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Asthma: Part III           part I         part II
-by Len Rely

Kathy was sent to a different room this time, a darker room.  The lack of illumination from the 
moment she came through the door gave her a look that was night to the day before.  Her mother 
had a careworn expression as she sighed loudly and left to wait in the lobby as Dr. Lang had 
requested.  The door closed and Katherine walked slowly to the bed not sure what was going to 

She looked for Dr. Sobol, and spotted him in the corner of the large room turned away from her. 
She could tell something was wrong with him or else he had some news that he did not want the 
light to reveal on his face.  He stared at the floor and appeared to be picking at his fingernails.  On 
the other side of the room there was a second man who looked like a doctor of higher office holding 
a clipboard.

"I'm sorry you had to come here again, Kathy." Dr. Sobol said, not turning around.

The other man stepped out of the shadows toward her, glints of light reflecting off the twisted 
ends of his hair around that huge head.  He towered over her as she sat and dug her fingers into 
the sheet.  Her face contorted into a horrid look of surprise and she cowered behind her outstretched
hands trying to retreat from him.

"Can we please get this over with." Dr. Sobol muttered quietly.

Dr. Lang shot a fierce look at him.  He moved an uplifted hand toward the girl, rubbing his fingers 
together as if he half-wanted to grab a handful of her hair but had been stopped by a passing thought.
He lowered his hand and holding the clipboard upright turned away from the frightened patient.

"Your misdiagnosis was as follows..." he said dryly.  "You had originally prescribed Albuterol, which 
would have eliminated the symptoms and little Katherine would not have had reason to visit us again."

"It would have cured her." Sobol stated.

"There is your mistake!" Lang remarked.  "We would not have had the further pleasure of this young 
lady's company, and as the symptoms were 'cured' the underlying problem would have gone 

"I'm curious to know what your diagnosis is, Doctor." Sobol said, turning to face him.

"I will inform her mother that the reason her symptoms appear and disappear is because they are 
purely psychosomatic."

"What do you mean psychosomatic..."

"In reality she never had asthma to begin with.  She has anxiety attacks, as you yourself witnessed, 
and for one reason or another she decides that it is difficult to breathe."

Katherine made a choking sound from the bed.  Her throat had begun to close up just listening to 
this.  Her face was turning reddish and she closed her eyes painfully to gasp any shred of air that 
would go down.  She tried to speak but it was impossible.

"Hold on, my dear." Sobol said, rushing to her side.  "I'll give you something that will make it go away."

"No!" Lang barked furiously.  "She has to do it herself!"

Kathy was turning purple.  Dr. Sobol held her hand as she slowly began to calm down.  She gave 
shallow, hurried breaths as her eyes were fixed on Dr. Lang.

"We must explore her mind and expose these frights for all they're worth to find the cause of the 
phenomenon." he said.  "I am going to prescribe a Methaquaalude..."

"What!" Sobol exclaimed.  "That is a neurological drug used for extreme mental patients!"

"Are you questioning my medical opinion.”  Lang said quietly, putting the clipboard down.

Sobol swallowed the phlegm in his throat.

"Because if you are, then you can relieve yourself of this patient and I will continue with her alone."

Sobol lowered his head, not willing to look Katherine in the face.  He returned slowly to the corner 
as Lang proceeded.  He opened his black medical bag and produced some plastic tubing which 
made poor Kathy's heart jump not knowing what he intended to do with it.

When she emerged from the room, she looked like her entire childhood had been spent and all that 
enthusiasm defeated.  There was a look of oblivion on her face like she had been shown human 
horrors or forced to hold her breath for too long.  There was a general soreness about the face like 
when an oxygen mask is used.

Her mother was shocked at the sight of her and reacted not with compassion but frustration at the 
prolonging of it all, which perhaps was a mistake.  Sitting on a bench in the waiting room she had 
been thinking head downward, face tensed at how she could afford further treatment and her child's 
further suffering.  In her displeasure at Dr. Lang's description of her "condition,” she grasped 
Katherine hurriedly by the wrist to leave when what her daughter needed was a mother's embrace.

