Fathom Mag
Article

The Twelve O’Clock Patient

A short story

Published on:
February 12, 2018
Read time:
10 min.
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The chair swivels slightly as I position my laptop on my knees.

“So, the nurse says you’re here for a physical.” I know what the chart says, but I double check it anyways, then I look at him again.

He nods, like it’s the most normal thing in the world, and must see me struggling to locate my usual follow-up sentence, because he says, “Every five years when you’re in your thirties, right?”

“Right. Um. Yes.” I say, “But, I don’t think they made those guidelines with God in mind.”

“If I don’t need physicals like everyone else, then I’m not really human, am I?”

Jesus hold his hands toward me, palms up. “I’m human too.”

“Yes, but you know what I mean.”

One of his eyebrows angles up.

“The guidelines are meant for us, not you.”

“That Bible you believe in, it says I was made like you all in every way. When it comes to humanity, I’m a shareholder.” His voice feels too big for the white walls and poster of a sinus infection, all red and pink, hanging behind him. “If I don’t need physicals like everyone else, then I’m not really human, am I?”

“I guess.”

“My divine side always held the majority for you, didn’t it?”

“No . . . well . . . I always believed you were both God and human, believed in that . . . uh . . . union thing?”

“Hypostatic union.”

“Ya, I always believed that, or thought I did. But having you sit here, signed up for a physical just seems too human.”

Silence fills the room and I fiddle with the keys on the laptop.

“If I’m not human enough to get a physical, then you’ve got bigger problem on your hands.”

“How’s that?”

“If I don’t qualify for this, how can I be human enough to die in your place?”

“It just seems like you should be examining me. I mean, Christians have gotten a lot of mileage out of the great physician thing.”

His brown face cracks as he grins. “How about listening to my heart and lungs. I hear that’s how you usually start these things.”

“You hear, huh?” I pull off my stethoscope, then pause with it dangling from my hand. “You know I’m not the best doctor out there, right?”

“Yeah.”

“And sometimes I miss things. And sometimes—”

“That this makes you uncomfortable. That you’re not perfect. That you mess up. Believe me, after being on that cross for you I know your failures better than you do. And I still want to get a physical from you, so relax and do your thing.”

“I know,” he interrupts.

“You know what?”

“That this makes you uncomfortable. That you’re not perfect. That you mess up. Believe me, after being on that cross for you I know your failures better than you do. And I still want to get a physical from you, so relax and do your thing.”

“Okay. Heart and lungs—wait, I forgot to ask you all the questions.” I lay the stethoscope on the counter and grab the laptop.

“Do you smoke?”

“No.”

“Drink alcohol?”

“Yes.”

“How often?”

“Special occasions, like weddings and birthdays . . . And whenever I eat Italian food.”

“What would be the most you would drink in one day, quantify it like one glass of wine, a can of beer, or an ounce of liquor.”

“Three glasses of wine, but that’s rare, only if it’s an all day event and really spread out.”

“Recreational drugs?”

“No.”

“Regular exercise?”

“Ya, I try to walk everywhere I go, or bike.”

“Anyone in your family with medical problems?”

“Some high blood pressure and heart attack on my mom’s side.”

“And you’re dad’s si—” I catch myself. “That’s right.” My fingers hover over the keys as I consider my options. No paternal DNA. No diseases on paternal side. Son of God.

“Or, you could just put down adopted.” Jesus grins. Clearly, he’s enjoying this.

I stall over the next set of questions. I felt pretty sure he’ll decline, but it feels unethical to answer it for him without asking.

Jesus looks at me, alert and patient, like he knows exactly what I’m deliberating over and he’s just waiting for me to decide. Maybe I imagine it, but he seems to give me the slightest nod of encouragement. I clear my throat.

“Have you been sexually active in the last year?”

“No.”

“It sounds like you probably don’t need it, but are you interested in STDs testing?”

“Have you been sexually active in the last year?”

The sentence crawls out of my mouth, a question I’ve asked so many times that it’s become as normal as asking my husband to pass the salt. But now, asking him, the wrongness of it floods over me—how unnatural that question is—just one tiny piece of our world, his world, gone so wrong. I brace myself for his response.

I hear him say no, but feel him say yes behind it—the yes to all he sees going through my mind. Yes to the infidelity, broken hearts, and shattered intimacy. Yes to the self-giving hunger, the craving for wholeness, and the soul-scraping cost of trying to fill ourselves, make ourselves feel, make our lives mean something. Yes to to the tragedy of gonorrhea, herpes, and syphilis weaving itself from one body to the next.

