Patient John Doe

Chapter 4

Cindy fairly well honored my request to keep our enterprise quiet, nor did she waste any time. At first, I was a little shocked when her husband handed me two floppy disks the next morning, telling me she asked that I answer all the questions on them. From his eyes I could tell he knew exactly what they were, but also that it wouldn't go any further.

There was good and bad news about Johnny. He was generally doing fantastically, regaining his strength and color, even complaining about being bedridden. Someone on the nursing staff came up with a Nintendo which helped occupy him. The results of the work-ups the hospital were not so pleasing.

As we expected his right arm was completely paralyzed, the nerve damage Roberts observed during surgery was too severe to leave much hope of recovery. His right leg had also suffered substantial damage, he had limited range of motion in his hip, more in his leg; but almost no strength in either, the prognosis for his leg didn't seem much better than his arm.

"We need to have a Neuro and a Vascular surgeon evaluate him," Ryan said. At first, I didn't see how that should be a problem until he awoke me into the real world. "There's a few guys on staff here that do Pedi-Neurological Surgery, we have one that does Pedi-Vascular, but they don't work for Medicaid rates, we'd have to transfer him to University Hospital."

'Yeah well,' I thought. I wasn't on staff at University, but knew I would have no problem getting that status. I didn't look forward to going twenty miles across town for a single patient every day, but was going to follow this little guy until he was well. I assumed that was Ryan and Robert's concern too, but only very briefly.

"Doctor Jewels is still CV Chief of Staff there," Roberts grunted. I felt my body stiffen just hearing the name. Doctor Jewels was indeed a real jewel; less than a month ago he had been arrested, at the hospital, when a packet of crack cocaine fell out of his pocket as he dressed after surgery. The entire medical community had reeled when his blood test showed he had just performed open heart surgery while stoned out of his mind, triple the legal limit to drive much less perform surgery. Multiple reports soon surfaced about other times he had been observed while clearly stoned.

"That settled that! Anyone know a generous vein plumber?" I asked.

I stopped back in to see our little buddy on my way out of the hospital and he looked like he was doing fine. I was about ten feet from the exit door to the parking lot when the overhead page pinged, announcing, "Code Blue, Code Blue Three West. Code Blue in Three West," making my asshole suck wind. 'Code Blue' was the hospital's hospital's coded message announcing a cardiac arrest, and ward three west was the Pediatric Intermediate Care Ward, where Johnny was being treated.

I pushed several people out of my way as I dashed back to the elevators. Of course, all of the cars were at the fifteenth floor or above, and none of them seemed to move as I beat the poor call button half to death. 'Fuck it,' I told myself after a couple of seconds and bolted to the stairwell. I completely ignored the security alarm I set off as I burst through the emergency door, climbing the three stories like a sprinter.

I staggered so badly I almost fell as I rushed onto the ward and saw twenty or so people, several of them pushing crash carts and other equipment into Johnny's room. 'No God, PLEASE NO!' I prayed as I all but forced my way through the other staffers to get into his room. The closer to his room I got the more my little finger, then my arm began throbbing.

I was completely unprepared for the sight that awaited me. Johnny was sitting red-faced in a recliner next to the window, about fifteen feet from his bed. He was staring, a bewildered look on his face at Roberts, whose face was oscillating between red and ghost white as he glared at the boy.

"Well, my butt hurt! It just looked more comfortable," the boy whimpered. "Sir," he added as Roberts' eyes fired another batch of daggers into him.

"I think you guys do behavior modification?" Roberts growled softly into my ear on his way out of the room.

Probably from relief, and from absorbing the irony of the situation, I lost my professional composure and began snickering, trying to keep from giggling as we found out what had happened. Johnny, despite his paralyzed arm and all but useless leg, had climbed over the two foot or so high safety rail of his hospital bed, and hopped on his one good leg over to the recliner, somehow pulling loose the electrodes for his wireless heart monitor from his chest, sending a signal to the nurses station he had arrested.

Although I probably made every author of every medical school textbook roll over in their graves I broke standard protocols and took him off of total bed rest, making him promise to call his nurse before he tried to move around the room. I was starting out of his room, a half hour late for my first office appointment when he announced, "Well, but I'm hungry."

"Change his orders to a regular diet, and you might want to stock up on snacks," I told his nurse. I walked back over to the recliner and brushed the hair out his eyes, enjoying his innocent face. "And two scoops of ice cream, any flavor, BID (prescription shorthand for twice a day)" I told the nurse.

