That was back in New Richmond, Indiana—two years before her father had died in the accident. Or was it three? It was hard to be sure; time went by so quickly. She knew it was six months before her father’s death that she had first met John. In a way that had had to do with color too. He was on vacation from high school and had come into the store to buy some red paint. By then Elizabeth was helping in the store, and she had talked him out of it and sold him green instead. Or was it the other way around? That too was misty now.
She knew, though, she had fallen in love with John right at the first moment. Probably it was just to keep him in the store that she had suggested the switch in colors. And looking back, it seemed from then on there had never been any doubt about their feelings for each other. They had stayed sweethearts through the transition from high school to college and had been married six years after their first meeting. Strangely, though neither had any money and John was still at college on a scholarship, no one had urged them to wait. Everyone they knew seemed to accept their marriage as natural and inevitable.
To some people their first year together might have seemed difficult. To John and Elizabeth it had been a gloriously happy time. The previous year Elizabeth had gone to night secretarial’ school. And in Indianapolis, where John was at college, she had worked as a stenographer and supported them both.
That was the year they had discussed seriously the question of John’s future—whether he should aim high and try for medical school or settle for the shorter course of a medical technologist. Elizabeth had favored medical school. Though it would mean several more years before John began earning, she had been willing to continue working. But John was less sure. For as long as he could remember he had wanted to enter medicine, and his college grades were good, but he was impatient to contribute something to their marriage. Then they had discovered that Elizabeth was pregnant and, for John, it was the deciding factor. Over his wife’s protests he had enrolled in medical-technology school and they had moved to Chicago.
There they had had their baby and had called her Pamela. Four weeks later the child had died of bronchitis, and for a while all of Elizabeth’s world seemed to have fallen in about her. For all her stability and common sense, she had gone to pieces and had ceased to care. John had done all he could, had never been kinder or more considerate, but it had not helped.
She had felt she had to get away and had gone home to her mother in New Richmond. But after a week she had longed for John and had gone back to Chicago. From that point on her return to normalcy had been gradual but sure. Six weeks before John’s graduation she had learned she was pregnant again; it was the final thing she had needed for readjustment. Now she felt healthy, her old cheerfulness back, and there was a growing excitement at the thought of the unborn child within her.
In Burlington they had found a small but pleasant apartment. The rent was economical. Out of their careful savings they had made a down payment on furniture and could meet the monthly installments out of John’s hospital pay. As of this moment everything was fine. Except, Elizabeth thought, that horrible brown on the corridor walls.
The door of the outpatients’ lab opened and a woman who had been waiting ahead of Elizabeth came out. A white-coated girl technician was behind her. The technician consulted a clip board. “Mrs. Alexander?”
“That’s right.” Elizabeth stood up.
“Will you come in, please?”
She followed the girl through the doorway.
“Sit down, Mrs. Alexander. This won’t take long.”
At her desk the technician consulted the requisition slip which Dr. Dornberger had written. “Rh typing and sensitivity. All right, just put your hand here, please, and clench your fist.” She took Elizabeth’s wrist and sponged it with antiseptic, then deftly slipped on a rubber tourniquet. From a tray she selected a hypodermic and broke open a package with a sterile needle which she fitted to the syringe. Quickly selecting a vein on Elizabeth’s arm, the girl inserted the needle with a single sharp movement and eased back the plunger. She drew blood until it was level with the 7 cc. mark on the syringe, then whipped the needle out, putting a tuft of cotton batting on the puncture it had made. The whole procedure had taken less than fifteen seconds.
“I think you’ve done that before,” Elizabeth said.
The girl smiled. “A few hundred times.”
Elizabeth watched while the technician labeled a test tube and transferred the blood sample to it. When she had finished she put the test tube in a rack. Then she announced, “That’s all, Mrs. Alexander.”
Elizabeth pointed to the tube. “What happens to it now?”
“It goes to the serology lab. One of the technicians there will do the test.”
Elizabeth speculated on whether it might be John.
Mike Seddons, sitting alone in the house-staff lounge, was deeply troubled. If someone had told him a month ago that he could be this concerned about a girl that to all intents and purposes he scarcely knew, he would have adjudged the other person crazy. Yet for forty-eight hours, ever since he had read the chart in the nursing station near Vivian’s hospital room, his worry and distress had steadily grown. Last night he had scarcely slept; for hours he had lain awake, his mind turning over the full significance of the words written on the chart in Dr. Lucy Grainger’s handwriting, “Vivian Loburton—suspected osteogenic sarcoma—prepare for biopsy.”
On the first occasion he had seen Vivian—the day of the autopsy—she was merely another pretty student nurse. Even at their second meeting—before the incident in the park—he had thought of her principally as an interesting, exciting lay. Mike Seddons never fooled himself either about words or his own intentions.
