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Doctor in the House

Written by:
Paula Wilshe

Larry Appleton finished knotting his tie as he walked down the hallway from his bedroom.  He looked up just in time to see his cousin, Balki Bartokomous, scrape his barely-touched breakfast into the trash.

"Balki, what's the matter?"

"Oh, good morning, Cousin.  Nothing's the matter, why?" Balki smiled.

"You just threw out your breakfast."

"Oh, that.  I'm just not hungry this morning."

Larry narrowed his eyes.  "You're always hungry.  You have a sore throat again, don't you?"

"Well, no, I . . . . "

"Don't you?"

"No, Cousin, I . . . . "

"DON'T you?"

Balki sighed in defeat.  "Yes, Cousin."  He hung his head in shame.

Larry softened his courtroom manner.  "Balki, you know . . . this is the third time in two months."

"I know."

"And you remember what the doctor said, don't you?"

Balki made a face and mimicked his cousin's voice.  "Yes, I remember what the doctor said."  He took a sip of his tea.  "He said I would have to go to the hospital.  But I say no way."

"But, Balki, having your tonsils taken out is a very simple procedure.  A lot of my brothers and sisters had theirs taken out when we were kids.  It never seemed like a big deal to me."

"Did you have yours taken out?"

"Well, no, I didn't, but I did have my wisdom teeth removed when I was eighteen."

"Well," Balki looked him over, "that explains a lot."

Larry pursed his lips and tried another tack.  "Do you enjoy getting sick all the time?"

"Well, of course I don't, don't be ridiculous, but . . . . "

"You know if you'd just take care of this now . . . . "

Balki drew himself up to his full height.  "No, Cousin, I've made up my mind, and nothing you can say will make me lose it.  No hospital, no way."

Larry threw up his hands.  "All right.  I give up.  I'm going to work."

*************************

Balki dumped the sack of mail on his worktable and swallowed painfully.  Everyone else was at lunch, but there didn't seem much point in going with them when he couldn't stand to eat.  The last time his throat felt like this the doctor had advised him that a simple tonsillectomy would minimize recurrent infections.  But in Balki's very limited experience, nothing good had ever come from a hospital stay.  On Mypos, no one went to a hospital unless they were very ill and, more times than not, they didn't come home.  Although his Cousin Larry had assured him that things were much different in America, Balki could not shake the bad connotations conjured by the word "hospital."

He heard footsteps approaching from the parking garage and looked up to see his cousin approaching, carrying a take out bag from the diner across the street.  "Hi, Balki.  How're you feeling?"

Balki smiled slightly.  "Okay, Cousin.  How was lunch?"

"I brought you something."

Balki looked longingly at the bag.  He fingered his throat, which had steadily become more painful throughout the morning until he could barely swallow.  "Thank you for thinking of me, but I don't think I . . . . "

Larry grinned and opened the bag.  "Yes you can!  It's a milkshake.  It'll make your throat feel better."

Balki sipped eagerly at the frozen drink.  His cousin was right . . . it did make his throat ache a little less, and it tasted good, too.

Sensing an opportunity, Larry began, "You know, Balki . . . . "

"Cousin, I told you once, I told you twice, I told you two times . . . I don't want to talk about it and I won't."

"Okay, okay.  I'm just trying to help.  But you're acting very childish."

Balki sullenly turned away, clutching his milkshake.

*************************

Later that evening, Larry entered the apartment carrying a load of laundry from the dryer in the basement.  "Looks like I accidentally threw one of my sweatshirts in with the white wash," he announced, dropping the basket behind the couch and pulling out a pair of now light green boxer shorts.  When Balki didn't respond, Larry stepped closer.  His cousin had been watching television when he'd left, but now he could see that Balki had fallen asleep on the sofa.  Setting the boxers aside, Larry lifted the blanket from the back of the couch and draped it over Balki.

As gentle as he tried to be, the movement awakened Balki, who blinked his eyes in the light.

"Sorry . . . I didn't mean to wake you," Larry said softly.

"What time is it?" Balki asked hoarsely.

"About nine."  Larry reached down and felt Balki's forehead.  "You're running a fever, you know."  He straightened up, his expression firm.  "That's it.  This has gone far enough.  I'm calling the doctor."

Balki sighed, beaten.  He was too tired to argue.  "All right, Cousin.  But I'm not in a very good place about it."  He lifted his head as his cousin walked to the telephone and picked up the receiver, then stared in disbelief at the boxer shorts lying on the back of the couch.  "I must be sicker than I thought . . . I could swear my shorts are green . . . "

Balki flopped back onto the couch, holding his forehead and mumbling in Myposian.  Larry hesitated between the phone and his cousin before deciding there was no point in trying to explain.

