A Story & Conversation With Dr. Rada Jones
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“What if we got him a prostitute?”
“A prostitute? What for?” Maureen says, puzzled. Her sex life isn’t much to talk about either, so she doesn’t see the point. Neither’s mine, really. Ever since I started medical school I get up at 3AM to study before fixing breakfast, feeding the dogs and putting the kid on the bus. By the time I get home I have no lust left. Food would be nice and maybe a shower, but nothing, nothing calls me like the bed. To sleep in.
“To have sex with. To feel manly.”
Keith, our friend and study partner, is a virgin. At 27, he’s never slept with a woman. No good for his social life, I think. I blame that singular fact for his awkward social interactions and his violently nerdish behavior. I’m trying to help.
Maureen is skeptical. She looks at me over her black rimmed glasses and asks: “Gonna help him how?”
That’s the problem with Maureen. She’s logical. Too logical. She’s the kind of person who’ll always search for an explanation rather than just pick a random one and fly with it. That’s what I love about her. That’s also what I hate about her. No wonder she’s going MD-PHD.
“He needs to get rid of his inhibitions. He’s uptight as hell. His hormones are holding him hostage. He can’t relax. When he meets a girl he likes he’s rough and crass and off-putting. He’d be able to chill and be smoother once he gets rid of his hangups.
Maureen shrugs. How would she know? Catholic, 23, virgin, what does she know about how sexual inhibitions would affect a young nerdish medical student.
“If you say so. How do we do that?”
I don’t know. I’ve never seen a prostitute that I knew for sure was in the business, let alone hire one. It was good while it was all theoretical; when it comes to practice I’m at a loss.
“They are supposed to walk the streets,” I say. “Maybe we could drive downtown and get one.”
We don’t ask Keith. It’s his birthday, and we’re going to surprise him.
We’ve tried other ways. We sat him down to practice dating. He says he’s never been on a date before.
“You’re 27! You must have been on a date!” I said, looking through his thick glasses to his endearing squinty blue eyes.
“At prom. She ditched me before the evening was over.”
“What did you do?”
“She was having trouble with her heels. I tried to steady her and she fell. I picked her up afterward, but she left.”
I could see that. He’s a klutz. Smart, well meaning and funny, but still a klutz.
Maureen and I drive downtown in the beaten up blue Honda she’s had since high school. She’s driving, I’m looking for the ladies. There are a few, but I’m not sure they are professionals. Shorts with stuff falling out, thunderous cleavage, pounds of makeup — they look like our colleagues, for God’s sake. They may be our upperclassmen hanging out, enjoying the weather. The one at the corner of Main and Church looks just like she’s about to retire. The pale flesh hanging out of her skimpy outfit is substantial but wrinkly
“Stop here.” I get out.
“I have a friend who’d like to meet you.”
She’s 50 if she’s a day. Years haven’t been kind to her.
I take a deep breath. If she’s an undercover police officer, I’m screwed. I look at the deep radial wrinkles emerging from the thin lips, enhanced by the melted purple lipstick, at the crepe-like skin between the soft breasts encased in a push up struggling to touch her chin. I take my chances.
“He’s a virgin. He needs to learn.”
She looks me up and down. I don’t look like much. She looks at the old car with Maureen in the driver’s seat; she doesn’t look like much either. Medical students aren’t rich, they’re seldom pretty, and they feel like the scum of the earth every day. Few things are less glamorous than medical school. You’re on the bottom of the bottom of the totem pole, you seldom sleep and you walk through life bewildered. You see things that make horror movies look peaceful; you can’t avoid them, and you can’t help. You get constantly humiliated by attendings, nurses and everybody else in medicine. Except for the patients — they can’t tell a doctor from a medical student, unless you happen to be female. Then you automatically become a nurse. Being a medical student is just as cool as being a tadpole, except that you have to wear clothes, and you don’t get enough sleep.
“A hundred dollars,” the painted lady says.
