Elephant Doctor: a story by Tehnuka

This story originally appeared in the October 2022 issue of Worlds of Possibility.

Elephant Doctor: a story by Tehnuka
Elephant Doctor by Eliseeva Elizaveta

This story originally appeared in the October 2022 issue of Worlds of Possibility. You can listen to me narrate an audio version of this story on Spreaker as part of the OMG Julia Podcast, and you can also read the full text below. An original illustration by Eliseeva Elizaveta accompanies this story.

Paid subscribers get access to early releases of the full issue as an ebook instead of having to wait for the public version. At the time this story is going live (February 24th, 2023), I'm still working through the October issue with my public posts, but paid subscribers already have access to the December 2022 issue, and the February 2023 ebook issue of Worlds of Possibility will be available to paid subscribers on Monday the 27th of February.

Content note: This story refers to sizeism and discrimination in healthcare settings.

Listen to "Elephant Doctor - a story by Tehnuka" on Spreaker.

Elephant Doctor
by Tehnuka

Siva had made it two hours without having to make eye contact—two hours in which they had navigated multiple buses, found the clinic, spoken to the receptionist, and almost finished the new patient paperwork. More than that—they’d almost relaxed, sitting in the empty waiting room with only the distant clacks of a keyboard back at the desk for company.

A flicker in their vision turned out to be their phone flashing with a “gl!!! :)” from Minn. They replied with a thumbs-up emoji.

Then the ground began to shake. Just a light tremor, but knowing what it could grow into, Siva grabbed their backpack, disoriented. The coffee table covered in health brochures wasn’t high enough to get under. This had been a stupid idea from the beginning, they should never have tried to change doctors—

The vibration stopped, and a robotic voice called, “Si-va.”

Siva looked up to see a full-sized elephant standing in the corridor, trunk swaying.

Bloody typical.

This time was meant to be better. Finding a GP should be like finding a good book, they’d explained to Minn. One should study the blurbs, get recommendations, buy from a reputable local indie rather than a tax-evading multinational.

Maybe not that part. But it shouldn’t mean desperately contacting clinics on the phone—on the phone!—to ask who was taking new patients, and did they like to put their patients in neat boxes?

Sure, the doctors were stressed too. According to the news, they had been stressed for at least the last fifteen years. But stress did not explain why Dr Parker started every one of Siva’s consultations by telling them to lose weight before finding out why they were there, or misgendered them in every referral letter. It only made it worse that he was nice enough to Minn. The one thing he’d been willing to prescribe Siva were anxiety meds. They never filled the prescription because they didn’t want to give him the satisfaction. Nor could they trust him to know what they needed. Anyway, they felt far less anxious as soon as they left Dr Parker’s office.

So they’d researched online, and on the website of a medical clinic three bus rides away, they found two doctors accepting patients. One had a photo of a very tidy-looking woman with glasses and a big smile, wearing a stethoscope. Her blurb said she enjoyed painting watercolours and hiking. She had experience with sports medicine and womens’ health, worked with Olympic sportspeople, and welcomed families. She looked like someone’s grandma, but this was a poor recommendation. Siva had had enough bad experiences with other people’s grandmas, not to mention their own.

The other doctor didn’t have a photo, but they also liked painting watercolours and going for walks in the bush. They spoke several languages and welcomed patients of any genders, neurodivergent people, and anyone who had chronic illness. At the very end it said, “Dr Gajan enjoys working with everyone, and particularly welcomes larger patients.”

Siva remained cautious. “It’s too good. Why’s there no photo? Maybe they have a racist tattoo on their forehead. They don’t say they welcome ‘all ethnicities’ anywhere.”

Minn talked them into registering. “Did you want to see Dr Parker again?”


“Well, do you want Dr Olympic Sportspeople and Families?”


“I might switch GPs myself, actually, since Dr Gajan sounds so lovely.”

Siva suggested leaving the only non-bigoted doctor in the city for the people who really needed one. Minn rang the clinic, figured out the bus routes, made sure they remembered their mask and water bottle. “It’ll be easier than you think,” she said. “This doctor will be better.”

And now they were following an elephant through the corridors.

They’d never hallucinated before. A new medical centre seemed a bad place to start. Perhaps there really had been an earthquake, they were stuck under a collapsed roof thanks to the lack of suitable shelter, and this was the product of their asphyxiating mind. Or had they been more worried than they realised about the new doctor, and lost it? They shouldn’t have let Minn get their hopes up like that.

The elephant had called their name, though, and they couldn’t afford to miss out on an un-bigoted doctor, imaginary or otherwise.

The two of them continued down the wide corridor and through double doors large enough to fit an elephant. Siva hovered in front of a chair. The elephant rotated to face them, tail swishing, then took a step back.

“It’s nice to meet you. I’m Dr Gajan. Please sit if you’d like, and please excuse my standing; I’m biologically unable to sit. How are you getting on with that paperwork?”

“Um, nearly done. Why are you an elephant?”

“Great, exclamation point. As my colleagues at reception may have told you, it’s a free double appointment for new patients, so if you prefer to finish filling it out now, that’s fine—we’ll have time. Or we can get to know one another and talk through any questions you might have. Smiley face.”

The doctor’s voice was very clear but also very synthesised. Siva didn’t mind eye contact with elephants as much, so looked up to find there was a device hanging at the base of Dr Gajan’s neck, from which the sound emanated.

“I hope my voice is understandable,” said the doctor, noticing their gaze. “I’m limited to non-human languages without this adaptive device. If you’d prefer to communicate in another language, please do say. I’m a bit of a polyglot, but we can also book a translator.”

Siva remained silent, waiting for questions or instructions, but then the doctor continued, “In answer to your earlier question, I’ve always been an elephant but I’m sorry if that was a surprise. Sad face. There aren’t many non-human practitioners of human medicine here, are there?”

“No, you’re the first I’ve met. I didn’t know because you didn’t have a photo.” This was always the problem. The important information wasn’t clear until you were already stuck with a GP who hated you.

“People thought it was a joke when I did have one on my profile. Sigh.”

The text-speak might have been to make up for the lack of nuance in the synthesised speech, for the benefit of patients who didn’t know how to read Dr Gajan’s body language. If only Dr Parker had done the same.

“I’m sorry,” said Siva.

“Thank you. I have had patients who registered just so they could look at an elephant. Others expected the amusing human they thought had put an elephant’s picture on their profile. Yet many humans work as doctors for non-human animals, without a common language or means of communication, exclamation point. The good thing is this means I have plenty of space for patients who would genuinely like my support with their health. Smiley face. Anyway, enough about me.” They extended their long, powerful trunk and picked up the clipboard Siva had absently placed on the desk. “Oh, this form doesn’t ask for pronouns, only titles. I keep telling them, exclamation point. Would you like to share your pronouns, please? And the name you prefer to be called?”

Well … maybe this time really would be better.

About the Author

Tehnuka (she/they) is a writer and volcanologist from Aotearoa New Zealand. She likes to find herself up volcanoes, down caves, and in unexpected places; everyone else, however, can find her as @tehnuka on Twitter, and some of her recent or forthcoming stories in Hennepin Review, If There's Anyone Left, and The Margins.

About the Artist

Eliseeva Elizaveta is an artist from Ukraine. You can find more of her work on Instagram where she is @eeva_veta, and on Behance at https://www.behance.net/eliseeva96veta