Patient John Doe

Chapter 9

Johnny's ride on Zeus went perfectly. It took only a few seconds for him to get over his fear of the big animal, and soon we were wandering the pasture with him holding the reins, really completely controlling the massive stallion, all I was doing was holding him by his thin waist, making sure he wouldn't fall. Ginger stayed next to us everywhere we went, happily walking next to Zeus like a foal. The Roberts joined us a little later, to my surprise Carl climbed on one of my horses after his wife saddled it for him.

It took longer for Johnny to tire than I expected. We had ridden for over an hour when Roberts, more than I, noticed he seemed to be fatiguing, and suggested he rest. I tried to get him to go back up to the house with me and lay down, but I soon realized I would have to rope him and drag him up the hill to do this.

I was trying to decide if I should force him to rest when he offered a compromise that answered my question. "Well, maybe, can I go rest and take Ginger with me?" The little horse joined him in giving me their best attempt at sad puppy eyes before he added, "She don't gotta come inside, she said she'd stay on the porch with me." I quickly accepted his promise he would not overexert while he played with his yearling friend in the pasture.

"When he moves here, who's going to clean up the horse manure in his bedroom?" Roberts chuckled as he and I walked toward the house. He laughed even harder at the one-fingered salute I offered as my answer.

The rest of the day went well and passed quicker than I think any of us wanted. The Roberts' brought a picnic lunch with them for all of us, which took less than ten minutes to serve, and we swam rode and relaxed through the afternoon. Johnny went for two more rides, one with me on Zeus and one with Cindy on Boots, the name she had chosen for her (Jennifer's?) new horse, and begged for more as the afternoon wore down.

I was a little leery when they offered to take Johnny back to Hill Country on their way home, but when Carl and Cindy both reminded me Daddy Doeman was probably less likely to know who they were than I, I agreed. Johnny wasn't too pleased, but Cindy's motherly voice and smile won out again and he agreed.

"The way she can manipulate him, he would be a perfect addition to your home!" I teased Roberts as we watched his little pixie face light up from her motherly voice. This time he responded with a rather crisp one fingered salutation. After I promised him I would see him tomorrow, and that he could come back to see Ginger sometime next weekend, he reluctantly gave me a hug and climbed into their car. I shook my head and snickered as we watched them drive toward the entry gate, Ginger racing next to their car just on the other side of the pasture fence, baying as if calling her friend back.

"He's neat," Ronnie said as the three of us went inside. "Thanks for being nice to him, Dad," he added, pushing against me.

"Yeah, thanks Dad," Mark added. "He's scared too, and he feels safe and stuff around you, he wants to, I mean he wants to come here a lot, can he?" I earned a pair of skeptical looks from their little faces when I said he can visit us often until he is well enough to move into a more permanent setting.

"Sorry guys, but the weekend's over," I announced, hoping to change the subject. "You guys get your baths, and homework done, let's go!" I instructed, squeezing both of their long thin necks. "If you get everything ready for tomorrow before bedtime, I might be able to remember how to make homemade milkshakes, with homemade ice cream!" I threw in, earning a pair of hugs.

They both darted toward the stairs. Mark had climbed five or so of them before he stopped and turned to look at me. "Thanks for buying Ginger for Johnny, he loves her so much!"

"I didn't, I, GET, you're on Milk Shake time, time's a-wastin'!" I barked.

Monday was, as all Mondays, a whirlwind. After rushing through morning rounds, my morning appointments and dealing with the problems my young patients seemed to stir up every weekend, my nurse reminded me of what I had completely forgotten, to pick the boys up from school and meet with their Orthodontist. Thankfully my logistical expert, that doubled as my scheduling nurse, had rearranged my afternoon rounds, visit with Johnny, and my day to fit it in. 'In Medical School, how many Professors PREACHED, 'You Run Your Practice, Take Command!' I thought. I wondered if any of them had ever practiced what they preached as I reshuffled my day.

The Orthodontist's consultation was as I expected, but not at all what the boys had hoped. They did need treatment and were a little older than what would have been the optimal age to begin. He proposed almost identical treatment plans for them, citing as I had enjoyed about them how Mark was a younger, almost identical copy of his brother. He predicted four years of treatment for Ronnie and three for Mark. His cost was reasonable, especially considering the multi-family and professional courtesy discounts he offered, and shortly I was signing contracts for their treatment.

They were silent for most of the meeting, glancing nervously at each other almost as condemned prisoners until their new Orthodontist suggested he see them Friday to begin installing their appliances. "Which Friday, not this one!" Ronnie snarled. My glare made him rephrase, asking, "Can we wait a little, maybe get them when we don't gotta go to school, like for vacation?"

"Friday will be fine, but probably our Nanny will be bringing them," I told the doctor. 'Perfect timing to let THAT word slip,' I thought as the boys cut me dirty looks.

The boys were silent for the first several minutes as we drove toward the ranch. "Ah, guys, I owe you an apology, I did not mean to refer to Mary as your nanny, I know you don't like it," I finally said.

