Previously: Audley, Beverly’s fellow nurse and also her ex, arrived to care for the Covid stricken nurse; relieved of one patient, Lon finds their medical expertise required by another.
The New Patient
“What seems to be the problem?”
Lois started at the low voice, and dropped the pecan bun she was trying to feed to Pamela.
Lon was standing on the other side of the maroon and silver salon chair, which was tilted as far back as it would go to accomodate Pamela’s lanky, listless form.
Hastily Lois turned her head to lift her mask and blow her nose, then folded the handkerchief to a fresh spot and dabbed at her eyes before turning back to Lon. “She won’t eat,” she gulped. “She won’t talk to me—or anyone. Not that there’s anyone to talk to. She lies in bed all day, just staring at the ceiling. She won’t even—” tears threatened to overflow as Lois choked out, “Bathe!”
Lon surveyed his new patient. Pamela did look unkempt. The once well-groomed Gruneman’s head buyer for womenswear was pallid, except for the dark circles under her gray-green eyes. Most startling, she was dressed like a dockside bum in crumpled and creased layers—an orange-and-blue plaid carcoat covered a polka-dotted pajama top, paired with a worn pair of green skipants.
Lon leaned over Pamela and snapped his fingers in front of Pamela’s blank stare. The redhead blinked.
“Reactive,” Lon commented in an encouraging tone, and then fell silent, contemplating his course of treatment.
In truth, the oceanologist was out of their depth. They were much more accustomed to flesh wounds, sprains, fractures and the occasional case of the bends.
“Wait here,” Lon told Lois.
They went back into the hall. Laura had vanished, but Dolly and Ramona were still there, discussing the new arrivals.
“Pamela needs help,” Lon said.
“Can’t you give her some pep pills and send those two packing?” Dolly looked like she was chewing her lip underneath her paisley mask. “I’m fond of them, but we’re full up! That Audley can share with Beverly—”
“She’ll have to, they’re co-contaminants as well as exes now,” Ramona added.
“But Pam and Lois are another kettle of fish!”
“What about the empty studio on the third floor?” Ramona suggested.
“The repairs aren’t finished, and there’s no running water,” Dolly objected.
“Well how about—”
Lon left the two friends to figure out housing and headed upstairs. Maxie had vanished from the lower landing, but as Lon crossed the third floor landing, Laura popped out of her apartment. “Anything new?”
“You might be getting new neighbors,” said Lon.
“Neighbors! You mean Pam and Lois? Well…”
Lois diagnosed reluctance warring with the Housing Assistant’s natural inclination to provide shelter to those in need. At the end of the hallway Sylvia poked her head out of 302. “Where’s Dolly?”
“Downstairs,” Lon continued her climb, as Sylvia said, “I need to talk to her about the DeWitt deal…”
Lon let herself into the fourth floor loft. As she traversed the living area, she heard Maxie’s voice coming from the rear deck. Lon realized that Maxie had made it her current headquarters, switching from her usual spot on the couch. Perhaps even upbeat Maxie felt the need for open air these days.
The weather had turned cold and Maxie was wrapped in a blanket against the chill, phone to her ear, talking animatedly: “No, no parties, clandestine or otherwise. I might have something in the pandemic romance department in a few days…”
Lon asked, “Is that Mamie?”
Maxie covered the receiver and nodded, whispering, “What’s the situation with Pam and Lois?”
Lon shrugged. “Not sure.”
Maxie had been on the phone an awful lot with Mamie the past week. Lon had no intention of contributing grist for the columnist’s gossip mill, even unintentionally. They thought of reminding Maxie that helping Mamie had proved problematic in the past, but Maxie was cavalier about the risks of her relationship with the gossip guru.
Lon went into their room and dragged the footlocker from underneath the bed, opened it, and pulled out the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Sitting cross-legged, she flipped through it, stopping here and there to read. dysthymia…endogenous depression…Feighner criteria…bleak views of the future…with catatonic characteristics…
Keeping their thumb as a placeholder they closed the book and considered. Involutional melancholia, reactive depressive psychosis, or depressive neurosis? Lon was pretty sure it wasn’t manic-depressive psychosis.
Holding the book, Lon left the apartment and climbed to the fifth floor. He tapped on 503, and got a muffled, impatient sounding “Yes?”
“Audley? I’d like to consult you about the case downstairs, the melancholia—”
“I’m not a doctor. Take her to—oh. I guess that’s not a good idea right now.”
“Exactly,” said Lon. “Any suggestions?”
Audley’s sigh was audible. “Try a warm bath and exercise, like they used to do.”
That was advice after Lon’s own heart. “Thanks, nurse.”
The response was some muttering of which Lon could only make out the words “if it’s not one thing…”
The front hall was empty, when he descended the last flight, but then Dolly popped out of Mrs. DeWitt’s apartment. “We’re putting them in Harriet’s old digs,” she said.
“Does it have a bathtub?”
Dolly blinked. “As a matter of fact it does.”
“Good,” said Lon.
It took both Lon and Dolly to hoist Pamela and drag her across the hallway into Mrs. DeWitt’s old suite, with Lois fluttering in the rear. Once they’d laid Pam on Mrs. DeWitt’s old bed, Lon told Lois to run a warm bath. Privately the amateur medic thought that Lois was experiencing sympathetic psychosis and being given a task would prove therapeutic. As Dolly turned to leave, Lon remembered, “Sylvia wants to see you. Something about the DeWitt case.”
Dolly nodded, looking harried, and exited. Lon couldn’t blame her. The missing daughter had taken backseat to the sudden influx of invalids.
But when she turned back to Pamela there was a faint sign of intelligence in the doyenne of dressing’s bleary eyes.
“DeWitt?” croaked Pam.
Next: Will detecting prove a better anti-depressant than any pharmaceutical?