Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Swing Low, sweet Chariot
Coming for to carry me home
Swing Low Sweet Chariot
Coming for to carry me home
I walked into the clinic and was greeted by the gospel strains delivered by my lovely nurse.
“I never knew you had such a sweet voice, lovely nurse,” I complimented her. “Is it only gospel or do you do rock and roll, too?”
“Jazz, blues or gospel, fine doctor, but I usually only sing when no one’s around. Performing was never my strong suit. My muse only visits when I’m alone.”
“Too bad, really. You really have an amazing voice. All we have to do is get you discovered and I wouldn’t have to slave away at the hospital or here at the clinic.”
“Don’t get your hopes up, Dr. Barnes. I’m a nurse first and foremost. Although, maybe, if you’re lucky, I’ll sing for you in the shower.”
“I’m not sure all three of us can fit in the shower together.”
“Me, you and your belly.”
“I guess if we stand real close we could swing it,” she concluded after a bit of thought. “But, cleanliness comes later. Right now Albee D’Amico is in room one. Something about loss of balance or equilibrium.”
“Just what I need to start the night. An unbalanced individual. OK, Mr. D’Amico, ready or not, I’m comin’ in.”
I knocked and entered room one, “Good evening Mr. D’Amico, I’m Dr. Barnes, what is the problem you are having?”
I heard a low hum as I walked in and found my patient sitting crosslegged on the table, arms at his side, eyes closed and a steady humming coming from his closed mouth.
“Excuse me, Mr. D’Amico,” I said softly, nudging him on the shoulder, “are you OK? What can I do for you?”
He opened one eye, looked at me, then closed his eye and went back to his humming.
“Fine,” I announced, “If you’re not sick, you don’t need to be here. You can do your meditation or Karma or whatever you call it somewhere else.” And I started to leave.
Before I could go too far his arm shot out and he grabbed my wrist, all the while continuing his incessant, annoying chant.
I tried to shake my arm loose, but he had a very powerful grip.
“My Muse,” he whispered, “I’ve lost her and I think she’s here. I’m trying to get her back. I need to get her back.”
He relaxed his hold on my wrist and I pulled away, shaking my hand to restore the feeling.
“Mr. D’Amico, I am truly sorry that you have lost your muse, but I do not see how I can help you. This is a medical clinic, not an artist’s retreat,” I stated emphatically.
“But,” he retorted with a little more force in his voice, my Muse has left me because of a medical problem, I’m sure of it. Therefore, if you give me a complete going over, I am sure you will discover the malady which has left me feeling abandoned and I shall be able to return to my work.”
“And what, may I ask, is your work?”
“I write songs, that is, I write song lyrics. I was in the process of writing the lyrics for a new jazz album when she left. Since then I’ve barely been able to write my name.”
“OK, Mr. D’Amico, I’ll give you a check up. But tell me, when did your muse desert you?”
“Tuesday a week ago at 3:11 am. She just packed up and left. I searched all over my apartment and in the alley and even by the lake in the park, which is where she hides sometimes, but nothing. Finally, I went to see Madam Tahini.”
“You know, Madam Tahini, over at Tahini’s Fortune Telling and Auto Repair. She told me to come here. She saw that impish sprite right in front of this clinic and then Madam saw her enter the clinic through an upstairs window. Madam told me that if I came here to have a medical check up, then that old Muse would take pity on me and come back.”
I’ve heard sillier stories, that’s for sure, but this one is still a doozy.
“OK, OK, so I’ll check you out. Let’s start at the beginning. What is it that brought you in here today. No, wait, let me start from different angle. Is anything hurting you or bothering you, Mr. D’Amico?”
“My head, my head feels like it’s been stuffed with three weeks of dirty laundry. And my legs, which get muscle spasms every night and, let’s see, my stomach. I get cramps and diarrhea almost every day.”
“That’s quite a lot of symptoms. How long has all this been going on?”
“Let’s see. Leg cramps, eight years. Stomach pain and diarrhea, three, no four years. Headache, two days. But my chanting and meditating almost made my head feel normal, at least until you interrupted me and now it hurts again, particularly right here.”
He pointed to his frontal sinus area.
“Take any medicine?”
“I don’t like to poison my body with manmade, artificial concoctions. I prefer my meditation.”
“How does that work for you?”
“Quite well, most of the time, unless I’m interrupted.”
“Sorry about that, but you did come to the clinic and it is my job to try to treat you.”
“If you want to help me feel better, you’ll start searching this building for my Muse. She’s here somewhere, I can feel it.”
“OK, let me finish my exam and then I’ll have a look around.”
So I checked him from top to bottom and found nothing unusual. Miss James drew basic labs and we left him to await the results while I went on to the next patient.
“S. Dixon, 67, abscess left arm,” I murmured as I read over the chart.
Probably a drug addict.
“Good evening, Mr. Dixon, I’m Dr. Barnes, What is the problem that brings you in here tonight?” I asked.
“Santana,” he replied, standing up to shake my hand, “but, please, call me ‘Wild’. It’s short for ‘Wild Fingers.’ That’s what they used to call me when I was playing.”
I looked at him, eyeing him up and down. He was tall about six four, gaunt, wearing dark glasses, blue jeans, a black t-shirt and a black cap. There was a dirty rag taped to his left forearm.
“Wild Fingers Dixon? The guitar player?” I wondered out loud.
“You’ve heard of me?”
“You, sir, are a great jazz guitarist. But, I haven’t seen anything of yours for, I don’t know, ten years?”
