HASTINGS: You know, Gaunt, I’m glad we were both scheduled to drive the plague cart today. There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you: What’s your professional opinion of this universal-health-care business?

GAUNT: I’ll tell you right now—it stinks like a smallpox boil. You can heat it, cool it, or lance it, but it’s not going away. And we really stand to take a hit in our share of this barter-based economy.

HASTINGS: Yeah, yeah, I know all that. But wouldn’t you rather have slightly fewer sides of half-rotting beef in your larder if it meant everyone could have access to someone like you or me?

GAUNT: Oh Heavenly Father, if you don’t sound like the Thomas Becket of barbers! Have you learned nothing since our altruistic five days of medical school? Forget the poor. They are more likely to get diphtheria and die anyway. Medicine should be ruled by the same feudal market forces that determine all other services. If you don’t produce your quota, then you’ll die by the disemboweling scoop at home rather than by the sword in battle. Remember, seven minutes per paying patient.

HASTINGS: I can’t believe I’m hearing this from the guy who used to talk about running free clinics in the peasant quarter. Remember when we used to say that restoring the four humors was all the payment we needed?

GAUNT: Listen, ever since I decided to subspecialize and take that residency in leechology, I have been raking in the livestock and cord wood. I’ve got a nice private practice in the hamlet out east and I bleed them all dry. The malpractice insurance isn’t bad, either—I just pay a neighborhood kid to drop pertussis in the butter churn if any of my patients start complaining. Hey, I couldn’t cure that stuff if I wanted to! You’ve got to look out for number one, Hastings. With the lawyers going the way they are, they’ll soon be suing us for keeping all the lepers together. You and I both know that like cures like, but you just can’t explain science to some people.

HASTINGS: I know our colleagues don’t put a lot of stock in “outcomes,” but I just keep thinking about the one patient I’ve saved in my 20 years of practice. Though we are centuries away from developing anesthesia, it felt good to cut off his healthy leg, knowing that it would teach his crippled leg to straighten out. Call me naive, but I truly believe that everyone deserves to be bled or sweated when they’re at death’s door, regardless of the feudal position they’re born into. Everyone has the right to be healthy enough to one day suffer a violent death.

GAUNT: I unfortunately haven’t been taught to harbor an angry sense of skepticism when it comes to socialist propaganda, Hastings, but I do know that I understand the concept of taking care of the caregiver. When I shuttle the patrician class out of the city during the summer epidemics and lock them in rooms with blazing fires and garlic compresses, I know that they pay me handsomely for their torment. Quite frankly, I don’t want to give that up. So go ahead and see how far this talk of “rights” and “parliament” takes you, but for now I’m resolved to provide universal health care for those who can pay me. At this rate, you will probably die of cholera while tending to some mead addict on charity from the church. But if you want to deal with the terrible reimbursement and papal oversight, no one is going to stop you.

HASTINGS: Fair enough, Doc. I feel like I’m kind of losing steam on this issue, anyway. I tend to speak inspirationally about progressive change but then inevitably fail to implement it. It’s also an election year for the Medical Society and I’ve been getting a lot of donations from Big Herbal.