He looked up at me and gave me a wonderfully happy smile as he grabbed my still throbbing fingers. I didn't realize I had kissed his forehead until I was almost out the door and felt his wide smile still attacking the back of my head. I returned his smile and gave him a thumbs up.

By midmorning I was back on schedule, dictating patient records when I remembered a friend from Medical School; actually a former roommate. We shared a tiny dump that was falsely advertised as an apartment our last year of school before going our separate ways, him to Residency training in Neurological Surgery, me into Psychiatry. I had seen him in the halls at Central Baptist a couple of times, but every time our paths crossed we barely had time to say hi to each other. After I found his number in the local Medical Society's Directory I was disappointed to see he had gone to work for a Sports Medicine clinic here in town, but decided I didn't have anything to lose. He seemed thrilled to hear from me, and an hour later we met for lunch at a Deli near the hospital.

"Damn, you're still a long hair!" he teased as we sat down. "When are you going to grow up, maybe get a job!" His appearance had changed considerably, he was dressed in a clearly custom-tailored three-piece suit and sported an ivy league haircut, but his personality had not, still as sharp-tongued as ever. I'm sure my Dockers and polo shirt made us a contrasting pair. Just to piss him off I untied my ponytail and let my hair drop around my shoulders.

We spent five minutes or so catching up on each other's lives before I dropped Johnny's problem on him, asking for his help.

"This is the John Doe boy at Central?" he asked. "You are the one that saved him? I heard the name Owens, but I didn't think it was you! Did he really crash three times? Were you really doing open heart on the elevator?"

I tried to explain I wasn't the hero just a poor bastard thrust into a situation I wasn't prepared for, but he just laughed. "I'd be glad to do anything I can, when can I have a look at him?" he asked.

Ten minutes after we finished lunch we were back at the hospital. If I didn't know better I would have sworn my little patient was aware we were coming and prepared some sort of con job. He was back in bed in a semi-sitting position, leaning back against his pillow with a totally cute chocolate ice cream mustache and goatee, an empty bowl in his lap.

"Hi Johnny, I'm another Johnny, I'm Doctor John," my friend said to the boy before I could introduce anyone. 'Doctor John?' I thought as I looked at his starched collar and vest, his first name was John, John Wright. He went on to make a couple of jokes about Johnny's 'complexion problem' as he wiped the boy's face with a tissue. His approach worked perfectly, and Johnny relaxed and cooperated while his senior given namesake spent the better part of an hour examining him.

"Adam, I'm only an associate at our clinic, I cannot accept patients without one of the partner's approval, especially a pro-bono one," he began as we stepped into the hall. "But if SOMEONE ordered an MRI and CT on the boy's leg and hip, and if it crossed my desk, I would, of course, read it. I don't know right now if I could help him or not, but I'll bust my backside trying." After he checked off the tests he wanted I signed the order. I had to have the results sent to me instead of him but got his e-mail, and as soon as I got back to the office told my nurse to immediately forward them to him, and he agreed to join Roberts, Ryan and myself for our morning 'Johnny Meeting'.

Tomorrow shaped up to be Johnny Day, at least all morning was going to be. I finally granted approval for the police to interview him for a statement, and my secretary had scheduled a meeting with a CPS caseworker; a meeting I wasn't looking forward to as it was going to address what to do with him when released from the hospital.

When I finally got home I changed into a pair of shorts and booted the first of Cindy's floppies, which turned out to be almost 1 MB of Zip files loaded with questions to answer and lists of documents she needed for me to provide. I hesitated before unzipping the second one, which as I feared turned out to be another huge list of information and documentation she would need 'after' I provided the 'preliminary' data she had asked for on disk one. 'Yeah well,' I told myself as I grabbed a beer from the bar and went back into my study.

I worked on the huge questionnaire for fifteen minutes or so before I decided enough was enough and went outside. Zeus was waiting at the pasture fence looking at me like "Well?" 'Fuck this shit!' I decided as I almost jogged to the tack room.

I had ridden thirty minutes or so when my bare inner thighs, rubbing against the leather saddle, began reminding me why I shouldn't ride in shorts. Zeus was not very pleased as we returned to the barn, but I escaped with only minor chafing. I didn't notice I was recounting my day to the big steed until I was almost done grooming him. 'Wake up fuck-head, you're so lonesome you're talking to your horse!' I told myself. Soon I was back at the computer, digging for and entering all the boring data Cindy needed.

