The Shadow Saver
a play by
Conrad Bishop & Elizabeth Fuller

— The play is written for three actors. —

Dr. Clifford Greiner, 48, ER physician

Ellin Greiner, his wife, designer
who also plays
Laurie O’Connell, a patient

Third actor plays
Voice of Nurse
Voice of Dr. Fetter
Falsetto Nurse
and also the puppet characters of
Mrs. Mazurkiewicz
Ernest Stilly
Mr. Feldner
Feldner’s Friend
Cheryl Lynn
Mr. Edelman
Jo Kessler
Little Girl

Elements of a hospital, in dream and in reality.
At one side, the Greiners’ kitchen table and two chairs.
In the original production, the setting was of white acrylic panels intersected by acrylic mirrors that were reflective when lighted from front, transparent when lighted from back. A central mirror panel served as the ER room, with the large puppets of the patients appearing behind it. Stage left, a mirror panel revealed the figures of the Nurse and Greiner in surreal dream episodes. Stage right, backing the kitchen table, a mirror revealed the figure of Laurie near the end of the play. A revolving stool in the center of the stage was the only hospital furniture.
Sound and recorded voices play a major role. A full sound/music score is available for reference, elements may be used in production. A remounting would also require recording some passages with the actual actors in the production. Live dialogue of the third actor needs processing in performance.
© 1994 Conrad Bishop & Elizabeth Fuller. All rights reserved.
For production rights, contact WordWorkers at 800-357-6016 or E-mail.
Tight framework of pipes defining a cubicle of 8’ by 8’ by 8’. A stool and white-sheeted table stand within the cubicle. White acrylic panels back the pipe framework and extend from it, defining an aseptic world.
Cool greens and blues in the background. Around the edges, filling the darkness, are enormous veins, deep red, branching and twisting in a forest pattern of arteries.
In the center, a stool. Far right, a kitchen table and two chairs.
House lights go to half. A steady rhythm begins, slightly raspy, like the heartbeat of a rusted engine.
Music theme. Lights up center. Greiner sits on the stool. He picks up a rag doll, talks to us.
GREINER: I remember very early, maybe Saturday Evening Post, something, this Norman Rockwell painting, the Family Doctor.
Suit, vest, belly, this big whiskery cherub, beaming like Santa’s rear end. And there’s a little girl, cute as hell, and—
No, I remember. First grade, the teacher was talking about doctors and nurses, and this was what a doctor was—
And she’s holding up her dolly, and he’s listening with a stethoscope. Examining the dolly.
And even at age six I thought this was idiotic. I hated that girl and her doll, and his fat face, it was all so sentimental and icky—
And that’s the kind of doctor . . . I’ve always . . . wanted to be.
Sound change: grating beat. Voice emerging on loudspeaker.
VOICE: Dr. Greiner, you have a case to present?
GREINER: Right. Yep. Ok.
Clifford Greiner, a forty-four year old male, Caucasian, presented at the emergency room last night, and day before, and day before that, he works there, let’s see, three days this week, four days last—
Complaining of . . . the doughnuts. Something has to be done about those doughnuts, I can’t work a twelve-hour shift chewing on a—
VOICE: Dr. Greiner? You have a case to present.
Clifford Greiner, forty-four year old white male, professional, entered the hospital—
Walk back to the E.R., go through the main lobby, black marble pillars, information desk off to the left, elevator bank, then the big criss-cross, so I’m walking, and off to the right there’s a mother sitting, looking . . . dismantled, kind of.
VOICE: Complaints?
GREINER: And a child. She’s sitting and the child is crying, reaching to Mommy for comfort. And the child has red marks— for radiation, mark the field of treatment, here and down here, down the neck, linear, not curvilinear—
Obviously the child has cancer, and is getting field radiation to her neck— Maybe Hodgkins’, she’s a little young for Hodgkins—
And the child’s crying, reaching out, and this mother cannot comfort this child. She’s staring ahead. Holding the child’s hands so the child will not cling to her, and she holds the child away from climbing onto her lap.
And here is this mother, she knows what’s happening, and she as a parent cannot give to this child, and I remember, I had to keep walking, keep going, get away.
It’s like “Keep your hands off me. I’m doing all I can. Stop crying. I cannot deliver the . . . services, comfort, the love. You’re getting the best medical care in all human history. Get off my lap.”
My feelings exactly.
Slow fade as sound crescendoes, loudspeaker voices repeating: “Dr. Greiner, telephone please. Dr. Greiner, telephone please. . .”
Images change. Sharp focused light on Greiner, speaking front, trying to respond to his own amplified voice.
Loss of appetite?
Blurred vision?
Painful urination?
Blood in the stool?
Itching or scaling?
Abdominal swelling?
Painful breathing?
Swollen glands?
Muscle spasms?
Swollen joints?
Ringing in the ears?
Irregular heartbeat?
Vaginal discharge?
Fluid retention?
Muscle cramps?
Irregular menstruation?
Persistent cough?
Open sore?
Sheer terror?
GREINER: No, actually I’m feeling ok. . .
Not really. . .
No. . .
No more so than usual. . .
Just the one time. . .
I do have a mild sense of panic. . .
Only when it rains. . .
Borderline hypertension. . .
160 over 100. . .
And this gaping hole in my chest. . .
No, not really. . .
Are you listening to me?
Just very weird and a very sharp pain like it’s about to explode but then it goes away so it’s maybe my imagination and there are these colossal bedbugs crawling all over my face—
GREINER: Just kidding.
Lights out. Questions, distantly echoing. He ties his necktie, puts on jacket as he speaks.
Any questions?
VOICE: What’s the etiology of the hypertension?
GREINER: Well, what I do is that I work on a cycle of three twelve-hour days, and then I have three days off, then another cycle, and this is very good, because when you’re done you’re done, and spend time with your family and— Which is a handicap in a way because you’d really like to follow your patients and the outcomes of your treatment, but—
VOICE: What’s your name?
GREINER: So I come in to the hospital. Hello to the desk, whoever. Walk through the waiting room, kind of check are we really jammed up, and then to my locker, I’m already wearing white shirt and tie, I always do that, I think it makes the patient feel “Hey, here’s someone I can trust,” put on my white coat, stuff—
VOICE: Where’d you grow up?
GREINER: Cliff Greiner. Dr. Clifford J. Greiner.
VOICE: How old are you?
GREINER: Cleveland. No, I think you don’t really plan your life, you know. Somebody holds up a sign and yells “Surprise!”
VOICE: Where’d you go to college?
GREINER: Forty-four. Right. So I check at the nurse’s station, charts, see what I’m walking into, and I might have, say, ten minutes, unless it’s really busy, I get my cup, go back with my teabag and make a cup of tea, look over the charts, talk with the doctor I’m relieving, anything I should know about, pick up my clipboard, walk down, see my first patient.
He walks into the cubicle, looks front as if seeing a patient. Sudden shock:
What the hell are you doing here?
Blackout. Hospital sounds.
INTERCOM: Dr. Shoff on eight. Dr. Epstein on six. Dr. Greiner on four.
Low sounds of questions, echoing. Greiner is revealed in another area, in a bathrobe, across the table from his wife Ellin.
ELLIN: More coffee? Cliff? More coffee?
GREINER: I had the most bizarre dream. Are you ready for this?
ELLIN: Try me.
GREINER: Ok. I’m I think maybe first year residency, and I’m presenting a case, and I’m basically talking about myself, only I’m describing what it is I do now, at the E.R., and that’s my case: me. And I’m describing it, and then I’m doing it, come to work, look at the charts, grab a doughnut, and then I walk into an examining room, and I’m sitting there. It’s me. I was my own patient in the E.R.
ELLIN: Heavy.
GREINER: I started to ask questions, try to make jokes. . .
ELLIN: You’re not sleeping.
GREINER: I never do.
ELLIN: Working too hard.
GREINER: Actually I love it.
ELLIN: I get that impression.
GREINER: Some days are hell, sure, but it’s better than Family Practice.
ELLIN: More coffee?
GREINER: You working today?
ELLIN: I have calls to make, but I’m not going to the studio. We sent the designs out yesterday.
GREINER: I like the— What are the kinda dragony-type things?
ELLIN: Dragons.
GREINER: Drip-dry dragons. Neat. No, I mean I should go back into Family Practice? You miss the phone ringing off the hook at the most intimate moments?
ELLIN: We need more intimate moments.
GREINER: Right. Yep. I’m just. . . Some reason I’m just disconnected. . .
ELLIN: Sometimes it’s like you don’t know I’m there.
GREINER: No, no. You are definitely there.
He reaches across the table to touch her. Pretends to be unable to find her.
Sips coffee: it’s empty.
I’m joking. Jokes. Try to make jokes. I still remember— Laurie? You remember Laurie? What was her name?