When I look up, I find him rubbing his thumb over a scar in the shallow of his wrist. My guilt surges. Even though I’ve confessed it so many times before, it plays across my retina: those nights...his body...details I wish I could forget.

I wait for Jesus to wince, since I know he saw the replay too, but he just keeps rubbing his wrist.

“I’m sorry.” The words bleed through me, but whether I actually verbalize them, I’m not sure.

He stops rubbing and shows me both wrists. “I forgave you the first time you asked. I think we better keep moving,” he says. “Don’t want to keep Mrs. Fletcher waiting today, she’s got to pick her grandson up in about an hour.”

I guess HIPAA doesn’t apply to God.

I run through the review of systems on autopilot, still thinking about his wrists.

I move on to health maintenance, reminding him to keep an eye on his skin and watch for any changing moles, replace the battery in his smoke detector, and not text while he drives.

“Let’s be honest, you need that reminder more than I do.”

I think about the near accident I had on I-45 that morning. Thankfully, I’d looked up just in time to slam on the brakes. As I relive the moment, I realize he was there. He pulled my head up at the last second.

“Thanks for that,” is all that stumbles out.

He cocks his head to the side.

“This morning. For making me look up in time.”

He nods, not exactly a you’re-welcome nod, but an invitation to say more.

Suddenly, the weight of their collective lives crashes in on me.

I run through the morning again and this time I see the woman in the car in front of me with a toddler in the back seat. In the car on my right, a guy with a sleeve tattoo and dreadlocks. On the other side, a blond girl with an LSU tassel hanging from her mirror.

Suddenly, the weight of their collective lives crashes in on me.

“I’m sorry—” The words catch in my throat.

“I forgive you.”

“How do you live like this? Feeling it all so deeply. All of it . . . mattering? If I started to care like that, I’d never get through a day’s schedule?”

“I forgive you.”

“It costs,”  he says, lifting his wrists again, “but I don’t expect you to meet every need. That’s my job. That’s why you’ve got the counselor.”

“The—? Oh, the Holy Spirit.” Suddenly I know that the best thing in the world for me to do is finish this physical. It’s the thing that matter to God right now and doing it is a sort of worship. I close my laptop and stand up. “Okay, I need you to—” I hesitate, then pull a gown out of the drawer, “—take off all your clothes, except your—boxers. You can leave those on, but everything else off, and put this gown on. Open in the back works best.”

I head to my office and start clicking lab orders. A head covered in braids pops into my office. Chantelle slips in, then closes the door.

“That’s not really Jesus, is it?” she whispers.

“Yep, the real deal.”

“Whoa, he’s a lot more brown in real life than in the pictures.” She laughs. “More like me than you…I can’t believe it’s really him.”

“You should pop in and say hi, I bet he’d love to see you.”

“I don’t know,” she stuffs her hands into the pockets on her scrubs. “Do you think he knows I haven’t been to church in forever?”

“Probably. One more reason to—”

“I think I’d die of embarrassment.”

“I think once you met him you’d feel differently.”

Chantelle peaks out the door and across the hall. She’s tense, skittish. “Maybe . . . ” she says and slips out.

I finish the lab order, then head back to the exam room. Jesus’ legs dangle over the edge of the table. I sanitize mystethoscope, warm it for a second in my hand, then move his gown to place it on his back. My hand jerks away, his back looks like the bamboo cutting board in my kitchen, crisscrossed and gouged with scars. I look for a smooth patch big enough for the bell of my stethoscope before placing it gingerly over one of the lumps.

It seems impossible that those beats—coming from a heart like mine—keep him alive. God of the universe, dependent on an electrical impulse and hand-sized muscle for his human existence.

Something surges in my chest, rising and falling to the cadence of his breathing. Each time I move the stethoscope to a new patch of scars, it wells up in me again. Then, I slide it to the front, under his gown.

Thud thud . . . thud thud . . . thud thud . . . 

It seems impossible that those beats—coming from a heart like mine—keep him alive. God of the universe, dependent on an electrical impulse and hand-sized muscle for his human existence. I take off my stethoscope and walk around the table to face him.

“Okay, now follow my finger with your eyes. Open your eyes wide, now squeeze them shut. Push your leg against my hand, now pull back.”’

Me giving the commands, him obeying.

When I knock the rubber hammer against his knee and his leg jumps, he laughs. “Gets me every time,” he says. “We sure did a great job.”

The way he says it makes me feel like I’m eavesdropping, like there’s more than just the two of us in the room.

I pull the table out and have him lie down, lifting his gown to check for moles. I run a finger over the red scar tracing a line between two ribs.

“What’s this fro—” A tingle shoots through my finger and up my arm. “Oh.”

He nods.