After my morning rounds I checked on Johnny. He wasn't too happy about talking to the police, but after several reassurances that they just wanted to talk, that they were not going to put him in jail as he thought, and a promise I would be there he seemed to relax. I met Ryan in the hall and we were making our way to the Physician's Lounge when John stepped out of the elevator along with a very distinguished looking elderly man. John pointed toward the coffee pot behind the Nurses' Station as the two of them walked toward it.

"Do you know who that is?" Ryan asked as we entered the lounge. "That is Doctor Ebestein!" The name caught my attention immediately Ebestein was without question the icon of Sports Medicine in Texas, probably in the Southwest US. He was featured on news broadcasts and talk-shows routinely, and had more major league sports teams and stars on his patient list than I had patients.

I was surprised when John introduced the old man as his "Senior Partner", 'Damn, he's got a future!' I thought. I looked Ebestein over a little closer as he pulled films and papers out of has attache case, his custom tailored suit probably cost more than my entire wardrobe, the watch on his wrist was probably worth as much as my Jaguar. Somehow I wasn't surprised at his moderate Jewish accent, his voice and mannerisms reminded me of the stereotypical 'kindly old Rabbi' Hollywood so often portrays.

He got right down to business. He concurred there was no hope for the boy's arm, but said a nerve bundle coming out of the lad's lower spine was being deprived of an adequate blood supply, which he felt sure was causing the leg problems. What he described as 'minor' microsurgery would give Johnny at least 90 percent use of the limb.

When I asked about possible complications, and costs, recovery time and such he replied, "It's a simple procedure, if he wasn't already in the hospital it would be day surgery. I can have him walking in two days, normal activity in two or three weeks. My normal fee is twenty thousand, but I'll perform the surgery for free, if the hospital will donate the OR time."

"They'll donate it," Ryan replied. "They might not know it yet, but they will." The look on his face made me wish I could have been a fly on the wall when he talked to the Administrator. When Ebestein said he would like to operate tomorrow morning, if there was an OR available Ryan replied, "There will be, which one do you want?"

I used my laptop to finish Cindy's questionnaire while I waited for the police, and gave the floppies to Roberts. Most of the interview went well, but I began to wonder what was going on when the officers repeatedly questioned the boy about some of dad's burglaries, if he had ever gone with his father and such.

Later in the morning, the CPS worker not only confirmed my concerns, but gave me more reason to worry. She told me that a child had been sent through doggie-doors, to open the regular door, at several of the houses they suspected Johnny's dad had hit. I had to bite my tongue to keep from throwing her out of my office when she commented, "If they can prove it, that will make our jobs much easier, Juvenile Justice can figure out what to do with him."

I was on the phone to Cindy before the bitch got to the elevator. "He'll get a lawyer, but I don't think it would be wise for me to represent him," she said after I filled her in. "I'm just looking toward the future, but I can’t represent both of you in, well in all circumstances. I'll call a friend at juvi, I'll take care of it."

I thanked her and paid little mind to her comments as I saw several more patients. I was driving back to the hospital for my afternoon round, and the blessed freedom that comes with the end of the workday, when her statement flashed back into my mind. "I can’t represent both of you. . ." "Looking toward the future. . ." 'What the hell did she mean by that?' I wondered. 'Guess that's why I didn't study law!' I decided.

Although I was a little anxious about Johnny's upcoming surgery, Ronnie and Mark's cute pixie faces kept flashing into my mind as I drove into town the next morning. I could hear their giggles and feel their warm, soft bodies against me. 'Yeah well, nine hours and we'll all be home,' I thought. 'WE'LL be home, I like the ring of that!'

I stayed with Johnny until he was rolled into the actual operating room where Roberts, Ebestein, and John were already in scrub suits and masks waiting for him. I somehow wasn't surprised when I looked at my watch; exactly 7:30, the time the surgery was scheduled for.

After I got into the waiting room I booted my laptop, intending to catch up on patient files during what I was sure would be a long wait. After I stared at the first file for a couple of minutes I closed it knowing I couldn't concentrate. After a minute or so I opened Photoshop instead and began editing stills of the video I had shot of the horses and kids last weekend.

I did a double-take when I looked up at John walking toward me, then the clock; 7:58 it read. "We're done, Doctor Ebestein is changing, he'll be out to talk to you in a minute." I'm sure he read the concern my face displayed as he added, "Everything went perfectly, he's doing great, " before disappearing back into the scrub room.

