Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Thursday, November 24, 2011
- I'm thankful for happy memories that make me cry. They illustrate the depth of love that I've experienced.
- I'm thankful for the difficulties I've encountered. They've helped me persist and keep moving forward with renewed optimism.
- I'm thankful for the people in my life who have betrayed and rejected me. They've made me more sensitive to the people I love and cherish, and they've helped me to understand that I'm not entitled to kindness, no one is. They've also instilled in me a spirit of thankfulness for kindnesses shown to me.
- I'm thankful that Mary Gleeson Minehan (pictured on the right) carried a delicious dressing recipe with her when she came from Ireland to NY 100+ years ago and handed down the recipe to her daughter who handed it her daughter who handed it to me. She's my great grandmother. :)
- I'm thankful publishing hasn't been an easy journey for me. That way I continue to improve my craft and I'm even more grateful for any success I enjoy.
- I'm thankful for the memory my daughter shared today: For several years before he passed away, my Dad joined us for Thanksgiving. He loved to cook. One year my daughter watched him put the turkey in the oven and asked, "What do we do now?" My Dad smiled and said, "We dance!" And they did, to an old Louis Armstrong CD. I love remembering that day. Dad took turns dancing with me and my daughters. Another happy memory that makes me tearful.
- I'm thankful that not all my goals have been met. It keeps me dreaming of the future.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
WaterBrook Press (October 4, 2011)
Award-winning writer Susan Meissner is a multi-published author, speaker and workshop leader with a background in community journalism. Her novels include The Shape of Mercy, named by Publishers Weekly as one of the Best Books of 2008. She is a pastor’s wife and a mother of four. When she's not writing, Susan directs the Small Groups and Connection Ministries program at her San Diego church.
Visit the author's website.
A house shrouded in time. A line of women with a heritage of loss. As a young bride, Susannah Page was rumored to be a Civil War spy for the North, a traitor to her Virginian roots. Her great-granddaughter Adelaide, the current matriarch of Holly Oak, doesn't believe that Susannah's ghost haunts the antebellum mansion looking for a pardon, but rather the house itself bears a grudge toward its tragic past.
When Marielle Bishop marries into the family and is transplanted from the arid west to her husband's home, it isn't long before she is led to believe that the house she just settled into brings misfortune to the women who live there.
With Adelaide's richly peppered superstitions and deep family roots at stake, Marielle must sort out the truth about Susannah Page and Holly Oak— and make peace with the sacrifices she has made for love.
List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press (October 4, 2011)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
The bride stood in a circle of Virginia sunlight, her narrow heels clicking on Holly Oak’s patio stones as she greeted strangers in the receiving line. Her wedding dress was a simple A-line, strapless, with a gauzy skirt of white that breezed about her knees like lacy curtains at an open window. She had pulled her unveiled brunette curls into a loose arrangement dotted with tiny flowers that she’d kept alive on her flight from Phoenix. Her only jewelry was a white topaz pendant at her throat and the band of platinum on her left ring finger. Tall, slender, and tanned from the famed and relentless Arizona sun, hers was a girl-nextdoor look: pretty but not quite beautiful. Adelaide thought it odd that Marielle held no bouquet.
From the parlor window Adelaide watched as her grandson-in-law, resplendent in a black tuxedo next to his bride, bent toward the guests and greeted them by name, saying, “This is Marielle.” An explanation seemed ready to spring from his lips each time he shook the hand of someone who had known Sara, her deceased granddaughter. His first wife. Carson stood inches from Marielle, touching her elbow every so often, perhaps to assure himself that after four years a widower he had indeed patently and finally moved on from grief.
Smatterings of conversations wafted about on the May breeze and into the parlor as received guests strolled toward trays of sweet tea and champagne. Adelaide heard snippets from her place at the window. Hudson and Brette, her great-grandchildren, had moved away from the snaking line of gray suits and pastel dresses within minutes of the first guests’ arrival and were now studying the flower-festooned gift table under the window ledge, touching the bows, fingering the silvery white wrappings. Above the children, an old oak’s youngest branches shimmied to the tunes a string quartet produced from the gazebo beyond the receiving line.
Adelaide raised a teacup to her lips and sipped the last of its contents, allowing the lemony warmth to linger at the back of her throat. She had spent the better part of the morning readying the garden for Carson and Marielle’s wedding reception, plucking spent geranium blossoms, ordering the catering staff about, and straightening the rented linen tablecloths. She needed to join the party now that it had begun. The Blue-Haired Old Ladies would be wondering where she was.
Her friends had been the first to arrive, coming through the garden gate on the south side of the house at five minutes before the hour. She’d watched as Carson introduced them to Marielle, witnessed how they cocked their necks in blue-headed unison to sweetly scrutinize her grandson-in-law’s new wife, and heard their welcoming remarks through the open window.
Deloris gushed about how lovely Marielle’s wedding dress was and what, pray tell, was the name of that divine purple flower she had in her hair?
Pearl invited Marielle to her bridge club next Tuesday afternoon and asked her if she believed in ghosts.
Maxine asked her how Carson and she had met—though Adelaide had told her weeks ago that Carson met Marielle on the Internet—and why on earth Arizona didn’t like daylight-saving time.