"We don't care, she is, isn't she?" Ronnie replied.

I considered his statement for a minute, trying to compile the perfect answer. "In some ways, she is, but you had objected to, you said you felt to mature to have a sitter, well a nanny."

"Yeah, but we didn't know they could cook!" Mark chimed in.

"And have yummies already ready when we get home!" Ronnie added. 'Well, I'm glad they know how to develop priorities!' I silently snickered.

I got another pair of dirty looks after we got home, when I confirmed Mary would be able to take the boys to their Friday appointment, but after they inhaled a dozen or so cupcakes seemed to have forgotten they were condemned to becoming tin grins, and disappeared toward the horse barn, gleefully hooting greetings to their four-legged friends as they ran out the door. Mary and I had a good laugh as I told her what the key to being so warmly accepted by her young charges was, she was still snickering as she left.

The next morning I was almost finished with my rounds when a voice rang from the other end of the ward, "Doctor Owens!" When I turned I saw Ebstein walking toward me. "How is our young patient?" he asked, extending his hand. I spent a couple of minutes filling him in on Johnny's progress and again thanking him for his help.

"I found an article in a Neurological Surgery Journal I think you should peruse." he said as I finished bringing him up-to-date. "I have it in my case," he added, gesturing toward the Physician's Lounge. "A young Pediatric Surgeon on the east coast has developed a technique to reattach curtain nerve bundles, including conditions similar to this youngster's case. Please read the article, and if you think it would be worthwhile, I would be glad to contact him on your behalf." He gave me several pages of photocopies and excused himself to complete his rounds.

'Wow,' I thought as I looked at the stack of paper. 'I know what I'm going to be doing tonight!' I had to force myself to concentrate on work the rest of the day, so very tempted to drop everything and read the papers.

Johnny's warm hug and bubbling attitude was as refreshing as taking a super-vitamin that afternoon. The sparkle in his miles deep eyes radiated over his entire face as he outlined his accomplishments of the day, and climbed into my lap as I sat down to check the stats on his computer tutorials, which were impressive. I had put together a couple of floppy disks containing pictures of Ginger for him, and decided to treat them as a reward when I gave them to him.

At first, I thought I might have made a mistake when the first picture came on the screen his entire little body seemed to slump in my lap, and he let out a soft whimper. "She's so pretty, I miss her a bunch," he sobbed.

"But you're going to get to see her, very soon," I answered, pulling him more tightly against my chest. He grabbed my forearm and pushed it into his thin body as I brought up the next picture. "What's today?" I asked. He shrugged. "What's today, how many days until the weekend?"

"Do I getta see her then?. . . I mean get to?"

"I promise you do. You work hard at getting well, and the weekend will come quicker than you think. Ronnie and Mark, and the other horses want you to come back too, they asked about you a lot."

"I love you, Pop. . . I mean Doc," he whined. "I love Zoe, and Zeus, and Hera, and, oh and Ronnie and Mark and Junior. I'll try real hard so I get to go see them, I promise Po. . . I mean. . ."

"I kind of like Pop better," I interrupted, kissing the side of his head. "Why don't you just call me Pop all the time." He giggled softly and squirmed around in my lap, kissing my cheek before burying his head under my chin.

We held our cuddle for several minutes, and I barely noticed the click of the electronic lock on his door. "Hi, little-bit, you ready for. . . Oh, excuse me Doctor, I didn't know you were still here," one of his therapist's said. "I'll come back later, excuse me sir," she added as she started to back out the door.

"No, wait, I gotta go get well!" Johnny cried. He started to push out of my lap, but turned back kissing me on the cheek before rushing toward her. "Come on, we gotta hurry!" He almost ordered as he grasped her hand. "We gotta, so I getta go see Ginger!" The therapist smiled at me and handed me a tissue from her pocket as the boy all but dragged her out the door.

Finally, after spending some time with the boys before supper, and later getting them settled down for their baths and homework, I was able to retire to my study and read Ebstein's copies.

Ebstein was right, Johnny's injuries were very similar to the cases this guy had treated as far as I could tell, based on my limited knowledge of Micro and Neuro-surgery. I was even more excited as I read the doctor had performed the operation on four cases so far. The first, after a few months of recovery and therapy, had regained over 90 percent use of her limb, the other three were progressing and expected to reach at least that level of success, he predicted a hundred percent recovery in one case. I bit my lip to keep from calling Ebstein that night.

Out of curiosity, I logged onto a couple of physician-related websites, hoping to find a bio on the doctor. To my surprise he was only a couple years older than I. He was Brazilian born, had attended some very prestigious medical schools in the US, and now owns a medium size pediatric surgical practice in eastern Virginia, where he has developed a respected reputation for his neurological and micro-surgical expertise treating growing children. 'Hello Doctor Sanchez, I wonder if you'd like to visit a horse ranch!' I snickered to myself.

Ebstein wasted no time in contacting Sanchez after I called him in the morning. I received an e-mail as I was about to go to lunch, a copy of Ebstein's letter to Sanchez. Ebstein had outlined Johnny's case history from his standpoint, attaching the results of the initial scans and tests performed on the boy's paralyzed arm. He suggested I provide Sanchez with a bio and social history of the boy.

