By Greg Clark, July 7, 1930
“I’d like to see Mr. Denison, please,” I said to the lady at the desk in the hospital corridor.
Yes, hospital. Merrill, whether from the after affects of being jiggled on a horse’s back or from too much golf, was taken from the train at an eastern town and rushed to hospital where he was operated on for appendicitis.
And taking the first train after hearing the bad news, I dashed down to his assistance.
“Mr. Denison?” asked the lady in white. “You mean Dr. Denison.”
“Ha, ha,” said I to myself, “the big scamp is masquerading as a doctor is he! Doctor of what? Doctor of architecture, doctor of horse-back riding, doctor of expense accounts?”
“Very well,” said I to the lady, “Doctor Denison.”
Far be it from me to disrupt any of Merrill’s little schemes.
“You are expected,” said the lady in white. “If you will just come this way, I will hand you over to the nurses.”
It was a nice little hospital, surrounded by beautiful bushy gardens, and its corridors were spotless and shiny. I was glad Merrill had the good fortune, if he must be stricken away from home, to land into such a hospital as this.
The lady in white led me down the corridor into a small white room. On a table lay a quantity of linen. And at one side of the room stood one of those wheeled cots on which the sick are taken for a ride.
“Just undress here,” said the lady in white, and put on that white gown there. When you are ready, ring this bell and the nurse will come for you.”
I looked at her in astonishment.
“Undress?” said I.
“Of course,” said she.
“Why undress?” I demanded.
“You can’t go in your business clothes,” said she.
“Ah,” said I, “for sanitation’s sake?”
“Exactly,” said the lady in white, going out the door.
Well, the last thing in the world I would do would be to carry germs into Merrill, lying there exhausted from his operation. But how wonderful, I said to myself as I unbuttoned my collar, the way science is advancing! Here in a small city hospital you couldn’t even go in to visit a friend without undressing and putting on a sanitary nightgown.
“I suppose,” said I, as I removed my boots, “the next thing they will be doing will be making you take a bath before you can visit a friend in hospital.”
The hospital nightie did not exactly fit me. It was more like a tent than a nightshirt. But I liked its extreme modesty.
I rang the bell.
Two nurses entered the room.
“Will you come this way, sir, for your bath?” said the one with the blue eyes.
“Bath!” said I.
“Yes, sir, you must take a bath.”
“Well, I’ll be jiggered,” said I.
So they led me through an inner corridor and left at the bathroom where I had a real good shower. It was a dandy needle shower. I felt fine. Merrill, said I, will be glad to look at a chap as fresh and rosy as me. After the train journey, this bath is a good idea.
“This Gentleman Pulls a New One”
When I came out of the bathroom, the nurses were sitting waiting for me.
“Now we will go to the ante-room,” said the blue-eyed one, “where the male nurse will prepare you.”
“Prepare me?” said I. “Is anything wrong?”
“No,” said the blue-eyed nurse. “Prepare you means shave you and that sort of thing.”
“But I shaved this morning,” said I, somewhat indignantly, for even on a train I pride myself on giving my chin a good clean scrape.
The blue-eyed nurse laughed prettily.
“He’ll do a much better job,” said the nurse.
“Well,” said I, “your hospital is away ahead of anything in Toronto. I never heard of such precautions as you take. Why, you would think I was the world’s champion germ carrier. But if you don’t mind, nurse, I think we will pass up the shave. I feel perfectly presentable now.”
“Dr. Denison insists on everything,” said the nurse.
“He would be to glad to see me if I was covered with mud.” said I.
“Well,” said the nurse, “I’ll have to see the superintendent. Will you wait here?”
I waited. Presently the two young nurses came back with an elderly lady with a peculiarly cool and determined face.
“Good morning,” said she. “How do you feel?”
“Great,” said I.
“Have you any pain?” said the superintendant.
“Pain,” I snorted. I never felt better in my life.”
“That’s splendid,” said the superintendent. “Now, tell me, did it have a flexible handle?”
“I beg your pardon,” said I.
“Did it have a flexible handle? Or a stiff handle? In other words,” said the superintendent, “will it bend?”
“I certainly beg your pardon,” said I, entirely bewildered.
“The toothbrush,” said the superintendent.
“What toothbrush?” I asked.
The superintendent turned and winked at the two nurses who were smiling shyly.
“The toothbrush,” said the superintendent, “that you swallowed.”
It was like a dream. I have had looney dreams like this often.
“I didn’t swallow any toothbrush,” said I, laughing.
“No?” said the superintendent. “Now, like a good man, you just come with us to the ante-room where the male attendant will prepare you. It’ll all be over in no time.”
“Look here,” said I, “there’s a mistake somewhere. I didn’t swallow any toothbrush. All I came here for was to visit my friend Mr. Denison.”
“Now that is ingenious,” said the superintendent to the two young nurses, talking to them just as if I were not there at all, or as if I were a specimen in a case. “It is not at all uncommon for patients to lose their nerve at the door of the operating room. And they are very clever about it too. But this gentleman pulls a new one. He was coming to visit his friend Mr. Denison. I must tell Dr. Denison that.”
She led on. I stood fast.
“Look here,” said I. “Excuse me. Just be good enough to ask Mr. Denison if he is expecting me.”
“Dr. Denison is expecting you,” said she. “He is changing now. You must be ready in five minutes.”
“But I don’t know any Dr. Denison,” said I, shakily, for I could see no way out of this. “I just got off the train half an hour ago and dashed up here to see my friend Denison, who was operated on for appendicitis yesterday.”
Bound, Gagged and Bathed
“There is no Mr. Denison operated on for appendicitis here,” said the superintendent. “Come, come, sir, pull yourself together. You are in a very dangerous situation.”
