National Flight 106, New Orleans to Miami. A routine deadheading deception. I was now polished in my pettifoggery as a pilot without portfolio. I had grown confident, even cocky, in my pre-empting of cockpit jump seats. After two hundred duplicitous flights, I occupied a jump seat with the same assumption of a Wall Street broker in his seat on the stock exchange.
I even felt a little nostalgic as I stepped into the flight
cabin of the
«Hi, Frank Williams. Nice of you to give me a lift,» I said with acquired poise, and shook hands all around. Captain Tom Wright, aircraft commander, forties, slightly rumpled look of competence. First Officer Gary Evans, early thirties, dapper, with amused features. Flight Engineer Bob Hart, late twenties, skinny, serious demeanor, new uniform, a rookie. Nice guys. The kind I liked to soft-con.
A stewardess brought me a cup of coffee as we taxied toward the runway. I sipped the brew and watched the plane traffic on the strip ahead. It was late Saturday night, moonless, and the aircraft, distinguishable only by their interior lights and flickering exhausts, dipped and soared like lightning bugs. I never ceased to be fascinated by air traffic, night or day.
Wright was apparently not one to use the squawk box. All three officers had headsets, and none of the three had offered me a set for monitoring. If you werent offered, you didnt ask. The cockpit of a passenger plane is like the captains bridge on a ship. Protocol is rigidly observed, if thats the tone set by the skipper. Tom Wright operated his jet by the book, it seemed. I didnt feel slighted. The conversation between the three and the tower was clipped and cursory, rather uninteresting, in fact, as most such one-sided exchanges are.
Suddenly it was real interesting, so interesting that I started to pucker at both ends.
Wright and Evans exchanged arch-browed, quizzical looks, and Hart was suddenly regarding me with solemn-eyed intensity. Then Wright twisted around to face me. «Do you have your Pan Am identification card?» he asked.
«Uh, yeah,» I said and handed it to him, stomach quaking as
Wright studied the artistic fake. «This is National 106 back to tower... uh,
yes, I have an ID card here... Pan Am... looks fine.... Employee
number? Uh, three-five-zero-niner-niner....
He turned again to me. «Do you have your FAA license?»
«Yes, of course,» I said, attempting to act puzzled and keep my bladder under control. It was bulging like a Dutch dike at high tide.
Wright examined the forgery closely. He was the first real pilot to inspect the illicit license. He scrutinized it with the intensity of an art expert judging the authenticity of a Gauguin. Then: «Uh, yeah. FAA license, number zero-seven-five-three-six-six-eight-zero-five.... Yes... mul-tiengine... check-out ATR.... Looks fine to me... I see nothing wrong with it.... Uh, yes, six foot, brown hair, brown eyes.... Okay, you got it.»
He twisted and handed back my ID card and the purported license, his face reflecting a mixture of chagrin and apology. «I dont know what that was all about,» he said with a shrug, and did not ask me if I had any ideas on the subject.
I did, but I didnt volunteer any of them. I tried to convince myself that nothing was amiss, that the tower operator in New Orleans was just overly officious, or doing something he thought he should be doing. Maybe, I told myself, there was an FAA regulation requiring such an inquiry and the tower operator was the first to observe the rule in my experiences, but that didnt wash. It had clearly been an unusual incident for Tom Wright.
The three officers seemed to have dismissed the matter. They asked the usual questions and I gave the usual answers. I took part when the conversation was industry-oriented, listened politely when the three talked of their families. I was nervous all the way to Miami, my insides as tightly coiled as a rattler in a prickly pear patch.
Wright had no sooner touched down in Miami than the sword of Damocles was once more suspended over my head. The ominous one-sided conversation commenced while we were taxiing to the dock.
«Yeah, we can do that. No problem, no problem,» Wright said curtly in answer to some query from the tower. «Take over, Ill be right back,» he said to Evans, getting out of his seat and leaving the flight cabin.
I knew then with certainty that I was in trouble. No captain ever vacated his seat while taxiing save under extreme circumstances. I managed to peer around the cabin-door combing. Wright was engaged in a whispered conversation with the chief stewardess. There was no doubt in my mind that I was the subject of the conversation.
Wright said nothing when he returned to his seat. I assumed a casual mien, as if nothing was amiss. I sensed that any overt nervousness on my part could prove disastrous, and the situation was already castastrophic.
I was not surprised at all when the jetway door opened and two uniformed Dade County sheriffs officers stepped aboard. One took up a position blocking the exit of the passengers. The other poked his head in the flight cabin.
«Frank Williams?» he asked, his eyes darting from man to man.
«Im Frank Williams,» I said, getting out of the jump seat.
«Mr. Williams, would you please come with us?» he said, his tone courteous, his features pleasant.
«Certainly,» I said. «But whats this all about, anyway?»
It was a question that also intrigued the three flight officers and the stewardesses. All of them were looking on with inquisitive expressions. None of them asked any questions, however, and the officers did not satisfy their curiosity. «Just follow me, please,» he instructed me, and led the way out the exit door. His partner fell in behind me. It was a matter of conjecture on the part of the flight crew as to whether or not I had been arrested. No references had been made to arrest or custody. I was not placed in handcuffs. Neither officer touched me or gave the impression I was being restrained.