I look at Maureen. She looks at me. We shrug.
I remember a friend’s story. On a trip to Amsterdam his wife went shopping, so he wandered alone through the Red District. A professional lady offered her services.
“A hundred euros.”
“I don’t have a hundred euros.”
“I don’t have fifty.”
“How much do you have?”
“I only have ten.”
She shook her head and left.
They meet again as he’s strolling with his wife this time. She looks his wife up and down and says: “See, that’s what you get for ten euros.”
I look at my professional. A hundred seems a lot, but this isn’t Amsterdam.
“OK,” I say.
That sounds foolish even to me.
She shrugs and leaves.
I look at the tired flesh spilling out of her skimpy outfit, the bright red dead hair waxed into a spike, at the cigarette butt she throws on the sidewalk without bothering to step on it.
Would I want this to be my first? If I was a man, would this be something I’d want to think about for the rest of my life as the moment I became a man?
I climb back in the car.
“How about a life-size doll? Or a subscription to E-Harmony?”
Maureen shrugs. “How about some books? Or a set of knives since he’s a cook?”
We get him a new set of knives.
We talk him into joining E-Harmony and build his profile. We sit him down to practice dating behavior, rewarding him with a kitchen gadget every time he gets it right.
Prostitutes are hard working people. They don’t have a glamorous life.
I’d rather be a medical student.
What inspired this piece? Why did you choose to write about this as a short story?
I’m working on my retirement — the second one. I’m hanging in a little longer to see my old friend Gypsy through the Rainbow Bridge. My medical school friends are now grown up, with their own families and children. Twenty years ago we were all a bunch of misfits. We were trying hard to fit in the house of medicine but we didn’t know who we were, nor who we were going to become. Sex — or the lack of it — was a big deal. The nerdiest of us weren’t hot dating material, so the prospective of having someone initiate you for the price of a weeks’ food was enticing — anyone can live on Cheerios for a week, can’t they? It was like paying your way through the threshold of adulthood into the land of sexual peace.
How did you get into fiction writing? How does this relate to your medical practice?
I used to be a doctor who writes. As time goes by, I’m becoming a writer who doctors.
I discovered that I look at my patients as grist for the mill. The elderly couple heading home holding hands- she’s pulling her leg behind from an old stroke, he’s holding her hand and opening the door. Click! they went in. The white haired well dressed woman with her tears washing her makeup down her cheeks whose headache was so horrific that she couldn’t talk, as she told me for twenty minutes straight- click! she’s in. My hard working and very pregnant nurse whose feet are killing her eight hours into her twelve hours shift, so much so that she’s rolling around with her chair rather than stand — click! she’s in.
I keep them alive first. Then I look at them with writer’s eyes and wonder: Where can I use you? Will I make you a victim? A killer? How am I going to use the sound of your voice, the rough touch of your hand, the tear in your eye, and make it art? How am I going to blend your pain into the meaning of life and the fate of the universe? How am I going to braid your dreams into those of humanity? How am I going to shine a light over who you are, and who you could be, and maybe who I am?
Is there anything else you’d like to share about your writing or other creative outlets?
There’s something uniquely personal about writing, something that doctoring doesn’t touch. As a doctor, your tools are your brain and your hands. Heart gets in the way. Writing is opening the valve to the pressure inside. If you want to get in touch with who YOU are, look inside. Write, draw, paint, let your feelings come out. Doctors are these quasi-robotic personas struggling through the daily grind and only crying in the bathroom. Let your tears come out with a vengeance. Let your heart take hold. Free yourself. You may find out who you really are!
Rada Jones, MD, is an Emergency Physician. She practices in Upstate New York where she lives with her husband, Steve, a German Shepherd named Gypsy Rose Lee and a deaf black cat named Paxil. She is finishing her first novel, “Overdose, an ER Thriller” where a lot of people die in unnatural but exciting ways. You can find more from her at RadaJonesMD.com, instagram RadaJonesMD and twitter @JonesRada.