by Ruth Draves
A slightly fictionalized version of the story behind a family heirloom
|Dr. Simon looked at the intake notes before parting the privacy curtain. Mrs. Marshall, possible fracture to the left hand, with minor lacerations. The admitting nurse noted that a ring cutter was probably needed. He also saw that she had mentioned that the patient's husband had driven his wife in but was “more comfortable” sitting out in the waiting room.
A slight chuckle rose in the doctor's throat. He had treated the Marshalls' younger daughter, Ruth, several times at the urgent care clinic for everything from strep throat to a dislocated shoulder, but he had never worked on her mother. The injury had to be fairly serious for Mrs. Marshall, a Registered Nurse, to think it was beyond her own treatment. That Mr. Marshall was sitting things out meant that the minor lacerations were probably a bit bloody – the former Deputy Coroner was infamous for being squeamish when dealing with the injuries of the still-breathing.
Sure enough, Mrs. Marshall was sitting on the examination table, her left hand resting on a tray raised to above her shoulder height, with an ice pack draped over her mangled extremity.
“Dr. Simon, how good to see you,” Mrs. Marshall said cordially.
“Elaine, how are you?” Dr. Simon responded.
“Well, obviously I could be better,” the patient responded.
The two reviewed Mrs. Marshall's vitals together. For a woman in her mid-fifties, she was in good health. Yes, her blood pressure was a bit high, but that was an unusual occurrence, possibly caused by the trauma. He would check it again at the end of this visit. There was no fever, and she took no medications, save for a calcium supplement since her mother's osteoporosis diagnosis a few years previously.
When the doctor asked how the injury had happened, the woman sighed. “You know how we've had these winds with that big storm coming in,” she explained. “I was going through the back door when a really strong gust hit. The door slammed shut right on my hand.”
With that, Dr. Simon moved to the hand resting on the tray. Gently, he lifted the ice pack. The phalanges of the left hand were swollen to resemble those hot dogs that were famous for “plumping up” as they cooked. At least two of the fingers were bent at angles suggesting fractures, but the swelling was bad enough that only x-rays would tell the whole story. The knuckles were scraped and a few had bled, but the lacerations did not appear deep enough to require stitches. He noted that the tip the fourth finger appeared cyanotic, possibly caused by her wedding band and engagement ring restricting the flow of blood as the finger swelled.
“I'm afraid we're going to have to cut those rings off before I send you to x-ray,” he said, reaching for the drawer that contained the ring cutters.
“Listen, Doctor, I know this may sound strange," Mrs. Marshall said, “but could you try to save the engagement ring?”
“What about the wedding band?” he asked.
“I don't care about it as much,” she said. When the doctor gave her a dubious look, she continued: “The engagement ring belonged to my husband's grandmother. It's almost a century old. And it's supposed to go to Ruthie someday. Destroying it would be so hard on both her and my husband.”
Dr. Simon looked down at the swollen hand and sighed. He rolled the examination lamp over and turned it on.
The brilliance of the light flashing off the diamond almost blinded him. He blinked a few times, then carefully took another look. The ring looked ancient. The gold of the band was polished to a soft matte finish by years of wear. The mounting was built up to encase the stone. He couldn't see the ring's details very well with all the edema and trauma to the finger tissue, but he could make out what appeared to be delicate filigree creating a branching effect on the sides of the mounting. Carefully, her turned Mrs. Marshall's hand over to inspect the palm side. The ring had borne some of the brunt of the blow. The band was twisted and flattened, but it was not digging into the flesh as the wedding band was.
“The ring seemed to take some of the force of the door,” he reported. “I'm seeing damage to the ring itself. Cutting it may be the least of your worries in terms of its state. Of course, I'm more worried about your finger. The tip is already turning blue.”
“If you can get it off without cutting it, do it,” the patient ordered. “The ice has numbed me. Go for it.”
A few minutes later, with a nurse holding Mrs. Marshall's arm steady, Dr. Simon took a deep breath and begin massaging the finger with liquid soap. Mrs. Marshall remained quiet and still, as if refusing to acknowledge the existence of pain. As he gingerly smoothed the soap on her skin, Dr. Simon could feel the telltale swelling and bending of her phalange – the finger was broken.
“Did I tell you about the ring?” Mrs. Marshall blurted out in a voice slightly higher in pitch than her normal speaking voice.
“I can stop and do a block to stop the pain,” Dr. Simon said.
“A block will take time we don't have,” the determined woman countered. “Besides, you have the cyanosis to worry about. ”
“Then tell me about the ring,” the doctor conceded. Sometimes, it was best to let the patient have their way.
“Rob's grandmother was married twice. Her first husband, Rob's grandfather, was from the Azores. We're not sure if he bought the ring here or if it had been an heirloom from the old country.”
