Emily Discovers New Therapies. A Short Story


Emily looked at the blue cross with dismay; how could it be?  Pregnant for the first time at her age! She had been having irregular periods for  some years and at age 46 had long since given up hope of having a family. Sex had never been appealing, but she’d had a brief fling at a national meeting of the Physician Assistant Society 11 weeks before with a married colleague. Emily was sure that he didn’t have anything contagious so did not use protection. She had confessed the transgression before taking communion that weekend. Missing her period hadn’t bother her but morning nausea, weakness, tiredness of   some months’ duration and vomiting that morning led her to buy the pregnancy test kit.

“Felix, what should I do?” she said using Tagalog, the language she used when stressed, to the overweight cat, her only companion. Felix stirred and glided from the bathroom to the living room where Emily followed him. “The people at the hospital don’t care about my morals but they won’t help me raise a child. I’ll be alone with a bastard. I can’t afford to live here and send two thousand dollars home to Mom and Dad every month. I could talk to my friends but the word would get back home. They’ll be ashamed of me, and my family in Manila will be mocked. What am I going to do? 

Fr. Tim will tell me that I’m blessed, even if I sinned. He will offer help, but the Holy Family parish is poor. I know of no Catholic girl who has been helped. They probably have secret abortions”

Despite religious qualms, abortion occupied Emily’s thoughts for the rest of the evening.

Next morning while going to work she drove out of her way then past the local Planned Parenthood clinic. Already at 8 o’clock there were several demonstrators walking in front of the building. One, whom she recognized as a parishioner at Holy Family carried a sign reading “Abortion is Murder.”  She tried to think of some way of contacting the clinic staff without running that gauntlet, but none made sense. She would try to talk to her friend and personal physician, Dr. Drummond who did OB. It would be awkward.

Dr. Drummond wasn’t in the lunch room as he usually was. Later in the day, she heard that he was on vacation for 2 weeks. His cross covering physician was a grim Calvinist, not likely to be helpful. The big OB group with all the friendlier and successful doctors was Catholic and would only steer her toward a clinic staffed by Right to Life. The other obstetricians in town were not approachable for a host of reasons.

For the next three days Emily continued to feel hungry, nauseated and in turn, tired and short of breath.  A deer in the headlights paralysis set in because of the shock of the unexpected pregnancy, and of her moral concerns about having an abortion. The Church and salvation had been central to her life previously. The picture of herself in a delivery suite in 6 months, and having to arrange for child care thereafter was too foreign to hold her attention for long. Explaining to the father of the child would be agonizing, and it would ruin his marriage. She tried prayer, but panic with her immediate plight kept on intruding.

Emily went to the library to read up but too many things swirled through her mind to think coherently. That the pregnancy might end in spontaneous abortion or miscarriage, not unheard of in old mothers, was an irrational hope. Old mothers also had a two percent chance of delivering a Mongoloid, and often had complicated pregnancies with months spent in bed.

Few abortions nowadays were done using the “D and C”s that she had seen in training in PA school for indications other than for abortion; newer techniques involved some sort of suction device.  Time spent on the internet revealed several abortion clinics in a larger city several hundred miles away, but it wasn’t clear which were actual abortion clinics and which were fronts for Right to Life.

She was on call that weekend and constantly interrupted with phone calls.  Emily cleaned her apartment and did the shopping.  Early Sunday morning she usually called her parents and brother in Manila. She usually looked forward to these calls but dreaded this one . Mom and Dad were in their late 70s and Dad was losing his memory. Her brother had had a testicular cancer in his 20s and the chemo had rendered his marriage infertile. He worked in sales but drank and didn’t make much money.  Her family met on Sunday evening at supper waiting for her call. As she dialed the phone, it occurred to her that the child in her uterus might be the family’s only legacy. Emily, along with the millions of excess Filipinos who left to work abroad and send money home, were not expected to breed but there had been some faint hopes in the past. Her mother had stopped hectoring her over marrying as years eroded the odds.

