by Karen Gilleland © 2014
A little different, this story is written in the viewpoint of a medical student assigned to shadow Doctor Ellingham for a week.
Trenton Collingsworth, dark, curly hair, intense blue eyes, and a dazzling smile — when he smiled — sat tight-lipped across the desk from Doctor Ellingham.
“You’re not happy to be here, are you?” asked Martin.
Trenton hung his head and replied, “No.”
“We’re even then, because I’m not happy having you here.”
Trenton blinked, looked over at Martin, complaining, “I should be at The Royal Marsden in London. Why am I wasting time at a GP’s in the back-of-beyond?”
Martin, chin in hand, said, “You’re here because your tutor thought you would benefit from a week in the trenches. He persuaded me to allow you to come to Portwenn.”
“Right,” said Trenton, rolling his eyes.
Setting both hands on his desk and looking straight at Trenton, Martin said, “Either dump the attitude or go home. Your choice.”
Trenton lowered his eyes and nodded.
Martin picked up a patient file and called, “Mr. Billings!”
The patient entered and nodded toward the young man. “Who’s this?”
“A student,” answered Martin. “Why are you here?”
Mr. Billings looked at Trenton and said, “Good Lord, you’ve not come here to learn bedside manners, have you?”
Trenton shook his head, a smile tickling his lips.
Turning toward Martin, Mr. Billings said, “Well, ‘Doc,’ I don’t feel so good, and I’ve had pain in my back, on and off, all night.”
“Lift up your shirt,” said Martin, and he applied pressure to the man’s back. Then he said, “Lie down on the couch, please.” Martin felt the man’s abdomen. “Any pain?”
“No,” answered Mr. Billings. “Like I said, it comes and goes, in my back, not my stomach.”
Martin motioned Trenton over to examine the man’s abdomen. Nothing significant, Trenton thought. He shrugged his shoulders and went back to his chair.
Martin checked vital signs and said, “Mr. Billings, your temperature is slightly elevated. I’ll need a urine sample,” and he handed him a plastic container.
When Mr. Billings left, Martin sat at the desk, fiddling with his pen. He looked at Trenton. “What is your diagnosis?”
“Start of flu?”
“How would you treat him?”
“Pain medication for his back. Aspirin to bring down his temperature.”
Returning to the room, Mr. Billings set the sample on the desk. “What are you going to do for me, ‘Doc’?”
Martin filled out a form and set down his pen. “I’m sending you to hospital immediately.”
Trenton’s eyebrows shot up.
“I don’t need to go to hospital, ‘Doc. The pain’s pretty much gone.”
“Don’t go then. Wait until after your appendix bursts and you die.”
Mr. Billings sank down in the chair and looked at Trenton. “Hope you’re taking notes on how to deliver bad news, son.”
But another thought was running through Trenton’s mind. Appendicitis? What is up with this quack?
Martin walked to the door and shouted to Morwenna to order a taxi. Five minutes later, Mr. Billings was on his way to Truro, and Martin was on the phone to hospital.
When Martin hung up, Trenton let out an irritated sigh and said, “Why appendicitis? He could be coming down with flu.”
“Yes, he could,” answered Martin, voice quiet. “Back pain isn’t a typical symptom for appendicitis; but when I felt his abdomen, I noticed some rigidity. I’d rather error on the side of safety than mask the symptoms with pain killers and have his appendix rupture in the middle of the night.”
“All right, I missed the rigidity,” said Trenton, raising a hand, “but I still don’t think occasional, minor pain warrants rushing the man to hospital.”
“Then fortunately for Mr. Billings, I’m his doctor, not you. Next patient!” Martin called, and Mrs. Wardell, a rotund mother of five, walked in, sneezing.
The morning passed with other routine patients. Martin glanced at the clock and told Trenton it was lunchtime. “I’m leaving, but you’ll find bread, cheese and fruit in the kitchen, if you care to eat here.”
Walking into reception, Trenton found Morwenna opening a sack lunch. “Care to join me in the kitchen?” he asked.
“Sure,” the girl said and picked up her lunch. She sat at the table and smiled at Trenton. “Not happy working with Doctor Ellingham, are you?”
Trenton shook his head and slammed the door on the fridge. He sat down and cut chunks off a wheel of Swiss cheese. “I expected a plum assignment in London. What do I get? Some loser GP in Portwenn.”
Morwenna nibbled at her sandwich and said, “Doctor Ellingham is not ‘some loser.’ He’s an excellent GP.”
“I can’t believe you’re sticking up for him. I’ve heard the way he talks to you.”
“I didn’t say he was polite. I said he was an excellent GP.”
Trenton looked over at her and grinned. “Sorry,” he said. “Ellingham and I got off to a bad start over Mr. Billings. The doctor’s patients seem not to mind his rudeness. He told Mrs. Wardell to stop stuffing her face with Mars Bars and lose thirty pounds. She smiled and said she didn’t eat Mars Bars, only Gummy Bears.”