Dr. Lang handed the small vial of drugs to her mother himself as if he had taken it from a drawer.  
As she turned to leave, she placed a hand on the top of Kathy's head and pulling it away stared at 
a couple of loose hairs in her palm and noticed that one of her daughter’s pigtails was missing.

"What happened to her hair?" she demanded somberly.

"It is beginning to fall out." Dr. Lang stated.  "A symptom of her deteriorating condition.  Be sure to 
bring her on a daily basis starting tomorrow."

Her mother wiped a tear from her face and turned quickly away, taking Kathy by the arm as if she 
were significantly older than the wheelchair-riding child of before.

An uncomfortable Dr. Sobol stood at the back of his colleague's dark office, the buttons of his white 
frock disheveled for the first time in the young physician's career.  He thumbed a bead of sweat from
his forehead and looking forlorn made a fist in the air which he brought down and stared upon his 
shaking hand for some time.

"I care for the girl," he stated, "and if I had the slightest ability this would not continue."  "Stop me 
before I say something that outlives my usefulness, because my ungodly presence here is my only 
comfort in that I can observe what you would gladly do unseen. Yet I am here ergo I must speak, 
regardless.  I am horrified.  Our duty is to heal the sick as quickly as we can so they may go about 
their lives.  This obsession circumvents that trust, and in the end I would do anything to save her, 
even from you."

Dr. Lang sat at his desk ignoring him, focused entirely on a small tuft of the girl's hair held aloft 
between his thumb and fingers.  It absorbed him, and from his perfect collar downward he was 
utterly motionless.

"Does she tantalize you?" Sobol asked with disgust as he moved closer.

"Does she haunt you at night like you do to her?  Would you cut out her face and paste it on a 
fantasy of your choosing so you can sleep at night?"

"You use the word ergo like an educated man." Lang stated after a pause.

"Funny, isn't it?  Very well, I am content ergo I will ignore you and keep the whim that allows you 
to remain.  Fair enough?"

Sobol stared at him.

"Things are moving along better than anticipated." Lang continued, rising to his impressive height. 
"I'm thinking there may be room in this case study for more rewards than I originally hoped for."

"Like what?"

"It was my intention to put her on the breathing apparatus permanently starting tomorrow, but 
something else has come up...  Something which may provide even more control over the situation 
than I thought was possible.  If effective, I may even provide the girl with some freedom from the 
apparatus for the time being, to keep her limber.  We have to look out for her in the long term, you 
see." The lower rims of Sobol's eyes turned red as listened to this.

"Her mother." Lang stated.  "Did she not seem a bit standoffish to you?  This ordeal is really getting 
to her, poor woman.  Morose indifference is not the way to treat a child, she should have shown more
compassion.  If this continues, it may open the door that she is an unfit mother not qualified to be the 
girl's protector.  We could benefit from this."

He swiped the palms of his hands together with a snap in eagerness.

"You're breaking into a sweat all over thinking that the girl might be available to you forever." Sobol 
said with a look of sickness.  "You can't wait to see her again, can you."

"You're the one who cannot control his perspiration, little man."

"Mine flows from fear.  I understand it now, which perhaps I let fall shortsighted when you intimidated 
me.  I want to know what you injected her with on the night she was brought in, so I can report you. 
Does it induce asthma or was it a mental drug to, as you say, maintain control?"

Lang's face turned slightly downward into rage, to a lack of allowance. He showed a little of his teeth 
and grasped the handle of his medical bag within easy reach.

"Tell me, you yourself had asthma as a child, did you not?" He unzipped the black bag slowly.  Sobol 
stared wide-eyed at him and backed away, uncertain of what he was going to do.

"You had it all the way through the fifth grade, right Doctor?"

Sobol moved quickly out the door and disappeared from sight.

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