Clutching a sheaf of newspaper clippings in one hand and a medical bag in the other, Dr. Franklin Peterson Comstock III, knocking down pregnant ladies, students, the elderly, and even two burly construction workers who were waiting for a bus, rushed past me, leaving me in a close and personal encounter with the concrete. Since he had given up medicine to invest in a string of service stations and an oil distributorship, I assumed what was in his medical bag was the morning's take from obscene profits.
"Medical emergency!" Comstock cried out. "Gangway!"
"You've returned to medicine?" I shouted after him.
"I'm going into un-medicine!" he shouted back. "I'm getting the big bucks not to operate!" This was a story too good to let by, so I gave up any hope of the 7:11 "D"-line bus arriving by 7:30, and chased after him.
"Slow down!" I panted. "You'll kill yourself!"
"No time to slow down," he said widening the distance, leaving a trail of broken bodies. "There's money to be gotten!"
"If you kill yourself before you get there," - I didn't know where, I just knew it was somewhere - "you'll never see a cent of it!" That stopped him, giving me time to catch up, catch my breath, and catch Comstock's latest scam. "Now, Comstock," I said, the air returning to my lungs, "if you're not going to operate, why the medical bag?"
"That's so I can get money from the Department of Agriculture," he replied.
"You're going to hold up an Ag stabilization office?"
"In a way," he said, shoving a sheaf of the newspaper clippings at me. Some said that when doctors didn't operate, the death rate dropped."
"O.K., so surgeons kill patients. Tell me how that'll help you make a mint."
"Don't be so impatient," said Comstock. "Here! Read this!" This was a newspaper article that reported a study by the Centers for Disease Control showing that of 35 million people hospitalized last year, almost two million got worse because of exposure to unsanitary hospital procedures. "See! Even if we get them through surgery," said Comstock, "They'll die in the hospitals anyhow! Isn't that wonderful!" Wonderful wasn't exactly the word I had in mind.
"Aren't doctors supposed to make people healthier?" I brazenly asked.
"I guess we can do that too while we're making money," said Comstock, thoughtfully stringing out his scheme. "But making people healthy isn't as financially productive as not growing crops." He thrust yet another newspaper article at me. During the past decade, the Department of Agriculture paid more than $200 billion in subsidies to farmers, about three-fourths of them agricorporations; about $2 billion of that was for subsidies to individuals and corporations not to do any farming. Farmers and agricorporations merely had to prove they once farmed the land. They could even sell 40 acres to a sub-developer to build houses, and entice future homeowners with seemingly eternal payments for not having rice paddies in their basements. Comstock even showed me governmental data that revealed that dozens of members of Congress were getting annual six-figure subsidies. Rep. Stephen Fincher, a tea party Republican from Tennessee, even took more than $3.3 million in farm subsidies, while calling for a significant decrease in the food stamp program for the poor.
"So, that's the scam," I said. "You're not going to grow rice so you can make more money?"
"You fall off the turnip truck?" he asked. "I'm not doing surgery!"
"That's good news," I sighed.
"Darn right!" he patriotically exclaimed. "With every doctor wanting to get the big bucks from surgery, there's a glut of surgeons. Because of competition, us surgeons can't make as much from one surgery as before, so we have to do more surgeries just to stay even. That's more work for us. More time in hospitals. More deaths from surgery. More deaths from hospital care. Higher insurance rates. That forces us to do even more surgeries to keep up. That's definitely not in the nation's interest." I agreed.
"But the government can fix it!" said a beaming Comstock, former surgeon-turned-oil-entrepreneur. "All the government has to do is pay us not to perform surgery, and you'll see happier doctors. There might even be a few lives that are saved in the process."
A noble thought, I agreed. A very noble thought.
(Walter Brasch, an author and retired university professor from Bloomsburg, writes "Wanderings" for each Sunday edition.)