I had no illusions. Id been busted.
The officers escorted me through the terminal and to their patrol car, parked at the front curb. One of the deputies opened the right rear door. «Will you get in, please, Mr. Williams. We have instructions to take you downtown.»
The officers said nothing to me during the ride to the sheriffs offices. I remained silent myself, assuming an air of puzzled indignation. The deputies were clearly uncomfortable and I had a hunch this was an affair in which they werent really sure of their role.
I was taken to a small room in the detective division and seated in front of a desk. One of the deputies seated himself in the desk chair while the other stood in front of the closed door. Neither man made an effort to search me, and both were overly polite.
The one behind the desk cleared his throat nervously. «Mr. Williams, there seems to be some question as to whether you work for Pan Am or not,» he said, more in explanation than accusation.
«What!» I exclaimed. «Why thats crazy! Heres my ID and heres my FAA license. Now you tell me who I work for.» I slapped the phony documents down on the desk, acting as if Id been accused of selling nuclear secrets to the Russians. He examined the ID card and the pilots license with obvious embarrassment and passed them to the second officer, who looked at them and handed them back with a nervous smile. They both gave the impression theyd just arrested the President for jaywalking.
«Well, sir, if youll just bear with us, Im sure we can get this straightened out,» the one behind the desk observed. «This really isnt our deal, sir. The people who asked us to do this will be along shortly.»
«Okay,» I agreed. «But who are these people?» He didnt have to tell me. I knew. And he didnt tell me.
An uncomfortable hour passed, more uncomfortable for the officers than for me. One of them left for a short time, returning with coffee, milk and sandwiches, which they shared with me. There was little conversation at first. I acted miffed and they acted like I should have been acting-like they wanted to be somewhere else. Oddly enough, I grew relaxed and confident as time passed, dropped my pose of righteous indignation and tried to ease their obvious discomfiture. I told a couple of airline jokes and they started to relax and ask me questions about my experiences as a pilot and the types of planes I flew.
The queries were casual and general, but of the kind designed to establish if I was a bona-fide airline pilot. One of the officers, it developed, was a private pilot himself, and at the end of thirty minutes he looked at his partner and said, «You know, Bill, I think someones made a helluva mistake here.»
It was near midnight when the «someone» arrived. He was in his late twenties, wearing an Ivy League suit and a serious expression. He extended a credentials folder in which nestled a gold shield. «Mr. Williams? FBI. Will you come with me, please?»
I thought we were going to the FBI offices, but instead he led me to an adjoining office and shut the door. He flashed a friendly smile. «Mr. Williams, I was called over here by the Dade County authorities, who, it seems, were contacted by some federal agency in New Orleans. Unfortunately, the officer who took the call didnt take down the callers name or the agency he represented. He thought it was our agency. It wasnt. We really dont know what the problem is, but apparently theres some question as to whether you work for Pan Am.
Frankly, Mr. Williams, were in a bit of a quandary. Weve been proceeding on the assumption the complaint is legitimate, and were trying to clarify the matter one way or the other. The problem is, the employee records are in New York and the Pan Am offices are closed over the weekend. He paused and grimaced. Like the deputies, he wasnt certain he was on firm ground.
I work for Pan Am, as you will learn when the offices open Monday morning, I said, affecting a calmly indignant attitude. In the meantime, what do you do? Put me in jail? If you intend to do that, I have a right to call a lawyer. And I intend...
He cut me off with a raised hand, palm outward. Look, Mr. Williams, I know what the situation is, if youre for real, and I have no reason to believe you are not. Listen, do you have any local superiors we can contact?
I shook my head. No, Im based in L.A. I just deadheaded in here to see a girl, and I was going to deadhead back to the Coast Monday. I know a lot of pilots here, but theyre with other airlines. I know several stewardesses, too, but again theyre with other carriers.
May I see your credentials, please?
I handed over the ID card and FAA license. He inspected the two documents and returned them with a nod. Tell you what, Mr. Williams, he offered. Why dont you give me the names of a couple of pilots you know here, and the names of some of the stewardesses, too, who can verify your status. I dont know what this is about, but its obviously a federal situation and Id like to resolve it.
I fished out my book of facts and names and gave him the names and telephone numbers of several pilots and stewardesses, hoping all the while some of them were home and remembered me fondly. And as an actual pilot.
I really was a hot pilot at the moment, I thought wryly while awaiting the FBI agents return, but so far Id been incredibly lucky concerning the situation. Obviously, the FAA tower operator in New Orleans had questioned my status and had made an effort to pursue his doubts. What had aroused his suspicions? I didnt have the answer and I wasnt going to seek one. The sheriffs office had committed a faux pas in bobbling the source of the inquiry, and the FBI agent was apparently compounding the error by ignoring the FAA as a source of information. That puzzled me, too, but I wasnt going to raise the question. If a check with the FAA did occur to him, I would really be in the grease.
I spent an anxious forty-five minutes in the room alone and then the agent popped through the door. He was smiling. Mr. Williams, youre free to go. I have confirmation from several persons as to your status, and I apologize for the inconvenience and embarrassment I know weve caused you. Im really sorry, sir.
