Chapter 3. November
“How tired are you?” asks Karen, after she picks me up in front of the Administration Building, following my Saturday night on-call.
“Not bad. I had about four hours of sleep. Why?”
“Do you feel up to driving up to Salem and Beverly for a late lunch or an early dinner? It’d be nice to get out. I’ll drive if you’re too tired.”
“Sure. But I can drive.”
“Why don’t you lie down for a rest after breakfast and then, whenever you wake, we’ll set off. We can decide about the driving then.”
The curtains are drawn and I’m lying, eyes closed, in that half-awake, drifting state, with sounds and thoughts fluttering around my mind like moths circling a light. Karen must feel house bound. Said weather was too ugly to get out yesterday, even in car. Not great today. Swenson’s Restaurant still has really sweet scallops? Last time, threw fried clams to gulls–snatched them out of the air. Maybe Karen wants another place? Hojos? Nah. Not that long a drive–how many miles? Wonder how long I could maintain contact with Sal? Really don’t know his range.
The thought wakes me up. Could I find out? If I start off with him in town, he may see what I’m up to. But if I start at our furthest destination, try to contact him, and don’t get him, I could keep trying every few miles on the way back, until I raise him. And that would be his range. If I do get him my first try, then I’d just have to try farther out next time.
I sit up feeling excited. “Okay Karen, I’m ready.” I swing my feet off the bed.
“You didn’t sleep for that long. Are you sure you’re rested?” Her voice comes from the living room where she’s been reading.
“Yeah, I feel fine. Maybe we can even go a little further than Beverly if we make good time; maybe Gloucester.”
“Why do we need to set goals for ourselves?”
“You’re right. Let’s play it by ear, depending on the traffic and where we stop along the way. Keep it relaxed.”
This isn’t the tourist time of year: the vivid fall foliage is gone, and the gray Atlantic is hostile, with the wind blowing a cold spray off the dark waves that drive hard into the sea walls. The sun breaks through just occasionally. There’s little traffic. At a little after one o’clock, we cross the bridge from Salem into Beverly and pull into the parking lot at Swenson’s just as the after-church clientele, their Sunday finest hidden under dark overcoats, are leaving. We’re seated immediately and our waitress brings us menus. It’s a formality, as Karen already knows she’ll choose the lobster roll and I, the fried scallop platter. We are not disappointed.
“It’s early still,” I suggest over coffee and apple pie. “Why don’t we continue on to Gloucester, or even Rockport? Maybe we can even pick up a pair of chicken lobsters for dinner from that lobster shack in Gloucester, if it’s open. Unless you’re lobstered out. I think they were only a dollar each last time.”
“I never get tired of lobster. And you didn’t get one at lunch. Do you want me to drive for a while?”
“Yes, thanks. At least till I digest the scallops.”
Karen gets behind the wheel and we head out of Beverly, and continue up the coast to Rockport. The artsy craft shops and galleries, so crowded during the summer, are mostly closed and the town buildings seem to huddle together. She links arms with me and we walk beside the small harbor, leaning against each other for warmth. Okay—-time to see if I can reach Sal * * * *
“Hello, Sal, are you there?” Nothing. “Come in Sal. I’m calling you from Rockport. Wish you were here.” Still nothing. Hah! No contact at thirty-five miles. Try again on way back.
“Definitely nicer in the late spring and summer,” says Karen. “Do you want me to drive again?”
“Not unless you want to. I’m okay now. Shall we stop in Gloucester and shop for dinner?”
“I’ll drive. Why don’t you rest some more till Gloucester?”
Karen parks at the Gloucester waterfront. A stop at the Fisherman’s Monument seems especially appropriate today with the ocean slate-gray and rough. After taking pictures of each other with the 35-mm Argus, we walk, collars turned up against the wind, to the lobster shack. We choose two one-pound lobsters from the tank, so fresh that they’re more blue than green, moving their legs and antennae vigorously. The lobsterman wraps them first in wet newspapers, then in white butcher paper, and hands them to us in a brown paper sack. Dinner.
