Luz wanted to ask why Dr. Whitson was unavailable, but knew that there would be no point in complaining. If Dr. Whitson wasn't here, he wasn't here. Asking about him wouldn't bring him back. "No." She smiled, trying to establish some connection. "Sooner would be better, though."
The woman consulted her computer screen, punched a few more keys. "Dr. Jadra can see Ramiro in twenty-five minutes. Just have a seat and we'll call you."
The words just popped out. "But there are no seats."
The woman flicked a look to the waiting room over Luz's shoulder. "One'll turn up any second." She looked over her shoulder. "Next."
* * *
While Ramiro dozed fitfully, Luz picked up a copy of the latest edition of San Francisco magazine. There were many of them in the room, all with the same cover photo of a strong Anglo businessman's face. Luz read English well and soon realized the reason for the multiple copies. The story was about the director of Parnassus Health--her insurance company. The man's name was Tim Markham. He had a pretty wife, three nice-looking children, and a dog. He lived in a big house in Seacliff and in all the pictures they took, he was smiling.
Luz cast a glance around the waiting room. No one was smiling here.
She stared at the face for another minute, then looked down at her sick boy, then up at the wall clock. She went back to Mr. Markham's smiling face, then read some more. Things were good in his life. His company was experiencing some growing pains, yes, but Markham was on top of them. And in the meantime, his patients continued to receive excellent medical care, and that was the most important thing. That was what he really cared about. It was his lifelong passion.
Finally, finally, a nurse called Ramiro's name. Luz folded the magazine over and put it in her purse. Then they walked down a long hallway to a tiny windowless room with a paper-covered examining table, a sink and counter, a small bookcase and shelves. Posters of California mountain and beach scenes, perhaps once vibrantly colored, now hung faded and peeling from the walls.
Ramiro laid himself down on the table and told his mom he was cold, so she covered him with her coat. Luz sat in an orange plastic molded chair, took out her magazine, and waited again.
At 12:22, Jadra knocked once on the door, then opened it and came in. Small and precise, completely bald, the doctor introduced himself as he perused the chart. "Busy day today," he said by way of apology. "I hope you haven't had to wait too long."
Luz put on a pleasant expression. "Not too bad."
"We're a little shorthanded today. Twenty doctors and something like eight have this virus going around." He shook his head wearily. "And you're Ramiro?"
"Si." Her boy had opened his eyes again and gotten himself upright.
"How are you feeling?"
"Not so good. My throat . . ."
Jadra pulled a wooden stick from a container on the counter. "Well, let's take a look at it. Can you stick out your tongue as far as you can and say 'ahh'?"
That examination took about ten seconds. When it was over, Jadra placed a hand on the boy's neck and prodded around gently. "Does that hurt? How about that?"
"Just when I swallow."
Five minutes later, Luz and Ramiro were back outside. They'd been at the clinic for over two hours. It had cost Luz ten dollars, more than she made in an hour, plus a full day's wages. Dr. Jadra had examined Ramiro for less than one minute and had diagnosed his sore throat as a virus. He should take Children's Tylenol and an over-the-counter throat medication. He explained that the way viruses work, symptoms go away by themselves within about fourteen days or two weeks, whichever came first.
A joke, Luz supposed, though it didn't make her laugh.
* * *
Two days later, Ramiro was worse, but Luz had to go to work. Last time they'd warned her about her absences. There were a lot of others who would be happy to take her job if she didn't want to work at the hotel anymore. So she had to take Ramiro into urgent care at night, after she got off.
Reprinted from The Oath by John Lescroart by permission of Dutton, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2002, John Lescroart. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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