A Cold End

Dorothy L. Sayers

Dr. Ray was the Resident Doctor at a prestigious private hospital and was swept off his feet with work that night. Every time he tried to put up his feet and lean back to catch forty winks someone would call him out with a fresh need.

There was a particular problem with Patient 116 at the ICCU. And Dr. Ray had already looked in on him several times, but not only was the patient still looking worrying, he was distinctly looking like he would not last the night. But no one from the patient's family was present, the Matron said, 'I have called his home several times but they say there is no one around who can take a decision about moving the patient out of the ventilator.'

All the staff in the hospital knew how much in demand was the bed in ICCU but unless the family gave it in writing and truly unless the family paid, they could not take a decision. Dr. Roy heaved a sigh and retired to his little cabin.

As he approached his cabin he saw was an old woman waiting for him. He knew she was the relative of Patient 116, for he had seen her around, usually late at night, after visiting hours, huddled in a corner, away from the rest of the family. As she saw him she began weeping, 'he is no more, is he, tell me the truth, Doctor?' Dr. Ray did not reply but entered his cabin. The old lady followed, still weeping.

The Doctor tried not to engage with her, but he wished he could help her. Eventually he said, 'are you the patient's wife?' Still weeping she nodded in agreement. Dr. Ray said 'then please clear the bills and take him home.'

Still weeping copiously, the woman said ' my son is busy with a wedding in the family so he can't come tonight, maybe not even tomorrow …I don't have the cash nor can I sign a cheque, only my son can do that.'

Dr. Ray shrugged and said, 'sorry, then I can't help you. Please get your son here.'

'I won't run away without paying! Release him to me, I am his wife!'

'Rules are rules, sorry.'

The old woman began removing her gold bangles and thrusting these at Dr. Ray cried, 'please, please take these and release him. He is no more and does not have to be cruelly strapped to all those tubes. Please, Doctor, help!'

She was relentless in her pleas, refusing to go despite several nurses responding to Dr. Ray's calls for help. Eventually a nurse discovered the son's mobile number and gave it to Dr. Ray. By this time the old lady was holding out a bunch of gold bangles to Dr. Ray, exhorting him to take the gold as payment and release her husband.

Dr. Ray finally got through to the son of Patient 116 and complained about his mother trying to pay the hospital with her gold to release her husband.

The son heard Dr. Ray out and then said, 'there must be a mistake, Dr. Ray. My mother has been dead for three years.'

Dr. Ray jumped to his feet.

At his feet lay a skeleton with gold clutched in a bony hand.

(Inspired by a Bengali story on WhatsApp.)

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