I try Sal again* * * * “Hi Sal, we’re in Gloucester. Are you there?”
“Hello Robert. Yes, I’m here. I wondered what you were doing today. It doesn’t look like that nice a day to be out sightseeing.”
Okay! So a range of about thirty miles!
“Oh, that’s what you’re up to,” says Sal. “Remember, telepathy involves simultaneous transmitting and receiving between two people. It’s our joint range that’s thirty. Perhaps I can read minds at fifty miles. How would you know?”
Hold on. If Sal can read minds beyond thirty miles, he should have heard me at Rockport. He’d know what I trying. If I were the limiting factor, it would be my receiving that’s short range.
“You’re teasing me.”
“Yes. And what you’re thinking may be true,” says Sal, “But if I had been occupied with something, or in someone else’s mind when you tried to reach me from Rockport, I might not have been tuned in to your mind. But why go through all this undercover stuff? Why didn’t you just ask me?”
“Well, Sal, you haven’t been exactly open with information about yourself. All right, tell me, what is your range?”
“Actually you’re correct. It’s around thirty miles.”
“You’re not trying to fool me?”
“No, Bob. I may not share everything about myself with you, but I will not tell you lies anymore.”
“Thank you for that.”
We drive back towards Boston.
“Want to stop for coffee or a snack?” asks Karen.
“Good idea. Why not both? It’s about 4:00; we can have dinner a little later than usual.”
“Also, I need to use a restroom.”
“Sure, honey. If I remember correctly, there should be a Howard Johnson’s coming up soon. At least their restrooms are clean.”
“I can wait.”
And not too much later I’m able to say, “Here we are, Karen. Do you know what flavor cone you want?”
“I’ll decide after I finish and wash my hands.”
It’s Election Day, but I’m on call tonight. I talk to Dave before Chief’s Rounds about covering me so that I can vote.
“Don’t worry, if you don’t get back until after the end of rounds, I’ll cover your pages,” says Dave. “As long as you vote for Kennedy.”
“Thanks, Dave. I should make it back in time.”
I drive through light Election Day traffic to the school close by our apartment. Karen is off today since all schools are closed. She had planned to vote earlier. I stare for a while at the ballot, still torn between the appeal of Kennedy’s youthful charisma, intelligence, and wit, and the feeling that it would be nice to have a president from California—-someone from the Far West. Haven’t had many of them. Only Hoover, not the greatest. Now who’s provincial? Nixon’s experienced, tough, and smart, but tricky and devious. Could be a plus dealing with Russians. I make my choices, not really knowing much about the names contending for city and state offices, and I leave many of them blank. I’m back well before Rounds end, and make as quiet an entrance as I can into the conference room.
“Thanks, Dave,” I tell him afterwards. “There wasn’t a long line.”
“Did you vote for the right man?”
“No, I voted for the left man.”
Later that night during a quiet moment, I call Karen. “Hi, how’d your day go? Did you vote for Kennedy?”
“Yes. I went this morning. Then I took a walk in the Fens this afternoon and fed the ducks. There’s a peaceful feeling about light rain falling on water. Who did you end up voting for?”
“Well, I guess our votes cancelled out. I figured that Kennedy would win big in Massachusetts anyway. So I thought that it would be nice gesture to give a fellow Californian some moral support out here.”
“Moral support! That man has no morals. How could you wind up voting for Nixon? You said you were bothered as much as anyone by the things he did during his past campaigns. If you were home tonight I just might make you sleep on the couch.”
“Well, so far it looks like your candidate is ahead. Take care not to stay up too late, listening to the returns; tomorrow’s a working day for you. And regardless of how we voted, I miss being home with you tonight. I Love you.”
“Oh, I love you too. You know I was joking about sleeping on the couch. See you tomorrow, darling.”
