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MALPRACTICE - A JEAN BELL MYSTERY CH. 3
Jean's medical training kicked in and she quickly made her way around the booth to the slumped over man. Margie was frozen to the spot, hands over heart, eyes wide, and mouth in the shape of an "o".
"Margie," Jean ordered, snapping the girl out of shock, "get Doris to call the paramedics, quickly!"
He was starting to slide sideways off the table, clutching his chest with one hand. His other arm was flailing wildly, knocking the salt and pepper shakers asunder. Jean caught him around the shoulders and eased him onto the floor. For the first time, she could see the man's face. It was red and sweaty, his eyes bulging forward. His lips were moving, trying to form words, but there was no breath behind them. Doris came rushing over, announcing that the paramedics were on the way. Jean told her to bring Aspirin and a glass of water, just in case he was able to swallow. There didn't seem to be anything blocking his airway.
By this time, nearly everyone in the diner was on their feet, angling for a good look at the commotion. A teenaged boy at the counter tried to ask what the man had for lunch. Doris blew past him on her way back with the medicine and without comment. Jean could feel a faint pulse at the man's wrist, but he'd gone limp. She was about to start CPR when the ambulance pulled up and men in white coats pushed their way through the crowd. She and Margie watched while they tried to get him to breathe again, performing chest compressions and shining a penlight in his eyes. He was unresponsive and they loaded him onto a gurney. Everyone in the restaurant watched the ambulance pull away, sirens wailing.
"Oh my," Margie said, "do you think he'll be okay?"
"It's hard to tell. I think it's his heart," Jean hoped he would recover.
"My goodness," was all Margie could manage.
There were a few seconds of stunned silence in the diner before the crowd started clamoring for their checks. It looked like Pinkey's would be clearing out for the afternoon. Thankful they'd already paid for their lunch, Jean and Margie made for the door. Neither could think of much to say, still recovering from the rather disturbing ending to their social hour. When they'd reached the street corner, Jean raised her hand to wave goodbye. Margie caught ahold of her elbow mid-wave. She shot a quick look up and down the street before leaning in to whisper a question.
"Are you heading in to work now?" Margie said.
Jean was a little confused by her sister-in-law's behavior but decided to play along.
"Yes," she whispered back.
Margie peeked over her shoulder before reaching into her purse. She produced a worn leather wallet from inside and handed it to Jean. Hesitantly, Jean took it from her and opened it. A business card inside was printed with the words "Arnold Barnes, Virginia Industrial Loan Corporation" followed by a street address and phone number.
"Did you get this fromâ€¦" she started to say before Margie cut her off. The young woman nodded her head, but the one shushing finger held to her lips said she didn't want to go into detail.
As Jean was replacing the card, something else slipped out of the wallet and fluttered to rest on the toe of her shoe. She bent and picked it up. It was a small photo of the man who'd just been carried into the ambulance posed next to a young woman with a baby in her arms. She wore a pale pink dress dotted with little roses and the characteristic happy-but-exhausted look of a new mom. The photo was recent; three of its four corners were still unbent and it kept its glossy sheen. The child couldn't be more than twelve months old. Jean wrinkled her brow. Now she was even more concerned for her impromptu patient. If he didn't make it, this child would be fatherless.
"I'd better get to work," she told Margie. "I'll give you a call later."
Margie simply nodded and the pair parted without another word. Jean took a right and walked halfway down the next block to her car. The beautiful 1932 Ford Model 18 V-8 Cabriolet was waiting patiently for her by the curb. In truth, the car belonged to Teddy and it was just about the only high point of him leaving. She loved driving the car and he'd rarely let her get behind the wheel when he was home. Jean had more than enough driving experience. She'd piloted an automobile in different countries on both sides of the road, but some macho part of Teddy wouldn't allow him to be chauffeured by a woman. Now that he was away, the Cabriolet was all hers.
She started the engine before sitting for a few deep breaths. Although she'd been trained to respond to emergencies, her day-to-day routine involved bathing patients, checking temperatures, and taking blood pressure. It was far removed from the hectic pace of the ER. She hoped Arnold Barnes was going to be okay. He hadn't looked good when the paramedics took him. If only she could have gotten him to chew the Aspirin before he'd passed out. If her diagnosis was correct and he'd been having trouble with his heart, the medicine might have given him a fighting chance.
Deciding that she'd know the fate of Mr. Barnes soon enough, she put the Ford in reverse, backed up a few feet, and then steered away from the curb onto the road. Ten minutes later, she was pulling into her own driveway. By this time, Jean was used to coming home to an empty house. Well, almost. Passing her and Teddy's wedding photo on the wall in the hallway, she suddenly felt a pang of guilt for agreeing to attend the dance with Margie. She had no intention of being unfaithful to her husband. It only seemed wrong that she should enjoy herself while Teddy was out there somewhere in the middle of the ocean.
Jean showered and changed quickly into her nursing uniform. She tied on a pair of low heels and headed for the door, double-checking her purse for Arnold Barnes' wallet. It was still there. Jean wondered when Margie had gotten ahold of it and why. Then there was her odd behavior when she handed the wallet over. Resolving to get the details from Margie later, Jean put the Ford in gear and pointed it toward the hospital. On the way, she switched on the radio, hoping some music would lighten her mood. The station was playing the new Glenn Miller tune and it had the desired effect. By the time she pulled into the lot at work, she was almost smiling.
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