Thursday, August 25, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 52: Till Death...

The prompt this week was to write a story set in a healthcare facility, and the genre was medical thriller. If you ever decide to get a second opinion, you might want to really think that through.

Till Death…

I knew something was wrong as soon as I looked into their eyes. Each of them had come for their weekly visit following hospitalization, and all looked terrified as they were led into the treatment room. I got their numbers from the charts, but none would see me; that is, until I called Mrs. Pope. Her daughter, Lucille, asked me to stop by because she had plenty to tell me.

“Something’s going on in that clinic. I’m telling you, that doctor is dangerous. Several times, I’ve told the nurse I want Mom’s records to take to another doctor, and during her next visit, Mom gets deathly sick at the clinic and goes to the hospital. When she comes home, she begs me not to find another doctor and to just keep taking her to Dr. H. What do you make of that?”

Her mother was sitting in her wheelchair, and tears were streaming down her face. I knelt in front of her and took her hand in mine.

“Mrs. Pope, I don’t know what you’re afraid of, but you don’t need to be anymore. I will find out what’s going on and I’ll fix everything. I promise.”

I wasn’t sure how I was going to fix what I didn’t understand, but I made a promise, and I intended to keep it. I decided the logical place to start was with the record of their hospitalizations.

These four patients had presented in Dr. Hargrove’s clinic for routine visits over the past four weeks. Prior to their appointments, I was permitted to review their charts, and even though each was an elderly individual, they were all in reasonably good health. I, however, was not permitted to observe their examination in the treatment room. I questioned the doctor about that and his response to me was that these particular patients would be uncomfortable with another doctor in the room, even if it was only for purposes of observation. Since I had never been directly involved in treatment of any elderly patients, his explanation seemed reasonable. What I could never accept as reasonable was the fact that each collapsed while in the treatment room, and all were rushed by ambulance for admittance to the hospital. The only common denominator was that each had been the last appointment of the day.

Dr. Hargrove waited in the reception area of the clinic for the paramedics and directed them to the treatment room where the patient was lying on the exam table. Each time, he told them he would be riding in the back of the ambulance with the patient to the hospital and would assume full care on arrival. Unusual, but not unheard of. Within a day or two, each was released from the hospital, discharged to home.

Before the paramedics arrived to transport them to the hospital, I took a quick peek at each one of them and, to put it in non-clinical speak, they all looked like death warmed over. Two were vomiting, three seemed to be having trouble breathing, and all four seemed too weak to sit up on the table. What could possibly cause this sudden onset of such drastic symptoms, and how could they recover so quickly and be discharged home with no nursing support? I was determined to find the answers.

The day shift Medical Records clerk at Mercy General, Ms. Rose Danfield, wouldn’t pull any of Dr. Hargrove’s patients’ charts for me to review. I reminded her I was in my residency working with Dr. Hargrove, and chart review was part of that process. She informed me, in no uncertain terms, that only Dr. H had access to those. I knew I had to find one of the staff who hadn’t been employed there long enough to be so fiercely protective of the great Dr. H. My treating the Human Resources receptionist to a double-scoop ice cream sundae at lunch got me the information I needed. Miss June Sanders, the newly hired Medical Records clerk, had a certain taste in literature.

I went to the hospital just before midnight. The 11 to 7 security staff was one man, and he was sound asleep on one of the couches in the lobby. I went straight to Medical Records, where Miss June was sitting at the desk reading a romance novel. I had brought three recently published lovey-dovey paperbacks to offer her as a bribe, and it worked like a charm. Am I proud of employing such a sleazy tactic to get access to the confidential medical records of four individuals who were the patients of another physician? You bet I am.

Miss June pulled the four records for me and left me to return to her stories. It didn’t take long for me to figure out what beloved Dr. H was doing. The charts revealed the following: #1: Miss Bernice Jennings, 74, presented with vomiting, respiratory difficulty, and irregular heart beat; #2: Mr. Harvey Ziegler, 81, presented with double vision, rapid heartbeat, dizziness, and respiratory difficulty; #3: Mrs. Karen Pope, 69, presented with muscle weakness, slow heart rate, and skin cold to the touch; and #4: Mr. Marvin Aaronson, 77, presented with nausea, respiratory difficulty, and weak pulse.

The medication he ordered from the Pharmacy was dixogin immune fab for patient #1, glucagon for patient #2, and narcan for patients #3 and #4. No lab work was ordered for any of them. Why? He didn’t want any results on file because he knew the cause of their symptoms, and, even as only a resident, so did I. The symptoms were the results of drug overdoses of digoxin, insulin, codeine and Vicodin, respectively. The medications ordered were the anecdotes.

My only question now, was why, and the only place I’d find the answer to that was in the clinic records. On Sunday night, I picked the lock on the clinic’s front door – a skill I picked up as a wayward teen. I opened the charts and placed them side by side on the break room table, and I found my answer in his nurse’s clinic notes. Each patient’s family member had requested records be sent to another physician since they intended to seek a second opinion as to why it was necessary for their relative to return to Dr. Hargrove’s clinic weekly for an undetermined length of time, for no specific medical reason. Following their hospital discharge however, the notes indicated those requests for records had been cancelled. Dr. Hargrove would remain their only physician. Coincidence? Hell, no.

I felt the needle-stick in my left arm and became dizzy. Dr. Hargrove eased me into one of the chairs.

“Did I forget to tell you I have cameras all over my clinic that I monitor at home?” Dr. Hargrove sat in the chair next to mine. “Ms. Rose at Mercy told me about your wanting some charts. She found out that new clerk gave them to you. I knew your next move would be to come here.”

“Why do you almost kill these people?” It was hard to form the words. I wasn’t sure what I had been injected with, but I did assume it was a fatal dose. “Was it so you…save and prove…God?”

“I don’t have to prove I am God to my patients. They have always known. Now and then, however, I need to remind the older ones because they become forgetful. I’ve never had to remind any of my younger patients since their memories are quite intact. If, however, it should become necessary, I am quite prepared to act accordingly to preserve our bond.

“A doctor and his patient have a relationship that’s kind of like a marriage. The commitment we make is until death do us part – theirs or mine. You were supposed to sit through a few of my clinics, review a few outpatient records, and move on  - not pry into matters that do not concern you.”

“The welfare of…pat…con…” I found it increasingly difficult to keep my eyes open and remain upright in the chair.

“You’ll lapse into coma soon, and my receptionist will find you here dead in the morning. Another case of a resident who couldn’t take the pressure and OD’d. So sad.”

I heard voices coming from the lobby telling Hargrove not to move, and a woman shouting to call an ambulance for me. I looked up and saw Mrs. Pope’s daughter, Lucille.

“I told you he was dangerous, and when you said you’d fix it so Mom wouldn’t have to be afraid, I knew if you tried to do something, he’d come after you. I’ve been watching this place ever since you came by. When I saw you go in and the doctor sneak in after, I called the police.”


“Don’t worry. An ambulance is on the way, and whatever he injected is in the vial on the table. By the way, no Mercy General for you. St. James Memorial is much closer. Safer too!”

No comments:

Post a Comment