I turn my transistor radio on after the alarm wakes me, to check on the returns, carrying it with me to the communal bath up the hall to brush my teeth. The election has tightened up, although Kennedy clings to a slim lead. At breakfast and rounds, the Bostonians whoop it up at my expense, assuming that I voted for Nixon. Well, I did, but not for the reasons they believe. I just smile and say nothing.
On the way home I check in with Sal. “It’s sure close but it looks like it’ll be Kennedy. Did you vote for him?”
“No, I didn’t vote this time. I thought that he wouldn’t be needing my vote in Massachusetts.”
Huh! Didn’t or couldn’t? “Well, I’m a bit shocked that you didn’t.”
“So you voted one way and Karen voted the other, eh?”
Evasive? “Yeah, we cancelled each other out. Hope she isn’t really upset that I finally voted for Nixon.”
“I know you were going back and forth in your mind. Why did you finally decide for Nixon?”
“As much as I kidded around about his being a fellow-Californian, I think that Khrushchev knows that Nixon is tough. I mean that kitchen debate was kind of a sideshow, but in another sense it was quite serious. Like two billy goats butting heads. Testing each other. Khrushchev doesn’t know if Kennedy is really tough yet. And neither do we. I hope that the Russians don’t try something just to find out.”
“Well, here you are, home,” says Sal, “I’ll talk with you tomorrow, unless you call before.”
Karen is all smiles as I come through the door. “Looks like my wasted vote counted for more than yours.” She comes into my arms close, and celebrates Kennedy’s win with a long, hot kiss.
“I’m glad you’re not a vindictive winner. If I knew you were this passionate about politics, I would have voted for Kennedy myself.”
“Bartering your vote for gain is strictly illegal. Shame on you. Wasn’t it exciting, though? When I went to bed past midnight, Kennedy looked like he would be an easy winner, but by this morning Nixon was getting really close. But everything is turning out all right in the end.” She walks with me to the bedroom so I can change out of my uniform.
“Yeah. At work they were sure making jokes about California and Nixon—like he can sing ‘California here I Come’ as he leaves Washington. I hope that you have more compassion for me tonight than they had.”
“And how am I supposed to demonstrate my compassion, you poor, sad loser?”
“Come here, you gloating wench, and I’ll show you.
I was on last night for Eight and Seven, and although I got only broken sleep, I feel the warm satisfaction of having done a good night’s work as we make morning rounds. Now we stand around the oxygen tent of the new admission and I tell Dave, Allie, and the two medical students about him.
“I admitted Russell Strong last night. He’s a six-month-old Caucasian boy with a known heart murmur since one month of age, felt to be a VSD (ventricular septal defect), who was doing pretty well, never in failure, until he was diagnosed with pneumonia on Thursday. He was treated with procaine penicillin as an outpatient, and his temp was lower when he was rechecked on Friday in the OPC (outpatient clinic) when he was switched to oral penicillin. Over the weekend, his mother thought that he was fussier and not eating or drinking that well. He was scheduled for a recheck in the clinic yesterday, but for some reason she didn’t bring him in. However, by last night he was drinking so little, and breathing so fast, that she brought him to the ER, where the Float thought he was in failure and called me to admit him.”
I give the rest of the history, and go over the physical findings. “His chest X-ray didn’t show a lot more infiltrate than Thursday’s, so his pneumonia wasn’t worse, but he had a big heart and an increase in his hilar markings which was consistent with congestive heart failure. Also, his liver was down three fingerbreadths. No spleen palpable. The upper border of hepatic dullness was at the fourth intercostal space anteriorly, so the liver was enlarged. The x-ray showed that too. He seemed more comfortable when he was raised up. There was no dependent edema. Do you-all want to examine him now?” The small rounding group takes turns checking Russell, listening to his lungs and heart and checking his abdomen.
“Did he ever have heart failure before?” asks Allie.
“So what did you think?” asks Dave.
“Carly was the SR and we talked when he was admitted. I told her that I thought he was in congestive heart failure, precipitated by the added stress of his pneumonia, even if that seemed to be improving by the end of the week.