'Seven-thirty, to seven-fifty-eight, twenty-two minutes,' I thought. 'Twenty thousand, for twenty-two minutes work, did I choose the right specialty? I bill at 300 dollars an HOUR!' I was still marveling at the math when Ebestein walked up to me. "He's doing fine, he will wake up by noon. Two of my PT's (Physical Therapists) will be here this afternoon to start him walking. I have three more surgeries at Methodist this morning, I must go." 'What about the afternoon, another hundred thousand?' I wondered as I watched him walk away.

I had just parked at the office when my cell phone rang. It was Cindy calling me. "Hi Adam, I have some papers I need you to sign, and we need to talk about a couple of things. Do you know when you might be free?" I started reaching for my PDA, trying to figure out how to juggle my cell and laptop at the same time in the middle of the street. Instead of getting run over I told her to come to my office, I could fit her in.

I was releasing my third patient when I saw her sitting in the waiting room and gestured her to follow me into my private office. "Sign these," she said, handing me two folders. I started to read them over, one of which was about twenty pages long when she quipped, "I didn't say read them, just sign them! You get a copy.

"This is just my retainer, hiring me as your lawyer. This is a custody application, the best way to handle the adoption. The large document is a Brief of Formulation, outlining for the court the months of preparation we have spent to assure success, " she said. "Yeah, it's true, lawyers are crooked," she snickered.

She went on to explain that, since I already had a relationship with the boys through the Big Brothers' program, we could apply to CPS and the courts for temporary custody, what she called a managing conservatorship, the same custody St. Paul's had now, and at the same time declaring my intention to adopt them. If it was approved, they would be able to live with me on a trial basis while all the legalities of the adoption were untangled. She had already talked to St. Paul's and the boys' social worker, and as long as the judge had no problem, her plan would fly.

"How long is all this going to take; and this part, the temporary part, in particular," I asked.

"The adoption will take six months to a year," she said, making my heart sink. "I scheduled a court appearance Friday afternoon, I hope you can get free."

I turned my face away a little to hide my scowl as I opened my PDA, all I wanted to do Friday afternoon was pick up my little angels and open a cold beer, not appear before some judge. If it was going to be months before I got them, why on a Friday!

"I'm certain you'll take them home for good after the hearing," she added.

I stared at her, my mouth agape for several seconds. "What time, I'll be there!" I whispered, somewhat amazed I could move enough air for even a whisper.

"One o'clock for a meeting, court at two. Oh, you need to hire a Nanny. Well you already have hired a temp, me, it's in the brief," she announced. "I'm going to meet with the caseworkers and attorneys this afternoon to get everything set up, I'll call you. Oh, time to tell the boys. Do they own suits?"

"They will tonight," I answered as I showed her out.

The rest of the day was a whirlwind, trying to concentrate on my patients when my mind was a million miles away. Johnny was asleep, but had taken two short walks when I checked in on him after rounds, and finally I was heading home. 'Screw it', I decided as I turned onto the road leading to the expressway, giving my Jag her head while still on the entrance ramp.

Stewart and the boys were at the barn grooming the horses when I got home. As I changed into shorts and tee-shirt, I practiced and made the hundredth or so revision to the little speech I spent most of the afternoon mentally preparing. I started toward the bar for a beer, thought a second and rushed back into my bedroom, slipping on a pair of swim trunks under my shorts.

The three of them were about halfway to the house when I stepped out onto the patio. Instantly two blond streaks dashed toward me, yelling at the top of their lungs. "Hi Doctor Pop! You're home!!" Mark hooted as he pounced at me, wrapping his legs around my waist and arms around my neck, kissing my cheek. Ronnie was right behind, slamming into a tight hug and pushing against my hip.

I kissed both of them, relaxing as I felt their warm, soft bodies. After a second I remembered Stewart was with them, but when I looked around she was standing next to the backyard gate smiling ear-to-ear. She waved and disappeared toward her truck.

"You guys just got done riding, anyone thirsty?" I asked after we hugged for probably a couple of minutes. Just as I asked it dawned on me I had a beer in my hand when I walked outside. I shrugged as I saw it laying on the patio, still bleeding a small amount of liquid.

They both talked volumes per second as they got soft drinks from the refrigerator and, none to my surprise, a bag of chips off the counter. I tried to listen to them as they filled me in on every detail of their riding lesson, then school and life at St. Paul's, almost like we hadn't been together in two years instead of two days. I started to suggest a swim but didn't argue when they led me to the couch, leaning back as they snuggled under my arms. I stroked their thin arms and bony shoulders for a few seconds, trying to remember the speech I spent all afternoon and half my sanity developing.

