The philosopher Socrates pays a visit to Aesculapius, a general practitioner of medicine.
Socrates: Greetings, fair Aesculapius, practitioner of the healing arts.
Aesculapius: Socrates, my dear friend. To what do I owe the honor of a visit from you this fine afternoon?
Soc: I have come to ask both your opinion and a favor. I trust I don’t intrude upon your time?
Aesc: Of course not, Socrates. It is always a great pleasure to see you. Ask away: what opinion and favor do you seek?
Soc: I desire to know your thoughts on our present system of Athenian health care delivery. I’m told that lately it has become a matter of contentious debate in the Senate, and indeed, many citizens have become concerned about where proposed reform might lead us.
Aesc: A timely topic, to be sure. Gladly will I share my thoughts with you. But what is the favor you wish?
Soc: A mere trifle. I have lacerated the sole of my foot on a stone while speaking with Plato in the Agora. Might you be able to attend to the wound, or at the very least, advise me as to what should be done about it?
Aesc: By all means. Here, sit on this rock and show me your foot. Ah, the wound is indeed deep into the fatty flesh. Allow me to clean and dress it for you.
Soc: Aesculapius, I must warn you before you proceed—I have no health insurance coverage.
Aesc: No matter, Socrates. It is I who am in debt to you, not you to me.
Soc: How so, Aesculapius? For truly, in as much as I can remember, you owe me nothing.
Aesc: “Owe no man anything, but the debt of charity.”
Soc: I perceive that you are a philosopher as well as a practitioner of the healing arts. But come now—surely you can bill me for your services, and I will pay you what I can.
Aesc: (dismissing Socrates’ words with a sweep of his hand) Let me draw a basin of clear water into which you can immerse your foot for a bit while we talk. Now then, what questions had you about our system of health care?
Soc: From what I am told, it seems as though opinion falls into two camps. There are those who wish to reform the current system and those who feel that it should be left as it is. I ascertain that those of the former persuasion perceive that the system is dysfunctional in its present state, while those in the latter maintain that whatever dysfunction there might be, the profit motive will serve to fix. What say you, who deal with patients every day?
Aesc: In my youth I elected to study the healing arts out of a deep seated desire to help my fellow citizens. After completing my medical studies, I found my educational debt to be so high that I was forced to practice one of the more lucrative subspecialties just to keep my creditors at bay. I would work long hours and return home in a state of fatigue to find my wife and children already asleep.
Soc: What happened?
Aesc: The demands of practice became more than I could bear; I became dysfunctional. I closed my surgery, returned to the Academy to teach and read the classics, then decided to reenter the profession as a general practitioner. My earnings have plummeted to half of what they had formerly been, but I make enough to live comfortably. And my satisfaction in the profession has grown to the point where I have been able to recover a small portion of the idealism of my youth.
Soc: But I perceive that you, Aesculapius, are something of an anomaly among those who practice the healing arts.
Aesc: Think you so? I myself am not convinced of this, for there are many physicians who enter the profession with similar intent.
Soc: What’s that you’re applying to the wound, Aesculapius?
Aesc: The orb of an arachnid, Socrates. Over the years I’ve experimented with various modalities to stay the flow of blood from a fresh wound and to promote its healing. A common spider web seems to do the trick—it’s cheap, and readily available. Now then, slip on your sandal. How does that feel?
Soc: Much better. I thank you, Aesculapius, for your time and expertise, as well as for your words. Would that there were more practitioners of your ilk in Athens.
Aesc: You are too kind, good Socrates. And now you must excuse me, for I have other patients to attend to.