The Twelve O’Clock Patient

by Shannon Gianotti
August 2016
3,530 words

I grab my laptop and throw a stethoscope around my neck. Before knocking on the door, I straighten my collar which has managed to pop up in the course of the morning and see the smudges on my lapels where I carry my laptop hugged again my chest. If only I’d known he was on my schedule, I’d have washed my jacket last weekend.

I open the door and find him reading a People magazine. Heat crawls up my neck as I imagine what he must think of our magazine selection. He points to a picture of the actor he’s reading about and says, “Isn’t he so talented? Did you see his last movie?”

I stumble over my thoughts. Is this a trick question? But Jesus is already saying something else, so quiet I almost miss it, “If only he knew me.”

But then Jesus tosses the magazine on the counter and stands up to shake my free hand and I realize that I forgot to close the door.

He tells me how great it is to meet me, you know, in the flesh. He finishes with a wink and I feel his joy pulsing in my palm. His eyes lock in on mine with such frankness I’m half embarrassed, but can’t stop a stupid grin from spreading over my face.

I sit down on the swivel chair and open my laptop on my knees.

“So, the nurse says you’re here for a…” I know what the chart says, but I double check it anyways, then clear my throat and look at him, “physical?”

Jesus nods, like it’s the most normal thing in the world. He must see me struggling to locate my usual follow-up sentence, because he says, “Every five years when you’re in your thirties, right?”

“Uh, right,” I say. A thought keeps slipping away from me. I dredge it up and straighten it out. “But, I don’t think they made those guidelines with God in mind.”

Jesus hold his hands towards me, palms up. “But I’m human too.”

“Yes, but you know what I mean.”

One of his eyebrows angles up.

“The guidelines are meant for us, not you. Us regular mortals.”

“That Bible you believe in, it says I was made like you all in every way. When it comes to humanity, I’m a shareholder.” His voice feels too big for the white walls and poster of a sinus infection, all red and pink, hanging behind him, like he was calling the sentence out from beyond the universe.

“If I don’t need physicals like everyone else, then I’m not really human, am I?”

I see the logic, but…

“My divine side always held the majority for you, didn’t it?”

“No…well…I always believed you were both God and human, believed in the… What do theologians call it?”

“Hypostatic union.”

“Ya, I always believed that, or thought I did. But having you sit here, signed up for a physical just seems too…”

“Human?”

Silence fills the room and I fiddle with the keys on the laptop. When I look back at Jesus, I see a smile playing on his lips.

“If I’m not human enough to get a physical, then you’ve got bigger problem on your hands.”

“How’s that?”

“If I don’t qualify for this, then how can I be human enough to die in your place?”

“It just seems like you should be examining me. I mean, Christians have gotten a lot of mileage out of the Great Physician thing.”

His brown face cracks into a white grin.

“If me getting a physical makes you feel uncomfortable, we’re going to have a Texas-sized problem with me taking the punishment for your sin.”

I felt spun around and plunged into ice water all at once, disoriented and—at the same time—more alert and oriented than I’d ever been.

“Welcome to grace. Takes some getting used to, but believe me you don’t want to opt out. So how about listening to my heart and lungs. I hear that’s how you usually start these physicals.”

“You hear, huh?” I pull off my stethoscope, then pause with it dangling from my hand. “You know I’m not the best doctor out there, right?”

“Yes.”

“And sometimes I miss things. And sometimes—.”

“I know,” he interrupted.

“You know what?”

“That this makes you uncomfortable. That you’re not perfect. That you mess up. Believe me, after being on that cross for you and absorbing all the wrath for your sin, I know your failures better than you do. And I still want to get a physical from you, so relax and do your thing.”

“Ok. Heart and lungs—wait, I forgot to ask you all the questions.” I lay the stethoscope on the counter and grab the laptop.

“Do you smoke?”

“No.”

“Drink alcohol?”

“Yes.”

“How often.”

“Special occasions, like weddings and birthdays. And whenever I eat Italian food.”

“What would be the most you would drink in one day, quantify it like one glass of wine, a can of beer, or an ounce of liquor.”

“Three glasses of wine, but that’s rare, only if it’s an all day event and really spread out.”

“Recreational drugs?”

“No.”

