Dan Nielsen - The Itch Insect Magnified Two Hundred Times

Dan Nielsen drinks bourbon and plays ping pong. Old credits include Random House and University of Iowa Press anthologies. Recent work in: Jellyfish Review, Bird's Thumb, Major Literature[s], Storm Cellar, Spelk, and Pidgeonholes. Dan has a website: Preponderous, and you can follow him @DanNielsenFIVES. 

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C. C. Vanderbeck awoke with a feeling of vertigo, violent pain in the head, listlessness, torpidity, and a desire to remain lying down. He googled “medical symptoms” and found that his condition was favorable to the propagation of epidemics in consequence of the predisposing agency of putrefying emanations. C. C. called in to the comb factory. His boss, Edward J. Stanley, told him not to worry about it, that the last thing they needed was another epidemic.

C. C. then called his doctor, Joseph G. Richardson, M.D., and was informed that there were no available appointments that day, but that if he were willing to come in and wait the doctor might be able to squeeze him in.

Dr. Richardson’s office was within easy walking, running, or even leaping distance, but C. C. called a cab because walking, running, or leaping is liable to bring on enlargement of the veins of the legs, and sometimes to produce hernia or rupture.

The Itch Insect Magnified Two Hundred Times was seated at the kitchen table eating Honey Nut Cheerios with milk and banana. 

“What’s up, Pops? How come you’re not at work?” 

C. C. loved his son, but preferred not to speak to him, or acknowledge his existence. To maintain composure, he inhaled slowly through his nostrils, forcing the inhalations toward the last, keeping his chest well thrown out, until his lungs were filled with air. He held the air in for a full minute, then opened his mouth, and gently, slowly, exhaled, resulting in a hacking, spasmodic cough.

“You sick, Pops?”

More than anything, C. C. wanted to be an artist, but it was too late for that. An artist lived to be 44.46 and C. C. was already 47.54. On that particular day, C. C. wished he were a wool sorter with a life expectancy of 47.55. Unfortunately, C. C. was a comb maker, and would live to the ripe old age of 51.38.

“Hey, Pops, there’s a cab outside! You call a cab, or something?”


C. C. got in the cab. The driver was chatty.

“What is your occupation, if I may ask?”

“I am a comb maker.”

“Wise choice, life expectancy wise. As a driver, I will live a full 13.22 years fewer than you."

“Yes,” C. C. said huskily, “but you drive a cab while I spend my days making combs.”

The cab stopped. C. C. paid with a credit card and chose the 20% tip option. The driver was not through talking.

“Sir, what do your initials stand for?”

“My first name is Catarrh, which is fitting because of my hacking cough, pain in my head, discharge from my nostrils, husky voice, and general debility. My middle name is Consumption, which also fits because of my spasmodic cough, pain in my chest, night sweats, flushed face, emaciation, and fever.”

“My name is Enlarged Spleen,” the driver said, and they shook hands.

“Enlarged Spleen is a fairly common name,” C. C. said. “I’d recommend ten to fifteen drops of fluid extract of Bear’s Foot three or four times a day, applying a plaster composed of Burgundy pitch and belladonna, and also the use of massage over the affected part.”


“You’re welcome.”


The nurse, Aletris Farinosa, R.N., was large and beautifully oval. She had a wide, high, and prominent forehead. Her ears were medium-small and pleasingly shaped. Her face was small and not very muscular. Her jaws were not prominent. Her chin was prominent and large.

“Have a seat. The doctor will be with you in a moment.”

The waiting room was empty as always. No one saw doctors anymore. What was the point? C. C. sat in his favorite chair, the one closest to the coffee and furthest from Fox News on the TV. The choice of magazines was limited to back issues of Diseases Peculiar to Women. In an article titled, “Divisions of a Woman’s Life,” C. C. read that these divisions are infancy, puberty, maturity, menopause, and senility.

C. C. felt warm breath on the back of his neck and looked up to see Dr. Richardson standing directly behind him.

“What brings you in to see us today, Mr. Vanderbeck?”

The doctor was small and oddly shaped. He forehead was narrow and smooth. His eyes were reddish slits. He had large, ugly ears, and a large, muscular face. His jaw was aggressive. His chin retreated.

C. C. put down the magazine, saving his place with a finger. He listed his symptoms. Dr. Richardson stroked his nearly nonexistent chin.

“I advise morphine, one-quarter grain, hypodermically, to be repeated as necessary. When the condition becomes less severe an opiate may be given by mouth or rectum in the form of laudanum.”


There was a Walgreen’s directly across the street, Alexander Hanson, Pharm. D., filled the prescription and charged C. C. the minimum two-dollar co-pay.

In the Men’s Room, C. C. injected himself with morphine, and, for good measure, stuffed his rectum with laudanum. Feeling much better, he leapt all the way home.

The next day C. C. return to the comb factory where he made combs for another 3.83 years before quite expectedly dying.


Portions of this story were inspired by, or taken directly from,

MEDICOLOGY by Joseph G. Richardson, M.D.

Copyright 1903