The Lelketlens

23 Jan

In May of 1926, Egon Gehirn finished his medical internship in Vienna and received his license to practice in Austria. How was this young physician going to begin his work? He was immediately informed that a doctor from Eisenstadt near the Hungarian border was coming to the capital to interview new members of the profession. They were to be candidates for sharing his practice as a partner. Dr. Johann Danever would be retiring in a few years and was looking for a successor. Egon eagerly agreed to meet this practitioner from Burgenland and learn about the prospects being offered. The veteran doctor had built a large clientele over several decades and he would in the near future need a successor to take his place.

The two men met and talked in Danever’s room at the Wandl Hotel on Peterplatz.

“Come in,” smiled the tall, reedy man from eastern Austria. Azure eyes shone with intelligence on his pale face. A mane of snow-white hair rose high over his head.

When the two were seated, Danever began to explain what his plan was.

“I need an assistant able to replace me in the next several years, because I am nearing retirement. My practice is quite heavy and I am looking for someone who can relate to my patients in a personal sense. I must have a person who I feel satisfies their needs in an intimate way, someone who can deal with each patient as a unique individual. My method entails spending considerable time with each patient. The work hours are long and the treatment is intense and concentrated.”

The short, slight candidate focused his attention. This description sounded exactly like what he was looking for: close doctor-patient relations.

“My family roots lie in the part of Pannonia now within the Hungarian nation,” continued the older man. “I frequently travel over the border to see my brother in Sopron, the former Odenburg back in the days of the Dual Monarchy. Would you believe that this brother of mine practices medicine over there? The arts of healing seem to flow in our family blood. We both follow the same profession.”

“I have no relatives who are physicians,” said Egon. “But since childhood I have had the dream of paying back the family doctor who saved my life from a terrible infection of diphtheria.”

“We are still at war with the early diseases,” noted Danever with a sigh.

The conversation went on, concentrating on Egon’s education and internship. A warm congeniality started to grow. By the time the candidate left, both men realized that they would soon be working together in Eisenstadt.

From his train window, Egon Gehirn caught sight of Lake Neusiedl, extending south into Hungary. Low, white-washed Pannonian houses and vineyards characterized this borderland of the vast flat steppe to the east. Seeing the Burgenland for the first time, the young doctor realized how different it was from the rest of the new, postwar Austria. Here was a land unknown to him.

Danever met him at the Eisenstadt station and escorted his protegé to the small house where he lived and kept his office. Once Egon was settled in his room, he was taken about the town by the older physician.

“First, you must see the beautiful Baroque palace of the Esterhazys. They were the true builders of the Empire of Austria-Hungary. This was their center of power in the old system. Eisenstadt was at that time included in the Hungarian half of the Dual Monarchy. Only since 1925 is this town the capital of Burgenland. It was moved here after Sopron was given to the new Hungary in the final partition.”

The pair passed the simple old house where the composer Joseph Hayden once lived, patronized by the rich, powerful Esterhazys. As dusk fell, they turned homeward.

All at once, a female figure appeared in front of them, blocking their path. She was tall and lithe, with straw-colored short hair.

“Dr. Danever,” her voice screeched. “I must see you at once. My body is not my own any longer. It is separating away from me. This causes me horrible pain.”

Danever stepped forward, extending his right hand toward the disturbed woman.

She leaned forward till her body rested against his side.

“Come, Miss Bezau. We shall return to my office and I shall make a new examination.”

He suddenly remembered the presence of his partner. “This is Dr. Gehirn, who will be in practice with me from now on.” His eyes turned on Egon. “Miss Maria Bezau has been my patient for several years. Her parents have passed away and she has had to live by herself. I have been treating the severe dysphoria she suffers from. It causes her excruciating amounts of pain.”

Holding out his hand to assure and calm her, Johann turned and started for home. Egon followed a few steps behind, his mind in a whirl of confusion.

He had never before seen such a doctor-patient relationship as this was.

Maria lay on an examination table as Dr. Danever massaged the front, then the back of each hand.

He varied light, calming motions with strong, vigorous ones.

Egon stood watching from the far side of the treatment room.

“Now, Miss Bezau, I am going to give you a vial of tablets to take whenever you suffer an attack of distress in your body. Take one and only one. Can you remember to follow my orders?”

She nodded that she could.

Johann then motioned to his partner to step forward and help him get the patient on her feet. Together, the physicians succeeded in standing her up against the examination table.

An idea suddenly struck the older doctor. He made a proposal to his associate.

“Our patient resides on the opposite side of Eisenstadt, on the hilly portion of Esterhazystrasse. She may not have the strength to return there on her own. Would you accompany Maria home, my friend? I am certain the direction will be clear for you.”

Egon replied that he would be happy to assist the young woman. He offered his arm and guided her out of the treatment room.

Dr. Danever saw the pair to the front door, then out onto the dark, deserted street.

At a slow, cautious pace the two walkers distanced themselves from the house and office. Neither of them spoke, Maria pointing out the route to be taken. At last they reached their destination, an old, brown-colored cottage off to itself.