'Yeah, well,' I thought as I fed the vending machine my coins. 'Well, I hope Mary comes through with a good supper,' I told the ten day old or so, formaldehyde-laced sandwich, bruised from its fall down the vending machine, as I sat it next to my keyboard.

By mid-afternoon, we had received a reply from Sanchez. He was interested in the case, and, because of the distances involved, suggested more tests be performed locally and forwarded to him before proceeding any further. I was amazed at his thoroughness as I reviewed the extensive list, almost equating it to the internet-based medicine the military was developing.

'I wonder how many of these will Medicaid will pay for?' I could feel my credit card asking. 'Yeah, I wonder if Sanchez even takes Medicaid? Medicaid from Texas?' I silently answered. 'I wonder if I should find a good shrink!' I thought as I realized I was carrying on a conversation with my wallet. 'What's the old saying, talking out your ass?' I snickered as I rubbed my wallet in the back pocket of my pants.

"Wait! Military!!!" I said out loud, I guess to the e-mail on my screen. San Antonio hosts two of the largest military teaching hospitals in the world, one at a local Air Force Base, and another at our Army base. 'Hello Colonel Sharp!' I thought. I couldn't wipe the smile off my face as my plot jelled.

Colonel Sharp, also Doctor Sharp, the Chief Cardiac Surgeon at Wilford Hall, the Air Force hospital here, was the parent of one of my patients. When his 15-year-old son got into legal problems for dealing drugs, and, it turned out, possessing drugs at their house on the military base, I was appointed by Juvenile Court to evaluate the boy and his family situation. Because of his son's possession on base, the good Colonel ended up being in almost as much trouble as his son; the Air Force had filed charges in Federal Court against the boy, and began proceedings to either force Sharp to relinquish custody of his son or be thrown out of the service, which would cost him all the retirement benefits he had earned in his 26-year career.

After my evaluation, I recommended the boy undergo rehab and counseling and remain in his home environment. I also ended up spending twenty or so unpaid hours testifying at various Air Force hearings regarding the Colonel's career, along with accepting the boy as a patient at Tri-care insurance rates, which paid far less than I charged. When everything was settled Sharp was eternally grateful, telling me so many times that only God could count that if I ever needed a favor to call.

Sharp was good to his word. After calling him I forwarded copies of all the e-mails between Ebstein, Sanchez and myself to him, and when I checked my mail before leaving for my afternoon rounds I had an answer. He said the Air Force would be happy to perform all the needed tests at no cost, and forwarded a letter from the Hospital Commander, a two-star General, ordering the tests be performed immediately, 'Priority One' he ordered. My eyes bugged so hard they almost bounced off the monitor screen as I read his next paragraph:

"I have discussed this request with: The facilities commanders of Sewells Point Medical Clinic, Naval Station Norfolk Virginia, and Walter Reed Army Medical Center; additionally with the MEDCOM staff at the Pentagon. Any and all in-kind support toward this child's medical needs the United States Military establishment can provide is hereby authorized and ordered."

'FUCK!' I thought as I re-read the messages and I dialed the phone number Sharp asked me to call for appointments. The airmen that answered was clearly expecting my call, and ten minutes later all tests were scheduled for Thursday afternoon, he even offered to provide a military ambulance to transport the boy. 'I wonder if Colonel Sharp would like to visit a horse ranch!' I snicked before telling my nurse to clear my calendar.

I was debating the best way to tell Johnny about the recent events, how to prepare him for tomorrow's adventures as I drove toward Hill Country. The dark side of my brain kicked in, 'What about security, what about Pappa while I parade the boy across town?' I decided to call Wilson.

He had good and bad news for me, apologizing for not keeping me more abreast. They were fairly sure Doeman was not in the San Antonio area, he had been identified on a couple of security camera's footage committing armed robberies in Austin and Houston. I was relaxing from this news when he added, "I am catching a lot of flack from the FBI, this Agent Banks really wants to interview the boy, I'm catching hell from them!"

'Thanks, ass hole, I'll rain on your parade ASAP!' I thought. "He's not ready, tell Banks to come up with someone in custody, like pappa, and I'll consider it." 'Please Judge Rodriguez, support me!' I thought as I denied his second plea.

At first, Johnny wanted no part of going back to a hospital, even when I told him it was just for a few tests, and a couple of hours. He wasn't going back to 'a Hospital hospital!' as he put it. I was afraid to tell him the tests might lead to regaining the use of his paralyzed arm for fear of falsely getting his hopes up, but didn't want to order him to go with me.

"Well, it is just tests, a few x-rays and stuff, nothing that hurts and only for a couple of hours," I told him, hoping I wasn't misleading him. "They want to see us early in the afternoon, why don't we go to the ranch and have lunch, and then run down there?" I suggested. Getting no answer I added, "I'll ask Mary to make us some sandwiches, and stuff in a couple of carrots for Ginger, we can have a picnic with her!"