“The locals consider the ‘Doc’s’ insults a badge of honor,” said Morwenna. “They post them on Facebook.”
“No way!” laughed Trenton.
“I wasn’t keen on you when we met this morning,” she teased. “You seem nice enough now.”
“My day for antagonizing people,” he said, sending Morwenna a high-voltage smile.
“No problem,” she said, biting into an apple. “Tell me about your life in London.”
Trenton felt himself relaxing as he chatted with this young woman, charmed by her sparkling eyes and animated conversation.
When lunch finished, the two walked into reception. The phone rang, and Morwenna answered. “Slow down,” she said. “An accident at the top of our hill. I’ll tell ‘Doc.’”
As she started to dial a number, Trenton headed to the door. “Wait, Trenton!” Morwenna called. “Doc will want–”
But Trenton flew out the door and raced up the hill. He saw the crashed cars and two men sitting at the edge of the road. “I’m a medical intern,” said Trenton. “Are you hurt?”
“My hand,” said the man with red hair and a ruddy complexion.
The other man, with gray hair and plaid shirt, said, “I’m okay, I guess. A bit winded.”
“Do you have a blanket or coat in the car?” asked Trenton. The men nodded, and Trenton went to their vehicles and pulled out blankets. He wrapped one around each man.
“Let me see your hand,” Trenton said to Red Hair. After prodding the man’s fingers and wrist, he said, “Nasty sprain, but nothing broken. The cut needs cleaned.”
Martin’s car pulled up. “How bad, Trenton?” he asked, jumping out.
“One man has a sprained hand. The other says he’s okay. I’ve wrapped them in blankets to ward off shock.”
“Good,” said Martin as P.C. Penhale arrived, siren blaring.
“Penhale, I’m taking these men to surgery,” announced Martin.
“Right, ‘Doc.’ I’ll come by when I finish here,” said Penhale, eyeing the damaged cars.
At surgery, Martin asked Trenton to clean and dress the man’s hand. Martin inspected the dressing and nodded. Trenton wondered why he felt pleased by Martin’s silent approval. I’ve dressed worse wounds, he thought.
The other accident victim, Mr. Rowe, came in and sat on the examining couch. After listening to his heart and lungs, Martin put a monitor on the man’s finger to check his oxygen level and said, “Open your shirt. I’m going to do an EKG.”
As Martin put away the EKG unit, he said, “You need to go to hospital. I’ll call for an ambulance.”
Mr. Rowe jerked up straight. “Hospital? What for? My ticker’s always worked great.”
“Don’t argue if you want to keep it working great,” said Martin, pulling out a form from the cabinet. “Sit in reception until the ambulance arrives.”
P.C. Penhale came into surgery. “Who’s this, ‘Doc’? You hire an assistant?”
“Trenton Collingsworth, a medical student. He’s here for a week.”
The men shook hands, and Penhale said, “You’ll learn a lot rubbing shoulders with the ‘Doc.’ He’s the best.”
Trenton swallowed the remark that almost escaped his lips. Yeah, he’s the best at shifting patients to hospital for no good reason.
During the afternoon, Trenton tried to stifle his yawns as patients came in with colds, headaches, minor cuts and bruises.
The last patient was walking out the door when the phone rang. “Ellingham,” said Martin, switching on the speaker and beckoning to Trenton.
“I wanted to let you know about your patient, Tom Billings,” said the voice. “He didn’t come in a minute too soon. His appendix was leaking when we got him into surgery. Another few hours and he would have died.”
“Thanks for letting me know,” said Martin, hanging up the phone, closing his eyes, fingers pinching the bridge of his nose.
Trenton looked across the desk, his face red, waiting for a rebuke, but Martin remained still, seemingly lost in thought.
Straightening his shoulders, Trenton said, “I owe you an apology, Doctor Ellingham, for being such a bore. I’m sorry.”
“Umm,” muttered Martin.
“If we can start over, I’d consider it a privilege to work with you.”
Martin leaned back in his chair and returned Trenton’s look. “Maybe you’re not the airhead I took you for. You did all right at the accident. A whiz kid like yourself might just learn something here in the back-of-beyond — although I wouldn’t count on it.”
Morwenna’s words about the villagers’ badge of honor flashed across Trenton’s mind, and he beamed a dazzling smile at Martin. Well, pin a badge on me, thought Trenton, feeling at ease with the man for the first time.
“Let’s have a drink,” said Martin, “and I’ll explain why I sent Mr. Rowe to hospital. I know you didn’t agree.”
“Sure,” said Trenton, thinking, I’d love a pint.
“Good.” Martin stood up and asked, “Water or orange juice?”
— THE END —
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