“What,” she demanded, sitting bolt upright in the hospital bed, “has happened to the medical world? In Italy, they tell me I have an abdominal tumor. In Paris, it’s cancer. And now you fat-heads are trying to tell me I’m pregnant!”
I stuffed my stethoscope into my jacket pocket and tried to pat her hand. “Take it easy, Mrs. Caffey--”
“It’s Miss Caffey, damn you,” she said snatching her hand away, “and better I should have gone to an astrologer!”
“See here, now,” I said, letting a stern note enter my voice. “You came here requesting a verification of the malignancy of this growth. Our discovery of a six month foetus is a fact, not an accusation.”
“Look, Buster, I’m a thirty-six-year-old spinster. Like the joke goes, I haven’t been married or anything. Also, I knew about the birds and the bees before you were emptying bedpans. Now will you get off this subject of babies and find out whether it’s safe for me to start any continued stories?”
Such protestations from unmarried mothers were not uncommon, but Sara Caffey’s cold convictions were unshakable. She sank back into her seven satin pillows and sighed mightily. Her wide-spaced, intelligent eyes glared at me from a handsome, if somewhat overly strong, face. Creamy white shoulders swept gracefully into gradually darkening neck skin and frankly tanned cheeks and broad forehead. Her straight, slender nose was sunburned.
As resident physician for over fifteen years, I had learned patience in these matters. But the thought that this lovely creature expected me to believe that she was an unfulfilled old maid got under my skin, particularly under the circumstances.
“Miss Caffey, I am a physician, not a philosopher. Just the same, permit me to congratulate you on your virginity.”
“Thanks,” she said, in a voice not untinged with pride.
“However,” I went on, “in spite of certain contra-indications and irregularities of symptoms such as the absence of morning sickness and the like, I would like to enlist your cooperation in delivering yourself of an infant within the next three months.”
“Dr. Foley, please understand!” She threw her hands apart in despair. “I love children. I would have an acre of them if I were married, or even in the mood for any other alliance. But men just don’t fit my frame of reference. And regardless of what kind of a damned fool I may make of myself in the future, I haven’t, to date! Doctor, the kind of cooperation you ask for hasn’t been known for two thousand years.”
I tried another tack. “Well, since you arrived without a medical history on your condition, would you tell us the name of your last doctor so we may write for a transcript?”
“Phillipe Sansome, in Paris.”
She nodded. “And don’t try to explain that he misdiagnosed because he’s hungry for surgical fees. He didn’t plan to operate. In fact, that’s why I left. He was trying some new cure of his own that didn’t set well with the staff there, and they got into such a squabble I figured I’d better remove the cause of it all before the dear old man lost his license.”
While she was speaking, I casually drew back the covers and exposed her slightly swollen abdomen. It, too, had a surprising coat of tan. I donned my stethoscope, moved the diaphragm around until I had what I wanted, and held it there.
“Yes, I know of Dr. Sansome,” I told her. “We shall send a wire at once for your case record. Helps, you know. Now, if you will just slip these into your ears--”
She let me hang the stethoscope around her neck, and even brushed back her shining black hair so I could adjust the ear-pieces for her.
“If Doctor Sansome had heard that,” I said, “he would have changed his mind.”
She listened intently to the quick, light, foetal heartbeat for over a minute, and gradually a faraway gleam lighted her eyes. “Oh if you were only right,” she said softly, “Here I’ve chased stories all over the globe half my life, and I’d have the biggest story since the flood right here in my own tummy!”
She lay back again. “But of course, you’re wrong.”
“Then what do you call the sounds you’ve just heard?” I said in complete exasperation.
“Gut rumble,” she said. “Now go along like a nice intern and find me a passel of surgeons and let’s have at this tumor, cancer, bubble-gum or what have you. I want out of here, fast as I can mend.”
There was no reason to keep the female news-correspondent in bed, but she wouldn’t stir. She was confident that Phillipe Sansome’s findings would convince us. Three days passed with no word from Paris. Then, on the fourth day, her medical history arrived in the briefcase of the famous surgeon himself.
