Book: Ask the Right Question

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I woke up at seven thirty. Much too early, but I couldn’t fall back asleep and after a few seconds of consciousness, I didn’t want to.

In my own terms I had risked a good deal for the pictures I’d taken, and I wanted to find out what was on them. The only question was whether I should print them before or after breakfast.

I printed them before breakfast.

Since I was on an expense account, I decided to be thorough. I printed two eight-by-ten copies of each medical file page. I quick-fixed and quick-washed them. I put one set of ferrotype tins in the oven for a quick dry. The others I left loose on towels around the room. I made some morning coffee.

The prints in the oven dried fast, all right, but rolled up into little cylinders. I had to flatten them all over the edge of the table. That done, I sorted them out, and took a look at the fruits of my labor.

First things first. I tried Fleur’s current file.

It turns out that a doctor’s record is not the easiest thing in the world to read. It meant Very little to me.

Finally I managed to interpret dates. Like, the record was opened on July 21, 1956, not with a visit, but with a note which read “Sr.-7/21/56.” I took a guess that it meant she had been Fishman, Senior’s, patient and had been taken over on that date by the son. Presumably on the elder Fishman’s retirement or demise.

There was a section titled “history.” I couldn’t read it.

The pages of appointments I could read. There weren’t any.

I began to wonder if I was missing something. Maybe there was some gap in my education. All it meant to me was that Fleur had not seen Dr. Fishman since 1956. Why should that be peculiar? I told me why. Because he was supposed to be the family doctor. So I had to be missing something.

Like what happened about the miscarriage.

I poured a cup of coffee and collated Leander Crystal’s medical file.

Marked “Sr.-7/21/56.” With much less history space filled in, equally illegible. I passed on to appointments.

Empty, like Fleur’s.

Dummy files? Dummy detective?

Or healthy Crystals? When one has risked more than one cares to lose, it is depressing to find that you have won very little. Information doesn’t become more valuable just because it was hard to get.

More coffee.

I took the current file for Eloise Crystal. Dated 11/17/54, some two weeks after her birth, the day after her arrival in Indianapolis. I presumed that Fishman, Junior, had been her doctor from the beginning. Or rather from her first appearance in Indianapolis.

Appointments galore. Nearly sixteen years’ worth. Miscellaneous words I could make out.

But even the full file depressed me. Because I figured if I spent a lot of time I could work out most of it, but I wouldn’t have any way of knowing ahead of time whether there would be anything important. It was the inefficiency which appalled me.

After a dreadful, eventful, exciting day yesterday, and not enough sleep. Especially not enough sleep.

I went to the old files of Wilmer Fishman, Senior. I started with Fleur’s again. No blank here, but I was too low to absorb much.

File opened, presumably at birth, on June 9, 1930. Particularly dense from the late 1930’s on.

At least I knew now who had paid for the Fishman Clinic: Estes Graham.

Leander first visited Fishman in 1947. I assumed that he had been referred by Estes. He had made sporadic visits, roughly two a year, until 1953. The last listed appointment was January 5, 1953. Then nothing. For seventeen years. Money cures many ills, but that was ridiculous.

I took up Fleur’s three brothers. Windom, the eldest, Sellman, then Joshua. Last appointments for each in the early forties. The three heroes, dead. “Deceased” was marked at the bottom of each file.

Irene Olian Graham’s was short. She had died in 1937. I had my first look into a doctor’s view of a patient who had died under his care. Under the last appointment was the notation. “Deceased 2/19/37. 156201.”

I realized after only a few minutes that the number was not likely to be the number of patients who had died on Dr. Fishman, Sr. Perhaps a certificate number, for the corpse.

The last appointment bore the same date and I found a notation that looked very much like “hv.” I decided that it was probably meant to be “hv,” for house visit. Thank you, dear Watson. I had another cup of coffee.

I leafed back through Fleur’s records. There were what appeared to be literally a hundred house visits in the older file. Fleur, I realized, made me uncomfortable. The cumulative effect of the things I had found out, or hadn’t found out. I felt less and less sure of ever knowing her, but surer that someday I would be meeting her. I was depressed.

Estes Graham. First ministered to by Fishman, Senior, in what appeared to be 1901. Senior could not have been much more than just starting in practice then. And who knew what Estes was starting. His visits had been infrequent, years apart at times, until 1946 when they had become regular and frequent. Many notes and symbols and numbers.

I concentrated furiously, but I could not find any familiar words. My loathing of television doctor programs had served me ill. Clearly there had been a major change in the state of his health, but what?

There were no recorded visits after August 18, 1954. He had died August 20, and this date was marked beneath the last visit. And “Deceased.” No number followed.

I set the pile of photographs aside. I was hit with a sense of unease. I wasn’t sure if I had a pile of nothing, or just didn’t know enough to find out what I did have. I didn’t know what to do, and I didn’t feel much like thinking about it. It had been a trying night, after a trying day. I felt I could only function at a perfunctory level.

I lay down on the bed. The way I felt reminded me of the days following the teething nights of my daughter’s first teeth. Hard times.

In a rush I remembered Eddie, the night watchman, and my stool, the fallen prisoner. It really made me feel bad. How can someone with my skills be such a poor breaker and enterer?

No nerves, that’s how. Actually maybe just lack of practice. Idly I resolved to practice more. Maybe a life of crime. Idly I fell asleep.

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