“Let’s see the films,” says Dave. We take them to the view box in the hallway by the nurse’s desk.
“I reviewed them with Carly when we went over Russell.”
“How about his EKG?”
“Here it is.”
“So what did you do for him?” asks Dave.
“Well, I calculated out his digoxin dose at 0.04 mg per kilo, and checked my calculations with Carly, waited until it came up from pharmacy, drew it up, and gave it to him i.m.” (intramuscular injection) His heart rate is coming down and he seems more comfortable.”
“Wait a minute,” says Dave, “What did you do?”
“I waited until the dig. got here, and then I gave it to him.”
“The whole thing? Was Carly here too?”
“No. I told Carly she could leave and that I’d wait for the dig. and take care of giving it.”
“Bob,” asks Allie in a shocked, soft tone, “Was that his total digitalizing dose that you gave him at one time?”
A cold chill rushes in, constricting my throat and chest. “Oh my God, you’re right!” What the hell have I done? Asshole. Idiot. Don’t die. “What was I thinking of?” Please be all right. Sweat beads on my forehead and dampens my armpits. Ice in the pit of the stomach. “I know I have to divide the dose.”
“His heart rate sounds regular now, but we better get another EKG, and also a set of ‘lytes to be sure his potassium isn’t low,” says Dave calmly. The total dose at .04 mg per kilo is a little on the low side, and infants are more tolerant of dig. than older kids, so you may luck out yet.”
Dave turns to the students, “This is a good lesson for all of us. We need to double-check all our dose calculations, then have someone else check them. And then we need to be completely clear about the schedule of administration. Bob, I’m sure that you’ll never forget this.”
I can only nod in stunned agreement, mouth very dry. Sweating heavily.
“Why do we want to check the potassium, and what are we looking for in the EKG when we’re worried about dig. toxicity?” Dave asks the students, seizing the teaching moment. “And what symptoms should we watch for?”
Oh man, I am an example of stupidity.
Later that evening, as I’m driving home, I talk with Sal, still feeling very chastened. “I might have killed that baby. Thank God Russell is all right so far.”
“Were you too sleepy to think straight?”
“I didn’t think that I was. But I must have been fuzzy to make that mistake. I mean I know that I have to split the digitalizing dose. I still can’t believe I did that. Lucky Dave is so calm. The students must think that I’m a total jerk. At Chief’s Rounds this afternoon, I felt like crawling under a chair after presenting him. First Toby and now this. Maybe I shouldn’t be in pediatrics. Maybe not even in medicine. I’m a moron.”
“Remember, Toby’s was not the same situation as Russell,” says Sal. “There’s no going back, of course, but we can learn from our errors. It shouldn’t be an ego thing—that you’re too good to make a mistake. And we should not endlessly punish ourselves afterwards. That serves no purpose, unless you like to feel pain.”
“I hear what you’re saying Sal. Thanks. But right now I feel like a fool.”
“What happened to you?” says Karen with concern, as I come through the door and she meets me in the hall. “You look like you had a bad day.”
“Yeah. I really goofed up. Damn-near killed a baby last night.”
“Oh.” She gives me a soft kiss, then slips her arm around my elbow, and walks beside me. “You must feel terrible,” she says quietly. “Want to talk about it?”
Thank you, Karen. I’m a total idiot, yet you still love me.
“Russell did well through the night,” says Allie, who was on duty, “His heart rate was between 90 to 110, which was slower than on admission. His respiratory rate also was lower, and he began to drink more without tiring from the effort of sucking.”
“Thank God,” I say, “Did his EKG look OK?”
“Yes, he never showed heart block, or extra-systoles, and that borderline PR interval didn’t grow any longer.”
“Well,” says Dave, “You were lucky, Bob. Dr. Foreman should be coming by to look at him again today, and she’ll talk with you about when to put him on his maintenance dose of oral Digoxin.”
