Shock Treatment: a John Dunn story

Doctor Metcalfe’s years of medical practice convinced him that man was like a horse, and his experience with both convinced him that regular habits should be the rule of daily living.

On that hot early-August afternoon, he followed his customary habit and went to lie down for an afternoon nap. Nothing unusual in that. He went upstairs; pulled down the blinds, and left enough room for the breeze to enter the room. Taking off the brick-red hairpiece that he favoured, even though now in his eighty-fifth year, and setting his glasses alongside the hairpiece on the bedside table, he stretched out for a snooze in the midday, and was soon fast asleep.

Traffic on The Island was desultory at best, and scarcely any noise penetrated to the back of the house.

A train whistled its whining call for the crossing by the flour mill, and its eerie echo died away on the slope above the North Branch of the Mississippi.

Down here in the hollow, however, where the river came down over the falls, and in that part of town of Almonte called The Island, where he had his home within sight of the river and the falls, and where the sound of the power of the river was music to his ears.

Down on Clayton Street below the No. 1 Mill on the other end of The Island, it was also quiet. Jim McNeill and Claire and the four children and just moved into the brick house beside the Kennedys, the lowest in elevation in Almonte, and finding the change remarkable from what they had been used to in Washington, in the United States of America. For Jim was a corporal in the Canadian Army and was stationed in Washington as part of the Canadian Attaché staff.

Posted to Ottawa, to the headquarters of the Department of National Defence, Jim and Claire found it discouraging to look for a house for living accommodation for them and their little ones in the middle of the city, and, in desperation, had come out to Almonte, and had found the house on The Island. Of course, it was an old house, and it didn’t have a furnace, and it didn’t have a few other things, but it had room, and a garden in the back, and the end of the garden looked right out over the lower arm of the river below the falls, and even below the entry to the famous No.1 Woollen Mill of the Rosamond Woollen Company. And best of all from the kids’ point of view, the garden had an apple tree, and the apples on the tree weren’t ripe, but they would be, and the promise of ripening apples sometime later in the summer made the attraction of tree climbing overpowering.

Nothing moved in the heat of the early August afternoon. A cicada twanged in the high elm across the road in the vacant lot, and even in the river the water bugs had left off flitting across the water because of the heat. It was too much. Not a ripple disturbed the calm. The distant clacking of the machinery in the woollen mill was monotonous, so same that it induced sleep. Jim was reading, and on the front verandah and falling asleep. Claire was inside still cleaning up and still putting things away after the move from Washington. The youngsters were out playing in the back, keeping in the shade of the old apple tree.

Judy would be going into Grade 2 and already the older kids in the neighbourhood were posting here on the difficulties to be encountered with the sisters in Grade 2, and particularly how she would be learning all about God and the Devil and Hell and Damnation and Punishment and Evil and all those important things that kids used to learn in Grade 2.

Jim’s head nodded. His book fell. Jim was fast asleep.

However, at that moment Judy and three kids from the neighbourhood that she had come to know in the past week, were building a tree house in the apple tree. Suddenly, the air was rent with a child’s scream, and then as suddenly, it stopped.

Jim’s head jerked upwards.

“What’s that?” he asked Claire inside.

“Jim, come quickly. It’s Judy. She’s fallen out of the tree.”

“For heaven’s sake, is she hurt?”

“She’s lying there unconscious. Come quick.”

Jim rushed around to the back. There in the shade, a crumpled child lay. “Claire, call a doctor.”

“I’ll call Mrs. Kennedy. She’ll know the doctors in Almonte.”

In a moment, help came from that side, and Dominic brought out the car saying, “You get her into the car. I’ll drive you to the doctor’s.”

“Where’s the doctor’s place? Should we go to the hospital first?”

“Let’s see what the doctor says first. Doctor Metcalfe is the closest, and he’s right at the far end of The Island.”

They drove hastily, and parked the car on the side street near the stable where Doc Metcalfe kept his horse.

Jim rushed with the limp figure of the little girl in his arms to the doctor’s door. Isabel met them at the door.

“We need the doctor. Is he in, please? It’s an emergency.”

“Come in, please. I’ll call him.”

“Doctor, come quickly, there’s an emergency.”

Doctor Metcalfe heard the call. He woke up in a hurry, and shouted, “All right. I’ll be right there.”

He reached over to the side table, clamped the brick-red hair piece on his head, put on his glasses and walked to the office. No time to get things straight, when an emergency calls, he reasoned, hastily clumping downstairs to his office.

In a state of some disarray, he had the hairpiece on backwards, and instead of a clean cut centre-part with the two sides smoothed back on both sides of his head, it flared out over his forehead just like the horns of Mephistopheles in Doctor Faustus.

“What happened?” he asked, gazing at the limp child in Jim’s arms.

Out came the stethoscope to test the heart beat. He pulled out the ear pieces and put it aside. He felt the pulse. He looked at the limbs, and tested each one. No breaks. Tongue not swallowed. Breathing easy. Patient still unconscious.

“Probably had the wind knocked out of her.” He slapped her wrists, and then her cheeks to rouse the child from the state of unconsciousness.

She opened her eyes, stared at the ceiling, swung her eyes around to her father, and then to the doctor. “Hi, Judy.” Her eyes fixed on the brick-red wig, and the wings peering over her and the black eyes staring in her face. The doctor fixed her with a start that to Judy was the very Evil One himself.

She opened her mouth, uttered another piercing shriek, worse than that which she flung out after hitting the ground beneath the apple tree, and again, fainted dead away.

“Dear me, something must have frightened her. What could that be?” commented the doctor idly.

“Perhaps it’s the first time she’s ever visited a doctor’s office,” Jim replied.

Things always look strange the first time a patient finds himself in a doctor’s office.