AD 361: Sabotage
FLAVIAN NEVER FORGOT THE FIRST TIME he treated a patient totally on his own. Damian, the old army doctor who was his mentor, had gone to help with an emergency, leaving Flavian to look after any walk-in patients by himself. He was only twenty-three and had been helping Damian for a few years.
Blendina rubbed her eyes as came through the door leading to Damian’s quarters. Already in her forty’s, she had kept up with the work at the clinic so far, but a few more years would finish her. She slept in a corner of the main room behind a curtain and made breakfast and supper for Damian on top of the other work she did.
Today Flavian had arrived before Blendina finished her morning work. He looked up as she entered the room. “Damian coming in today?” he asked.
She shook her head. “Not this morning. He’s not feeling well. He might come over later if he feels better.”
Flavian frowned, and contemplated asking another question, but she shook her head and put her finger on her lips. “We’ll talk later,” she said quietly. “He didn’t have a good night and he’s finally sleeping now.”
She moved over to the instrument storage and started to pull out the tools they commonly used, arranging them carefully on a basket for sterilizing. She had started the charcoal fire under the sterilizer earlier, and the water was almost boiling. Flavian made a few extra entries in yesterday’s diary.
“We’ll need to prepare more ointment to use for burns and wounds,” he said. “I noticed yesterday that we were getting low.”
This was one reason he liked getting to the clinic early. He could relax and get ready for rush that was sure to start soon.
This morning was no exception.
“Bang, bang, bang.” He lifted his eyebrows and rolled his eyes at Blendina. “Hold on, I’m coming,” he said. “Don’t break the door down, or we’ll have to charge you extra.”
The banging stopped abruptly, and he unbarred the door and pulled it open. He recognized the patient at once. “So, what’s the problem today, Junia?”
Junia burst through the door. Damian had called her a walking tub of blubber one time, and the description was hardly an exaggeration. Her flesh bounced while she walked, and she was always sweating profusely, even today in the morning coolness.
She gasped for breath and almost stuttered. She must have run most of the way to the clinic. “I’m dying,” she said, her voice escalating up the scale in both pitch and volume. “I think my husband is trying to poison me.” She gasped again and flung her arms around Flavian. “You have to help me.”
Flavian pried himself loose and barely avoided the temptation to hold his nose. The woman smelled like a horse. No, like a pig. Or a combination. One of the negatives of being a doctor was dealing with people who seldom or never took a bath.
Blendina had joined them by now and took Junia by one arm, while Flavian took the other one. “Sit on the bench over here and tell us what’s wrong,” he said.
Junia had triple chins and no neck. To add to the effect, bristly sprouts of hair had sprung up on her chins here and there and her hair was oily and frizzled. Her robe was dirty and ill-fitting. She looked indignant, as if Flavian had already told her there was nothing wrong with her. He remembered that Damian had told her that the last time she was here. His advice had been very blunt, and Flavian really had not expected her to ever come back. He could scarcely hold back a grin at the memory.
Damian had wagged his finger under her nose and glared at her fiercely under his bushy black eyebrows. “There’s nothing wrong with you,” he said. “At least nothing that wouldn’t go away if you ate less, exercised more, and took a bath oftener than every other month. You look like a pig and smell like one too.”
The look on her face as she waddled out the door had been priceless.
But he had no time to reminisce. Junia moaned and shed alligator tears. “My belly hurts and I’ve had the runs for days. I’m sure I’ve been poisoned.”
Flavian put on his most practised look of concern. He put his hand on her forehead. “Hmm. A bit of fever,” he said. “Are you drinking lots of water?”
Junia shoved out her lower lip. “I hate water,” she said. “I never drink anything but wine if possible.”
Flavian raised his eyebrows and made a meaningless notation in the scroll on his desk. “Any vomiting?” he asked. “Any bleeding from your bowels?”
Her mouth dropped open. “Vomiting? Bleeding?” her voice sounded weak.
Flavian nodded seriously. “If you were poisoned, those would be amongst the earlier symptoms,” he said. “Along with weakness, and not being able to sleep. And a fever and sweating.”
He already knew what her symptoms would be the next time she came. He needed to do something drastic. Something memorable. Something…
Then he knew. “Blendina, bring me a bucket,” he said. “And some feathers from the medicine storage.”
He turned back to Junia. “Did you have a big breakfast this morning?”
She blinked. “I suppose some people would call it big,” she muttered. “I’d starve on what some people think I should eat.”
Flavian shook his head solemnly. “Feeling hungry all the time is a sure sign worms,” he said. “I’m going to purge you and see if that helps.”
He washed his hands vigorously in a bowl of water Blendina had prepared earlier. He picked up the feathers and soaked them in olive oil, then turned back to Junia. “This calls for drastic action,” he said. “Open your mouth wide.”
Junia looked a little non-plussed but complied. Flavian sniffed at her breath and shook his head again. “Bad breath,” he said. “A sure sign.”
He picked up a clump of feathers, dripping oil, and pushed then into her mouth and as far down her throat as he could. “Swallow!” His voice was sharp, and he jumped back as she gagged, spewing up her entire breakfast and what was left of her supper and probably a midnight snack or two. Most of the mess, though not all, landed in the bucket.
Slimy and half-digested food coated Blendina’s hands and wrists and she gagged at the smell. Unlike Flavian, she was holding the bucket and had not been able to move back out of danger.
“Good, good,” Flavian said. “That should help a lot. I think we got all of that poison out before it could do much damage.” He looked around and noticed Damian in the doorway, grinning.
“Dump the bucket on the garbage heap out the back door. Then clean her up, and wash your hands and arms,” he told Blendina cheerfully. “I’ll get some worm medicine from the back room while you do that.”
Blendina glared at him but did as he told her.
Junia seemed to have swallowed her tongue. When Belinda had finished cleaning her up, she rose to her feet slowly.
“Now listen carefully,” Flavian told her. “If you don’t want to die of your ailment, you must eat only a small portion of food three times a day. You must drink a lot of clean water and not drink any wine. You must walk briskly for an hour every morning and evening. And you must take a twenty-minute bath in cold water every morning, and in hot water every evening. If you do this for a year, I think you will be surprised at how much better you’ll feel.”
And you’ll smell better too, he thought. He watched her leave, then turned to look at Damian.
Damian snorted. “Well, I see there is some hope that you will make a good doctor,” he said. “I wouldn’t have missed that scene for a week’s wages.”
Flavian glanced at Blendina. “Not sure if Blendina feels that way about it,” he said. “I’m afraid I owe her some big favors for this.”
He would have said more, but a mother with a sick baby came through the door at that moment.