Five Kindnesses Charles Emerson Winchester III Performed (But Would Never Acknowledge)

by Amy L. Hull amilynh at comcast dot net

Written for: zorrie in the Yuletide 2008 Challenge

Thanks to Dotfic and Inga for betas.

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In 1956, the geriatric care and pediatric wards received enough hand-decorated cards to give one to every patient admitted for three months. The cards, all with carefully-drawn estimations of "Get better soon," were from an orphanage in Uijeongbu, South Korea, thanking the hospital and Dr. Charles for their generous support. The three Drs. Charles (one in psychiatry, one in pediatrics, and one in dermatology) forswore any knowledge of such support. The staff who heard of the pile of papers wrote the name of the town (with a variety of spellings) on slips of paper and spent weeks showing them around the hospital, asking for guesses at its pronunciation. Dr. Winchester in cardiology, who always seemed to know everything, won the betting pool with his guess of "Wee-john-boo" after a radiologist finally found an atlas with phonetic pronunciations.

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Everyone knew that Dr. Winchester went on a three-week vacation every other summer. It was always somewhere warm, exotic, and posh, and so it puzzled the gossip that he returned exhausted. The staff debated whether he was having liaisons with a lover or increasing his real estate holdings with his family's reputedly significant fortune. They agreed he must be quicker to make friends when he was off-duty since he received postcards and letters--he had a small bulletin board with photos--from people in all the places he had traveled, sometimes even years later.

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Occasionally someone at Boston General would be called into the formidable office of the equally formidable Chief of Surgery. Much of the time that person would emerge, shaken, either jobless or on notice to mind the details of their duties. Every so often, someone who'd entered in terror would emerge, perplexed but smiling, having had Dr. Winchester pass on an anonymous compliment made on their work. Many said they'd rarely felt so honored as when they realized that Charles Emerson Winchester III, Chief of Surgery at Boston General Hospital, said their work was "exemplary and a credit to this fine institution."

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When the Boston General nurses went out on strike in 1962, no one ever knew who leaked numbers to the press about the dangers to patients of understaffed wards. The hospital administration was publicly apologetic, expressing their horror and concern that a lack of information might have endangered their patients and reputation.

Privately they were livid.

Even so, the strike was over in two days with nurses receiving pay raises, shorter hours, and postings for at least 34 new jobs.

As the other administrators complained bitterly about rising costs, Charles just offered wryly, "Yes, well, you know how some people are when you give an inch," as he smirked over his coffee cup.

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The intensive care nurses were used to seeing Dr. Winchester consult on difficult cardiology cases. He would walk in briskly, eyebrows raised, half-moon glasses far down his nose, and look over a patient's chart with an air of indifference. New staff learned quickly--usually at great cost to their pride--not to presume Dr. Winchester knew anything less than every minute detail about the patient after his quick perusal. They also learned, as did interns and new doctors, that he was rarely wrong, impatient with posturing (from others), and stayed in the ward an average of one and three-quarters minutes per patient.

The young nurse on duty with the sole patient--an elderly indigent with congestive heart failure--on Thanksgiving day in 1974 had been at Boston General long enough to know about Dr. Winchester, and was surprised to see him visiting this patient on a holiday. She was even more surprised when he shooed her away. "Go home. Have Thanksgiving with turkey and pie with your family. I'll sit with this young man. See if we can find something to talk about." He lowered himself gingerly into a chair by the old man's bedside and patted his shoulder above where a tattoo read "MASH8063" and she wondered idly what it meant.

She didn't want to risk Dr. Winchester changing his mind, so she said a quick, "Thank you, sir. Happy Thanksgiving." The doctor's lips quirked slightly but he did not look away from the unconscious patient. The last thing she heard as she left was the chair creaking and a low voice saying, "You won't be alone here."

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