Historical Fiction

Two well-dressed doctors are sitting in a posh bar, one would not dare to call it a public house, a pub. They have ordered their drinks, which arrived shortly thereafter, and they have just now both of them taken a soothing sip of their beverage. One of them then uncharacteristically thumps the expensively wooded table with his right hand closed tight in a fist. Then he says, not loudly, but in a forceful clear tone.

“I just can’t believe it!”

“What’s that George? What is it that you can’t believe?”

“Well, Frank it is like this. Here we are living in London, the most sophisticated city in the United Kingdom, probably in the world. We are fortunate enough to be standing on this earth during the most enlightened century of all time, the eighteenth century, near the end of this century of enlightenment. no longer the dark ages.   And you and I were trained as doctors in the most modern, up-to-date medical school that you can name, the University of Edinburgh, and still, we are helpless.”

“In what way are we helpless, George. We cure people and make good money doing so. How can you possibly think that we are helpless?”

“Epidemics, Frank, we are helpless in the face of the epidemics that are plaguing this country. They are killing people all around us, and we can do little to nothing about it. That’s what I mean. I am almost ready to believe that the religious fanatics might be right when they say that the world is coming to an end, at least the human part of it.  That’s what I hear them say when they step in my way when I am walking through the city. ‘The end is near. The end is near. God is punishing us.’

“You cannot really believe that George. You are too intelligent, too educated to believe all that nonsense you hear on the street.”

“You are right of course, but I am beginning to despair. I have to deliver bad news to so many of my patients, as you must as well. And I am beginning to worry that they could spread their deadly diseases to me if I’m not careful. And this physician would not be able to ‘heal thyself’ as Jesus once said. What can we do about it?”

“I am sure that some brilliant doctor in this city, someone trained at the University of Edinburgh, like us, will come up with something miraculous, and we will come to live in healthier times. I am quite sure of it.”

“I used to have that confidence, but I do not seem to be able to think that way much anymore. Do you think that maybe we should hire some resurrectionist, you know a ‘body snatcher’ to steal some corpses for us to do research on the matter?”

“I would be dead set against that.”

“Very funny Frank. Very funny.”

“How could one set out to do such research I wonder? What great idea that no one has yet to come up with would provide the solution? It would have to be something completely new I would think. And which of the epidemic diseases would it be best to find a cure for – cholera, consumption, diphtheria, scarlet fever…smallpox even?”

“For me, Frank, it would have to be the plague that is smallpox. The people that I have seen with it, not in my surgery of course, too dangerous, look so incredibly vile and crushed by it. Not being able to do anything about it makes it worse for me. Eliminating smallpox would constitute a scientific miracle. I think that in this case you might rightly put those two words together without them contradicting each other.”

They stop talking for a few minutes, returning their attention to their drinks. It isn’t long before both have emptied their classes and have hailed the waiter with a ‘hey my man’ to get each of them another. This is uncharacteristic of their drinking behaviour. They consider themselves to be well-bred, and do not want to seem to be seen imbibing like common drunks. 

They see a friend and doctor colleague of theirs named Charles come through the door. Not wanting to make a scene, but still needing to let him know where they are sitting, Frank stands up very straight and declares, “Charles, we are over here.” Their friend quietly nods his head and walks over to their table. The three of them shake hands in a standing position, and then sit simultaneously as if guided to do so by a minister in a church. Then Frank initiates conversation.

“Charles, George and I were just talking about smallpox, and how it would take something of a scientific miracle to find a cure for it, even with all the tools we have of modern medicine.”

Charles responds with a big smile on his face.

“That’s funny that you were discussing that, Frank. I have just recently heard a strange story on that subject that will make the two of you laugh out loud. About 100 miles away from civilization, in deepest darkest Gloucestershire, there is this doctor who does his research with cows. He claims that his cow studies have enabled him to develop a way of preventing people from getting smallpox by jabbing them with something from a cow. Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous? I mean really. Cows indeed.

George responds, “They have some strange ideas out there in Gloucestershire. Do you know the name of this perpetrator of medicinal fiction?”

“Yes, I do George. His name is Edward Jenner.”

“Isn’t he the chap who studied cuckoos, alleging that the cuckoo parents sneak their eggs into the nests of other birds, and the cuckoo hatchlings then rid the nests of the rightful eggs and hatchlings?”

“Yes, indeed.”

“Well, I believe that he is something of a cuckoo, and that he should be thrown out of the nest of proper medicine. Does he have a name for his great discovery?”

“Yes, he named it after his cows.”

“What was the name, the ‘cow cure’, ‘moo medicine’, the ‘ranch remedy’ or just ‘the bull belief’?

“No, he glorified it with a Latin term so it would sound more respectable.”

“What was it?

“Vaccine, after the Latin term ‘vacca’ for cow.”

“I cannot believe it. I doubt anyone but this Gloucestershire doctor will ever use that word or allow themselves to be jabbed by such cowishness.”

All three men laugh politely, and order drinks.

September 12, 2021 21:59

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17:04 Sep 13, 2021

I have to laugh, here in Florida...as time has seemed to stand still. Our anti-vaxxers are at least 300 years behind in their science classes. Thanks for the reminder of how the human condition remains decidedly human :)


John Steckley
18:27 Sep 13, 2021

Thanks for your comments. You're correct, of course, we humans don't change much with the passage of time.


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