“That would be about right. My Muse left me, replaced by heroin and now, here I am, at the free clinic, getting treated for the consequences of my sordid life.”
“I heard you play back in 1990 at the Arena. You were great; made me want to be a guitar player. Only problem I had was lack of talent. So, I ended up in medical school instead. I still try to pick at it on occasion.”
“Well, I haven’t picked up my guitar in years. All I can play now is a needle. Look at this arm.
He held up his arm and ripped of the makeshift bandage. There were brownish tracks up and down and an angry, red area oozing pus just below his shoulder.
“I don’t think I could even hold a guitar with this arm, it hurts so bad. Therefore, I would appreciate it if you could lance this nasty abscess and just forget about ancient history.”
“Well, there is no question that abscess needs to be cleaned up and you’ll need to be on some antibiotics, but I think you could get back to playing once the infection is better.”
As I was giving him my medical opinion I heard some thumping and what almost sounded like footsteps coming from the ceiling above us.
Probably rats or squirrels.
But, the noise gave me an idea.
“Hear that?” I asked.
Wild nodded his head.
“That, Mr. Wild Fingers Dixon, is a Muse, your Muse as a matter of fact. The local soothsayer, Madame Tahini, assured me just this evening that the wayward Muse has taken up residence in the very Clinic. I think he or she knew you’d be here tonight and came here to be reunited.”
“You’re crazy,” was his answer, “and I’m not sure I want a deranged psycho of a doctor touching my arm.”
“Well, that is up to you, but, what if I’m right, think of the possibilities. How about you let me drain your abscess while you consider that you may have an opportunity to get your life, your true, intended life, back. I don’t think you’ll have anything to lose.”
“Fix my arm and then we’ll talk.”
I went to work, swabbing his arm with antiseptic solution and then did my best to numb the area. Finally, I sliced through the angry skin with a #11 scalpel. Grayish green pus under pressure shot out and spattered over my face (luckily I was wearing a mask) and then oozed out onto the sterile drape which covered his arm. I gathered some of the nasty fluid into a sterile container to be sent to the lab and then did my best to probe the abscess, looking for pockets of undrained pus.
To his credit, Wild Fingers sat still while I poked around, even though I knew it had to hurt even with the local anesthesia.
I finished as quickly as I could, like the surgeons of old, and packed and dressed the big open wound I had created.
“Wait here for a few minutes,” I instructed. “I need to come back and check the dressing to be sure there isn’t any bleeding. Prop it up on this pillow for now and keep it elevated as much as possible over the next few days. I’ll be back in about five minutes.”
I went out and found Miss James. Before I could say a word she asked me if I’d heard noises coming from the ceiling.
“As a matter of fact, I did, so did Wild Fingers,” I replied.
“Wild Fingers?” she asked.
“The patient in Room two, Mr. Dixon. He used to be a well known jazz guitarist, before heroin wiped away his confidence. I told him it was his muse making the noise. After all, Madame Tahini did tell our other patient that a muse had taken up residence in our humble clinic.”
“Perhaps you should go investigate. Maybe you can sneak up on it and catch it in a bag or something. Then it will have to grant you three wishes.”
“I believe that is a genie or a leprechaun. Muses inspire us to create great art or music or poetry.”
“Well, whatever is up there it has not done a very good job keeping its presence a secret. Maybe it wants to be found. Think about it; what good is a muse if it has no one to inspire.”
I went to the back of the clinic and pulled down the retractable stairway which led to the attic. I found the flashlight we kept for emergencies and armed myself with a syringe filled with Versed and a short, heavy metal IV pole.
I ascended the staircase/ladder and entered the dusty attic over our clinic. I searched for the light switch and found it on a wooden post, flicked it on and nothing happened. I flicked and jiggled it back and forth without any more success.
I guess it’s just me and my flashlight.
As I was fiddling with the light switch I felt a light touch on my shoulder which made me wheel around suddenly and raise my metal weapon above my head only to discover Miss James standing behind me.
“You shouldn’t sneak up like that. I could have hurt the baby and you shouldn’t be up here anyway. It’s musty and dank and who knows what diseases have wafted up into these rafters over the years,” I admonished.
“I thought you could use some moral support and you forgot to bring a bag. Besides, I’m not afraid of any old rat or squirrel. After all, you’re armed to the teeth. I know that a syringe filled with Versed always strikes fear into my heart.”
“Ha…ha,” I huffed as I pointed the flashlight towards the end of the garret. “Do you hear that? That gnawing, grinding noise? I’ll bet it’s a big rat gnawing on some wires or something.”
Miss James didn’t respond so I turned and shine my light towards her, only to find the source of the noise was my companion propped up against the wall frantically scratching her leg.
“I can’t help it,” she whispered, “I’m pregnant and I have a terrible itch.”
Let it go, don’t make a fuss about it, not with a pregnant woman.
“Thump, thump, boing.”
“Did you hear that?” she whispered in my ear. “That was not me. It came from up there.” She pointed to the bare rafters.
I shined my light and saw it, at least for a moment. It was white, about three feet tall and had jumped from one cross beam to another.
“Did you see it? Did you see that little thing?” I asked, hissing between clenched teeth.
“There it goes,” Miss James shouted and pointed to the end of the attic.
We moved as quickly as we cold towards it, but found only empty space. I shined my flashlight up and down and all around, but saw nothing. Whatever had been there was gone, vanished completely.
“Where’d it go? It was here, I know it,” I exclaimed.
“Wait there it is, on that beam,” Miss James replied. “Maybe, if you can scare it or surprise it will jump away and I can catch it in this.”
She held up the red biological waste bag.