"Guys, some things are going on right now, some things that I think you will like, but tonight's going to be a little crazy, the rest of the week is. We need to go back to town in a few minutes, maybe we can. . ."

No! Please Doctor Pop!" Mark interrupted. "Please, we brought our books and everything!"

"We're not goi. . ."

"Please sir, we did good last week! We did good Sunday, PLEASE?" Ronnie cut me off.

"I'll, well we'll do extra homework even! Please don't send us back tonight, please!?!" Mark cried, burying his face against my chest.

"You're not going back to St. Paul's tonight," I responded, ignoring Ronnie's attempt to cut me off. "We have to do some shopping. Will you guys listen to me?" 'So much for my great speech!' I thought, but I couldn't remember it anyway. They both nodded and pulled against me so tightly I wondered if I could get my ribs to move enough to keep talking.

"What if there was a way you didn't have to live at St. Paul's anymore, well only for a few more days? Would you like that?"

"But, NO! What if we can’t come here then!" Ronnie growled, pulling away from me. "That place is so fucked, we been good, we been extra good so we can go with you places, why do we gotta? I don't want another foster home or shit! They suck!"

"Watch the language young man!" I barked before realizing it. Mark leaned away, both of them pulling into a semi-fetal position. 'Good show, dumb-ass, and you're a professional shrink?' I told myself.

"What if you moved from St. Paul's because you were going to be adopted, say to go live on a horse ranch? With an old hippy Doctor for a dad?" I answered. 'Cindy you BETTER not let me down,' I prayed.

Ronnie pulled away from me and pushed off the couch when I touched his thin chest. "I don't care, leave me alone! You're just like all the. . ." he stopped in mid-phrase and turned back toward me, his always beautiful eyes cutting into me like daggers. "You, well, you. . ."

"I love you and want to adopt you, I want you to be my sons, and I think we have figured out how I can," I answered. "If that's what you want."

Ronnie's eyes x-rayed my head a couple of more times, those beautiful, innocent eyes I had come to be enjoy being swallowed by now as brutal and distrusting as the first time I looked into them, when his teeth were embedded in my arm; in an attempt to protect his little brother. 'Cindy, you better not let me down, US down!' I thought. He looked at his little brother then back at me, from his softening face I could tell what I had just said was beginning to sink in.

When I extended my hand toward him he hesitated, then slowly walked next to me. "You mean it?" he whimpered. I nodded my head and started to guide him back on the couch. He started to sit down, but twisted and pushed into my lap. Mark, teary-eyed, pushed back against me as Ronnie began sobbing, burying his head on my chest.

"I mean it," I whispered, pulling them both into a tight hug. "I'm GOING to adopt you, you are going to live here with me." I held them several minutes stroking their backs and necks.

When they seemed calmed somewhat I continued, "Let me tell you what's going to happen, okay?" I felt more than saw a pair of weak nods. "Tonight we need to go into town. We're not going to St. Paul's, we're going shopping. We have to go to court, go to see a Judge Friday, so he makes sure it's okay that you move here, and you guys need some dress clothes to wear to court." I could feel Mark stiffen.

"I don't like Judges!" he cried. "That last one put us in that orphanage."

"Well, I guess it would be reasonable to go see one to get you out of the orphanage, wouldn't it?" I tried. I could feel gears grinding in his little head as he digested my statement. He looked over at his brother for a full second before nodding. "Let's take a quick swim, I bet that will make everyone feel better, and go shopping, okay? I promise this judge will be better!" 'Cindy, you better not let me down' I thought once more.

They nodded and gave me a fresh hug before Ronnie climbed off my lap. I was about to suggest they run upstairs and get into some trunks when the both darted toward the patio door, peeling their shirts and shoes off as they ran. I leaned my head back on the couch and laughed as I watched them kick out of their jeans and dive into the pool wearing only their briefs.

Half an hour later I met them at the bottom of the stairs, their hair still wet but wearing fresh shorts and tee-shirts. They were quiet as we drove to town. After I parked at the mall we were walking toward Mevlyn's Department Store when Mark pushed against my hip.

"If we get adopted, how long do we get to live with you?" he asked after a couple of steps.

I considered the best way to answer, wondering if Mark had a grasp on what adoption meant. "Oh, quite a while, until you are all grown up at least, I guess after that until you get tired of me."