“Yes, both Russell and I were lucky.” Hope Foreman cooled off. Blistered me yesterday when I told her why I needed a consult with her. What did Sal say? Learn from mistakes, move on, but don’t forget them.
The nurse calls from her desk, “Dr. Morton, please give Dr. Wasserman’s secretary a call.” Oh shit, now I’ve had it.
I walk down the hall to the residents’ office to make the call, with my throat tight. I can imagine the whispering that must be going on behind me. I remain standing.
“Hi Carol, this is Bob Morton. You called for me?”
“Yes. Dr. Wasserman would like you stop by after work rounds this morning, at 9:30.”
“I’ll be there. Thanks.” Like thanking your executioner.
“The chief wants to talk to you?” asks Dave when I rejoin the group.
“Try not to worry. You’ve been doing good work. After every significant mistake or problem he and the chief resident talk to the resident together. Many of us have been through it at one time or another. He’s not going to cut off your balls. And it helps clear the air of the paranoia.”
“You went through this too? What for?”
“Let’s just say that it was a lung tap that went bad.”
At 9:30, I walk into Carol’s office, which is just outside of Dr. Wasserman’s. Carol is a statuesque, outgoing redhead. Boss has good taste. She looks up with a smile, “Hi Bob, I’ll let Dr. Wasserman know that you’re here. He’s on the phone right now. Please have a seat.”
“Thank you.” I wipe wet palms on my white pants and sit upright on one of the two chairs against the wall opposite her desk.
“Like some coffee while you wait?”
“Yes, thanks.” The condemned man drank a last cup of coffee.
Dave looks up and smiles as I walk into the residents’ office afterwards. “You look a lot better than when you went down. How’d it go?”
“The Boss was very reasonable and calm. He asked me what happened and I told him. Then he asked me why I thought it happened, and how I thought that I could avoid repeating the error. Neither he nor Vinny drilled me. More like a fact-finding than chew out.”
“But know what?” says Dave. “You’ll never forget the lesson either. In some programs the resident would be bounced, but that’s not the Chief’s style.”
The rest of the day is all business for me, with no joking around. Thank God he survived. That was near miss. Grateful to still be here. Heard in the navy, if captain runs his ship aground, he’s court martialed. No second chances.
“Fortunately, Russell did well today also, apparently none the worse for my blunder,” I say. “Thank God for the resilience of children.”
“And did you tell Russell’s parents what happened?” asks Sal.
“No, I didn’t have the courage to tell them. Especially since he came through okay.”
“And if he hadn’t?”
“If he’d had complications I would have.”
“Are you sure?”
“I hope that I’d have the integrity to do so.” But am I sure? Suppose no one else knew? Would I have stepped forward?
“It’s not an easy thing to think about, is it?” Sal asks quietly.
“Do you think I should say something to them now?”
“That’s for you to decide.”
“Damn you, Sal.”
“Goodbye and goodnight, Bob.”
Ha! So much for Sal. Maybe see what Karen thinks. Wait till after dinner.
“Karen, your meatballs were really tasty. Never had them stuffed with cheese. An old family recipe?”
“No, just something I thought up today. Glad they turned out okay.”
“Ah—Karen. You remember that boy I told you about, where I had screwed up his digitalis dose?”
“How could I forget? You were so worried. But you said he turned out fine, right?” Did something else happen to him?”
“No, he’s still doing well. But you know, I never told his parents about my mistake.”
“Do you think you should now?”
“Well, that’s what I was wondering. He’s none the worse for my mistake and his heart failure is much better.”
“Would you feel better if you did confess to them?”
“I don’t know. Probably.”
“Well, why don’t you sleep on it and decide in the morning. I’m sure you’ll do the right thing.”
Kind of like what Sal said. She’s got more faith in me than I deserve.
I stay on after rounds to talk to Russell’s parents, waiting nervously in the office for their arrival. I hear the elevator door open in the foyer and then their voices.
“Hey doc, you working late?” says Mr. Strong looking into the office. “How’s our boy tonight?” He’s smiling widely.
