Doctoriing the Blues by Sarah Black

His skin smelled smoky, like peat whiskey, and was the color of burnished saddle leather. He came to my office to discuss high blood pressure and diabetes, treated me with a grave, old-world courtesy, nodded when I decoded the secret words. Diuretic. Calcium Channel Blocker. Heart Failure. Your eyes. We must take care of your eyes. The whites had aged, dark ivory speckled with brown, like a bird's egg.

I didn't know about wisdom, but there was no question about his resilience. He was a blues guitar player, after all, and had spent his life in bars where people drank too much whiskey and ate pork ribs like they had never heard of coronary arteries, danced so closely together their sweat grew sticky and mingled. We must check your cholesterol, I said, and he nodded. Whatever you think is best.

I could read that pork barbecue in the lines of his EKG. I could read in his complete metabolic profile the rye whiskey that he'd drunk when his first lover left him, got on a Greyhound bus going to Memphis with another blues guitar. That they were going to Memphis made it worse. It had been a long time before he put down that rye. His kidneys weren't strong, a double hit from the blood pressure and the diabetes. We need to take care of your kidneys. I don't want you to end up on dialysis. No, he agreed. I don't want dialysis. I need to keep working.

He worked playing guitar in a blues club Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. The callus on the tips of his fingers was hard as hom--he picked with his fingers, in the old way. He told me a story while I wrote out his prescriptions, the one about meeting Muddy Waters at the Honeybee in Chicago in 1959. His words were secrets gardens, and I could almost smell them, something smoky, peaty, whiskey and pork ribs over a wood fire out back.


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