“Hello, Mary Beth? This is Dr. Farris. Could you please have the coroner come to the Wheeler’s residence at 213 Oak Drive in Kennsington? Helen Wheeler has passed away. Oh, yes, sorry Mary Beth, the time was 2:13 p.m. The cause of death, I would diagnose as coronary thrombosis. Thank, you Mary Beth, I’ll wait here until Ed arrives.”
Helen Wheeler was a cruel and mean child. As an adult she added to this repertoire, bitter, boisterous and opinionated. In our small quiet tree shaded community, she earned the pseudonym Hell-en Wheels. Helen had a sister four years younger, Miriam. Miriam was the antithesis of the none too loved Helen. She was sweet, kind, gentle and very quiet. One month after Miriam’s birth, the Wheeler girls were left fatherless after a terrible traffic accident claimed their father’s life. Lucille Wheeler, widowed at the very young age of 22, had become sullen, morose, and totally withdrawn because of her husbands sudden demise. She suffered from a broken heart, broken dreams, and had resigned herself to a broken life. She became a mother in title only, providing the mere basics in the way of maternal attentions. Perhaps this is the reason Helen became so domineering. Someone needed to take charge. In addition, she, being the eldest, had had a few years to endear herself to her mother, where as Miriam arrived in a time of great sadness and turmoil. Miriam essentially was ignored. She had no recourse to the cruelty visited upon her by her older sister as her mother surrendered to her oldest daughter’s ranting and recalcitrant demands. Miriam was fed, clothed, and sheltered. Over the years, Miriam had become inured—capitulated—it was just her life.
I grew up in this bucolic serene community with its narrow tree-lined streets. Went to the same small two-room schoolhouse and participated in most of the activities in which the two dissimilar girls did. The overbearing and outspoken Helen always claimed the center of attention while Miriam stayed in the shadows, coming forth only when Helen bade her. The bidding was usually for the meek Miriam to perform some task for her demanding and overbearing sister.
Helen grew to be a striking young girl and later a handsome woman. Miriam was an adorable child and matured into a very beautiful demure young lady.
Most of our former classmates were nonplussed when Helen caught the eye of a dashing young man, new to our environs. With his attentive attentions, Helen made a noticeable change to her attitude. Her change in demeanor was a welcomed one. She actually became somewhat pleasant. She swooned and gave in to the modest demands of her handsome beau, Clarence Singleton, and even treated poor Miriam somewhat humanely. The yearlong courtship of Clarence and Helen drew attention away from Miriam, and advantageously she managed to enroll at the community college in nearby Lynwood to obtain a nursing degree.
The young Helen Wheeler however, could not maintain her attitude of sweetness despite the handsome Clarence and his fondness for her. She eventually returned to her true despicable self. Her suitor, upon experiencing Helen’s true nature, became disenchanted and severed their relationship. Their breakup did not fare well for Miriam. Helen became more vituperative, bitter and demanding toward her younger sibling. The ensuing years found both lonely—yet sharing the same household. I was hoping after their mother’s death that Miriam would break the hold Helen had on her. However, Miriam never found the courage to break away from her domineering older sister. Fortunately, after the breakup of Helen and Clarence she was able to finish out the second year of her schooling to get her registered nursing degree. Being quite skilled, she secured a position at Lynwood Community Hospital.
I went away for the next eight years to study medicine and received my medical degree. On occasions such as holidays and semester breaks, I would return to visit. I had for many years been attracted an enamored to Miriam and we had become close friends. Or I should say as close as Helen would allow. Not only was she bitter at the loss of Clarence, she certainly wasn’t going to allow someone to come between her reliance on Miriam’s servitude. Nor would she allow Miriam to have what she couldn’t; some one caring and loving. So, even friendships were kept distanced. Any plans Miriam and I made to have dinner or just visit usually were dashed by Helen’s incessant demands. She always managed to become ‘ill’ which necessitated Miriam’s services. It appeared my desire for a relationship was hopeless.
After my residency requirements were fulfilled, I returned to Kennsington, hung out my shingle and became the new and only doctor upon old Doc Richardson’s retirement. Unless a specialist was needed I attended to the majority of medical care for all but a very few in our small town.
It was early in the afternoon, on a stormy September day, when I received the plaintive call from Miriam informing me she believed her now 55-year-old sister was having a heart attack. I rushed to their small neatly kept home to attend to Helen. As I was performing the preliminary vital sign tests, Helen’s heart stopped completely. I immediately administered directly to her heart a shot of epinephrine. Her heart gave out. It was too late. Helen was dead. I then called the county coroner, Dr. Ed Hemsley. Lynwood, the county seat, was some thirty miles away and it took Ed about an hour to navigate the winding narrow country roads through the storm’s deluge.
According to the coroner’s findings a few days later, Helen’s death was a direct result of an overdose of epinephrine. As I was a GP not a cardiologist and up to that time had had a spotless record, and since any surviving relative filed no complaint, the medical review board censured me. They put me on one year of informal probation, for my unintentional yet fatal error. I was allowed to continue practicing my profession. However, I had to have another qualified physician monitor my practice for one year. I was greatly relieved. As I left the informal hearing, Miriam, who had been waiting for me, was also noticeably relieved, when she saw my smile.
“Miss Wheeler,” I asked, “would you like to accompany me to dinner?”
“Are you asking me out on a date Dr. Farris?” She coquettishly replied.
“And more if you’ll have me Miriam,” I sincerely responded.
“Why Jane Farris, I didn’t think you’d ever ask.”
Over the ensuing years together, we never discussed the findings of the medical board’s lenient reprimand. My feelings and smile of relief, that day, were because I did not need to confess to the medical board that I had asked Miriam Wheeler, RN to prepare the syringe of epinephrine that I injected into her sister Helen.