"YEAH POP!!!" he hooted, so loud I would have sworn Ginger and the other horses could hear him from ten miles away. "I'll take ALL their tests and everything! I promise I will, I WILL! I get to see her, for real!?!"

"Only if you promise to give her a great big hug!" I answered. 'I bet the lab techs are going to love me for that!' I thought. 'The aroma of Boy/horse du jour filling the Air Force's labs, oh well'

I had to take a deep breath and close my eyes, to reassure myself what I was seeing was real, as I turned in and waited for the entry gate to my ranch to open. Ginger was standing at the corner of the pasture fence staring very pointedly into my Jaguar, I could almost feel a telepathic message being beamed to me, 'Where is my BOY!' 'Soon baby, soon,' I thought as she ran next to me as I drove to the house.

I was a little startled as I walked through the family room and saw Junior swimming with Ronnie and Mark. 'Fuck, this hasn't been a long week or anything, today is only Wednesday! Riding lessons day,' I told myself. Mary must have read my face and greeted me by handing me a beer. She was all but ecstatic when I filled her in regarding Johnny and Doctor Sanchez, making me promise her I would let her help in any way she could.

"Dad!" Mark yelled as I stepped out the patio door. "Yeah, you’re home!" he hooted as all three boys jumped out of the pool and pushed into a dripping wet hug. I enjoyed their cuddle for a minute or so before leaning back enough to slip out of my now soaked shirt, and shook some of the water off my cell phone, hoping it was somewhat waterproof.

"What's this, Junior in a Speedo?" I teased as popped him on his biscuit butt and rubbed their bony shoulders. After a giggle from them I kissed the top of their wet heads before asking, "Hey, can I go change, I want to get in the water too before you guys splash it all out!" After another series of giggles, they released our hug and I went into my bedroom.

I had just stripped out of my shoes and pants and was getting a pair of swim trunks out of my dresser drawer when Mark's voice rang from behind me. "Ah, Pop, I mean Dad, ah, can you go talk to Ginger?" I just had time to turn toward him before he pushed against me. "Please Pop she's scared, well I guess she's lonesome sorta, well she misses Johnny and she don't know what to do and stuff."

"She is going to see Johnny soon, I promise," I answered. I stroked his surprisingly tight neck muscles for a few seconds before adding, "She might be a little uncomfortable, she has only lived here a few days, she will settle in, I'm sure she will."

"But she's scared! She didn't want her treats even! You're a Doctor, a Physiologist, you can go talk to her and tell her it's okay and stuff!"

"I'm a Psych. . ." I started to answer. 'Let it go for now, I'll do atoms later,' I told myself. "Of course I will go talk to Ginger. And Saturday our Vet and Farrier are going to come and check her and the other horses. . . Our Horse Doctor and Horse shoe'er I mean." From the lost look on his face, I knew I had gotten myself into something before he spoke.

"They gotta wear shoes? I don't think they’re gonna like that, Hera won’t!" he exclaimed, his alto voice raising toward soprano with each word.

"Well, they already do. Well, in case he says they should get new shoes, maybe you guys should start thinking about what kind to get them! What would Hera like, Nikes, or Kappas, or maybe Adidas?" I could feel gears grinding inside his little pixie head as he digested my statement. "Maybe after we swim you should go asked them which kind they want! What do you think Hera would like to wear? Maybe you better go out to the pool and ask Ronnie and Junior what to get all the horses."

'That was cruel, you're an evil bastard,' I snickered to myself as I watched him wander, lost, out of the room.

We enjoyed playing in the pool for a half hour or so before Cindy arrived to pick up her son. As soon as Junior rushed upstairs to change out of his Speedos, Mark slipped under my arm, whispering "Ah, can Junior sleep here Friday Dad, please?"

I was about to agree when I noticed Ronnie tightly tucked under Cindy's breasts. 'As if we had a choice,' I thought as Cindy and I exchanged glances, she clearly thinking the same thing. "You just remember, I have custody on week-nights!" she whispered to me as we walked them to her Suburban.

'Strange horse,' I thought as I petted Ginger after supper. Every time I used Johnny's name as I stroked her, she seemed to perk up somewhat, cuddling her long snout against me like she understood who I was talking about. 'This shit's getting to me, I'm having Psychotherapy sessions with horses now?" I thought as I brushed her out.

I was pleased how quickly the next morning went, problem-free days were so rare I kept waiting for a crisis of some kind to arrive. Even as I was riding my big cat to pick up Johnny for his tests, I kept waiting for a call telling me one of my patients had decided to rain on my parade, but none did.

I received several dirty looks from the nurses at Hill Country when I entered Johnny's ward. "Is he ready to go?" I asked, averting my eyes from them as I signed the forms to check him out of the facility.

"Lord, is he!" the charge nurse snarled. "Thank God you are here, that boy is driving all of us up. . ." she stopped and glared at the buzzing control panel of the room call intercom. "THE WALL!" She glanced at her watch, then back at the panel. "He's improving, he waited a full eight minutes this time!"

