Bill Todd -- A Harvard Story
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 Chapter 16

Arm Treatment

Jimmy, now being treated by Dr. Sun, had managed to get a dinner and movie date with Miss Sun. Eric planned to take his books and study in the Portsmouth public library while Jimmy was out on his date, and then drive him home. That seemed a little dismal for Eric, and Tom volunteered to join them. He was, in fact, inclined to try the treatment himself.

Eric's case remained mysterious. From whatever cause, he had almost stopped vomiting. He had pointed out that, even if the massage and the herbs had diminished his vomiting, they might have just masked one of the symptoms, as opposed to affecting the underlying stomach cancer. But there were other possibilities. One was that Eric had never had stomach cancer to begin with, and that the treatment was working on whatever it was that he did have.

A related possibility was that Eric had been holding the cancer at bay with a combination of strong belief and great strength of character, these having some unknown connection with the physiology of the body. Dr. Sun had then done things to give him increased hope, and that was tipping the balance in Eric's favor.

They had discussed these possibilities with Ann, who concluded,

"So little is known in these areas that it's hard to say. We should continue with anything that seems to be working."

Whatever the truth of these matters, Tom had been unable to entirely resist the temptation to think that Dr. Sun might be able to cure his pitching arm. He was embarrassed to make such a suggestion to Ann, or anyone else, but Eric guessed his motivation. Eric was amused, but had so far kept his secret.

When they arrived, Dr. Sun said,

"First time, one treatment, second time two, I wonder if it arithmetic or geometric progression. Now I know."

Eric replied,

"We'll certainly try to bring a fourth next time. After that, it may be a little difficult."

When Tom's turn came, it was a little embarrassing to be largely undressed by Miss Sun, but it was also titillating. He judged that he might be a little pink all over in response to one feeling, and he knew that he had a slight bulge in his briefs on account of the other. That embarrassed him even more, but he was soon lying on his stomach on the table.

Tom had never been massaged before, and he had understood from Eric and Jimmy that it could be rather painful. As Dr. Sun dug deeply into the muscles of his pitching arm, he realized that his explanation of his problem had probably gone completely past the doctor. The latter might easily think that Tom was a garbageman whose arm hurt from lifting too many heavy ash cans. It was anyone's guess whether a baseball pitcher would find helpful a regimen designed for the garbageman. But, then, since Eric was probably getting the same treatment for cancer, Tom felt that he had no right to complain.

A little later, it seemed that the massage might be more personalized than Tom had guessed. His whole body got what he took to be a standard treatment, but, when he was quite relaxed, Dr. Sun returned to his arms with a vengenge. These were twisted in strange ways, and the joints well-nigh dislocated. Peculiar things were then done to the muscles, and, for all Tom knew, to the tendons and whatever else might be within. At the end, it seemed likely that he would either be able to pitch better or not at all.

Tom and Eric left Jimmy with the Suns, and Tom remarked,

"I wonder if Jimmy has a real date with her, or just an invitation to spend the evening with the Sun family."

"I think it's a real date. Of course, I couldn't understand the Chinese palaver which took place last time between Jimmy and Dr. Sun, but it seemed like a fairly formal negotiation. I bet Dr. Sun asked Jimmy who his father was."

"I wonder what he thought of the answer."

"Apparently favorably. Both father and daughter seem to like Jimmy."

"Jimmy probably just told him that his father is an ambassador, which is true. There wouldn't have been any need to get into the secret police part."

Eric nodded, and Tom asked,

"By the way, does Dr. Sun do peculiar things to your stomach when he rubs it?"

"I thought at first that he was going to penetrate the stomach wall with his thumbs. Did he do peculiar things to your arms?"

"Yes. I suppose roughly comparable things."

"He probably thinks that my stomach and your arm require heroic measures."

They went to a cafeteria which they had spotted on the way into town. The other customers were noticeably aged and mostly female. Eric quietly suggested,

"They may have a contract with a nearby retirement home to feed the residents."

"We'll know if these folks leave with paper bags full of food for the ones that can't make it here."

The food, though bland, was pretty substantial. Eric took out his pills and vials, and Tom took out the ones he had just been given. When he looked suspiciously at them, Eric laughed and replied,

"Go ahead. I've been taking them and I haven't vomited for over a week."

"What keeps you from vomiting might give me hiccups."

Eric lined his materials up next to Tom's and said,

"See, they aren't the same. What you've got there is a personalized treatment for your arm, concocted specially by Mrs. Sun."

"I wonder what they give Jimmy. There isn't anything wrong with him that our little Miss Sun can't cure."

"He told them last week that he had a sore back. In addition to what they give him for that, there'll be an added element this week."

"Something to dampen his sexual appetites?"


"Do you think they'd really do that?"

"Certainly. The Suns are practical people, and they're good at sizing patients up. They don't want their daughter defoliated, and they know how to prevent it."

"Does Jimmy know how to defoliate a girl?"

"You don't have to know much to let nature take its course. Incidentally, Ann told me that it's all right to tell you that we've slept together."

"Great! I suspected, but didn't like to ask."

"I know. That may be another thing that's retarded my vomiting."

"It's really amazing. A few weeks ago, we had nothing whatever going. Now, each of us is at least close to having a girl friend."

