Susan entered the Memorial through the main entrance. It was just after ten in the morning. Yet the inevitable daily crowds were already there. Every conceivable seat was occupied. There were people of all ages, waiting, forever waiting. These were not people seeking attention in either the clinic or the emergency room. They were people waiting for a relative to be admitted or discharged, or perhaps they were patients who had been seen and treated and were now waiting to be picked up and taken home. There was little conversation and no smiles. These were all distinct and separate islands, united only by their healthy awe of the hospital and its shrouded mysteries.
The dense crowd impeded Susan’s progress, forcing her to push her way through to the directory. The plastic letters spelled out “Neurology Department, Beard 11.” Susan made her way to the Beard elevators and waited with the crowd. The person next to her turned and Susan recoiled in ill-concealed horror. The man’s—or was it a woman’s—eyes were surrounded by dark areas of hemorrhage. The nose was swollen and distorted, with nasal packs partially extruding from the nostrils. Several wires came from within the nose and were taped to either check. The visage was that of a monster. Susan tried to keep her eyes on the elevator indicator, unprepared for the visual surprises of the hospital.
Dr. Donald McLeary was one of the younger members of the fulltime neurology staff and, because of the ever-mounting pressure of space, had not been given an office on eleven. Susan had to take the stairs up to twelve before she found the door with “Dr. Donald M. McLeary” stenciled on it in black letters. She opened the door and squeezed into a tiny outer office; the door could not be opened all the way because of a filing cabinet. The desk, of average size, appeared huge in the room. An aging secretary looked up. She had extraordinarily thick makeup, including rouge and false eyelashes. Her totally bleached hair was glued into short, tight curls. She wore a tight pink pants-suit outfit that strained over unnatural bulges.
“Excuse me, is Dr. McLeary in?”
“He’s in, but he is very busy.” The secretary was annoyed at the intrusion. “Have you an appointment?”
“No. No, I haven’t, but I only want to ask him a quick question. I’m a medical student rotating here at the Memorial.”
“I’ll check with the doctor.”
The secretary stood up, eyeing Susan from head to foot. Even more irritated at Susan’s lissome figure, she entered the inner office to Susan’s right. Susan looked around the outer office for any signs of the hospital charts she wanted.
Almost immediately, the woman returned, sat down at her desk, put a piece of stationery into the typewriter and typed several lines. Only then did she look up.
“You may go in; he says he has a moment for you.”
The secretary resumed her typing before Susan could respond. Whispering some choice epithets under her breath, Susan opened the door and entered the inner office.
Reminiscent of Dr. Nelson’s office, McLeary’s office was equally messy, with journals and papers in innumerable haphazard stacks. Several of the stacks had tipped over at some previous time and had never been reerected. Dr. McLeary was a thin, intense-looking man with a deep crease that ran down through the middle of each cheek. His sharply angular nose and chin were separated by a small mouth that twitched as he eyed Susan over his glasses and through his bushy eyebrows.
“Susan Wheeler, I presume,” said Dr. McLeary, with no friendliness in his voice.
“Yes.” Susan was surprised that he knew her name. She could not decide if that were propitious or not.
“And you have come concerning these ten charts I have here.” McLeary half-turned in his chair, waving toward a large group of hospital charts in his bookcase.
“Ten? Is that all you have?”
“Isn’t ten enough?” asked McLeary somewhat sarcastically.
“Fine. I just thought that maybe you’d have more. Are those the charts of the coma victims?”
“Possibly. What do you have in mind if they are?”
“I’m not sure. Dr. Stark told me you had the charts, and I thought I’d come by and ask if I could perhaps look at them or help you extract them.”