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An Ounce of Cure by Alan Edward Nourse

An Ounce of Cure

The doctor's office was shiny and modern. Behind the desk the doctor smiled down at James Wheatley through thick glasses. "Now, then! What seems to be the trouble?"

Wheatley had been palpitating for five days straight at the prospect of coming here. "I know it's silly," he said. "But I've been having a pain in my toe."

"Indeed!" said the doctor. "Well, now! How long have you had this pain, my man?"

"About six months now, I'd say. Just now and then, you know. It's never really been bad. Until last week. You see--"

"I see," said the doctor. "Getting worse all the time, you say."

Wheatley wiggled the painful toe reflectively. "Well--you might say that. You see, when I first--"

"How old did you say you were, Mr. Wheatley?"

"Fifty-five."

"Fifty-_five_!" The doctor leafed through the medical record on his desk. "But this is incredible. You haven't had a checkup in almost ten years!"

"I guess I haven't," said Wheatley, apologetically. "I'd been feeling pretty well until--"

"_Feeling_ well!" The doctor stared in horror. "But my dear fellow, no checkup since January 1963! We aren't in the Middle Ages, you know. This is 1972."

"Well, of course--"

"Of course you may be _feeling_ well enough, but that doesn't mean everything is just the way it should be. And now, you see, you're having pains in your toes!"

"One toe," said Wheatley. "The little one on the right. It seemed to me--"

"One toe _today_, perhaps," said the doctor heavily. "But _tomorrow_--" He heaved a sigh. "How about your breathing lately? Been growing short of breath when you hurry upstairs?"

"Well--I _have_ been bothered a little."

"I thought so! Heart pound when you run for the subway? Feel tired all day? Pains in your calves when you walk fast?"

"Uh--yes, occasionally, I--" Wheatley looked worried and rubbed his toe on the chair leg.

"You know that fifty-five is a dangerous age," said the doctor gravely. "Do you have a cough? Heartburn after dinner? Prop up on pillows at night? Just as I thought! And no checkup for ten years!" He sighed again.

"I suppose I should have seen to it," Wheatley admitted. "But you see, it's just that my toe--"

"My dear fellow! Your toe is _part_ of you. It doesn't just exist down there all by itself. If your _toe_ hurts, there must be a _reason_."

Wheatley looked more worried than ever. "There must? I thought--perhaps you could just give me a little something--"

"To stop the pain?" The doctor looked shocked. "Well, of course I could _do_ that, but that's not getting at the root of the trouble, is it? That's just treating symptoms. Medieval quackery. Medicine has advanced a long way since your last checkup, my friend. And even treatment has its dangers. Did you know that more people died last year of _aspirin_ poisoning than of _cyanide_ poisoning?"


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