“Why didn’t you—you know—get rid of the scars when you . . . ” Words fail me again. Got resurrected seems technically right, but feels weird to say.

“—got my body upgrade?”

“Body upgrade. I like that.”

“They represent one of the best things I ever did. Losing them would be a downgrade.”

“But I thought the next life, with our resurrected bodies, meant no pain. Doesn’t the memory in them hurt?” I was thinking about my own scar, the one across my eyebrow from when I was ten. All that scar meant to me was a broken bottle and a stepfather I’d rather forget.

He reaches a finger up, from where he lays on the table, to touch my scar. At the moment of contact, a warm feeling knits itself into me. “One day, I’ll touch this scar and take all the pain out of it. The only thing left will be its beauty.”

“There’s nothing beautiful about that scar.”

“That scar made you call out to me,” Jesus continues, “Because of it, you invited me into the deep places. It helped you see the beauty in other broken people. It’s part of why you decided to become a doctor.”

I could stay there forever, his finger pressing on my forehead, him seeing me and mending me.

I could stay there forever, his finger pressing on my forehead, him seeing me and mending me.

“But today, you’re the doctor. So do your thing.”

I plug my stethoscope back into my ears and listen to his belly. His skin is warm when I lay my hand across his stomach and tap my middle finger, moving my hand as I go. His abdomen echoes and thuds in all the right places.

“I’m just going to feel the pulses at your groin,” I say, lifting his gown. “Okay, last thing—if we’re really doing a physical—is a hernia and testicle check.” I pause and he nods. “Stand on the ground, then, and drop your shorts.”

I grab gloves and snap them on.

Lifting his gown, I prepare myself for the Jewish state of things and am surprised to find his male apparatus looking the same as the vast majority I see during these exams.

“I’m going to check your testicles now, make sure no lumps or bumps that shouldn’t be there. Good. Good. Now, turn your head and cough. Again.”

I drop his gown. “Okay, everything checks out, you look healthy—” My voice hangs in the air.

“What is it?”

“I don’t mean this to sound inappropriate. I expected to see the scars on your wrists, but not your . . . your . . . ”

“Circumcision?”

“Yeah, I mean, I’ve heard sermons about how the scars will stay on your wrists forever, proof that you won’t forget your covenant with us. But it never crossed my mind that the other covenant came with a scar and that you’d keep that, too.”

He just watches me, waiting for me to work it through.

“So, I guess I should’ve expected it. Man, you take this physical thing really seriously, don’t you?”

“Ya, I mean, I’ve heard sermons about how the scars will stay on your wrists forever, proof that you won’t forget your covenant with us. But it never crossed my mind that the other covenant came with a scar and that you’d keep that, too.”

“What do you mean?”

“Sometimes it seems we’re more concerned with the truth, the doctrine about heaven and making sure we end up there and getting all our theological facts straight. Kind of heady, spiritual stuff, and here you are carrying that truth in your body, forever.”

Jesus extends his arm in front of his gown, palms towards me and wrists at groin level. “These scars, all three of them, are truth. Full, spiritual-physical truth.”

“We’ve sort of hacked things apart, haven’t we. Spiritual stuff over here, physical stuff over there.”

“Yes. But all that changed with me. I’m the example of how it was supposed to be—the physical and spiritual merged together and seamless. One whole person that can’t be separated into parts.”

“So what about those of us who follow you—are we like you, or still in pieces?”

“You’re being mended. That’s what the Holy Spirit’s doing, building my seamless life into you. Sometimes you get the idea that my life is all abstract and spiritual, but its just as much about loving God with your body as anything else—as much about doing physicals as leading Bible studies, because I’m concerned with all types of health. My life is about learning to enjoy and live out all God meant for life on this earth, with each other, and with me. Which is why—to end up where we started—I came in for a physical.”

“Speaking of physicals, we’re pretty much done. You can go ahead and get changed.” I pull a clear cup with an orange lid out of the cabinet. “When you’re done changing, head to the bathroom and—” My mind stalls and I flip through the alternatives: urinate, micturate, void, go number one . . . 

“—pee in that cup?” he offers.

I feel my mastoids slacken and the air flow into my mouth as it hangs open. He laughs and gives me a bear hug.

“Thanks for doing this, Amy.”

“Glad to, it’s my job.”

“No, it’s more than that.”

Shannon Baker
Shannon Baker is a nurse-practitioner, seminary graduate, and recent transplant to Colorado where she lives with her new husband Jay. She’s fascinated by this world—one where the Rockies, tiramisu, and good novels all matter, because God is behind them all. She also blogs at Faith and the Other Five Senses.

Cover image by Samuel Zeller.


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