Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Night Clinic Muse






                               

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.”
“Three?”
“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.”
“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.”
“Deal.”
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.
“Muse?”
“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…”
“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.”
“What’s that.”
“She said that she would become good friends with our baby.”
“Well what do you know. Maybe this child is destined for greatness.”