December 15, 2009

“I Have a New Drug for You, Dr. J”

I sat in the waiting room at the gastroenterologist’s. It had been a while since I’d seen Dr. Jovanovic for my continuing, nightmarish, and depressingly public intestinal issues that have made me hate going to work and despair over love. Exaggeration? Maybe.

A tray of fancy cupcakes posed shamelessly on the receptionist’s counter, near a man who wore a sharp, well-tailored suit. He smiled. He never stopped smiling. He was the drug company rep. And he had come to ply his wares with sugary confections.

“Oh, these cupcakes look marvelous,” said Dr. Jovanovic’s nurse. She stood behind the counter, a clipboard in one hand, a cupcake in the other. The receptionist agreed. And it was true; these cupcakes were unlike any others. They were elaborately frosted and decorated with sugar pearls and dark chocolate.

“So how are the kids?” asked the well dressed man. He was young, smooth shaven, his hair cut short. He talked in a relaxed manner, but there was something coiled about him also.

“Oh, they’re great, great, thank you,” said the nurse. “We’re getting ready for the holidays. You know how it is. Busy. ”

“I hear you. I’m visiting everybody. It’s crazy.”

This affable back and forth went on. A translucent shopping bag containing stacks of cupcake trays from a tony confectioner’s sat by the rep’s side like a loyal puppy. By everybody he meant all the doctors he had pitched to and all the cupcakes he had brought to doctors’ nurses. There was a palpable paradox between the fey cupcakes and the rep’s well-harnessed aggression and deep New York City accent; he sounded like a fireman.

“So Dr. J got a few minutes?”

“A patient’s in there right now. It won’t be long. So how’s the wedding coming?” The receptionist lifted a cupcake from the tray. There was another patient sitting in the waiting area. We spontaneously glanced at each other.

“The fiancée, she’s making all the plans, calling all the shots, every detail, the trips — it’s crazy. So Dr. J’s good otherwise?”

Dr. J. Please. The pharma rep couldn’t be bothered with even learning how to pronounce Dr. Jovanovic’s name. Instead he thought he was being funny by riffing on the name of a famous basketball player. Calling him Dr. J both let him off the hook and worked to establish a false sense of intimacy.

“He’s pretty good. He’s gotten a lot of visits from you guys.”

“Really? From who?” The rep’s voice had lost its forced playfulness.

“Well, that other guy from your company. Older. Always wears a trenchcoat. Andrew.”

“Oh, Andrew. Andrew. He’s harmless. Just call me the next time he shows up. I’ll take care of it. Here, have another tray of cupcakes.”

“God,” murmured the other patient sitting near me, “that’s so unethical.”

“And they could at least offer us some,” I whispered back.

Finally, Dr. Jovanovic appeared.

“So, cupcakes this time?” he asked in that dour accent of his.

The pharma rep brightened. “Hey, Dr. J. You have a few minutes? I have a new irritable bowel syndrome drug for you.”

“Okay, sure, come in.”

Dr. Jovanovic’s receptionist pointed at me.

“You’re next.”