Louisa ascended the stairs carrying the food tray holding Martin's breakfast at 8:30 am the next morning. He was a creature of dietary habits—there was one soft-boiled egg, two pieces of whole grain toast, and a pot of tea. Also, a packet of balloons Dr. Parsons as had ordered.
She hoped he was awake and, leaning against the door enquired, "Martin?"
"Come in," she heard.
It took a little doing but she got the door open without dropping the tray and entered. Putting the tray down on his dresser she asked, stunned by what she saw, "What are you doing?"
Martin was resting against the wall near his wardrobe, almost fully dressed in a grey suit. His trousers and shirt were on, but his tie hung like a ribbon around his neck and his jacket lay over a chair. His right arm was wrapped around his chest, he was pale, and he actually seemed close to falling over. His face looked no better and the ecchymoses on his neck seemed even darker.
"Getting ready for surgery," he said.
"Surgery? You've got no patients today. Get back into bed."
"No patients? I checked on Friday. I had a full schedule this week."
"They all cancelled. All your patients have cancelled this week. Your voicemail was filled this morning."
"Cancelled? All of them? But, I haven't fired Pauline!"
Louisa calmly explained, "Martin, your patients didn't cancel out of anger, to shun you. They cancelled to give you some more days to rest and recover. Thats what people in Port Wenn do."
It struck him dumb for a key few seconds, but then his clinical responsibilities rallied. "But, I need to see Jason Boynter—"
"-Johnny, whoever, to check on his asthma. He should have allergy testing done. And, Mrs. Whatshername, I need to see if her atrial fibrillation is under control. And, that fat man from Wales, his glucose numbers have been out of control."
"The way you talk, it's almost as if you cared about your patients."
"Of course I do! I'm their doctor!"
"Just not about them as people."
"How would that help them medically?"
"Your patients exist merely within the confines of your job."
She frowned. "I don't understand. How you live your life with that attitude. It seems dehumanizing. I'd really like to talk about it more."
"Wouldn't it be good for me to understand you better?"
"I'm not hard to understand."
"Now that's the under-statement of the year."
He sagged further into the wall, and sighed deeply. "Not now, Louisa."
"Not now, because?"
"Because, I'm hungry, and my side hurts."
Louisa's emotions were notoriously changeable and in that second she went from growing agitation to supreme regret, and her accommodating nature kicked in. "Sorry, sorry, sorry. I've got your breakfast right here. Oh, and the balloons you need to blow up. Should you sit down in the chair or get back in bed? Did you do the urinanalysis this morning? Is your kidney improving? I have to report that to Dr. Parsons. Did you sleep through the night?"
"I'll sit here," and Martin collapsed down the wall and sat down hard, as if he had just run an Olympic marathon and his legs were butter.
She placed the tray on his lap, after having removed the teapot, which she kept on the dresser. She stayed in the room as he ate, refilling his teacup several times, and when he was done, put the tray back on the dresser.
"Thanks," he said. "Sorry you're playing waitress."
"I don't mind."
"Aren't you late for school?"
"Yes, but the school understands I'll be late coming in this week."
After a pleasant pause she snorted a little laugh, "I'm not sure how well your patients would have taken to seeing you like that, today. How many times can you bear being asked if you can see from your left eye?"
"Someone has to check on a few of them."
"Make a list and I'll have Pauline ring them up, see how they're doing. If there's a problem, we can ask for your advice, and if you feel they need to see someone we'll get them to Bude. How does that sound?"
He didn't wholly like it, but he agreed. Louisa made him blow up balloon which without a doubt, hurt. His grimaces and whole body tenseness was evident. But, he got it fully expanded and then let it compress in a rapid "whoosh".
"Four times a day. Why do you have to do that?"
"Prevents one from developing pneumonia. When one has fractured ribs, due to the resultant musculoskeletal pain, one tends to not fully inhale, and pleural fluid accumulation can occur-"
"—Got it. The balloons make you breathe in deeply."
"And your kidneys?"
"2+ hematuria. Improving."
She picked up the tray with all the breakfast materials on it. "I'll take this down. Get back into your pajamas and into bed. I'll bring up a notepad to list out your priority patients." She was still appalled at that face of his… "And some ice."