A Story to Offend Almost Everyone
The Emperor's New Disease: A Fable
Once upon a time there was a hypochondriac emperor named Ampecillus. Emperor Ampecillus was always coming down with some new ailment. Every week, summer and winter, spring and fall, Ampecillus had a new disease. In fact, every week, rain or shine, sleet or snow, Emperor Ampecillus always had an exotic new illness of the week. The Emperor was proud of his rare, unique new diseases. "Why," he said, "I've had more types of sicknesses in the past year than most peasants would have in a lifetime!"
To the Emperor, sickness was new, exclusive, and captivating. Most important, though, Ampecillus got lots of attention when he was sick. When he was sick, the court doctors flocked around him and fussed over him. Famous specialists from far and wide were summoned to the palace to see the Emperor's new disease... and, of course, the Emperor. How the nurses fluttered around him! Emperor Ampecillus just loved the attention and the fuss over him and his health, or lack of it. In fact, he thrived on disease, if such a thing can be imagined.
The years went by, and Emperor Ampecillus had had just about every conceivable illness imaginable: pox and plagues, rashes and rheumatism, overweight and underweight, allergies and arthritis, diabetes and dialysis; transplants and tracheotomies, M.S., M.D., B.S. and V.D.: why, Emperor Ampecillus had a medical history as lengthy as The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire.
Ah, Emperor Ampecillus spent his entire life in pursuit of illness. One day, as he was coughing his way through a new pathology textbook, he said to one of his three dozen sickroom attendants: "You know, lackey, this book is the latest and most complete collection of diseases ever compiled. And to my royal dismay, I can't for the life of me find a disease in here that I've not already had. Oh, woe is me! What will I ever do next Monday!"
For every new week, every single Monday, the Emperor Ampecillus was hoisted out of bed onto a portable hospital gurney and was ceremoniously wheeled through town. Up one alley and down another, up one street and down the next, the Emperor was wheeled. A procession of doctors, nurses, specialists and orderlies three quarters of a mile long accompanied the Emperor. Most of the common people (and all of the aspiring nobles) would gather along the roads, lean out their windows or crowd into the square when Emperor Ampecillus' newest disease was displayed to all.
Oh, the exquisite revulsion of the lords and ladies as the Emperor hacked and coughed and wheezed and sneezed as he was carried by. The Emperor loved their every sigh and moan, every "Oh, that poor, poor man!" and "Dear, dear, dear!" and "Whatever has he caught this time?" that was uttered his way. This was the life for Emperor Ampecillus. Drugs and surgery and more and newer unpronounceable medications every time! So that is why Ampecillus said to the lackey, "Oh, woe is me!" For without a new disease, how could he face the public on Monday?
"All the good, healthy people look down to me and expect a new disease," moaned Ampecillus." And all the doctors and nurses need work! All the drug companies need to sell their remedies! All the surgeons need to operate for a living, and all the orderlies need someone to clean up after. Who will use all the sickroom equipment I've collected if I don't? And most of all, who will make a fuss over me if I'm not sick? Oh, I must, I must get ill again!"
So all that night the Emperor stayed up, reading medical book after medical book, researching disease after disease, and learning how to come down with one. All to no avail. Ampecillus had already had each and every illness that he read about. "Each and every one," sighed the Emperor. "What am I to do?"
Just then, a page boy entered the royal bedchamber to bring fresh candles for the Emperor's evening reading. "What am I to do?" said Ampecillus.
"I know, sire," said the boy.
"What? You do?"
"Yes, sire," said the boy. "You must fake it."
"Fake it? What do you mean?" said Ampecillus.
"Well, sire, why don't you really surprise the people? How about you pretend not to be sick at all, and instead be healthy?"
"What!" exclaimed the Emperor. "Me, be healthy? Why? How?"
Ampecillus was stunned. Nobody had ever made that suggestion to him before. He could hardly even conceive of what it would be like to be healthy. He had heard of some people who were chronically healthy - they were peasants, mostly, who ate the fresh, wholesome food they grew themselves - but to the Emperor (and his doctors) these were just fairy tales. And then there was the one thing he feared most about health: no one would dote on him if he were well!
"Sire," said the boy, "If I may say so, it would be something quite novel. You must admit, being healthy would be a real first for you. No member of the realm has ever seen you in good health. Think of the stir it would cause."
"Hmmm," thought the Emperor. "It might be effective at that." Turning to the page boy he said, "Capital idea, boy. I'll do it." Monday morning I'll fake out the entire kingdom!"
So the following Monday the expected weekly mammoth procession came out of the palace. The streets, as usual, were lined with barons and nobles and lords and ladies awaiting the Emperor's new disease. As usual, along came the legions of nurses, doctors and attendants. A ribbon of white coats and stethoscopes fully three quarters of a mile long preceded the Emperor, flat on his back as usual, atop the royal hospital gurney.
"What today? What disease today?" whispered the crowd. Gamblers took bets. Nobles speculated in pharmaceutical futures. High-born ladies bit their nails. "What today? What disease today?" they all wondered.
The procession continued to file slowly past when all at once the Emperor stood up! Emperor Ampecillus stood up! Bed pans and I.V.'s and tongue depressors scattered everywhere as he leaped off the gurney and exclaimed, "Ah, ha! Today, loyal subjects, your Emperor is not sick. There is no new disease. Today I am completely healthy!
A silence fell on the startled populace. They could not have been more surprised. Then, as with one great voice, all the people said, "Your highness, It's about time!!'' And they all cheered and cheered.
The Emperor smiled. He really did feel better. In fact, he felt great. He made up his mind to feel this way every day!
And later that day, if you had been there, you would have seen a long, long line of white coats and stethoscopes fully three quarters of a mile long leaving the palace, looking for a new Emperor to work for. And Ampecillus lived healthfully ever after.
The moral of the story is, "When you are sick of sickness, you are no longer sick."
Copyright 2005 and prior years by Andrew W. Saul.
Andrew Saul is the author of the books FIRE YOUR DOCTOR! How to be Independently Healthy (reader reviews at http://www.doctoryourself.com/review.html ) and DOCTOR YOURSELF: Natural Healing that Works. (reviewed at http://www.doctoryourself.com/saulbooks.html )
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