"Wait!" he said in a hushed voice. "Close the door! Come back here. I have something to tell you."
My hand was on the doorknob of the exam room, as I stepped into the hallway and was saying good-bye to my patient.
Mr. Q. clenched his teeth and was gripping the sidebars of the exam table. He was not making a move to leave.
"Is what you have to tell me that intense?" I asked.
"Is what you have to tell me that intense?" I asked.
"It has to do with your clinic," he whispered. "I almost forgot to tell you, but it's important."
"What is it?" I asked, trying to decide whether or not to sit down. Mr. Q. often recounted stories with a lot of parentheses, and footnotes, and circumlocutions.
Patients were waiting to see me in rooms up and down the corridor, therefore I didn't want to encourage him in a lengthy saga. But I also wanted to hear what he had to say.
"I live next door to one of your old employees," he said.
"Really?" I asked. "Who is it?"
He told me the person's name. It was one of the four employees who had resigned without notice a month or so before the government's raid on my clinic last year. All four must have known--and not told me--that a federal investigation was underway. Perhaps they even knew that the clinic was about to be raided. My employees might have known about the raid, if FBI agents had petitioned them for information, and sworn them to secrecy.
"This ex-employee told me that the government paid for them to go to a court case about you."
"What court case?"
Mr. Q. didn't know, but went on. "That employee, my neighbor, went to court three times to testify about you--then was told not to come for the fourth hearing. The government paid those people to testify against you!"
"I don't know. Probably to drum up charges against you."
"Why would they want to do that?"
"You know how government officials are," said Mr. Q. "It's all about money, and getting a feather in their cap."
"Then, why didn't they want the employee to testify the fourth time?"
"I guess they said there was no need, they were dropping the case."
"Dropping what case?" I asked.
"Whatever case they're trying to make," he answered. "They told your employee there wasn't enough evidence to keep the case going, and it was costing a lot of money, and embarrassing."
"That sounds odd," I answered.
It crossed my mind that even this Mr. Q., who seemed loyal and concerned, might be an accessory to an investigation, and could be pretending to know something in order to elicit a response from me.
What response? I suppose the government would want an (inadvertent) admission of wrongdoing. But I can't comply with such an aim--not even inadvertently--because I can't think of any wrongdoing to admit.
What a house of mirrors, I said to myself.
My patient's story provided confirmation of what I knew all along, that a grand jury--or two, or three--had convened for the purpose of issuing an indictment--or two, or three. And that, so far at least, no indictment was forthcoming.
This, in itself, is a shocking non-development, as grand juries almost always issue indictments. They convene in secret and are presented with only one side of an argument--in this case, the prosecutor's side, the government's.
Moreover, in the absence of an opposing faction, one might imagine that the one sided portrayal of "facts" would be more lurid, more convincing, to a jury than if it were conditioned by witnesses for me, who would likely say, "What a load of crap you're giving these people-of-the-jury!"
Later, it occurred to me that my transaction with Mr. Q. was like the parlor game, "Secret."
In this game, one person whispers a secret into the ear of a companion, who whispers it to the next person, and the next, and so on. After a succession of transliterations, given the indistinctness of whispering and the proclivity of whisperers to embellish, the story takes on an entirely different character--seedier, more melodramatic, worthy of the National Enquirer.
The first whisperer is the FBI, in communication with my employee(s), inspiriting them with the rumor that there must be wrongdoing in a clinic whose billing they've been doing all along. "Do you really think Dr. Colasante should be stealing taxpayers' money like this?" some have been asked, as though their answer would have ramifications for the whole country, including their grandparents, and children. As though legitimate earnings for necessary services, for patients who are still alive and well because of those services, is "stealing from the government."
The second is the employee(s) as, one by one, they listen to the proceedings of a grand jury, and are manipulated by the prosecutor's rabid desire for proof--fabricated, or not--of criminal action. The persuasive power of a grand jury being convened to indict a doctor cannot be underestimated.
The third is the whispering of ex-employees among one another, caught up in a web of guilt, sadness, confusion, regret--and the need to justify their betrayal. They would have an experience of bewilderment concerning the slippery nature of belief. It's crucial, after having made an irremediable choice, for a person to validate and aggrandize that choice. In this case, my ex-employees chose the government's position--really, the government's non-position. But can it be considered a choice, when a powerful figure uses threats and bribery to overwhelm a sensitive nature? Can a person who is overtaken by fear even make a choice?
Then, one of those employees tells the story of the grand jury hearing to a neighbor, my patient, who whispers it to me behind the closed door of an exam room. The employee is aware, perhaps, of Mr. Q.'s prolix nature, and modifies the story for my earshot. Mr. Q. makes the story compelling enough to justify detaining me, in my busy office.
And I am aware, all along, of the need to update my blog, and not to do it in a deadly dry manner. So here we have it, a story seven times removed. Did a grand jury convene? Was one of my old employees asked to testify against me? Did the hearing disintegrate--travesty that it would have had to be? Was my patient telling me the truth?
What is truth? said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer. (Bacon, Essays)