“He’s getting stronger everyday and Dr. Foreman thinks he’ll be ready to go home in a few days.”
“Ah, that’s great,” says Mrs. Strong. “We really miss him and the other kids keep asking when he’ll be back.”
I get up to join them, walking past the nurses’ desk towards the ward. “Let’s go take a look at him together. I’d like to talk about some things with you.”
“He hasn’t had a setback has he?” Mrs. Strong asks anxiously.
“No, no. Like I said, he’s really making good progress.” We arrive at his crib. “As you can see, no more oxygen and no more iv’s, and he’s been eating and drinking very well today.”
Russell smiles and pulls himself to sitting as he sees his parents and holds out his arms to them. His mother looks at me. I nod and she lowers the rail, picks him up, and begins to talk to him. He responds happily.
“Look at him. Back to where he was before he got sick,” says Mr. Strong. “Thanks to you and the other docs.”
I clear my throat nervously. “I—I want to tell you about something that happened. You remember that we gave him digitalis to strengthen his heart when he was in heart failure with the pneumonia? The night he was admitted?”
“Yes, I remember that you and that lady doctor talked to us about what you were going to do and why,” says Mrs. Strong, clutching Russell close to her chest and no longer smiling.
“Well, I made a mistake that night and gave him too big a dose. I’m sorry about that and that I didn’t tell you right away,” I blurt out.
“You did what?!” says Mr. Strong.
“I made a mistake with his digitalis dose. But he did fine and he’s in no danger from it now.”
“Did it damage his heart? Has it made the hole in his heart worse?”
“No, no. By the second day he was no longer in any danger. There won’t be any after effects. Either for him or for his heart. There’s no damage. That’s what Dr. Foreman says too.”
“You’re sure about that? You are telling us the truth, right?” Mr. Strong is red-faced and is clearly trying to control himself.
Fists clenched. Last month surgical resident got punched out. I shift my weight and get ready to duck.
“Why didn’t you tell us right away?” asks Mrs. Strong.
“I should have. But I guess I didn’t know how to and I was nervous about how you would take it.”
“Well, how do you think we’d take it? Jesus Christ. This place sucks,” says Mr. Strong. “You sure it didn’t hurt him permanently? Because if it did ….” He stops.
“Honey,” says Mrs. Strong placing a hand on his arm. “The doc says Russell is going to be all right in spite of his mistake. And he did come clean tonight.”
Russell begins to wiggle and cry. “Our voices must be upsetting the baby,” she says and she pats his back, rocks, and croons to him.
I warily wait without speaking.
“Okay, doc. As long as there’s no lasting damage,” Mr. Strong says grudgingly.
“I’m really sorry that I made the mistake. And I know that I should have told you right away but didn’t. I’m sorry.”
“Okay doc. We accept your apology. As long as Russell is okay now. And if you’re Catholic like us, be sure you go to confession.”
He holds out his right hand. I take it gratefully and his grip crushes my hand.
Guess I deserve it. “Thank you for understanding.” Sal would say masochistic.
Really neat. At pre-Thanksgiving open house at Karen’s school. In her classroom incognito. Parents of her first graders genuinely interested in their kids’ progress. Appreciative of Karen’s efforts. Revelation to hear her speak with parents so easily and so confidently. And only her first year teaching fulltime with own classroom. We decorated our first grade classroom just like this–with Pilgrims and Indians, turkeys and corn and pumpkins. How wonderful that was. Innocent, carefree. But so long ago. How happy-looking—
“Hello, is your child in Mrs. Morton’s class too?” asks the woman who’s sitting across from me in the next row. She looks fortyish, a little harried, a bit worn.
“Actually I’m an imposter. I’m not a parent, but Mrs. Morton’s husband. I came along tonight to see what her work is like.”
“How sweet of you to be so interested. You’re a lucky man to have such a smart, pretty wife. My Roger just loves having her as his teacher. Roger’s my youngest; all six of my children have attended Peabody. You two can’t have been married long; both of you look so young. Are you from California too? How long have you been in Boston?”