“I think it’s big enough,” I observed. “Shh… it’s sitting over there. Quick, give me that bag.”
I stared at our adversary for a minute. All I could see was a white apparition crouching on the floor, seemingly oblivious or uncaring of our presence. In the dim light I couldn’t tell if it was an animal or small person or demon. I took out my trust syringe filled with Versed and opened the bag as I crept up behind it. I stopped for a moment as the opening scene of the Ghostbusters creeping up on the ghost of the Librarian filled my head. I shook my head and continued my stealth approach.
I was standing right behind it. I quickly jabbed it in the neck with my syringe and pumped it full of Versed and then pulled the bag over its head and scooped it up. There was some brief movement until the Versed kicked in and then it went limp.
“It won’t be able to breathe in that plastic bag,” Miss James remarked.
“Let’s get downstairs and we’ll cut some holes in the bag so the little beast won’t suffocate.”
It wasn’t heavy at all and we quickly descended the stairs back into the clinic. I poked a few holes in the side of the bag, taking extra care not to harm our captive. I was dying of curiosity. I knew our imprisoned being was not a rat or squirrel, but I still had no idea what or who it was.
“Wait here while I go check on our patients,” I told Miss James. I had almost forgotten about Wild Fingers and Mr. D’Amico.
I found them both patiently waiting. Wild Fingers I&D site was dry and he said his pain was much improved.
Mr. D’Amico smiled as I entered his exam room.
“Did my lab tests tell you anything?” he asked.
“Oh, sh…I forgot,” I blurted out, slapping myself on the forehead. “I’ll be back in a second.”
“No rush,” he answered, “I’ve been doodling here and even came up with a few ideas.
I noticed a pile of little pieces of paper on the exam table next to him as I went to the back to check on his lab results and on Miss James and our prisoner.
I found both of them sitting at the break room table. The red bag “prison” lay empty while I saw a tiny little girl sitting on Miss James lap, her small white arms wrapped around my nurse’s neck.
“She’s not feeling well, “ Miss James announced. “It seems that someone filled her full of Versed and now she’s got a terrible headache.”
“She being …?” I inquired.
“Muse,” came the reply. “It would appear that Madam Tahini was actually right. This little girl’s name is Muse.”
“Is she really a Muse, as in “I will inspire the artist in you to create new and wonderful things? Or, is it just a name.”
The little girl gave me a dirty look as she rocked back and forth in Miss James’lap.
“I don’t feel artistically inspired,” I continued, making a bigger ass of myself. “What I am inspired to do is find the results of Mr. D’Amico’s lab so that I can send him on his way.”
Both nurse and Muse gave me a silent look that told me I was on my own, so I went into the computer and found what I was looking for.
“CBC, chem, UA, all normal, no, WBC is…shoot,” I murmured.
I started back to the front to talk with Mr. D’Amico and met Miss James and Muse leaving the break room.
“We are going to see Wild Fingers. Muse told me she used to be a close friend, but she hasn’t heard from him in years.”
“Look at this,” I interrupted and showed Miss James the CBC result.
“Can that be correct?”
“I think it is. I’m going to talk to him now.”
The bell sounded telling us there was a new patient up front, which caused Miss James to detour from the exam rooms while she did a quick evaluation of the patient in the lobby.
She called me immediately, before I could go back to see Mr. D’Amico. I found a tall, thin man with long hair and a long beard, holding out his hand which was impaled on a broken drumstick.
“I don’t think I can fill out any forms with my hand like this.” Our new patient concluded.
“I’m inclined to agree, Mr…” I replied.
“Green, Huxley Green.”
“Are you a drummer, Mr. Green?” Miss James asked.
“I am. I do a lot of studio work and play with a few bands around town. Lots of rock and country, not as much jazz as I’d like. I was practicing an hour or so ago and I had a little accident.”
“I can see that. Well, it’s not bleeding and your hand function seems to be intact,” I noted after a quick hallway exam, “so, if you can please wait here in room three; Miss James will get some information and I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
I left him and went back to give Mr. D’Amico some bad news.
He was still scribbling on bits of paper, now with more vigor than ever, when I entered.
“Mr. D’Amico,” I said in a slightly hushed tone, “I’ve got the results of your blood tests.”
He continued to write for a moment and then slowly looked up at me, staring into my eyes.
I continued, “Your white blood cell count is very high. Normally, a white blood cell count is less than ten thousand. If there is an infection it will go up sometimes as high as twenty five or even thirty thousand. Yours, however, is one hundred fifty thousand and all the cells are one type. What this all means is that you probably have…”
“Leukemia,” he answered for me.
“You knew?” I asked.
“No, but I’m not stupid. I can read and I’ve seen ‘Love Story.’ I know what a very, very high white blood cell count means. Pity, really, because I’ve been nothing but inspired while I’ve been here.”
“It must be because of Muse,” I concluded.
“It would seem that Madam Tahini was right, for once. We found her in the attic. A little girl…”
“…dressed in white,” he finished my statement again.
“Would you stop doing that, please, I said half joking. “how did you know?”
“I’ve always dreamt that my Muse was a little girl dressed in white.
“Well, she’s here and I guess she’s inspired you. Look at all you’ve accomplished.”
“It’s just jazz nonsense.”
“You shouldn’t be so modest. This is pretty good,” I remarked as I deciphered some of his scribbling. “But, back to the health problem at hand.”
“What type of leukemia do you think it is?” my patient wondered. “Can you tell if it’s lymphocytic, myelogenous, acute or chronic?
“For a songwriter you seem to know a lot about medicine,” I observed.
