When Ben Nowak reached the age of fifty, his primary care physician for the past fifteen years, Dr. Ellen Parrish, began performing annual digital rectal examinations on him. Ben is still embarrassed by the female physician checking his prostate gland. He finds the younger Dr. Parrish attractive and available. She divorced her husband because the man was abusive.

Dr. Parrish's office receptionist happens to be the wife of Ben's friend, Jerry, who works at a landfill and brings home cases of expired beer. Once, Jerry found a dead newborn baby in the landfill. Dr. Parrish informs Ben that his prostate has gotten larger. The tests she orders come back "inconclusive" so additional tests are done. Ben concedes that he might have prostate cancer, but rationalizes that things could be "a hundred times worse" (29).

When his second set of test results are normal, Ben grasps that it is likely a temporary reprieve; he is only fine "until the next time" (34). He drives to the site of an illegal dump. The trunk of his car contains ten cases of expired beer (courtesy of Jerry). At the dump, he proceeds to drink one bottle of beer from each case and smashes the other twenty-three.


This story effectively generates discussions about many interesting topics: health scares, self-conscious patients, and female physicians caring for male urological problems. The story addresses the difficulty that doctors face when dealing with the uncertainty of medical test results and indefinite findings on examination. How do conscientious clinicians practice good medicine and yet minimize "false alarms"? How can physicians provide reassurance when they don't have a definitive diagnosis?

The landfill and dumping site in the story signal notions of waste, loss, and decomposition but also the possibility of reclamation. Jerry, the character who works at the landfill, offers this noteworthy opinion: "Everything has an expiration date," . . . "but that doesn't mean it's spoiled" (20).


The story first appeared in South Dakota Review. The book in which this story appeared won the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction.

Primary Source

Sorry I Worried You


Univ. of Georgia Press

Place Published

Athens. Ga. and London



Page Count