Sunday, April 14, 2024

Detective stories

Did anyone else out there read "The Problem of Cell 13" by Jacques Futrelle?

I'm assuming I'm not the only one, as it was in the standard 6th-grade reading textbook my generic public school used in the early 1970's.

It was one of several early 1900's detective stories by Futrelle featuring his character Augustus S. F. X. Van Dusen (AKA The Thinking Machine), a reserved, brilliant, scientist who solved problems solely by logic (kind of a 1905 Mr. Spock). Almost 100 years later Van Dusen also appeared in the comic book series "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen."

"The Problem of Cell 13" featured Van Dusen being voluntarily incarcerated in a high-security prison to prove that, by thinking, he could figure a way out and escape within a week - which he did. Probably Futrelle's most well-known story, it's since been adapted, both in whole and in part, several times for TV and radio. Most recently was in 2019 for an episode of the NBC TV series "The Blacklist."

For whatever reason it was a handful of stories I read growing up that I never forgot ("The Long Sheet" by William Sansom was another) and when the internet age dawned the story was long in the public domain and easy for me to find.

The writer, Jacques Futrelle started as a journalist. He began the sports section for the Atlanta Post, then was hired by the New York Herald where he covered the Spanish-American War. Afterwards he worked in Boston, then left journalism to become a full-time, and successful, detective writer.

His wife, Lily May Futrelle, was also a prominent author. She wrote for the Saturday Evening Post. Her first novel "The Secretary of Frivolous Affairs" was on the U.S. bestseller list from 1911 to 1915 and made into an early silent film (one of the first movies written by a woman).

Besides raising a son & daughter, and their separate writing careers, they collaborated on a Van Dusen story, "The Grinning God," in which she wrote the first half of the mystery to set the stage and he wrote the second half, with Van Dusen solving it.

They both did well as authors, allowing them to build a coastal home in Scituate, Massachusetts and enjoy the newfangled luxury of an automobile.

In early 1912 they left the kids with his parents and headed to Europe for 2-3 months to promote their books. The trip was successful, to the extent that they were given a complimentary first class suite by a shipping line for the journey home.

 


 

112 years ago tonight, the Futrelles stood together on the sloping decks of the Titanic.

Offered a chance to get in a lifeboat with her, he refused, and insisted the space be given to another woman.

After returning home, she wrote a 2-part piece on the disaster for the Boston Post, published on April 21-22:

 

"The last I saw of my husband he was standing beside Colonel Astor. He had a cigarette in his mouth. As I watched him, he lighted a match and held it in his cupped hands before his face. By its light I could see his eyes roam anxiously out over the water. Then he dropped his head toward his hands and lighted his cigarette. I saw Colonel Astor turn toward Jacques and a second later Jacques handed the colonel his cigarette box. The colonel screened Jacques' hands with his own, and their faces stood out together as the match flared at the cigarette tip. I know those hands never trembled. This was not an act of bravado. Both men must have realized that they must die."

 

His body was never recovered. He was 37.

Lily May never remarried. She raised their children, published her own novels, completed & published those Jacques hadn't, taught writing clinics, and hosted radio shows. In 1940 she spearheaded efforts to extend authors' copyrights for an additional 28 years, which was signed into law by President Roosevelt. She was given the pen that he used.

Every year, on the anniversary of the sinking, she walked from their home to the seafront to cast flowers in for Jacques.

She died in 1967.

Monday, April 8, 2024

Inside Job

A long time ago, when I was first starting out, I worked at a hospital that had only one MRI-compatible ventilator.

For my non-medical readers, a ventilator is the "breathing machine" that keeps you alive when your body needs a break, during surgery, etc.  Once you're better we take you off it. It's a very complicated gadget, with a fair amount of ferrous metal.

As a result, a standard ventilator can't go in an MRI. Since patients on one sometimes need an MRI (usually once a pesky neurologist gets involved) there are MRI-safe ventilators. These are stripped down machines, mostly plastic and non-ferrous metal. They're less durable than a regular ventilator and don't have all the features, but they're fine for an hour or so that a patient needs it while in the MRI machine.

Anyway, back at Small Hospital, one day the MRI-safe ventilator was missing. This was a real problem, because now we couldn't do MRI's on ICU patients who needed them. We were able to temporarily get an extra from a larger hospital across town, but still needed ours back. They ain't cheap.

Security searched, literally, every square inch of Small Hospital. The kitchens, the bathrooms, every patient room, the storage areas... it wasn't there. Small Hospital didn't have the array of video monitoring they do now, so looking for someone leaving with it wasn't possible.

One early morning during rounds I was in ICU, chatting about it with some of the nurses when one of them said, half-joking, "maybe it's on Ebay."

Since I was on the computer looking up labs, I switched over to Ebay... and there it was. A used MRI-compatible ventilator, same model, which had been up for sale since one day after it had gone missing. The seller's name was an easily-recognizable variant on the name of a guy who worked as a hospital radiology transporter.

The ventilator was back a few day later.

The transporter spent some time as a guest of the state, in spite of his clever defense that he'd seen it standing next to a dumpster at his apartment complex several miles from the hospital and had just kept it as a decoration because he didn't know what it was but it looked cool.

The machine was at the hospital for several more years before it was replaced by a newer model. For the rest of its service the nurses kept a sign on it that said "NOT FOR DECORATION."

Monday, April 1, 2024

Doctors behaving badly

I'm with a patient when Mary wanders back.

Mary: "Hey, Dr. Hypothec is on line two, he asked me to interrupt you."

Dr. Grumpy: "Okay. Hang on, Mrs. Fonebone, let me get this... Hi, this is Dr. Grumpy."

Dr. Hypothec: "Hi, this is Mort Hypothec across the street. Thank you for taking my call."

Dr. Grumpy: "What's up?"

Dr. Hypothec: "I had a a question about my wife, did you ever see her as a patient?"

Dr. Grumpy: "Not that a recall."

Dr. Hypothec: "Well, she works in mortgages, and was wondering if you were interested in refinancing your home? She can get you an excellent rate."

 
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