Emily and Mom told each other the usual bland lies. Dad seemed to remember what had happened that week, and her brother was sober.  It occurred to her while she talked on the phone that her child could be raised more cheaply by the brother and his wife in Manila, but Philippine society was a rigid one that would treat a child with its European appearance and bastardy harshly. She said nothing. Later that morning, she took communion at Mass.

Conversations with Felix, picturing alternate scenarios, and worries produced vertigo, a paralysis of action and now she was approaching 12 weeks, a time when abortions would become more difficult. What to do?

On Monday morning, she stopped into the hospital cantina for a cup of coffee and found herself alone with Alice the garrulous social worker. Alice dealt in human depravity.

“Hi Ya, Doc, sit down!” Alice boomed in her whiskey voice. “Any good scandal in these parts? Divorces, extramarital affairs? Anything you want to confess to? Confession is good for the soul, y’know. Dirt’s worth money, sell it in Hollywood.”

“No” Emily answered, cheered momentarily by the Alice’s sheer irreverence. “Anything happening in the money grubbing world of social work?”

“Just spent 2 hours in Emergency seeing a 15 year old girl who had been raped by her brother. Usual cops and VD stuff, but got her the first morning after pill ever given here at the hospital after the board made the policy change last week. Took guts.”

Emily asked “What would have happened 2 weeks ago and she got pregnant?”

Alice said, “Probably carry it through, although I think that some of the OBs would have sent her for an abortion if that’s what the family wanted. Varies with the doctor and family.”

Emily, containing her pleasure at the unexpected opening on a topic that had consumed her thinking for days asked, “Who around here would do the abortion?”

Alice answered “There is the Planned Parenthood clinic on Fulton Street, but it’s picketed and the Catholic OB group won’t refer. Some of the others would refer. Come to think on it, I think that some OBs can prescribe the abortion pill, RU 486, or whatever it’s called in their offices.”

Emily felt a jolt of revelation; she had never considered any abortion except the kind that was proscribed in her Philippine school 25 years before. Her detailed knowledge of anatomy had blinded her to medical abortions; why hadn’t she thought of it? She asked “Which of the Docs prescribes RU 486? I can’t imagine which ones would, or would not” she added to obscure the rising excitement she felt.

“I dunno” said Alice. “None of them would want it known. They don’t have to have Right to Life badgering them. What I don’t understand is why an abortion clinic still exists since nearly all abortions can arranged in the doctor’s office without anyone being the wiser, no fuss or muss. I even think that some abortions can be done without RU 486. Seems that I read something that other drugs were used down in Mexico where RU 486 isn’t legal. Right to Life and Planned Parenthood don’t want talk about getting abortion meds on the internet. I’d guess that if word got out it would ruin their photo-ops, and their supporters would stop sending money. Politicians and newspapers love the controversy, good for business. Hey, I don’t need to know about that stuff. My Sam still enjoys an occasional rub of the old relic, but this relic ran outta eggs ten years ago”

Alice kicked back her coffee as though it were a beer. “See ya around Doc.”

Quavering with excitement, Emily went to the medical library. It was empty. She went onto the internet on one of the general computers. A visit to Wikipedia revealed several regiments used for abortion. RU 486 was used with Cytotec, a drug she had used for many years for treatment of ulcers. The RU486 was advertised, but other sites claimed that only fakes were available. What caught Emily’s eye was that a combination of Cytotec with methotrexate, a drug she had seen used for rheumatoid arthritis.

She found a “Canadian pharmacy” that made the two drugs available, and used her credit card to have Cytotec and methotrexate overnighted. Shipment cost more than the two medications combined. The package was there the next afternoon when she came home from work. The two bottles were brown but of two different sizes. They each had the same sized label, making the smaller one look white and the larger relatively browner as they stood on her kitchen counter. She felt nauseated and tired that evening and refrained from taking the medications that evening.

Emily awakened somewhat late next morning and in the rush to go to work forgot about taking the two drugs until she saw the two on the kitchen counter, next to each other, the big brown one standing next to the small light colored one. She hesitated only for a moment before hurrying out to her car.

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