9. LOTTIE BUMPUS

Since Mother was out of town, we had no choice but to bring David with us when we went to see Dr. Betts during his lunch hour on Monday. I insisted on packing the car with blankets in case of an emergency. Dr. Betts’s secretary said she would be happy to watch the baby for us.

Dr. Betts took one look at me and went into high gear. He made a call and sent us across the parking lot to the office of an OB-GYN, to see about getting my milk dried up. That doctor, deciding to avoid complications with whatever drugs Dr. Betts was going to prescribe, resorted to an old-fashioned method. He told Stewart how to bind me tightly with an old sheet. As this discussion was going on, I stared at the plump nurse who was checking me.

‘I’ll grant you a wish,’ I thought. ‘Would you like to be thin? Done.’

We returned to Dr. Betts. Stewart stayed in his office for a long time while I sat in the waiting room with David and the receptionist. I stared at a comically distorted map of the South that hung on the wall. Maybe, I thought, the country would break apart. My parents were in South Carolina with all her family. If the continent dissolved, that would be a good place for them to end up.

Then I was called in to join Stewart and Dr. Betts. Even though I wasn’t rational at all, Dr. Betts tried to talk to me. He was trying to piece together what had happened during the delivery.

“You precipitated in the bed, huh?” he said.

That was the word the nurse had used—precipitating. Like rain or sleet.

“Let me tell you something that happened to me,” he added. “When I was a senior in medical school, you flunked the course if you had a patient precipitate in the bed. When my patient came in, she was a big black woman about to have her twelfth baby. Her name was Lottie Bumpus. I thought, ‘Oh my God, I don’t have a chance.’ I put her on the bed to wheel her down the hall. On the way, I bumped against the bed, and she said, ‘Lawsy, doctor, I think this baby done come.’ I had bumped Lottie Bumpus’s baby right out.” He chuckled at the joke.

I couldn’t share his laughter—not quite yet. Here was new information. Precipitation in the bed was considered to be the doctor’s fault. But this incident must not have ended his career.

“You didn’t fail, though, did you?” I asked.

“Huh?”

“Because here you are now, practicing medicine.”

“Oh, they let me through,” he said.

Now I could enjoy the story. “Lawsy, doctor, I think this baby done come.” Lottie had been trying to help the young medical student. She was trying to hold the baby in, but she couldn’t. And it didn’t count against her. Or him. Nobody had failed, after all. It was all right.

“Lawsy, doctor, I think this baby done come,” I repeated. I giggled. It was my first non-hysterical laughter in a week, and it bubbled up, washing everything clean.

“This was a healing moment, doctor,” I told him.

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