I held my hand up, signaling her to wait to answer him, and rushed behind the desk. When I nodded she pushed the button to answer his call.

"Has Doctor Pop gotten here yet? Please maybe you can call him, he promised he was gonna come?" he whined through the speaker.

"Doctor Pop just called. He's going to be very late, he had to stop and. . . buy fresh carrots," I answered.

"But, well but he, he Promised! He. . ." the boy cried. "POP! THAT'S YOU POP! POP, PLEASE!" Almost immediately we heard the sound of something slamming against the door to his room, followed by the door straining against the electronic lock as he repeatedly tried to jerk it open.

The door flew open like it was spring loaded the instant I swiped my card through the lock. "Pop, you did come!" he hooted as he slammed against me, pulling me into a one-armed hug.

"Let's get you out of here before the nurses kill you," I suggested as I kissed him on top of the head. I snickered all the way to the car, as I swiped my ID to open each of the several locked doors leading out of the rehab center's secure wing, he blitzed through it, dragging me by the hand to the next.

I'm not sure who I was more impressed with; the people that built the fence between my pasture and driveway, or those that manufactured Jaguar's seat belts as I pulled up in front of my house, they both survived a severe stress test. Johnny managed to release his own seat belt as I parked, and was out of the car and squirming over the pasture fence before I could say anything. When I came out of the house with the picnic basket Mary had prepared for us, he was hugging Ginger as all the other horses milled around, seeming to join in on the happy reunion.

I let them play as long as I dared, allowing a little extra time to get to the hospital. I could feel the eyes of CPS workers glaring at me from above as I let him eat his lunch and play at the same time, 'well, I'll make him wash his hand AFTER he eats,' I snickered.

He got a little teary-eyed when I announced we had to leave. "Well, but do I still getta come see her?" He digested my assurance he could come back for the weekend for a second. "When can I? Please really quick!" he whimpered.

I felt my heart throb as I looked at his, then Ginger's pleading eyes, his innocent little face looking like he was dealing with the woes of the world. I looked away for a second, unfortunately into the anxious glares of the other horses, clearly monitoring the conversation. "How about tomorrow afternoon?" his face lit up like a neon sign. "Would you like to spend the weekend here?" I asked before realizing I did.

"Can I? For real? I'll do anything if you let me!" he hooted. "I love you Pop!" he exclaimed as I nodded yes. Ginger, then Zoe and Zeus pushed their way into our hug. 'Yeah, well, now at least we both smell like horses," I thought.

The Air Force was more wonderful than I ever could have imagined. After I checked in at their clinic, we didn't have time to sit down before a young Airman appeared and began escorting us around, as they performed this, then that test. Johnny wasn't too pleased about getting an IV in his arm, but was almost enjoying himself through most of the tests and being treated like visiting Royalty, all the nurses goggling over his strawberry hair and cuteness.

The Airman and I had to wait outside while the boy underwent the several MRI scans Sanchez had ordered. "Do you know how long it will take to get all the results and to get them to Virginia?" I asked him.

"Most of the results are being e-mailed to your physician as they are completed, sir," he replied. "We have a live-time link with Sewells, excuse me I mean a Navy Clinic near your Doctor sir. They are recording the results we can’t e-mail and have a carrier standing by, and those test should be delivered to your Doctor within twenty minutes of completion sir. Drive time is actually fourteen minutes, but we like to allow a little extra time in case of problems sir."

'Twenty MINUTES?' I thought. 'Fuck, in the best civilian hospital in San Antonio it would take closer to twenty hours to get some of this stuff down three flights of stairs! They're going across country in. . . Oh, of course they allowed for unexpected delays, all six minutes of them!' "Very impressive!" I answered.

Less than two hours later I was chatting with the Airman as we waited for Johnny to get dressed, when he, then everyone in the area snapped stiffly to attention. When I looked around a silver-haired, uniformed man was strolling down the hall, with three or four soldiers following behind. I noticed the two silver stars on his shoulders as he offered his hand and said, "Doctor Owens, I'm General Atkins." After I greeted him he turned toward the Airman, asking where 'the youngster' was. From his demeanor and the authority in his voice I almost felt like offering to go hurry the boy up.

Thankfully Johnny quickly appeared, almost as on cue. At first, he froze, his face turning even redder than his hair when he saw everyone waiting for him. He recovered quickly, and I felt my eyes welling as the General made a small ceremony of presenting him with a tee-shirt, ball cap and a beautiful model of a B-2 Bomber. After Johnny looked the model over for a minute the General turned it upside down. "It has been autographed by both of the pilots that composed the aircraft's first flight crew," he told the boy. He stared sternly at the lad's lost face for a minute before saying, "The test pilots." When Johnny's face lit up showing he understood, the General leaned over to me and whispered, "You might want to take care of that, there are only 1000 of them in existence."

I had to silently snicker a minute later. After the General talked with us briefly he turned to leave, and everyone again snapped rigidly to attention, including Johnny. "Wow, he's nice," he whispered to me after the officer left.

