By Karen Gilleland © 2014
This story highlights the “Doc’s” medical acumen, as he must diagnose a mysterious illness that is draining the life out of a young patient.
The story is dedicated to a family in Colorado.
See important information in a “Reply,” posted under the FanFiction tab, which is also included at the end of “Riddle Me This.”
Nine-year-old Johnny Evans, rings of red curls covering his head, walked into the “Doc’s” reception area followed by his mom. Johnny said to Morwenna, “Riddle me this. I run but never walk. I murmur but never talk. I go but never stop. What am I?”
“You’re late,” Morwenna answered. “‘Doc’ is waiting for you. Go on in now.”
“Awe, Morwenna,” Johnny said. “You’re no fun.”
Mrs. Evans took Johnny’s arm and herded him into the consulting room. Martin, writing on a yellow tablet, looked up and reached for his patient notes. “You’re Johnny Evans?”
“Yes,” said Mrs. Evans, still holding the boy’s arm. “Johnny isn’t feeling well. His temperature is normal, and he isn’t coughing or anything, but I thought I’d better bring him in to see you.”
The “Doc” stood up, motioned Johnny toward the examining couch, and lifted the slim child up onto it. “Do you hurt anywhere?”
“No. I just feel draggy. Then he smiled and said, “Riddle me this, ‘Doc.’ I run but never walk. I murmur but never talk. I go but never stop. What am I?”
“That’s right,” said Johnny, his large blue eyes opened wide. “How did you know?”
“Shush, I want to listen to your chest.”
On finishing his examination, Martin turned to Mrs. Evans. “His chest is clear. His heart rate is good. There’s no sign of a sore throat or ear infection. My guess is he has a minor virus. Have him rest today. If he isn’t better tomorrow, come back in.”
The next day, Mrs. Evans brought Johnny back to the surgery, supporting him with her arm.
Morwenna took one look and said, “I’ll tell ‘Doc’ you’re here.”
As Morwenna stood up and walked out from behind the desk, Johnny said in a quiet voice, “I am an odd number. Take away one letter and I become even. What am I?”
“You’re making me feel stupid. Stop it,” said Morwenna, who pulled his file out of the cabinet and went into the consulting room. “’Doc,’ Johnny Evans is back. He doesn’t look good at all,” she said, handing Johnny’s file to Martin.
“Have him come in,” said Martin, reading the notes he had made on Johnny the day before.
“Riddle me this, ‘Doc,’” said Johnny as he entered the office. “I am an odd number. Take away one letter and I become even. What am I?”
The “Doc” shook his head at Johnny and said, “Seven.”
Johnny put his hand up for a high five, but the “Doc” ignored him. “You rock, ‘Doc.’ Nobody else guessed that one.”
“I’ve no time for foolishness. You’re back, so you must be worse. Let’s get you up on the couch. How do you feel?”
After examining Johnny, the “Doc” rubbed his chin and said, “Mrs. Evans, I can’t find anything to explain Johnny’s condition. I want you to take him to hospital right away. I’ll give you an order for some tests.”
Johnny looked at his mom, his lower lip quivering. She put her arm around his shoulders. “It’s all right, son. ‘Doc’ Martin knows what’s best.”
About seven in the evening, Martin received a call from the hospital. “We’re puzzled about Johnny Evans, Dr. Ellingham. We ran the tests you ordered, as well as others, and nothing abnormal showed up. But Johnny’s vital signs are weakening. We’re keeping him here. We’re keeping a close watch on him.”
“Thanks for letting me know. Please keep me informed.”
Martin switched on the computer and searched through dozens of medical sites. Three hours later, he shook his head and rubbed his eyes. Then he picked up the journal that had arrived that morning. He scanned the table of contents and turned the pages to a case study of a patient in America. After reading the article, he rose from the desk and ran lightly upstairs to tell Louisa he was leaving for the hospital.
“At this time of night, Martin?” Louisa asked in a sleepy voice. “Can’t you just call?”
“No.” He turned away, but stopped and walked back to the bed. “Good night,” he whispered and gave Louisa a light kiss on her cheek. Her lips curled into a smile even though her eyes remained closed.
At hospital in Truro, the receptionist told Martin that Johnny had been moved to intensive care. Martin strode down the hall to the unit, introduced himself to the nurse behind the counter, and asked her to page the attending physician.
Martin opened the door to Johnny’s room quietly. Mrs. Evans was sitting on a plastic chair in the corner, head slumped down, eyes closed. Johnny lay on the bed amid tubes and monitors, his red curls matted against the pillow. An oxygen mask covered his nose and mouth. Martin touched Johnny’s forehead lightly with the back of his hand, and the boy’s eyes flickered.
“It’s Doctor Ellingham, Johnny. How are you feeling?”
Johnny looked up and shook his head. Martin opened his bag and pulled out two cotton swabs.
“Doc,” said Johnny, pushing aside the oxygen mask from his face. “Riddle me this,” his voice a whisper. “I am a five-letter word. Take the second letter away, and I’ll go away. What am I?”
Martin looked at the monitors recording the boy’s vital signs. “No, Johnny, I know the answer, and I’m not going to let that happen. Open your mouth. I want to take swabs of your throat. You will have to stay very still.”
