Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Raymond Carver of Cold Spring

Otis needed his bandage changed and it was raining. I tied two plastic bags over his paw, taped them with packing tape and walked to the vet.

The vet had a small storefront between the wine store and the pharmacy. The waiting room was about the size of a queen-sized bed and gray and three or four people stared at the floor. Otis whined at the scent of a dog behind a door.

“Can you please keep your dog under control please,” the receptionist said. I tightened my grip on the leash.

A young girl in a pink scrub led me into an office and we put Otis on a table. The vet came in and he was not what I expected. He was a big man with a big stomach, a white goatee, tired eyes. He looked like someone who lifted heavy things all day. He cut off Otis’ bandage.

“It’s raw skin under here,” he said. “You let it get wet.”
“Sorry. That must have happened on the way over.”
”You can’t let it get wet.”
“It’s raining.”
“You can’t let it get wet.”

I had a head injury and I was woozy from standing so long. But I didn’t tell him that. The vet squeezed powder onto the paw. With little puffs of dust, it settled in the crevices between the toes. The young girl in scrubs held the paw up for him and the vet wrapped it in bandage.

“All done,” he said.

Outside, in the small gray room, the receptionist told me what I owed.

“Eighty dollars,” I said, after she told me. “To get a bandage changed?”
“It’s your first visit,” she said.
“I know that,” I said. “But eighty dollars?”
“Yes, eighty dollars,” she said. “Because it’s your first visit.”

I walked the dogs home in the rain. And I thought, I couldn’t help but think: eighty dollars? To change a bandage? For a five minute visit. It didn’t seem right. The rain was cold. I heard later that this was the coldest August day ever in New York City. I got home and took the plastic bags off Otis’ paw, and saw that the vet had done a good job. But it didn’t look like an eighty dollar bandage.

I put my jacket on and went back out into the rain. The receptionist was still at reception. I gathered my nerve.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “But it just seems like eighty dollars is a little steep, and I’d like some money back.”
“It was your first visit,” she said.
“I know that. But it still seems like a lot. He didn't check out the dog's hips or teeth or anything.”
“Wait here, you can talk to the doctor.”

Instead, I went outside and walked back and forth. I went into the wine store next door and bought a bottle of red wine and a newspaper.

Back inside the reception, I read the paper. The Yankees had lost in extra innings.

“The doctor will see you now,” the young girl in scrubs said.

I went into the treatment room and the doctor came in.

“Eighty dollars seems like a lot,” I said. “I’m not trying to be confrontational. This isn’t easy for me.”
The vet rubbed his goatee with a thick, meaty hand. “It’s your first visit,” he said.
“I have two dogs and a cat,” I said. “Is it going to be eighty dollars for the first visit for all of them? That doesn’t seem right,” I said. “I’m not a rich man.”
The doctor nodded, looked me in the eye.
“And you think I am?” he said. He waved his hand in the air, taking in the room. “You think this little animal hospital is swimming in money? You think I can treat people for free? I put 250,000 of my own money into getting this place started. I owe 30,000 a month to creditors. I have staff, loans. Rent. Rent on this place. It isn’t cheap. Who can afford this? I love my work, but I can’t do this for free.” He leaned back against the wall. “You think eighty dollars is a lot? Fine. Pay what ever you think is right. What is right? You tell me and it’s fine.”

It was quiet. He rubbed his beard.

“It’s hard times,” I said. “I haven’t had health insurance in a year.”

“Five years,” the vet said, holding up his hand. “And I have a family of four. None of us can afford it. None of us have it. My children don’t have it. Tell me what you want to pay.”

“That’s not right,” I said. “I mean, children, that should be free.”

The doctor nodded, rubbed his beard. He sighed.

“Tell me what you want to pay,” he said.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think 80 dollars is fair, the vet went to 7 years or so of medical school to be a doctor, and top it all he has to use his own money to open the clinic. It stinks both ways.

7:29 AM  
Blogger Josh said...

yeah, i think you're right. was an interesting day. don't worry, it was resolved in a way that left everyone satisfied. i left the happy ending out because then it wouldn't be a raymond carver story.

8:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

tell me your happy ending, I am a sucker for such things like that!
-previous anonymous

11:33 AM  
Blogger Josh said...

ah, i can't reveal allll my secrets. drop me a line at joshswiller (at)

7:43 AM  
Blogger shoshana said...

I must know what you ended up paying!! How can you leave us hanging like that? $80 right?

8:39 AM  
Blogger Josh said...

No such luck. Come to the party though, and I might be persuaded.

9:03 AM  

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