County sheriffs sergeant
was behind him. I want to add our apologies, too, Mr. Williams. It wasnt our
fault. Just a damned
I didnt want the FBI agent to pick up on the FAA bit. The sergeant had obviously corrected his departments error. I spread my hands in a peace gesture and smiled. Hey, dont worry about it. I understand, and Im glad you guys are doing your job. I wouldnt want anyone flying around masquerading as a pilot, either.
We appreciate your being so nice about it, Mr. Williams, said the sergeant. Oh, your bag is over there by my desk.
Obviously it hadnt been searched. There was more than $7,000 in currency stashed in the bottom, among my underwear. I gotta go, gentlemen, I said, shaking hands with each of them. Ive got a girl waiting, and if she doesnt believe this wild tale, I may be calling one of you.
The FBI agent grinned and handed me his card. Call me, he said. Especially if she has a beautiful friend.
I split like a jack rabbit. Outside, I hailed a cab and had the driver take me to the bus station. The companys on an economy kick, I said as I paid him off. A smile replaced the quizzical expression on his face.
I went into the bus station rest room and changed out of my uniform, grabbed another cab and went straight to the airport. The earliest flight leaving Miami, departing within thirty minutes, was a Delta hop to Atlanta. I bought a one-way ticket on the flight under the name Tom Lom-bardi and paid cash for it. But I didnt totally relax until we were at cruising altitude and flying west. Once, during the short flight, I thought about the young FBI agent and hoped his boss didnt find out how the kid had goofed. The agent didntseem the type whod enjoy a tour of duty in Tucumcari, New Mexico, or Nogales, Arizona.
There was a girl in Atlanta, an Eastern stewardess. In any city, there was always a girl. I told this one I was on a six-month holiday, accumulated leave and sick time. I thought Id spend a couple months in Atlanta, I said.
Make that one month, Frank, she said. Im being transferred to New Orleans in thirty days. But you can put up here until then.
It was a very pleasant and relaxing month, at the end of which I rented a truck and moved her to New Orleans. She wanted me to stay with her there for the remainder of my vacation, but I didnt feel comfortable in New Orleans. My instincts told me to get the hell away from the Crescent City, so I went back to Atlanta, where, for reasons I didnt attempt to fathom, I felt hidden and secure.
The singles complex was a still-rare innovation in apartment construction at the time. One of the most elegant in the nation was River Bend, located on the outskirts of Atlanta. It was a sprawling, spa-like cluster of apartment units boasting a golf course, an Olympic-sized pool, saunas, tennis courts, a gymnasium, game rooms and its own club. One of its advertisements in the Atlanta Journal caught my eye and I went out to scout the premises.
I dont smoke. Ive never had an urge to try tobacco. I didnt drink at the time, and still dont save on rare occasions. I didnt have any quarrel with alcohol or its users. My abstinence was part of the role I was playing. When I first began masquerading as a pilot I had the impression that pilots didnt drink to any great degree, so I abstained on the premise that it would reinforce my image as a flyer. When I learned that some pilots, like other people, get soused to the follicle pits under permissible circumstances, Id lost all interest in drinking.
My one sensuous fault was women. I had a Cyprian lust for them. The River Bend ad had touted it as a scintillating place to live, and the builder was obviously a firm advocate of truth in advertising. River Bend sparkled with scintillators, most of them young, leggy, lovely, shapely and clad in revealing clothing. I instantly decided that I wanted to be one of the bulls in this Georgia peach orchard.
River Bend was both expensive and selective. I was given a lengthy application to fill out when I told the manager I wanted to lease a one-bedroom unit for one year. The form demanded more information than a prospective mother-in-law. I elected to stay Frank W. Williams since all the phony identification with which I had supplied myself was in that name. I paused at the space for occupation. I wanted to put down airline pilot, for I knew that the uniform would attract girls like a buck rub lures a doe. But if I did that Id have to specify Pan Am as my employer, and that made me wary. Maybe, just maybe, someone in the managers office might check with Pan Am.
On impulse, nothing more, I put down medical doctor as my occupation. I left the spaces for relatives and references blank and, hopeful it would distract attention from the questions Id ignored, I said Id like to pay six months» rent in advance. I put twenty-four $100 bills on top of the application.
The assistant manager who accepted the application, a woman, was inquisitive. «Youre a doctor?» she asked, as if doctors were as rare as whooping cranes. «What type of doctor are you?»
I thought Id better be the kind of doctor that would never be needed around River Bend. «Im a pediatrician,» I lied. «However, Im not practicing right now. My practice is in California, and Ive taken a leave of absence for one year to audit some research projects at Emory and to make some investments.»
«Thats very interesting,» she said, and then looked at the pile of $100 bills. She gathered them up briskly and dropped them into a steel cash box in the top drawer of her desk. «Itll be nice having you with us, Dr. Williams.»
I moved in the same day. The one-bedroom pad wasnt overly large, but it was elegantly furnished, and there was ample room for the action I had in mind.
