I kept it in my right desk drawer. Frequently overlaid with misplaced papers, unwanted drug samples, and forlorn drug-rep paraphernalia was the worst gift I ever got. My desk and my office took on 8 feet of water after Hurricane Katrina, so I only have my memory of it; but my memory in this rare case is perfect: It was a 5-inch tall gray ceramic skull, a Halloween trinket, glazed to a high gloss. It had amber plastic orbits and a divot near the apex, right at the sagittal suture, for the insertion of a candle. It was, in a word, tacky. I kept it to remind me that I could never get a worse gift. My little Yorick humored me.
As with any gift, its value was derived not simply from the value of the object itself but also from the circumstances of the giving, which I will now relate.
I had a patient, whom I will call Charley, that visited me from time to time for his diabetes. Charley would call my office to make an appointment for refills on his insulin almost every month, which tipped me off already of a scam in progress because I never failed to write him less than 3 refills for that medication. He would amble into the office, and when the door closed, the real reason for his visit would slowly emerge. Vicodin. The love of his life since his wife left him. Charley was very overweight and not well acquainted with bathtubs. Though he was always polite and respectful, it goes without saying that we did not always come to a mutual understanding about his pain needs.
Charley claimed disability from back pain, but, like many disabled patients in my old neighborhood, he sometimes worked side jobs to make ends meet. I did not necessarily hold this against him, since disability in Louisiana rarely pays more than $500 a month, a small sum that would scarcely cover my grocery bill, let alone his.
When Charley gave me the gift of the ceramic skull, he told me he got it for my kids, and that he stole it. Told me straight faced like he was supposed to do it. He had taken a job unloading trucks at the Dollar Store, a job he admitted he was paid "under the table" for. At the end of the work day he just slipped a couple of these fine items into the trunk of his car for gifts to family and friends.
Perhaps I should have been touched by his generosity. In a way I guess I was, but when I began to tally the value of the gift in my mind, the negatives ran so great in relation to its value that I clearly discerned that pound for pound, this was the crummiest gift I had ever gotten. First, it was a piece of junk -- it came from the Dollar Store, which pretty much told me what it was worth. Second, it was stolen. Third, it was stolen on the job by an employee who was working illegally (no taxes paid) and against the terms of his disability agreement, which requires that the recipient does not work. Fourth, he was unloading trucks at this illicit job, which told me that he was less disabled than he was letting on. Fifth, he intended for me to pass this stolen gift on to my children. And last, and not at all least, I knew he was giving me that gift to butter me up for future Vicodin requests.
I wonder if a police officer was ever offered a 25 cent bribe? Or if an individual ever tried to claim a tax deduction on shoplifted clothing donated to the Salvation Army?
Needless to say, this choice bauble and I were not to be separated. It was my first non-drug rep bribe! So it sat in my drawer, and sat and sat, and from time to time I would dig it out and behold the new low in the world of pathetic gifts. I would laugh and put it back. It remained in its particle board sarcophagus until the flood waters of Katrina came and took it away. Alas, I miss poor Yorick!