The Doctor

August 16, 2014

Dear Bill and Anne:

I am very concerned that your son, Steve, is dangerously ill.   He has become more depressed and is suicidal in fact. I think that he is an alcoholic and that he is addicted to drugs. He is a danger to himself and I am going to hospitalize him today.

As of yet I do not know the root cause of the problem.   He is agitated, walks incessantly, and does not sleep for more than a few minutes at a time at night, but frequently doses off during the day.   His grades at Medical School have fallen precipitously and he is in danger of being thrown out.

If you could come, I believe you could be most helpful.

Your friend,

Dr. Harry Greer


The letter’s arrival created a crisis never seen before in the home of Doctor and Mrs. Kendall. Their home is a magnificent structure, located on a quiet cul-de-sac, set with ancient oak trees, in Elm Creek, an exclusive suburb of Austin. It is spacious, up to date, with furnishings of finest quality. Anne Kendall keeps a beautiful home.   She and Doctor Kendall have been married for 15 years since the death of her first husband.   Their life together has been as quietly wonderful as her first marriage had been brutally disastrous.   The doctor cares for her two children as if they were of his own genes.   He is kind, industrious, a very successful endocrinologist, who started a large, respected specialty clinic.   Despite being busy at work, he always manages to make it home for the evening meals and spends every weekend enjoying family outings. He is a tall, thin man, clean shaven with a pleasant smile that comes naturally.   He walks with a brisk walk, although he is in his early fifties, about ten years older than Anne. His voice is firm, confident but kind. Every word he speaks seems important—both to his patients and to his family.   He wears the finest clothes—wool suits from Italy—not “knock-offs” from China. Anne considers herself among the luckiest of women.   It is an incredible change from her first marriage.

Anne is a woman of average height and build yet she is beautiful even now in her early 40’s. Her face is lightly tanned, with a sharp well formed nose, full lips, and bright blue eyes. Her blood hair has a few hints of early gray. She walks with grace.   When the doctor first met her she was as wonderful to look at but she was not as she is now.   She was quiet, reserved, and nervous—she seemed always on edge—as if she were a mouse looking for the neighbors’ cat. Her eyes avoided you. Her voice, when she spoke, was soft. How she had changed.   She is outgoing, involved in charity work both at the doctor’s clinic as well in the hospital and community. She is involved in everything. She relishes the challenges that life has brought her.

On August 17, 2014, the front door opened quickly. The doctor walked into the foyer.   Directly ahead were the stairs to the second floor. To the right was the formal living room and to the left was the study. The study was their favorite room.  He knew Anne would be sitting at her desk, working on some project. He would walk over to her, bend down and kiss her and their evening would begin. But today was different.   He turned into the study, and saw Anne standing by the front window, staring outside. She hardly moved. As he walked towards her, she turned and pointed to the desk, his desk, “You better read the letter.”

“It can’t be as bad as all that”, he said, half joking.

He picked up the letter, glanced at it, and then read it fully. “Of all places, why did he have to go to Chicago to study?”

“You know as well as me.   Chicago is where you studied. He always wants to be like you.”

“But it has so many bad memories for him—and you as well. I thought he would do better closer to home.”

“Perhaps he wanted to see where he was born and grew up. I don’t know.”   She screamed the last sentence. He had never seen or heard her like that.

He looked at her more intently. She stood with the light from the window shining on the side of her face. Her eyes were deep set; her cheeks were moist; her lips were pouting. “We must go,” he said, resigned to his fate.   He knew that his worst fears had come to pass. The future and the past were now one.

Anne said, “I have booked the flight, the rent a car and the hotel. We have to leave after supper.”

“Does Melissa know?”

“Not yet, she is still at work.”

“Will she come with?”

“No, I don’t think so. She has to register for school year next week. She is nearly 20 and can take care of herself while we are gone.”

“She is very close to Steve and may want to come with us.”

“We can let her decide at supper.”

Melissa came home about six. She is blond like her mother and had her mother’s smile and blue eyes. But unlike her mother she dresses casually. Her favorite outfit is jeans and a pullover.   She works at the University as an extern in the literature department.   She types lecture plans and does other paper work for the professors. Her goal is to study English Literature when she graduates from college.

That evening supper was rushed; they had to be at the airport by 8PM. Melissa would remain at home but drive her parents to the airport to save time. The doctor packed quickly, called one of his partners and dearest friends, Dr. Chavez, giving him a list of the patients he had in the hospital. Dr. Chavez would care for them for as long as needed.

The flight was uneventful. They arrived in Chicago after midnight. By the time they got to the hotel it was after 2 AM. They were staying at the Hyatt at Navy Pier. The doctor looked out their window on the 23rd floor over the city. “I grew up here. I can see my old neighborhood between those two high-rises.   I went to college and medical school here.   I met you here”

“That was a terrible time for me—for us!”

“Your husband was quite wealthy.”

“He was in commercial real estate.”

“He was somewhat eccentric; he wouldn’t go to doctor’s offices and would not take medicines although he had diabetes, a very brittle form of diabetes in fact. I had just started practice in Evanston, when he called.   I actually made a house call. I guess no one else would.”