Life at River Bend was fascinating, delightful and satisfying, if sometimes frenetic. There was a party in someones pad almost every night, and side action all over the place. I was generally invited to be a part of the scene, whatever it was. The other tenants accepted me quickly, and save for casual inquiries, easily handled, made no effort to pry into my personal life or affairs. They called me «Doc,» and of course there were those few who dont differentiate between doctors. This guy had a complaint about his foot. That one had mysterious pains in his stomach. There was a brunette who had an «odd, tight feeling» around her upper chest.
«Im a pediatrician, a baby doctor. You want a podiatrist, a foot doctor,» I told the first man.
«Im not licensed to practice in Georgia. I suggest you talk to your own doctor,» I told the other one.
I examined the brunette. Her brassiere was too small.
No sea offers calm sailing all the time, however, and one Saturday afternoon I encountered a squall that quickly built into a tragicomic hurricane.
I answered a knock on my door to face a tall, distinguished-looking man in his middle fifties, casually attired but still managing to appear impeccably groomed. He had a smile on his pleasant features and a drink in his hand.
«Dr. Williams?» he said, and assuming he was correct, proceeded to the point. «Im Dr. Willis Granger, chief resident pediatrician of Smithers Pediatric Institute and General Hospital in Marietta.»
I was too stunned to reply and he went on with a grin, «Im your new neighbor. Just moved in yesterday, right below you. The assistant manager, Mrs. Prell, told me you were a pediatrician. I couldnt help but come up and introduce myself to a colleague. Im not interrupting anything, am I?»
«Whered you go to school, here?» he asked. It was a normal question for doctors meeting, I suppose.
I knew only one college that had a school of medicine. «Columbia University in New York,» I said, and prayed he wasnt an alumnus.
He nodded. «A great school. Whered you serve your internship?»
Internship. That was done in a hospital, I knew. Id never been in a hospital. Id passed a lot of them, but the name of only one stuck in my mind. I hoped it was the kind of hospital that had interns. «Harbor Childrens Hospital in Los Angeles,» I said and waited.
«Hey, terrific,» he said, and much to my relief dropped the personal line of probing.
«You know, Smithers is a new facility. Ive just been appointed to head up the pediatrics staff. Itll be a seven-story hospital when its finished, but weve got only six floors open at the moment, and not too much traffic as yet. Why dont you come up and have lunch with me some afternoon and let me show you around the place. Youll like it, I think.»
«That sounds great, Id love it,» I replied, and soon afterward he left. I was suddenly glum and depressed in the wake of his visit, and my first impulse was to pack and get the hell out of River Bend, if not Atlanta. Granger living right below me posed a definite threat to my existence at River Bend.
If I stayed, it would be only a matter of time before hed know I was a phony, and I doubted hed let it go at that. Hed probably call in the authorities.
I was tired of running. Id been on the run for two years, and at the moment I wasnt recalling the excitement, glamour and fun of it all; I just wanted a place to call home, a place where I could be at peace for a while, a place where I had some friends. River Bend had been that place for two months, and I didnt want to leave. I was happy at River Bend.
A stubborn anger replaced my depression. To hell with Granger. I wouldnt let him force me back to the paper-hangers circuit. Id just avoid him. If he came to visit, Id be busy. When he was in, Id be out.
It wasnt that easy. Granger was a likable man and a gregarious one. He started showing up at the parties to which I was invited. If he wasnt invited, hed invite himself. And he was soon one of the most popular men in the complex. I couldnt avoid him. When hed see me abroad, hed hail me and stop me for a chat. And when he knew I was at home, hed call on me.
Granger had a saving grace. He wasnt one to talk shop. He preferred to talk about the many lovely women hed met at River Bend, and the fun he was having with them. «You know, I was never really a bachelor, Frank,» he confided. «I got married young, a marriage neither of us should have entered into, and we stayed with it too long. Why, I dont know. But Im having a ball, now. I feel like a thirty-year-old man again.» Or hed talk politics, world affairs, cars, sports, ethics and anything else. He was a learned and articulate man, informed on an amazing range of subjects.
I started to relax around Granger. In fact, I found him enjoyable company and even started seeking him out. Wary that the subject of pediatrics would recur sooner or later, however, I started spending a lot of time in the Atlanta library, reading books by pediatricians, medical journals with articles on childrens medicine and any other available printed matter that dealt with the subject. I quickly acquired a broad general knowledge of pediatrics, enough knowledge, I felt, to cope with any casual conversations concerning pediatrics.
I felt well-enough informed, after several weeks of study, in fact, to accept Grangers invitation to have lunch with him at the hospital.
He met me in the lobby and promptly introduced me to the receptionist. «This is Dr. Williams, a friend of mine from Los Angeles and, until he returns to California, my neighbor.» Im not sure why I was introduced to the receptionist, unless Granger thought he was being helpful. She was a lovely young woman.
A similar introduction was made frequently during an exacting tour of the hospital. We visited every department. I met the hospital administrator, the chief radiologist, the head of physical therapy, the head nurse, interns, other doctors and dozens of nurses. We had lunch in the hospital cafeteria, and from the number of doctors and nurses who joined us at the dorm-type table where we sat, it was obvious Dr. Granger was a popular and wellliked man.