He walked several more steps, clearly in deep thought. "Wow, that's gonna be a LONG time!" he giggled, wrapping his arms around my waist.

We ended up compromising, the dark suits I had in mind went over like a fart at a funeral. After a couple of other tries, I agreed on matching charcoal dress slacks, white shirts, and deep blue blazers. I caught hell but they finally agreed on gold ties almost exactly matching their hair. I had considered dress shoes but realizing that IF I could force their feet into them for Friday, that would in all likelihood be the only time they would be worn. I agreed to black leather Nikes. They offered no argument when we walked across the mall to an all-you-could-eat pizzeria.

It was a little after ten before WE got all the homework done and the kids took their baths. I waited a few minutes after I heard the water stop running before going upstairs to tuck them in. When I walked into their room I had to do a double take, first at their empty, undisturbed beds, then at the unoccupied room and their bathroom dark and empty. After I thought for a second I shook my head and went back downstairs, and into my bedroom.

I snickered when I saw an extra lump in the blanket, and when I cleared my throat the lump giggled softly. 'Fuck it, it's a special day for them' I thought. "Okay, but you guys go to sleep, promise?" I asked as I pulled the blanket back, finding, of course, a pair of little bodies snuggled together. "I'll be in in a few minutes," I added before I kissed them on top of their heads.

They were both sound asleep when I joined them thirty or so minutes later, just their pixie noses and the top of their heads sticking out from under the covers. I carefully crawled under the covers to be sure I didn't wake them up. When I was sure I hadn't, I very gently brushed their golden hair before closing my eyes. I was almost asleep when I felt something warm push against my chest and stomach, followed by one, then another thin arm slide across my chest. 'Yes, there is a Heaven on Earth' I told myself as I pulled them against me. 'I'm only twenty-four and I found it'.

An incessant buzzing awoke me as I realized my little piece of heaven was being attacked by a demon. I ignored it for a second or so while I looked at my two sleeping angels, still nestled against me, before reaching behind and fending off the beast, striking what I hoped would be a fatal blow to its snooze button.

When I leaned back onto my pillow I met a pair of sleepy hazel eyes swallowing me, the dim morning light that filtered into the room reflecting off the light dusting of freckles below them. "Hi," Ronnie's sleepy voice mumbled.

"Hi Pumpkin," I whispered before I kissed him on the nose. He pushed his face under my chin and lay motionless as I stroked his back. All too soon the demon seemed to recover from my attack and invaded our paradise with another buzz attack. "Shit," I growled before striking another punch.

"Can we go swimming?" Mark's soprano voice muttered from under the blanket.

"Yeah, please Doctor Pop," Ronnie whined. "We can yum on the way to school!"

I guess I was waking up as the realistic side of me took over. 'This won't work for a daily routine,' I thought. 'Now that you've spoiled them...' "Okay," I answered. I got a matching pair of warm hugs before the darted out for under the covers and rushed toward the patio door, their brief clad bottoms bouncing on top of their long thin legs. 'Well, it is my pool!' I thought as I followed behind, only in my underwear.

Thankfully most of my day went smoothly. Johnny was wide awake and of course eating when I checked in on him, but even put down his fork and proudly climbed out of bed and pranced around his hospital room, as proud as a Peacock, despite his fairly severe limp. Doctor Ebestein walked into his room in mid-performance, applauding as he watched. "Yes, today will be a wonderful day," the old man commented as he pulled the boy's hospital gown open and inspected his work. "Take good care of him," he told me as he left.

Everything was completely on course with Cindy and the court hearing; the lawyers and case workers she had met with were completely thrilled with our plan. "It's going to happen, Adam! With this kind of support Judge Rodriguez would have to have gone insane to deny our petition."

"Judge Xavier Rodriguez, 249th?" I asked, a little stunned. (249 is a district court number)

The phone was silent for a second or so before she answered, "Yes, is there a problem?"

"I'm in his courtroom at least every month. For Court Ordered Evaluations he specifically asks for me. He has never denied any of my recommendations."

"Well, congratulations Doctor Dad, this is going to be a cakewalk!"

"Party time too! Saturday at my house, , , ranch. You and Carl and the kids, I promise some major barbeque, okay?" She started to say she'd have to check their schedule, asked her husband when I interrupted, "Three o'clock, just bring your riding boots and swimsuits. If you say no, I'll deduct what the party costs from your fee, then you'd owe me money!" She laughed and agreed.

