Helma wore a faded green polyester leisure suit with an oddly intriguing assortment of safety pins arrayed along the edge of one lapel, while Herma had on baggy sweatpants and a misshapen sweater. Miss Viola was wearing a demure flowered dress. All three ladies wore shiny brown naugahyde coats that had been fashionable in the sixties.
When they moved, they shuffled along together, holding onto each other for support and navigational assistance. They made their way carefully to the reception desk and Helma said that it was Miss Viola who needed to see the doctor today. Herma said, Hey there, girl, and smiled. We was sorry to hear about your ma. Hows she doing?
Pretty good. Shell be back Monday.
Herma looked at me in confusion and said, I thought she had a heart attack.
Aint she in the hospital?
Yeah, but she told me shed be out by Monday.
I was relieved when Herma decided to leave it at that. The story sounded a little thin, even to me, but I desperately needed to believe it.
Then, without even a hint of foreboding, I made my first executive decision in the health care arena. You ladies can come right on back to the examining room, I said. I figured it would be easier to get all of them up and down just once instead of twice; and waiting in the back would protect them from exposure to whatever germs the other patients might bring in. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
As I helped them through the door that divided the waiting room from the rest of the office I said to Helma, You ladies are lucky to have each other.
She smiled. Oh yeah, we got enough spare parts between the three of us to make one whole person!
I took them back to Room 3 because it was the only room with enough places for all of them to sit down. Room 3 was used for surgery and contained Daddys pride and joy the hydraulic surgical table.
Thirty-five years ago, when he couldnt really afford it, Daddy had bought the special motorized table that would raise and lower, so he could lift patients to a comfortable height while doing surgery. Even now the table still occupied a special place in his heart, like his Leitz microscope. No one was allowed to touch either piece of equipment but him.
The table was controlled by four pedals that lay flat on the floor. The entire table could be either raised or lowered; or it could be tilted by raising or lowering either the head or foot.
I seated Miss Viola in the middle of the table and told the ladies that the doctor would be in in a few minutes. Then I returned to my post at the reception desk. While I waited, I retrieved my phone messages from voice mail in Washington. My boss, Senator Hayworth, was conducting a series of hearings on corruption in the nuclear power industry, and I expected most of the calls would be related to that.
There were eleven messages. I sorted them with respect to time zone and then numbered them to indicate the order in which they should be returned. First came the calls to people on Eastern time: government affairs representatives for the University of Tennessee and Tennessee Valley Authority. The call to a huge nuclear power conglomerate in Chicago could be made after 10:00, to a colleague in Sedona an hour after that, and then after noon I could reach the Los Angeles offices of the lobbyists for the electric power industry. Tokyo Power Company would come last, after 8:00 tonight. No problem.
As I dialed the Director of Federal Relations for the University of Tennessee, Daddy came in carrying a cardboard tray with a styrofoam cup of coffee and a McDonalds bag. He set his breakfast on the counter and I told him about the ladies waiting in Room 3. He nodded, fished his sausage biscuit out of the bag, and began to unwrap it.
Copyright (c) Carolyn Jourdan 2006-2007. All rights reserved.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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