“I think he’s coming out of it…!”
His long career had included unnumbered nights spent dozing beside sickbeds, so Dr. Sam Jenkins was alert and observant immediately after waking. He rose and took in the situation at a glance.
“I think you’re right, Scott,” he agreed. “The family is anxious, of course….why don’t you go give them the news.”
Half-way to the door, the tall blond came to a halt as the doctor spoke once more.
“Scott, I know everyone is going to want to see him as soon as possible. But I need some time alone to assess his condition and make sure he’s stable. Could you please ask them to wait until I call……before coming into the room?”
Forcing a reluctant nod, the younger man took several more steps before Sam added in a gentle but firm tone, “That means you, too.”
Shoulders hunched, Scott left the room, shutting the door carefully on his way out.
With a physician’s observant eye, Sam took note of pulse and heart rate, checked for any fever, and watched with relief as deep blue eyes began to flicker with awareness.
A normally dark-hued complexion that was now almost as white as the sheets pulled up around well-muscled shoulders and the moan that escaped from dried, cracked lips both gave testament to a great deal of agony.
As the patient roused, Sam murmured reassurances in a calm, steady voice, “Take it easy, Johnny…… Lay back and keep still…….”
“Everything went as well as could be expected……you just need to rest and give yourself some time!”
“But…..I don’t understand….! What am I doing here……? The last thing I remember is.........,” befuddled by pain as much as confusion, Johnny’s hoarse whisper trailed off into nothing.
For the moment, Sam concentrated on mixing some laudanum in water and supporting the young man’s head so he could drink. But after checking various vital signs once again, he revisited Johnny’s tentative statement.
“What is it you do remember?” Sam probed. “Do you recall feeling ill……pain in your stomach……nausea….?”
“Why……?” Johnny seemed a bit more conscious of his surroundings now, and a bit more insistent in his demand, “What happened to me…..?”
“All right,” the old doctor was too familiar with this particular ‘irresistible force’ to be inclined to argue the point. “You had an acute attack of appendicitis…..! If I hadn’t been able to perform immediate surgery, you would have died!”
“But…..how come I can’t remember you being here….or me knowing anything about this operation before now?”
“Because you’d already collapsed by the time I arrived. Your family was concerned that you were ill and had sent for me to come and take a look at you….. otherwise I would have been too late. That’s why I was asking about what symptoms you were suffering from prior to the attack…..it can help me diagnose how long the condition was chronic before it became acute.”
“The bellyache, Johnny…….” Sam’s questions became more direct. “Any puking…..? Did you feel like you were running a fever? You were obviously sick enough for other people to notice, so I would think it would have made an impression on you.”
“OK……,” the young man sank further back onto his pillows and sighed. “I was kind of off my feed for a while, and my gut was giving me some trouble.”
“Is that right, Johnny…?” The doctor’s tone was deceptively benign, “And how long did it last……this lack of appetite and problem with your gut?”
“Maybe two weeks….give or take. Sometimes it wasn’t real bad, it was only along towards the end it got a little rough.”
“And you never bothered to come see me…..consult me about these serious complaints!”
“I didn’t want anybody making a song and dance about what might have been nothing but some colic brought on by too many green apples…!”
“I see….colic from green apples! And which school of medicine gave you a degree which qualified YOU to make that diagnosis?”
Dr. Sam Jenkins didn’t often cross the line between man of medicine and giver of free advice, but he took a giant leap this time….!
“A very famous man…….you may have heard of him—George Washington—had some very appropriate counsel for chuckleheads like you. His exact words were, ‘In visiting the sick, do not presently play the physician if you be not knowing therein’.”
“And what does that mean when it’s not all dressed up for company…?”
“Oh, I think I can put it in words you’ll understand,” Sam almost growled. “There’s an old saying that a man who defends himself in court has a fool for a client. Well, a patient who treats himself has a fool for a doctor……and Mr. Washington and I both know just how wise a decision that is!”
Johnny gave a faint snort of derision, but it was obvious that this whole exchange had tired him more than he wanted to let on.
And—his brief spasm of exasperation having run its course—Sam immediately set about making the incorrigible scamp more comfortable, and preparing him for a reunion with his very worried loved ones.
But he raised one last admonishing finger before hastening off to fetch Scott and Murdoch and to give the rest of the household a favorable report.
“Just take this as a warning, young man….! You’re facing a long recovery period, which I will be supervising very closely. If you do any more ‘playing’ at being a physician……you’ll find out just how hard-headed a doctor can be when he has a ‘fool’ for a patient!”