“This is where I live,” murmured the patient. “I must thank you for accompanying me home. You have my sincere gratitude, Doctor.”

“How do you feel at the moment?” inquired Egon. “Is the pain still gone?”

“Yes, it has vanished like a fog. I owe my relief to Dr. Danever’s powerful hands.”

“What do you mean? Are you referring to his massaging?”

Maria frowned. “You must know that he can draw out the pain of my illness. The doctor absorbs the evil force out of my body, into his own. His hands accomplish that. Don’t you know that?”

What was he to say? Egon asked himself in growing confusion.

“Yes, of course. Good evening, Miss Bezau.”

“Good evening, Doctor,” she told him, turning and heading for her door.

Once she had entered, he turned about and walked back home.

What can she be thinking? That Johannes has some special gift for drawing out sicknesses?

I will mention this to him, perhaps tomorrow. It will be amusing to see how he reacts.

The next morning Johann introduced Egon to three patients the latter then examined and wrote prescriptions for. By noontime, the new associate was in the swing of the practice.

Danever took his partner for lunch at the Schlosstaverne across from the Esterhazy Palace, in the building that had once been the family stables. Over goulash, they discussed the conditions of the patients Egon had treated that morning.

“Last night I heard something interesting from the lips of Maria Bezau.”

“What might that have been?” asked Johann with sudden curiosity.

“She has a strange belief that you have the capability of drawing forth illness from the person suffering its pain. In her mind, it is a power to absorb the sickness through the hands.”

He stopped and stared at Danever, waiting for a response.

“As we walk back, I will tell you the truth about what Maria has witnessed,” said Johann.

Egon finished eating with his mind focused on what was ahead. What secrets were about to be revealed? he asked himself.

Only when they had left and were in the open, where no one could hear them, did Danever speak.

“Do you understand the Hungarian language?” he asked his partner.

“No, I have never studied it,” admitted the other.

“The tongue is unlike any of the Indo-European family such as German. There are very complex words and concepts involved. The one that Maria Bezau might have used, if she were a Magyar, would be that of the lelketlen.”

“And what is that?” inquired Egon.

Johann began to walk more slowly as he replied.

“There exists an ancient belief that a small number of human beings are born without the spiritual component. They exist with a metaphysical vacuum at their core. This condition limits what they can achieve in that sphere, but it also provides strange, extraordinary capabilities. One of the most important of these is the power to remove sickness from those with disease and illness. It is an uncanny ability that a lelketlen possesses. He cures the ailing through a kind of suction, drawing off the malignancy in the body.

“Can you imagine what such a power can mean to a physician?”

Egon turned his head toward Danever, astonished at what he was revealing. “Are you one of them, then?”

Johann did not give a direct answer to this question.

“It is not a talent which is successful in all cases. There are successes, but also many failures as well. One can never be certain of the outcome.

“You must witness the curative effects for yourself, Egon. Then you will believe what your eyes see. I ask you to be patient. The results are often unpredictable.”

For a time, the associate of the lelketlen was unable to respond.

“Yes,” he finally said, “I shall take my time in reaching conclusions about the matter.”

In the next three months, Egon saw how Johann Danever successfully used his hands in treating patients with rheumatism, gout, meningitis, edema, tachycardia, and myoclonus.

The junior partner grew enthusiastic about the inexplicable method of therapy.

One summer day, Johann had surprising news to tell Egon.

“I received a letter from my younger brother who lives in Sopron, over in Hungary. He plans to come here and visit for a time. He is also a physician. He studied medicine in Budapest. His practice there has been excellent, but he is exhausted and in need of some rest.”

“Your brother must be bilingual, I would think,” said Egon.

“That is correct. All of our family knows both German and Magyar, as does most of the border population. Such a situation results from everyday necessity. A doctor has to be able to speak with both kinds of patients.

“You see, Egon, our father was a Magyar but our mother came from a German family. My brother was given an Hungarian name, Arpad, that of an early king in that land.

“Yes, Western Pannonia and Burgenland contain interlocked peoples and cultures.”

Egon was on the verge of asking whether his brother also had the gift of lelketlen healing, but decided that could wait for an appropriate moment.

There would be opportunity to learn that once Arpad Danever had arrived.

The two partners met the visitor at the Eisenstadt station on a sunny August afternoon. Johann introduced Egon to his brother from across the border. The two strangers shook hands and smiled at each other. The surprise was how unsimilar Arpad was to the older brother. Instead of tall and thin, the newcomer was short and pudgy. His hair was dark brown, his eyes a dark hazel. Only if informed by others would anyone take them as closely related.

“My brother has written me about his wonderful partner,” grinned the Hungarian citizen. “It is almost as if I already knew you. May I call you Egon?”

“Of course,” answered the latter. “And I shall address you as Arpad, my friend.”

“Let us walk to the house,” proposed Johann. “Egon and I will help carry your bags.”

As they proceeded along the street, the two brothers discussed the political situations in their two countries. Arpad had current information to share.