*************************

THREE DAYS LATER . . . .

Balki sat up in his hospital bed, grinning happily.  As scared as he was about the actual operation, his experience so far had been quite an adventure.  Everyone was being so nice.  He looked up to see Larry enter.

"Hi, Balki.  How're you doing?"

"Fine, Cousin.  Look what the nurse give me."  Balki held out his hand to reveal the standard hospital bracelet on his wrist.  He pointed to it with his other hand and whispered conspiratorially, "It's personalized!"

Larry pushed back a smile.  "So it is."  Noticing something, he leaned closer.  "But they spelled your name wrong."

"I know, but the nurse is so nice . . . Bartokomous is not an easy name to spell, you know.  Besides, I know who I am."

"If you say so."  After a brief pause, Larry reached into the shopping bag he was carrying.  "By the way, I brought you something."

Balki's eyes lit up as he reached for the stuffed sheep.  "Oh, Cousin, thank you for remembering him."

"Now he'll be sitting here waiting when you come back from the operating room tomorrow," Larry said in a soothing tone.

"Will you be here, too, Cousin?"

"Of course I will.  I've already asked Mr. Wainwright for the day off.  I'll be in to see you before you go, and I'll be waiting here with Dimitri when you come back from the recovery room."  He patted Balki on the shoulder.  "Okay?"

"Yeah."  Balki bit his lip thoughtfully.  "Cousin, in case something should happen to me . . . . "

"Balki, nothing's going to happen to you."

"Oh, I know, but just in case . . . I was wondering if you . . . . "

"Balki, I know what you're going to say.  I understand this whole thing is scary for you, but believe me, everything will be fine.  And don't worry . . . just in case something happens, which it won't, I promise you I will look after Dimitri."

Balki rested his hand on Larry's arm.  "Oh, Cousin.  That is so nice of you.  Although that isn't actually what I was going to say.  I was just going to tell you to be sure to throw out the Moolinki loaf after a few weeks.  It doesn't taste as good when the mold goes bad."

Larry's eyes stared at his cousin, unblinking.  "I'll remember that.  Do you need anything else?  Something to read?  Or do you want the t.v. on?"

"No, cousin, I'm okay."

Larry turned off the overhead light so that the room was only illuminated by the soft lamp at the head of the bed.  "Then why don't you get some sleep?  I'll see you first thing in the morning."

"All right."  Balki slid down a little further in bed.  "Good night.  And thank you, Cousin."  He smiled.

"You're welcome.  Sleep well." Larry walked to the door, then turned and waved before he left, smiling as Balki returned the goodbye with a wave of his index fingers.

*************************

The annoyingly repetitive jingle ran through his head again and again for what seemed like forever.  Slowly he stirred, the tune still going in his head even though a newscaster's voice had replaced it.

"Now for the weather, let's turn to our resident meteorologist, Marty Campbell.  Marty?"

Larry lifted his head, smacking his lips noisily as he sleepily looked around.  The last thing he remembered was watching television on the couch.  Looking down at his wrinkled clothes, he realized he'd fallen asleep.  The pale light coming through the window and his stiff neck told him he'd spent the entire night there.

"Thanks, Marty.  And now a bizarre story close to home . . . a hospital patient scheduled for a routine tonsillectomy almost became the recipient of a heart and lung transplant!  The bizarre mix-up occurred last Tuesday at the Chicago General Medical Center when doctors realized, at the last minute, that they had the wrong man.  Apparently a misprinted I.D. bracelet led to the mix-up, and no one noticed the error until doctors spotted a discrepancy of age on their patient's chart.  Mr. Samuel Lang of Evanston is recovering this morning from the correct operation.  Hospital officials say they will be launching a complete investigation into the matter within the week."

Larry reached over and picked up the remote control, pointing it at the television set to turn it off.  Groggily he got up and made his way to the bathroom.

Seconds later he dashed back into the living room in a panic, staring at the blank television.

"Oh my Lord!!!"  Larry's eyebrows shot up several inches.  "I've got to get to the hospital before they transplant Balki's brain!"

*************************

Larry walked casually past the nurses' station, trying not to attract attention.  He kept his face aimed straight ahead, avoiding eye contact with anyone who might remember him later.  Glancing to the left and then to the right he slipped into Balki's room and was overjoyed to find his cousin was still there and not yet on his way to the operating suite.

"Balki, there's no time to explain.  You've got to get up and come with me right now."  He reached into the closet and began pulling out Balki's clothes and tossing them on the bed.  "Start getting dressed.  I'll explain on the way."  Larry opened the drawer under the closet and began tossing Balki's toothbrush, extra pajamas and shaving things into the briefcase he'd brought with him.  When he was finished he straightened, glancing toward the door.  "Okay, buddy, you ready to go?  Balki?"