No, I had a crazy thing last week. One thing, another. This woman comes in, Mrs. Sturgis. She’s been drinking, and she has some head trauma, scrapes and bruises, domestic violence thing which there’d been some history of.
And she’s had a headache, says she’d had some double vision, but my exam doesn’t indicate it, and of course that’s classic for subdural hematoma, but at the time, this was what, Sunday, and nothing was a real red flag.
So I say come back in two days, or if anything recurs come back sooner, and we’ll do a CAT scan if we need to. So she doesn’t come back. Period.
GREINER: So Friday she comes back. Not on my shift. Like two a.m. And she says she’s got headaches, so the doctor orders a CAT scan, but for the morning— this particular radiologist on call really does not like to come in in the middle of the night except for an emergency, which this didn’t seem to be.
So next morning she does not show up. Shows up in the afternoon. And the desk says no, now it can’t be scheduled till Monday.
ELLIN: Remember Friday is Sarah’s orthodontist.
GREINER: Right. So Sunday her husband calls, she’s comatose. Medics go out, bring her in— Fresh bruises, by the way— Put burr holes in, she’s improved, but—
Why didn’t she follow directions? “Come back in two days. One. Two.”
Med school, the joke was: Patients come to the hospital for one reason only. Not because they’re in pain. Not to get better. They just love to drive you nuts.
ELLIN: Not much of a challenge to that. What are you fiddling with?
He holds up Bic lighter.
Fade. Hospital sounds.
GREINER’S VOICE: Ok, Mrs. Thomsen, it’s just a slight rash—
Mr. Muhammud, ok, I believe you have a cardiac problem, I’m not sure—
Ken, ok, I’m going to take a swab here, now this is a little uncomfortable—
Ok, his burns aren’t serious, but I’m gonna have somebody else take a look at him—
Any coffee left?
Lights up in cubicle as he walks down, puts on his lab coat. On the examining table is a near-lifesize puppet: working-class male, stripped to the waist, with a large screwdriver in his chest.
GREINER: Well hello.
McCALLUM: Who you?
GREINER: I’m Dr. Greiner. And you’re Mr. McCallum, right?
McCALLUM: Gettin outa here—
GREINER: Mr. McCallum, I think first we should make sure you’re ok—
McCALLUM: Nothin a matter—
GREINER: What is that, a screwdriver?
McCALLUM: Phillips.
GREINER: Mr. McCallum, you have a serious problem. The upper thoracic specialist will be here in a minute, meantime it’s very important that you stay quiet—
McCALLUM: I’ll kill the sonofabitch!
GREINER: Mr. McCallum, you have a screwdriver in your chest—
McCALLUM: He’s fuckin her!
McCALLUM: Lemme up!
GREINER: The restraints are just to make sure you don’t hurt yourself. We don’t know what that thing might have hit but it’s very close to the aorta—
McCALLUM: Rosie!
GREINER: —And you might bleed to death!
Now I don’t want to scare you. But you have to cooperate. I’ve given you something to relax, but I’d like to keep you awake till the specialist comes. Are you in pain?
McCALLUM: Not much.
McCALLUM: Rosie! . . . Tell her I lover, I don care wha she did with that sonofabitch, teller that.
GREINER: I’ll tell her.
McCALLUM: Stuck a screwdriver in me.
GREINER: So I see.
McCALLUM: My own fuckin tool. I take care a my tools.
GREINER: Looks like it.
McCALLUM: He dint hafta do that.
McCALLUM: Yer a doctor.
GREINER: I’m a doctor.
McCALLUM: I’m scared shitless.
GREINER: You’ll be ok.
McCALLUM: I love that bitch.
GREINER: Mr. McCallum, you just tell her you love her, and everything’s all right, but first we have to make sure you’re ok, that means we’ll be here a little while, and she’ll be fine, she’ll be waiting for you, but you have to help us now, You’re going to be ok, but you have to be very—
McCALLUM: Fuck you!
Blackout. Echoes. Greiner’s voice is heard, phrases overlapping.
GREINER’S VOICE: Ok, Mrs. O’Connor, you’ve got kind of a nasty rash, nothing serious—
Mr. Chin, ok, you’ve had a cardiac infarction, a little one, which means that—
Hector, ok, now this is going to sting a little bit—
Ok, Ms. Everly, there’s been a little spotting, but no dilation, I’m just going to—
Make some more coffee?
Lights up in cubicle: another doll, a middle-aged woman, sitting upright.
GREINER: Mrs. Mazurkiewicz, ok. Now the test shows there’s definitely blood.
GREINER: So now let me make sure I’m correct on this. Ok, you noticed blood in the urine the first time yesterday morning—
MAZURKIEWICZ: Well it was brown.
GREINER: Well red and yellow makes brown.
MAZURKIEWICZ: I wondered about that.
GREINER: But no previous episodes. This was the first time.
MAZURKIEWICZ: I’m a healthy person.
GREINER: And no pain.
MAZURKIEWICZ: I’ve got some arthritis in my hands, if you wanta check’em.
GREINER: But no pain in urination?
MAZURKIEWICZ: My sister had kidney stones.
GREINER: Well it could be a stone, but usually they’re very painful. Now there are no white cells there, which means you don’t have infection. And so what I want you to do is go on home, and you have a family physician?
GREINER: Ok. I will send this to him, and it’s very important that you give Dr. Landry’s office a call right away, and he may feel that an x-ray is indicated. We don’t really know what’s caused the bleeding, it could be many things, some serious, some not serious, and I don’t say this to frighten you, but you definitely should not neglect having it checked—
MAZURKIEWICZ: Well can’t you tell from the test?
GREINER: This test tells us some things, but it doesn’t tell us everything.
MAZURKIEWICZ: Well I don’t see what’s the good of having the tests.
GREINER: Well in this case, first, it tells us that there is some blood, and second, that there’s no immediate need to treat for an infection, so—
MAZURKIEWICZ: So it’s just Hello Goodbye, huh?
GREINER: No, we’re set up here to treat emergencies, or to let you know what you should do about your problem, and what I’m saying is—
MAZURKIEWICZ: Get me in here, scare me to death about call a doctor— What are you, a dentist or something?
GREINER: No, I’m a doctor, but you’re going to be better off, since you have a primary care physician who has your medical history—
MAZURKIEWICZ: That’s not the half of it.
GREINER: Ok, Mrs. Mazurkiewicz, what I want to impress is that you really don’t want to put this off. You really want to find out what’s happening here. It’s not an emergency, although if you do notice another recurrence, if it gets very dark brown or cloudy, why then you come back, or to your doctor, but please call Dr. Landry’s office tomorrow and make an appointment. Will you do that for me?
MAZURKIEWICZ: Oh. . . Anytime they get you in they want to get you in again, charge you another bill, and they try to scare you to death, and then they don’t even give you a shot—
That guy Landry, he don’t know nothing. He killed my husband. Told him he didn’t have nothing, sore throat, and it had already et up all inside his mouth.
GREINER: Well you could call another doctor—
MAZURKIEWICZ: They’re all the same. My sister, she had a little gas, and they took out her whole insides, and she still had the gas. They bounced her from one guy to another—
GREINER: If you’d like I can give you a referral—
MAZURKIEWICZ: We been going to him twenty years, he never told me I had high blood pressure, and you read about this stuff in Readers Digest and you ask him but he never heard of it, I get a lot more out of going to the chiropractor but the insurance won’t pay for that, and my daughter, he gave her this stuff, she kept passing out, and I said it’s the drugs, but he said “No, she’s just doing that,” and she lost her baby!
GREINER: Mrs. Mazurkiewicz, I’ve written down the names of two doctors, and their phone numbers. They’re very good, I can recommend them personally, and either one of these, if you give a call, but you should do it right away—
MAZURKIEWICZ: Well no. I’ll stay with the one I got, I guess. He’s the family doctor. I’d be scared with somebody else.
Blackout. Echoes. Greiner’s voice is heard, phrases overlapping.
GREINER’S VOICE: Ok, Mr. Estevez, what you have is shingles—
Ms. Smith, it’s a very slight sprain—
Mrs. O’Mally, ok, this will take a couple of stitches—
Lights up: another doll, a bespectacled man in his thirties, smiling.
GREINER: Mr. Stilly.
ERNEST: Ernest.
GREINER: Ernest. What seems to be the problem? Hurt your back?
ERNEST: No, I’m pretty good.
GREINER: Well it says you hurt your back.
ERNEST: I guess so.
GREINER: How’d you do that?
ERNEST: Cannonballs.
GREINER: Cannonballs? What are cannonballs?
ERNEST: Ok, what you do. Here. You stand like this. Then you jump up in the air, and then come down hard with your knees bent like this. That’s a cannonball.
GREINER: You could hurt your back that way.
