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4. Santa Claustrophobia

Dr. Ed’s sigh was a relatively shallow one, shallow at both ends of the respiratory cycle. It just barely agitated the ‘egg’ in Dr. Ed’s chest, and would most likely have gone unnoticed by anyone else in the room, if anyone else had been in the room. But Dr. Ed was alone. It was quite nearly noon.

Dr. Ed made a quick call home to see if his wife had yet hoisted herself towards the vertical. Getting no answer, he left no message on the answering machine, hung up the phone, swivelled his chair 90 degrees to face his computer, and logged on to University Hospital’s Unix server.

PASSWORD: pavlov

His e-mail in-box was full of quotidian effluvia: hospital safety bulletins, university staff postings, calls for papers, drug company propaganda. He typed ctrl-s for “select all,” and was about to type ctrl-d when he spotted a sender who was not one of the usual suspects: Hôtel Dieu was the Catholic hospital on the other side of town, and Dr. Ed didn’t know anyone named Fraser personally, there or anywhere else. He knew of a Fraser Keith, a local Oncologist, and of course there was Fraser Arnott, who headed up OB/GYN at his own hospital, but neither of them could want to speak to him for any imaginable reason. Who could it be?

He opened up the file, whose Subject line contained only:


The message read:

See you at the holistic expo?

Holistic bolistic, Dr. Ed ‘thought’, and then wrote an equally terse reply:

Do I know you?

And sent the message on its way. Wasting no more time on the lamentable contraption, Dr. Ed logged off, shut the computer down, pushed the palms of his hands into his thighs, levered himself upright, removed his white smock, hung it upon the coat tree by the door, retrieved his waist-length Barbour oil-cloth coat and his tweed hat, put on his galoshes, and stuck his head through the door that led to the nurse’s station.

—Back at 13:00, he needlessly reminded Nurse Sloggett, who was a particularly aggressive female in her mid-forties, and who had proven herself to be as admirably intractable as a Tiger Tank in her capacity of Gatekeeper for the 9 years that Dr. Ed had been Senior Consultant here, something which he had commemorated without fail every birthday (May 12) and Xmas, with suitably expensive tokens of his professional esteem. He even kept a list in his filing cabinet of these presents, to make sure that he did not erroneously repeat himself, as used to be his wont, for Dr. Ed knew that he was not a man of too very much spontaneity, and would likely commit just such a faux pas again if he did not organize himself into behaving otherwise.
The list was at that very moment languishing at the bottom of Dr. Ed’s teakwood ‘To-Do Box’ (itself a gift of an Xmas Past—ca.1991—from his wife), and this was because we were now into the second week of Advent, and Dr. Ed’s P.I.M. or Personal Information Manager program,  (which was—perversely, given what Dr. Ed ‘thought’ of the Church—still, out of habit, programmed to display the feasts of the Roman Catholic liturgical year) had reminded him of this fact. And Dr. Ed needed reminding, for he had made it a practice—ca.1967—of limiting his ‘thinking’ about his lack of church-going to twice-yearly, at Xmas and Easter, and limiting his actual attendance to precisely never. His wife’s own attendance at her Pentecostal Fellowship Centre was sporadic, but, all-in-all, less virtual.

Dr. Ed’s master list read:Table

It was ca. 1991, when he was particularly busy—finishing a PhD in Behavioural Psychology (to beef up the federal research grant potential of his MD (FRSC) in Psychiatry), establishing his corporate Operations Research consultancy firm, Synomics, as well as negotiating with the hospital for sufficient office space to facilitate the integration of his research, his private practice and the training of his numerous residents & post-doc fellows, all of whom also required more-than-merely-adequate research facilities—that Dr. Ed had first had the brainwave of conserving his gift-hunting ideas and energies by giving his wife and nurse identical presents. At the time it had just made sense; he knew that he and his wife were stuck in some kind of mysterious rut, and needed out of it—somehow, anyhow. A little voice in Dr. Ed’s head told him it was necessary to send her the message that she was important in his life, regardless of what had apparently transpired between them, whatever it was. That little voice told him to move past recrimination, toward reconciliation; the question was, though, the obvious one: how?

Whenever he ‘thought’ of his wife, he ‘thought’ only of their apparently many, unfathomable problems, not of any solution to them. His marriage was a vast splotchy blackness, both a stultifyingly opaque Rorschach test and a regrettable (yet perhaps inevitable) stain on the otherwise impeccable white linen suit that was his professional life—that is, his life.

This was when Dr. Ed had his brainwave. It was so simple, he wondered why he hadn’t ‘thought’ of it before: whenever he wanted to ‘think’ of his wife, he would ‘think’ of Nurse Sloggett instead. He would then transfer any warm, thankful, unconfused (yet Platonic) feelings that he had for Nurse Sloggett onto his wife, and thus succeed in behaving at home the way he behaved at work: that is, calmly, rationally—and fairly. The plan was simple, and brilliantly conceived. And, whenever so deployed, thus far, it had worked.

Dr. Ed paused in his doorway for a moment to consider Nurse Sloggett. Unlike his wife, she was a bit homely, neither beautiful nor ugly. Unlike his wife, she was stout, solid, neither fat nor thin, and that ravager, time, had taken very little away from her looks, such as they were. And, again, unlike his wife, she was an efficient bundle of energy, a real facilitator, someone who ironed out the wrinkles in that impeccable white linen suit of his. Dr. Ed was thankful for Nurse Sloggett. What would he ever do without her?