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The Essay
Show #503
David Gunn

As a youth, Hippocrates' playmates derisively called him "hippo crates" because he was a tad tubby. Well, maybe more than a tad. As he entered the fourth grade, he clocked in at four hundred and eighty pounds. And when viewed from the side, he looked strikingly like the nearly hippopot-eponymous. His dad, Hypocrisies, was loath to tell his son how fat he really was. Instead, he made up stories about how everyone else in town was deleteriously skinny--so thin that they could fall down dead at any moment! But something about that statement didn't ring true to the young roly-poly, and he began to spend hours in the library researching the correlation between a person's weight and his or her health. Over time and extra helpings of chicken poppers, he discovered that there was scant information on the topic. In fact, the only book that had any opinion whatsoever about health was A Greek's Guide to Medicine and Cockfighting. It said that a person's aberrant weight was caused by possession of evil spirits or disfavor by the gods. But Hippocrates was dubious. He was sure the gods liked him--or was it the dogs? As if on cue, a rat terrier bounded through the library portal, spotted the pudgy lad, leapt up and bit him on his bum. The flesh wound ached, but so did Hippocrates' newfound desire to know conclusively if he was fit or fat. So he forthwith postponed his ambition to become Greece's first sumo wrestler. Instead he decided to become a doctor.

His parents had conflicting views of the wisdom of such a career move. In those days, the practice of medicine was pretty much limited to throwing a leech on a wound, and rarely generated more than a few obols in the payment-for-services-rendered department. Hypocrisies had maxed out his line of credit to his bookmaker, and he was eager for his boy to start bringing in those big sumo wrestler competition drachmas. On the other hand, his mother, Hypochondria, had always wanted a doctor in the family. Before he had even trained his first leech, she begged him to take her temperature and prescribe a palliative or pacemaker.

Hippocrates entered the field of medicine at an exciting time: half past two on a Saturday afternoon. Up until then, all nation-state-sanctioned medicinal treatments were carried out by eccentric religious sects--such as the Cult of Acidophilus--that had suspiciously close ties to the shadowy naturopathic industry. But then, Asclepius, the God of Medicine, forsook Mount Olympus to found a chain of medical practice clinics on Earth called "The Scarlet Scalpels." He pooh-poohed the benefits of vitamin supplements and herbal roborants, and instead promoted the liberal use of hallucinogens, pharmaceuticals and razor-sharp cutting implements. His shameless exploitation of the Sirens--Phyrigia, Diaphanes and Blanche--to advertise his clinics raised some eyebrows, but a few swift swishes from his scalpel put the eyebrows back down where they belonged.

Hippocrates applied to the school's Ilium branch and was readily matriculated. He sailed through his first semester of schooling because (a), he was a quick study, and (b), the classes were held aboard a fully functional trireme. Plus, having for years put up with Sponge Bobbus, his mooching little brother, he aced the course on leech therapy.

Because he was also a natural cut-up, Hippocrates looked forward to the second semester's class on the four humors. He was only slightly disappointed to learn that they were actually four fluids--blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile--that permeated the body and influenced its health and temperament. But an elaborate midterm practical joke involving the four humors, a piñata and the instructor had the whole class in stitches.

One day, Apollo bade the heavens open up and a golden chariot descended thence to earth ferrying two nubile babes: Hygeia, the Goddess of Health, and Panacea, the Goddess of Nostrums. The chariot landed outside the Ilium Scarlet Scalpel's cafeterium where Asclepius in full surgical regalia greeted them warmly with high-fives. He led them into the operating theater where the school's students had assembled to view this semester's Celebrity Surgery. As the two goddesses donned their work clothes--which Hippocrates and the other lads were intrigued to see were little more than corsets with large pockets--Asclepius announced the operation du jour: a trepanation. The equivalent, according to A Greek's Guide to Medicine and Cockfighting, of "a very big leech," trepanation was "the practice of making a hole in the skull in order to improve brain pulsations." An attendant wheeled in the trepanatee--the Roman maintenance slave known as Janitorius--along with a box of surgical instruments. The three supernaturals conversed briefly, then each withdrew her or his tool of choice: Hygeia, an auger; Panacea, a cross-peen hammer; and Asclepius, a machete. The attendant summoned the anesthesiologists--a trio of lyre players who played the most mind-numbing music--then signaled Asclepius that the operation was ready to commence.

However, the Cult of Acidophilus had smuggled Pandora, the Goddess of Box Lunches, into the operating theater. As soon as the lights dimmed, she crept down to the operating table and slipped one of her boxes within arm's reach of Janitorius. Panacea recognized the troublemaking container right away, but before she could get rid of it, the not-quite anesthetized maintenance slave popped it open.

Contrary to popular opinion, the so-called Hippocratic Oath was not an exemplar for medical etiquette. Rather, it was a blasphemous curse that Hippocrates uttered as all hell broke loose there on the operating theater floor. Utter pandemonium reigned, and that was just the beginning. The heavens opened up again, but this time plague and pestilence fell from the sky. So did forty-pound medicine balls and, as Hippocrates was fleeing for his life from the suddenly accursed school, one fell on his foot. "Damn!" he said, and that wasn't the half of it.

And this isn't the half of the 503rd episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar, not by a long shot. Rather, it's a mere one-fourteenth of what--if the gods and goddesses will keep their trepanations to themselves--can be a perfectly salubrious radio program presided over by our own Kalv-o-doc.