THE PRESCRIPTION - JED POWER
“Is there anything else we can try, Doctor Fisher?” She was a shell of a woman and she asked the question without a trace of hope in her voice, almost as if she felt an obligation to ask it. She sat stiff and upright in a plush, red leather chair and looked across a large imposing mahogany desk at the man seated behind it. He had on a white coat and his hands were steepled at his chin. The walls surrounding him were covered with medical degrees. Even so, he seemed quite uncomfortable with the question he’d just been asked.
When he spoke it was slowly and in a businesslike tone. “For the progression of the disease...as I’ve said before...there is nothing except the treatments you are already undergoing. But for the nausea and appetite...possibly.” He cleared his throat and spoke more softly now. “Mrs. Sinclair, have you ever smoked marijuana?”
The question didn’t surprise her. Not much did anymore. Not since she found out she was sick. Still, she hesitated a bit before she spoke. “Why, yes I have. In college a few times.” Then adding quickly, “But that was a long time ago and not since then.”
“Of course,” the doctor said, nodding gravely. “Now, I was wondering. Are you familiar, by any chance, with the success some chemotherapy patients are having controlling their nausea with marijuana?” The doctor’s voice lowered considerably on the last word.
Mrs. Sinclair let out a heavy sigh. “Yes, I’ve heard about that. Matter of fact, I’ve wondered about it.”
The doctor stared at her intently and drummed his fingers on the desk. “Well, as I said, some patients have been helped considerably. Would you consider trying this option?”
Mrs. Sinclair didn’t hesitate a heartbeat. “I’d try anything, doctor.”
Doctor Fisher smiled and seemed to relax. He was silent for a moment, then in almost a whisper he said, “Will you have any trouble obtaining it?”
She touched her finger to her jutting cheekbone and was silent for a minute, thinking. “I ...I can’t think of anyone I would know to...”
The doctor held up his hand for her to stop. “That’s all right, Mrs. Sinclair. Arrangements can be made. Of course, you do understand the legal ramifications? That discretion is required. Also that both of us must pretend that this conversation never took place.”
“Certainly, doctor,” Mrs. Sinclair answered, nodding her head wearily. “I’m not that naive.”
“Good. Let me give you a card then.” He did not get one of his business cards from the small pile on the desk, but instead, reached into a drawer and pulled out a box of blank, white business size cards. He removed one and placed it on the desk. Taking a pen he scrawled an address on the card. He then handed it to her.
“Thank you,” she said, looking at the address. She was glad it was close by in an adjacent town.
“You’re welcome. The person at this address is safe and reliable. I’d trust him with my life. Are you able to go now?”
“Yes. Yes, I am.”
“Good. I’ll make the arrangements, so he’ll be expecting you.” He started to rise, then hesitated as he remembered something. “One more thing. I would suggest taking one of the preparations as soon as you get home from chemotherapy. A few puffs may suffice. If not, feel free to finish one. No more than one every four hours though. And of course, if you have any negative side effects discontinue use. Also, no driving until you’re sure the last dose has completely worn off.”
“Fine, doctor. And thank you again.” Mrs. Sinclair stood and extended her thin hand across the desk. The doctor stood and accepted it.
“Good luck,” he said. “And don’t forget to make your regular appointment on your way out.”
Mrs. Sinclair turned and hurried from the office.
It was only a short ride from the doctor’s office to the address on the card. Mrs. Sinclair was somewhat familiar with the town and had little trouble finding her destination. At the front door of the brick apartment building she pressed the appropriate button and was quickly buzzed in. She rode the elevator to the third floor, and when she found the right apartment she rapped timidly on the door. The door opened immediately to reveal a muscular man in a wheelchair. He had a warm smile and appeared to be about Dr. Fisher’s age.
“Hello,” he said. “Please come in.” He held the door for Mrs. Sinclair and then rolled ahead of her into a main living room which was tastefully furnished. She sat in a comfortable, over-stuffed barrel chair. The man swung his chair around to face her. He made no introduction.
“I believe you have something for me?” he asked. His tone was friendly and relaxed.
“Oh, yes. I’m sorry,” she answered. She rummaged through her small purse, pulled out the card and handed it to him.