“My father died of leukemia when he was fifty five. I was fifteen at the time. I made quite a study on leukemia. He had acute myelogenous leukemia. He was diagnosed on a Thursday and died on a Thursday three weeks later. At least today is Friday, otherwise this leukemia thing would definitely be a bad omen. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to sit here, cross my legs and meditate on all you’ve told me.”
“That’s fine. I need to tend to a drummer with a part of drumstick stuck through his hand anyway. I’ll be back in few minutes and we can talk about referring you to the Leukemia section at the Cancer Hospital.”
I left him alone and went back to see Huxley Green. Muse joined me as I exited the exam room. She looked up at me, her green eyes growing wider as she stared into my eyes. I didn’t feel any sense of inspiration. I looked at the chart hanging outside the door: Huxley Green, 52, no medical problems, no allergies, accident with drumstick.
“Good evening again, Mr. Green. Can you tell me how you managed to impale your right hand on that broken drumstick?”
“I was running through a few Ba-Da-Ba Bing and then some Be bop a boom and more Ba-Da-Ba Boom when I just couldn’t quite hit that Phat de Bop Bop the way I wanted. I kept tryin’ though and, man, after ten whacks at it I jumps up and I just screams, breaks the sticks in two and chucks ‘em across the room. Well after five I calmed down a bit and gets up to clean up. Well this here stick was sticking up in the air, I trips and wham bam I falls and here I am.”
“A tragic accident I can see,” I replied, “but maybe you missed everything important.”
I examined his hand. Motor function looked to be normal, sensation was intact, no swelling, pink with normal capillary refill. I looked at the X-Ray Miss James had so efficiently obtained and, except for the faint shadow of the wooden drumstick, the bones all looked normal.
“I am going to do something quite bold here, Mr. Green. Just look away for a moment.”
As he turned his head, I took hold of the blunt end of the drumstick and pulled. With very little effort the wooden stick slid right out and Mr. Green was cured. The holes in his hand almost closed up before my eyes as the tissue had been more spread than cut.
“I’m going to wash this out a bit, put in a couple of stitches, give you a tetanus shot and a script for antibiotics and you should be good to go. I went to work and cleaned him up and bandaged the injured hand.
As I put on the last piece of tape we both heard the same sounds. The sweet strain of guitar riffs and the bluesy voice of Miss James. I left my patient for the moment and went out to the lobby to find Miss James and Wild Fingers Dixon jamming.
Night Clinic Blues, we’re livin’ through
The Night Clinic Blues
The sick and the dyin’ they bring us to
The Night Clinic Blues
The gangs they’s a fightin over
The Night Clinic Blues
The children are ill, with fever and chill
Oh, Night Clinic Blues
And the song went on, punctuated by Wild Fingers’ distinctive guitar riffs. There was an empty drum set, but not for long as Huxley Green climbed into the seat and added his potent Bop de Bop. I saw Mr. D’Amico nodding approvingly and, sitting on the reception desk was Muse, smiling.
I sat down next to D’Amico.
“We need a horn and a saxophone to really make the sound,” he said.
As if on cue, the door opened and a man and a woman, Buddy and Cici, walked in, each carrying a small suitcase. Without a word, they opened their bags, the woman pulled out a trumpet, the man a saxophone and they joined in, improvising along with Wild Fingers and Huxley as Miss James continued her throaty, bluesy song.
It don’t matter if it’s your heart or your head
Those Night Clinic Blues
We’ll see you, we’ll cure you,
Oh, Night Clinic Blues
I moved over and leaned on the desk next to Muse.
“You’ve done wonderful work here tonight, little Muse,” I whispered in her ear.
She just turned to me and smiled.
“Can you inspire me to be a greater doctor?” I wondered.
And then she spoke, the only words I heard her say that night.
“Medicine is as much an art as singing or playing the drums. But, it is not my place to inspire you; you have your own muse. Just don’t be surprised if she comes to you at the most unusual moments. I need to leave here, but you will see me again. Your child will become my good friend.”
A smile came to my face as I thought about “my child” for a few minutes and then as I turned to respond to her words, she jumped off the desk and ran across the lobby and into the arms of a tall, blonde, elegant woman, also dressed in white, who was standing just inside the door. This woman picked her up, gave her a kiss on the cheek and they left.
I ran after them, but outside the street was empty.
There were no more patients that shift, so I enjoyed the rest of the concert. Buddy and Cici left before dawn. Wild Fingers and Mr. D’Amico hung around for a bit longer trying to convince Miss James to join them in the local jazz clubs.
“I don’t see how I can,” she answered. “I’m due to deliver in a couple of months and then I’ll be a mother and a nurse. Perhaps Cici can take over the singing chores.”
I set up a referral for Mr. D’Amico to be seen at the Leukemia Clinic and called University Hospital Rehab and made arrangements for Wild Fingers to check in later that day.
Miss James and I had a few minutes to ourselves before it was time for the next crew to arrive.
“You are very good,” I remarked, “your singing, I mean. You should be on one of those singing reality shows, like American Idol.”
“I could never do that,” she replied. “Singing in front of you and the others was more than I could usually do; it was all I could do to keep from throwing up. I think it was Muse who gave me the courage and calmed my stomach.”
“Ah, dear little Muse,” I sighed. “She is quite a mystery. There is no question she was a powerful source of inspiration, but…”
“Was she the source of inspiration or did it come from within, from inside you and Wild Fingers and the others. I don’t know. However, she did tell me one other thing before she left, something that I’m sure you will find interesting.”