Marielle had smiled, sweet and knowing—like the kindergarten teacher who finds the bluntness of five-year-olds endearing—and answered the many questions.
Mojave asters. She didn’t know how to play bridge. She’d never encountered a ghost so she couldn’t really say but most likely not. She and Carson met online. There’s no need to save what one has an abundance of. Carson had cupped her elbow in his hand, and his thumb caressed the inside of her arm while she spoke.
Adelaide swiftly set the cup down on the table by the window, whisking away the remembered tenderness of that same caress on Sara’s arm.
Carson had every right to remarry.
Sara had been dead for four years.
She turned from the bridal tableau outside and inhaled deeply the gardenia-scented air in the parlor. Unbidden thoughts of her granddaughter sitting with her in that very room gently nudged her. Sara at six cutting out paper dolls. Memorizing multiplication tables at age eight. Sewing brass buttons onto gray wool coats at eleven. Sara reciting a poem for English Lit at sixteen, comparing college acceptance letters at eighteen, sharing a chance letter from her estranged mother at nineteen, showing Adelaide her engagement ring at twenty-four. Coming back home to Holly Oak with Carson when Hudson was born. Nursing Brette in that armchair by the fireplace. Leaning against the door frame and telling Adelaide that she was expecting her third child.
Right there Sara had done those things while Adelaide sat at the long table in the center of the room, empty now but usually awash in yards of stiff Confederate gray, glistening gold braid, and tiny piles of brass buttons—the shining elements of officer reenactment uniforms before they see war.
Adelaide ran her fingers along the table’s polished surface, the warm wood as old as the house itself. Carson had come to her just a few months ago while she sat at that table piecing together a sharpshooter’s forest green jacket. He had taken a chair across from her as Adelaide pinned a collar, and he’d said he needed to tell her something.
He’d met someone.
When she’d said nothing, he added, “It’s been four years, Adelaide.”
“I know how long it’s been.” The pins made a tiny plucking sound as their pointed ends pricked the fabric.
“She lives in Phoenix.”
“You’ve never been to Phoenix.”
“Mimi.” He said the name Sara had given her gently, as a father might. A tender reprimand. He waited until she looked up at him. “I don’t think Sara would want me to live the rest of my life alone. I really don’t. And I don’t think she would want Hudson and Brette not to have a mother.”
“Those children have a mother.”
“You know what I mean. They need to be mothered. I’m gone all day at work. I only have the weekends with them. And you won’t always be here. You’re a wonderful great-grandmother, but they need someone to mother them, Mimi.”
She pulled the pin cushion closer to her and swallowed. “I know they do.”
He leaned forward in his chair. “And I…I miss having someone to share my life with. I miss the companionship. I miss being in love. I miss having someone love me.”
Adelaide smoothed the pieces of the collar. “So. You are in love?”
He had taken a moment to answer. “Yes. I think I am.”
Carson hadn’t brought anyone home to the house, and he hadn’t been on any dates. But he had lately spent many nights after the children were in bed in his study—the old drawing room—with the door closed. When she’d pass by, Adelaide would hear the low bass notes of his voice as he spoke softly into his phone. She knew that gentle sound. She had heard it before, years ago when Sara and Carson would sit in the study and talk about their day. His voice, deep and resonant. Hers, soft and melodic.
“Are you going to marry her?”
Carson had laughed. “Don’t you even want to know her name?”
She had not cared at that moment about a name. The specter of being alone in Holly Oak shoved itself forward in her mind. If he remarried, he’d likely move out and take the children with him. “Are you taking the children? Are you leaving Holly Oak?”
“Will you be leaving?”
Several seconds of silence had hung suspended between them. Carson and Sara had moved into Holly Oak ten years earlier to care for Adelaide after heart surgery and had simply stayed. Ownership of Holly Oak had been Sara’s birthright and was now Hudson and Brette’s future inheritance. Carson stayed on after Sara died because, in her grief, Adelaide asked him to, and in his grief, Carson said yes.
“Will you be leaving?” she asked again.
“Would you want me to leave?” He sounded unsure.
“You would stay?”
Carson had sat back in his chair. “I don’t know if it’s a good idea to take Hudson and Brette out of the only home they’ve known. They’ve already had to deal with more than any kid should.”
“So you would marry this woman and bring her here. To this house.”
Carson had hesitated only a moment. “Yes.”
She knew without asking that they were not talking solely about the effects moving would have on a ten-year-old boy and a six-year-old girl. They were talking about the strange biology of their grief. Sara had been taken from them both, and Holly Oak nurtured their common sorrow in the most kind and savage of ways. Happy memories were one way of keeping someone attached to a house and its people. Grief was the other. Surely Carson knew this. An inner nudging prompted her to consider asking him what his new bride would want.
“What is her name?” she asked instead.
And he answered, “Marielle…”
Excerpted from A Sound Among the Trees by Susan Meissner Copyright © 2011 by Susan Meissner. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Thursday, November 10, 2011
Yesterday's Tomorrow by Catherine West is a bittersweet tale set in the chaos of the 1960s. Young journalist Kristin Taylor travels to Vietnam in search of truth and discovers much more. Her raw and honest reporting stirs up trouble both for her and the man she's falling in love with.