I returned to the hospital frequently thereafter, chiefly
because of Brenda Strong, a nurse I had met there and started dating, but also
because the hospital had a large medical library with
I could browse around in the library as long as I wanted, which was sometimes hours, without arousing any suspicions. In fact, I learned my frequent use of the library earned me respect beyond professional recognition from the hospitals staff doctors. «Most of the doctors think youre pretty sharp, keeping up in your field even though youre on a leave of absence,» Brenda told me.
«I think youre pretty sharp, too.»
She was thirty, a ripe, luscious brunette with a zest for making it. I sometimes wondered what shed think if she knew her lover was an eighteen-year-old fraud. However, I never thought of myself as a teen-ager anymore, save on rare occasions. When I looked in a mirror, I saw a mature man of twenty-five or thirty and thats how I felt about myself, too. Id been just an adventurous boy when I altered my chronological age, but my mental clock, during the past two years, had set itself ahead to correspond.
Still, Id always had mature tastes in women. There were several tantalizing candy-stripers among the volunteer staff of the hospital, all in their late teens, but I was never attracted to any one of them. I preferred sophisticated, experienced women in their twenties or older. Like Brenda.
After several visits to the hospital, my initial trepidations dissipated, I began to enjoy my spurious role as a medico. I experienced the same vicarious pleasures, the same ego boosts, Id known as a bogus pilot.
Id walk down the corridor on one of the hospital floors and a pretty nurse would smile and say, «Good morning, Dr. Williams.»
Or Id encounter a group of staff interns and theyd nod respectfully and chant in unison, «Good afternoon, Dr. Williams.»
Or Id encounter one of the senior staff physicians and hed shake hands and say, «Good to see you again, Dr. Williams.»
And all day long Id go around feeling like Hippocrates in my hypocrites mantle. I even started sporting a tiny gold caduceus in my lapel.
No one tried to put me in a corner. I had no problems at all until one afternoon, following lunch with Granger and Brenda, I was leaving the hospital when John Colter, the administrator, hailed me.
«Dr. Williams! May I see you just a moment, sir.» Without waiting for an answer, he headed straight for his office nearby.
«Oh, shit,» I said, and didnt realize Id said it aloud until a passing orderly gave me a grin. I had an impulse to bolt, but suppressed the urge. Colters voice had not reflected any irritation or doubt. The request, while brusque, seemed devoid of suspicion. I followed him into his office.
«Doctor, have a seat, please,» said Colter, motioning to a comfortable lounge chair as he settled behind his desk. I relaxed immediately. He was still addressing me as «doctor,» and his manner now was almost ingratiating.
Colter, in fact, seemed embarrassed. He cleared his throat. «Dr. Williams, Im about to ask you for a very big favor, a favor I have no right to ask,» Colter said with a wry grimace. «I know that what Im about to propose will be imposing on you, but Im in a box, and I think youre the man who can solve my problem. Will you help me?»
I looked at him, perplexed. «Well, Ill be happy to, if I can, sir,» I replied cautiously.
Colter nodded and his tone became brisk. «Heres my problem, Doctor. On my midnight-to-eight shift, I have a resident who supervises seven interns and about forty nurses. He had a death in the family this afternoon, a sister in California. Hes left to go out there, and will be gone about ten days. Doctor, Ive got nobody to cover that shift. Nobody. If youve been keeping up with the situation here, and I know from your activities that you have, you know weve got a severe shortage of doctors in Atlanta at the moment. I cant find a doctor to replace Jessup, and I cant do it myself. Im not a medical doctor, as you know.
«I cant use an intern. The law requires a general practitioner or a specialist in one of the medical fields be the supervising resident of a hospital like this. Do you follow me?»
I nodded. I was following him, but in the same manner a jackal follows a tiger. Way back.
Colter plunged on. «Now, Dr. Granger tells me youre pretty well unencumbered here, that you spend a lot of time around your apartment, just taking it easy and playing with the girls.» He held up a hand and smiled. «No offense, Doctor. I envy you.»
His voice became pleading. «Dr. Williams, could you come up here and just sit around for ten days from midnight to eight? You wont have to do anything, I assure you. Just be here, so I can meet the states requirements. I need you, Doctor. Well pay you well, Doctor. Hell, as a bonus, Ill even put Nurse Strong on the shift for the ten days. I tell you, Doctor, Im in a bind. If you refuse me, I dont know what the hell I can do.»
The request astonished me, and I promptly objected. «Mr. Colter, Id like to help you, but theres no way I could agree,» I protested.
«Oh, why not?» Colter asked.
«Well, in the first place, I dont have a license to practice medicine in Georgia,» I began, but Colter silenced me with an emphatic shake of his head.
«Well, you wouldnt really be doing anything,» said Colter.
«Im not asking that you actually treat patients. Im just asking that you act
Reason told me to refuse. There were too many hazards to my posture involved. Any one of the questions that might be asked me on the morrow could strip me of my pretense and expose me for the «doctor» I was in reality. A snake-oil specialist.
But I was challenged. «Well, if theres not that much difficulty involved, and if it wont take a lot of my time, Ill be happy to help you out,» I agreed. «Now, specifically, what will be my duties? Mine has been an office practice
only, you know. Save for calling on patients that Ive had to admit for one reason or another, I know nothing of hospital routines.»