“She said that she would become good friends with our baby.”
“Well what do you know. Maybe this child is destined for greatness.”
Saturday, March 1, 2014
“What should we do about it?” I asked for the thousandth time. “I’m not even done with my training. Having a baby was definitely not in my plans. A nice cushy Dermatology fellowship was more what I had in mind.”
“Well you should think about such things next time you take off your pants,” Miss James responded. “I did go to nursing school and it definitely takes two parties to make one baby.”
“So what are you going to do?” I asked again, only leaving the we out this time.
“Well,” she said with ice in her voice, “in about two hundred and thirty five days we, God willing, will be parents to a beautiful baby boy or girl.”
She turned and walked up to the front of the clinic to respond to the bell we both had just heard.
Me, a father? I’m barely a doctor. Well…it could be worse. I’m sure I can figure out a way to be a father with the lovely Miss James and I still be a Dermatologist. I thought I was being clever, telling that murderous Dr. Adams that Miss James was pregnant, but I guess I was clairvoyant.
“Look at this,” Miss James remarked as she placed a package on the table. “It was on the reception desk, no delivery man, no mail or UPS truck, just this package. It isn’t even addressed to anyone. Just this.”
She tilted the package forward and showed me the white label on the top:
“Very strange, strange indeed,” I observed. The package was about two feet, by three feet by two feet, covered in brown wrapping paper and tied with string. It was pretty light; I almost thought it was an empty box.
“Should we open it?” my companion asked.
“I’m not sure…but there’s the bell again. I guess we’ll have to deal with this later. Time to go to work.”
We put the package on the floor behind the table in the break room, not completely hidden, but also not in plain sight. Miss James began all the administrative paper work on out new patient while I took a few moments to look at the offers I’d recently received for Dermatology fellowships.
Southern California looks good, sun and sand…maybe Arizona, no rain, no cold weather…
“Mr. Phelps is waiting in exam room one, Dr. Schlemiel,” Miss James announced, still with a frosty edge to he words.
I hope this doesn’t go on all night.”
I picked up the chart and read about Anthony Phelps. “Fifty one, No Allergies, No Meds, chief complaint: fever and rash.”
Right up my alley.
I knocked and went in and greeted Mr. Phelps with my usual bedside banter, “Good evening, Mr. Phelps, what is the problem you are having today?”
“Hello, Dr. Barnes. Tony Phelps,” he rose from his chair and shook my hand. His grip was tight, a little too tight as if he was trying to establish some sort of hierarchy. “I’ve had a fever for several days, nothing much 99.8, a hundred and I’ve also developed a rash on my buttocks. It is quite uncomfortable.”
“Just on your backside?”
“Did it start as a small area and spread or did it start by covering the whole area?”
“The whole area.”
“Come in contact with anything unusual? Been traveling? Any allergies?”
“No, no and no,” he replied, but he looked around as he answered my questions, as if someone else was listening. Then he added, “I’m usually very healthy.”
“Well, I guess I should check out the culprit. Here’s a gown. Take everything off from the waist down. I’ll be back in a minute.”
“Before you go, Dr. Barnes, I was wondering, were any strange packages delivered here recently. I was told I might find what I’m looking for here.”
“We get things delivered here all the time. Medical supplies, test results, free samples from pharmaceutical companies. What does this package look like?”
“It would be about Yay big,” and he held his hands about twelve inches apart and feel like there was a jar or bottle inside.”
“No, I can’t say we’ve received any such package, at least not that I know of. Now, your gown?”
“The package may have been bigger. I was told it would be here.”
“I’ll tell you what,” I finally said, “you put this gown on so I can finish checking you out and I will check with my nurse about your missing package, OK?”
He murmured an affirmation and I left him alone. I found Miss James checking in another patient and gestured for her to join me. She handed a very large man a clipboard to fill out and then we went to the back to look at the package. It looked smaller to me and felt a little heavier.
“Maybe this is what Mr. Phelps is looking for,” Miss James concluded.
“I don’t know. I get the feeling we’ve been drawn into some sort of international espionage. Maybe it’s a ‘Mission Impossible,’ after all he is Mr. Phelps. I don’t think we should give him the package without some sort of proof that it’s his even if his initials are A.P.”
I went back to check on my patient. He was laying face down on the table, properly attired in his gown. I pulled up the gown to see a cacophony of skin disorders all come together on his buttocks. There were patches of obvious bacterial infections, others which looked like chemical burns, reactive dermatitis, weeping sores and petechial rashes, all limited to his derriere.
“Your buttocks are quite unusual, that is the skin disorder you have is unusual. Are you sure you haven’t come in contact with anything toxic or out of the ordinary? Because, it looks like you’ve been attacked by a mixture of Strep, acid, fire ants and I don’t know what else.”
Mr. Phelps closed his eyes, pulled his gown over his butt and turned towards me. He looked a bit sheepish.
“It’s hard to explain, Dr. Barnes. In my line of work there is the potential to come in contact with a variety of toxins and poisons, dangerous chemical and biological agents. One way to deal with this is to intentionally expose oneself to these noxious materials to build up a sort of immunity or at least a tolerance. I think I tried to do too much at one time.”
“What are you some kind of secret agent or a garbage collector? Well, I suppose it doesn’t matter. I’ll give you a prescription for some antibiotics and some cream to put on your backside. Try it for three or four days. If you’re better, fine, but if you’re not improving, come back. I gave him a prescription for Cipro and another for some antifungal, antibacterial, steroid cream.
“Check out with Miss James at the front and if there’s no improvement come back here or see your own doctor.”
