The Final Diagnosis
by Arthur Hailey
At midmorning of a broiling summer day the life of Three Counties Hospital ebbed and flowed like tide currents around an offshore island. Outside the hospital the citizens of Burlington, Pennsylvania, perspired under a ninety-degree shade temperature with 78 per cent humidity. Down by the steel mills and the rail yards, where there was little shade and no thermometers, the reading—if anyone had bothered to take it—would have been a good deal higher. Within the hospital it was cooler than outside, but not much. Among patients and staff only the fortunate or influential escaped the worst of the heat in air-conditioned rooms.
There was no air conditioning in the admitting department on the main floor, and Madge Reynolds, reaching into her desk for her fifteenth Kleenex that morning, dabbed her face and decided it was time she slipped out to make another application of deodorant. Miss Reynolds, at thirty-eight, was chief clerk in Admitting and also an assiduous reader of feminine-hygiene advertising. As a result she had acquired a horror of being less than completely sanitary and in hot weather maintained a shuttle service between her desk and the women’s toilet down the corridor.
First, though, she decided, she must locate four patients for admission that afternoon.
A few minutes earlier the day’s discharge slips had come down from the wards, showing that twenty-six patients were being sent home instead of the twenty-four Miss Reynolds had expected.
That, added to two deaths which had occurred during the night, meant that four new names could be plucked from the hospital’s long waiting list for immediate admission. Somewhere, in four homes in and around Burlington, a quartet of patients who had been waiting for this call either hopefully or in fear would now pack a few essential belongings and put their trust in medicine as practiced at Three Counties. Holding now her sixteenth Kleenex, Miss Reynolds opened a file folder, picked up the telephone on her desk, and began to dial.