Not getting any response, Larry turned and was shocked to see Balki was still sound asleep; the clothes he'd thrown onto the bed were lying messily around his oblivious cousin.  "Oh my Lord . . . he's been sedated!"

Larry raced to the bed and, placing a hand behind Balki's neck, pulled him into a sitting position.  "Balki . . . Balki . . . wake up . . . . "  He patted Balki on the cheek.  "Come on, buddy, time to get up . . . . "  Nothing.

In desperation, Larry let Balki fall back onto the bed before dipping his fingers into a pitcher of ice water on the nighttable, sprinkling it lightly on Balki's face, who scrunched his eyes shut tighter but did not wake up.  Larry was on the verge of losing his already tenuous grasp on control.  His breath was coming in short panting gasps and his lips disappeared into a thin, wavy line.

He grabbed the front of Balki's pajamas and, with a guttural hiss, pulled his cousin upright again.  "Wake up!"

Balki's eyes fluttered open and he grinned dopily.  "Good morning, Cousin."  He licked his lips.  "Well . . . goodnight . . . . "  His eyes started to close.

Larry leaned closer and yelled, "Balki!"

Balki's eyelids flew open, but his eyes held the same, vacant stare.

Larry exhaled noisily.  Clearly Balki was going to be of no help whatsoever.  He dropped Balki onto the bed again and began trying to formulate a plan when the door of the room swung open to allow the entrance of an orderly wheeling a gurney.  The tall, dark haired man was wearing a surgical scrub suit, complete with cap.  He checked a paper on the clipboard he was carrying.  "I'm here for a Bal-kye Bar-toko-mouse.  This him?"  He gestured toward the sleeping Mypiot.

Larry's eyes opened wide with terror.  "Him?  Um . . . no . . . you must be mistaken.  His name isn't Bartokomouse.  It's Bartokomous."

The orderly checked his clipboard again.  "Nope, it says Bar-toko-mouse.  See?"

Larry was about to inspect the clipboard when Balki raised a hand and said in a sleepy voice, "I'm Bal-kye Bar-toko-mouse . . . . "

Satisfied, the orderly slipped the clipboard onto a shelf under the gurney.  "Okay, then, you gotta get on here.  Think you can do that if I help you?"

"Yeah, sure . . . . "

"No . . . no he can't.  This man has been sedated," Larry stuttered, stalling for time.  "Perhaps you could come back another time?  When he's more alert?"

The orderly shook his head.  "Sorry, I gotta take him now.  Besides, he's supposed to be sedated . . . that's how they like 'em upstairs."

"I'll just bet they do," Larry snorted disdainfully.

Despite his frenzied protests, the orderly soon had Balki transferred to the gurney and on his way to the fifth floor.

*************************

The supply room closet's door opened just a crack and a scrub-suited figure peered out; only his crazed eyes were visible above the mask, tracking warily to back and forth.  When he was certain there was no one in the hallway, Larry slipped out, closing the door behind him.  He was running out of time to save his best friend from a terrible fate.

He had tried to explain his fears to a nurse, an x-ray technician and the pink lady who was delivering the mail, but they had simply looked at him strangely and said nothing, leading Larry to the inescapable conclusion that there was some sort of conspiracy going on.

Although his primary thought was to rescue his cousin, Larry could not shake the vision from his mind of what might happen if he were able to expose the scandal.  The Pulitzer Prize would look nice on the mantle next to his baseball trophy.

He adjusted the mask and assumed a nonchalant air as he walked down the hall; only his eyes showed any tension as they flitted from side to side.  He nodded to the nurse at the desk outside of the operating suite, jumping only slightly at the hiss of the pneumatic doors as they opened wide to allow him entrance.  Patients were lined up in the halls, strapped to gurneys as they waited for entrance to the O.R.

"Yes!  Yessss!!" Larry hissed as he spotted Balki, who obviously had not been admitted to surgery yet.  He leaned in close to Balki's ear.  "Balki!  Balki, it's me!  Can you hear me?"  He patted Balki's cheek, but his cousin did not react at all.

Larry ran to the front end of the gurney and started to push it toward the elevator.  He picked up speed as he passed the nurse's station, vaguely aware of a nurse calling for him to stop as she waved something at him, but he ignored her and kept moving.  Another nurse down the hall stepped into his path, but he dodged her deftly and ducked through a doorway.

Barely able to breathe, he intently listened at the door to see if he was still being pursued.  He was so involved in listening he didn't notice Balki sitting up.

"Cousin . . . . " Balki moaned sleepily.  "Is that you?"

