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- The Doctor's Dilemma - 4/24 -
SIR PATRICK. I know your Cutler Walpoles and their like. Theyve found out that a man's body's full of bits and scraps of old organs he has no mortal use for. Thanks to chloroform, you can cut half a dozen of them out without leaving him any the worse, except for the illness and the guineas it costs him. I knew the Walpoles well fifteen years ago. The father used to snip off the ends of people's uvulas for fifty guineas, and paint throats with caustic every day for a year at two guineas a time. His brother- in-law extirpated tonsils for two hundred guineas until he took up women's cases at double the fees. Cutler himself worked hard at anatomy to find something fresh to operate on; and at last he got hold of something he calls the nuciform sac, which he's made quite the fashion. People pay him five hundred guineas to cut it out. They might as well get their hair cut for all the difference it makes; but I suppose they feel important after it. You cant go out to dinner now without your neighbor bragging to you of some useless operation or other.
EMMY [announcing] Mr Cutler Walpole. [She goes out].
Cutler Walpole is an energetic, unhesitating man of forty, with a cleanly modelled face, very decisive and symmetrical about the shortish, salient, rather pretty nose, and the three trimly turned corners made by his chin and jaws. In comparison with Ridgeon's delicate broken lines, and Sir Patrick's softly rugged aged ones, his face looks machine-made and beeswaxed; but his scrutinizing, daring eyes give it life and force. He seems never at a loss, never in doubt: one feels that if he made a mistake he would make it thoroughly and firmly. He has neat, well-nourished hands, short arms, and is built for strength and compactness rather than for height. He is smartly dressed with a fancy waistcoat, a richly colored scarf secured by a handsome ring, ornaments on his watch chain, spats on his shoes, and a general air of the well-to-do sportsman about him. He goes straight across to Ridgeon and shakes hands with him.
WALPOLE. My dear Ridgeon, best wishes! heartiest congratulations! You deserve it.
RIDGEON. Thank you.
WALPOLE. As a man, mind you. You deserve it as a man. The opsonin is simple rot, as any capable surgeon can tell you; but we're all delighted to see your personal qualities officially recognized. Sir Patrick: how are you? I sent you a paper lately about a little thing I invented: a new saw. For shoulder blades.
SIR PATRICK [meditatively] Yes: I got it. It's a good saw: a useful, handy instrument.
WALPOLE [confidently] I knew youd see its points.
SIR PATRICK. Yes: I remember that saw sixty-five years ago.
SIR PATRICK. It was called a cabinetmaker's jimmy then.
WALPOLE. Get out! Nonsense! Cabinetmaker be--
RIDGEON. Never mind him, Walpole. He's jealous.
WALPOLE. By the way, I hope I'm not disturbing you two in anything private.
RIDGEON. No no. Sit down. I was only consulting him. I'm rather out of sorts. Overwork, I suppose.
WALPOLE [swiftly] I know whats the matter with you. I can see it in your complexion. I can feel it in the grip of your hand.
RIDGEON. What is it?
RIDGEON. Blood-poisoning! Impossible.
WALPOLE. I tell you, blood-poisoning. Ninety-five per cent of the human race suffer from chronic blood-poisoning, and die of it. It's as simple as A.B.C. Your nuciform sac is full of decaying matter--undigested food and waste products--rank ptomaines. Now you take my advice, Ridgeon. Let me cut it out for you. You'll be another man afterwards.
SIR PATRICK. Dont you like him as he is?
WALPOLE. No I dont. I dont like any man who hasnt a healthy circulation. I tell you this: in an intelligently governed country people wouldnt be allowed to go about with nuciform sacs, making themselves centres of infection. The operation ought to be compulsory: it's ten times more important than vaccination.
SIR PATRICK. Have you had your own sac removed, may I ask?