Colter laughed. He was obviously relieved and happy. «Hot
dog! Your duty? Just be here, Doctor. Walk around. Show yourself. Play poker
with the interns. Play grab-ass with the nurses. Hell, Frank-Im gonna call you
Frank because youre a friend of mine,
I did have misgivings when I walked into the conference room the next morning to face the five doctors. I knew all of them from my frequent visits to the hospital, and Granger headed up the panel. He flashed me a conspiratorial grin as I walked in.
The interview was a farce, much to my delight. I was asked only basic questions. Whered I go to medical school? Whered I intern? My age? Where did I practice? How long had I been a practicing pediatrician? Not one of the doctors posed a question that would have tested any medical knowledge I might have possessed. I walked out of the conference with a letter appointing me temporary resident supervisor on the staff of the hospital, and the next day Granger brought me another letter from the state medical board authorizing me to use my California medical certificate to practice in Georgia for a period of one year.
One of my favorite television programs is «M*A*S*H,» the seriocomic story of a fictional Army medical unit on the Korean War front. I never see a «M*A*S*H» segment without recalling my «medical career» at Smithers. I imagine there are several doctors in Georgia today who also cant view the program without memories of a certain resident supervisor.
My first shift set the tone for all my subsequent «duty tours.» I was aware from the moment I accepted Colters plea that there was only one way I could carry out my monumental bluff. If I was going to fake out seven interns, forty nurses and literally dozens of support personnel, I was going to have to give the impression that I was something of a buffoon of the medical profession.
I decided Id have to project the image of a happy-go-lucky, easygoing, always-joking rascal who couldnt care less whether the rules learned in medical school were kept or not. I put my act on the road the minute I arrived for duty the first night and was met by Brenda in the R.S.s office. Colter had not been jesting, it seemed. She was smiling.
«Here you are, Doctor, your smock and your stethoscope,» she said, handing them to me. «Hey, you dont have to work this dog shift,» I said, shrugging into the white garment. «When Colter said hed assign you to this shift, I thought he was kidding. Ill talk to him tomorrow.»
She flashed an impish look. «He didnt assign me,» she said. «I asked the head nurse to put me on this shift for the duration-your duration.»
I promptly donned the earpieces of the stethoscope and reached inside her blouse to apply the disk to her left breast. «I always knew your heart was in the right place, Nurse Strong,» I said. «Whats the first order of business tonight?»
«Not that,» she said, pulling my hand away. «I suggest you make a floor check before you start thinking about a bed check.»
The pediatrics ward took in the entire sixth floor of the hospital. It included the nursery, with about a dozen newborn babies, and three wings for children convalescing from illness, injury or surgery, or children admitted for diagnosis or treatment. There were about twenty children, ranging in age from two to twelve, in my charge. Fortunately, they werent technically under my care, since each was in the care of his or her own pediatrician who prescribed all treatment and medication.
Mine was strictly a supervisors or observers role, although I was expected to be the medical doctor available
for any emergencies. I hoped there wouldnt be any emergencies, but I had a plan for such a contingency. I spent the first night cultivating the interns, who were actually the guardians of the patients. All of them wanted to be pediatricians, and the sixth floor was an excellent proving ground. They seemed to me, after several hours of watching them, to be as competent and capable as some of the staff doctors, but I wasnt really in a position to pass judgment. It would have been akin to an illiterate certifying Einsteins theory of relativity.
But I sensed before morning that the interns, to a man, liked me as a supervisor and werent likely to cause a flap.
The first shift was lazy, pleasant and uneventful until about 7 a.m., when the nurse in charge of the sixth-floor station contacted me. «Doctor, dont forget before you go off duty that you need to write charts for me,» she said.
«Uh, yeah, okay, get them ready for me,» I said. I went up to the station and looked over the stack of charts she had ready for me. There was one for each patient, noting medication given, times, the names of the nurses and interns involved and instructions from the attending physician. «Thats your space,» said the nurse, pointing to a blank area on the chart opposite the heading supervising
I noticed the other doctors involved had written in Latin. Or Greek. Or maybe it was just their normal handwriting. I sure couldnt read it.
I sure as hell didnt want anyone reading what I wrote, either. So I scribbled some hieroglyphics all over each chart and signed my name in the same indecipherable manner in each instance.
«There you go, Miss Murphy,» I said, handing back the charts. «Youll note I gave you an A.»
She laughed. I got a lot of laughs during the following shifts with my wisecracking manner, seeming irreverence for serious subjects and zany actions. For example, an obstetrician came in early one morning with one of his patients, a woman in the last throes of labor. «You want to scrub up and look in on this? I think its going to be triplets,» he asked.
«No, but Ill see you have plenty of boiling water and lots of clean rags,» I quipped. Even he thought it was hilarious.
But I knew I was treading on thin ice, and about 2:30 a.m. at the end of my first week, the ice started cracking. «Dr. Williams! To Emergency, please. Dr. Williams! To Emergency, please.»