“Thank you, Dr. Barnes. You’ve been very helpful,” Mr. Phelps replied as I escorted him to the front.
I left him to look at the chart of my next patient, the very large man I’d seen in the waiting room, K. Gutman, no age listed, no medical problems, no allergies, chief complaint shortness of breath, blood pressure 180/95. I was about to go when I felt the pocket of my white coat and realized I didn’t have my stethoscope.
Must have left it in the break room.
I heard some rustling and furniture moving as I approached the break room entrance. I stopped and peeked inside and saw a man in a beige rain coat bending over behind the table. When he stood up I saw that it was Mr. Phelps, now holding our mysterious package.
“I’ve been searching for this for years. Never would have thought it turn up in some rinky dink medical clinic in the middle of the city,” he commented as he put the package under his arm.
“Do you think it’s safe for you to just walk out of here carrying that bundle. Don’t you think they’ve been following you?” I answered.
Phelps looked around, up and down, towards the window, inside his coat and then he put the package back behind the table.
“You’re right; they’re probably watching me right now; probably don’t believe that I would come to the clinic with a real medical condition.”
He stroked his chin as he thought, “I’ll tell you what. You keep it here, keep it safe. I’ll give them the slip and then come back for it.”
He didn’t wait for me to answer. He put on a pair of dark glasses and snuck out the back of the clinic. I shrugged my shoulders, found my stethoscope and went back to see Mr. Gutman.
Gutman, that name sounds familiar.
“Good evening, Mr. Gutman, my name is Dr. Barnes. What’s the problem that brings you into our wonderful little clinic?” I began.
“Nice to see you, doctor. I will dispense with the usual pleasantries and get straight to the point,” he replied.
Great. When someone says tey’ll get straight to the point, they usually do everything but get straight to the point.
Gutman was big, rotund, with beads of sweat dotting his forehead. He was dressed in finely tailored gray suit and I detected a slight accent in his voice.
“I’ve been having trouble catching my breath, Dr. Barnes. I first noticed it on the train from Istanbul to Prague. Since then I’ve noticed that I have to stop and rest on a regular basis.”
“Have you seen a doctor before?”
“No, I haven’t have had the time. I frequently have to leave one venue for another on very short notice and doctors have not fit into my busy calendar. Fortunately, my travels have crossed with your clinic and so, I thought I would ‘kill two birds with one stone’ as you Americans so quaintly articulate.”
“Well, it’s good that you stopped here. Your blood pressure is very high and I can see thta you are dangerously overweight.”
“Yes, yes, one of the consequences of living one’s life from hotel to train to cruise ship and back to hotels. One never gets the proper opportunity to exercise or to eat healthily.”
“I think you’ve done a bit too much eating, healthily or unhealthily.”
“Harrumph,” was all he could say so I continued.
“Your blood pressure is dangerously elevated, you have bilateral carotid artery bruits which suggests to me that you are heading for a serious stroke. You have wheezing in both lungs and your legs look like tree trunks. In short, you are a walking time bomb. I recommend you start on a medically supervised diet and medication for your blood pressure. We need to get the results of your blood work also, I’m betting your sugar will be high which means you’re probably diabetic. We can manage your health problems here at the Clinic or you can follow up with your own doctor. But, I would not ignore these medical conditions, that is if you want to live beyond the next six months or so.”
“My dear Dr. Barnes,” he responded, “I am grateful for your concern, but these ‘medical problems’ are mere trifles in the grand scheme of this world. I have been in pursuit of a truly remarkable and valuable treasure and I have followed it to your clinic. I believe a package was delivered here earlier?”
I didn’t answer, but I think he could tell from the look on my face that he was correct.
“This package, sir, is one that I have following for many years. I thought I had finally secured it in Oslo three years ago, but, at the last moment it eluded my grasp, only to resurface in Cairo. My contact there met with an unfortunate accident before he could make delivery. I’ve since chased this prize through every corner of the continent and now it has turned up in your medical clinic. As one can easily surmise, sir, I have spent a considerable sum of money chasing this prize. And, if you were to be so kind as to deliver it to me I would pay you handsomely for your brief troubles.”
I looked at him and saw the combination of greed and desperation in his loose jowls and pig like eyes.
“What, if I may be so bold as to ask, is in this little package?”
“A magnificent bird, fourteen inches tall, made of solid gold and bejeweled with perfect diamonds, emeralds, rubies and sapphires. It was a gift to the ruler of the Ottoman Turks in 1647, but was lost in 1800. It reappeared briefly in London in the 1820’s and also was held by a private collector in Paris some years later. It was taken by the Nazi’s during the occupation and was thought lost forever, a victim of the war. It was only after the fall of the Soviet Union that it resurfaced, first in Moscow, then Budapest.”
“This bird manages to make it all over Europe,” I commented. Gutman only raised his eyebrows slightly at my remark.
“I have it on very reliable information that the package which was delivered, quite mistakenly, to your clinic is the priceless falcon. And now, Dr. Barnes, I will take that package. If you would be so kind as to bring it here.”
I was staring at a pistol.
Why do I feel Like Humphrey Bogart? Give him his package; it’s probably a fake anyway.
“OK, OK, I’ll get it for you. It’s been nothing but trouble since it arrived anyway. Don’t forget, however, that you need to look after yourself. Remember, if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything.”
I went to the break room and found the package behind the table where I’d left it. As I started to bring it to Gutman, Miss James stopped me.
“Where are you taking our mysterious box?” she wondered.
“Mr. Gutman says it belongs to him and he has a nine millimeter handgun that makes it difficult for me to argue.”
