written by James Rada, Jr.
A serial fiction story for your enjoyment
5: Miracle Cure
Tim Ross walked backed to the courtyard area of the Maryland Tuberculosis Sanatorium in Sabillasville. He hadn’t found the man he believed had been shot, but what he had found gave him pause. The laboratory seemed to hold more than just a laboratory where medicines could be formulated and blood and fluids tested. It appeared as if humans were sometimes restrained there. He had also discovered a still in the power house. Unlike the laboratory, which worried him, Tim thought he would enjoy knowing where he could go to get a drink, especially since the federal government had outlawed liquor.
He reached the yard area and walked to the dining room for breakfast. The room was filled with patients, most of them seemed to be eating oatmeal and fruit, but some had eggs on their plate.
Tim looked around for Max Wenschof. He wasn’t sure whether or not he expected to see the other patient. Max hadn’t been at dinner, and Tim suspected he might have been the man in white he believed had been shot last night. Frank Larkins, an intern at the hospital and one of the moonshiners operating a still in the power house, thought a rival moonshining gang could have shot the man accidentally.
Tim walked over to a table with two men at it and sat down. He introduced himself to the men, who seemed more interested in their own conversation than in Tim.
“I’m telling you, I feel great,” a middle-aged man with jet-black hair told his companion.
“It’s temporary. You’ll start feeling the TB effects again,” the other man said. He looked older, but it may have been the effects of the disease on him.
The first man shook his head. “It’s not. I’m really getting better. I’m on a special treatment.” He looked over at Tim nervously.
“What’s different about it?”
The first man shrugged. “I don’t know. I just know I was doing real bad. You know it. You saw me.” The second man nodded. “I’ve gained 10 pounds in the last two weeks. I can walk from the shack to here without running out of breath.”
“I have to say you look good, but when can the rest of us get some of what you’re getting?”
“I don’t know. Maybe the doctor wants to wait until I’m ready to leave here and go home.”
“You think you will… go home, I mean?”
“That’s what Dr. Vallingham says.”
“I’m happy for you, Paulie.”
“Thanks, but keep it under your hat. The doc doesn’t want word getting out until he has everything the way he wants it.”
“Sure, sure. Just put in a good word for me. I want to be next.”
Tim kept his head down and focused on his oatmeal. He listened with interest and didn’t want to stop the man from talking. He was hoping to hear clues of what the special treatment was. However, when he heard Dr. Vallingham’s name, he was immediately suspicious. He didn’t trust the assistant director, but he wondered how much of that feeling came because of the doctor’s attitude versus his ability.
He might have trusted the news of a new treatment if Dr. Cullen had been the doctor mentioned. He had a good reputation and was the reason Tim had chosen to come to this hospital when he had been diagnosed with TB.
He finished his breakfast and walked back to his shack. All the windows had been opened wide, although it was still cool out. He went inside and flopped down on his bed, pulling the covers over himself.
Frank came by a short time later, carrying a tray with medicine on it.
“What’s that?” Tim asked.
Frank’s eyebrows rose. “It’s medicine.”
“What type of medicine?”
Frank glanced around. “I’m not supposed to know, but I saw the nurse fill the cups once. It’s aspirin.”
His treatment was aspirin? “I don’t have a headache.”
“It’s not for a headache. It’s Dr. Vallingham’s standard treatment. He relies more on the fresh air to help clear the lungs than medicine.”
“I heard someone talking this morning about a special treatment that Dr. Vallingham has been giving him.”
Frank shrugged. “Not from me. The tablets I give all look the same.”
“Have you seen the patients who get his treatments?”
“I’m not sure who they are. He probably uses his goon squad.”
Tim sat up in his bed. “Goon squad?”
“The doc has three orderlies who work just for him. They don’t do anything unless Dr. Vallingham okays it. They’re big guys, but you usually don’t see them unless the doc has them running an errand.”
Tim took the aspirin and swallowed it. He felt thinking about everything that was going on at this hospital would wind up giving him a headache.
Later that afternoon, he walked over to the administration building and asked to see Dr. Vallingham. He had to wait a half an hour, but eventually, the nurse at the front desk showed him into the office.
The doctor was sitting behind his desk as he had been during the first interview.
“I don’t have much time, Mr. Ross. What can I do for you?” Dr. Vallingham said.
“Doctor,” Vallingham corrected.
“Doctor. I heard that you have a special treatment for some patients that seems to work. I was hoping I could get it, too. I want to get out of here and back to work, but I’ve got to get better.”
“And what makes you think I have a special treatment?”
“Someone was talking about it at breakfast. He was very excited about feeling better and gaining weight.”
“I’m not sure what your heard, but it couldn’t have been what you say. I have no special treatment for patients, and if I had one that worked, I assure you, I would have used it for everyone here. I want you to recover as fast as you can, Mr. Ross.”
Dr. Vallingham looked down at something on his desk, as if to dismiss Tim. Tim frowned, but he stood up and left the office. As he walked down the hall toward the stairs, he saw three orderlies come out of a room at the other end of the hall. They were each as large as Tim had been before he got sick.
Tim was forced to stand to the side of the hallway as they passed him without saying anything. They reminded Tim of boxers. He glanced at their hands and saw their knuckles were scarred. They were definitely men who fought, but they weren’t boxers, not with scarred knuckles. They also looked nothing like typical orderlies. Tim watched them knock on Dr. Vallingham’s door and then enter the office.
Back in his shack, he tried to read the newspaper. He had never been much of a reader, and honestly, the only news he wanted to hear was how he could get better. He didn’t want to wither up and die like a plum turning into a prune.
He went outside and tried to run around the road that ran around the yard for exercise, but he was out of breath before he had even completed a lap. As he stood bent over, trying to catch his breath, he saw Frank drive the truck up to one of the shacks.
Tim walked over. “What’s going on?”
Frank frowned and shook his head. “One of the patients died. I have to take him to undertaker in Thurmont, so they can get him ready to send home.”
“Who was it?”
Tim didn’t recognize the name, but then he didn’t know most people here.
“What happened to him?”
“The same thing that happens to most everyone here. The TB gets them.” Frank paused and looked at Tim. “Sorry.”
Tim shook his head. “I know what I’m up against. Believe me. It scares me more than any boxer I ever faced.”
Frank walked into the shack with another orderly. They came out a couple minutes later, carrying a body on a stretcher. Tim bowed his head. He hadn’t been lying when had said he was afraid that he wouldn’t recover from his TB. This might be his future.
As the two men slid the stretcher into the back of the truck, Tim looked up. He saw the dead man and was surprised that he recognized him.
It was the man who had been bragging about getting better at breakfast, and now he was dead just a few hours later. Even TB didn’t work that fast. Something else had happened to him.