“Elaine, the finger is as lubricated as it will ever be,” Dr. Simon said. “With your permission, I'm going to try to twist it off. If the pain gets to be too much --”
“You won't know it,” Mrs. Marshall interrupted. “You don't worry about that. You get that ring off.”
“It must be very special, Mrs. Marshall,” the nurse cut in smoothly.
“Oh, yes it is,” Mrs. Marshall said, turning to the nurse. “When Rob's grandmother remarried, it was at the beginning of the Depression. Gammy – that's what Rob called her – was working at a cannery. That's where she met Bill, her second husband. The cannery wanted to do a big promotion to showcase their wares. So they told Gammy and Bill that they would pay for their wedding if they agreed to get married on stage at a county fair.”
Dr. Simon twisted the ring, causing Mrs. Marshall to suck in a quick breath. True to her word, she did not move.
Again, the nurse smoothly cut in: “What happened then?”
Mrs. Marshall took a ragged breath and continued in a slightly shaky voice, “Well, those two decided to do it. They couldn't have a church wedding, as Gammy had been excommunicated when she divorced the first husband. Bill wasn't a big churchgoer, anyway, and to get a free wedding! That saved them a lot of money.”
The ring started to slide every so slightly down the finger. Dr. Simon checked the status of the knuckle again, to make sure it was not fractured. The joint felt stable, so he continued.
“You doing okay, Elaine?” he asked.
“Fine,” she snapped. “Where was I?”
“The wedding,” prompted the nurse.
“Oh, yes, the wedding,” Mrs. Marshall said through gritted teeth. “The cannery bought the dress, the flowers, even paid for the minister. Of course, they provided the food, mostly of it being their own products, and, of course, prominently labeled as such. People came from all over to see a wedding at the fair. Can you imagine being so desperate for a distraction to pay a hard-earned nickel to see a stranger's wedding?”
“Almost there,” Dr. Simon said, trying to ease the ring over the knuckle.
“That's nice,” muttered his patient.
“So, what's the wedding got to do with the ring?” the nurse asked.
“The company gave the couple new wedding rings. Nice ones, but Gammy never liked hers. When she was on the job, Gammy had to wear it to show her loyalty and appreciation. When she left that job because Bill bought the garage in San Jose, they sold those rings. Bill never wore a ring after that, and Gammy went back to wearing her old engagement ring.”
“Really?” the doctor looked up from his work. “Didn't her new husband resent that?”
“You didn't know my husband's grandmother,” Mrs. Marshall stated. “She always got her way. If she thought that ring looked better than anything they could afford, she was going to wear it. She just told everyone they met that Bill had bought it for her.”
“Sounds like a strong-willed lady,” Dr. Simon said.
“If you twist the band a little over the right side of my knuckle, it should slip off,” his patient said.
Dr. Simon withheld the exasperated groan that was building in his throat and looked at the knuckle again. Sure enough, it did appear less swollen on the one side. As gently as he could, he twisted the less-bent side of the ring over it, and the ring slid over the knuckle. The ring slithered over the rest of her finger with an almost obscene ease.
“That's done,” he announced. “Are you sure you want me to cut off the wedding band?”
“Yes,” she said. “It was a bit tight to begin with. Besides, we have an anniversary coming up. Maybe Rob will get me a new one. May I see the ring?”
Dr. Simon looked at the twisted piece of metal in his hand. The ring had been damaged more than it had appeared while still on Mrs. Marshall's finger. The filigree had snapped in several places, and the band was no longer round. The diamond sparkled in the midst of the damage..
“How does the finger look now?” the patient asked hesitantly.
“There's bruising where the ring was,” Dr. Simon said. “The finger is fractured, as are at least two others. After I get the wedding band cut, you're going to x-ray. I may go ahead and call an orthopedic surgeon while you're in there.”
As the doctor reached for the ring cutter, the nurse turned to Mrs. Marshall again.
“So, how did you come by the ring?” she asked.
“When Rob took me to meet his grandmother for the first time, we weren't engaged yet. I admired the ring. The next time Rob saw his grandmother without me, she apparently took it off, handed to him and told him to give it to me. Rob tried to protest, but no one argued with Gammy. I was so shocked when he put it on my finger six months later.”
Mrs. Marshall looked at the ring resting in the palm of her good hand. “If I can get this fixed, it will go to Ruth. It was always going to go to her when the time was right. We named her after Gammy, you know.”
Five minutes later, the doctor turned to the nurse as Mrs. Marshall was wheeled down the hall. “Thank you for your help,” he said.
“No problem, Doctor,” she said.
“I'm sorry, but you're new, and I'm terrible with names,” Dr. Simon confessed.
“Oh, it should be easy after this to remember,” the nurse said, twisting slightly to show him her nametag.
It read, “Ruth.”
“I'll try not to call you Gammy,” the doctor chuckled.
Word Count: 1963