“He was far more than eccentric; he was a brute!”

“I know; I saw the bruises on your face. I knew the children had had unexplained injuries treated at the hospital. At that time, there was no way out for a woman and her kids, even in Evanston!”

“Especially in Evanston!” She went on, “When he died it was a relief in a way; maybe it is a sin to say that, but that is what I felt and what I still feel—although….”

“Although?”

“I did marry him; perhaps it was me; perhaps it was the children.”

The doctor said, “A 5 year old son and 3 year old daughter can’t possibly be such a threat that you would push them down the stairs and break their arm or leg.” The doctor sounded angry when he said, “Don’t even go there; he was not worth it.”

“You’re right. But after he died Steve went through the same thing he is going through now.   It lasted till after we were married and moved to Austin.”

“That is why I did not want him to go to school in Chicago. That is why I have never returned, even though we still have friends here.   I grew up here, I loved the old neighborhood.   He ruined it for us.”

They went to bed about three. For both of them it was a restless, unforgiving sleep.   On arising the next day at 8, they felt as if they had not slept at all.

Steve had been hospitalized at the Presbyterian Hospital in the Medical Center. Doctor Kendall had graduated from the University of Illinois and had rotated through the Presbyterian Hospital in the 1980’s and had practiced there until he had his family moved to Austin.   He was familiar with the complex and also knew many of the doctors who were still in practice.   Dr. Greer was one of those doctors.

Dr. Greer was as young as Dr. Kendall but was aging rapidly.   He practiced at several hospitals. He worked from 8AM to 10PM leaving little time for his family and himself.   His wife ran the office and when he did not have to make a nursing home or hospital visit they would go to lunch and supper together.   He was quite overweight and was chronically tired. He had fallen asleep taking the psychological history of some of his patients.   He wore a suit which was fitted for him ten years ago. The coat could not button and his pannus lay over the top of his pants.   His shirt appeared ready to pull apart at any moment.   Nevertheless, he was one of the best psychiatrists in the city; he always took time with his patients; that is why he was so busy.   Dr. Kendall found Dr. Greer outside Steve’s room.   He said quietly, taking him aside, “You know, he had a similar problem when he was a child; he only grew out of it when we moved to Austin.”

Dr. Greer said slowly, “He won’t open up to me; he can’t sleep because he is afraid to sleep and the lack of sleep has precipitated all the physical pains he is enduring. I have tried Prozac, Haldol, Elavil, and Xanax without success. I was even thinking about electroshock therapy.”

“I was afraid this would happen when he came back here. I had a premonition. I could not dissuade him.”

“Yes, he clearly respects you and is trying to emulate you. He is a fine young man and will make a good doctor, if he gets the chance.”

Dr. Kendall said, “He was working during the summer at the hospital before starting medical school as a lab technician.   He was really excited about medical school. This change is so hard to fathom.”

“It began when he came to work. Each day was worse until he completely broke down. Isn’t this where his father died?”

“Yes, yes, fifteen years ago.”

“You married Anne, Steve’s mother, soon after his father died?”

“Yes two or three months later, I suppose.”

“Perhaps that has something to do with it.”

“I doubt it. Steve and I have been the closest of friends as well as father and son for all these years; that doesn’t make sense.”

Anne walked over to them, “Having a consultation?”

Dr. Greer answers, “Yes, but, as I told Bill, I don’t have an answer. I was hoping by getting you together with Stephen we could get to the bottom of the problem.”

Anne asked, “Can we go in?”

Dr. Kendall knocked at the door and then he and Anne entered the room. The room was larger than a typical hospital room. There was a bed near the wall on the left as you entered. There was a small table with three chairs to the right. Along the back wall, below the window which was set more than six feet from the floor for safety reasons, was a small desk and chair.   They said hi and then the doctor walked to Stephen and hugged him. His voice was no longer strong, “Steve, Steve, what are you trying to do?”

Steve had lost more than 20 lbs.   He was never overweight but now he looked terminally ill.   His clothes hung from his frame. He was tall with thick, black hair and a dark complexion. He had not shaved in days.  He was dressed in jeans and a white tee shirt.   He walked about the small room, pacing, not able to stop.   His eyes were deep set, accentuated by the light from the tiny window.   Steve spoke, “I don’t know dad, I don’t know”.   He slowly sat down in one of the chairs.   His parents then sat down near him.   “I can’t sleep anymore; I see my father, my first father, every time I close my eyes.”

Anne got up and walked to the desk. Dr. Kendall said, “I know he was not a gentle man.   Perhaps if you moved back to Austin, you would do better.”

“No, Dad, this is my problem; I have to come to grip with it. Going home will not make a difference.”

“Is it that your father hurt Mom, Melissa and you?”

“No, no”, he said anxiously. There was a long pause. The room was so quiet that every breath could be heard—and each breath was a measured breath.

”Then what is it? What can be so horrible that you have become like this? You have so much to offer. You are a loving young man. You would be a great doctor. What could drive you to this?”