The other side of reality sank in somewhat as I went through my day, even as 'You're going to be a dad' rang through my mind. The school the boys currently attended was far from the best available, and a very long way from either the ranch or the side of San Antonio I worked in. Cindy was right, leaving the boys at the ranch alone after school, much less all day during school holidays, and God forbid summer vacation, late May until late August. 'Vacation, shit five years of them for Ronnie, six for Mark? Before we even think about college?' I asked myself. 'Shit!'

I told my nurse to clear as much of my calendar as she could for next week without hurting the practice, demanding from 2:30 every afternoon on, but also she clear twenty or so hours of my week. 'Shit, what have you gotten yourself into THIS time?' I wondered.

'The boys have a good point!' I thought as I dressed the next morning. After trying on three suits I found one that didn't have hanger creases from lack of wear. 'God, I hate starch!' I growled at the stiff shirt that had been curing in my closet for probably three months, as I forced my arms into it. Deciding enough was enough I wrapped a tie around the suit coat's hanger and hung it in the back seat of the car before leaving the house.

Johnny was awake, watching early morning TV when I checked in on him. I noticed a tablet with several pages of scribbled letters on it next to his bed. "I gotta learn to do stuff with this hand now," he whimpered when I picked it up. "Well, ‘til I can get that one to work again," he added, pointing at his paralyzed right hand.

"I got to put on underwear for a few minutes," he bragged after we talked for a couple of minutes. "Well, but then it started hurting," he added, pointing where I knew the incision was from his abdominal surgery. His mood seemed to change as he said, "Well, my leg keeps hurting, it hurts a bunch when they make me walk I don't wanta do that. Why can't I just get better? Am I ever gonna get well?"

"Yes, you're going to get well, you already have come a long way."

"What's gonna happen to me?" the fear in his normally soft face made me stiffen.

"You're going to be here, in the hospital, for another week or two, until we are sure you will heal, and then you probably will go to the rehabilitation center. Its sort of like a home, but where they teach you how to do things, like with one hand instead of two." From his eyes, I could tell he wasn't too thrilled with that. "That's not for long, just while they help you, then we're going to find a home for you to live in, where you can go back to school and be a normal boy again, like I bet you would. . ."

"Wow, they're SO neat," he interrupted me. I looked at him wondering what on earth he was talking about, then followed his eyes up to the TV mounted above his bed.

"You like horses?" I asked as the commercial ended.

"They are so totally awesome!" he exclaimed.

"I'll be right back, I promise," I said as I started toward the door to his room. I rushed down the hall and retrieved my laptop from the Physician's Lounge. "Let me show you some pictures of a few of my friends," I said as I booted up, setting it on the food table over his bed.

His eyes bugged as wide as saucers as I put a couple of the pictures we had shot for St. Paul's. "That is Zoe, and the big one is my stallion, Zeus." I said, pointing to one of the pictures.

"Wow, they're yours?"

"Yes, here are three more, that's Hera, and Athena, and Venus, I have six of them." I advanced to the next image before saying, "There are all six of them, that's a shot from my sons' bedroom window." 'My sons' room, did I say that?' I asked myself.

He stared motionless at the screen, after a minute or so I found myself checking to see if he was breathing. "Would you like me to print pictures of them for you?" I tried, getting no response. "Johnny? Earth to Johnny," I added, stroking his hair.

"I never really met a horse. I never really met no one that owned a horse!" he mumbled, his eyes still glued to the screen. "You really, they, Wow! They are so neat!"

"I'll bring you some more pictures tomorrow, okay? I'll bring you a videotape of them, so you can hear them too, how's that?"

"Wow!" he whispered.

"I'll tell you what. You work hard and get well, and you can meet all of them, I'll take you out to the ranch and you can ride one of them if you want and if you get strong enough. Would that work?"

A ward clerk started into the room carrying his breakfast tray. She started to back out of the room until I nodded at her, removing my laptop from the table. Johnny's eyes followed the screen until he saw the food tray, which instantly snapped him back to our world.

"I'll print your pictures and leave them with the nurse, okay? I'll be back tomorrow with that video too," I said. I tousled his hair and watched him dive into his meal for a couple of seconds before slipping out of the room, wiping the tears from my eyes as I did.

I copied the images to floppies and was at the Nurses Station, sending them to the hospital's graphics department for printing, when two of the nurses jumped up, staring down the hall. When I turned around Johnny was limping toward us, clearly pressing to move as fast as possible.

