“And what made you suppose that Mrs Imbry’s illness should be treated with that particular medication?” The voice was icy, and Matthew Hewitt had to stop himself cringing before it.
“The recommendation made by Dr Sargent was that--”
“Dr Sargent,” and the voice became waspish, “does not have the faintest idea what he’s talking about. I believe it was perfectly clear in my instructions…” The voice continued, and Matthew Hewitt, newest and most junior intern at St Gertrude’s Hospital in Chicago, listened intently, making rapid notes in a predictably illegible hand. Old Sargent would be steamed, sure, when he found out that Matthew hadn’t used the medication he had suggested, but better to face Sargent’s irritation than this man’s icy sarcasm. After a few minutes, the tirade of instruction was over, and the consultant moved away without a backward glance, leaving Matthew to collapse against the wall.
“That is one scary guy,” he murmured to himself.
“Oh, you got off lightly!” replied one of the other interns, Julia Clarke. Dressed in scrubs, with a stethoscope draped round her neck and long hair scooped into an increasingly unstable ponytail, she leant against the wall next to Matthew. “That guy eats people like us for breakfast normally. He must like you!” She winked, and Matthew rolled his eyes.
“Yeah, well, I can’t wait to see what he does to someone he doesn’t like! What’s the deal with him, anyway? Shouldn’t he be retired?” Julia laughed.
“Dr John Maynard, out to pasture! I can’t imagine it! He’s been at Gertie’s longer than anyone can remember. I hear he came out here after the War.”
“He’s an east coaster?”
“More like English – didn’t you know? Well, I guess technically he might be an American by now, I don’t know exactly. But he was born in England, all right. Studied at Oxford. He qualified in the ‘30s; came here after the War. I don’t know what he did in between. Probably was at one of the big London hospitals.” Matthew shifted, so he could actually see his fellow doctor more clearly, rather than having her profile in his peripheral vision.
“How do you know?” She cleared her throat, a little uncomfortable.
“I-I think he’s interesting. I wanted to know what his background was, so I checked him out a little.”
“Interesting?” Julia blushed.
“Man, you are sick! The guy’s like a hundred years old!”
“He’s in his eighties. And it’s not like I lusted after him or anything; I just wanted to know about him.” At Matthew’s mocking sounds, she turned and faced him. “No, seriously, Matthew. I mean, the guy came in, like, ’46, ’47, I don’t know exactly. He was pretty young, y’know – late thirties, maybe. But he’s never been married, doesn’t seem to have any family. It’s just him. It’s just been him, for over forty years. I mean, doesn’t that seem strange to you?”
“I guess. Maybe he’s just not the people type. Some people just don’t like… people.”
“People who don’t like people don’t become doctors; they become undertakers. Either that or serial killers.”
“Maybe it’s a power trip.”
“It’s so not a power trip! Geez, have you even seen him with a patient? He’s amazing – especially with the kids. They think he’s great. You know what they call him – Dr Jack. Don’t you think that’s cute?” Matthew was clearly unconvinced.
“I think you’re clutching. That is just a scary guy with people issues.” Julia look set to continue arguing, but the pocket of her scrubs started to vibrate. She fished out her pager, and sighed with impatience.
“Shit, that’s me. I’m supposed to be off in ten. See ya round!” She pushed herself off the wall, and walked down the corridor towards the ER. Matthew watched her leave, then gathered up his clipboard and notepad, and set off towards the maternity ward where a ward round was about to take place.
Despite Julia’s unwarranted fascination with the elderly doctor, Matthew found himself trying more to avoid him than discover his life story. John Maynard was one of the toughest doctors in the hospital, despite his age, and more than one intern had stumbled at the hurdle he presented. He had no patience for any mistakes and, once he had told you something, expected you to remember – woe betide if you did not!
Nevertheless, notwithstanding Matthew’s best efforts, Dr Maynard was sometimes unavoidable, as he was one day in the small lecture theatre in the bowels of the hospital. It was a slightly damp, artificially-lit stage and Matthew was uncomfortably and eerily aware of the presence of the hospital morgue just down the corridor. The first year interns were gathered together for a class on general medical diagnosis, and they were nervously gathered in groups reviewing everything they had recently read in their textbooks, or come across in the hospital. Dr Maynard settled down at the large table and looked up at the banks of seating rising above him in a semi-circle. With a brisk reminder that they wouldn’t have a pile of textbooks on hand every time they had to make a diagnosis so put the damn things away, the session began.
An hour and a half later, everyone – including John Maynard himself – was relieved that it was over.
“Appalling, absolutely appalling! If the patients in this hospital were left to you lot, they’d be dead within the week! I want to see a definite improvement next month, or I’ll recommend to the Dean that you’re all failed.” They sat, silent, until Dr Maynard waved an irritated arm at them. “Go on, get out. You! Hewitt! Come and put this lot” – he gestured towards the overhead projector and accompanying bits – “in the AV cupboard.” Matthew obediently left his books on the fold down arm of his seat, and shuffled down the steps, carefully unplugging the projector and coiling the cables neatly as Dr Maynard gathered together his slides and papers. The AV cupboard was tucked at the back of the stage, the door hidden by the white screen that was habitually kept pulled down. Wedging the door open with one foot, Matthew leaned precariously and was pushing the projector onto a shelf when there came the sound of the door to the lecture theatre opening and slow footsteps, accompanied by a faint clicking sound that Matthew couldn’t identify.
“Jack?” It was a woman’s voice, and a woman who could have been any age from twenty to eighty. Silence greeted her, then Matthew heard a furious shuffling of papers; the sound of someone tapping them on table to straighten the edges.
“Jack, it’s me, Robin.” The papers stopped shuffling as the woman descended the steps.
“Soeur Marie-Cecile.” Dr Maynard’s tones were harsher than usual, and the greeting was a perfunctory one. “What are you doing in Chicago? Or have you moved convents?” There was a rather forced laugh.
“No, I’m still in Toronto. I-I came to see you.”
“Really?” Again, the tone was polite but disinterested. “I’m really rather busy. Perhaps another time.”
“There won’t be another time.” More footsteps, heavier this time, and Matthew imagined Dr Maynard walking past ‘Robin’ the nun. He should, he knew, have announced his presence, but it didn’t seem a particularly tactful thing to do.
“What a shame. Well, some…”
“I’m dying.” The footsteps slowed, then stopped.
“We’re all dying. Day by day, inching closer to the end, from the minute we’re born. Some get there sooner than others, but nobody escapes in the end.”
“Yes, well, I’m getting there a little earlier than planned.” Robin the nun’s voice was a little sharper than it had been. “I’ve got cancer; the doctors in Toronto have given me another three months, give or take.”
“Shouldn’t you pleased?” Matthew’s eyes widened at the harsh question. Dr Maynard went relentlessly on. “I thought it was what you’ve been longing for – to ‘fall asleep only to waken with God’. Isn’t that your ideal? I’m surprised you’re not giving a party!”
“I know you’re bitter, Jack, but…”
“You know nothing about me, Robin; you never did.”
“You had faith, Jack; you had that at least to hold onto. Why isn’t…?” She trailed off.
“Why isn’t it enough? Do you even need to ask that?” The sound of footsteps resumed, more briskly this time, and Matthew heard the door opening. “I don’t know what you came for, Robin, but you’ll not find it here. Go back to Toronto, to your convent, and stay there. You were never made for this world.” The door closed. There was silence.
And may I just say how much I love Lynette in Desperate Housewives - she's so cool! On a related note, who was the guy playing Susan's agent? I'm sure I've seen him in Buffy or something, but I can't place him, and it's really annoying me!!