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MedWorld Fiction

Beyond the Magic Scapel
Chapter Eight

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By Maher Abbas, M.D.

   "Good morning. Any magic pill for baldness, yet?" I inquired as I took my baseball cap off.

   Since the first week of internship, I had been visiting with Fred on a twice a month basis. He was my barber. I kept coming back to his shop because he was always very delicate with my hair. He was also very sensitive to the fact that I was growing bald, by the week. Fred was originally from the southwest, specifically Arizona. He had cut hair for about forty of his sixty years of life. He was the typical southwestern man with dark glasses, polyester brown pants, cowboy boots and hat, large leather belt with a heavy nickel buckle, enough to give anyone low back pain! His hair was gray with a tinge of yellow in the front, a reminder of the heavy cigarette smoking he had done most of his life. A Marlboro packet was always in the upper left pocket of his shirt. His shop was one of the oldest in town. Most of his customers were senior citizens. Its decor was quite reflective of the sixties with its classic chairs and mirrors. Some of the magazines even dated back to 1966, the year I was born.

   "Doctor Baldi, it's always a pleasure to see you. Here, let me take your glasses," he said as I sat in the chair next to the window. The sun was shining outside. "So how would you like it today?"

   I looked at my head in the mirror. Fred reached for his scissors.

   "How would you like it?" he asked me again.

   "Fred, you always ask me the same question. By now you should know how I like it."

   "Well, well. I suppose you want the modified senior citizen special."

   "Make me beautiful, Fred. My hair has been falling like the leaves of a tree in fall. I'm starting to look like a chemotherapy patient. By the end of this year, there won't be much left for you to cut," I joked.

   Gently, he put his right hand on my left shoulder. Fred was a talented artist. His hands were magic. He always took my half bald and ugly head, and turned it into a sexy hair style within half an hour. He was good at trimming the edges and reflecting the patches of long hair to cover some of my bald spots. He especially did a good job with the big lake configuration which was growing on the back of my head. Without Fred's help, my social life would have suffered a lot. Besides fixing my hair, he always listened to my concerns regarding baldness and reassured me. In many ways, my frequent visits to his shop were similar to psychotherapy sessions: but his only cost me ten dollars a visit!

   "So Fred, any magic pill yet?" I asked again.

   "Oh yes. There are many magic pills for hope. They're magic for those who make money selling them. They only give hope to those who buy them. I have yet to see any hair grow on any of my customers who take them. All those years, all those lotions and potions, and all I've seen is baldness. Let's hope for a miracle Doctor Baldi, but I don't think it's going to be during my lifetime," he said disappointed.

   "How about Proscar?" I asked.

   "What is it?" he seemed curious.

   "It's a medication used in older men to treat enlargement of the prostate which is caused by the hormone, testosterone. Proscar blocks the production of testosterone. And since baldness in men is thought to be due to testosterone, someone thought of using it for baldness."

   "A brilliant idea!" he interjected.

   "There's a clinical trial study going on in San Francisco. They're recruiting young men," I added.

   "For how long does one need to take it?" he was intrigued by the idea.

   "Supposedly for life. Otherwise, the hair would fall out."

   "For life? Hum!" he gathered his thoughts and continued: "I don't know Doctor Baldi, but I would be scared to use it if I were a young man," he voiced his concern.

   "Why?" I asked.

   "Well, didn't you say it's a hormone thing? Look at all the talk about the use of hormones in the meat industry and the concern about cancer."

   "But this is different. Cows and people are different," I tried to convince him.

   "No, they're not. When I was a little boy I lived on an animal farm. And I can assure you that cows and people are the same!" he stopped cutting my hair and lifted his head up and looked at me in the mirror. "I don't like the idea of hormone. And I think that anyone who takes it for life is crazy!" he firmly added.

   "But could you imagine the beautiful hair it would grow?" I was not ready to drop the issue.

   "How about its effect on your prostate? Son, you don't know what it's like to have prostate problems," he grimaced at me.

   "I think it's safe in young men."

   "How about cancer? What would people say? He died young of cancer, but he had a head full of hair?! HA HA!" he teased me.