I love that this novel is set in a time period underserved by publishing. The 60s was a time that shaped our future, a time people grappled with ideas of war and peace and equality.
The writing was beautiful, and the story was captivating. Yesterday's Tomorrow kept me turning pages, and in the end, wishing for more.
Here's the book trailer:
Tuesday, November 08, 2011
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
WaterBrook Press; Reprint edition (August 16, 2011)
LISA BERGREN is the best-selling, award-winning author of more than thirty books, with more than two million copies sold. A former publishing executive, she now splits her time working as a freelance editor and writer while parenting three children with her husband, Tim, and dreaming of the family’s next visit to Taos.
Visit the author's website.
There are no second chances. Or are there?
Krista Mueller is in a good place. She’s got a successful career as a professor of history; she’s respected and well-liked; and she lives hundreds of miles from her hometown and the distant mother she could never please. It’s been more than a decade since Alzheimer’s disease first claimed Charlotte Mueller’s mind, but Krista has dutifully kept her mother in a first-class nursing home.
Now Charlotte is dying of heart failure and, surprised by her own emotions, Krista rushes to Taos, New Mexico, to sit at her estranged mother’s side as she slips away. Battling feelings of loss, abandonment, and relief, Krista is also unsettled by her proximity to Dane McConnell, director of the nursing home—and, once upon a time, her first love. Dane’s kind and gentle spirit—and a surprising discovery about her mother—make Krista wonder if she can at last close the distance between her and her mother … and open the part of her heart she thought was lost forever.
“A timeless tale, to be kept every day in the heart as a reminder
that forgiveness is a gift to self.”
—PATRICIA HICKMAN, author of The Pirate Queen
List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press; Reprint edition (August 16, 2011)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
I took a long, slow breath. “She died a long time ago, Dane.”
He paused, and I could picture him formulating his next words, something that would move me. Why was my relationship with my mother so important to him? I mean, other than the fact that she was a patient in his care. “There’s still time, Kristabelle.”
I sighed. Dane knew that his old nickname for me always got to me. “For what? For long, deep conversations?” I winced at the harsh slice of sarcasm in my tone.
“You never know,” he said quietly. “An aide found something you should see.”
“Come. I’ll keep it here in my office until you arrive. Consider it a Christmas present.”
“It’s December ninth.”
“Okay, consider it an early present.”
It was typical of him to hold out a mysterious hook like that. “I don’t know, Dane. The school term isn’t over yet. It’s a hard time to get someone to cover for me.” It wasn’t the whole truth. I had an assistant professor who could handle things on her own. And I could get back for finals. Maybe. Unless Dane wasn’t overstating the facts.
“Krista. She’s dying. Her doctor tells me she has a few weeks, tops. Tell your department chair. He’ll let you go. This is the end.” I stared out my cottage window to the old pines that covered my yard in shadows. The end. The end had always seemed so far away. Too far away. In some ways I wanted an end to my relationship with my mother, the mother who had never loved me as I longed to be loved. When she started disappearing, with her went so many
of my hopes for what could have been. The road to this place had been long and lonely. Except for Dane. He had always been there, had always waited. I owed it to him to show. “I’ll be there on Saturday.”
“I’ll be here. Come and find me.”
“Okay. I teach a Saturday morning class. I can get out of here after lunch and down there by five or six.”
“I’ll make you dinner.”
“Dinner. At seven.”
I slowly let my mouth close and paused. I was in no mood to argue with him now. “I’ll meet you at Cimarron,” I said.
“Great. It will be good to see you, Kristabelle.” I closed my eyes, imagining him in his office at Cimarron Care Center. Brushing his too-long hair out of his eyes as he looked through his own window.
“It will be good to see you, too, Dane. Good-bye.”
He hung up then without another word, and it left me feeling slightly bereft. I hung on to the telephone receiver as if I could catch one more word, one more breath, one more connection with the man who had stolen my heart at sixteen.
Dane McConnell remained on my mind as I wrapped up things at the college, prepped my assistant, Alissa, to handle my history classes for the following week, and then drove the scenic route down to Taos from Colorado Springs, about a five-hour trip. My old Honda Prelude hugged the roads along the magnificent San Luis Valley. The valley’s shoulders were still covered in late spring snow, her belly carpeted in a rich, verdant green. It was here that in 1862 Maggie O’Neil single-handedly led a wagon train to settle a town in western Colorado, and nearby Cecilia Gaines went so
crazy one winter they named a waterway in her honor—“Woman Hollering Creek.”
I drove too fast but liked the way the speed made my scalp tingle when I rounded a corner and dipped, sending my stomach flying. Dane had never driven too fast. He was methodical in everything he did, quietly moving ever forward. He had done much in his years since grad school, establishing Cimarron and making it a national think tank for those involved in gerontology. After high school we had essentially ceased communication for years before Cimarron came about. Then when Mother finally got to the point in her descent into Alzheimer’s that she needed fulltime institutionalized care, I gave him a call. I hadn’t been able to find a facility that I was satisfied with for more than a year, when a college friend had shown me the magazine article on the opening of Cimarron and its patron saint, Dane McConnell.
“Good looking and nice to old people,” she had moaned. “Why can’t I meet a guy like that?”