“The German townsmen harbor deep resentment against the plebiscite of December, 1921. They cannot forget that Sopron was once Odenburg, and that Szambathely used to be Steinamanger. The Germans are still a clear majority in our province. The vote in Sopron was lost by the Germans because of the presence of Magyar paramilitary units from elsewhere. They produced the results the way they came out, not the actual population of our province.”

“Will there be more political trouble in Sopron?” asked Johann.

“Time alone will tell,” muttered Arpad in a distant voice.

After coming home from a late dinner that evening, the three medics sat around the kitchen table. Drinking Hungarian wine, the trio engaged in leisurely conversation. Egon said less than did the two brothers. He was hoping to find out what special powers the two shared in.

“I believe that biology will make spectacular strides forward in the decades ahead,” said Johann with conviction. “There promises to be an ever wider range of therapeutic options.I only regret that I shall be gone and will not see the extent of progress.”

“But such innovations and discoveries will only be additions to what was here before,” countered Arpad. “There can be no total revolutions in medicine, only further development of the existing foundations. Forward movement, yes. But in a straight line that extends what is already known. I foresee no major, radical change in the direction of medicine.”

Johann argued back. “There will be novel inventions and breakthroughs that will startle the medical world. Much now done by doctors will have to be abandoned. Ancient therapies will be rediscovered and return to widespread use,”

Egon decided to make a contribution. “Massage therapy holds great promise for a number of disorders.”

The discussion stopped as both of the brothers turned their eyes on him.

It was Johann who broke the uneasy silence. “My special gift could not be concealed from my partner. Circumstances compelled him to watch the application of my hands to a case.”

Arpad then turned and spoke to Egon. “I take it that you have enough sense to be discrete about the matter.”

“Of course,” said the younger partner in a whisper.

Johann suddenly rose from his chair. “I do not feel well and am going directly to bed.”

For three days, no more was said on the subject of lelketlen healing. But then at breakfast Arpad informed the others that he planned to cut his vacation short and return to Sopron by train the next day. Johann and Egon were both surprised at the announcement.

“Has anything happened to make you unhappy with your stay?” asked Johann. “Why do you feel that you must leave?”

“I assure you that this departure has nothing to do with anyone except me alone. My place is not here, doing nothing. Duty calls me back to my practice in Hungary. Many patients depend on my personal skills. My mind is back there, not here in Eisenstadt.

“I thank you for all your hospitality, Johann. But it is impossible for me to stay any longer. In the morning, I will start for home.”

Egon noticed how the older brother eyed the younger with a bizarre facial expression. What is Johann thinking? he wondered. What is the true significance of this hasty change in plans?

The relationship of brother to brother was a mystery to which Egon lacked the key. He felt a chill travel down his spine several times. What was the nature of the tie between them?

The morning that Arpad left, Johann and his partner saw him off at the railroad station.

Egon noticed that the older brother, his partner, looked pallid and listless, as if he had lost something vital to him.

He was astounded by the formal attitude each Danever evinced toward the other.

What had caused this fissure and abrupt departure? It had to be related to the revelation of Johann’s lelketlen identity and its powers. Nothing else could have had such a disastrous effect on the visit. That had to be what was behind this sudden return to Hungary, concluded Egon.

When the steam locomotive arrived with its bright red passenger cars, Arpad said good-bye to Egon, then icily shook hands with his older sibling.

No embraces, no gestures of fondness were exchanged. Arpad climbed aboard, giving a perfunctory wave of the hand before going to a seat.

The train soon began moving once more. No sign of the visitor from Hungary was seen, for he had taken a place on the opposite side, facing away from the station. As the locomotive picked up speed, the two doctors on the platform turned and walked off without a word to each other.

Only when they were back home, sitting at the kitchen table, did Johann start to talk.

“I shall soon be dead,” declared the older man. “It may happen in days, or in several weeks, but my end is clearly near. Nothing can prevent it.”

For a moment, the jaw of Egon fell wide open. “I do not at all understand you. Why such deep melancholy? Is it due to something that your brother said? I fear that I should never have made any reference to your ability to cure with your hands. Was it that error of mine that led to all that has happened, such as Arpad’s decision to leave abruptly?”

“No, you do not know the truth about my brother,” explained Johann. “He, like me, was born with the special powers of the lelketlen. Arpad is capable of accomplishing all that I can, but he does not at all do so. Instead, he has turned the gift inside out. My brother kills, rather than cures. His gift assists the dying reach their destination quicker and with mercy. He does the opposite of what I do, but only when there is no further hope of recovery.

“His hands are those of a killer whose heart is moved only by love and mercy for a person in a hopeless condition.”

He paused a second, then went on.

“Last night he entered my room and placed his deadly hands on me. My head, heart, and throat were touched. They will soon begin to rot and decay. I awakened, but it was too late to reverse what he had already done. He left me without a single word, but I knew that he had done the right thing. His fatal diagnosis is never mistaken. It is solid and certain.”

The two doctors said no more to each other at this time. Egon left the house for a directionless stroll through the streets of Eisenstadt.

He realized how much he still had to learn about the variety of means that result in healing.


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