Thursday, November 08, 2007

Podiatrist Aesthetics

Today I saw my podiatrist. It pains me to say I have a podiatrist because it makes me sound older than I feel, but I’ve been seeing my old podiatrist since I was twenty-two. Not for any particular issue, but for a variety—troublesome toenails, heel spurs, and the occasional fight with a screen door or vacuum cleaner that ends with late night stitches and a season of wound abrading.

The old podiatrist was talkative. You might go in for an ingrown toenail but while there, you would talk about Star Trek, car shows, war, and relationships. You never knew what you’d get, but it definitely wouldn’t be foot talk and it would always be something a bit odd. It harkened back to some bygone era that I sometimes crave, when doctors knew you for longer than the three minutes they spend with you and when, if times were hard, you could pay with a chicken. So I was a little sad when my old podiatrist sold his practice to a whipper snapper, and I worry that if I have another late night entanglement with the sharp edge of a small home appliance, the new guy won’t get himself out of bed to stitch me up and I will have to go to the ER (a.k.a. The Barber Shop) where I will most likely end up with a staph infection or some other completely avoidable complication.

One thing that has always been problematic though was the décor of the office. The old podiatrist had a thing for bad clown art (though I’m not sure I’ve ever seen good clown art). In fact, not just bad clown art, but bad hobo clown art: cartoony in nature, neon in color, and all clowns with giant feet, usually with toes poking out of the fronts of raggedy shoes. I never could reconcile how a doctor so smart and sure of himself could have such horrendous taste.

It wouldn’t hurt to note that I hate clowns. Possibly I’ve mentioned this before. I feel a little guilty about it because my great grandfather was a clown, ran away and joined the circus—the whole deal. My grandmother grew up playing with his clown make-up and wearing his clown clothes. But it doesn’t change my intense dislike for people who draw their emotions on their faces and then expect audience members to ooh and aah at madcap pantomime. When I first discovered there were devout Christians in the world who had clown ministries I was horrified, so far from God are clowns in my mind.

When the new guy started, I assumed the clown art would be the first to go. However, it remained. This led me to wonder if perhaps podiatrists universally have a thing for clowns. Maybe it has something to do with the giant feet. The new doctor didn’t share many other characteristics with the old doctor. He’s friendly enough. He is helpful enough. He always asks where I’ve recently traveled to, but I know his question comes from a Post-It note in my chart reminding him this is my thing so it establishes a doctor-patient relationship that really doesn’t exist. This is fine though—I prefer that he read medical foot journals in his spare time in lieu of memorizing patient names and hobbies.

It was a shock today, though, to walk in and discover that not only were the clowns gone but the good fairy of tasteful interior decorating had made a visit. The neon is gone and in its place, sage walls. The Early American furniture haunting doctor’s office across America for the past 40 years is gone, and in its place, tasteful, clean-lined chairs, tables, and lamps from Ikea. And the clowns are just gone. I was so shocked by their absence that I didn’t even notice what replaced them.

After the good doctor asked how my gout was and asked where I’d traveled to (nodding his head and saying “good good” before I ever answered), I commended him on the absence of clowns. He thanked me and said the shocking thing was that my old doctor asked if he could have the clown art back. I asked why he hadn’t just taken the art when the practice sold, and the new doctor said, “I think he thought I would like it.” He grimaced and we laughed.

I felt a little closer to the new doctor after this exchange, though I also felt something else. I won’t say I missed the clowns, because that would be a lie. There should be legislations banning clown art, statuary, and let’s face it, clowns themselves. But what I missed is the kooky uniqueness of my old doctor, who was not only certain that his peculiar décor would appeal to his patients, but he was also certain his younger, hipper successor would love it too. It’s not hard to decorate tastefully—all you need is a credit card and a Pottery Barn catalog. But to decorate so hideously and with pride…there is something admirable in that.

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