“I flew,” he apologized, “but it took two days to detach myself. Delighted to meet you, Dr. Foley. Your cable mentioned a Miss Sara Caffey, maternity patient. Is it possible?”
He was large for a Frenchman, and his gauntness was compounded by an obvious lack of sleep. His black eyes bore into mine as if to drag out what appeared to me to be a fairly mundane admission.
“We call her that,” I said shrugging. “And as to her condition, you may examine her yourself.”
“Sacre bleu!“ His eyes rolled up like bloodshot cue-balls. “She left us at her own insistence. Aside from ethics, we must not disturb her by my reappearance. But I have a favor to ask. A giant mountain of a fantastic favor. Now that I have found her again, I must not lose her, certainly not, until--”
He grabbed pen and paper and moved his chair to my desk. He wrote briefly. “Voila! These simple adjustments in her metabolism--diet, and just a few so petite injections. And may I remain here in the behind-ground, incognito? I will help with other work--at no cost, of course. I will be an orderly, if you will. But I must remain in touch. Close touch.”
I was a bit nonplussed. A man of Sansome’s reputation! It was like a United States Senator pleading for the opportunity to scrub out the men’s room at the House of Representatives. Just the same, I wouldn’t be stampeded or overawed. Several provocative explanations for the French doctor’s concern came to mind ... Was he the repudiated father of Sara’s unborn child? Or was he a practitioner of artificial insemination, with a rather unfortunate error to his credit?
“Your request is unusual,” I said cautiously, “but not entirely unreasonable. In order to justify it, I am sure you will be willing to explain your interest in this case, will you not, Doctor?”
He frowned, “I suppose I must. But you will believe little of it. My own staff agreed with my diagnosis, but they violently rejected my theory. Wait until they hear your diagnosis, doctor!” He unzipped his briefcase. “She probably protests that she has a malignant tumor, not a baby,” he remarked as he laid thick sheafs of paper on my desk.
“You are so very right,” I said.
“Madamoiselle is magnificent,” he observed, running slender, wrinkled hands through his sparse gray hair. “But her obstinacy will not avail against evolution. No more than we doctors’ monumental ignorance.”
“Evolution? Explain, please.”
“Here is the case history.” He drummed on it with his short-clipped nails. “In it, you will find that Caffey came to us three months ago with her body cavity in the grasp of a small octopus of a soft form carcinoma. The pain reached from pelvis to chest.”
“Incredible!” I exclaimed.
Sansome spread his hand on the record sheets. “Facts are never incredible,” he reminded me gently. “What follows, however, will tax your credulity, and I beg of you to allow me to impose an outrageous concept whose only virtue appears to be its demonstrated validity.”
“In forty years of slicing away tumerous growths, I had become morbid at the dreadful incidence of recurrence and the obscene mortality rate. In spite of all our techniques, these cancers have increased with the persistence of Nature herself.
“In a fit of prolonged depression brought on by a foolishly strenuous research of histories, my mind stumbled into a stupid preoccupation with a few isolated cases of exogenic pregnancy. One which fascinated me was the young 17-year-old boy from whose lung a surgeon removed a live three-month foetus. Somehow the obvious explanation refused to satisfy me. It was, of course, concluded that the foetus was an undeveloped twin to the boy himself.
“This could be so; but on what facts was this assumption based? None. Only the absence of any other theory justified the concept. The surgeon had expected to find a hard carcinoma.
“And it came to me suddenly that he had found his cancer!
“My interpolation was this: Mankind is suffering an evolutionary change in his reproductive procedure. The high incidence of various tumors evidences Nature’s experiments in developing a asexual reproduction.”
Sansome’s statement so flabbergasted me that I looked at him for signs of facetiousness or irrationality. His extreme fatigue was evident--but his calmness and clarity of self-expression in a foreign language indicated no mental confusion. A hoax of such magnitude was outside the realm of possibility for a surgeon of his distinction.