We were about to leave the clinic when the young Airman that had been our escort called out to me. "We have just received confirmation that all the results have been delivered to your Virginia Physician sir," he informed me. 'Damn, what was the delay?' I silently snickered as I thanked him.

I had to grin each time I thought of Johnny as I drove home after taking him back to Hill Country. He was no one's fool, he asked me a dozen or so questions about the tests he had undergone, and why so many of them were on his paralyzed arm. My grin broke into a wide smile as I recalled how methodically he was planning his weekend, his little brain in some ways struck me as a carrot-topped PDA as he tried to maximize his time with Ginger, and at the ranch.

Ronnie and Mark jumped from the breakfast bar and pushed into a tight snuggle as I walked into the house, even before I could put my laptop down. "What's this? You guys abandoned food for a Pop?" I teased. "Even fruit salad with whipped cream?" I snickered, scooping a finger full out of one of their bowls and licking it into my mouth. I ignored Mary's dirty looks as I scooped my fingers into the mess a couple more times and gave the boys bites.

"Ginger's so happy! Thanks Dad!" Mark bubbled. "She is so totally happy, she loves you! Thanks for letting him see her! 'Wait, no he's just guessing,' I thought. "Thanks Dad, she can’t wait ‘til Friday!" he howled as they rushed out the door.

'I need to quit drinking,' I thought as they rushed out the door. 'Or was that a flashback from my teenage years, my deviant youth? How could they know I invited Johnny tomorrow night, I didn't even know I was going to! Yes Judge, ten K a month is low, but it probably would help Granny Gotrocks recover her golf swing,' I thought on my way behind the bar.

After I finished checking the boys' homework later, I was about to suggest they get in bed when Ronnie pushed up against me. "Ah, well, do we gotta go to the Dentist tomorrow? Maybe if, I mean, well if Johnny's gonna come, well he likes Mary's yumms and everything, so maybe if. . ."

"No guys, YES, you are going to the Orthodontist tomorrow. Sorry guys but it's necessary, I promise." I ignored their dirty looks and added, "If Johnny and I get home before you and Mary do, I THINK I can find a good snack for him, for all of you!" I took a deep breath as they exchanged even more concerned glances. "If I get home before you I promise I'll make some good snacks, let's see: Fried Liver sandwiches, with lots of, , , asparagus and sliced turnips on them! I'll even put some of that Limburger cheese that smells like horse farts on top! Three sandwiches each, and you have to eat all of them!" earned me fairly harsh 'Up Yours' glares.

They stared at each other for several seconds before Ronnie giggled, "Well, can I get extra horse farts on mine?"

I opened my mouth a couple of times to nail him for his language but ended up pulling both of them onto my lap. "You're too young for horse farts, maybe a little extra horse poots! Bedtime, guys okay?" They cuddled against me for another minute or so, giggling and hugging my arms until, as much as I hated to, I pushed them off my lap.

They started toward the stairs before Mark turned back and pushed against my knee. "Is Johnny gonna get to come live here?" he asked, his voice as scared as his face. "Please Pop, I mean Dad, he loves it here, and well. . ."

"He loves you, and well we love him and you do too!" Ronnie interrupted. "And he don't steal or do any bad stuff no more like he did! We think we got him to believe he don't gotta do the sex stuff with you even, he promised he won't unless you want!"

'Fuck, what happened to my two innocent little boys? I thought. 'I can't believe I heard that! From my little angel Ronnie?' "I. . . I promise I will take good care of Johnny, right now he has to get well, from being hurt. I. . . well, I love you guys so much for worrying about him, about his future. Will you, trust me for right now, I promise to take good care of him. Come on, bedtime guys, we all have a busy day tomorrow," I tried, pulling them into a warm snuggle. "Good night boys, I love you," I added, pushing them off my lap.

They started toward the stairs before Mark turned back and hugged my arm. "Can I sleep in your bed tonight, well can we?" he whimpered. "Please Dad, PLEASE?" he almost cried.

I closed my eyes for a second or so, but his wonderful face was still staring at me. "If you PROMISE to get some sleep, ALL night!" I answered. I scooped him up as Ronnie rushed back and shoved under my other arm.

After I tucked them into my bed I started back into the family room. I was almost to the bedroom door when I turned back. I stripped out of my tee-shirt and walking shorts and crawled into bed next to them. As Mark snuggled against me, Ronnie next to him I muttered, 'Thanks God, thanks for giving me this life, and these two little blessings!' I kissed each of their noses before slipping into a wonderful slumber.

I had an e-mail from Sanchez the next morning when I arrived at my practice, a copy sent to Ebstein. After stating he was amazed at how quickly the tests he had asked for had been sent to him, he said he felt he might be able to help Johnny but, he needed a couple of the tests to be repeated. Luckily they were procedures that Hill Country could perform and e-mail. Right after lunch, he wrote back stating that after reviewing the test results he felt he might be able to help Johnny. As I expected, he would like to examine the lad at his Virginia practice. He suggested I call him to further discuss this.