“I know him,” I said, staring at the black-and-white photograph.
“I do. Or did. We used to be…together.”
“What happened?” she asked, her eyes dripping disbelief.
“I’m not sure.”
I still wasn’t sure. Things between us had simply faded over the years. But when I saw him again, it all seemed to come back. Or at least a part of what we had once had. There always seemed to be a submerged wall between us, something we couldn’t quite bridge or blast through. So we had simply gone swimming toward different shores.
Mother’s care had brought us back together over the last five years. With the congestive heart failure that was taking her body, I supposed the link between us would finally be severed. I would retreat to Colorado, and he would remain in our beloved Taos, the place of our youth, of our beginnings, of our hearts. And any lingering dream of living happily ever after with Dane McConnell could be buried forever with my unhappy memories of Mother.
I loosened my hands on the wheel, realizing that I was gripping
it so hard my knuckles were white. I glanced in the rearview mirror, knowing that my reverie was distracting me from paying attention to the road. It was just that Dane was a hard man to get over. His unique ancestry had gifted him with the looks of a Scottish Highlander and the sultry, earthy ways of the Taos Indians. A curious, inspiring mix that left him with both a leader’s stance and a wise man’s knowing eyes. Grounded but visionary. A driving force, yet empathetic at the same time. His employees loved working for him. Women routinely fell in love with him.
I didn’t know why I could never get my act together so we could finally fall in love and stay in love. He’d certainly done his part. For some reason I’d always sensed that Dane was waiting for me, of all people. Why messed-up, confused me? Yet there he was. I’d found my reluctance easy to blame on my mother. She didn’t love me as a mother should, yada-yada, but I’d had enough time with my counselor to know that there are reasons beyond her. Reasons that circle back to myself.
I’d always felt as if I was chasing after parental love, but the longer I chased it, the further it receded from my reach. It left a hole in my heart that I was hard-pressed to fill. God had come close to doing the job. Close. But there was still something there, another blockade I had yet to blast away. I would probably be working on my “issues” my whole life. But as my friend Michaela says, “Everyone’s got issues.” Supposedly I need to embrace them. I just want them to go away.
“Yeah,” I muttered. Dane McConnell was better off without me. Who needed a woman still foundering in her past?
I had to focus on Mother. If this was indeed the end, I needed to wrap things up with her. Find closure. Some measure of peace. Even if she couldn’t say the words I longed to hear.
I love you, Krista.
Why was it that she had never been able to force those four words from her lips?
Excerpted from Mercy Come Morning by Lisa Tawn Bergren Copyright © 2011 by Lisa Tawn Bergren. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Thursday, November 03, 2011
'Stewardesses' is the longest word typed with only the left hand.
No word in the English language rhymes with month, orange, silver, or purple.
'Dreamt' is the only English word that ends in the letters 'mt'.
The sentence: 'The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog' uses every letter of the alphabet. (Do you remember typing that in typing class?)
There are only four words in the English language which end in 'dous': tremendous, horrendous, stupendous, and hazardous.
The words 'racecar,' 'kayak' and 'level' are the same whether they are read left to right or right to left (palindromes).
There are two words in the English language that have all five vowels in order: 'abstemious' and 'facetious.' (Yes, admit it, you are saying, a e i o u)
TYPEWRITER is the longest word that can be made using the letters only on one row of the keyboard.
A 'jiffy' is an actual unit of time for 1/100th of a second.
Tuesday, November 01, 2011
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
Abingdon Press (October 2011)
Richard L. Mabry, MD, is a retired physician and medical school professor who achieved worldwide recognition as a clinician, writer, and teacher before turning his talents to non-medical writing after his retirement. He is the author of The Prescription for Trouble Series, one non-fiction book, and his inspirational piesces have appeared in numerous periodicals. He and his wife, Kay, live in North Texas.
Visit the author's website.
An epidemic of a highly resistant bacteria, Staphylococcus luciferus, has ignited, and Dr. Sara Miles' patient is on the threshold of death. Only an experimental antibiotic developed and administered by Sara's ex-husband, Dr. Jack Ingersoll can save the girl's life.
Dr. John Ramsey is seeking to put his life together after the death of his wife by joining the medical school faculty. But his decision could prove to be costly, even fatal.
Potentially lethal late effects from the experimental drug send Sara and her colleague, Dr. Rip Pearson, on a hunt for hidden critical data that will let them reverse the changes before it’s too late. What is the missing puzzle piece? And who is hiding it?
List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Abingdon Press (October 2011)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
“Pneumonia, late stages,” the intern said. He yawned. “Happens all the time. Drank himself into a stupor, vomited, aspirated. Probably been lying in that alley for more than a day. Doesn’t look like he’ll make it.”
“Labs cooking? Got a sputum culture going?”
“Yeah, but it’ll take a day or two to get the results of the culture. The smear looks like Staph. Guess I’ll give him—”
“Wait. I’ve got access to an experimental drug that might help. Let me start him on that.”
The intern shrugged. It was two in the morning. He’d been on duty for more than twenty-four hours straight—why’d Johnson’s wife have to go into labor today?—and he was bushed. The bum probably didn’t have a snowball’s chance of surviving anyway. Why not? “You’ll be responsible?”
“I’ll take it from here. Even do the paperwork.”