“Regular exercise?”

“Ya, I try to walk everywhere, or bike.”

“Anyone in your family with medical problems?”

“Some high blood pressure and heart attack on my mom’s side.”

“And you’re dad’s si—” I catch myself. “That’s right.” My fingers hover over the keys as I consider my options. No paternal DNA. No diseases on paternal side. Son of God.

“Or, you could just put down adopted.” Jesus grins. Clearly, he’s enjoying this.

I stall over the next set of questions. I felt pretty sure he’ll decline, but it feels unethical to answer it for him without asking.

Jesus looks at me, alert and patient, like he knows exactly what I’m deliberating over and he’s just waiting for me to decide. Maybe I imagine it, but he seems to give me the slightest nod of encouragement. I clear my throat.

“Have you been sexually active in the last year?”

“No.”

“It sounds like you probably don’t need it, but are you interested STDs testing?”

The sentence crawls out of my mouth. I’ve asked that question hundreds, maybe even a thousand, times before, until it felt like asking my husband to pass the salt. But now, asking him, the wrongness of it floods over me—how unnatural that question is—just one tiny piece of our world, his world, gone so wrong. The realization of it begins to pile up on me and I feel complicit in the world’s brokenness. How many times had I asked that question as if it were the most natural thing, without even a teaspoon of realization that each query testifies to a world in need of more healing than I can offer in a twenty minute appointment. I brace myself for his response.

I hear him say no, but feel the yes behind it—the yes to all he sees going through my mind. Yes to the infidelity, broken hearts, and shattered intimacy. Yes to the self-giving hunger, the craving for wholeness and the soul-scraping cost of trying to fill ourselves, make ourselves feel, make our lives mean something. Yes to to the tragedy of gonorrhea, herpes, and syphilis weaving itself from one body to the next.

When I look up, I find him rubbing his thumb over a scar in the shallow of his wrist and suddenly the old guilt surges up again, burning its path through me like it always does. Even though I’ve confessed it so many times before, it plays across my retina in painful detail. Tears form, hot and red, at the base of my eyes.

I wait for Jesus to wince, since I know he saw the replay too, but he just keeps rubbing his wrist.

“I’m sorry.” The words bleed through me, but whether I actually verbalize them, I’m not sure.

He stops rubbing and shows me both wrists. “I forgave you the first time you asked.”

I feel an overwhelming impulse to kiss those scars, but just as my hip extensors twitch to launch me towards him, Jesus looks at the clock.

“I think we better keep moving,” he says. “Don’t want to keep Mrs. Fletcher waiting today, she’s got to pick her grandson up in about an hour.”

I guess HIPAA doesn’t apply to God.

I run through the review of systems on autopilot, still thinking about his wrists and how he peeled the guilt off my retina and let his scars swallow it up.

“Any depression or —” I tumble off the sentence as I realize he said yes to the last question.

“Wait, you have a rash?”

“Just a bit of ringworm, here on my arm.” He bends his elbow to show me.

“Looks like it. Do you need me to send something in?”

“I’ve been using an over-the-counter cream and it seems to be working, so I think I’m good.”

I move on to health maintenance, reminding him to keep an eye on his skin and watch for any changing moles, replace the battery in his smoke detector, and not text while he drives.

The smirk on his face stops me.

“What? Did I say something wrong?”

“Let’s be honest, you need that reminder more than I do.”

I think about the near accident I had on I45 that morning. Thankfully, I’d looked up just in time to slam on the brakes. As I relive the moment, I realize he was there. He pulled my head up at the last second.

I wade through my emotions, searching for the right words.

“Thanks for that,” is all that stumbles out.

He cocks his head to the side.

“This morning. For making me look up in time.”

He nods, not exactly a you’re-welcome nod, but an invitation to say more.

I run through the morning again and this time I see the woman in the car in front of me with a toddler in the back seat. In the car on my right, a guy with a sleeve tattoo and dreadlocks. On the other side, a blond girl with an LSU tassel hanging from her mirror.

Suddenly, the weight of their collective lives crashes in on me.

“I’m sorry—” The words catch in my throat. Suddenly those moments with my eyes flicking between my phone and the road groan with the heaviness of all those lives resting on them.