“Oh,” was all she said. “Probably for the best anyway. It has been nothing but trouble.”
I picked the box up and noticed that it was much heavier than I remembered.
Solid gold bird would be pretty heavy.
I started to hand the box to Gutman who was sitting on the exam table. He had more sweat on his forehead and his head was bent down and he was struggling to breathe. The pistol was hanging on two fingers and crashed to the floor followed shortly by Mr. Gutman.
“Mr. Gutman…Mr. Gutman, can you hear me?” I asked. He was still breathing and his eyes were looking around the room as if he was trying to remember where he was.
“The bird,” he whispered, “do you have it? May I see it?”
“I have the package here. I’ll put it in your arms,” I answered. I gently lay the package across his chest and folded his arms around it. He held it tightly to his chest and a smile graced his face.
“At last, at last, after years and years of …” his voice trailed off.
Miss James was already there with the crash cart as Kasper Gutman breathed his last breath. We performed CPR and the ambulance arrived, all to no avail. With considerable effort they managed to get him onto a stretcher. I even thought we had brought him back, but then he went back into V. Fib and then asystole.
I put the cursed package back in the break room and then filled out all the paperwork which is required if someone dies at the Clinic. The Coroner’s assistant arrived and carted Gutman away and that was that.
“Anyone else waiting Miss Ja…?” I started to ask but was interrupted by a person dressed in black medieval armor, holding a long, shiny, sharp sword gracefully pointed at my heart.
“I will take the Grail,” the muffled voice commanded.
“Grail?” I asked, my voice filled with confusion.
“The Holy Grail. I saw it delivered here today. I’ve been on a quest to retrieve it for years and years. Now, young sir, you shall deliver it to me or suffer the consequences. Perhaps,” he mused, “I shall run you through just for the sport of it and then take my prize anyway.
They don’t pay me enough for this.
“I’m sure I don’t know what you are talking about. This is a Medical Clinic. We take care of sick people here. We don’t have any grails.”
He pushed his sword against my chest, then raised it above his head as he prepared to run me through. As his arm moved forward and I closed my eyes I heard a loud “CLANG” as metal struck metal.
A second knight, this one clad in silver armor had appeared.
“Forsooth and avast, ye wicked Black Knight. You shall never possess the Holy Grail as long as I can draw a breath,” the Silver Knight shouted.
Avast? Don’t pirates say that?
My attention returned to the ensuing battle.
“Sir Lancelot, you are more relentless than I imagined. But the Holy Grail shall be mine.”
Swords clanged together as the two knights battled from one end of the clinic waiting room to the other. Chairs were slashed, potted plants upended and magazines strewn about.
A very large woman came in as the sword fight raged. She walked past the two knights, ignoring the combat, to the reception desk.
“Ya’ll open?” she asked in a very demanding voice. “Cuz my back is killin’ me and I can’t get no sleep.”
I stared at her and then at the two combatants and then back at her.
She saw the confused look on my face, but went right on talking.
“Listen up, Dr….Barnes,” she stared at my ID badge, “When I’m talkin’ to you, you pays me propa attention. That Fightin’ goes on all the time in this neighborhood, but I’sa hurtin and you got’s to do somethin’.”
I turned my attention to her. “Certainly, Ms….”
“Angelina, just like Angelina Jolie. Angelina Babbett. Like I was sayin’, my back is sore like someone’s stickin’ a knife.”
“OK, Ms. Jolie, I mean Babbett. Fill out these forms and we’ll get you right back.”
She took the clipboard and sat down while Lancelot and the Black Knight fought on. The clanging of metal mixed with Ms. Babbett’s murmuring as she answered the pages of questions. Every time a chair was knocked over or there was an especially loud crash she looked up and gave the knights an especially dirty look. Finally, she couldn’t stand it anymore. She jumped up from her seat and rapped the Black Knight on his helmet with the clipboard. The fighting stopped abruptly as both surprised Knights stared at her.
“You two good fo’ nuthin’s get yo asses out o’ my way. My back is killing me and I canna get this here paper filled out with all that there racket. You got fightin’ to do, you does it outside and leave this here clinic fo’ the sick folks.”
I approached Lancelot.
“I’ll keep it safe for you, right here. You go battle the Black Knight and defeat him and then you can come back for the Grail.”
“Excellent plan, young doctor. But, be sure to keep it safe or it shall be you I will pursue.”
“I promise I will treat the package with all the respect and care it deserves.” And I opened the door and ushered him out. The Black Knight had already made his escape and when Lancelot saw his adversary riding away he made a hasty exit and mounted his armored horse.
“Au revoir, good Doctor,” he shouted as he rode away.
I have to admit it was quite a sight, two men in full armor, each astride an equally armored horse, racing down the street with swords raised, illuminated by the pale light of the street lamps. I turned away, shaking my head.
This box…this mysterious box. I don’t think I want to know what’s really inside. It’s going to get us killed.
“Miss Babbett is waiting in room one. I suspect a shot of Dilaudid will send her on her way,” Miss James reported from the doorway.
I looked again towards Lancelot and the Black Knight as they faded into the night and then turned and headed back into the clinic.
“Do you think we should open it?” Miss James asked.
“Perhaps,” was all I could say. I thought for a few more moments. “I think I know what we would find inside. We would be disappointed.”
“Do you think it’s empty?” she wondered out loud.
“I think it’s full and empty and everything in between.”
“Please, don’t speak in riddles,” she replied.
