A Second Opinion, Chapter Three: Decision Made
This is chapter 3 of a serialized novella appearing on Ars Gratia Libertatis every two weeks. Â Read from the beginning here.
Chapter Three: Decision Made
It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.â€
Morales didnâ€™t sleep well the next week. He would find himself lying in bed next to Shelly, uncomfortably aware of her measured breathing and occasional snore, staring at the ceiling as his mind raced.
He had continued his search for public records of the Fremonts. The mother-daughter pair didnâ€™t appear in any of the tax databases, and had apparently never made a political contribution or even applied for a credit card. Lysandra had also been right that they didnâ€™t appear in any of the medical databases (so it was obvious they would never be admitted or qualify for specialist care). Morales even called in a few favors with some government employees he knew and learned that there was no record of them in the Social Security, National ID, Collective Pension, Civilian Registry or Friends of the State databases. They didnâ€™t even appear on the Terrorist Watch List!
According to the myriad, hydra-like branches of federal, state and local government, the Fremonts did not exist. Which, in this day and age, was impossible. After the passage of the Internet Safety and Accountability Act you couldnâ€™t even log on without someone having a record of who you were and what you were doing (not that Morales minded this, of course; he had nothing to hide and it kept terrorists and pedophiles at bay).
Though John spent his evenings in search of information on the mystery visitors, this was not what kept him tossing and turning long hours after he had brushed his teeth and settled into bed. Instead, he found himself thinking about events that had happened during his day at the hospital. Little events. Insignificant events. Things that, before, had not occupied a single neuronâ€™s-worth of thought in his brain.
Things like the firing of a nurse for her online journal criticizing the governmentâ€™s handling of the healthcare crisis. Or a young man being refused care because his stomach pains werenâ€™t â€œseriousâ€ enough, or yet another good doctor suddenly retiring from stress and overwork (though he said it was to spend more time with his family). Or three full rooms of patients being cleared out to make way for the State Attorney General who thought he was having a heart attack (it turned out to be gas). Or the faces of the people waiting in line outside the emergency room. One or two had even put up tents but the security guards had taken these down before the media could show up.
One incident that week struck Moralesâ€™ mind above all the others. He had been delivering a discharge form for a patient of his to the nurse at the front desk of the ER and had passed through the waiting area on the way there. As he made his way through the seated patients and their families he overheard two children arguing over a game. Their high pitched voices had spoken in hurried, petulant tones.
â€œI’m daddy, you hafta be the doctor!â€
â€œBut I don’t wanna be the doctor!â€
â€œI already picked daddy, so you hafta be the doctorâ€ the older of the two insisted.
â€œI don’t wanna be the doctor! I hate doctors!â€
Morales wasn’t quire sure what had so unsettled him about that episode. It was only rational that a child, taken away from playtime by a sick parent or family member may come to resent the ever-present apparitions in white coats; the people who were the most visible reason for his being cooped up in a hospital. Still, John couldn’t help contrasting that with his own childhood awe of the medical profession.
Of course, thoughts of that nature soon led to thoughts on his current malaise regarding his work, on why it wasn’t as enjoyable as it once was, and on what, exactly, had changed in the intervening years. He had thought for a long time it was himself who had changed, but Alyssa and Lysandra’s comments had opened a crack in that line of reasoning. A hairline fissure that was slight, for now.
The appointed day arrived. Exactly one week from the evening visit by the strange pair. Morales had still not discovered who they were or where they were from, and was driven by curiosity, if nothing else, to see them again.
The snow had melted, except for some dirty piles in the parking lot and by the sides of roads, and John Morales had made up his mind. The fact that he had done so didn’t ease the feeling of vertigo he endured in his stomach that day as he attended to his duties at the hospital. When he sat down that night to finish the paperwork required for Thomas’ visit the feeling had only intensified. It was with an odd sort of trepidation he listened for the knock that would announce their arrival.
He glanced out the window often, hoping to catch some glimpse of the Fremonts, his curiosity making it almost impossible to focus on the paperwork in front of him. He saw nothing, but at 7:30 there came a knock on the front door.
He wasn’t going to help them. That much was clear. He’d taken an oath on becoming a state-licensed physician to obey the law and uphold the collective good. And the law was very unambiguous in this respect; you may not offer specialist medical care to people who were not eligible for it. Especially when so many who were eligible for it had to go without for want of enough doctors and medical equipment.
He couldn’t break the law just to help a pair of people he was intrigued by, no matter how much he wanted to. The system may be flawed, yes, but this was not the way to fix it. He’d thought through it over and over again in the last week. The right way was to work within the system; to reform it, not rebel against it. He could organize doctors, maybe start a political action committee to bring some of these issues up in the next election. These were the the ways to actually effect change, not some silent revolution for two people he’d only just met. He didn’t need to be a martyr.
All these thoughts went through his head as Morales walked slowly to the front of the office. He opened the door and they were both there, just as he remembered them; bundled against the cold and looking at him piercingly. The yellow-orange glow of the streetlamps in the parking lot silhouetted the pair.
Lysandra opened her lips to speak, but before she could say a word Morales whispered softly, â€œI’ll do it; I’ll help you.â€