The man looked at both sides quickly, turned and wheeled himself into an adjoining room. He was only gone a few minutes before he returned and handed her a small, clear sandwich bag. She could see that inside the bag were about a dozen thin, hand-rolled cigarettes which appeared to be pinched at their ends.
“Thank you,” Mrs. Sinclair said. Her hand shook as she placed the bag into her purse. “How much do I owe you,” she asked, her voice quivering.
The man mentioned a figure. And even though she had no experience in this type of transaction it seemed very reasonable to her. Her hands shook as she counted out the money and handed it to him.
He put the bills in his shirt pocket and asked, “May I offer you something? Coffee? A soft drink?”
“No,” she answered. “Nothing, thank you.” She looked nervously from side to side and said, “I think I should be leaving now.”
The man shrugged his shoulders as if disappointed but not surprised. “Yes, certainly,” he said. Mrs. Sinclair stood and he followed her to the door of the apartment. “It’s been a pleasure meeting you. And of course, please feel free to get in touch with me again at any time. Here’s my number.” He handed her a small piece of paper.
“Yes, I may do that,” she said. Before stepping through the doorway she looked down at the man, and emphasizing each word she said, “Thank you. Thank you very much.”
The man smiled warmly. “You’re welcome.” Then added softly, “Good luck.”
Mrs. Sinclair turned, clutched the purse close to her waist, and hurried out of the apartment towards the elevator.
It was a week later that Mrs. Sinclair found herself at her local bookstore. She enjoyed seeing what was new; picking up the books and leafing through the pages. Sometimes she felt she could spend a whole day doing nothing else, until she had fallen ill and the trips to the bookstore were even too much for her. But now, she felt up to it again! And she knew she owed it all to Dr. Fisher and the man in the wheelchair he had sent her to. It hadn’t been a miracle but it had been the next best thing. And now the small, important things in life, like browsing in bookstores, were enjoyable again. And wasn’t that just wonderful!
Now as she scanned the rows of books one caught her eye. She reached up and took it down. The title read: “Big Deals.” Below that the blurb: “The True Story of Medical Students and a Marijuana Smuggling Ring.” Up until a week ago, not the type of book that would have interested her. But now, she thumbed through it slowly. She stopped when she came to a series of photos in the middle of the book.
There was a picture of a boat loaded with marijuana bales. Armed Coast Guard and Customs men stood around the contraband. She turned the page and saw a group of six or seven young men’s photographs--mugshots--all with numbers across their chests. One of the pictures instantly jumped out at her; he hadn’t changed that much. She had no doubt; it was him. The man in the apartment, with the wheelchair and the medicine. He looked much younger and healthier but it was definitely him.
She read his name and the rest of the little caption under his photo. It identified him as a medical student who was involved in the smuggling operation. He had been sentenced to a twenty-year mandatory prison sentence and released after serving eighteen years, but not before he had been crippled in a prison altercation.
She took the book and hurried to a chair in a secluded section of the store. She flipped through the pages, her eyes skimming them as she went. Occasionally, she’d slow her reading when words grabbed her. She got the gist of the tale faster than a speed reader. What she learned excited her.
Apparently the wheelchair bound man had been the only one on board the marijuana laden ship when it was seized at a Hampton Beach, New Hampshire dock. The case against him was airtight. His only hope against a long prison stay and the loss of a future medical career was testifying against others involved.
Federal authorities had already been able to link six other medical students to the smuggling operation but the case against them was weak...unless the man found on board would cooperate. He steadfastly refused, was found guilty in a federal court and sentenced to the maximum twenty year sentence. Eventually, because of his refusal to turn on his friends, the charges against the six were dropped.
Mrs. Sinclair jerked her head up. Why hadn’t she thought of it before? She quickly turned back to the book’s picture section. And there he was--the one on the bottom right. And it was him! He had a beard then, and not only hair but very long hair. No glasses then too. She didn’t even have to look at the name below the picture. But she did---James Fisher. It was Dr. Fisher and above him the man in the wheelchair.
And she remembered now what Dr. Fisher had said. “I’d trust him with my life.” And she realized how good that must feel; to trust someone with your life. Because now she felt it, too.
Mrs. Sinclair smiled, tucked the book, “Big Deals” under her arm and feeling very good walked briskly up the aisle to the cashier.
Launch: DECEMBER STORIES by Ian Sansom
19 hours ago