“Nah, nothing wrong with you except a chest cold. Here’s a prescription for some antibiotics.” Dr. Glimp tore off the worthless script from his prescription pad and handed it to Max, hoping it would appease him.
“Are you sure?” Max intently studied the doctor’s eyes. “I mean, doc, I’ve never had a chest cold this bad before.” He coughed. “Can you look that X-ray over again?”
Dr. Glimp sighed and turned his head so that he faced the X-ray display at a 45-degree angle. He glanced at it asquint for about five seconds. “There’s nothing there!” he declared, turning back.
“Look, I understand your concern. Ever since the Surgeon General announced two years ago that cigarette smoking causes cancer, I’ve been flooded with patients who get worried every time they develop a cough. But if you had something wrong it would be in the X-rays. Your X-rays are clear!” He thumped Max on the back. “Congratulations! You should be happy!” The thump sent Max into an uncontrollable coughing spell for about 30 seconds.
Max paused for a moment after stepping out of the doctor’s office, to catch his breath. He rubbed an achy spot about an inch below his neck. He suppressed a cough, then struggled for a deep breath of fresh air. Was that a wheezing he heard?
He lit up. Smoking always helped him think better. Was the doctor right? Was he just being a little paranoid after that Surgeon General’s report made headlines all over the country? He fiddled with the pack of cigarettes in his hand, and read the new message he’d been seeing recently, printed on the sides of this product: “Caution: Cigarette Smoking May Be Hazardous To Your Health.”
He mused that he would have never taken up the habit if he had only known. Back in his youth it seemed that every man smoked. In fact many doctors hailed cigarettes as good for your health. That had always seemed counterintuitive to him, but who was he to question doctors? And now he was hooked. A chain smoker.
A tussive urge struck from below and an involuntary cough erupted. When Max regained control he tucked the pack back into his shirt pocket. Too late to give it up now, he theorized.
The coughing kept recurring over the next several days, as Max struggled with his fear of cancer. He knew something was wrong. He felt it in his gut. And it occurred to him that he was going to die soon. He was going to leave behind his wife and his children. His very successful business would not last without his guidance. It would fail, and his family would go broke.
He contemplated what to do. How to prepare for the worst. How to ensure that his wife and kids would be okay. And he came up with a plan.
He justified that if these bastard doctors were wrong in the first place, by recommending cigarette smoking, and then wrong again in the second place, by missing a diagnosis of lung cancer, he’d show the sons of bitches a thing or two. He’d show these damned so-called experts.
Max put the word out that his machine shop was up for sale.
Then he made an appointment with a life insurance company.
The fine folks at Graystone Life Insurance welcomed him into their office. The agent talked Max into a $100,000 policy. And all he had to do was pass the physical. Which involved a chest X-ray.
It came out negative.
It was all Max could do to suppress the coughing while Graystone’s physician examined him. The physician mentioned that his breathing sounded a little raspy. Max told him that his own doctor had diagnosed it as a chest cold. After a quick phone call to his doctor, the physician seemed satisfied and quickly signed off.
And then it was off to visit Huffburg’s Life Insurance, and then Sandsound Life Inc. Then Whistler’s Life. Then Hacker Life, Limited. Then Sputummer’s Life. Hedgeworth’s Life. Kakouphany Life. Emyprean Life. And so on and so forth.
By the time Max finished with his life insurance binge, he was paying premiums on more than a million dollars’ worth of policies. And his wife and children were the named beneficiaries.
He sold the machine shop to my father-in-law. This is how I became aware of this story, many years later.
Max’s wife worried about his mental health. And she felt positively stressed about him selling the business. She knew they couldn’t go on forever, living off the proceeds of the sale. Especially with all those life insurance premiums they were now paying. She nagged at Max to visit a psychiatrist.
But Max ignored her, in his monomania to find ways to provide for her after his upcoming demise that he just knew was going to occur.
Several months passed. His cough had deepened, and his wheezing was sounding more like a whistling now. Max was feeling increasingly worried for his family, and carking more about their long-term future. He walked into the office of Protective Life and breathlessly asked to speak with an agent. He said he wanted to take out the biggest policy they offered.
The agent asked the same routine questions Max was accustomed to, and Max had all the right answers at the ready. He filled out the forms and signed them. Now all that was left was the requisite physical.
The physician furrowed his brow and pointed at the X-ray display. “Sir, I see something like a shadow around your clavicle. And a few other shadows, here . . . and here.” he pointed. “I can’t approve this policy until you have your lungs checked out by your doctor.”
Max returned to his doctor and got yet another chest X-ray. This time Dr. Glimp’s insouciant demeanor disappeared. With a gray face, he told Max that a biopsy would be necessary.
A few days after the biopsy, Dr. Glimp delivered the message Max was expecting.
“Max, I’m sorry to say, but it’s advanced stage lung cancer. I’m really, really sorry I didn’t catch this earlier. It was hidden behind your clavicle. You know, your collar bone. We can try to operate, but this appears to have spread to your bones. Radiation might work, but I don’t know.” He shook his head grimly.
“How much longer, doc, if you continue doing nothing?”
Dr. Glimp winced. He appeared stung by that question. He stammered. “W-w-well, uh, I doubt you have more than, uh, s-s-six months. D-do you have life insurance?”
Max’s face brightened, even as he coughed.
“Yep, oh yes!” Max cheerily proclaimed with a hoarse voice. “Yes, I have life insurance. Yes indeed I do!”
Max died two months later.
His wife retired, and his kids all got good college educations.
Doctors, with all their fine degrees, are not omniscient. There’s much they don’t know and can’t know, and there are many things they’re unwilling to figure out. So we have to trust what our bodies are telling us until clear medical evidence proves otherwise. I believe that’s the lesson we can learn from people like Max.