The Swarming Red. Story of early life of Doctor Watson John Pirillo. War is hell. He found healing could also cause pain and suffering.
Much has been written about Sherlock Holmes, the Master Detective, but little has been revealed about his wonderful partner and friend, Doctor John Watson. This was and is a situation I intend to remedy with a series of stories over time that fill in the missing parts of his life, both as a young man and later as a partner in the waiting for Sherlock.
This is the third story in my saga about young John Watson. While not steeped in as much magic and other worldly events as later stories will and might be, this one establishes his character, his desires as a humane being and gives us a glimpse of his early love life, which as any good author will tell you, has little shadows surrounding it. Shadows of change.
I hope you have as much fun getting lost in this wonderful little story, as I had in telling it. I have the additional pleasure of seeing it quite clearly in my mind. And, if you've been following my series of interviews, perhaps a bit more. Hey?
The Swarming Red
A John Watson Story
By John Pirillo
"John!" The urgent call of Nurse Betty Stone called.
John, his white scrubs trailing behind him as he ran, dashed into the corridor to help two orderlies with an especially large man they were trying to move onto an operating gurney. He took the blanket the man was on, stretched it onto the new gurney and pulled as they shoved. The overly weight man groaned as he dropped several inches onto the hard steel surface, his eyes fluttering madly in his skull for a moment, and then he drifted back into unconsciousness.
"How long's he been like this?"
Nurse Betty Stone ran over with a clipboard and shoved it into John's hands. "He has the blood disease."
"The Swarming Red, I believe it's called, Nurse Betty Stone."
"Yes, Doctor...I mean John."
John gave her the hint of a grin, but said nothing. His stint at the Hyde and Mary Hospital had started him off as an ordinary attendant rushing men like this on gurneys through the corridors to the emergency operating rooms, sweeping up floors, mopping bathrooms and distributing food to patients when the nurses were too busy elsewhere. It was tough, sometimes grueling work, but he never complained. He was always learning something new. He couldn't explain why, but he had a fascination with medicine, and in particular the study of how things came together. The clues that explained the why and the wherefore of wounds, whether caused by guns, knives, battering or just plain stupidity.
"No, problem, Betty."
She gave him a blush. She was about three years younger than him and came from a fine family dedicated to the Arts. Her father had been disappointed when she decided to take her artistic hand and apply it to the suffering instead of to garnering fame and fortune as her artist father, renowned throughout the Britains had. Her hair was an off blonde with hints of red in it, and her eyes were spotlights of blue that illuminated a face full of warmth and concern and right then that moment, Watson.
Watson helped the orderlies get the man into the operating room where Doctor Owens, Charles Owens, an elderly man of thirty five, finished pulling on his surgical gloves, and his nurses rolled out a tray of surgical equipment, as well as hot towels and dry ones to mop his forehead as he worked.
"Very good, John. Over here." He commanded.
John steered the gurney into the requisite spot and the orderlies left, but John remained next to the Doctor.
"Better put on a mask and gloves if you're going to help me, John." The good Doctor said with the hint of mischief in his eyes.
John didn't waste a moment. He sprinted into the clean room, tossed his scrubs, threw on fresh ones, then a mask and gloves and hurried back inside the operating room.
Doctor Owens shook his head. "This one has let it go too far this time."
Doctor Owens pointed to the man's right and left feet where they were swollen and discolored. Parts of them were showing evidence of a kind of mold. "The Swarming Red. It's advanced into the final stages."
"What does that mean?"
"John, be so good as to hand me that saw over there?"
John looked to the counter behind them and saw an array of saws. Some bloody ones lay in a solution towards the end. He noted that uneasily, and then took the one the Doctor gestured too. He gently lifted it, and then brought it to him.
"Now you must help me strap him down."
"Strap him down? But he's unconscious."
"Not for long, I dare say, poor wretch."
He gestured to Nurse Betty Stone."Give me two doses of blue and one of the red please."
"Blue and red?"
Doctor Owens looked at John. "The Blue is a distillation of opium. The red is a special drug that Count Tesla found on his expedition to the Isles of Darkness. It has the ability and tenacity of an opiate, but when used in conjunction with one, sustains its effects and amplifies it by a magnitude of ten."
"That would kill him!" Gasped John.
Doctor Owens took the syringe when Nurse Betty Stone returned with it. He tapped it and squirted it slightly to clear any air, then turned to John. "This man will die anyway...most certainly within the next hours if we don't. Believe me, John; he's going to need ten times more than this once we begin."
John didn't know what to think, but he watched as Nurse Betty Stone properly cleaned the man's feet, and then applied a salve to them.
"It'll help stem the blood flow."
"Yes. John. I'd advise you to step back a bit. This could get messy."