“Deal,” the intern said, and ambled off to see the next patient.
Three hours later, John Doe lay on a gurney in a corner of the ER. An IV ran into one arm, a blood pressure cuff encircled the other. Spittle dripped from his open mouth and dotted his unshaven chin. His eyes were open and staring.
“Acute anaphylaxis, death within minutes. Interesting.” He scratched his chin. “Guess I need to make some adjustments in the compound.” He picked up the almost-blank chart. “I’ll say I gave him ampicillin and sulbactam. That should cover it.”
* * *
The woman’s look pierced Dr. Sara Miles’ heart. “Do you know what’s wrong with Chelsea?”
Chelsea Ferguson lay still and pale as a mannequin in the hospital bed. An IV carried precious fluids and medications into a vein in her arm. A plastic tube delivered a constant supply of oxygen to her nostrils. Above the girl’s head, monitors beeped and flashed. And over it all wafted the faint antiseptic smell of the ICU.
Chelsea’s mother sat quietly at the bedside, but her hands were never still: arranging and rearranging her daughter’s cover, twisting the hem of her plain brown skirt, shredding a tissue. Sara decided that the gray strands in Mrs. Ferguson’s long brunette hair were a recent addition, along with the lines etched in her face.
Sara put her hand on the teenager’s head and smoothed the matted brown curls. The girl’s hot flesh underscored the urgency of the situation. Since Chelsea’s admission to University Hospital three days ago, her fever hadn’t responded to any of the treatments Sara ordered. If anything, the girl was worse.
“Let’s slip out into the hall,” Sara said. She tiptoed from the bedside and waited outside the room while Mrs. Ferguson kissed her sleeping daughter and shuffled through the door.
Sara pointed. “Let’s go into the family room for a minute.”
“Will she be—?”
“The nurses will check on her, and they’ll call me if anything changes.” Sara led the way into the room and eased the door closed. This family room resembled so many others Sara had been in over the years: small, dim, and quiet. Six wooden chairs with lightly upholstered seats and backs were arranged along three of the walls. Illumination came from a lamp in the corner. A Bible, several devotional magazines, and a box of tissues stood within reach on a coffee table.
This was a room where families received bad news: the biopsy was positive, the treatment hadn’t worked, the doctors weren’t able to save their loved one. The cloying scent of flowers in a vase on an end table reminded Sara of a funeral home, and she shivered as memories came unbidden. She shoved her emotions aside and gestured Mrs. Ferguson to a seat. “Would you like something? Water? Coffee? A soft drink?”
The woman shook her head. “No. Just tell me what’s going on with my daughter. Do you know what’s wrong with her? Can you save her?” Her sob turned into a soft hiccup. “Is she going to die?”
Sara swallowed hard. “Chelsea has what we call sepsis. You might have heard it referred to as blood poisoning. It happens when bacteria get into the body and enter the bloodstream. In Chelsea’s case, this probably began when she had her wisdom teeth extracted.”
I can’t believe the dentist didn’t put her on a prophylactic antibiotic before the procedure. Sara brushed those thoughts aside. That wasn’t important now. The important thing was saving the girl’s life. Sara marshaled her thoughts. “We took samples of Chelsea’s blood at the time of her admission, and while we waited for the results of the blood cultures I started treatment with a potent mixture of antibiotics. As you can see, that hasn’t helped.”
Sara wished the woman wouldn’t be so reasonable, so placid. She wished Mrs. Ferguson would scream and cry. If the roles were reversed, she’d do just that. “While we wait for the results of blood cultures, we make a guess at the best antibiotics to use. Most of the time, our initial guess is right. This time, it was wrong—badly wrong.”
“But now you know what’s causing the infection?” It was a question, not a statement.
“Yes, we know.” And it’s not good news.
Hope tinged Mrs. Ferguson’s voice. “You can fix this, can’t you?”
I wish I could. “The bacteria causing Chelsea’s sepsis is one that . . .” Sara paused and started again. “Have you heard of Mersa?”
“Mersa? No. What’s that?”
“It’s actually MRSA, but doctors usually pronounce it that way. That’s sort of a medical shorthand for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a bacteria that’s resistant to most of our common antibiotics.”
Mrs. Ferguson frowned. “You said most. Do you have something that will work?”
“Yes, we do. Matter of fact, when Chelsea was admitted I started her on two strong antibiotics, a combination that’s generally effective against MRSA. But she hasn’t responded, because this isn’t MRSA. It’s worse than MRSA.” She started to add “Much worse,” but the words died in her throat.
Sara paused and waited for Mrs. Ferguson to ask the next question. Instead, the woman crumpled the tissue she held and dabbed at the corner of her eyes, eyes in which hope seemed to die as Sara watched.
“This is what we call a ‘super-bug,’” Sara continued. “It used to be rare, but we’re seeing more and more infections with it. Right now, none of the commercially available antibiotics are effective. These bacteria are resistant to everything we can throw at them.”
Mrs. Ferguson’s voice was so quiet Sara almost missed the words. “What do you call it?”
“It’s a long name, and it’s not important that you know it.” Matter of fact, we don’t use the proper name most of the time. We just call it “The Killer.”
“So that’s it?”