An hour later he returned my phone message to him, calling me on my cell. I was thrilled when he reiterated that, based on the tests he had received from Wilford Hall, Johnny was a perfect candidate for his new procedure. I barely managed to slow my big cat down and guide her off to the side of the road without causing a wreck as he added that, based on the tests he had read, he felt there was probably a seventy-five to eighty percent chance Johnny could regain full use of his arm. 'God, I hope you are for real, GOD Bless, you are a dream come true!' I thought.

I leaned back against the car seat's headrest, trying to decide how to ask my next question properly. "I will get Johnny to Virginia as soon as you have a time slot you can evaluate him, thank you so much for accepting him. If I may, for planning purposes, ask, what can I expect regarding, well, the fees for your services, and surgery if you find it helpful." 'Fuck, I hope that sounded right!' I thought.

"If you can transport the boy, I will treat him pro-bono, I will have Children's Hospital defer all the costs I can." he answered.

"I'm sorry Doctor, that is not what I was asking for, I expect you to make a living just like I have to! He is on Medicaid, here in Texas anyway, if you accept Medicaid that will defray some of the costs. I would be happy to pick up what they don't." There was several seconds of dead air on my cell phone, I even pulled it away from my ear to see if I was still receiving a signal.

"Doctor Owens, when I was a boy, about John's age, I was. . . I was living in a garbage dump in Brazil and staying alive selling my. . . A man attacked me, although he was not my father as was John's attacker, he almost killed me much like John's attacker did, before a Doctor not only fought to fend him off, but used his medical skills and influence to save my life.

"I have read accounts on the web of you performing open heart massage, some reports suggest you were actually sealing the boy's right ventricle with a finger while doing open CPR and bagging him while bouncing down hallways and in and out of elevators to get him to an operating theater. I would not have believed it if I had not read about it from several sources. If I can help this boy, it would be an honor and a way to pay my Dad back for becoming my dad!" Sanchez responded. "Did you actually endure three Defibrillator shocks and continue CPR?"

'That shit's on the web?' I asked myself. 'All I did was screw up and respond to a Doctor Allstaff!' I thought. "I, , , think the account you received is somewhat exaggerated," I answered, my arm twitched as if in protest.

After we talked a couple more minutes I suggested either a Monday or Friday appointment, because I would prefer to bring my other boys and could make it into a three-day mini-vacation. He suggested we not delay very long, as the sooner he was able to begin treatment the better the chances of a full recovery.

As he said it occurred to me I had to check into what restrictions CPS or the courts might have on me taking Johnny, or the boys, out of state. We decided I would have my nurse contact his for a date and time. 'What, are you getting THAT establishment?' I asked myself, absent-mindedly brushing my pony-tail. 'I'll have my secretary call your secretary and. . . Shit, a year ago we used to make jokes about snobs that said that!'

'God, what a long week,' I told my Jaguar. 'Run girl run, let's pick up Johnny and it's Miller time!' I decided as she agreed and sprinted toward Hill Country.

I had to take a step back as I entered Johnny's ward, he was standing in front of the Nurse's Station, his little backpack next to him. "I know it's a security breach Doctor, but it was either let him out here to wait for you or KILL him," a nurse whispered in my ear as he rushed toward me. "Have a good weekend, WE will!" she added as he pushed into a hug against me. I was considering nailing her when she kissed the top of his head, earning a warm smile from the boy.

Ginger was waiting for us at the road, and half ran, half bounced in joy next to my car as I drove toward the house. Johnny gave me a dirty look when I reminded him he might want to say hello to Mary and the other human friends in the house, but ran over and gave Ginger a short hug before following me into the house.

Mary informed us the boys were out riding, somewhere out of sight, when we went inside. I was proud of Johnny as he politely answered Mary's casual questions about his week and how he was doing, even showing a fair amount of tact as he glanced wishfully at the patio door between answers. "Go see your little friend," Mary told him after a minute or so. "Hug her for me too," she added as he dashed out the door like a lightning bolt. "His leg doesn't slow him down," she giggled. After a minute I excused myself to my study, and called the CPS supervisor that was handling Johnny's case.

He was silent for several seconds after I brought him up to date regarding Sanchez and the possibility that he might be able to restore use of the boy's arm. "I appreciate your efforts, and concern for the boy's future. You can transport him out-of-state, you just need to let me know so I can inform the court. But. . ." he began. As he paused I felt a knot tightening in my stomach. "But, having a child in State custody treated by an out-of-state physician presents problems.

"Further, I presume this is an experimental procedure. I dealt with a situation regarding a new cancer treatment of one of our kids a couple of years ago, and I know the procedure you are considering would have to be reviewed, along with this Doctor's credentials, by the Texas Department of Health before a ward of the state could be allowed it. With the cancer treatment, it took almost a year, and it was all in-state. I don't. . ."

"A YEAR!" I barked into the phone. 'Chill, dude,' I told myself. "We don't have a year, you are fucking with this boys future! That is COMPLETELY unacceptable!" I added before realizing what I had said.

