The Dollar General Doctor

by Travis Flatt

I’m confused to discover that my prospective neurologist, Dr. Les Winningham, is currently working an afternoon shift at Dollar General, backpedal to check the sign on the storefront. However, after the accident, I need a doctor who’s open-minded about insurance.

I don’t have any.

It turns out, Blue Cross is ill-humored about remodeling your neighbor’s apartment with a Ford F-150. Whether that incident relates to my current medical condition is what I’m here to discover. 

The receptionist, or, rather, the eighteen-year-old cashier, grinds her teeth and tells me my doctor will see me any moment, though she adds with a wink that he’s been in the bathroom for hours and it’s long since been her turn.

 Here I am, perusing the inventory, specifically the soggy twelve packs of Coke Zero. They catch my eye because they’re selling for eleven dollars. Given the dogshit condition of the economy, one might forgive even a physician the side hustle. I, myself, await the return of my driver’s license so I can resume Ubering folks to the airport. My full-time gig, Peaches, is cutting down to weekends, with so many of the dancers getting sick.

After several more minutes, I’m rethinking this plan, searching Facebook Marketplace for another doctor, but from the back strides a skinny young man. He’s hitching up his baggy, black work trousers, wiping his nose, and grinding his teeth like the San Andreas fault line. The cashier lets out an anxious squeal and sprints for the back, halts to whispers something in his ear, and disappears, leaving the register unattended.

“Mr. Foster,” the scrawny guy announces. He gestures for me to follow him outside. It’s November and I wish I’d brought a jacket. We go and take up a spot at the corner, which I presume is his office. He straightens his cap and adjusts where his tie should be, a tic of fidgeting with phantom objects and clothing I begin to notice.

He prepares an invisible clipboard and pen. “What’s up?”

“I’m having seizures,” I say.

He shakes his head. “It’s just DTs, son–” this guy couldn’t be more than twenty-five “–ride’m out,” and seems finished.

To his back, I explain that he’s not far off, but it’s more complex. It can’t be certain what exactly occurred my first time. Witnesses reported seizure-like activity when I lost control of my truck and obliterated Shane’s porch. Or, it might simply have been the bottle of Fireball.

He turns, nods, and squints in concentration while pretending to write something in air.

“I stopped drinking. Months ago–” I’m not sure he’s listening “–but it happened again. At the store.”

It’s true. After that first one, which might have been booze-related, I seized bigger than shit in Piggly Wiggly’s, creating such a scene it made the Herald Citizen. They called ambulances and fire trucks. 

He halts his pantomime, looks skyward, and digests this information like an unsucked jawbreaker. Ponders. Says, “You got epilepsy?”

I’m growing skeptical, yet considering delving further when a gray Bentley SUV purrs into the parking lot. A pretty, yet scowling, woman with tight, gray hair hops out.  I’m certain I’ve seen her on billboards around town running for City Council.

Les-ter Winningham,” she shouts.

“Hello, Miss Roland,” the skinny guy, Dr. Winningham, says. He tips his ball cap, readjusts his non-tie, and straightens his spine soldierly.

“Dr. Winningham–my insulin,” she says. She thrusts out one hand while checking the gold Ferragamo on the other wrist like somewhere desperate calls.

            “Yes ma’am,” he says, unzips his uniform trousers, unbuttons, and pulls out a money belt. From the belt he produces two white-labeled vials of insulin, then gingerly places them in her waiting palm. She slaps a readied wad of bills into his hand in exchange, turns, and clicks heels away.

            I’m watching her as he continues like nothing happened. 

            “History of epilepsy, Mr. Foster?” 

            Call me crazy, but my confidence has bolstered, so I say, “No. This is a new thing.”

            “How many?”

“Three or four,” I say. “One yesterday. That’s why I’m here.”

            He glances furtively around the lot and motions me to follow; there’s a 90’s Accord beside the building that’s seen an accident or six, the passenger side pushed in completely.

            He kicks the rear bumper and the trunk pops open. Inside sits a small safe which weighs the rear of the car. I assumed the back tires were leaking. With a rapid series of slaps and fist hammers, the safe swings open, creaking like a cemetery gate in a Hammer horror film. Dozens of pill bottles.

            Dr. Winningham shoves three large rectangular bottles into my stomach. Before they fall, I cradle them. “This is levetiracetam–Keppra. Take 2000mg twice a day. Eat, or you’ll be ready to yank your shirt off and throw down. Neurologists call it ‘the Hulk.’ “

            As I’m wedging the bottles into my pockets, Winningham holds another one, small and orange, up to my face. It’s full of white tablets. “Clobazam. Take one at night before bed. Good stuff. Don’t snort it.”

            He slams the safe shut, rocking the car, then closes the trunk down, which requires him to jump and hang all his weight. He turns and rests his bony butt against the car and I see he’s sweating. It’s fifty degrees.  “Obviously, I can’t write you a prescription, so you come see me in… two months. You’re good ‘till then.”

            “Thanks,” I say.

We stand for a moment by his ratty car. He fishes in his pocket for something and produces nothing, mimes writing a final ghost prescription, tears it and hands it to me. I ignore this, and he ignores my ignoring it.  “Just go out the hall you came, take a left, see Julia at the desk–shit, nevermind. Just kidding.” He grins but his eyes twinkle with a hellish, haunted misery

“How much do I owe you,” I mumble.

“Oh, it’s cool. You’re free the first time.”

I walk home, pockets full of illicit hope.

Travis Flatt is an actor and teacher living with his wife and son outside Nashville, Tennessee. He enjoys Shakespeare and dogs and Shakespearean dogs.

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