“Don’t . have . sore . throat, ‘Doc,’” he stammered.
“Shush.” Martin dabbed Johnny’s throat with the cotton swabs. He was putting the swabs into separate plastic containers when a doctor came into the room.
“Dr. Ellingham. I’m Thomas Sharma.”
“Let’s step outside,” said Martin. The two men stood in the hallway, and Martin said, “I’ve taken two swabs from the boy’s throat. I want a Rapid Strep Test and a culture test done immediately.”
“Strep? But he doesn’t present any symptoms — no fever, swelling, spots or coating on his throat or tonsils.”
“It’s a long shot, but I read about a case in America where a girl Johnny’s age showed no signs of strep whatsoever, so she wasn’t tested for it. Despite a battery of other tests, the girl died within days of entering the hospital. According to the autopsy, death resulted from strep throat.”
“The RST will take 15 or 20 minutes, but the culture will take 24 to 48 hours,” said Dr. Sharma, still hesitant.
“We’re wasting time. Take these samples to the lab. Now,” Martin said, shoving the two containers into the doctor’s hands.
Martin turned sharply and went over to the nurse’s station. “Please find a room where Mrs. Evans can lie down.” The nurse shook her head, but Martin put up a restraining palm, turned and walked back to Johnny’s room. Mrs. Evans stirred as the door opened and closed.
“Mrs. Evans, the nurse is going to find a room where you can rest. I’ll stay with Johnny. Does he have any allergies to medicine, particularly antibiotics?”
“No, he’s had antibiotics before.”
A young nursing assistant with a bright smile peeked into the room. “Please come with me, Mrs. Evans,” she said, and held the door open.
“Thank you, Doctor,” Mrs. Evans said to Martin as she crossed the room.
After Mrs. Evans left, Martin pulled the chair over beside the bed and settled into a position where he could watch both the boy and the monitors.
Within half-an-hour Dr. Sharma pushed open the door and walked over to Martin with paperwork in his hands. “You were right. The RST shows streptococcus.”
Martin looked at the report and said, “Let’s get a large dose of amoxicillin into him.”
Both doctors watched as the nurse gave Johnny the injection, but the boy never woke up. Martin sat back down in the chair, and Dr. Sharma left. Night merged into morning, with the duty nurse coming in at various hours to record vital signs; all the while Martin kept vigil over the sleeping child.
About six in the morning, Mrs. Evans came back into the room. Martin stood up. “Johnny has strep throat, Mrs. Evans.” The woman looked alarmed, and Martin added, “We gave him an antibiotic, and his vital signs are holding steady. I think he is going to be okay.”
Mrs. Evans’ shoulders relaxed, and she said, “Thank you, Doctor. You go on and take a break.”
Martin nodded and walked toward the door, glancing back at Johnny. The boy was still in a deep sleep. Martin went down the hall to the loo, then returned to the nurse’s station, where he phoned Louisa.
“Coffee?” the nurse asked and poured him a cup of very dark liquid.
Inhaling the fragrance from the steaming cup, Martin took a cautious sip. He carried the
mug over to the window and stood looking out over the parking lot, perspiring at the thought of how close he had come to losing the boy.
When he finished the coffee, he walked back to the nurse’s counter and set down the empty cup. “Thank you,” he said.
Martin returned to Johnny’s room just as the boy was opening his eyes. His mother ran her hands over his hair and kissed his forehead. When Johnny spotted Martin, he nudged the oxygen mask away from his mouth and said, “‘Doc’?”
“I’ll wait outside the door,” said Mrs. Evans.
Martin walked over and sat down, hands on the railing of the bed. When he looked at the small bundle under the white sheet, his shoulders gave a shudder. Then he shook a finger at Johnny, “Riddle me this. I cost money. I’m sugary sweet, and I rhyme with part of a fork. What am I?”
Johnny scrunched up his eyes, balled his hands into fists and then smiled. “I’m fine!” he said, widening his eyes at Martin.
“Yes. You have strep throat. We gave you a dose of amoxicillin. You’ll need to stay in hospital for a few days and continue to take the antibiotic for a week, but I think the worst is over.”
Tears rolled down Johnny’s cheeks. “I was scared, ‘Doc.’”
“I was too,” admitted Martin, “but apparently you’re tougher than you look.”
Johnny, head bowed, mumbled, “You understood the riddle, didn’t you?” He looked up at Martin and said, “I am a five-letter word. Take the second letter away and I’ll go away. What am I?”
Martin sighed and nodded. “The word was ‘dread.’ Remove the second letter, the ‘r,’ and you would be ‘dead.”
– THE END –
“Doc Martin” is owned by Buffalo Pictures.
The original reply from Bruce is posted at the bottom of the FanFiction tab. It is important enough that I am including it here as well.
Nicely written story. The medical concerns about strep are valid and serious. A relative of mine, a healthy, young man in his early 30s, felt poorly one day in December, went to Urgent Care, was given medication to ease his discomfort, went home and died the next morning. An autopsy revealed he had a rare form of strep. If you are diagnosed with strep, take it seriously and get medical help.