"It's probably no accident that none of our ladies are at Radcliffe."

"Has your life changed since you've had sex?"

"Not as much as I'd thought. It does feel wonderful, but it doesn't make it any easier to memorize yet another biochemical formula."

"No, I can see that. But I can imagine thinking that I'd found something much better than biochemistry, and chucking the latter."

"You wouldn't think that if your lady kept asking you questions about biochemistry. It makes you try harder."

Tom knew that Eric and Ann didn't spend most of their time together discussing biochemistry, but it sounded as if Ann thought that it was good for Eric to keep him fixed on his future career. Eric then added,

"Speaking of sex, Ann has a little message for you."

"That I should keep my hands off Sharon?"

"Not exactly. She says that Sharon is what high-school boys would call a tease. It drives them crazy, and makes them want to either rape her or hit her. She knows that you're far beyond that, and she thinks that Sharon will eventually initiate some sort of limited physical intimacy."

Tom smiled and asked,

"Are those Ann's exact words?"

"Pretty much."

"I think I can live with that."

Having realized that they could stay in the cafeteria until closing time, they then took out their books. Eric's was biochem as usual, and Tom took out a mimeographed copy of a paper by one G. W. F. Halliburton, a middle-aged English philosopher of reasonable repute and great enthusiasm. He hadn't been reading long before he came upon the sentence,

"Thought is mixed with sensation in our perception in just the way in which we mix water with our whiskey."

Tom almost burst out laughing, but didn't want to distract Eric from his much more sober investigations. After Halliburton, he took up Hume's Treatise of Human Nature, a book he loved to read because it was so beautifully written. This time, he zeroed in on the claim that all ideas (mental images) are derived from previous impressions (sensations). But, then, Hume went on to say that, having experienced sensations of various shades of blue, one might form an image of a new shade of blue not previously experienced.

It looked like a flat contradiction. But Tom could guess what Hume had in mind. He was, Tom thought, worried about people like Descartes, who claimed that we have in our minds at birth innate and infinite ideas of an infinite being, namely God. It was one thing to interpolate between two previously experienced shades of blue and quite another to produce an unrelated idea, much less an infinite idea of an infinite being. Hume could have admitted the mental capacity to fabricate new ideas out of previousl experienced parts, and also to "split the difference" between similar ideas, but, still, it wouldn't be possible to construct an infinite idea out of finite parts. It would be possible to re-state Hume's principle in an appropriate way, and, in the words of a graduate student Tom knew, "there might be a publication in that."

Concerning publications, Tom had been surprised to receive in the mail a day previously a draft of their paper from Sharon. She worked amazingly quickly, and, in addition to the ideas they had discussed, mostly Tom's, there were some new ones.

It looked as if, given any subject, Sharon would produce something almost immediately. She might get carried away in certain directions, and there might be incoherences, or even inconsistencies, but there would also be something solid to work from. Tom could bat ideas at her, and they'd come right back at him in altered form. From the point of view of a professional career, that could be money in the bank.

When the cafeteria closed, they found that the library was also closed. Eric pointed down the street and said,

"There's a Catholic church. They usually don't lock them, and there'll be some dim lighting."

"Well, I guess so."

Eric stooped to look at the book Tom was carrying and asked,

"Was Hume an atheist?"


"If you read that, you'll be safe in a Catholic church."

They were already entering when Tom whispered,

"If Sharon ever does agree to have sex, it'll probably be on a pew in an empty church."

"Why is that?"

"So that it'll count as an act of rebellion."

"I see. I'm sure you won't be the first one. For example, this church looks empty, but there may be a couple lying on one of those pews, hidden from our view."

"We could conduct a seach and waggle our fingers at anyone being naughty."

"You're just hoping to surprise a half-dressed woman."

"You're right. I guess I'll have a go at Confucius instead of Hume."

"A wise choice."

Later, when they left the church to meet Jimmy at the town square, they caught a sight of him escorting Miss Sun home. She looked happy, and was holding his hand.

The next morning was fine and warm, and there were people on the river bank, some in Sunday finery. Most of K- Entry went over the fence with baseballs and a football. After their loudness and general rowdiness had driven people from a section of the bank, Tom warmed up with Peter, who had the catcher's mitt.

When he left Dr. Sun, Tom had been conscious of active sharp pain in his arm, as opposed to the usual dull ache whenever he tried to throw. Now, however, he was conscious of neither as he threw with a big easy motion and long follow through. Peter hardly had to move his mitt from one pitch to the next, and, even though Tom wasn't throwing hard, he could see the concentration on Peter's face as he followed the ball.

After a few minutes, Tom reached back a little further. The ball promptly buzzed and moved in slightly to a right- handed batter. Peter, a fine athlete, wasn't a catcher, and he yelled out as he caught the ball too squarely, right on his palm. Best of all, Tom felt no pain at all. Then, not wanting to push his luck too far, he threw easily for another ten minutes. Afterwards, Peter asked,

"You haven't thrown like that for a long time, have you?"

"No. And it felt good. But I can't imagine that the treatment yesterday could produce such quick results."

"More likely, it's the result of a few months rest on your arm. If you don't rush your come-back, you might have something."

Peter smiled and Tom realized that Peter understood, more clearly than the others, what a come-back might mean.

Bill Todd -- A Harvard Story
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