ERNEST: Boy, could I ever.
GREINER: So why are you doing that?
ERNEST: The Olympics.
GREINER: Well, we’ve got some x-rays. Let’s look here.
Pause. Surprised:
Mr. Stilly, this is kind of funny. Have you been swallowing coins?
ERNEST: For the minerals.
GREINER: You can’t get minerals that way.
ERNEST: Can’t?
GREINER: They don’t dissolve.
ERNEST: They don’t?
GREINER: Mr. Stilly—
ERNEST: Ernest.
GREINER: Ernest, have you been in the hospital before?
ERNEST: Oh yeh.
GREINER: What for?
ERNEST: I ran out of money.
GREINER: Is that your problem now?
ERNEST: Well, that’s one big problem. Money on that x-ray. I could use that there.
GREINER: Is that why you came here?
GREINER: Well Ernest, you have strained your back. And I’ll tell you what to do for that. But you really shouldn’t do any more cannonballs.
ERNEST: Can I stay in the hospital?
GREINER: No. We need those rooms for people who are sick. You’re not really sick. You do have a problem, but it’s not the same as somebody who’s really sick—
ERNEST: It says emergency.
ERNEST: I don’t have any money. That’s an emergency. I mean if we’re talking about emergencies, whooo!
GREINER: I think you need a specialist.
Blackout. Echoes. Greiner’s voice is heard, phrases overlapping.
GREINER’S VOICE: Ok, Mr. Dealy— Miss Razler— Mrs. Scannella— Tom— Mr. Viale— Mr. Cohen— Mrs. Ono— Mr. Brown— Tony—
Sudden halt.
What the hell are you doing here?
Lights up. He looks around, utterly confused. Sits, as if a patient.
Wait. Who am I? I’m the doctor.
VOICE: Mr. Greiner?
GREINER: Doctor Greiner.
VOICE: Cliff, hi. How do you feel?
VOICE: Headaches? Hallucinations?
VOICE: Pain? Constipation?
VOICE: How old are your parents? Epilepsy? How many episodes? Seizures? Searches? When did you have a bath?
VOICE: What did they tell you in school? Do you like the feel of cotton sheets? Can you take criticism? Dizzy spells? Ringworm? Rats?
GREINER: Nothing.
VOICE: Would you like to die?
GREINER: That’s very personal.
VOICE: Mr. Greiner?
GREINER: Doctor Greiner.
VOICE: Cliff. Oops. Your watch stopped. You need a nap.
Greiner rises, begins examining himself, indicating the procedures on himself.
GREINER: Nap. Ok. Procedures and risks involved. First we freeze you, make a small incision, insert a tube up the aorta, watch its progress by fluoroscope. Then we inject the dye. You’ll feel a burning sensation for fifteen seconds. At this point you sometimes have a reaction, but it can’t be proven until you die. Then we x-ray the remains, and before you clog we yank out the tubes and try to stop the blood. At this point you often think of tall buildings swaying in the wind. We try to keep you back from the edge. But there is a slight chance, say half of one percent, that you may lose your balance and fall.
VOICE: Worried?
GREINER: Twice a day.
VOICE: Mr. Greiner?
GREINER: Doctor Greiner.
VOICE: Cliff. How do you feel?
Greiner sits again, confused.
GREINER: Well. . . I don’t feel any discomfort. Or lumps. I really need to get home as soon as possible. My driver’s license expires on Friday, I have to study for the test. Could I be the doctor now?
VOICE: Say please.
GREINER: The grass needs mowing, it’s getting too high to cut. I need a retractor.
VOICE: Say please.
GREINER: Friday I’m due to expire!
VOICE: Please.
GREINER: Please.
VOICE: Say please.
GREINER: I said please.
VOICE: “Please.”
GREINER: Please!
ELLIN: Breakfast!
Dream shatters. Greiner stands, disoriented, as if staring into headlights. Blackout. Greiner’s voice, echoing.
GREINER’S VOICE: Wendy— Julio— Mr. Wacker— Dr. Zweig— Miss Maroney— Christy— Mr. Anastasi— Mr. Eisen— Mrs. Morales— Miss Tcherkasski—
Light up in table area. In bathrobe, Greiner hurries to the table, absentmindedly carrying the mail.
GREINER: Did you call? I didn’t hear?
ELLIN: You came, didn’t you?
GREINER: I go on autopilot. You know that. I had one of my dreams.
ELLIN: What’s in the mail?
GREINER: Hey, no, it’s a very popular series.
ELLIN: Where you’re your own patient?
GREINER: I wonder if that’s telling me something.
ELLIN: It means you’re sick.
GREINER: No, because I’m the doctor too. If I’m the doctor, I’m safe. Nothing to lose.
ELLIN: You lost this.
Hands him the Bic lighter.
ELLIN: Are you back to smoking?
GREINER: No. Course not. Ok, so yes, I was the last doctor of my acquaintance who quit, but— I don’t know, I just carry it around. In case I need to set fires.
ELLIN: Well clean out your pockets before you put your pants in the hamper. Listen, we’re still screwed up on schedule—
GREINER: Is there an orthodontist this week?
ELLIN: Friday. I told you.
ELLIN: I told you.
GREINER: You don’t have to tell me you told me.
ELLIN: I told you twice.
GREINER: So you told me! I’m sorry! What’s for breakfast?
ELLIN: You had breakfast.
GREINER: True. Why don’t you open this stuff?
ELLIN: I don’t open your mail.
GREINER: It’s fun opening three days of flux.
ELLIN: What is it next, Saturday through—
GREINER: Monday.
ELLIN: So you’re off on Friday. Sarah has the orthodontist on Friday.
ELLIN: And you’re picking up Chris from school—
ELLIN: Are you going to open that?
GREINER: Could I have some more coffee?
ELLIN: Are you here right now?
GREINER: Sure. Yeh. What?
ELLIN: Nothing.
GREINER: You remember Rosenberg? Med school? Older student, Orthodox Jew? He’d go on this riff of suing God for malpractice. “See this ventricle, bad design, that should have been prevented! Would the Japanese, or the Germans, ever design a piece of crap like the lower back? The Messiah is coming, but not to save Israel. He comes to negotiate an out-of-court settlement.”
ELLIN: Who’s Laurie?
ELLIN: The other day. You mentioned somebody named Laurie.
GREINER: Laurie. . . Yeh. Oh. Yeh. She was—
You met her. She was a patient at Family Practice. Forty years old. Female— Obviously. White. The most radiant, life-loving woman. . . Italian name, something. . . So beautiful. . .
I was just remembering how she’d joke and. . .
ELLIN: Are you in a crisis?
GREINER: Spiritual maybe.
ELLIN: Oh God. Don’t do that to us again. Have a disease or something.
GREINER: (glancing at the letters) I may already be a Winner. Maybe this is my problem.
Modern medicine, as I know and love it, is about winning and losing.
I am the Doctor. I am a blond American muscleman with a haircut. I climb into the ring, and in the opposite corner is the Malady. Stroke, stab wound, hemorrhoids, whatever, but he’s got a little Nazi mustache and he fights dirty.
And I know, ok, no, we’re all mortal, if you think in those terms that little bastard is always going to win, so it’s not about keeping score, it’s the quality of life— You put a new roof on the house, that doesn’t mean the house will stand two hundred years. It just means that for a few years the roof won’t leak. I tell myself that.
But I don’t believe it. Somewhere in me, the holistic, Buddha kind of “Go with the Universal Flow” that I really do believe has a validity, I hate it. I just want to win. I want the technology to launch a nuclear strike directly into the center of the virus. And I want a patient who understands that he or she is the playing field in the showdown between Me and It.
ELLIN: Cliff—
GREINER: One after another, you do your job on’em, pass’em on, you never know what happens, there’s no time to check the records. Plastic surgeons, basically they’re experts in wound healing, they photograph wounds, to see how they turn out. I’d like to see my wounds, and how they healed.
ELLIN: Please remember: you went into ER so you wouldn’t get calls at two a.m. and wouldn’t have to bring it all home.
GREINER: It’s very peculiar to play a game where you rarely find out the final score.
ELLIN: Don’t you have to go pretty soon?
ELLIN: It just becomes . . . repetitious.
GREINER: No, I’m— What do you call it . . . with fabric?
ELLIN: What do I call it with fabric?
GREINER: Where it snags the fibres— You were talking about— Where they run it through rollers, and makes it wooly, or— Snagging, or ruffling, or—
ELLIN: Napping. Napping the fabric. They have machines for that. What’s the point?
GREINER: It’s kind of a metaphor—
ELLIN: Cliff, I don’t do metaphors. I am a professional. I do clever designs of dragons or vines or curlicues to be printed on fabric to cover the bare asses of men, women, and children in the continental United States. I don’t bring it home and dump it all over the table.