WALPOLE [triumphantly] I havnt got one. Look at me! Ive no symptoms. I'm as sound as a bell. About five per cent of the population havnt got any; and I'm one of the five per cent. I'll give you an instance. You know Mrs Jack Foljambe: the smart Mrs Foljambe? I operated at Easter on her sister-in-law, Lady Gorran, and found she had the biggest sac I ever saw: it held about two ounces. Well, Mrs. Foljambe had the right spirit--the genuine hygienic instinct. She couldnt stand her sister-in-law being a clean, sound woman, and she simply a whited sepulchre. So she insisted on my operating on her, too. And by George, sir, she hadnt any sac at all. Not a trace! Not a rudiment!! I was so taken aback--so interested, that I forgot to take the sponges out, and was stitching them up inside her when the nurse missed them. Somehow, I'd made sure she'd have an exceptionally large one. [He sits down on the couch, squaring his shoulders and shooting his hands out of his cuffs as he sets his knuckles akimbo].
EMMY [looking in] Sir Ralph Bloomfield Bonington.
A long and expectant pause follows this announcement. All look to the door; but there is no Sir Ralph.
RIDGEON [at last] Were is he?
EMMY [looking back] Drat him, I thought he was following me. He's stayed down to talk to that lady.
RIDGEON [exploding] I told you to tell that lady-- [Emmy vanishes].
WALPOLE [jumping up again] Oh, by the way, Ridgeon, that reminds me. Ive been talking to that poor girl. It's her husband; and she thinks it's a case of consumption: the usual wrong diagnosis: these damned general practitioners ought never to be allowed to touch a patient except under the orders of a consultant. She's been describing his symptoms to me; and the case is as plain as a pikestaff: bad blood-poisoning. Now she's poor. She cant afford to have him operated on. Well, you send him to me: I'll do it for nothing. Theres room for him in my nursing home. I'll put him straight, and feed him up and make him happy. I like making people happy. [He goes to the chair near the window].
EMMY [looking in] Here he is.
Sir Ralph Bloomfield Bonington wafts himself into the room. He is a tall man, with a head like a tall and slender egg. He has been in his time a slender man; but now, in his sixth decade, his waistcoat has filled out somewhat. His fair eyebrows arch good- naturedly and uncritically. He has a most musical voice; his speech is a perpetual anthem; and he never tires of the sound of it. He radiates an enormous self-satisfaction, cheering, reassuring, healing by the mere incompatibility of disease or anxiety with his welcome presence. Even broken bones, it is said, have been known to unite at the sound of his voice: he is a born healer, as independent of mere treatment and skill as any Christian scientist. When he expands into oratory or scientific exposition, he is as energetic as Walpole; but it is with a bland, voluminous, atmospheric energy, which envelops its subject and its audience, and makes interruption or inattention impossible, and imposes veneration and credulity on all but the strongest minds. He is known in the medical world as B. B.; and the envy roused by his success in practice is softened by the conviction that he is, scientifically considered, a colossal humbug: the fact being that, though he knows just as much (and just as little) as his contemporaries, the qualifications that pass muster in common men reveal their weakness when hung on his egregious personality.
B. B. Aha! Sir Colenso. Sir Colenso, eh? Welcome to the order of knighthood.
RIDGEON [shaking hands] Thank you, B. B.
B. B. What! Sir Patrick! And how are we to-day? a little chilly? a little stiff? but hale and still the cleverest of us all. [Sir Patrick grunts]. What! Walpole! the absent-minded beggar: eh?
WALPOLE. What does that mean?
B. B. Have you forgotten the lovely opera singer I sent you to have that growth taken off her vocal cords?
WALPOLE [springing to his feet] Great heavens, man, you dont mean to say you sent her for a throat operation!
B. B. [archly] Aha! Ha ha! Aha! [trilling like a lark as he shakes his finger at Walpole]. You removed her nuciform sac. Well, well! force of habit! force of habit! Never mind, ne-e-e-ver mind. She got back her voice after it, and thinks you the greatest surgeon alive; and so you are, so you are, so you are.
WALPOLE [in a tragic whisper, intensely serious] Blood-poisoning. I see. I see. [He sits down again].
SIR PATRICK. And how is a certain distinguished family getting on under your care, Sir Ralph?
B. B. Our friend Ridgeon will be gratified to hear that I have tried his opsonin treatment on little Prince Henry with complete success.
RIDGEON [startled and anxious] But how--
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