“I know it,” said I.
“If that toothbrush gets past a certain point, you are likely to have peritonitis and die.”
“Look here,” I yelled, “I swallowed no toothbrush!”
The superintendent turned to the nurses.
“This is the gentleman?”
“He was handed over to us,” they said.
“Short, medium stout,” said the superintendent, sizing me up. “How was he dressed?”
“In a brown suit,” said the blue-eyed nurse.
“Well, yes,” said the blue-eyed nurse. Never put your faith in blue-eyed nurses. They look at you with such sweet eyes, but they think your suit is shabby.
“This the man all right,” said the superintendent. “Just call MacWhirtie.”
It was impossible to look dignified in that nightshirt. I knew that. Then the door opened, and in came great giant of a sandy-haired Scotchman in overalls, the kind they have one of in every hospital. His hair grew down almost to his eyebrows, and he had blue, simple eyes.
“Just help this gentleman into the ante-room,” said the superintendent.
“Hand’s off!” I roared as MacWhirtie advanced.
But, making soothing and clucking noises, MacWhirtie swept me up, smothered me in the colossal nightshirt and laid me down on a table. I struggled. He held me down.
“Careful,” said the superintendent. “He’s got a toothbrush in him. Don’t let him struggle like that.”
So MacWhirtie got one of those crag-climbing strangle holds on me, and pinned me down.
I could see, from under MacWhirtie’s arm, a pallid little man in soiled white overalls approaching me with a shaving mug and an old fashioned razor.
“Get away from me,” I yelled.
The door opened and in walked a tall thin blond man.
“Well, well,” said he.
“Dr. Denison, this the gentleman that swallowed the toothbrush,” said the superintendent, “and he has got a little fright just at the last minute.”
“We’ll soothe him,” said the doctor, “Get off, MacWhirtie.”
I sat up.
“Doctor,” said I, “there will be the devil to pay over this. I just came in on the train half an hour ago…”
“Where do you feel it now?” asked the doctor, sitting down on the edge of the table, and putting a kindly arm around my shoulder.
“I say,” I said stoutly, “I came up here to visit my friend Mr. Merrill Denison who yesterday was operated on for appendicitis. And they have seized me, bound me, gagged me, bathed me, put me into this nightshirt…”
“Well, well,” said Dr. Denison.
“Well, well, nothing!” I shouted. “I warn you I am not the man you think I am.”
“Then why did you accept the nightshirt and take the bath?” asked the doctor, good-humoredly and patiently. “Like a good chap, now, pull yourself together.”
“Listen,” said I, desperately, and probably by this time I did look like a man who had swallowed a toothbrush, “how do I get out of this?”
“Just as soon we get the toothbrush,” said the doctor. “All right, MacWhirtie, just assist the gentleman into the operating room and we’ll do without the shave. I’ll use plenty of alcohol first.”
Blue-Eyed Nurses Should be Forbidden
MacWhirtie assisted me.
He laid me down on a cold marble table with dazzling lights in my face. I lay there wondering what Merrill would have done in such a predicament as this. Merrill would have said something witty. But I couldn’t think of anything witty. MacWhirtie was standing over me, with a great compassionate look on his simple face.
I smelt druggy smells. I heard something making sizzing noises. The nurses were busily dashing about the dazzling room. They rolled a big thing like a tank on a baggage hand truck over beside me. I sat up. MacWhirtie laid me down.
A silence fell on us all. The doctor smiled down on me.
Then the door of the operating room opened.
The lady in white who met me at the door of the hospital, stood there.
“The gentleman who swallowed the toothbrush is waiting downstairs,” said she.
The silence continued.
The smile faded from the bending face of the doctor.
MacWhirtie put one hand under me and helped me sit up.
“Well,” said I.
The blue-eyed nurse started to giggle. I think blue-eyed nurses should be forbidden. They have no sense of other people’s dignity.
“Well, sir,” said I, “you nearly had me disembowelled!”
“We were just going to X-ray you for the toothbrush,” said the doctor. “It would have been quite a hunt.”
“Now, how about taking me upstairs to see Mr. Denison,” said I.
“There is no Mr. Denison here,” said the superintendent in a business like voice. She was the sort of lady who takes the offensive especially when she in the wrong.
“I have a telegram in my pants, if I can get them,” said I, “informing me that he is here.”
“Maybe he is at the other hospital,” said the doctor.
“What other hospital?” I asked.
“There are two hospitals here,” said the doctor, “Just go to the phone and ask if there is a Mr. Denison over there.”
The blue-eyed nurse hurried out.
By the time I got my clothes on, which I donned in the same room with scared little man who was hastily undressing, the nurse informed me that Mr. Denison was indeed at the other hospital.
I shook hands with everybody, the doctor, MacWhirtie, the little man who was now wearing the large nightshirt, and even the blue-eyed nurse.
Then I took a taxi over to the other hospital.
“Mr. Denison?” said the lady in white sitting in the corridor of this hospital. “Just come this way.”
She led me down a corridor.
“Just a minute,” said I. She halted.
“I shaved this morning,” said I. “I’ve had a bath, this suit was French-cleaned only the day before yesterday, and I’m in highly sanitary condition.”
“Yes, sir,” said the lady in white, stiffly.
She opened door.
And there, pale, weary, but with one eye shut in silent greeting, lay Merrill.
Editor’s Note: This is one of the early “pre-Greg-Jim” stories that Greg wrote co-starring fellow writer Merrill Denison, from the Star Weekly. He also worked as a playwright and would later move to New York and still contribute occasionally to the Star Weekly. Jim would often illustrate these stories.