Monday, November 03, 2003

The Doctor (a folktale updated)

Not so long ago there lived a doctor who went every day to her clinic. There she saw patients with various complaints. She listened to their hearts and lungs with her stethoscope and checked their reflexes with her reflex hammer. She helped many patients feel better. She was happy with her work, and never thought she wanted anything more.

One day the doctor advised a very rich man that he should lose some weight and get more exercise. But the rich man told her that he didn't need to lose weight and exercise because he just bought a bunch of fat burners from the clerk at the health food store. And not only that, he stopped taking his blood pressure and cholesterol medicines because the health food clerk told him that if he took a special blend of garlic, ginseng, vitamin E and co-enzyme Q-10, then he would have an optimal level of health that he had never even dreamed of. The next day the doctor's work seemed harder. Her stethoscope and reflex hammer seemed heavier. She thought to herself, "If only I were a clerk at a health food store, I would not have to work so hard."

Her wish was heard by the spirit who lived in the clinic. That next day, when the doctor returned to her little clinic, she saw instead a beautiful health food store! She saw rows and rows of shelves filled with shiny bottles of blue-green algae, pycnogenel, chromium picolinate and antioxidants. She had dozens of customers lining up to buy their supplements. As she was furiously ringing up their orders, she could overhear a women telling the rich man down one of the aisles, "Don't waste your money on those fat burners! Don't you know how dangerous they are? My psychic healer told me about this noni juice. Look at me, I've lost 15 pounds already! I bet I could get you a 20% discount." As the rich man left the health food store with the woman, the doctor thought, "If only I were a psychic healer! Then I wouldn't have to work so hard."

The clinic spirit heard her. Suddenly the doctor was dressed in a flowery bathrobe and fuzzy slippers, eating a breakfast of pancakes, bacon and eggs. She had cases and cases of noni juice piled high in her kitchen, living room, bedroom and garage. She was quite happy collecting checks and cash from the comfort of her own home for more orders of noni juice until one day, she got a call from the rich man demanding a refund because he had not lost any weight. The rich man said he was switching to Body Solutions because the radio traffic reporter had lost 25 pounds with it. The doctor was outraged. "No matter how much money I make, the radio traffic reporter's power is by far greater. If only I were the radio traffic reporter!"

With a flash of light the clinic spirit turned the doctor into a radio traffic reporter. From her place in the sky she could look out over the entire world. To show her great influence, she described how long it would take to get to work, which freeways to avoid, and why you should copper repipe your plumbing. Day after day she pitched Body Solutions. Then one day her traffic report was pre-empted for a feature story on an author of a bestselling diet. Her voice could no longer reach the rich man. The doctor thought, "Is it possible that this author of a bestselling diet is even stronger than a radio traffic reporter? If only I were an author of a bestselling diet!"

No sooner had she spoken these words than the clinic spirit turned her into an author of a bestselling diet. She could now reach the rich man even with the radio turned off. Before long her wallet was once again filled with green. The speaking opportunities bloomed and her schedule was filled with bookings on all the major talk shows. But the doctor was overcome by her new power. She began to publish book after book. She was on Oprah 17 times. She went to the Oscars. Soon everybody had bought a copy of her book, except for one person. The rich man's great aunt. She told her great nephew that this fad diet stuff was a bunch of hooey. After all, didn't she live to be 92 on her daily diet of sardines and pickles? "You're right, Auntie," said the rich man as he flushed his Body Solutions down the drain. "Besides this stuff tastes like crap."

The doctor was astonished. "Everyone has been swept up by the force of my bestselling books except for the rich man's great aunt. Perhaps the rich man's great aunt is even stronger than an author of a bestselling diet. If only I were the rich man's great aunt!" The clinic spirit heard her wish and turned the doctor into the rich man's great aunt. Proudly she stood up. Then she lost her balance and fell on her hip.

She was rushed to the hospital, and as she lay in the emergency room she heard a strange noise at her feet. She looked down to see what it could be. She saw a woman raise her reflex hammer and strike it against her knee. She felt her painful leg twitch all through her aged body. A chill swept over her as the cold stethoscope pressed against her chest and listened to her heart and lungs. "Don't worry. We'll fix up that hip so it's as good as new," said the surgeon, reassuringly. At that moment she realized that a doctor might not be the strongest of all anymore, but could still be counted on to make a difference when it really mattered.

adapted from The Stonecutter, a folk tale retold by Martha Hamilton and Mitch Weiss (Beauty and the Beast Storytellers) from Stories in My Pocket: Tales Kids Can Tell.

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