‘Can’t you hurry up for once?’ Patrick complained. ‘I feel like hell!’
‘I just have to put my shoes on,’ Judy mumbled as she slipped her feet into a pair of black flats. Then, a minute later, ‘I’m ready,’ she said in a slightly louder voice.
‘Let’s go, then.’
The couple got into Judy’s Kia and started off, with Judy driving. After a minute, Patrick shifted in his seat. ‘God, I feel awful,’ he moaned. ‘I don’t know what’s going on.’
‘The urgent care place is only a mile away,’ Judy reminded him. ‘We’ll be there soon.’
Patrick snapped, ‘I know! I’m not stupid!’ Then he took a breath, holding his stomach. ‘I can’t believe this. I’ll bet it was that chicken you cooked last night. Maybe you ought to take a cooking class or something.’
Judy turned her head and blinked hard as she looked out the side window for a moment. Then she said, ‘I had the chicken, too, and I’m fine.’
‘Just stop, okay? You’re not a doctor. You don’t know anything. At least wait until we see someone who knows what they’re talking about.’
The two of them were silent for the rest of the trip.
They were in luck. There was only one patient ahead of them at the HelpNow urgent care center. As they signed in, the receptionist asked Judy, ‘Back to see us again so soon?’
‘No, not me this time. It’s my husband.’
The receptionist turned to Patrick. ‘OK. If you’ll fill out these forms, we’ll get you seen as soon as possible.’
While they waited, Patrick scrolled through his telephone messages while Judy flipped idly through a magazine. When Patrick’s name was called, he and Judy stood up to go to one of the examining rooms. Patrick turned to Judy and hissed, ‘You can wait here. I don’t need a mommy to hold my hand!’ Then he turned around and followed the nurse who’d called his name, staring at the view as he went. Judy sat back down slowly, paying no attention to the sympathetic glance she got from the receptionist. She looked around at the now-familiar institutional-beige walls and the dark-brown utilitarian chairs. She thought about getting a cup of coffee from the pot over in the corner, but it wasn’t that good. She wasn’t that desperate.
Half an hour later, Patrick came back into the waiting room. When she saw him, Judy got up again and walked towards him. ‘So, what did they say?’
‘They think it’s some kind of stomach bug.’ He held up a bottle of tablets. ‘The doctor gave me these for it. I’m supposed to come back in four days if they don’t help.’
Just then, the doctor walked into the waiting room, a sheaf of papers in her hand. She glanced around, and then went over to where Patrick and Judy were gathering their things.
‘Here are some follow-up instructions,’ she explained as she held out the papers. ‘It’s nothing really complicated, but you should read them carefully, and let us know if you have any questions.’
‘Sure,’ Patrick said, taking the papers. He folded them up without looking at them and stuffed them into one of his pockets.
The doctor turned towards Judy. ‘And how’s that arm of yours?’ she asked.
Judy smiled ruefully. ‘A lot better, thanks. Stupid of me to slam it into the door the way I did.’
‘We’re not very busy at the moment. Would you like me to take a quick look at it, just to be sure?’
Judy glanced at Patrick, who was shifting his feet the way he always did when he was feeling impatient. ‘No, thanks. I think it’s fine. I’ll stop back in if it gets worse.’
‘It’ll only take a minute. I really would like to just check it.’
Once again, Judy looked over at Patrick. ‘Fine,’ he muttered. ‘If it’s only for a minute.’
‘All right, then,’ The doctor said. She nodded at Judy, who went with her into the examining room. They were back five minutes later, and Patrick could hear the doctor cautioning Judy against lifting too much while her arm healed. Then, the doctor took her leave, and Judy and Patrick went home.
Patrick didn’t feel any better by the next day. In fact, he felt much worse. He couldn’t eat or drink without getting sick, and he started to have trouble breathing. This time, Judy took him to the hospital, where they admitted him right away. It wasn’t soon enough, though: Patrick died three hours later.
The autopsy report showed an acute allergic reaction to the medication Patrick had been taking. Judy signed a waiver relieving the hospital of responsibility, since they hadn’t caused Patrick’s death. Some of her friends thought she was being naïve, and that she ought to sue.
‘I have no grounds,’ Judy said. ‘The hospital did everything right.’
‘Well, you ought to at least talk to a lawyer,’ her friend Meg said. ‘You could go after that doctor at the urgent care place. She’s the one who gave Patrick the medicine.’
‘She didn’t know Patrick would be allergic,’ Judy said. ‘It’s not malpractice.’ In fact, she thought to herself, quite the opposite.
Catherine Lanigan sat in the small doctor’s area at the HelpNow clinic, her hand resting on the telephone she’d just put down. Judy Byner had called to tell her about her husband’s death. Don’t worry, she’d told Catherine. Mostly, she’d called to say thank you.
It had all been Catherine’s idea, after all. Judy’d come in with a twisted ankle a month ago, and just last week a sprained arm. Catherine had seen the bruises, too, and it had all been too much for her. She was supposed to be a healer, but there was healing and then there was healing. Once she got Judy to admit what was going on, the rest was easy. Patrick always did act like a baby when he had a simple stomach ache from overeating. A trip to urgent care, a bottle of the right stuff, and Judy was safe. Catherine was safe, too. Judy wouldn’t say a word.