“I can’t tell you?”

“You can’t or you won’t”

“I just can’t tell you!”

The doctor reached over, across the table and took Steve’s hand. Anne stood by the desk, her back to her husband and child.    The doctor said very softly, “You killed him.”

“How? How? How?” He pulled his hand from his father’s hand.   His hands grasped his face, his fingers pulling on his skin. Anne turned and rushed to him, grasping his shoulders.   She looked at the doctor, “Bill, how could you say that your son killed his father; Steve could never do that!”

“I did it; I did it; I did it.” He repeated each phrase a little louder each time.

The doctor said, “I guessed it, at the time.  Your father had diabetes but would not take his medication and I would have to make house calls and give him insulin at times. You watched as I drew up the insulin and injected it into your father. You asked why I was so careful. I explained that too much was as bad as too little, maybe worse and I explained why it was worse.   You hung on every word that I spoke.”

“I had to”. It happened when my sister and I were getting dressed for bed.   Mom had gone to take a bath. I knew she would be there for a few minutes. Suddenly, there was shouting from the bathroom. Mom screamed a terrifying scream. Melissa and I ran to the bathroom and opened the door. My father was standing over the bathtub pushing Mom’s head under the water trying to drown her. There was a broom by the door. I grabbed it and started beating on his back. Finally he let go of Mom and turned to me. He grabbed the broom and hit me with the wooden part. I still have the scar.   He pushed me, and pushed me again. I ran to the stairs as fast as I could but he caught me and I fell down the stairs. By the time he had done with me, Mom was safely out of the tub. She had locked herself in the bedroom.   Slowly, he quieted down.   He said he was sorry. He cried by the bedroom door, asking Mom for forgiveness.   That night, I cried and cried. I could not sleep. I knew my Mom would never be safe. I decided then what I would do. The next day, when I returned from school, I found him asleep at his desk.   He always took a nap in the afternoon. He started drinking about noon and by 3 PM was pretty far gone. I went into the bathroom and got the insulin. I filled two syringes with insulin.  I quietly entered the study and as gently as I could, injected one syringe after the other. The needles were small and sharp—and must have felt like a mosquito bite because he just tried to brush the syringe aside. As I was injecting the second syringe, he opened his eyes, turned to me and screamed, “What the hell are you doing?”   I ran as quickly as I could out of the house.   I’m sure he saw the syringes and figured out what I had done because he called you at once.   You arrived at the house in just a few minutes. By then, he was pretty out of it.   The ambulance arrived in another ten minutes and you inserted an IV and went with the ambulance to the hospital, this hospital in fact.”

Anne was stunned. She raised her arms over her head and began to scream. She walked around and around. Finally she sat down on the bed and started to cry, “How could you do it? How could you kill your father?”

Dr. Kendall said, “He had to do it. He loved you and Melissa. He had no choice. But, Stephen, you did not kill your father.”

“What, I gave him the insulin.”

“As I said, I thought that is what happened. I saw the syringes on the floor. You were home alone with him. I had little doubt, in fact, that you had given him the insulin. But you did not kill him.”

The doctor stood up and walked to the desk. He turned around and looked up for an instant and then looked, first at his wife and then at his son. He looked back to his wife. His eyes were on her eyes.   His voice was steady and soft.   “I killed your husband.”   He paused. “He was a brutal man who physically injured you and your children. After I gave him the glucose infusion he awakened and told me that he would never let you go. He would rather cut you and your children into little pieces.” He paused again, looked up and then looked at her again. “I believed him.”   I turned off the IV and he died.

Anne’s hands grasped her face. She cried. She looked down, away from the doctor. “You killed him because you loved me?”

“I hardly knew you.” He walked into the bathroom and got a small towel, handing it to her. “I did it because I did not want you or the children to have to face terror every day of your life.  Only after we were married did I realize I loved you.” He paused again. “I loved the children from the first time I saw them.   I knew that Steve would hurt them again and again. I didn’t want him to have to kill his father to protect you.”

He stood up and walked to Steve. He turned and looked down at him, “Steve, I can’t let it go on, even if it means I must go to jail. I will confess. I have had fifteen years with you, your mother and Melissa. These have been the most wonderful years of my life. Perhaps that is all I will get in this life, but it has been enough.”

Steve looked up at him and hugged him, “I won’t let you do it.”

The doctor, Anne and Steve talked all afternoon. The talk centered on Stephen’s future.

When Dr. Greer came back and entered the room, he was clearly pleased.   “I knew that if you both came down Steve would do better.”

That night Steve slept for the first time.

The next day, Steve was released from the hospital and his parents returned to Austin.

On their arrival at the airport in Austin, Anne said to the doctor, “You know that you, Steve and I are the only people who know anything about this affair.   I surely will not say anything and I doubt that Steve would.”

He nodded his head, but did not reply.

They took a cab home from the Airport.

For several minutes they rode in silence.   When they reached the driveway of their home she turned to him, looked at his eyes, and whispered softly, as if she knew the answer already, “Did you really kill him?”

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