Nor did he now.
For the first time in his life he was deeply and genuinely in love. And tortured with a haunting, dreadful fear.
The night he had told Vivian that he wanted to marry her he had had no time to think the implications through. Up to that point Mike Seddons had always told himself there would be no question of marriage until he was established in practice, his wild oats sown, his future financially secure. But once the words to Vivian were out he had known them to be true. A hundred times since he had repeated them silently, without a single thought of wanting to turn back.
Unlike Vivian, who still thought of her problem as a small bump below the knee—a nuisance, but something which treatment of one kind or another would clear up—Mike Seddons knew the implications of the phrase “suspected osteogenic sarcoma.” He knew that if the diagnosis were confirmed it would mean that Vivian had a virulent, malignant tumor which could spread, and perhaps already had, elsewhere in her body. In that event, without swift surgery, her chances of survival beyond a year or so were almost nil. And surgery meant amputation of the limb—with all speed once the diagnosis was confirmed—in the hope of containing the spreading, poisonous cells before they moved too far beyond the original site. And even then, statistically, only 20 per cent of osteogenic patients were free from further trouble after amputation. The rest went steadily downhill, sometimes living only a few more months.
But it didn’t have to be osteogenic sarcoma. It could be a harmless bone tumor. The chances either way were fifty-fifty—odds even, the same chance you got with the spin of a single coin. Mike Seddons felt himself sweating at the thought of, how much—both for himself and Vivian—was riding on the biopsy result. He had considered going to Lucy Grainger and talking the whole thing over; then he had decided no. He could probably find out more by staying on the fringes. If he declared a personal interest some sources of information might be closed off to him. To spare his feelings others might be guarded in what they said. He did not want that. One way or the other he had to know!
Talking with Vivian and, at the same time, trying to keep his thoughts to himself had not been easy. Last night, sitting alone with her in the hospital room—the other woman patient had been discharged, and for the time being the second bed was empty—she had teased him about seeming downcast.
Cheerfully chewing grapes, which he had brought her earlier, she had said, “I know what’s wrong. You’re scared of being pinned down—not being able to hop from bed to bed.”
“I never did hop from bed to bed,” he had said, trying to match her mood. “It isn’t that easy; you have to work at it.”
“You didn’t do much work on me.”
“You were different. It just sort of happened.”
She had stopped at that. “Yes, I know.” Then, gaily again, she had said, “Well, anyway, it’s no good thinking you’re going to get out of this, Dr. Michael Seddons, M.D. I have no intention of letting you loose again—ever.”
He had kissed her at that, holding her tightly, feeling more emotion than he had believed he had. She moved her face and nuzzled his ear. Her hair against his cheek was soft and fragrant. Softly she said, “And another thing, Doctor—stay away from those student nurses; they have no morals.”
“Really!” Again he responded with a brightness he did not feel. He held her away from him. “Why didn’t someone tell me this before?”
She was wearing a thin blue negligee, open at the front. Beneath it was a nylon nightgown of the same transparent blue. All at once he realized, breathlessly, how young and beautiful she was.
Vivian had looked at the door. It was closed. She said, “They’re busy at the nursing station tonight. I know because they told me. It’ll probably be an hour, at least, before anyone comes around.”
For a moment he had been shocked. Then he had laughed and fallen in love all over again with her honesty and simple frankness. He said, “You mean here? Now?”
“If anyone came I’d be thrown out of the hospital.”
Softly she said, “You weren’t so worried about that the other night.” Her finger tips moved lightly down his face. Impulsively he had bent and kissed her neck. As his lips moved lower he heard her breathing quicken and felt her fingers tighten on his shoulder.
For a moment he had been tempted, then sanity won out. He put his arms around her. Tenderly he murmured, “When all this is over, Vivian darling, then we’ll be really alone. What’s more, we’ll have all the time we want.”
That was yesterday. This afternoon, on the operating floor, Lucy Grainger would be performing the biopsy. Mike Seddons looked at his watch. It was 2:30 p.m. According to the O.R. schedule, they should be starting now. If Pathology worked fast the answer might be known by tomorrow. With a fervor at once incongruous and real he found himself praying: Oh, God! Please, God—let it be benign!
The anesthetist nodded. “We’re ready when you are, Lucy.”
Dr. Lucy Grainger came around to the head of the operating-room table. She was already gloved and gowned. Smiling down at Vivian, she said reassuringly, “This won’t take long, and you won’t feel a thing.”
Vivian tried to smile back confidently. She knew, though, she didn’t quite succeed. Maybe it was because she was a little drowsy—she was aware that she had been given some kind of sedation as well as the spinal anesthetic which had taken away all feeling from the lower portion of her body.