I had so far avoided the emergency ward, and it was my understanding with Colter that I wouldnt have to handle emergency cases. There was supposed to be a staff doctor manning the emergency ward. I presumed there was. I hate the sight of blood. I cant stand the sight of blood. Even a little blood makes me ill. I once passed near the emergency ward and saw them bringing in an accident victim. He was all bloody and moaning, and I hurried to the nearest toilet and vomited.
Now here I was being summoned to the emergency room. I knew I couldnt say I hadnt heard the announcement-two nurses were talking to me when the loudspeaker blared the message-but I dawdled as much as possible en route.
I used the toilet first. Then I used the stairs instead of the elevator. I knew my delay might be harmful to whomever needed a doctor, but it would be just as harmful if I rushed to the emergency ward. I wouldnt know what to do once I got there. Especially if the patient was bleeding.
This one wasnt, fortunately. It was a kid of about thirteen, white-faced, propped up on his elbows on the table and looking at the three interns grouped around him. The interns looked at me as I stopped inside the door.
«Well, what do we have here?» I asked.
«A simple fracture of the tibia, about five inches below the patella, it looks like,» said the senior intern, Dr. Hollis Carter. «We were just getting ready to take some X rays. Unless we find something more severe, Id say put him in a walking cast and send him home.»
I looked at Carl Farnsworth and Sam Bice, the other two interns. «Dr. Farnsworth?» He nodded. «I concur, Doctor. It may not even be broken.»
«How about you, Dr. Bice?»
«I think thats all weve got here, if that much,» he said.
«Well, gentlemen, you dont seem to have much need of me. Carry on,» I said and left. I learned later the kid had a broken shin bone, but at the time he could have needed eyeglasses for all I knew.
I had other emergency-ward calls in ensuing nights, and each time I let the interns handle the situation. I would go in, question one of them as to the nature of the illness or injury and then ask him how he would treat the patient. On being told, Id confer with one or both of the other interns who were usually present. If he or they concurred, Id nod authoritatively and say, «All right, Doctor. Have at it.»
I didnt know how well my attitude set with the interns concerning such incidents, but I soon found out. They loved it. «They think youre great, Frank,» said Brenda.
«Young Dr. Carter especially thinks youre terrific. I heard him telling some friends of his visiting from Macon how you let him get real practice, that you just come in, get his comments on the situation and let him proceed. He says you make him feel like a practicing doctor.»
I smiled. «Im just lazy,» I replied.
But I realized after the first shift that I needed some help. I located a pocket dictionary of medical terms, and thereafter when Id hear the interns or nurses mention a word or phrase, the meaning of which I didnt know, Id slip upstairs to the unfinished seventh floor, go into one of the empty linen closets and look up the word or words. Sometimes Id spend fifteen or twenty minutes in the closet just leafing through the dictionary.
On what I thought would be my last night in the guise of resident supervisor, Colter sought me out. «Frank, I know Ive got no right to ask this, but I have to. Dr. Jessup isnt coming back. Hes decided to stay and practice in California. Now, Im pretty sure I can find a replacement within a couple of weeks, so could I presume on you to stay that long?» He waited, a pleading look on his face.
He caught me at the right time. I was in love with my role
as doctor. I was enjoying it almost as much as my pretense of airline pilot.
And it was much more relaxing. I hadnt written a bad check since assuming the
pose of pediatrician. In fact, since taking the temporary position at Smithers,
I hadnt even thought about passing any worthless paper. The hospital was
paying me a
I clapped Colter on the back. «Sure, John,» I agreed. «Why not? Ive got nothing else Id rather do at the moment.»
I was confident I could carry the scam for another two weeks, and I did, but then the two weeks became a month and the month became two months, and Colter still hadnt found a replacement for Jessup. Some of the confidence began to wane, and at times I was nagged by the thought that Colter, or some doctor on the staff, even Granger, maybe, might start checking into my medical credentials, especially if a sticky situation developed on my shift.
I maintained my cocky, to-hell-with-rules-and-regula-tions demeanor with the interns, nurses and others under my nominal command, and the midnight-to-eight shift staff continued to support me loyally. The nurses thought I was a darling kook and appreciated the fact that I never tried to corner them in an unoccupied room. The interns were proud to be on my shift. Wed developed a real camaraderie, and the young doctors respected me. They thought I was wacky, but competent. «You dont treat us like the other staff doctors, Dr. Williams,» Carter confided. «When they walk in while were treating a patient, they say Move aside/ and just take over. You dont. You let us go ahead and handle the case. You let us be real doctors.
I sure as hell did. I didnt know a damned thing about
medicine. Those young doctors didnt know it until years later, but they were
the sole reason I was able to keep up my medical masquerade. When things got
Fortunately, during my tenure at Smithers, I was never faced with a life-or-death situation, but there were ticklish positions where only my antics mien saved me. Early one morning, for instance, an obstetrics team nurse sought me out. Dr. Williams, we just delivered a baby, and Dr. Martin was called across the hall to do a Caesarian section while we were still tying the cord. He asks if youd be kind enough to make a routine examination of the child.
I couldnt very well refuse. I was chatting with two nurses on my shift at the time the request was made. Ill help you, Dr. Williams, volunteered the one, Jana Stern, a dedicated RN who was attending medical school herself and hoped to be a pediatrician specializing in newborns.