"You're nice, Mister," he said to me looking up wide-eyed. "Do you mean it, can I meet your horses? I promise I'll try real hard! Do you promise?"

"I promise," I replied, wrapping my hand around his neck. He immediately pushed against me, wrapping his arm around my waist. "As soon as you are strong enough, and healthy, we're going horseback riding!" We hugged for probably a full minute.

"Come on Johnny, you have to eat breakfast," one of the nurses said. When he and I looked she had a wheelchair waiting for him.

"No, I gotta walk! I gotta walk a bunch!" he declared. He pulled me against him for a couple of seconds before turning and limping back toward his room. When he started through the door he turned back toward the Nurses' Station, his face taut I'm sure with pain. When I smiled at him he brightened into an even wider smile than mine, his face suddenly relaxed.

The rest of the morning seemed to drag on forever, three or so hours until court seemed more like three days, my breakthrough with Johnny ringing back into my mind every time I tried to relax.. Finally, I had dismissed my last patient and was out of the office. I grabbed a bite to eat on the way to the Juvenile Justice Center but only nibbled at it, tossing most of it in the trash, before I cinched my neck into its noose, put on my suit-coat and went inside to meet Cindy.

The one o'clock meeting was boring to say the least. We went into a conference room to meet several lawyers, the Nun I knew was the Mother Superior of St. Paul's and a couple of social workers that were there. After everyone spent ten minutes or so agreeing on what everyone had clearly already agreed on, the lawyers huddled into a corner of the room, comparing notes, while the rest of us stared at each other. I was pleased when Ronnie and Mark's caseworker informed me she was taking over Johnny's case, biting my tongue to keep from thanking Cindy who I knew was behind this.

We talked while the lawyers did their thing, and I finally had time to bring up my week-old or so idea of having a St. Paul's party at the ranch. The Mother Superior liked the idea, but she suggested it be a going away party involving only the other boys in my kids' cottage. When she suggested all 300 of her residents might be a handful I didn't argue. Next weekend sounded like a good time for both of us.

After I shifted my tie and throat slashing shirt a hundred times or so, a glance at my watch revived me, it was almost two o'clock. 'The boys should be here any minute and we could get this shit done!' I reassured myself. A malted milk, my big cat sprinting toward her ranch and freedom for the weekend kept sounding better and better. 'Hang in there,' I told my neck, 'I know it feels like a lynching but it's not!'

As I checked my timepiece several more times I started to get concerned, 1:50 and no kids. From my experience with Judge Rodriguez, I knew two o'clock was indeed two o'clock, don't show up at 2:02 because your case was already history.

Five minutes later I was surprised when the old Nun's habit began chirping. After she dug through several layers of her ten years or so outdated garb she produced a cell phone. "Oh dear, well travel safely, God be with you," she said into it. I was trying to analyze the tone of her voice, the strangest mixture of a kindly old grandmother and a Marine Corps Drill Instructor I think I had ever heard, when she stood up.

"A traffic accident has occurred," she announced. "Thankfully Sister Opel and the children were not involved, but are delayed behind it. She assured me she will proceed as expediently as God wills her to."

'No, this cannot be real!' I thought as I looked toward Cindy. Our eyes had just met when a Deputy Sheriff entered the room. "Judge Rodriguez is about to call your case. Please follow me," he ordered. 'Fuck!' I growled under my breath as I followed behind everyone.

"Good afternoon Doctor Owens, it's my pleasure to welcome you back to my court, especially considering the petition before me!" the Judge began after his clerk called the court into order. "I see no point in spending much time here, all the parties are in complete agreement, and I know the good doctor well enough that I have no problems signing the order. I would like to talk to the minors briefly, and if the attorneys do not have a problem we are done." He looked around his court for a second before asking, "Where are the children?"

Mother Superior explained the problem, and the judge was still digesting her statement, his pleasant face fading rapidly when the courtroom doors opened. Ronnie and Mark rushed in, running the first few steps before slowing to a rapid walk as they saw the Judge's glare.

"Hi Doctor Pop!" Mark hooted as they rushed to me. "Wow, I never seen you in clothes before, I didn't know you had any!" he exclaimed as he pushed against my stomach and hugged me, his brother right behind.

The courtroom was so silent I'm sure we would have heard a fly fart in the basement as I felt every judicial and law enforcement eye in Texas locked on me, along with the glare of every Nun and Priest between San Antonio and Italy.

To Be Continued…