“I forgive you.”

“How do you live like this? Feeling it all so deeply. All of it…mattering? If I started to care like that, I’d never get through a day’s schedule?”

“It costs,”  he says, lifting his wrists again, “but I don’t expect you to meet every need. That’s my job, you know. That’s why you’ve got the Counselor.”

“The—? Oh, the Holy Spirit.” Something crisp and warm lights up inside me and suddenly I know that the best thing in the world for me to do is finish this physical. It’s the thing that matter to God right now and doing it is a sort of worship. I whistle for all my scattered thoughts and focus them right here.

I close my laptop and stand up. “Ok, I need you to—” I hesitate, then pull a gown out of the drawer, “—take off all your close, except your—” Ok, this is a bit awkward. “—boxers. You can leave those on, but everything else off, and put this gown on. Open in the back works best.”

I head to my office and start clicking lab orders. A head pops into my office, covered with braids. Chantelle slips in, then closes the door.

“That’s not really Jesus, is it?” she whispers.

“Yep, the real deal.”

“Whoa, he is so brown.” She laughs. “More like me than you…I can’t believe it’s really him.”

“You should pop in and say hi, I bet he’d love to see you.”

“I don’t know,” she stuffs her hands into the pockets on her scrubs. “Do you think he knows I haven’t been to church in forever?”

“Probably. One more reason to—“

“I think I’d die of embarrassment.”

“I think once you met him you’d feel differently.”

Chantelle peaks out the door and across the hall. Something about her reminds me of the deer I find nibbling the herbs in my garden, tense and skittish. “Maybe…” she says and slips out.

I finish the lab order, then head back to the exam room. Jesus’ legs dangle over the edge of the table. I pump a handful of sanitizer and clean off my stethoscope, warming it for a second in my hand, and then move his gown to place it on his back. My hand jerks away, his back looks like the bamboo cutting board in my kitchen, crisscrossed and gouged with scars. I look for a smooth patch big enough for the bell of my stethoscope before placing it gingerly over one of the lumps.

Something surges in my chest, rising and falling to the cadence of his breathing. Each time I move the stethoscope to a new patch of scars, it wells up in me again. Then, I slide it to the front, under his gown.

Thud thud…thud thud…thud thud…

It seems impossible that those beats—coming from a heart like mine—keep him alive. God of the universe, dependent on an electrical impulse and hand-sized mass of muscle for his human existence. An organ that could have—and did—lay cold and contracted between immobile ribs. Like the heart I’d held in my hand and dissected in med school. Talk about life support. While we sign waiters against mechanical ventilation, God hooks himself up to a sinoatrial node.

“Ok, now follow my finger with your eyes. Open your eyes wide, now squeeze them shut. Push your leg against my hand, now pull back.”’

Me giving the commands, him obeying.

When I knock the rubber hammer against his knee and his leg jumps, he laughs. “Gets me every time,” he says. “One of my favorites.”

“Ya, me too.”

“We sure did a great job.” The way he says it makes me feel like I’m eavesdropping, like there’s more than just the two of us in the room.

You sure did, I think.

I pull the table out and have him lie down, lifting his gown to check for moles. I run a finger over the red scar tracing a line between two ribs.

“What’s this fro—” A tingle shoots through my finger and up my arm. “Oh, the spear.” He nods.

“Why didn’t you—you know—get rid of the scars when you…” Words fail me again. Got resurrected seems technically right, but feels weird to say.

“—got my body upgrade?”

“Body upgrade. I like that. Resurrection sounds too academic and spiritual, wispy like, not like you here on my exam table getting poked and prodded. So why the scars?”

“They represent one of the best things I ever did. Losing them would be a downgrade.”

“But I thought the next life, with our resurrected bodies, meant no pain. Doesn’t the memory in them hurt?” I was thinking about my own scar, the one across my eyebrow from when I was ten. All that scar meant to me was yelling, broken bottles, and a stepfather I’d rather forget. It refused to let me forget all the other scars, the ones that never made red lines, but cut deeper and left more pain, the ones not even my best friends knew about.

He reaches a finger up, from where he lay on the table, to touch the scar over my right eye. At the moment of contact, a warm feeling knits itself into me. “One day, I’ll touch this scar and take all the pain out of it. The only thing left will be its beauty.”