GREINER: I’m sorry. Hey.
ELLIN: What?
GREINER: What’s our prognosis?
ELLIN: Would you stop with the—
GREINER: You. Me. This thing here.
ELLIN: Just ducky.
Pause. She controls herself.
It’s a treatment where it tears up the fibres to give it a nap. Gives it better heat retention, makes it soft to the touch. Mostly cotton, rayon, woolens.
He focuses on opening the mail.
GREINER: Only I can save the rain forests. (looking) I am one of the select customers. (looking) I am overdue on three parking citations. (looking) I am—
ELLIN: What?
GREINER: When did this come?
ELLIN: It’s registered. I signed for it.
Cliff? What’s the letter?
GREINER: (tight, withheld) Very interesting.
He starts a grimace that might be a laugh or a howl, raises the hand with the letter aloft. Blackout. Hospital sounds. Loudspeaker:
VOICE: Dr. Shoff on eight. Dr. Epstein on six. Dr. Greiner on four.
GREINER’S VOICE: Ok, Mr. Arnaz, you’ve got some inflammation there, I’d like to send you up to radiology—
Mrs. Simon, ok—
Miss Lau, ok, deep breath—
Lights up. He looks about, disoriented.
GREINER: Time flies.  I thought I was having breakfast.
He puts on his white jacket as he speaks.
Sally, do I have any patients yet? I need to see Dr. Fetter. Could you call me if I’m needed, I’ll be back in—
NURSE: You have patients in Three, Four, and Five, plus an incoming ambulance.
GREINER: Oh right. I work here. That’s why I get to wear a white coat.
Fade. Hospital sounds. Lights up as he steps into the cubicle. Two dolls, a middle-aged man and a younger woman, both well-dressed.
GREINER: Mr. Feldner?
FELDNER: Is he ok?
GREINER: Is this Mrs. Feldner?
FELDNER: This is a friend of mine. Is my son ok?
GREINER: I’m sorry to tell you this, Mr. Feldner, but your son had very severe head trauma, and when he arrived at the hospital he had already passed away.
We tried to resuscitate, but there was no chance. I believe he was unconscious pretty much from the moment of the collision. I don’t believe he felt any pain.
FELDNER: So what’s the scoop?
GREINER: So if you’d like to, you can see him. He really had very minimal external injuries. We can take you in and see him. Would you like to do that?
FELDNER: Is he ok?
GREINER: Your son is passed away. He was dead on arrival.
FELDNER: What are you talking about?
GREINER: Do you understand what I’m saying?
FELDNER: Give it to me straight.
GREINER: Your son was dead on arrival. He had serious brain damage.
FELDNER: Cut the bull.
GREINER: Mr. Feldner— Would you like to sit down? Could I give you a sedative?
FELDNER: What for? What the hell is this?
GREINER: (to the woman) Could you help me with this?
WOMAN: I’m just a friend.
GREINER: Mr. Feldner, I think if you want to sit down for a minute—
FELDNER: I don’t want to sit down! Don’t pussy-foot around me, Jack! Say it straight! Out with it!
GREINER: I’m not quite ready for this.
Blackout. Echoes. Greiner’s voice is heard, phrases overlapping.
GREINER’S VOICE: Ok, Larry, try to breathe deep—
Miss Dos Santos, I’ve made a call to the chaplain—
Ok, severe concussion—
She’s been raped—
He’s gone to intensive care—
Lights up. Greiner on the phone.
GREINER: Roberta, is Dr. Fetter available? I need to speak with him, very urgently. No, not medically urgent— Ok. Would you give him the message: Is he aware of the notice from Mrs. Sturgis’s lawyer, and yes I did see her on her first visit but not subsequently, and they’ve obviously included every physician whose name was on the chart, but I would like to talk with him as soon as it’s convenient because I am so goddamned fucking mad!
Ask him to call me.
Crossfade into examining room. Echoes, continuing low through the next scene. Another doll: small girl with a fishhook in her hand.
GREINER: Hi hon. Well check that out. That’s a fishhook.
CHERYL: I’m Cheryl Lynn.
GREINER: Cheryl Lynn. Hi, I’m Dr. Greiner. Does that hurt?
CHERYL: I swallowed some pills once.
GREINER: Why’d you do that?
CHERYL: Mommy said no.
GREINER: Well so do you go fishing?
CHERYL: Uh-uh. Daddy left stuff in the closet when he left.
GREINER: Oh, and you got it out and did some practice, huh? What’s the matter? Don’t worry. This’ll hurt just a little, but not much.
CHERYL: What happened to the little boy?
GREINER: Who’s that?
CHERYL: Out there?
GREINER: Was there a little boy?
CHERYL: Did he get shot?
GREINER: I think he did. Did you see him when they brought him in?
CHERYL: I was scared.
GREINER: What scared you?
CHERYL: His face.
GREINER: Know what?
GREINER: I was scared too.
CHERYL: Is he dead?
GREINER: He’s ok now, honey. Ok, now what I have to do here, to get this out, is I’ll stick you a little bit, it’ll hurt for just a second, and then that’ll stop it from hurting.
Gives a local anaesthetic.
You feel that? Give it a minute, it gets kind of numb.
CHERYL: You know what?
CHERYL: I can do a cartwheel.
GREINER: That’s great.
CHERYL: I was here before.
GREINER: At the hospital? What was the matter?
CHERYL: Mommy brought me.
GREINER: Cheryl Lynn, are you one of these girls who gets lots of fishhooks in your finger? Huh?
CHERYL: Uh-uh.
GREINER: Bet you are.
He continues joking, and she starts to laugh.
And nails in your feet, and gravel in your knees, yeh, dogbites, mosquito bites, elephant bites, I mean ouch. Stepping out in front of a bus. Getting swallowed by a whale. Or swallowing a whale. If you swallow a whale you’ll get very very sick.
They laugh.
I’m a little screwed up.
CHERYL: I’m Cheryl Lynn.
GREINER: Hi Cheryl Lynn.. Hey, look at this.
He holds up the extracted fishhook.
It’s magic.
GREINER: And we’ve got it patched up here, don’t even need any stitches, and and we’ll get you right back home.
He pats her on the back. She cries out.
What’s the matter?
Silence. Touches her back gently. She jerks back.
Have you got a problem? Let me check.
CHERYL: I fell down the stairs.
GREINER: There’s large welts there, honey. Did somebody do that?
CHERYL: I fell down the stairs.
GREINER: What else happened, honey?
CHERYL: Mommy said I fell down the stairs.
GREINER: You can tell me what happened. I’m a doctor. You can tell doctors things.
CHERYL: Mommy said no.
GREINER: Honey, I’ll take care of this—
NURSE: Dr. Greiner, sorry, we have an incoming multi-car collision, there’s a bus and— I’ll get an intern down here.
GREINER: Cheryl— Can you hold a minute?
NURSE: No. Right now.
CHERYL: I fell down the stairs.
GREINER: Cheryl, you tell the new doctor what happened, ok?—
CHERYL: I fell down the stairs!
GREINER: I have to go now. You tell the new doctor.
CHERYL: (screaming) I fell down the stairs!!!
Blackout. Sirens. Echoes. Greiner’s voice is heard, phrases overlapping.
GREINER’S VOICE: Ok, let’s get him right to surgery right now—
Miss Johnson, can you hear me? Can you speak? You hear what I’m saying?
Mr. Brown, you’ve been shot— You’ll be ok—
Ok, this is pretty much— He’s gone.
Lights up. Greiner is on the phone.
GREINER: —At the end of my rope. This woman has no basis for complaint— She was told what to do— She didn’t follow advice. It was told her, it was given in written form, she chose to ignore it—
FETTER: You’re right, Cliff—
GREINER: I’m right. Great. So I’m in a malpractice suit—
FETTER: There’s not going to be a problem—
GREINER: I want a review board—
FETTER: As soon as possible—
GREINER: Now. Immediately. Sooner. I’m not going to live with this thing—
FETTER: I know—
GREINER: Like a patient we say, “Well it looks like a spot on the lung. We’ll know in a week.”
FETTER: Cliff, the hospital will stand behind you a hundred percent—
GREINER: And settle out of court so it stays on the record like happened to Tom. All it cost him was his reputation.
FETTER: That was atypical.
GREINER: Every case is atypical.
FETTER: Cliff. Stop. Listen. Exactly what do you want me, right now, this minute, to do?
GREINER: Tell me to . . . be rational. I’m sorry. . .
FETTER: This happens all the time.
GREINER: Exactly. I’m a physician as a hobby. My full-time job is the practice of defensive paperwork, measuring wounds by the inch to fit the fee schedule. I love this. When I can’t get a cardiologist on the phone because he’s spending fully 25% of his professional time on the phone with insurance companies and HMO’s getting authorizations for tests from people who aren’t physicians and are barely even human.