The assembly bell rings, signaling the end of classroom visits and rescuing me. It’s time to gather in the auditorium to hear the outgoing president of the PTA speak. Then Miss Bartlett, the principal, introduces her faculty including Karen, the newest teacher. I sit in the last row and applaud vigorously when Karen is introduced. I see a few heads turn to look at me. After giving her thoughts about the school year, Miss Bartlett answers questions from the parents. Finally the PTA officers for next year are nominated and elected. I work hard to stay awake through this part of the program.
Karen is still on a high as we drive home. “Were you bored? I hope that you don’t regret coming. It did run a little late.”
“I really enjoyed sitting in on your classroom and watching you with the parents. You’re so confident and positive. And it looked like the parents have heard good things about you from their children.”
“You have to be positive with first graders. I guess I just continued like that with their parents. I saw Roger’s mother talking to you. Poor lady. She had six children one after another. I’m sure that I couldn’t do that. But I am happy that you decided to come. Thanks.” She leans her head on my right shoulder.
“Thanks for what? I really did want to come tonight and see you in action. And I wasn’t disappointed. Did my being there make you nervous?”
“No, since you’re not the one who decides if my contract gets renewed for next year.”
“It was nice of Joan and her husband to invite us over for Thanksgiving,” I say as we drive out towards Brookline. Thanksgiving—a lot to be thankful for this year—that Russell turned out okay, and for Karen—definitely. “She grew up in Connecticut, so we’ll probably have a very traditional Thanksgiving feast. I just wish that I had more sleep last night at the hospital.”
“Didn’t you introduce me to Joan and her husband at Dr. Wasserman’s party?” asks Karen, “Doesn’t he have a German accent?”
“Yes, Ulrich Uhr. He’s a post-doctoral pathology fellow doing liver research at the Robins. He’s from Bonn, Germany, originally. They met while she was a Harvard medical student, taking a path elective.”
“But she still goes by her maiden name of McKay? How confusing. People might think that they’re living together unmarried.”
“Her father’s a well-known surgeon on the Yale faculty. She’s very proud of her family name,” I reply, “But when Joan and Ulrich go out, they’re Dr. and Mrs. Ulrich Uhr.”
“Well, maybe it’s the start of a new trend,” says Karen dubiously.
We find parking on the street below their three-story, gray, triplex, walk up the front stairs onto the wide covered porch, and find their name next to the doorbells. Karen rings.
“It says Dr. and Mrs. Ulrich Uhr here,” notes Karen.
“Who is it?” A distant voice comes down the speaker tube.
“Bob and Karen,” I reply.
“Okay, come up to the top floor.”
The lock releases with a noisy buzz, we open the door, enter, then trudge up the dark wooden staircase, the hollow thump of our footsteps ascending ahead of us.
Joan, tall and pencil-thin, reddish-brown hair in a pageboy cut, waits at the top of the stair. “Happy Thanksgiving and welcome.”
“Happy Thanksgiving to you,” says Karen, “Thanks for having us over. Here’s some extra cheer.” She hands Joan the bottle of Zeller Schwarze Katz that we brought.
“We thought Ulrich might like a German wine,” I say, “Where is he?”
“Come. He’s in the kitchen. Since I was on duty last night too, he kindly volunteered to be in charge of Thanksgiving. He said that he’d surprise us. I hope you weren’t counting on turkey. Allie is with him.”
“Hello Bob and Karen,” says Ulrich, wearing a yellow apron and closing the oven door. The smell of something roasting fills the air and stimulates my salivary glands.
“We should be ready before too long. We are having midget turkeys today.”
“Midget turkeys?” Karen and I look blankly at each other.
Allie laughs, “That was my reaction too.”
“Ya. Cornish game hens baked with sauerkraut and pearl onions.” Ulrich is tall and lean-faced with a high shock of blond hair and a jutting chin. He smiles broadly, pleased with our reaction to his joke.
