Number 7 of the eighteen stories in my debut short story collection, Mammals, I Think We Are Called.
A patient’s scurvy rips open the physical and emotional scars of his past, forcing his doctor to acknowledge the limits of conventional medical practice.
Read an excerpt:
These are the bones that Jack built.
I imagine the doctor works late into the night to solve my wounds. I can see he would like to crack me. I know, as in a nightmare, that he is solving not me, but an abstract problem. And when he’s finished, I’ll disappear again – all he can see are the wounds on the surface of my skin.
He has persistence. He would like to drill down to my bones. And when he has done it – which I have every faith he will – he’ll forget about me. I’ll be gone, except as a case study in the journal article that will finally make him famous. My name will be a footnote in history and no one will bother to read it.
This is the skin that lay on the bones that Jack built.
The doctor is droning on.
“Vitamin C deficiency causes open sores,” he’d told me on my first visit. “Untreated, it can lead to skeletal abnormalities.”
When he thought my case was simple, he couldn’t wait to get rid of me. He chided me on my diet and advised me on which supplements to buy. He didn’t even write a prescription.
He probably didn’t expect to see me again, but I kept coming back. I had to. The doctor’s lectures grew longer as the wounds on my skin and the frequency of my visits increased. I knew he thought I was wasting his time and the NHS’s money, that I wasn’t bothering to take the vitamins.
It was a special day for the doctor when I reported pain and swelling in my joints to accompany the deepening wounds. He took a sudden and unexpected interest in me. Well, in my body. Scurvy is virtually unknown these days, at least in Europe.
“What is happening?” I asked him, practically in tears.
He carefully explained: in cases of scurvy, the collagen maintaining scars over old wounds degenerates faster than normal skin collagen . . . or something. The scars break open. The wounds come back.
“Nothing to worry about, the vitamin C will kick in soon,” he said.
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