My patients— It’s not their fault— But— I know they’re hurting, they’re scared, they expect miracles from some totally discredited messiah—
FETTER: I’m sympathetic.
GREINER: I’m just about ready to come down with some very entertaining disease myself so that I will clearly be On Their Side, and equally mortal— I’m sorry, Bill— It just makes me so goddamn—
Crossfade as he steps into cubicle: another doll, an elderly man breathing with difficulty.
EDELMAN: Makes me so goddamn mad.
GREINER: You feeling better now? Does that clear it up?
EDELMAN: Well my doctor gave me stuff but I still get these fits.
GREINER: I talked with Dr. White and what he gave you is standard for emphysema. What he didn’t prescribe, and what I must emphasize is he really did not prescribe for you to continue smoking two packs a day.
EDELMAN: It’s not the cigarettes—
GREINER: Well frankly you’ll continue having serious attacks and coming in here unless you can—
EDELMAN: It ain’t the cigarettes. It’s working thirty years in the tannery, that stuff gets into you—
GREINER: Nevertheless—
EDELMAN: That’s what it does to the lungs—
GREINER: Mr. Edelman—
EDELMAN: Thirty years.
GREINER: I sympathize. But you can’t do anything about that now. What you can do—
EDELMAN: I can die. They don’t care.
GREINER: Do you care?
EDELMAN: Yes I care!
GREINER: Then you must stop smoking. There are a number of ways—
EDELMAN: Poison you for thirty years and then say it’s your fault!—
GREINER: Mr. Edelman, I’ve talked with Dr. White, and he concurs, I’d like to admit you, so that we can start you on a controlled program to deal with your smoking—
EDELMAN: I’m not going to give’em the satisfaction!
GREINER: The cigarettes may not be the cause, but they’re making your condition—
EDELMAN: Nothing wrong with me.
GREINER: Then why did you come here?
EDELMAN: Because it’s killing me!
GREINER: Then what I’ll do is—
Lights change.
I’ll prescribe for you to take two cartons of unfiltered cigarettes a day and eat the fuckers! Because I’m at the end of my rope, I’m—
Lights. He’s in reality again.
So ok, Mr. Edelman, the nurse will explain the dosage, and Dr. White’s office will call to make an appointment for you to come in.
EDELMAN: They gotta do something about those factories.
GREINER: Right. You have a point. So just take care of yourself, ok?
EDELMAN: I’m trying to. My wife worries. I keep her awake.
GREINER: We all get a little toxic after a number of years.
Fade. Music theme. Greiner embraces Ellin.
I said something pretty bizarre today. I said— I told a patient, well, we all get a little toxic after a while. I don’t know what point I was trying to make.
And I talked to Bill. By phone. He said basically “Don’t worry, be happy.” This person is suing on the grounds that when she called for an appointment for a scan, she was put off till over the weekend. But she called three days later than I’d told her to. And she states that we were negligent in not doing a scan to begin with, even though there was no indication—
GREINER: So, yes, I could have done a scan. I could do a scan on a diaper rash. To be absolutely safe I can order about $5,000 worth of tests not to protect the patient but to protect myself from bullshit like this.
And I try to put it out of my head. You’re a professional. You have a job to do. You win more often than you lose. You do not order unnecessary tests. You do not withhold necessary tests. You try to treat the whole patient. You do not allow technology to replace common sense. You do not distance yourself. You’re not in it just for the money. You do not give higher priority to your golf score than to your patient. You do not intentionally try to kill your patient.
Picks up book.
I’m learning a lot about head trauma.
ELLIN: If you’re having a breakdown, could it wait till after Friday?
GREINER: What’s Friday?
ELLIN: Orthodontist?
GREINER: Friday?
ELLIN: My God!—
GREINER: Let’s see. You’re getting the groceries this week? And the videos are overdue? And did we get an estimate on the roof?
ELLIN: I told you twice!
GREINER: All right!
ELLIN: I’m sorry, Cliff. This kinda gets to me. I feel like I’m an alarm going off, and you just roll over and hit the snooze button.
GREINER: You met her, didn’t you?
ELLIN: Who? What? When?
GREINER: Laurie what’s-her-name?
ELLIN: What, your malpractice person?
GREINER: No. No no no. I was talking about— I just remembered— She—
ELLIN: “Laurie.” Should I be concerned about your obsession with this woman?
GREINER: Not really. She’s dead.  She was about, what, forty. Forty-three. She had leukemia. She was very beautiful, but very definitely losing her looks. There’d been remission twice, not for long. Her husband had split.
She’d come in for bone-marrow biopsies, and they hurt like hell, and she’d yell “Oh shit! Fuck!” And then she’d laugh, “Sorry bout that!” And she tells a dirty joke, and I tell one, and we’re in there roaring with laughter like a couple of bawdy old farts at Mardis Gras, and she’s HANGING ON!
Hanging on. Three and a half years.
You met her. You dropped something off at the office and— She gave me a— It was a little— Like a piece of origami, something— Laurie— God, I can’t remember her last name. Something Italian.
ELLIN: O’Connell.
ELLIN: She was an obsession of yours.
GREINER: Was that evident?
ELLIN: Your dad used to say, “Is a pig’s ass pork?”
GREINER: It has been, traditionally, but we have new technologies.
Yeh. I didn’t know it was that evident. Right. That was when I sensed I had a problem with Family Practice. That Christalmighty good humor. She absolutely insisted on continuing to be human. She would just never, never break down and cry and scream and vomit. So I did.
I’m not sure this is hitting the right tone.
ELLIN: For a red-hot evening. Well, maybe not. Maybe I just need to yammer on about my own professional experiences, such as my major client who—
GREINER: Botchlet?
ELLIN: Botchlet, who two weeks ago really really loved my Chinese dragon design, and now is talking with buyers who feel maybe they need to look a little more like dinosaurs — sexy black silk dressing-gowns with dinosaurs.
GREINER: I like the dragons.
ELLIN: Forget it.
GREINER: I remember in med school we put together these skits. Myself and the only two people who had the slightest trace of a sense of humor, and we would do these absolutely outrageous crazy skits. . . and nobody laughed. Humor was not part of the curriculum. Unacceptable side effects. Not approved by the FDA.
ELLIN: It’s a risk.
Sudden plunge into nightmare. Lights on a bewigged male face in makeup, speaking in a broad falsetto: Greiner is re-enacting his med-school skit.
FALSETTO: Risk? Is there any risk?
GREINER: Well there’s always some risk. Less on a passbook account, but there you get only five percent. Municipals are still a good buy, but if your inner city deteriorates you’re gonna have problems with flushing.
FALSETTO: What about malignancy?
GREINER: It’s like inflation. Eats away at what you’ve got.
FALSETTO: How long am I in for?
GREINER: Well, you can put it in five-year certificates, but I’d recommend a shorter confinement unless you want long-term security at the cost of short-term inflammation.
FALSETTO: Wait! We’re not talking about money!—
GREINER: I am! I’m a doctor!
Laugh track.
Well, Mrs. O’Leary, I’d like to help you. But medicine is not an exact science. Medicine is an art. I’m an artist.
FALSETTO: It’s cold.
GREINER: You don’t expect all painters to paint rosy pictures. You don’t expect all writers to write happy endings.
GREINER: There’s comic medicine and there’s serious medicine. My medicine makes a statement. Nobody lives forever!
Blackout. Lights up at the table.
ELLIN: I lost my client.
GREINER: I’ve lost a fair number of mine.
I was joking.
ELLIN: So I noticed.
GREINER: I’m sorry.
ELLIN: Cliff, this hurts. It was very blunt, and very abrupt.
GREINER: I’m sorry.
ELLIN: This was a big thing. You act like I’m doing some kind of hobby. “Oh she does her little art thing.” Cliff—
GREINER: I said I’m sorry.
ELLIN: So they carry in a guy with multiple gunshot wounds and you say, “Stop bleeding.” And he dies and you say, “Well I said ‘Stop bleeding.’”
GREINER: I’m very preoccupied.
ELLIN: Well go do it somewhere else!
I’m sorry. Listen, when you take Sarah, could you pick up some wine. We’re out.
GREINER: Take Sarah. . .
ELLIN: It’s Friday.
GREINER: What’s Friday?
Dead silence.
Orthodontist. When is it? Three. Oh hell.
ELLIN: Oh hell.
GREINER: I should have remembered. I’m— “Stop bleeding.”
I have an appointment. I mean a doctor’s appointment. I mean with a doctor. It’s not a. . . Nothing. Last week, one day, I had some blood in the urine. And this is no big deal, but it’s not something you just neglect, and. . .
