The Gift of Tully Harris

It was clear the papers were correct about people not going to the doctor during lock-down. Because within ten days of seeing my own doctor, I was sitting in a socially distanced chair outside the office of a skin specialist: one Dr. Tully Harris.

I wondered if he was the same Tully Harris who had been in the youth group of a congregation where, years ago, I had filled in for a few months. He would be old enough by now.

That Tully Harris had been a quiet kid who seemed to live in a universe which occasionally intersected with the one the rest of us were in. But he had a skill which the youth group were keen to show the new minister: Out on the basketball courts, Tully Harris sat backwards on his pushbike and rode a perfectly symmetrical figure eight across the asphalt. It was all the more impressive because the bottom loop bisected the narrow gap between the goalpost and the back fence of the church, without a wobble.

As he rolled back towards us, he swung his left leg over the back wheel, performed an impossible swivel right on his right foot, swapped feet with a little hop, and sent the other leg back over the saddle! And then gave me a small "How do you like that?"  smile, as he rode out to the street facing forwards, and went home.

The Harris kids actually came to Sunday church, where I congratulated Tully on his acrobatic skill a couple of days later.

"Thanks. The problem is that I always have to start off facing backwards. I should be able to start forwards, and turn around. It's the same moves, basically, but I keep falling off."

He spoke with sudden heat.

"I'm doing something all wrong, and I can't work out what it is."

There was a level of despair in his voice which I felt inadequate to comfort.

"Mr. Prior?"

Tully Harris carefully scanned my face and neck, and then turned her attention to the recurring mess around the crease at the bottom of my nose.  She is one of those doctors where, no matter what will be diagnosed, you immediately sense a care and compassion which will see the issue through. 

"It's not a skin cancer.  It's a fungal thing you older blokes get—" her eyes twinkled— "and probably it's going to flare up whenever if feels like it. People don't seem to get rid of it very easily. I'll write down a couple of over-the-counter creams that will knock it on the head until it feels like coming back... and then you just use them again."

She handed me the paper and said, "Is there anything else I can do for you... Reverend?"

And there it was— a flash of that same "How do you like that?" smile.

"So you are Tully with the push-bike!"

She smiled with delight. "Yes. And I worked out where I was going wrong."

(Andrew Prior June 2020)

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