"Balki!  Oh, thank God!"  Larry raced to his cousin's side.  "Listen to me," he whispered fiercely.  "There was a story on the news this morning about this hospital!  They almost did a transplant operation on a person who didn't need one!  The name on the I.D. bracelet was wrong!  Now they think you're Bar-toko-mouse!  God knows what they've got him scheduled for!  I've got to get you out of here before they remove something vital . . . . Balki?"  He shook his cousin, who appeared to be spacing out again.  "Balki?"

"Cousin?"

"Yes, Balki, yes?  What is it?"

"What were we talking about?"

"Balki, don't you understand?  This is an EVIL place and they're doing terrible things and we've got to smuggle you out of here before they remove your brain or something important . . . !"

For a moment, Balki appeared completely lucid.  He looked Larry up and down appraisingly, then, in a haughty voice, stated, "I don't think so."  With this pronouncement he resumed his sedated air, flopping back as if boneless.

Larry heard footsteps in the hall.  "Oh . . . oh . . . someone's coming . . . . "

At precisely this inopportune moment, Balki began singing in a loud and tuneless voice.  "Hey, ninety-eight point six, it's good to have you back again, oh . . . ."

Larry clamped a hand over his cousin's mouth, but not before a nurse pushed the door open and stared at them.

"Doctor, isn't this Mr. Bar-toko-mouse?"

Larry thought for a moment, then looked down at Balki as if he were surprised to find him there.  "Oh!  Why, yes," he replied in a business-like tone.  "I believe it is."

"Well, thank goodness!  They've been looking all over for him.  Apparently there's some crazy man trying to kidnap this patient, so you'd better take him straight to O.R. six in case the nut slips through security and shows up here."

"O.R. . . . six?" Larry shook his head and did a double take.  "What do you mean, nut?"

"Doctor, everyone's waiting!  Come on, let's go!"

"Well," Larry said in a thin voice.  "Splendid."

Seeing no way out, he followed the nurse into operating room number six.  His head felt clammy as he looked down at the tray of surgical instruments and he was overcome by a sudden wave of dizziness.  The strain of the morning, coupled with the ambiance of the surgical suite, was closing in on him.  He grasped the edge of Balki's gurney for support, but things became fuzzier and fuzzier . . . .

*************************

As Larry slowly regained consciousness, he was aware of muffled voices and the soft surface he was lying on.  He slowly opened his eyes and looked around.  He appeared to be occupying a bed.  Rolling over he came nose to nose with a strange face wearing a surgical mask.  After a startled moment he realized it was Dimitri, sitting on the bedside table facing him.  After that it didn't take Larry long to deduce that he was now back in Balki's hospital room.

Balki, slightly pale, was lying in the bed across from his.  Jennifer sat on one edge of the bed and Mary Anne sat on the other side feeding him a dish of ice cream as Jennifer gently brushed the hair back from his forehead.

"Maybe you should try to get a little sleep now, Balki," Jennifer suggested softly.  "You've been through an awful lot today."

"You're not kidding!" said Mary Anne, eyes wide.  "If Larry hadn't fainted there's no telling what might have happened!"

Jennifer glared at her.  "Mary Anne!  Larry was only trying to help."  She glanced back at Larry, who quickly feigned sleep.  "Of course, if he didn't help it would be better," she added softly, smiling fondly at his sleeping form.  "I guess we should go now.  Good night, Balki.  And tell Larry we said goodbye when he wakes up."

Balki nodded and squeezed Jennifer's hand.

"Come on, Mary Anne."

"Okay."  Mary Anne set the empty ice cream bowl on the bedside table before leaning down to kiss Balki on the forehead.  "Feel better, Balki.  See you at home tomorrow."

He smiled up at her and mouthed, "Thank you."

After the door swung shut behind the girls, Balki looked over at Larry.  "They're gone, Cousin," he said in a hoarse whisper.

Larry opened his eyes and looked at Balki incredulously.  "You knew I was awake?"

Balki nodded.

Larry got up and shuffled over to Balki.  "I guess I really got carried away this time, didn't I?"

"Well, yes you did," croaked Balki.  "But I know you were only worried for me."

Larry cleared his throat.  "I was, Balki, I really was.  I don't know why I get so crazy."  He swallowed carefully and looked puzzled.

"What's the matter, cousin?" Balki whispered.

"Nothing . . . nothing . . . " Larry shrugged his shoulders.  "I just . . . my throat's kind of sore . . . . "  He looked over at Balki, who was trying not to grin.

"Um, Cousin, know what I think?"

Genuinely confused, Larry said, "No . . . what do you think?"  He swallowed again, winced, and reached a hand up to his throat.  Suddenly his eyes opened wide and his eyebrows knitted together.

"Oh my Lord . . . . "

The End