By James Mcadams
02/03/2016 02:14 AM
I present with symptoms of dry mouth, lethargy, and frequent urination while eating a Snickers and drinking an Orange Fanta. We face each other, sitting Indian-style on the futon in the 3rd floor studio apartment.
“How many sugary beverages a day do you consume?” you ask. You’re wearing yoga pants and one of my Oxford shirts, rolled up to your wrists, and practice recording my responses on your phone’s E-Consult application. When you’d first told me about the “Virtual M.D.” job, I’d said, Whatever, make money where you can get it, but you fretted that it made you a sell-out to consult via webcams, using algorithms and haptic software, instead of face-to-face with your patients.
“Like four or five,” I say. “Is that too much?”
“I recommend at least 8 glasses of water a day,” you say, pouring boxed wine into two Dixie cups.
“Shit, I’d be pissing all day.”
“Do you…urinate a lot as it is, sir?”
"My bathroom’s on the second floor, I get tired going up and down those steps all day.”
Our place doesn’t have stairs, it’s just the main room, a bathroom, and a kitchenette with a dorm fridge, the lone entry in from the fire escape. We were looking forward to you passing the boards and buying a real place, remember you wanted one with a big country kitchen like your foster parents had?
“So fatigue is a problem too, you’d say?”
The kitten you’d rescued, locked in the closet, claws at the carpet. I finish the Dixie cup with one swallow and, feeling looser, joke, “Only if it’s a problem for you, doctor.”
I toss my index cards full of shuffled symptoms on the floor and lean towards you, unbuttoning the shirt.
“Mr. Bell, this is extremely unprofessional,” you whisper, giggling, your fingers behind you unclasping your bra. “We need to discuss what I believe”—we kiss—“is incipient diabetes.”
“Tell me, doctor. Tell me what to do.”
“I’m not a doctor until May.” You squirm out of your bra, pausing the E-Consult app on your phone and placing it in the bra’s shallow left cup on the floor. “And not even a real doctor then.”
“These feel real,” I joke.
Before long you’re on top, my unbuttoned Oxford swaying from your shoulders, dictating, between gasps, “glucose tests…values between,” “insulin,” “pancreas,” until we go silent and it’s your eyes, your eyes incautious and trusting as I remember them, the futon’s slats scratching against the Pergo floor and the kitten letting out a sustained meow.
02/29/2016 01:11 AM
I present with symptoms of abdominal pain, pruritis, and jaundice.
“Mr. Bell, there are a range of hepatic dysfunctions, some due to alcohol abuse, some genetic, some due to chronic pill toxicity, like for instance I could ask do you consume a lot of Tylenol?”
We both have ear buds in and our laptops open, looking at each other through web cams.
“Define a lot.”
“More than 350 milligrams a day or over 1500 milligrams a week.”
“I don’t count. Is Tylenol the same as Aspirin?”
“Quit being so simple, Jake.” You look at me through the cam with your eyes cold, shielded behind large black-framed glasses reflecting off your school’s Chromebook with the “Kiss Me: I’m a Resident!” sticker. “And stop playing with the kitten, you know it just always shits if you do that right after it eats.”
I place the squeaky mouse into a drawer. The kitten tries to pry the drawer open with its paw, the white one you call its sock. Sometimes it feels like you’re the Mom and the kitten and I are your helpless children.
“So is there anything else you can tell me, sir?” You clasp your hands in front of you. “As your doctor, I can do more the more you tell me.”
The futon is in the couch position and I’m reclined with my Vans on the table and your old Netbook on my lap while you’re staring down at your web cam in your scrubs. We’re sitting hip-to-hip but it feels like we’re in different parts of the state.
I rub my beard and look at you through the webcam, counting to one hundred since the index card tells me to not speak. I press mute and hear litter squished on the floor, because the kitten kicks everything across the apartment after it shits so we have to sweep up litter and fecal matter off the floor three times a day or else if we walk across the 10” X 8” apartment in our socks then the litter and fecal matter gets in the futon which you say is gross and I say why don’t we just get rid of it and you give me The Look, The Why Did I Get Engaged to This Asshole Look?
“Sir, you can tell me anything.”
“I thought I wasn't supposed to talk, you said you were supposed to learn—”
“Name another symptom.”
“Learn patience. Right?” I select an index card from the table with the remote controls and USB chargers on top and the board games—Cards Against Humanity, Scrabble, Operation!, Chess—in the chest. “See? You wrote it here.” I hold it up to the webcam.
“Just say something so we can be done with this.” You take the index card and throw it crumpled to the floor, where the kitten plays with it. “You lie all the time, just make something up.”
“I lie? When do I lie?”
You take off your glasses and log off the E-Consult site. “Thanks for trying,” you pout. Picking up the kitten, you go into the bathroom, slam the door shut, and turn on the water in the tub.
“You’re welcome,” I say softly into the webcam, which is dark aside from the little box with my image in the corner. I look at my image and adjust my glasses.