Nurse Betty Stone gave John a nervous glance, and then raised a pure white sheet between her and the doctor's bodies as he reached over with the saw.
John watched in stunned silence during the next several minutes, as the man on the gurney cried out in pain, his eyes snapping open in horror as he realized what was being done."
"Two more Blue and double the Red, Nurse!"
She fled to the cabinet where the medicines were stored, plucked out two vials, got a syringe and filled it, then ran back.
Doctor Owens looked at the man who was sobbing and crying with terror and pain, his two feet severed free and laying on a separate gurney with a steel bowl and a fluid holding them floating within. "This will hurt even more, sir." He said, his eyes filled with compassion.
Nurse Betty Stone gave the doctor the syringe and he stuck it in the man's belly. The man started to cry out, and then gave the doctor a perplexed look. It hadn't really hurt at all, and then he saw the red hot iron that Nurse Betty Stone pulled from a flash oven as she gave it to the Doctor.
He looked at the man. "I just think you might make it, young man. But you must have a stiff upper lip. Do you believe in God, sir?"
The man's eyes were starting to sag closed. He shook his head no.
"Well, it doesn't hurt to now, does it?"
He applied the iron to the first leg's stump.
John would never forget the sound of that scream. And finally, it broke his resolve. He rushed from the room and threw up in the corridor. Nurses and patients looked at him and the mess. He sagged against the wall and put his hands over his face and began sobbing.
Nurse Betty Stone came out about ten minutes later, wringing her hands in worry. John was still against the wall. Still crying. She dropped beside him, put her arms around his shoulders and hugged him close, ignoring the filth of the vomit all over his front and the smell of it in her nostrils. This was a man in a kind of pain that couldn't be healed by medicine. Her own natural womanly instincts guided her in what to do next.
She pulled his head into her lap as she sat next to him and stroked his hair as he sobbed over and over. No one said a thing about this strange event occurring in the corridor. Not even Doctor Owens as he exited the operating room said anything. He just stood there, his eyes filled with sympathy and hope as he watched the love being given and the wretched soul, whose extents were tarnished and sullied by all the terrors and horrors of war. If only the two of them, Nurse Betty Stone and Doctor Owens could have seen what terrors and horrors John Watson would later face, they might have held even greater sympathy and compassion in their hearts.
Later the next morning, John awoke in a hospital bed. Nurse Betty Stone was sleeping with her head next to his chest. Her blonde hair looked like tiny waves of gold spread out before him. She was snoring lightly which brought a grin to his lips, then his hand reached out and stroked her hair, gently at first, then firmer as she looked up at him smiling.
"I love you, John Watson."
"I love you, Betty."
He drew her up towards him and their lips met.
"Ah-hem!" Doctor Owens said, as he cleared his throat from the doorway.
They both hurriedly withdrew from the near kiss and blushing, turned their faces towards the older man. He tapped a pipe bowl against his shoe, and then loosened the remains into a trash receptacle, and as they watched and waited patiently, he tamped fresh tobacco from a small bag he took from his waistcoat, and then lit it. He took several puffs, and then sat down in a chair opposite John's bed.
"Sir...please don't fire me." John blurted out, his heart racing with fear. "I won't do that again. I swear it!"
Doctor Owens shook his head.
John felt as if his whole life were flashing before him. Betty lost all color in her face. "Please, don't do this, Doctor. He's a good man."
"Yes. I do know that, Nurse Betty Stone."
He gazed at John a long time, his eyes measuring him in many ways, and then he said. "I think it's time you got formal training."
John and Betty looked at each other in astonishment. John sat up in bed, elated. "Formal, sir?"
Doctor Owens rose from the chair and gave them both warm smiles. "Yes, I have asked the hospital to grant you whatever funds you need to attend Oxford. They will of course transfer you once you have your understudies done to the appropriate school to complete your doctorate."
Doctor Owens went to the door and closing it, smiled at them. "Now, carry on, I suspect you both have something rather...." He laughed. "...Pressing to discuss."
On that laughter he exited the room, shutting the door behind him.
John pulled Betty to him and hugged her tight. "I'm going to be a doctor! I'm going to be a doctor!"
"Yes, John." She said, brushing her fingers through his hair. "Yes, you will."
Then he pressed her gently away and looked into her eyes. "We must speak with your parents at once."
"Why is that?" She asked, uncertain as to his motives.
He smiled warmly. "I rather suspect they'd like to know what profession their future son-in-law will be practicing."
She threw herself into his arms again and they kissed.
Ah, the innocence of youth and of time. All things are always in flux, always changing. Sometimes they remain the same, untarnished or diminished by time, but sometimes. Sometimes not. But for this moment the two sweethearts will enjoy their time of joy. And in the future, well, that will be what it will be, won't it?