DOCTOR: Well, we have some test results now. We’re still waiting on more information from Texas, where they are analyzing the contents of the nodule we removed from your lungs.
ENGLISH MAJOR: But we know it’s not tuberculosis, right?
DOCTOR: Right. And not a fungus. Not histoplasmosis.
ENGLISH MAJOR: Oh. So. It’s not contagious, is it? I won’t infect my family and friends by breathing on them, or by coughing?
DOCTOR: That would be highly unlikely.
ENGLISH MAJOR: Unlikely isn’t quite the same thing as impossible, but I suppose. . .
DOCTOR: The infection in your lungs does appear to be one of the rapid growing bacteria.
ENGLISH MAJOR: Rapid growing? That doesn’t sound good.
DOCTOR: Well, although that is the scientific term for this type of bacterium, in your case, the infection is indolent.
ENGLISH MAJOR: (laughing) Indolent!?
DOCTOR: You think that’s funny?
ENGLISH MAJOR: No. No. It’s just that, when you encounter that word in literature. . . or. . . whatever, anyhow, it means lazy, just lying around and not doing anything.
DOCTOR: Oh. Well, I suppose you could say that this bacterium is lazy. It does not, in fact, spread rapidly, in spite of its name.
ENGLISH MAJOR: So. An oxymoron.
DOCTOR: What? I know you’re not calling me a moron.
ENGLISH MAJOR: No. No. That’s a term for two words used together that contradict each other. You know, like “open secret” or “friendly fire,” or “an absolute maybe.”
DOCTOR: Or an indolent rapid grower. I get it.
ENGLISH MAJOR: You know, I’ve been rather indolent myself. Over the past few weeks since the surgery. Not much get-up-and-go. Weaning myself off the meds.
DOCTOR: Any problems with that?
ENGLISH MAJOR: Not really. I’ve just been in kind of a “wait and see” mode, you know. Wondering what happens next.
DOCTOR: With your treatment?
ENGLISH MAJOR: Yes. And with my life. My priorities. How I need to be making
plans. . .
DOCTOR: Well, as far as this condition is concerned, you still have plenty of years ahead of you. This is not going to be a fatal disease.
ENGLISH MAJOR: You’re sure.
DOCTOR: Highly unlikely.
ENGLISH MAJOR. As good an answer as I’ll get, I suppose. So we’ll begin treatment now, right?
DOCTOR: Not quite yet. We know in general what kind of infection it is. But there are three different strains. And we need to find the best antibiotic to fight it. That can be tricky. It’s why we need to speciate it.
ENGLISH MAJOR: Oh. Let me guess. To find out exactly what species it is, right? What kind of rapid growing bacterium that’s not growing rapidly.
DOCTOR: Um. exactly. . . I can tell you that most likely it is a form of something called “mycobacterium avium.”
ENGLISH MAJOR: “Avium?” something to do with birds?
DOCTOR: Birds? No. . . As I was saying. . .
ENGLISH MAJOR: Sorry.
DOCTOR: As I was saying, sometimes they used to call this category of bacteria Mac.
ENGLISH MAJOR: Wait. I’m googling it.
ENGLISH MAJOR: Oh. My. God. This does not look good. It says here that during the AIDS crisis, early days, people who were HIV positive would come down with Mac, and it invaded their bodies and did all kinds of damage and—
DOCTOR: Shh. Shh. Yes. This infection is dangerous for people with compromised immune systems.
ENGLISH MAJOR: Compromised. Like the immune system is untrustworthy because it has made some kind of dirty deal with. . . what?
DOCTOR: I am going to ignore that question. Because in your case, you appear to have a very robust immune system. So—
ENGLISH MAJOR: Robust. I like that. But. Then how did this thing get into my lungs? Since, you said, it’s not contagious. And my immune system is supposedly robust.
DOCTOR: Who knows? These germs are in the air we breathe, the dirt we walk on or handle. This one may have been in your lungs for quite some time. Your body appears to have been fighting it off, sealing it up so that it couldn’t do damage.
ENGLISH MAJOR: Oh. Then. . .
DOCTOR: Let me explain. In terms of what you discovered about HIV. While for people like you, the infection spreads very slowly, for those with compromised immune systems, this bacterium can be very exuberant.
ENGLISH MAJOR: (laughing) Exuberant? Exuberant. Like “energetic,” “celebratory,” “Hooray! Hooray. The receiver just caught the long pass for the touchdown.” Like that?
DOCTOR: “Exuberant” is the medical term for it. But yes, I suppose. . .
ENGLISH MAJOR: Not “aggressive.” Not “invasive.” Exuberant.
DOCTOR: I’m glad to have made you laugh. That doesn’t happen so often with these consultations. So. . . Do you feel less worried now?
ENGLISH MAJOR: Yes. And a bit less indolent. Maybe not quite exuberant. Not yet. But relieved. More optimistic. More ready to get up and get on with it.
DOCTOR: Good. So. Let’s make another appointment in a few weeks. We should have all the results by then. And we can begin treatment.
ENGLISH MAJOR: Fine. And I want to thank you for being so patient with my . . . interpretation of—
DOCTOR: Believe it or not, I am looking forward to working with you. As a patient. . . Get it? This should be an interesting, maybe even an entertaining, venture. For both of us.
ENGLISH MAJOR: Indeed.