It was very strange, because the next day, I had a patient came in with identical symptoms, and I made a very strong pitch to be sure she consulted her family doctor and had the indicated tests, very important to do this, because there are some possibilities that are serious possibilities, and nothing to be alarmed, but—
And I gave her this whole pitch, realizing the whole time that I hadn’t done that myself.
So I arranged some tests, and there’s nothing serious, but I called Dr. Eisenberg, who’s a renologist and she felt I should have it checked out, so. . . Anyway, I’ve got an appointment. Can you take Sarah?
GREINER: I spend my life behind schedule.
Into nightmare.
FALSETTO: We’re behind schedule, doctor.
GREINER: Read me the appointments.
FALSETTO: Mr. Smith.
GREINER: Mr. Smith’s cancer. I’m sick of his cancer. Everybody’s got a cancer. It’s his funeral.
FALSETTO: Mrs. Jones, for an abortion.
GREINER: How advanced is the pregnancy?
FALSETTO: He’ll be nineteen this fall.
GREINER: Nurse, people have no respect for human life. They don’t deserve to live.
FALSETTO: Dr. Greiner.
GREINER: Dr. Greiner? That can’t be right. I’m Dr. Greiner.
FALSETTO: You’re on the list.
GREINER: But I’m the doctor.  I have to scrub. What if I shrink?
FALSETTO: You’re on the list!
GREINER: Wait! No! This is a skit!
FALSETTO: You play the stiff.
GREINER: Who’s that?
FALSETTO: Dr. Greiner.
GREINER: Better work fast.
FALSETTO: You take the steakknife, I’ve got the juicer.
Greiner commences a broadly farcical surgical operation on himself.
GREINER: Take that out, I saw it move.
GREINER: Arthritis. Out with his bones.
FALSETTO: Kidneys?
GREINER: Feel ok. Oh-oh, bed’s wet. Can’t have that.
FALSETTO: Heave-ho.
GREINER: Squeeze that.
GREINER: We had liver last night. It’s not cheap. Four dollars a pound.
FALSETTO: Out. Brain test.
GREINER: Brain test. What are the chief exports of Khazakistan? Frogs? Wrong. Extract the brain.
FALSETTO: Is that covered by insurance?
GREINER: We don’t worry about that. We’re dealing here with very severe head trauma, and I’m going to sue my ass, because I’m rapidly turning myself into a brainless zombie!
He extracts his own brain.
FALSETTO: Sutures?
GREINER: Yeh. . . No. . . It’s a matter of. . . What you do here is. . .
He finds strands of 14-gauge electrical cable emerging from himself. In confusion, he tries to wire Edison plugs onto the ends of the cable.
What you’re trying to do is make what’s called a two-fer, one male connector that leads to two female plugs, and— I did plays in school, and they’d wire these— Allows you to bring two load circuits into one, so as to plug into the current—
So first strip the ends—
FALSETTO: Dr. Greiner?
GREINER: I’m with a patient. So the two-fer, so you strip the ends, then insert the plugs, loosen the screws of the yoke, three screws in the head, loosen your screws, insert the bare wires under the flat metal pressure plates, the black goes under the copper, the green which is ground goes under the green, white goes— Is this right? Nerves: olfactory, optic, oculomotor, trochlear, trigeminal. . . “On Old Olympus’ Towering Tops. . .” I can’t remember the damned mnemonic.
FALSETTO: Dr. Greiner?
GREINER: Head trauma. . . So press the top and bottom assemblage, the outside strain relief—
Two females and they will merge into a single male, so then for the male same procedure, two sets of wires, the green and the green, white and the white, black and the black and tie it down and you’ve finished one two-fer.
Why am I making a two-fer?
FALSETTO: Plug it in.
He plugs in the plug. Clutches his head. Blackout. Lights. He’s back with Ellin. Absently, he is sorting through credit cards and other material in his wallet.
GREINER: So Eisenberg says, which is what I kind of had a hunch, it’s a condition known as polycystic kidney disease. There are cysts in the kidneys, which accumulate fluid, the kidneys enlarge, and there’s a long-term gradual impairment of kidney function. It’s genetic. Which I don’t actually have a history of, but my family was all farmers, they didn’t really pay much attention to what killed them, they just sort of died.
And it’s not showing significant progress. It could be short-term, it could be many years, I could die of something else at the age of ninety. I just need to watch my blood pressure, have some tests at intervals to see if there’s any movement of the key indicators, so to speak. It’s no big deal. Won’t make headlines.
ELLIN: Cliff. Don’t bullshit me. What are we looking at?
GREINER: Kidney failure at some point. Then either dialysis or transplant. Possibly five years, possibly fifty. No way to tell.
ELLIN: So what’s to do?
GREINER: Cut down on salt.
ELLIN: What else?
GREINER: Relax. It’s something to be concerned about, but there’s no immediate cause to scream.
Distant scream.
Who’s that?
He finishes sorting. Holds a crumpled origami image of a dove.
GREINER: I’ve still got it.
ELLIN: What?
GREINER: A dove.
She embraces him. He starts to break down.
I’m sorry.
Light change. The same sharp flash. He’s in the ER. To Nurse:
NURSE: God, you look like a brainless zombie.
GREINER: I need sleep. What’s the line-up?
NURSE: Usual stuff. Guy got hit by a cab. Construction worker with a back spasm.
GREINER: You know I have a malpractice suit—
NURSE: Student dropped a barbell on his toe.
GREINER: Head trauma. . .
NURSE: Toddler fell down stairs. Boyfriend slashed girl’s face with a razor. God, that makes me sick.
GREINER: Nothing makes me sick. Twice I ever got sick. Delivered a stillborn. Beautiful ears, the most beautiful seashell ears, and no face. I couldn’t forget the ears.
NURSE: Postpartum pulled out her stitches. Secretary with a scratched cornea. Executive heart attack.
GREINER: Second was, during my internship, a big fat guy—
NURSE: Drug overdose. Little boy with a fishbone. Diabetic in insulin shock. Priest with a face rash.
GREINER: Big fat guy. I came in, he’s sitting up on the gurney, washbasin in his lap, full of dark slithery clots, drowning in his own blood.
Face purple, eyes bulged. Chokes, tries to take a breath, blood bubbles out of his mouth, nose, down his chin, he coughs, big explosions, blood sprays all over the room, and we try to give him oxygen in between the coughs, clear big pieces out of the mouth, and he’s trying to talk, “Oh please, oh please. . .”
And then his mouth is open, chest heaving, but he’s not getting air, he’s blocked, and we’re pounding on him, trying to get a tube down, and there’s nothing human left, just terror, pure animal terror, and he flails out, hits a nurse square in the face, she slips on the blood and falls and the washbasin spills over on her, and then he’s just lying there, purple, mouth open, eyes bulge, twitching and gagging and. . . Next day we had a lecture on “Death with Dignity.”
NURSE: And usual stuff: at two a.m. everyone’s out drinking and having so much fun they decide to kill each other.
GREINER: Nurse, I think what I need is a yacht. I think that might do me some good. Even a small yacht would make a difference.
Voices, echoes. Phone buzzer. Greiner answers.
FETTER: Cliff, hi. Just to keep you posted on the Sturgis thing, the lawsuit. Just want you to know the review board is looking at it, and at least preliminary finding indicates they feel there’s very little grounds for your involvement , that’s to say that your procedure was very much by the book, and of course they haven’t made a complete review of it yet, but I wanted to let you know, and of course we’ll be in touch with the plaintiff’s lawyers, so hope you’re doing ok. I thought you’d like to know.
GREINER: Yeh. That’s great. I’m dancing a jig.
Greiner hangs up. Nurse appears.
NURSE: There’s the chart, and as much of a history as I could get from his girlfriend. He has AIDS, looks like a couple of fractures, maybe a concussion. Signs are stable.
GREINER: Fractures?
NURSE: He got hit by a cab. The guy is a walking open wound. He has multiple systems problems, vascular lesions around his eyes, his eyes are swollen shut from the lesions, and she’s taking care of him up in some little one-room apartment, and he’s had dementia off and on for about three months, so she’s got him locked in, but he got out the fire escape and wandered out into traffic and got hit by a cab.
GREINER: Who is it, his wife?
NURSE: Girlfriend, something.
He comes into the cubicle, speaks to a doll: young woman about twenty-five.
GREINER: Ms. Kessler?
JO: What’s going on?
GREINER: His signs are stable. He has some fractures. There might be internal injuries. They’re doing x-rays—
JO: What the fuck is going on!
GREINER: Could you tell me a couple of things—
JO: Tell you stuff and you write it down, and then somebody else, and they write it down— Why don’t I just write it up and hand out copies?— I’ve told it to every fucking doctor here!
GREINER: I think I know how you feel, but I need information. Who is his regular doctor?
JO: You kidding me?
GREINER: I need the patient’s medical records—
JO: Mike! He has a name, for Chrissake! His name’s Mike!
