Page 37 of The Final Diagnosis



Elizabeth said, “And that’s the pathologist’s job—to fill them?”


“It’s the job of every branch of medicine. But sometimes in pathology there are more opportunities.” Coleman thought a moment, then continued, “There’s another thing too. All research in medicine is very much like building a wall. Someone adds a piece of knowledge—puts one brick on another; someone else adds one more, and gradually the wall grows. Finally someone comes along and puts the last brick on top.” He smiled. “It isn’t given to many to do spectacular things—to be a Fleming or a Salk. The best a pathologist can do, usually, is to make some modest contribution to medical knowledge—something within his own reach, within his own time. But at least he should do that.”

John Alexander had been listening intently. Now he asked eagerly, “Will you be doing research here?”

“I hope so.”

“On what?”

Coleman hesitated. This was something he had not spoken of before. But he had said so much now, he supposed one more thing would not make any difference. “Well, for one thing, on lipomas—benign tumors of fat tissue. We know very little about them.” Unconsciously, as he had warmed to his subject, his normal coolness and reserve had fallen away. “Do you know there have been cases of men starving to death, yet having tumors thriving inside them? What I hope to do is—” He stopped abruptly. “Mrs. Alexander, is something wrong?”

Elizabeth had gasped suddenly and put her face in her hands. Now she took her hands away. She shook her head, as if to clear it.

“Elizabeth! What is it?” Alarmed, John Alexander jumped up from his chair. He moved to go around the table.

“It’s . . . it’s all right.” Elizabeth motioned him back. She closed her eyes momentarily, then opened them. “It was just . . . for a moment—a pain, then dizziness. It’s gone now.”


She drank some water. Yes, it was true it had gone. But for a moment it had been like sharp hot needles—inside where the baby moved—then her head swimming, the cafeteria spinning around her.

“Has this happened before?” Coleman asked.

She shook her head. “No.”

“Are you sure, honey?” It was John, his voice anxious.

Elizabeth reached across the table and put a hand on his. “Now don’t begin worrying. It’s too early for the baby. There’s at least another four months to go.”

“All the same,” Coleman said seriously, “I suggest you call your obstetrician and tell him what happened. He might want to see you.”

“I will.” She gave him a warm smile. “I promise.”

At the time Elizabeth had meant what she said. But afterward, away from the hospital, it seemed silly to bother Dr. Dornberger about a single pain that had come and gone so quickly. If it happened again, surely then would be the time to tell him—not now. She decided to wait.

Fifteen

“Is there any news?”

From the wheel chair Vivian looked up as Dr. Lucy Grainger came into the hospital room. It was four days since the biopsy, three since Pearson had sent the slides to New York and Boston.

Lucy shook her head. “I’ll tell you, Vivian—just as soon as I know.”

“When . . . when will you know . . . for sure?”

“Probably today.” Lucy answered matter-of-factly. She did not want to reveal that she, too, was troubled by the waiting. She had spoken to Joe Pearson again last night; at that time he had said that if the second opinions were not forthcoming by midday today he would phone the two consultants to hurry them along. Waiting was hard on everyone—including Vivian’s parents, who had arrived in Burlington from Oregon the previous day.

Lucy removed the dressing from Vivian’s knee; the biopsy scar appeared to be healing well. Replacing the dressing, she said, “It’s hard to do, I know, but try to think of other things as much as you can.”

The girl smiled faintly. “It isn’t easy.”

Lucy was at the door now. She said, “Perhaps a visitor will help. You have an early one.” She opened the door and beckoned. Mike Seddons came in as Lucy left.

Seddons was wearing his hospital whites. He said, “I stole ten minutes. You can have them all.”

He crossed to the chair and kissed her. For a moment she closed her eyes and held on to him tightly. He ran his hands through her hair. His voice in her ear was gentle. “It’s been hard, hasn’t it?—just waiting.”

“Oh, Mike, if only I knew what was going to happen! I don’t think I’d mind so much. It’s . . . wondering . . . not knowing.”

He drew slightly away, looking into her face. “Vivian darling, I wish there were something, just something I could do.”

“You’ve done a lot already.” Vivian was smiling now. “Just being you—and being here. I don’t know what it would have been like without . . .” She stopped as he reached out and put a finger across her lips.

“Don’t say it! I had to be here. It was preordained—all worked out by cosmic coincidence.” He gave her his bright, broad grin. Only he knew there was a sense of hollowness behind it. Mike Seddons, like Lucy, was aware of the implications of the delayed report from Pathology.

He had succeeded in making Vivian laugh though. “Rubbish!” she said. “If I hadn’t gone to that old autopsy, and if some other student nurse had got to you first . . .”

“Uh, uh!” He shook his head. “It might look that way, but you can’t escape predestination. Ever since our great-great ancestors were swinging from trees, scratching their underarms, our genes have been moving together across the dusty sands of Time, Life, and Fortune.” He was talking now for the sake of it, using the first words which came into his head, but it was having the effect he wanted.

