doctor visit. You canít call it a coincidence, I said. Maybe one or two days, but not six in a row. Nope, tomorrow itíll be all over. What a shame. And here I am, not even a grandfather.

We spent Saturday evening holding hands and saying how much we loved each other. That night, once again, I couldnít sleep. I wanted desperately to do something nice for my wife, so I made cupcakes. My wife loves cupcakes, especially with chocolate frosting. When they were ready, I woke her up and told her to come to the kitchen. She was tremendously moved. Together, we ate the cupcakes. Then, finally, we went to bed and fell asleep in each otherís arms.

Sunday morning I was up early. Expecting the worse, I didnít bother to read the paper. I skipped coffee and didnít watch sports on TV. All I did was sit at the table and do nothing. Pretty soon, my wife joined me, and we did nothing together. Then our son got up. Whatíre you guys doing? he said when he found us at the table. Nothing, I said. Absolutely nothing. Cool, our son said.

Later, around lunch time, my wife asked if I was hungry. I told her I was, but that I didnít see much point in eating since my life would be over at almost any minute.

At dinner time, she asked me the same question, and I gave her the same answer. Nothing, I said. I donít want a single thing.

Finally, it was almost midnight. All day long, Iíd done nothing, and nothing had happened. So this is it, I said, looking up at the clock. The big showdown. In another minute, Iíll be dead.

My wife and son looked on in despair. The chime sounded. We waited. And waited. And waited. But nothing happened. Absolutely nothing.

Then I shouted Zero! and everyone jumped. Amazing, I said, truly amazing. Thank God for modern medicine.

William Michaelianís newest releases are two poetry collections, Winter Poems and Another Song I Know, published in paperback by Cosmopsis Books in San Francisco. His short stories, poems, and drawings have appeared in many literary magazines and newspapers. His novel,
A Listening Thing, is published here in its first complete online edition. For information on Michaelianís other books and links to this siteís other sections, please go to the Main Page or visit Flippantly Answered Questions.

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