“No, there’s a doctor at our medical center doing trials on an experimental drug that might work for Chelsea.” No need to mention that Jack is . . . No, let it go.
“Can you get some of this? Give it to Chelsea?”
“I can’t, but the man who can is an infectious disease specialist on the faculty here at the medical center. Actually, he helped develop it. Notice I said ‘experimental,’ which means there may be side effects. But if you want me—”
“Do it!” For the first time in days, Sara saw a spark of life in Mrs. Ferguson’s eyes, heard hope in her voice. “Call him! Now! Please!”
“You realize that this drug isn’t fully tested yet. It may not work. Or the drug may cause problems.” There, she’d said it twice in different words. She’d done her duty.
“I don’t care. My little girl is dying. I’ll sign the releases. Anything you need. If this is our only chance, please, let’s take it.”
Lord, I hope I haven’t made a mistake. “I’ll make the call.”
“I’m going back to be with my baby,” Mrs. Ferguson said. She stood and squared her shoulders. “While you call, I’ll pray.”
* * *
“Mr. Wolfe, you can come in now.” The secretary opened the doors to Dr. Patel’s office as though she were St. Peter ushering a supplicant through the Pearly Gates.
Bob Wolfe bit back the retort he wanted to utter. It’s Doctor Wolfe. Doctor of Pharmacology. I worked six years to earn that Pharm D, not to mention two years of research fellowship. How about some respect? But this wasn’t the time to fight that battle.
He straightened his tie, checked that there were no stains on his fresh white lab coat, and walked into the office of the head of Jandra Pharmaceuticals as though he had been summoned to receive a medal. Never let them see you sweat.
Dr. David Patel rose from behind his desk and beamed, gesturing toward the visitor’s chair opposite. “Bob, come in. Sit down. I appreciate your coming.”
Not much choice, was there? Wolfe studied his boss across the expanse of uncluttered mahogany that separated them. Pharmaceutical companies seemed to be made up of two groups: the geeks and the glad-handers. Patel typified the former group. PhD from Cal Tech, brilliant research mind, but the social skills of a tortoise. Patel had been snatched from the relative obscurity of a research lab at Berkeley by the Board of Directors of Jandra Pharmaceuticals, given the title of President and CEO, and charged with breathing life into the struggling company. How Patel planned to do that remained a mystery to Wolfe and his co-workers.
Patel leaned forward and punched a button on a console that looked like it could launch a space probe. “Cindy, please ask Mr. Lindberg to join us.”
Steve Lindberg ran the sales team from an office across the hall. Lindberg could memorize salient scientific material and regurgitate it with the best of them, but Wolfe would bet the man’s understanding of most of Jandra’s products and those of its major competitors was a mile wide and an inch deep. On the other hand, Lindberg had his own area of expertise: remembering names, paying for food and drinks, arranging golf games at exclusive clubs. No doubt about it, Lindberg was a classic glad-hander, which was why he had ascended to his current position, heading the marketing team at Jandra.
Wolfe hid a smile. Interesting. The President of the company and the Director of Marketing. This could be big. The door behind Wolfe opened. He deliberately kept his eyes front. Be cool. Let this play out.
“Hey, Bob. It’s good to see you.” Wolfe turned just in time to avoid the full force of a hand landing on his shoulder. Even the glancing blow made him wince. Lindberg dragged a chair to the side of Patel’s desk, positioning himself halfway between the two men. Clever. Not taking sides, but clearly separating himself from the underling.
Wolfe studied the two men and, not for the first time, marveled at the contrast in their appearance. Patel was swarthy, slim, and sleek, with jet-black hair and coal-black eyes. His blue shirt had a white collar on which was centered the unfashionably large knot of an unfashionably wide gold-and-black tie. Wolfe wondered whether the man was five years behind or one ahead of fashion trends. He spoke with a trace of a British accent, and Wolfe seemed to recall that Patel had received part of his education at Oxford. Maybe he wore an “old school” tie, without regard to current fashion. If so, it would be typical of Patel.
Lindberg was middle-aged but already running to fat—or, more accurately, flab. His florid complexion gave testimony to too many helpings of rare roast beef accompanied by glasses of single malt Scotch, undoubtedly shared with top-drawer doctors and paid for on the Janus expense account. Lindberg’s eyes were the color of burnished steel, and showed a glimmer of naked ambition that the smile pasted on his face couldn’t disguise. His thinning blond hair was combed carefully to cover early male pattern baldness. The sleeves of his white dress shirt were rolled halfway to his elbows. His tie was at half-mast and slightly askew.
Patel, the geek. Lindberg, the glad-hander. Different in so many ways. But both men shared one characteristic. Wolfe knew from experience that each man would sell his mother if it might benefit the company, or more specifically, their position in it. The two of them together could mean something very good or very bad for Bob Wolfe. He eased forward in his chair and kicked his senses into high gear.
Patel leaned back and tented his fingers. “Bob, I’m sure you’re wondering what this is about. Well, I wanted to congratulate you on the success of EpAm848. I’ve been looking over the preliminary information, especially the reports from Dr. Ingersoll at Southwestern Medical Center. Very impressive.”
“Well, it’s sort of Ingersoll’s baby. He stumbled onto it when he was doing some research here during his infectious disease fellowship at UC Berkeley. I think he wants it to succeed as much as we do.”
