The Days of Jihad
Dr. Joseph Caldwell stood by the front window of the clinic wishing he
were somewhere else, any place in the world that was not a battleground
where religious conviction jousted with personal choice in a perpetual
war of the uterus. It wouldn’t be so difficult for him to watch if it
didn’t so profoundly interfere with his ability to give a safe sojourn
to women seeking refuge from the emotional turmoil that their physical
condition brought them when faced with making such a choice. It mattered
not if their condition was brought on by carelessness or the violent
rejection of their right of refusal, most of them came to him in a state
of emotional distress. It was his heartfelt desire to send them on their
way as healthy and relieved of stress as he could.
Fridays and Saturdays were always a nightmare for him but he’d made a
promise to himself one night long ago, and he was a man who kept his
promises, even those he made to himself. He was bound and determined
that he would provide a safe place for the women who came to his clinic
seeking to terminate an unwanted or unhealthy pregnancy. Even though he
hated spending two days a week of his precious time on Earth as the
target of vicious animosity, there was no way he could abandon the needs
of the women he served. It would violate his oath to himself and his
memory of the first woman he’d ever loved.
That long ago night when he’d first promised himself that he’d find
a way to serve the needs of women in the crisis of an unwanted pregnancy
was one of those pivotal moments in time that had rippled out into his
life, defining who he was and what he became. It was the driving force
of his continuing presence in a part of the medical profession that was
shunned by many and avoided by most.
Back in December of 1972…that was when his fate was set…that was
when he took the oath that charted the course of his life…back in
He was working late in the emergency room, almost sleepwalking as he
headed toward the end of a thirty-six hour shift, something every intern
was expected to do as a part of the medical profession’s version of
hazing. His only rest had been on a cot in an examination room, where he
never really got a wink of peaceful sleep, just half-wakeful catnaps in
the short intervals between the medical emergencies that presented
themselves regularly at all hours of the day and night. He was so ready
to leave behind the chaos of the ER for the comfort of his bed at home.
He was standing behind the front desk, flirting with a pretty new
student nurse who was manning the desk, trying her best to look
professional as she smiled up at him. He was thinking about asking her
to get some dinner with him the next night. He hadn’t had a date in
well over three months, and he was feeling a little lonely.
The woman he really wanted to see had disappeared from his life. He’d
been hopeful the first few weeks after he’d last seen her, but he was
beginning to believe she’d never be back, and all he really wanted was
a little friendly tete a’ tete with a pretty girl. The soon to be
nurse fit the bill to a Tee.
“So how about dinner tomorrow night?”
She’d blushed just a little which pleased him greatly. Then she smiled
and said, “I’d like that very much.”
He heard the ambulance pull up outside, siren still wailing, lights
flashing, technicians racing to bring in a patient. The sounds and
sights were familiar, but always presaged the most difficult of
challenges, especially to a resident with one foot halfway out the door.
He sighed and said, “I’d better catch this one before I leave.” He
walked toward the door as the gurney was being pushed through by
technicians whose sense of urgency was palpable. He tried hard to hide
the bone deep tiredness he felt, his face a study of neutral concern, as
he approached the patient.
Then he saw who lay on the gurney, and adrenaline shot through his body
like a drug rush, washing away the dregs of his long shift like a tidal
wave. All thoughts of dinner with the pretty girl disappeared, vanished
into nothingness. It was her. It was the only girl he wanted to go
anywhere with for the rest of his life, the woman he wanted to marry.
When he’d met her just three months before, he’d decided that she
had to be the most beautiful girl in the world, certainly the most
beautiful woman he’d ever seen. Now, in the harsh light of the ER
waiting room, she looked like a warmed over corpse clinging to life by a
thread. His heart swelled with love at the sight of her. Then the knife
of pain stabbed his chest, making it hard catch his breath. Fear like
none he’d ever known before, even in the jungles of Vietnam in the
middle of a fire fight, rose like a ghostly presence that froze him in
Three months before, she’d been the perfect elixir for the pain that
overwhelmed him after losing his first patient to a staph infection that
he’d just plain missed. He knew it happened to everybody, and everyone
in his class had tried to cheer him up, but nothing could assuage the
guilt. And then loneliness had overcome him when he’d realized that he
didn’t have anybody, that there was no one with whom he could share
his grief, nobody to hold his hand and make it right, or as right as it
could be. He’d headed for the closest bar to lose himself in a river
of whiskey, to surround his savaged psyche with the inane chatter of a
place where people went to find somebody to love for the night or at
least an hour. He needed a woman to cure his self-imposed depression.
Nothing else would do.
Excerpted from "Choices: Volume II of the Lincoln County Law Trilogy" by Jerri Blair. Copyright © 2016 by Jerri Blair. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.