April 3, 1998


A Short Story

Dr. Stone walked into Mrs. Bachigalupo's room at the Shady Dell Nursing Home:

"How do you feel today?" he asked the diminutive, grey haired figure in the bed.

"Not so good, doctor. The pain in the chest is still there and I can't eat nothing."

"Mmmm, I'll have to look into that," he said and left the room.

At the nursing station, he sat down, perused Mrs. Bachigalupo's chart and mumbled to himself,"blood count normal, urine normal, chest X-ray normal, EKG normal, chemistries all normal. I can't understand what's wrong with that woman."

He turned to the nurse sitting beside him:"Is she still losing weight?" he asked.

"About the same as last week. She lost four pounds. All that she lives on is fruit juice and soda crackers."

"Order a thyroid panel for tomorrow," he said as he closed the chart.

When the doctor was well out of earshot, the nurse turned to her colleague, who was writing in the charts, and said,"If he asks her about her son, he'd find out what's wrong with her."

"What do you mean?"

"Her son used to visit her every week. Three weeks ago they had an argument and he hasn't been here since."

"Why didn't you tell Dr. Stone?"

"Not me! The last time I suggested something to him he almost bit my head off; said that diagnosis was his business, not mine. Now I let him do it all and I just follow orders. I'm not paid to make medical decisions; he is."

"And he's well paid at that. How much does he get for his five minutes?"

"Thirty five or forty bucks, depending on who's paying him," she said as she returned to her charts.

Dr. Stone felt euphoric at the wheel of his Ferrari. It was Friday and he was heading for his place on the lake, where he would meet his wife for a weekend of boating. When the Ferrari hesitated on acceleration, he glanced at the gauges. The temperature gauge was in the red zone. He spied a gas station and pulled into it. No sooner had he turned the engine off, when steam started spewing from under the hood. A short, grey haired man in greasy coveralls approached.

"Having trouble?" he asked.

"Have you ever worked on a Ferrari?" Dr. Stone asked.

"A car's a car," the mechanic drawled. He cautiously opened the hood, deftly dodging the gust of steam. He took a hose and played a small stream of water on the top of the radiator. When the eruption had subsided, he turned to Dr. Stone:

"Have you had any trouble with it lately?"

"Just had the water pump replaced last week."

"Notice anything different? Did it start O.K.?"

"It did grind a bit before kicking over this morning."

"When did you notice that it was overheating?"

"It seemed to be running a little hot all week, but it didn't boil over until now."

"The mechanic touched the fan belt, then took a small wrench out of his pocket.

"Be careful," Dr. Stone warned sternly, "It's a very expensive automobile."

" Don't worry, I'm not going to hurt it; just going to tighten the fan belt a bit." He reached under the hood and performed his operation. Then he opened the radiator and added some water.

"Start it up!" he said.

Dr. Stone turned the key and after a few laborious turns, it started.

"What does the ammeter read?" the mechanic asked.

"It's way over on the charge side, almost to the end of the scale."

"And the temperature gauge?"

"It's coming down fast."

"Well," he drawled "I guess that fixes her."

"What do I owe you?" Dr. Stone asked.

The mechanic hesitated; looked at the car and the driver:

"Ten bucks."

As the doctor drove away, the mechanic pocketed the money and turned to another station attendant: "Usually there's no charge for what I just did, but I have a special price for snotty bastards in fancy sports cars."

As Dr. Stone tooled down the highway, with his car performing at top efficiency, he looked at the gauges. All were where they should be and the ammeter had come down from its high charge rate. He thought about what had transpired, then he scowled:

"That bastard had some nerve, charging me ten bucks for tightening a fan belt!"

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