   Fred was willing to argue all day.

   "You've got a point Fred," I finally gave up.

   "And you got the money, doc."

   "No, I don't."

   "Well I meant that you will. Don't worry. Women love money. Between your hair and your wallet, most ladies would prefer your wallet. Trust me. I have been married five times," he started combing my hair. "But it bothers me so much, Fred. I spend most days thinking about it." "Son, you're overdoing it. Don't be so tough on yourself. It's only hair," he tried to reassure me.

   "How can I not worry? Did you know that Julius Caesar spent the eves of many major battles worrying about his baldness, instead of his enemy?" "You're overreacting. HUSH now!" he petted me on the shoulder, "Good old Fred will give you the best senior citizen haircut in town. Soon you'll walk out of here looking like a million dollars. Look, look, the ladies are already lining up outside for you," he pointed to two blondes walking outside his shop. He resumed cutting my hair.

   I felt better. Fred always knew how to reassure me.

   "Can I ask you a question about doctors? Why are most of you bald?" he smiled.

   "FRED, DON'T TEASE ME NOW," I snapped.

   "I'm serious, why are most of you bald?" he asked again.

   "I don't know. Maybe it's the hard work or perhaps the worries about others."

   "WORRIES! That's what it is. You doctors spend too much time worrying about everything and nothing. You know too much. You're concerned about diet, smoking, sexually transmitted diseases, and everything you can think of. You don't enjoy life when you worry so much." He was somewhat right. He put his scissors on the counter and grabbed his clippers. He started shaving my neck. "For example, can you name me the country where people smoke the most?" he quizzed me. His stinky smoker's breath overwhelmed my nostrils.

   "I guess China," I replied.

   "One would think China, but it's Greece. What's more interesting however, is the fact that Greece has the lowest incidence of respiratory problems in the world. We're not talking about Europe here, we're talking about the whole world. Doctors keep telling us, 'You smoke, you die.' If that's true, those Greeks should have been dropping dead like flies. But they're not. Can you explain it to me, doc?" He was quite skeptical of the medical profession.

   "I don't know what to tell you Fred," I responded honestly.

   "Neither could the people who did the study. I watched the program on channel eight the other night. They also talked about diet. Do you believe the nonsense about a high fat diet and the risk of heart disease?"

   "I do. That's what they taught me in medical school."

   "No offense, Doctor Baldi, but it's all rubbish talk. On the same television program they showed a tribe of Indians. The man in his nineties was running up a mountain chasing buffaloes. His wife in her eighties was weaving carpets under candle light. She had no glasses on and her vision was like an eagle's. The man smoked his pipe every night. The woman cooked all their meals with lamb lard. I mean everything was mixed with lard. They were old, yet they were very healthy."

   He waited for my comment. I didn't know what to say.

   "Do you know what it boils down to, Doctor Baldi?" he asked.

   "Please tell me," I was eager to hear his perspective.

   "Luck. Just pure luck. Some people can do things and get away with them. Some people can eat lard and smoke every day and live past ninety. And some can watch what they eat, yet die young from heart disease and cancer. The bottom line, son, is how much luck you have in life. Look here," he said as he handed me his small mirror. "How do you like it? You look like a million dollars."

   I looked at my head. He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out his Marlboro treasure. He took out a jewel, lit it, and puffed away. "I like it Fred."

   He held the cigarette in his right hand and brushed the hair off my shoulders with his left hand. I got up and pulled my wallet out of my pocket.

   "Your business is always appreciated, Doctor Baldi," he said as he reached for the ten dollar bill I handed him. I always tipped him an extra dollar. "Thank you. Just remember, some people can get away with things," he winked his right eye.

   "Are you trying to tell me something?" I asked.

   He smiled.

   "Well, son. Maybe you wanna consider that hormone Proscar. Maybe you'd get away with the side effects," he commented as he ran his right hand through his thick gray hair.

   I smiled and took off with some hope.

Chapter Seven Chapter Nine







Copyright © 1996 Maher Abbas, M.D. All rights reserved