GREINER: How long has he had the lesions?—
JO: What do you fucking care! You’re killing him! If you’re not curing him, you’re killing him!
Change: inside his head.
GREINER: Yes. Right. You were in love with him. And living together. And he was laid off a year ago, so no health insurance. And then the classics, dark spots on the legs, and a cough, fatigue, and the diagnosis, and the referral, and the debts, and the eviction, and trying to tell his parents, and trying to find some remnant, some little scrap of the person you loved. . .
JO: He tells me he loves me, and then he says, “I don’t even remember what I said.”
GREINER: I don’t know what to do. The x-rays don’t see him. He’s hardly even there.
JO: You bastards. . .
GREINER: I could try a transplant.
He slices open his own chest. Tears out his heart. Transplants it into the young woman.
Is that better?
JO: That’s a start.
ELLIN: Cliff—
Greiner speaks quietly.
GREINER: When do we start to lose them? Son rollerblades into the side of a moving van, and the father sits there hammered, nailed, and what do you say? He’s bit off your tongue.
And the girl. She’d been out for a haircut, short hair now, like your daughter, ten years old, and she’s targeted, and hit. They bring her in, she’s been raped and choked to death with her sweat socks crammed down her throat, and clearly she’s dead, eyes wide open, but I go through the whole routine on this broken little body, and all the nurses stand there praying to God I won’t pull off some kind of horrible miracle and make her live. And I don’t. But I wanted to.
Or a hundred little fat men, with boils, or spasms, or coughs, or itches, or mustaches, who can’t pin down where it hurts, or what they’ve lost, maybe their keys, maybe their wives, they can’t remember. What about that doggone wife? When will her breast decide it’s time already? Or deep down, in the chasms of generation, some little surprise? What about God’s plan for Tuesday night? Somebody got a bandaid?
ELLIN: Cliff, I’m trying to say something—
GREINER: I should have had it out. In school my friends had everything taken out. I should have done it then.
ELLIN: Cliff, listen—
GREINER: I’m late.
Judge’s gavel. Lights change. Falsetto appears.
FALSETTO: Next case: Greiner vs. Greiner.
GREINER: Trial. Right. I’m on trial. Premeditated malpractice.
Ok. I think I have a case. Clearly he’s guilty of head trauma. Clearly the toxins are building up. Clearly he’s in beyond his depth. He needs a rest. He needs a better outlook. He needs a hobby. And he’s not getting it. So I think I have a very good case on Dr. Greiner. I’m gonna sue his ass.
FALSETTO: Dr. Greiner, you have a case to present?
GREINER: I’m not prepared. No, wait— Clifford Greiner, a forty-four year old male, Caucasian—
FALSETTO: Witnesses!
Greiner and voices, overlapping, echoed.
VOICES: You didn’t listen.
You didn’t do a thing for me.
You don’t treat me like a human being.
Ten minutes and the bill is three hundred bucks.
GREINER: Forty-four year old white male, professional—
VOICES: Misdiagnosis.
Too much jargon.
Too many tests.
Not enough tests.
Wrong tests.
Clifford, look at me, please?
He looks around, confused, for the source of the question.
FALSETTO: Dr. Greiner, you have a case to present?
GREINER: Sure. Etiology of the hypertension— I have this origami thing, it’s a dove, it was in my wallet for, God, years, it was a present—
FALSETTO: Witnesses!
VOICES: You let your feelings enter in.
You will not say what I need to hear.
You do not know what you need to know.
Lost that one, buster.
You didn’t ask if I wanted to live.
You didn’t check my heart.
It’s my heart.
You hurt me.
Would you look at me, Doctor? I’m your wife.
VOICES: You let him die.
You kept me alive.
I went in for a headache, you found a tumor.
I went in for a stomach ache, it’s a tumor.
I went in for a tumor, it was gas.
You scared me half to death.
You never looked me in the eye.
GREINER: Ellin. . .
FALSETTO: Present your case! Kidneys?
GREINER: Deductible.
GREINER: Not covered.
FALSETTO: Pancreas?
GREINER: Guarded.
GREINER: Excluded.
Prayers in many voices and languages.
FALSETTO: Treatment plan?
GREINER: We’ll wait for a second opinion. We’ll pull out our fingernails. We’ll beg and plead. We’ll pray.
FALSETTO: Face the jury.
Gavel. Blackout. Phone rings. He answers it.
GREINER: Greiner.
FETTER: Cliff, good news. I think you’ll be pleased to know that you’ve been dropped from the lawsuit. They had of course included every doctor whose name was on the chart, and I think they realized they were overshooting the mark and weakening their case. So the case is continuing, but you are no longer a party to it. Thought you’d like to know.
GREINER: You’re innocent, Cliff. Congratulations. Please rise for sentence.
Lights change. He comes to the table. Ellin appears. He stands drinking coffee.
So things are clearing up.
ELLIN: Great.
GREINER: If we could only do the dishes so they stay done. I’m relieved.
ELLIN: Good.
GREINER: I shouldn’t have got so hairy. There really are procedures. Sometimes they even work.
ELLIN: Cliff—
GREINER: Let me do breakfast.
ELLIN: I’m going to take some time off.
Seeing him fiddling with Bic lighter.
Do you still carry that around?
GREINER: I guess I do. Time off?
ELLIN: From work. There’s nothing right now they can’t handle, and instead of laying Anjie off, I think I’ll lay myself off for a while.
GREINER: That’s good. That’s great.
ELLIN: This might come as a surprise—
GREINER: No, I think it’s great—
ELLIN: But I need to take some space. Between us.
I’m glad the legal thing is settled. Which doesn’t settle every issue, I know, you’ve described it as multiple systems failures, but at least be thankful for small favors.
But I need to get some space. I thought I might visit my sister.
GREINER: How long?
ELLIN: I don’t know. Couple months.
I know this might come as a surprise.
GREINER: You had asked is this a crisis we’re having here? So is this a crisis we’re having here?
ELLIN: Sometimes I sympathize. You bring it home, spread it all over the dinner table. Or else just sit there and let it coagulate. I think I can understand the stress, the wanting so badly to stop all the bleeding. And it never works for me to ask “How do other doctors manage? How do you keep asking, every two minutes, ‘What is my purpose in life?’ and ever get the dishes done?” For me to set myself up as a ridiculous bitch and you say, “Well honey, a man’s gotta do what he’s gotta do.” Oh God, I don’t mean that, I— I knew if I started talking about this before I knew what the hell is going on I was going to say something stupid, and that’s the last thing—
So I’d like to have some time to my own when I can blather to my sister’s mangy cats. I think Sarah’s school is out on the twenty-first. Chris is the eighteenth. I can take’em.
GREINER: I could go on a lighter schedule.
ELLIN: Maybe you should, but that’s not the point.
He sits at the table.
When you were doing primary care, what bothered me were the affairs. Affairs, Cliff. Yes, you’re very moral and square, you would never act upon it in a million years, but you are so attracted to your patients. Their tumors. Their wounds. Their lacerations. The intense intimacy of their being alive. I thought ER would change it. You wouldn’t see them long enough. You wouldn’t know the final score. It would be a simple job.
GREINER: Very simple.
ELLIN: But surprise. No. It’s not his job, it’s his mistress. And all the usual negotiations, “No I love you too, honey, let’s take some time together, maybe Thursday after next,” and “It’s ok, I’m tired of Nancy, I think I’ll try Sue.”
GREINER: I don’t follow the logic—
ELLIN: But no. It’s more. You’re not just shacking up. It’s more. It’s another mate, here at the table, in bed with us, and she— he— she— whatever!— We are married to her. I am too. I’m in bed with her and I’m not really sure how this kind of thing is done. I get mad at you for treating my work like some kind of hobby, but right, truly, my job doesn’t leave its hair all over the bathroom sink.
And I can’t just suppress my jealousy, or find some negotiated settlement about sleeping arrangements between you and me and her and the cat— I’m not sure how to do that. Or if I want to. Because it doesn’t help. When you’re having a hassle with her, it doesn’t bring you closer to me. We sit here drinking coffee, frantic, and harried, and distracted, and grim, grim, grim.
So I can’t do this for you. I don’t know what the fuck it is you’re going through. It’s important, I think, maybe it’s great, it’s a gift, like sprouting wings, but there is not one damn thing in my pharmacopia that’s going to help. So I have to be an intransigent bastard and say do it. Take two aspirin, Cliff. That’s the best I can do.
Anyway, I need some time. And you’ll have a chance to see your friend.
GREINER: What? Who?
ELLIN: The one that died.
She goes out. He turns around, in agony.
GREINER: What happens now?
From the black, a little girl with a doll. She reaches out with it.
GIRL: Help my dolly?