Vivian said, “Oh, Mike, you talk such wonderful nonsense. And I do love you very much.”

“I can understand that.” He kissed her again, lightly. “I think your mother likes me too.”

She put a hand to her mouth. “You see what you do to me! I should have asked first. Was everything all right—after you all left here last night?”

“Sure it was. I went back with them to the hotel. We sat around and talked for a bit. Your mother didn’t say much, but I could see your father summing me up, thinking to himself: What kind of a man is this who presumes to marry my beautiful daughter?”

Vivian said, “I’ll tell him today.”

“What will you say?”

“Oh, I don’t know.” She reached out and held Seddons by the ears, turning his head from side to side, inspecting it. “I might say, ‘He has the nicest red hair which is always untidy, but you can put your fingers through it and it’s very soft.’ ” She matched the action to her words.

“Well, that should be a big help. No marriage is complete without it. What else?”

“I’ll say, ‘Of course, he isn’t much to look at. But he has a heart of gold and he’s going to be a brilliant surgeon.’ ”

Seddons frowned. “Couldn’t you make it ‘exceptionally brilliant’?”

“I might, if . . .”

“If what?”

“If you kiss me again—now.”

On the second floor of the hospital Lucy Grainger knocked lightly on the chief of surgery’s office door and went inside.

Looking up from a sheaf of reports, Kent O’Donnell said, “Hullo, Lucy—rest your weary bones.”

“Now you mention it, they are a little weary.” She dropped into the big leather chair which faced O’Donnell’s desk.

“I had Mr. Loburton in to see me first thing this morning.” O’Donnell came around the desk and perched informally on the corner nearest Lucy. “Cigarette?” He held out an embossed gold case.

“Thank you.” She took a cigarette. “Yes—Vivian’s father.” Lucy accepted the light which O’Donnell offered and inhaled deeply; the smoke was cool, relaxing. She said, “Both parents got here yesterday. Naturally they’re very concerned, and they know nothing about me, of course. I suggested Mr. Loburton have a talk with you.”

“He did.” O’Donnell spoke quietly. “I told him that in my opinion his daughter couldn’t possibly be in better hands, that there was no one on the hospital’s staff in whom I would have greater confidence. I may tell you he seemed quite reassured.”

“Thank you.” Lucy found herself intensely gratified by O’Donnell’s words.

The chief of surgery smiled. “Don’t thank me; it’s an honest appraisal.” He paused. “What about the girl, Lucy? What’s the story so far?”

In a few words she summed up the case history, her tentative diagnosis, and the biopsy.

O’Donnell nodded. He asked, “Is there any problem with Pathology? Has Joe Pearson come through promptly?”

Lucy told him of the delay and the reasons for it. He thought briefly, then said, “Well, I guess that’s reasonable. I don’t believe we can complain about that. But keep after Joe; I don’t think you should let it go beyond today.”

“I won’t.” Lucy glanced at her watch. “I plan to see Joe again after lunch. He expected to know something definite by then.”

O’Donnell made a wry face. “As definite as anything like that can ever be.” He mused. “Poor kid. How old did you say she is?”

“Nineteen.” Lucy was watching Kent O’Donnell’s face. To her eyes it seemed to mirror thought, character, and understanding. She reflected: He has greatness and he wears it easily because it belongs to him. It made what he had said a few moments ago about her own ability seem warmer and more significant. Then suddenly, explosively, as if in a burst of revelation, Lucy knew what she had denied herself knowing these past months: that she loved this man—profoundly and ardently. She became aware, with startling clarity, that she had shielded herself from the knowledge, perhaps from an instinctive fear of being hurt. But now, whatever happened, she could shield herself no longer. For a moment the thought made her weak; she wondered if she had betrayed it on her face.

O’Donnell said apologetically, “I’ll have to leave you, Lucy. It’s another full day.” He smiled. “Aren’t they all?”

Her heartbeat faster, her emotions surging, she had risen and gone to the door. As he opened it O’Donnell put an arm around her shoulders. It was a casual, friendly gesture that any other of her colleagues might have made. But at this moment the effect seemed electric; it left her breathless and confused.

O’Donnell said, “Let me know, Lucy, if there’s any problem. And if you don’t mind, I might drop in today and see your patient.”

Collecting her thoughts, she told him, “I’m sure she’d like it, and so would I.” Then, as the door closed behind her, Lucy shut her eyes for a moment to control her racing mind.

The ordeal of waiting for the diagnosis concerning Vivian had had a profound effect on Mike Seddons. By nature a genial and outgoing personality, in normal times he was noted for being one of the livelier spirits on Three Counties’ house staff, and it was not unusual to find him the focus of a noisy, boisterous group in the residents’ quarters. For the past several days, however, most of the time he had avoided the company of others, his spirits dampened by the knowledge of what an adverse verdict from Pathology could mean to Vivian and himself.

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