Greek-American Stories: Itching

Αssociated press

(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

My appointment to the dermatologist’s office was at nine o’ clock. I went fifteen minutes early because I wasn’t to have breakfast. So, I figured I’d get out sooner and treat myself to a wonderful breakfast somewhere nice, for a change. The receptionist smiled and handed me forms that I was to fill out. Most of the questions didn’t have anything to do with the itch I was coming for. 1. Have you left the country for places like South America lately? 2. What did your grandfather die from? 3. What is your reason for this visit? I responded to question 1. No!  2. He was very old. 3. I have an itch.

Finishing the rest of the 35 questions took 15 minutes. Then, I presented the receptionist with what could be the makings of a great motion picture of my life. She directed me to another small room where my pulse, weight and history of habits were recorded on the computer. Then, I was told to go and sit down until the doctor is ready for me. I sat and picked up a magazine. In an hour, I read that in Australia there were silver mines, the aborigines were peaceful tribes and lived in huts. The women wore no bras. The men didn’t notice.I found another magazine. Gee! Did you know that the actress, Doris Day had over eighty dogs and twenty cats on her three acres of land in California?Did you know that Hubert Mullingauer, the owner of Hill House,owned the greatest collection of coins ever? Did you know? Or care?

I learned more things readingthose magazines than I learned in High school. And, by my watch, it took a little more than an hour. Finally, as my derriere was getting numb, the perpetually smiling receptionist led me into a small room with a paper covered chair that I was to lay on. She draped a faded, cotton fabric over me after pulling up my sweater.

Finally, a short, myopic man in white, who was a dead ringer for Bela Lugosi came in giving me a look that, through a small miracle, my itch disappeared. Looking over the papers containing my life’s story, he asked me, “Vots th’ trouble?”

“I have an itch!” I explained wondering if he really read the papers I so painstakingly written. “Ver?” he asked. I showed him my abdomen where four red spots were plainly visible. Observing the area carefully, he nodded and gave me a two word diagnosis – in Latin. “What’s that?” I asked, beginning to worry. He shrugged. “An itch!”

Before I became a roaring, disgruntled patient and he’d have to press a button under the desk for the bouncer, I asked in as calm a manner as I could muster, “I knowthat! That’s why I’m here!But what is it – in plainer English?” After a long minute of silence, as if trying to think up as sympathetic a diagnosis as was kindly possible, he said, “Something you ate, maybe. Or, something – like soap or lotion, maybe.” Then, he was silent. My stomach began to roar. “But, doctor, it itches – bad! I couldn’t sleep!” Again, the shrug. “Not poison ivy season. Not measles! Nothing serious!” Then, he took out a pad and wrote something down - in Latin- and ripped it off the pad and handed it to me, looking at me, dolefully. I got the sense that he was being cagey – not wanting to tell me it was bad – that I haven’t much time. I got nervous. He said, “Use this cream and come back in a week.” I got off the table and straightened up. He disappeared. On the way home, wondering if the Hippocratic Oath is still valid, I stopped at the druggist to fill the prescription, recalling my yiayia’s remedy for itches –white vinegar – in Greek! I asked him, “How much will it cost? And, can you tell me what the cream is for? Is it for anything contagious or life threatening?” He studied the prescription, nodded his head hesitatingly, and then told me the name – in Latin, adding, “It’s expensive.” I took in a deep breath, restraining myself. “OK. That’s what it was called in Ancient Rome. Tell me what’s it’s called in the U.S.” After more hesitation, he looked up at me with sad, cocker spaniel eyes and said, “It’s for an itch!” Suddenly, white vinegar seemed more practical – and breakfast.