“I doubt that.” Patel leaned forward with both hands on the desk. “Jandra is on the verge of bankruptcy. I want that drug on the market ASAP!”
“But we’re not ready. We need more data,” Wolfe said.
“Here’s the good news,” Patel said. “The FDA is worried about The Killer bacteria outbreak. I’ve pulled a few strings, called in a bunch of favors, and I can assure you we can get this application fast-tracked.”
“How?” Wolfe said. “We’re still doing Phase II trials. What about Phase III? Assuming everything goes well, it’s going to be another year, maybe two, before we can do a rollout of EpAm848.”
“Not to worry,” Patel said. “Our inside man at the FDA assures me he can help us massage the data. We can get by with the Phase II trials we’ve already completed. And he’ll arrange things so we can use those plus some of our European studies to fulfill the Phase III requirements.”
Lindberg winked at Wolfe. “We may have to be creative in the way we handle our data. You and I need to get our heads together and see how many corners we can cut before the application is ready.”
Wolfe shook his head. “You say this drug will save us from bankruptcy. I don’t see that. I mean, yes, it looks like we may be in for a full-blown epidemic of Staph luciferus, but we won’t sell enough—“
Lindberg silenced him with an upraised hand. “Exposure, Bob. Exposure. If we get this drug on the market, if we’re the first with a cure, our name recognition will skyrocket. Doctors and patients will pay attention to our other drugs: blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes. Our market share will go through the roof in all of them.”
Wolfe could see the salesman in Lindberg take over as he leaned closer, as though to drive home his point by proximity. “We’re preparing a direct-to-consumer push on all those drugs, ready to launch at the same time we release Jandramycin.”
The name didn’t click with Wolfe for a moment. “I . . . Well, I’ll certainly do what I can.”
“Do more than that,” Lindberg said. “Jandra Pharmaceuticals is hurting. We’re staking everything on Jandramycin.”
That was the second time Wolfe had heard the term. “What—“
“Stop referring to the drug by its generic name,” Patel added. “From now on, the compound is Jandramycin. When people hear the name Jandra Pharmaceuticals, we want them to think of us as the people who developed the antibiotic that saved the world from the worst epidemic since the black plague.”
Lindberg eased from his chair and gave Wolfe another slap on the shoulder. “This is your project now. It’s on your shoulders. The company’s got a lot riding on this.”
And so do I. “But what if a problem turns up?”
Patel rose and drew himself up to his full five feet eight inches. His obsidian eyes seemed to burn right through Wolfe. “We’re depending on you to make sure that doesn’t happen. Are we clear on that?”
* * *
Sara leaned over the sink and splashed water on her face. The paper towels in the women’s rest room of the clinic were rough, but maybe that would put some color in the face that stared back at her from the mirror. Her brown eyes were red-rimmed from another sleepless night. Raven hair was pulled into a ponytail because she could never find time or energy for a haircut or a perm. Get it together, Sara. She took a deep breath and headed for the doctor’s dictation room, where she slumped into a chair.
“Something wrong, Dr. Miles?”
Sara turned to see Gloria, the clinic’s head nurse. “No, just taking a few deep breaths before I have to make a call I’m dreading.”
Gloria slid into the chair next to Sara. The controlled chaos of the internal medicine clinic hummed around them. The buzz of conversations and ringing of phones served as effectively as white noise to mask her next words. “Is it one of your hospital patients? Got some bad news to deliver?”
“Sort of. It’s Chelsea Ferguson.”
“The teenage girl? Is she worse?”
“Yes. The cultures grew Staph luciferus.”
Gloria whistled silently. “The Killer. That’s bad.”
“The only thing that seems to be working in these cases is that new drug of Jack Ingersoll’s.”
“Oh, I get it. That’s the call you don’t want to make.” Gloria touched Sara lightly on the shoulder. “When will you stop letting what Ingersoll did ruin the rest of your life? I can introduce you to a couple of nice men who go to our church. They’ve both gone through tough divorces—neither was their fault—and they want to move on. It would be good for you—”
Sara shook her head. “Thanks, but I’m not ready to date. I’m not sure if I can ever trust a man again.”
Gloria opened her mouth, but Sara silenced her with an upraised hand. No sense putting this off. She pulled the phone toward her and stabbed in a number.
* * *
Dr. John Ramsey found a spot in the Visitor’s Parking Lot. He exited his car and looked across the driveway at the main campus of Southwestern Medical Center. When he’d graduated, there were two buildings on the campus. Now those two had been swallowed up, incorporated into a complex that totaled about forty buildings on three separate campuses. Right now he only needed to find one: the tall white building directly across the driveway at the end of a flagstone plaza. The imposing glass façade of the medical library reflected sunlight into his eyes as he wove past benches where students sat chatting on cell phones or burrowing into book bags. He paused at the glass front doors of the complex, took a deep breath, and pushed forward.
There was a directory inside for anyone trying to negotiate the warren of inter-connected buildings, but John didn’t need it. He found the elevator he wanted, entered, and punched five. In a moment, he was in the office of the Chairman of Internal Medicine.