GREINER: (in sudden rage) Your dolly is full of cotton batting. I am trained to deal with organic tissues and fluids. I don’t understand cotton batting. So your dolly is going to die. I’m sorry to tell you that, and I’d love to help you, I’d be more than willing to help you. But I’m a doctor.
A voice from the walls. He looks around, sees a figure standing in silhouette.
LAURIE: Cliff?
LAURIE: We’re past that, aren’t we?
LAURIE: The wisecracks?
He stops, tries to recognize the figure. Speaks as if in a dream:
GREINER: I have the fantasy— There’s always the expectation that I’m walking in some city— I’m stopping to get a slice of pizza, mushroom, pepperoni, and let’s see, it’s a medical conference, entirely consisting of papers on cost containment— And I turn around, and crossing the street, there’s the most beautiful red-haired woman in her forties, crossing the street— She’s alive.
LAURIE: Am I early?
GREINER: I don’t like surprises. What’s it like dead?
LAURIE: Not bad. It’s hard to focus to read. So you watch a lot of TV.
GREINER: So there is a hell.
LAURIE: Remember you heard it here.
Lights reveal Laurie, identical to Ellin.
I give you a lot of sweat.
GREINER: Well no, I mean you’re my patient. That’s what patients do.
LAURIE: Well that’s what we pay for, except you’re so far behind in your billing. I haven’t paid you for about eighteen months.
GREINER: That’s my secret strategy. I know you won’t check out without paying your tab.
LAURIE: I don’t know. It might be nice, just once in life, to get something for nothing. You actually don’t feel so bad putting one over on a really nice guy. They expect it.
GREINER: Laurie. . .
LAURIE: Dr. Greiner?
GREINER: I’m sorry. We shouldn’t fall into that cliche. Mrs. O’Connell.
LAURIE: Well no. After all there has been a certain degree of intimacy. You can’t really work out the process of dying together without feeling sort of attached — right?
GREINER: Call it that. (takes out origami) I’m still carrying this around.
LAURIE: That’s nice. . . Because you know vast regions of me, the wilderness inside, far better than I ever will. You don’t know what I see when I see my face in the mirror, but you know my kidneys intimately.
GREINER: Not quite the same. You can’t really imagine lovers gently stroking each other’s kidney.
LAURIE: It’s too personal for lovers.
GREINER: I remember when you gave me this.
He looks at the origami.
February? You looked pretty awful.
LAURIE: The hairless wonder. No, that’s kind of a klutzy one. I couldn’t make my fingers work.
GREINER: And then, what the hell do I do with it? It’s a gift, I can’t throw it away. I can’t put it up where I see it every day. I can’t explain it.
So I stuck it back with library cards from cities that don’t exist any more. Take it out, sharpen the creases, put it back. What happens now?
LAURIE: Burn it. I think you’d better burn it.
LAURIE: Should I ask, “How are you?”
GREINER: Clifford Greiner, forty-eight year old male, Caucasian, professional, entered the hospital—
It’s been an interesting year. I think I’m adapting to E.R. I miss the personal contact, long-term contact, but I try to bring some humanity into the clinic situation. Although I am definitely a nut case at times. That’s not a very professional way to say it. Stress. Idiopathic trauma. Nut case.
And my lawsuit. Accused of treating the patient properly just in order to lull her into believing that doctors can be trusted. No, I seem to be out of that.
And— I was lecturing this patient about hypertension. And I realized that in fact I hadn’t checked my own blood pressure for three years. And—
And now I find I have hypertension, and kidney problems, and— Which isn’t serious at present. I’m on a low salt diet, aerobics, diuretics. Which can create problems, periodic impotence, but I mean don’t we all. . . feel that at times? And watching the research reports on baboon kidney transplants, or pigs, they’re very big on pigs. . .
LAURIE: But. . .
GREINER: But it’s definitely a new experience, and productive — the old idea, what, that no one should graduate from med school without having had two full semesters of a major disease?
And this is a journey I’d prefer to postpone for a while but— In fact I’m terrified— I’m absolutely—
Why the hell do you want? When I was a kid, my mom told me, “If the monster is chasing you, just turn around and ask him, ‘What do you want?’”
LAURIE: Did you try that?
LAURIE: What did he do?
GREINER: He ate me.
LAURIE: Burn it.
LAURIE: I have to change.
He turns away from her, then flicks the lighter. As the origami burns, she takes off her hospital gown, stands in backlight. His finger is burnt. He reacts.
You feel it?
GREINER: “Do I feel it?”
LAURIE: Welcome to the human race.
GREINER: With blisters.
LAURIE: I burnt you.
GREINER: You did. Your damn fascination. You were absolutely fascinated by what was happening inside you.
LAURIE: Fascinating—
GREINER: Every detail, the physiology of the pain, and I thought it’s like the jokes, it’s to distract herself— No. To me, it was winning or losing. To her, she’s got about five seconds to see it, but to her—
LAURIE: Amazing—
GREINER: She’s making the journey. Taking the walk. Into the jungle, this slimy, gristly, wheezing wilderness inside yourself, and it’s documented, it’s named, charted like a gigantic Tinker-Toy windmill, but it’s a jungle.
And I’m elected to be the guide, I’ve got the roadmap, I’ve never been there myself, I don’t know where the turns are, but I’ve got the roadmap—
LAURIE: Fantastic—
GREINER: And she keeps going until she’s so far into the jungle there’s no way out and she’s part of the vegetation, and I’m stumbling after her, and Christ, I know what’s ahead, I know what I’m going to see: all, the hugeness and the beauty and the cruelty of it, and I stop there stupefied, stupid, scared shitless.
GREINER: What happens now?
LAURIE: Where?
LAURIE: Imagine a time she comes home.
GREINER: She doesn’t come home. She comes home to finish packing. Let’s be real.
LAURIE: You can’t tell it’s a dream or she’s really there.
GREINER: It’s a dream. It’s a fucking dream. Let’s be real. She’s right. It’s another wife in bed. It’s a corpse. No, there’s nothing disgusting about cadavers, it’s just . . . they express very little joy.
Because the cellular structure, it’s gonna disintegrate, die, and it may very well do it in a messy, awful, stupid, painful way, and our job is—
LAURIE: Winning or losing?
GREINER: —Is not winning or losing, but keeping it all running long enough to get to Kansas City. Where there’s an important telegram. For somebody with the same last name.
Stalled on words. Long silence.
I had a stamp collection. In Boy Scouts, I think I got a badge. But I had this idea, and they didn’t have a badge for it. What if I could make a collection of shadows. People’s shadows. Keep’em in a dark room, don’t turn on the light. I’ll be a shadow saver.
And I did. That’s what I did.
FALSETTO: Whatcha do whatcha do whatcha do. . .
GREINER: What happens now?
LAURIE: Your collection.
He recites from memory as if giving a guided tour.
GREINER: The anterior lobe of the pituitary gland, which secretes FSH, which circulates in the blood to the ovaries. . .
Your red blood cells, biconcave doughnut shape, very elastic to squeeze through the capillaries. . .
Pulmonary alveoli, hundreds of millions. It’s a zoo.
Kidney. Don’t you recognize it? It’s you.
Our friend the liver. Mitral valve cusps, atrium and ventricle.
The heart? Help me.
He tries to go on. Wordless. Tries to laugh.
What happens now?
LAURIE: She’s there.
GREINER: She’s there—
LAURIE: Imagine—
GREINER: Imagine it feels so sweet you can taste it. Imagine you speak all the words that need speaking just in the time it takes to say hello. You can’t hear the notes but you feel the music.
LAURIE: Imagine—
GREINER: And the gate opens and all the practical solutions sit there like rutabagas. You can’t deny the reality of a rutabaga, and she says—
LAURIE: “So I came back. One of those things. Like your patients. You can pump them full of stuff, and cut and paste, but they will either bug out or they will come back. Not one damned thing you can do.”
GREINER: And then she’d pick up this rag doll I kept there for kids— Washed it about five thousand times— And she’d say. . .
LAURIE: (distant) Help my dolly?
GREINER: What? Hey, I’d love to help you, I’d be more than willing to help you. But I’m a doctor.
ELLIN: (distant) Cliff?
ELLIN: We’re past that, aren’t we?
ELLIN: The wisecracks?
GREINER: I guess we are.
Ellin appears, holding a rag doll. Looks at table.
ELLIN: What’s this?
Ellin comes to him. Holds the doll out toward him. He stares at it.
Well ok.
He puts on his stethoscope, and as she holds the doll, he listens to its heart.
It’s fine.
Listens to her heart.
It’s ok.
Listens to his own.
Sounds fine.
Listens to parts of himself, of the doll, of the woman: head, belly, genitals, kneecap, elbow, clowning.
Not bad. . . Sounds good. . . Sounds great. . .
Listens again to his heart, a long time.
Definitely alive.