“Let’s go sit while they’re baking,” says Joan. “We’ll have some chilled dry Riesling to start with.”
We move to the living room, furnished in early American style, and sit down while Ulrich, now apron-less, pours for us.
“I’m glad that we have this chance to get to know you a little better,” says Joan to Karen. “How’s the teaching going?”
“Quite well. I really enjoy it. The kids are just wonderful, and I’m getting a chance to put all those theories to work at last.”
“That must be how a doctor feels when starting a practice after residency.”
“Now did you and Bob know each other back in California?” Allie asks.
“No we didn’t.” Karen goes on to tell the story of how her cousin George, who knew me in college, suggested that she look me up when she came to Boston for her Masters.
“George, the cupid,” laughs Allie. “But where’d you go to college, Karen?”
“At Berkeley. I lived in Oakland with mom, so I didn’t have far to go.”
“Do you have brothers or sisters?”
“No, I’m an only child. Mom and my father divorced when I was two, and she never remarried.”
“Why did you decide to come east to study?” asks Joan.
“I’ve lived my whole life in California, and so I wanted to try some place different. And Boston is known as such a Mecca for education.”
Joan turns to Allie. “And how did you come to choose the County for training, Allie?”
“I grew up in Maryland, and went to college and med school at Howard, in Washington D.C.,” says Allie. “So I also thought that it was time to fly a little further away. And you know the reputation that Boston has.”
“How does working at the County seem after going to a largely Negro school with mostly Negro patients?” I ask cautiously.
“Just a tip-—Blacks prefer to be called Blacks now, rather than Negroes or Colored. At least the younger ones. So far, the White patients that I’ve taken care of seem fine with me. I act like I know what I’m doing, and I’m not apologetic. I treat them with respect like I expect to be treated, and I think that’s half the battle.”
Ulrich leaves to check his cooking, then returns to announce, “I think our midgets are ready. Let’s continue our conversation at the table.” We pick up our glasses and move.
At the end of Ulrich’s different but tasty Thanksgiving feast, we have warm apple pie with cheese, the most traditional part of the entire meal. Ulrich serves the cheese using a hunting knife with a stag horn handle and an ornately engraved six-inch steel blade.
“Did you bring the knife with you from Germany?” I ask.
“It is from Bavaria, but actually I acquired it when I was assisting the city coroner, after it wasn’t needed any more as evidence,” says Ulrich, “Now that’s an interesting story . . .”
“Traditional New England Thanksgiving dinner, eh?” says Karen as we drive home in the late afternoon. “I’m glad that I passed on the cheese before he told that gruesome story, and I’m surprised that you had more afterwards. Were you trying to prove that you have a cast iron stomach? Do you suppose it’s true?”
“I imagine. Sometimes pathologists have a wry sense of humor.”
“Wry? More like warped.”
“Thanks Dave, for all the help and support. I had a good time on the floor,” I say after Chief’s Rounds. We shake hands.
“You guys did real well. Where are you going next month?” asks Dave.
“I’ll be out at the Kennedy Center in Brookline,”
“And I’ll be in the nursery,” says Allie.
“Well, the nursery is always busy, Allie; have a good rotation,” says Dave. “But Bob, you really lucked out, getting assigned to the Kennedy in December. No night or weekend calls for the whole month. It’s not really demanding so there’s lots of time to read. And Alan Ahearn, the med director, is a good teacher and a good guy.”
“Good luck in the nursery, Allie,” I say as I get my coat from behind the office door. “I enjoyed partnering with you. We worked well together and got the patients cleared out for the next team before leaving. Except, of course, for Sally Rider who’s still here. God knows when she’ll be transferred.”
“Likewise,” says Allie, “The two months went by so quickly that we must have been having fun.”
All except that goof with Russell and digoxin. Stupid! And lucky.
“Guess I’ll be seeing everyone after a month. Happy holidays,” I say.
“You going to your car? Wait up, I’ll walk out with you,” says Allie.