“Dr. Schaeffer will be with you in a moment.” The receptionist motioned him toward a seat opposite the magnificent rosewood desk that was the centerpiece of the spacious office, then glided out, closing the door softly behind her.
John eased into the visitor’s chair and looked around him. He’d spent forty years on the volunteer clinical faculty of Southwestern Medical Center’s Department of Internal Medicine. For forty years he’d instructed and mentored medical students and residents, for forty years he’d covered the teaching clinic once a month, and today was the first time he’d been in the department chairman’s office. He swallowed the resentment he felt bubbling up. No, John. You never wanted to be here. You were happy in your own world.
John couldn’t help comparing this room with the cubbyhole he’d called his private office. Now he didn’t even have that. The practice was closed, the equipment and furnishings sold to a young doctor just getting started. John’s files and patient records were in a locked storage facility, rent paid for a year.
He wondered how many of his patients had contacted his nurse to have their records transferred. No matter, she’d handle it. He’d paid her six months’ salary to take care of such things. What would happen after that? He didn’t have the energy to care. Things were different now.
For almost half a century he’d awakened to the aroma of coffee and a kiss from the most wonderful woman in the world. Now getting out of bed in the morning was an effort, shaving and getting dressed were more than he could manage some days. Since Beth died . . . He shook his head, trying to clear the cobwebs that clogged his brain. The knowledge that he’d never again know the happiness of having a woman he loved by his side made him wish he’d died with her. What was the use of going on?
But something happened this morning. He’d awakened with a small spark of determination to do something, anything, to move on. He tried to fight it, to roll over and seek the sleep that eluded him. Instead, he heard the echo of Beth’s words: “You’re too good a physician to retire. People need you.” He remembered that conversation as though it were yesterday. She’d urged, he’d insisted. Let’s retire. I want to get out of the rat race and enjoy time with you. Retirement meant the travel they’d put off, the time to do things together. Only, now there was no more together.
This morning, he’d rolled out of bed determined that today would be different. It would be the start of his rebirth. As he shrugged into a robe, as he’d done each day since her death he looked at the picture on their dresser of him and Beth. She’d been radiant that spring day so many years ago, and he wondered yet again how he’d managed to snag her.
He’d shaved—for the first time in days—with special care, and his image in the mirror made him wonder. When did that slim young man in the picture develop a paunch and acquire an AARP card? When had the thick brown hair been replaced by gray strands that required careful combing to hide a retreating hairline? The eyes were still bright, although they hid behind wire-rimmed trifocals. “You’re too old for this, John,” he muttered. And as though she were in the room, he heard Beth’s words once more. “You’re too good a physician to retire. People need you.”
Fortified with coffee, the sole component of his breakfast nowadays, he’d forced himself to make the call. He asked his question and was gratified and a bit frightened by the positive response. John dressed carefully, choosing his best suit, spending a great deal of time selecting a tie. He’d noticed a gradual shift in doctors’ attire over the past few years. Now many wore jeans and golf shirts under their white coats. But for John Ramsey, putting on a tie before going to the office was tantamount to donning a uniform, one he’d worn proudly for years. And he—
“John, I was surprised when I got your call. To what do I owe the pleasure?” Dr. Donald Schaeffer breezed into the office, the starched tails of his white coat billowing behind him. He offered his hand, then settled in behind his desk.
“Donald, I appreciate your taking the time to see me. I was wondering—”
“Before we start, I want you to know how sorry we all are for your loss. Is there anything I can do?”
Perfect lead-in. See if you can get the words out. “As you know, I closed my office four months ago. Beth and I were going to enjoy retirement. Then . . .”
Schaeffer nodded and tented his fingers under his chin. At least he had the grace not to offer more platitudes. Ramsey had had enough of those.
“I was wondering if you could use me in the department.” There. Not the words he’d rehearsed, but at least he’d tossed the ball into Schaeffer’s court.
“John, are you talking about coming onto the faculty?”
“Maybe something half-time. I could staff resident clinics, teach medical students.”
Schaeffer was shaking his head before John finished. “That’s what the volunteer clinical faculty does. It’s what you did for . . . how many years? Thirty? Thirty-five?”
“Forty, actually. Well, I’m still a clinical professor in the department, so I guess I have privileges at Parkland Hospital. Can you use me there?”
Schaeffer pulled a yellow legal pad toward him and wrote a couple of words before he pushed it aside. “I’m not sure what I can do for you, if anything. It’s not that easy. You have no idea of the administrative hoops I have to jump through to run this department. Even if I could offer you a job today—and I can’t— I’d have to juggle the budget to support it, post the position for open applications, get half a dozen approvals before finalizing the appointment.” He spread his hands in a gesture of futility.
“So, is that a ‘no’?”
“”That’s an ‘I’ll see what I can do.’ Afraid that’s the best I have to offer.” Schaeffer looked at his watch, shoved his chair back and eased to his feet. “Coming to Grand Rounds?”
Why not? John’s house was an empty museum of bitter memories. His office belonged to someone else. Why not sit in the company of colleagues? “Sure. I’ll walk over with you.”
As the two men moved through the halls of the medical center, John prayed silently that Schaeffer would find a job for him. With all his prayers for Beth during her final illness, prayers that had gone unanswered, he figured that surely God owed him this one.