She led the way to the nursery and I reluctantly followed. I had sometimes paused outside the plate-glass window of the nursery to look at the tiny, wrinkled newborns in their incubators or boxlike bassinets, but Id never gone inside. They reminded me of so many mewling kittens, and Ive always been slightly leery of cats, even little ones.
I started to shove open the door of the nursery and Nurse Stern grabbed my arm. Doctor! she gasped.
Whaf s wrong? I asked, looking around desperately for one of my trusty interns.
You cant go in like that! she scolded me. You have to scrub up and put on a smock and mask. You know that! She handed me a green jacket and a sterile mask.
I grimaced. Help me on with these damned things, I growled. Why do we need a mask? Im only gonna look at the kid, not stick him up. I realized why I needed a mask. I was trying to cover. And I did. She clucked. Honest, Doctor, youre too much at times, she said in exasperated tones.
It was a baby boy, still glistening redly from his rough passage through the narrow channel of life. He regarded me with a lugubrious expression. Okay, kid, take a deep breath and milk it back, I commanded in mock military tone, starting to apply my stethoscope to the babys chest.
Nurse Stern grabbed my arm again, laughing. Doctor! You cant use that stethoscope on a newborn! You use a pediatrics stethoscope. She busted out and returned with a smaller version of the one I held. I hadnt known they came in sizes. Will you quit fooling around, please? Weve got a lot of work to do.
I stepped back and waved at the baby. Tell you what, Dr. Stern. You examine the boy. Id like to check your style.
She rose to the bait. Well, I can do it, she said, as if Id insulted her, but still visibly pleased. She applied the stethoscope, then draped it around her neck and proceeded to manipulate the babys arms, legs and hips, peered into his eyes, ears, mouth and anus and ran her hands over his head and body. She stepped back and stared at me challengingly. Well?
I leaned down and kissed her on the forehead. Thank you, Doctor, youve saved my only son, I said with mock tearfulness.
The baby had lost his doleful look. No one is really certain if newborn infants have thoughts or are aware of what is going on around them. No one but me, that is. That kid knew I was a phony. I could see it in his face.
I examined several newborns after that. I never knew what I was doing, of course, but, thanks to Nurse Stern, I knew how to do it.
But I still spent a lot of time in my seventh-floor linen closet.
There were times, too, Im sure, when my tomfool demeanor irked people. Like the night, in the eleventh month of my impersonation, when a nurse rushed up to the nursing station where I was writing my undecipherable comments on charts. Dr. Williams! Weve got a blue baby in 608! Come quickly. She was a new nurse, barely a month out of school. And Id nipped her with one of my practical jokes. Her first night on duty Id told her to bring me a bucket of steam to the nursery. I want to sterilize the place. Shed eagerly rushed off to the boiler room, where a helpful intern had steered her.
Oddly enough, in the eleven months Id posed as a doctor, Id never heard the term blue baby. I thought she was getting back at me.
Ill be right along, I said, but first Ive got to check the green baby in 609. When I made no move, she rushed off, shouting for one of the interns. I stepped around the corner and consulted my medical dictionary. I learned a blue baby was one suffering from cyanosis, or lack of oxygen in the blood, usually due to a congenital heart defect. I took off for Room 608, and was relieved to find one of my interns had bailed me out again. He was adjusting a portable oxygen tent around the infant. Ive called his doctor. Hes on his way. Ill handle it until he gets here, if its all right with you, sir.
It was all right with me. The incident shook me. I realized I was playing a role that had reached its limits. Id been lucky so far, but I suddenly knew some child could die as a result of my impersonation. I determined to seek out Colter and resign, and I determined not to be swayed by any entreaties.
He sought me out instead.
Well, Frank, you can go back to being a playboy, he said cheerfully. Weve got a new resident supervisor. Got him from New York. Hell be here tomorrow.
I was relieved. I dropped around the next day to pick up my final paycheck and wasnt at all disappointed when I didnt meet my replacement. I was leaving the hospital when I encountered Jason, the elderly janitor on the midnight-to-eight shift.
Youre coming to work a little early, arent you, Jason? I asked.
Workin a double shift today, Doctor,» said Jason.
«If you havent heard, Jason, I wont be around anymore,» I said. «They finally found a replacement.»
«Yes, sir, I heard,» said Jason. He looked at me quizzically. «Doctor, can I ask you somethin»?«
«Sure, Jason. Anything.» I liked him. He was a nice old man.
He drew a deep breath. «Doctor, you never knowed it, but I always spent my relaxin» time up there on the seventh floor. And, Doctor, for nearly a year now I been seein you go in a linen closet up there. You never go in with anythin, and you never come out with anythin. I know you dont drink, and, Doctor, there aint nothin in that closet, nothin! I done searched it a dozen times. Doctor, my curiositys about to drive me to drink. Just what did you do in that linen closet, Doctor? I wont tell nobody, I swear!«
I laughed and hugged him. «Jason, I was contemplating my navel in that closet. Thats all. I swear it.»
But I know he never believed me. Hes probably still inspecting that closet.