05 February 2010


By Curtis C. Chen

Travis didn't recognize the boy running toward him or the woman chasing after the boy. That was his first hint that it was going to be trouble.

He looked up and down the corridor. Where's hospital security when you need them?

The boy skidded to a halt in front of Travis.

"Help you find something?" Travis said, forcing a smile.

The boy gaped for a long moment, then said, "Excuse me, are you—" he looked at something flat and rectangular in his hand— "Doctor Travis Imhofe?"

Travis recognized the object. He hadn't been able to tell what it was before, thanks to the reflection of white hospital walls off the plastic slipcover. Now that the boy had tilted it, Travis could clearly see the stat-block on the back of his residency year-one trading card.

"Yes," Travis sighed. "That's me."

The boy grinned from ear to ear. "Cool!"

The woman caught up to the boy and knelt down next to him, putting her hands on his shoulders.

"I'm sorry!" she said. "He got away from me downstairs. I didn't know he had brought that." She nodded at the trading card.

"It's okay," Travis said, still smiling. "Always nice to meet a fan."

"Will you sign this, please?" the boy asked, holding up the card.

"I'm sorry," Travis said, addressing the mother. "The hospital has a strict policy. No autographs except through the fan club."

He couldn't say what he was really thinking: I'm under enough pressure every time I go into surgery. I'd rather not have to also worry about living up to a child's unrealistic expectations!

He didn't look at the boy's face, but the mother's reaction wasn't much better. She stood up and stepped closer to Travis.

"Couldn't you make an exception?" she asked. "Patrick's been following your career since UCLA. He wants to be a neurosurgeon when he grows up."

Travis glanced over at the nearby nurse's station. The Club rep seated there—her name tag said DORIS—gave him a stern look.

"I'm sorry," Travis repeated. "You know, I think I'm appearing at a convention next month."

Patrick's mother nodded. "I don't know if we could afford that, but..."

Travis gritted his teeth. Come on, dude, he's just a little kid.

"Tell you what," Travis said, lowering his voice. "Leave the card with me, I'll sign it and get it back to you."

"Really?" The woman's eyes widened. "What about the fan club?"

"I'll take care of it," Travis said.

"Oh, thank you!" She explained it to Patrick, who nodded and held up his arm again. "What do you say, Patrick?"

"Thank you!" said the boy.

"No problem," Travis said, slipping the card into a pocket. "I'll just need your mailing address, Mrs.—?"

"Actually," the woman said, "it's Miss. Robinson."

Travis smiled so hard he thought his face might crack. "Your address?"

She recited it for him, then said, "Would you like my phone number, too?"

Travis turned toward the nurse's station. "Doris? Could you call security to escort these nice folks out of the building?"


Photo: Electrocardiogram (EKG) exhibit at Science Museum of Minnesota, July, 2008.