We never get the house with the country kitchen. Or maybe you did after all, I don’t know.
03/10/2016 3:43 AM
“Auscultate,” I say. We cuddle post-coitally on the futon, your head on my shoulder. We had argued and then ignored each other and then argued and then fought harder and then fucked.
“The heart,” you mumble into my chest. “Listen for sounds. Also lungs and gastro-intestinal organs. Stethoscope.” Moving your palms still wet from washing with surgical-grade anti-bacterial soap to my chest. “Lub-dub, lub-dub.” You pick your head up and looked at me with those eyes, grinning. “Your heart’s still beating fast, Romeo.”
I flip through the index cards labeled “Terminology.” I’m trying to find a word with special significance.
You stretch, forking your leg between mine. “Where’s the kitten?”
I know without looking. “At the window, watching the rain.”
“It looks so sad when it does that. Kitty, kitty,” you cooed. “C’mere, don’t be depressed baby.”
“Maybe it wants a name,” I said.
“I already explained that. When you name something you kill it, you make it less than it could be. Like Hepburn’s cat in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. ‘Member when you said I reminded you of her? Before we were engaged?”
“…I never even heard…You’re making that word up.”
“Phagocyte. Define and apply.”
05/21/2016 02:57 PM
I present with symptoms of early satiety, hypersomnia, and panic attacks, and remain under the covers, peeking out at you. You present with your “I Love Someone with AUTISM” T-shirt and Goodwill skirt and aren’t wearing your engagement ring. I must admit, with your slim hips and small breasts and large brown eyes, you do look like Audrey Hepburn. Even with your pumps you’re barely five feet tall.
“So what’s his name, Ziggurat, is he gonna be there?”
“Jigar, very close, Jake. Well, he passed his boards his like everyone else, so I would think so.”
“But you don’t know for sure?” I reach for your phone but you grab it and zip it up in your purse.
“I don’t have time for this, I’m going. If you don’t want to fine, but don’t try to make me feel guilty.”
The kitten grooms itself on the windowsill, two ears perking through the Eclipse curtains, not reacting at all when you exit the door beside it. It used to be fully concealed by the curtains—when does a kitten become a cat? If we keep calling it a kitten, does it remain a kitten? Words are very important to help us understand things. You told me once your advising doctor said being a doctor wasn’t about studying the body, it was about studying words, and how they work together to tell stories. I wonder if you’d like this story, or if it even counts as a story.
07/28/2016 11:48 AM
I don’t present the afternoon you show up with your brothers to move out. Instead, I’m with the kitten at the Animal Clinic across the street, between the bodega where we buy vegan supplies and the Holistic Center where you take your yoga certification classes. Upon observing the kitten’s hair loss, abscesses, and lethargy, Dr. Claire diagnoses it with alopecia.
“Alo-what,” I ask?
“Dermal condition. Animals can’t express stress the way we can, so if they live in an environment that’s stressful, this happens.”
“So, but it’s going to be okay.”
Dr. Claire writes a prescription for a topical lotion and oral antibiotics. “You two just try to get along,” she says. She glares at me or maybe I’m just imagining it, she was always your friend first. “You and Amanda.”
“That’s over. She’s moving out right now.”
Dr. Claire turns her back and types into a computer. “Jake, studying medicine isn’t simple. Just give her time.”
“Time? I gave her time, and now she’s moving out.” I struggle with the kitten and the transporter and Dr. Claire instructs, “Turn the transporter over and lower it down into it, it’s easier that way.”
“Leaving me with her kitten.”
“Jake.” She looks into a file. “It’s 12 pounds now, start calling the poor thing a cat.”
12/10/2016 10:58 PM
I log on to the E-Consult user module, present with symptoms of loneliness, dysthymia, and hopelessness, and select your name from the database. M: Murphy. A: Amanda. You’re listed as unavailable; a chat window pops up, a command line function informing me you’re unavailable through the holidays, asking if I want to be consulted by other qualified physicians on-line.
I’ll wait, I type.
The cat is by the window, looking out where you used to come up the fire escape. It’s the night of the Christmas tree-lighting ceremony on the street below. I’m not pretending this time, all I want is to find you there, in that database.
The command line function appears again: Dr. Murphy is unavailable through January.
I’ll wait, I type.
I join the kitten by the window. I pick it up and put it on my lap; it goes mehhhhkk and scratches my hand as I open the window. It looks down at the carolers and laughter from below, its grey whiskers beading with snow. I caress the lotion into its scarred areas the way I once applied sun tan lotion to the scars on your back you never told me how you got.
I extend my neck around in front of the cat’s and say, “cat.” It doesn’t make eye contact. I say “cat,” again, and again, pointing at it, elongating the vowel, like “caaaaaaaa-aaat,” and finally it looks at me, rotating its heads to the side. I can’t tell if that’s cuz it recognizes its name or thinks all of this is just a bunch of weird sounds, meaning nothing.