“I have no choice because that little package is just that…a riddle. ‘A.T. to A. P.’ is a riddle. Now, I’m going to see poor Miss Babbett and maybe you can solve the riddle while you’re waiting.”
Before I could escape to the exam room a quartet waltzed through the door, an unusual group, even for the Clinic.
“If you please, sir, I believe there is a package here that would be of great benefit to us,” said the little girl.
Why am I not surprised.
Standing at the reception desk were Dorothy, The Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion.
The Scarecrow explained, “We’ve been following that box all the way from Oz. It’s the only thing that will give me a brain or the Tin Man his heart…”
“Or me my courage,” the Lion chimed in.
“And it will help Dorothy find her way home,” the Tin Man added.
“Now wait a minute, wait a minute,” I replied. “I do believe that the Wizard was supposed to have granted all your requests.”
“The Wizard? You mean the Charlatan,” Scarecrow answered. “Do you really believe that a fake diploma from some fake ‘university’ qualifies as a brain? I was laughed right out of the cornfield when I showed it to one of the crows. That crow said he was smarter than me and stole all of my corn just to prove it.”
“And that heart?” the Tin Man added followed by a sigh. “I was so careful with it, Kept it around my neck right over my chest. Five days after he gave it to me it started running backwards and then it went ‘Fhht’ followed by complete cardiac arrest, if you get my meaning. If I was dependent on it to pump blood I’d be face down in the gutter. Hmmph, how could I be duped to think a two dollar drug store clock is as good as a Jarvik seven.”
“That medal was nice,” The Lion said in a soft, almost embarrassed voice, “although it hurt when he pinned it on.”
“Yes, yes, very nice and what did it get you? The first time you tried to stand up to another beast they laughed and that was just a squirrel. What did you do?” Dorothy asked.
“Please, don’t tell, don’t…”
“He runs away and hides in the bushes; some courage. And, I guess it’s clear that I am not in Kansas, Dr….Barnes.”
“Yes, this is definitely not Kansas. Just what makes you think that this box you’re looking for has all these things which you desire?”
“It must, we were promised. I sold my ruby slippers to get what’s in that box. The man promised.”
“Someone from around here?” I surmised.
“Yes, he had a black coat and an ID that said he was from the government and would help us,” she answered meekly.
They can have it, the stupid box. It’s been only trouble.
“Well the box is here and you are welcome to it. Just wait here and I’ll fetch it for you.”
I went to the back to retrieve the troublesome parcel. I looked behind the table, but there was no box. I looked under and around and over every nook and cranny: no box. I went to find Miss James, but she had no idea where the box disappeared to.
Miss Babbett was standing in the doorway to the exam room and saw us searching high and low.
“Looking for something?” she inquired.
“There was a package back here, wrapped in brown paper about so big,” Miss James explained.
“You mean that there stinky box that was in that room back there? I throwed it away. I couldna’ stand the stench, almos’ made me to vomick. It’s in the garbage dumpster. Now what about my back?”
“I’ll be right back and take care of you,” I said as I ran towards the back of the Clinic.
It was getting late, almost 5:30 and this was garbage day. I heard the roar of a truck in the alley and ran outside just in time to see the garbage truck driving away. I peered over the edge of the dumpster and saw only a few dirty rags which had clung to the bottom. I went back to inform Dorothy and her companions.
“I’m terribly sorry, Miss Gale, but the package you are seeking is gone. It was inadvertently thrown away and now it’s on that garbage truck which you can see down the street. I pointed to the truck and,before I could say another word, the four raced away after it. I went inside to take care of Ms. Barrett just as a big RV pulled up. There was a colorful logo painted on its side:
JASON and the ARGONAUTS
I’ve heard of them, some sort of rock group.
A solidly built young man emerged from the door on the RV’s side and came inside.
“I’m Jason, lead singer for the Argonauts. I was told I might find something here, something I’ve been searching for…”
I stopped and stared into his eyes. He was tall with blonde hair and a dark complexion.
“If you’re looking for the Golden Fleece you are about five minutes too late. If you hurry you can probably catch it. It’s in that garbage truck you just passed. Just look for a truck being chased by a little girl, a scarecrow, tin man and lion.
“Thank you, doctor.” And he turned and walked out.
I went back to the exam room to tend to my patient.
“That ther’ box sho did stink. Almos’ made me fogit about thes here back pain. But, now it’s a throbbin agin. Musta bin some sort of dead possum or rottin’ trash in thet package.”
“How long have you been having back pain, Ms. Barrett?” I asked, trying to focus on her problems.
“Wha was in thet ther’ box anyways? Do you knows?” she wondered.
I stopped and thought for a moment, staring off into the distance.
“Dreams, Ms. Barrett, lost and unfulfilled dreams,” I replied in a soft voice.
She looked at me as if I had lost my mind.
“But, for you, I think a shot of Dilaudid will work just fine and then you can follow up at the Back Clinic over at County Hospital.”
“Demerol woks better,” she interjected.
“Seventy five IV.”
Miss James gave her the medication and we sent her on her way.
Afterwards it was just the two of us alone in the Clinic.
“What are you thinking?” although I didn’t really need to ask.
“That box; so much hope wrapped up in a plain brown wrapper. Do you think any of them will ever find what they are looking for?”
“I suppose they’ll all find something and, in the end, they will probably be disappointed. It’s the anticipation of something better which keeps us going. How often are we let down in the end? But, back to ‘A.T. to A.P.’ What is the answer?”
“You keep thinking about it, Dr. Barnes, that’s what you’re best at,” Miss James commented, but then she patted her belly. “Well, I have to admit, you are good at a few other things, too.”