The Citizen’s Hospital

Welcome to the 5 p.m. news on Wednesday April 1st. In an unprecedented response to the current crisis, the Government has announced an emergency deregulation of all medical and allied healthcare professions. The President said that this would enable citizens to arrange their own local healthcare provision…”

Tony the Barber waved his scissors at the radio. “How about that? Do you think it’s a joke?”

“The whole government’s a joke,” grumbled Larry the Ink, Merrytown’s tattoo artist.

“You done, Tony? I gotta do a few inks before poker club tonight. See yah there?”

Tony held a mirror to the back of Larry’s head. “Yeah, I’m done, see yah later.”

Later that night, Tony looked over his cards and grinned. He’d never had a straight poker face, but when his pals saw that grin, anything could happen.

“Hey, you guys, I had a dream.” said Tony.

“Another one? What’s this one about?” said Larry the Ink.

“Yeah, watcha been dreaming about?” cooed Kylie the Fingers, who ran the beauty salon and massage parlour.

“Hey, ain’t that a song?” said Freddy the Cocktail, who’d never quite got the hang of nicknames, though he sure had the hang of the one hundred and thirty-five liqueurs behind his bar.

“You want us to sing?” asked Philly the Tech, who ran the electrical supplies store.

“It should be ‘I have a dream’, but you’re no Martin Luther King.” scoffed Teach. No-one knew Teach’s name, he was a mystery. Even the doctor, God rest his soul, had been Doc. Leafmeyer.

Tony lay his cards on the table with a flourish. The other players groaned, even though the Poker Club only played for pennies. Tony scooped up the coins, certain he had their attention.

“I’m talking about an actual dream, sent to me by Nonno Giuseppe.”

Tony pointed to an old sepia photograph resting in a glass frame. Nonno Giuseppe had been a stylish man — from his spats to his slick curly hair. Although times had changed, the barber shop in the background was still recognisable. Tony had inherited the shop and his grandfather’s roguish grin. 

“May he rest in peace!” chorused the card players, raising their glasses. 

Nonno Giuseppe was a legend. He had come over from Italy after the war carrying only a Gladstone bag full of the tools of his trade – razors, strops, fine badger-hair shaving brushes, pomades and home-made blocks of hard aromatic soap that whipped into the creamiest lather.

Tony spoke into the respectful silence. 

“When I was in the bath tonight, Nonno came to me in a vision. Tony don’t let this opportunity go to waste. Surgeons are never barbers, but all barbers are surgeons. We’ve got the sharpest blades. We’re the only ones who can fix people AND make them look good.”

Kylie looked confused. “But Tony, all you got now is electric clippers and a fancy five-blade safety razors with lubricant. How you gonna do surgery with them?”

Tony winked at her. “I got all of Nonno’s cut-throat razors – ain’t nothing they can’t carve.”

“Let me get this right — Nonno’s ghost told you to be a surgeon? You’re going back to school and study to be a doctor?” There was an edge to Teach’s voice, but then he had handed over Tony’s less than illustrious exam results on the day that the barber had left school, aged 16.

“No, that’s the thing, I don’t need to go to school, I’ve got an ancestral right. Have you seen my pole?”

The players snickered.

“This is Nonno Giuseppe’s pole – red stripes for blood, white stripes for bandages and blue…”

“Is for the blue movies you sell at the back of your shop!” said Freddy.

Tony ignored him. “This pole is the sign of a barber surgeon. If I put this outside my shop, everyone will know where to come for treatment. But a surgeon’s not enough, this town needs a hospital. I reckon that between us, we’ve got everything we need.”

“You’re crazy!” said Teach.

“Nah let’s play along.” said Phil the Tech.  “Gotta be better than this stupid card game. What you thinking Tony?”

“Ok, so my shop is the operating theatre. Barbers can pull teeth, so I’ll be the dentist too. Got plenty of styptic pencils to stop bleeding in scratches and a pile of towels for bigger cuts. Who’s next?”

 “I could set up recovery wards in my salon. I already got couches and pillows and individual rooms. My massages would count as physical therapy.” Kylie the Fingers offered.

“Great! What else?”

“I’m good with needles,” volunteered Larry the Ink, “My cousin, Sid, he’s a…” 

Larry hesitated.

“…a street pharmacist, he can look after our drugs.”

 “If Sid looks after pain meds, then I got lots of spirits,” added Freddy the Cocktail, “Enough for anaesthetic purposes, and maybe splash some of the cheap stuff around for antiseptic.”

“I’ve got a college degree, I can make sure our procedures are legally sound.” said Teach, thinking that there should be at least some erudition in a hospital.

“Your degree is in higher maths!” scoffed Philly the Tech. “I can install a 90” TV screen in Tony’s shop, get him hooked up to fast broadband and he can learn everything he needs to know from YouTube.”

“Ok, then I’ll do the invoicing and accounts. I reckon the government will be paying big money for this.” said Teach, not wanting to be left out.

“I got a uniform.” breathed Kylie. 

The guys hadn’t noticed when she’d nipped home to change, but they certainly noticed her when she came back, wearing her skimpy nurses’ costume.

Tony beamed. “So, we got ourselves a hospital. Well done Citizens!”

The players laughed and jeered as Tony struck a heroic pose.

“Enough of your jokes, Tony, let’s play.”

Tony dealt the cards. His pals were the best.

It’s Thursday 2nd April and here is the news. The Government has announced additional funding for local healthcare. The President assured the public that the deregulation of all healthcare professions was NOT “some damn fool joke” as many commentators have suggested…

Tony saluted Nonno Giuseppe’s photograph then he strode to the barber shop, waving at his fellow storekeepers as he passed by – the Merrytown Citizen’s Hospital was open for business.

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