I feel my forehead furrow in unbelief, there’s nothing beautiful about that scar.

“That scar made you call out to me,” Jesus continues, “Because of it, you invited me into the deep places. It help you see the beauty in other broken people. It’s part of why you decided to become a doctor. You can’t see all it’s beauty now, but I do.”

I could stay there forever, his finger pressing on my forehead, him seeing me and mending me.

“But today,” he says with a wink, “you’re the doctor. So do your thing.”

I laugh, plug my stethoscope back into my ears, and listen to his belly. His skin is warm when I lay my hand across his stomach and tap my middle finger, moving my hand as I go. His abdomen echoes and thuds in all the right places.

“I’m just going to feel the pulses at your groin,” I say, lifting his gown. “Ok, last thing—if we’re really doing a physical—is a hernia and testicle check.” I pause and he nods. “Stand on the ground, then, and drop your shorts.

I grab gloves and snap them on, then find the swivel chair and wheel over to him.

Lifting his gown, I prepare myself for the Jewish state of things and am surprised to find his male apparatus looking the same as the vast majority I see during these exams. Oh, that’s right. Circumcision is the Jewish state of things.

“I’m going to check your testicles now, make sure no lumps or bumps that shouldn’t be there. Good. Good. Now, turn your head and cough. Again.”

I drop his gown. “Ok, everything checks out, you look healthy—” My voice hangs in the air.

“What is it?”

“I don’t mean this to sound inappropriate, but I expected to see the scars on your wrists, but not your…your…”

“Circumcision?”

“Ya, I mean, I’ve heard sermons about how the scars will stay on your wrists forever, proof that you won’t forget your covenant with us. I guess they get that from Thomas sticking his hand in your side after the resurrection. But it never crossed my mind that the other covenant came with a scar and that you’d keep that, too.”

He just watches me, waiting for me to work it through.

“So, I guess I should’ve expected it. Man, you take this physical thing really seriously, don’t you?”

“What do you mean?”

“Sometimes it seems we’re more concerned with the truth, the doctrine about heaven and making sure we end up there and getting all our theological facts straight. Kind of heady, spiritual stuff, and here you are carrying that truth in your body, forever.”

Jesus extends his arm in front of his gown, palms towards me and wrists at groin level. “These scars, all three of them, are truth. Full, spiritual-physical truth.”

“We’ve sort of hacked things apart, haven’t we. Spiritual stuff over here, physical stuff over there.”

“Yes. But all that changed with me. I’m how it was supposed to—the physical and spiritual merged together and seamless. One whole person that can’t be separated into parts.”

“So what about those of us who follow you—are we like you, or still in pieces?”

“You’re being mended. That’s what the Holy Spirit’s doing, building my seamless life into you. Sometimes you get the idea that my life is all abstract and spiritual, but its just as much about loving God with your body as anything else—as much about enjoying your vacation in California, as discovering a new truth in the Bible, because I made them both. As much about doing physicals as leading Bible studies, because I’m concerned with all types of health. My life is about learning to how enjoy and live out all God meant for life on this earth, with each other, and with me. Which is why—to end up where we started—I came in for a physical.”

“Speaking of physicals, we’re pretty much done. The nurse will be to give you the Tetanus shot, but you can go ahead and get changed.” I pulled a clear cup with an orange lid out of the cabinet. “When you’re done changing, head to the bathroom and—” My mind stalls and I flipped through the alternatives: urinate, micturate, void, go number one…

“—pee in that cup?”

I feel my mastoid muscle release and the air flow into my mouth as it hangs open. He laughs and gives me a bear hug.

“Thanks for doing this, Amy, seeing me for a physical.”

“Glad to, it’s my job.”

“No,” he says reaching for his pants, “it’s more than that.”

I close the door behind me and nearly bump into Chantelle.

“Have you been listening the whole time?”

“What’s he like? Did he seem very God-ish? Did he make you feel guilty? Did you check his you-know-what?”

I try to gather the last twenty minutes into one sentence, but realize this will take me years to unpack.

“Well,” I say finally, “He said the word pee.”

Her eyes fly open.

“Really, you should meet him. I think he’ll surprise you.”