(I just finished this story, which was inspired by my recent thoughts on fruitfulness.)
“I’ll have a look at him,” he said wearily, dropping his pen on the unfinished paperwork and getting up again. “But he’s the last one today. If I don’t get these reports out we could lose our funding.”
The nurse looked relieved. “Thank you, doctor.”
The patient was in a wheelchair; he’d seen the man here at the clinic before. Muscular dystrophy. Not much they could do about that. But he didn’t understand why the man didn’t at least have a power chair; Medicaid paid for things like that. Apparently his wife didn’t mind pushing him around. “Hello, Mr. Johns. Kelly wants me to have a look at your leg... How long has it been like this?”
“About a week, but it’s not bothering me. I’m just here to reassure my wife.”
He adjusted the light and took a long look at the reddened area. “Kelly also says she thought she saw something… unusual in the waiting room just now. Between you and Mrs. Parker?” He paused. “Did you see Mrs. Parker—she’s also in a wheelchair, early 50s, dark hair—did you talk to her?”
He eyed Mr. Johns. “What happened?”
“What did the nurse tell you?”
He hesitated, staring warily at the man in the chair. “She said Mrs. Parker got up and left.”
Mr. Johns just looked at him and nodded. He took a deep breath and leaned over the man’s leg again, touching it lightly this time. “Does that hurt?”
“No. I think it’s getting better; it just takes things a long time to heal, with my poor circulation.”
“Yes, I don’t think it’s anything to worry about,” he agreed. Then added, “But you must be mistaken about Mrs. Parker. She’s paraplegic; she’s never going to walk again. You must have her confused with someone else.” He pulled down the man’s pant leg and lowered the leg rest into its normal position. Then he straightened up and smiled. “Come back, though, if this gets worse.”
“Yes. Thank you.”
He turned to go. But the man’s voice stopped him at the door. “Mrs. Parker has been coming here to Bethesda clinic for many years,” Mr. Johns said slowly. “It just seemed like she’d been waiting long enough. Don’t you agree?”
He turned and studied the man sitting there. “What are you suggesting? That you healed her?”
“Is that what the nurse told you?”
“That seems to be her conclusion. She’s mistaken, of course…”
Mr. Johns smiled. “Of course. No, I didn’t heal her, doctor.” The man’s gaze fell to his lap, then rose again quickly. “God did.”
He shifted Mr. Johns’ file to his other hand, and sighed. “Look, I don’t have time for this. I’ve got a lot to do.” He turned again to leave.
“God has also healed your daughter, doctor,” Mr. Johns said. “You should go see her.”
He froze, confused. Then turned back, anger rising within him. “I’m not sure what kind of game you’re playing, but it’s not funny.”
“It’s not meant to be funny,” the man replied calmly. “You look tired, doctor. You should leave the rest of your work for tomorrow and go visit your daughter right now. She’s waiting for you.”
He stared hard at Mr. Johns, then laughed. “You can’t expect me to believe any of this. I mean… I don’t mean to be rude… but look at you. If you really are what you’re pretending to be, why are you still sitting there in that chair?” He took two steps and looked down at his patient again. “For that matter, why not heal all those people out there? Why just Mrs. Parker? Do you see what I’m saying? It doesn’t make any sense.”
Mr. Johns considered that a moment before replying.
He managed to wait two days before going to see Sophie. To prove to himself he wasn’t going because Johns told him to, but just because it had been too long since his last visit with his daughter. The psychiatric hospital depressed him. He cringed inside every time the wide door to the locked ward fell shut behind him. His daughter should not be here. And he hated to see her like this, drugged into submission; sometimes he briefly wondered if the unpredictably violent Sophie hadn’t been better. At least she spoke then—as loud as she could. Now she just sat there. Looking at him.
When he entered her room she was sitting on the bed and her hair was neatly combed. Which was unusual for Sophie. Her hair had been the only remaining sign of the girl he remembered, the only part of her they had not been able to tame. But as he approached the bed he noticed the comb was in her own hand. He looked questioningly into her eyes. And saw there the usual medicated haze, but also something else—was it a light? She smiled. He stopped, staring at the girl who had once been his daughter and then was not. Then he heard her voice again.
“Daddy,” she said softly, the light in her eyes flaring. “You have got to get me out of here. These people are control freaks!”
He made an appointment with Sophie’s doctor and promised her he’d return the next day. Then she kissed him. He was so surprised, he practically ran out of the hospital. It was impossible; he wanted it too much to trust his own judgment, and how could it possibly have happened? Johns had told him how it happened. But that was ridiculous—this was a man who claimed his disease had made him a healer. Okay, not exactly, but isn’t that what it amounted to? “The weaker I got, the more I felt it rising up in me.” Which was also Johns’ reason for not healing himself. And for not wanting to pack stadiums and go on TV like those famous so-called “faith healers.” “My power is made perfect in weakness.” So the man would rather be unknown and so poor he has to go to a free clinic to see a doctor. None of it made sense. Johns was the one who should be in the psychiatric hospital.
But he found himself making an unplanned stop at the clinic on the way home. To get Mrs. Parker’s address. Then he drove the few blocks to her house, not knowing what he would do when he got there. He didn’t have to do anything. Mrs. Parker was out in front of her house, planting some flowers. As he passed, she turned and waved. He waved back.
It was three years before he saw Mr. Johns again. Mrs. Johns pushed him in, babbling that she’d wanted to call 911 but her husband insisted on being brought to the clinic. It looked like Johns was dying. The man was so weak he could barely take a breath. His first impulse was to call 911 himself since the clinic was not equipped to handle this, but before he could move, Mr. Johns fell forward and he lunged to catch the dying man.
Then he heard one word, in a low rasp.
He looked into Mr. Johns’ eyes and was caught for a moment. Then he nodded. “Yes, she’s home… I tried to find you, but your file….” He saw Mr. Johns’ smile fade as the man struggled to take another breath. “No!” he whispered frantically. “Don’t let this happen! Get up!” Then he stepped back from the dying man. “I can’t help you. Please! Why won’t you get up? I work so hard here but… I can’t… But you, you could change it all… Get up!” He grabbed Mr. Johns’ shoulders, and the man spoke again.
“Unless a grain… falls… and dies…”
Then the voice sounded different. “But if it dies it produces much...” It sounded stronger, though the blue-tinged lips didn’t seem to be moving anymore. But there was life in the eyes that held his. “You think, ‘If I work hard enough…’ But there’s too many Mrs. Parkers left waiting. And your own daughter, sitting there looking at you. And then you begin to doubt you’re the man you think you are, the man they say you are...
“Who told you that you’re the doctor?”
He stared at Mr. Johns for several minutes, though he was sure the man was dead. He stood up slowly. Then he was moving towards the door, someone calling after him, “Doctor? Doctor!”
“I’m not feeling well,” he mumbled and pushed the door open.
The sun was bright and hot. Waves of heat danced on the pavement, forming mirages in the dead air. He looked out into the parking lot and down the street. No movement, no life. Unless a grain falls and dies… He took a hot breath and stepped out. But he stopped abruptly when he reached his shiny car, every surface reflecting the blazing sun. My power is made perfect in weakness. Taking off his stethoscope, he gently laid it on the gleaming hood, and turned towards home.
It would be a long walk, he thought.