"I understand your frustration Doctor, but I'm just being honest. As sad as it is, with the number of children we have in foster care, and the resources we have available, often we can only do what we can for them. We have programs that can help children cope with their handicaps, can I send you a list. . ."

"I'll call you back," I snarled, slamming the phone down before I bit his head off through the wire.

"Take a deep swallow," Mary suggested, setting a beer in front of me. When I almost blushed that I thought she was leaving she replied, "I was, but I heard you from the driveway. You sounded, well, upset." She studied my face for several seconds before adding, "If you don't mind, I would like to come back for a bit tomorrow, I'd like to spend some time with Johnny."

"Thanks Mary. You're the grandmother I would have wished for my kids. I'd love to have you come back, but not to work, to relax." The look on her face told me that was not going to happen as I walked her to the door. I started back into the study, but stopped at the bar and grabbed another beer before returning to my desk. I stared at the wall, then the beer cans for a minute or so before dialing the phone again.

"Good afternoon, happy TGIF! You sound like you're in a great mood!" Cindy answered after I all but bit her head off when she picked up my call. "Whatever Carl Junior did, you are welcome to beat his butt until it's blue, or we'll kill him! Just, don't hurt my horses!" she giggled.

Her attitude and cheery voice calmed me somewhat as I filled her in. "This is bull-shit, Johnny is GOING to see Sanchez, and receive the surgery he needs. You're my lawyer, how can we make it happen?" I concluded.

"You can file an adoption petition, and for immediate custody, that would be the quickest, and best way," she answered. "Considering this is in 249th court, I know you could get custody, but filing for an adoption would make it more assured. If we file for custody related to the surgery CPS could drag in their bureaucratic trash and complications that could drag out. Adopt him and you are home free!"

"I'm not, calling about an adoption or anything, it would be improper for a Doctor to adopt his patient. But, there is REAL promise that this guy could restore the use of my boy's arm, I mean Johnny's arm! But we are fighting time here, Cindy, what can we do, can you do?"

"I can only do what is in the best interest of my client, you. I know you, and realize it's Friday, go get a fresh beer." When I protested, saying we had to talk about a serious problem, she countered, "I know, that's why I insist you do, and sit down." 'Thanks, bitch,' I thought as I walked back to the bar. 'But whatever, not a bad idea!'

"Adam, there are several options you can consider, but only one can work in the time frame, and to accomplish what you want." she continued. "Adopt Johnny. Let's cut through the shit, go to the core, you are going to anyway sooner or later, adopt him."

She was right in one respect, I needed a fresh beer to digest her 'advice'. I downed most of it as I tried to figure out if I had heard her correctly. "He is my patient, I'm already too subjectively involved with him, please find another way to help him, what about his guardian at lighting or whatever you call him?" I countered. After a minute or so of silence, I added, "I love him, and I'd do anything in the world for him, I mean almost anything, but I'm not ready for THAT kind of commitment! I'm not old enough!"

"Of course, that's your option," she snapped. Her voice was so sharp I expected to hear the click of her hanging up on me, but instead, I listened to the deafening silence of her glare over the phone line. "If I only believed you. . . More importantly, if you believed yourself. I don't know of another option that could go through quickly, and without what could be a battle."

"But, if we went that way, the custody way, how long would that take? It's bound to take a fair amount of time to develop that kind of paperwork!"

"Actually, I have already developed everything, I just have to add a date and file with the court, I can file for by fax today I think, Rodriguez's clerk should still be there. Considering the reputation you have in Rodriguez's court, I'm sure we can get a hearing by mid week."

'She WHAT?' I asked myself. "I prepared everything right after you bought him his horse. Or was it when he began calling you Pop?" she rhetorically asked herself. "Everyone knows you would be the perfect parent for him, and that you two love each other as much as any father and son could, you're just too insecure to admit it, to yourself.”

"Perhaps the situation with his surgery is forcing the issue to surface a little faster than anyone expected, but it doesn't change the overall picture." she paused, I'm sure for effect.

'Do they teach law at acting school, or acting at law school?' I asked myself. Whichever, Shakespeare was one of her professors.'

"How long do have to think about this. Well, would you have time to still file today?"

"The court closes in about twenty minutes. I've already punched the phone number in, all I have to do is click on the send button. . . Adoptions take a long time, just like with your other two sons, but if we file today I am absolutely certain you'd have custody, and could take your newest son to Virginia or anywhere else you wanted to by the end of the week." 'Other two sons, ouch!' I thought. 'I thought it was My job as a shrink to manipulate people!"

"I've got the mouse hovering over 'Send', what do you want me to do?"

"Pop! Come on, I wanta go riding!!!" Johnny's voice disrupted my thoughts. "I can if I get to with you, don't I?" he begged as he rushed into my study.

"Yeah Dad, please, Ginger is SOOOO happy, so is Hera and Zoe and everyone! Come on, Johnny's home, please can we go riding?" Mark begged as he dove into my lap.

"Well?" Cindy asked.

To Be Continued…