Bed Warmers

Damon Runyon

When I was in a hospital for a sort of check-up, I was reminded of a medical friend of mine in Hollywood who has the biggest check-up business in all Southern California.

The hospitals out there, as everywhere else, are always pressed for space for patients, especially private rooms. My friend’s clientele is strictly the private room type and he had to devise some method of holding at least one or two private rooms in reserve at all times lest some of his patients die of mortification over having to lie ill in wards.

He keeps a list of movie producers, directors, executives and even a few actors and when one of his private room patients who has been really sick is ready for discharge, he calls up some fellow on the list and says:

“Henry, I have been thinking of you lately and I wish you would pop into Gates Ajar hospital tomorrow morning for a check-up. I have a room there for you.”

Naturally Henry hustles for the hospital so fast you can scarcely see him for heel dust because the chances are he is a hypochondriac to begin with and in any event the check-up is always de rigeur in Hollywood. It gives a man something to talk about when he goes out socially.

Henry takes with him an assortment of silk robes and silk pajamas and slippers and other gear, just in case any of the nurses are attractive enough to warrant a display of this nature, and he crawls into the hospital hay still warm from the body heat of the last patient.

He does not know it but he is there just as a holder. He does not know my friend is using him to keep the room against the coming of a patient of greater illness or importance—and especially importance—than Henry. My friend drops around about noon and takes his blood pressure and is assuming a serious expression before telling Henry that it looks bad when the phone rings.

“Doctor,” the office downstairs advises him, “Mrs. Farfel has just arrived.”

“Henry,” my friend says, as he hangs up, “you are 100 per cent okay just as I thought. You can get out of that bed right now and go home, and consider yourself checked up to who-laid-the-rail.”

“But, Doctor,” Henry says, “don’t you think—”

“Henry,” my friend says, “please get up. I will help you put on your clothes. I need the room for Mrs. Farfel.”

“You mean the wife of—” Henry begins.

“Yes,” says my friend. “Ah, here she is now! Henry, you will have to dress out in the hall.”

Of course, I do not believe the story that my friend had three of these holders dressing out in the hall at the same time, but there is no doubt that his check-up turn-over is very rapid and very large. I fear, however, that he has lost a very good check-up customer in the person of another friend of mine, a top producer, who entered the Gates Ajar for a check-up, thinking he was going to get a good rest from his missus and was dispossessed by my medical friend in forty-eight hours.

What made the producer particularly sore was his discovery that the patient who succeeded him was that same missus who went in for treatment for a nervous breakdown. I am inclined to the opinion that my medical friend should have employed a stranger as holder, at that.

The hospital life is not for Runyon. It operates on the theory that the day begins at about 8 o’clock in the a.m., at which hour the nurse comes barging in with bright hellos that have a slightly synthetic ring to one who knows that she must have got up at 6 o’clock to get to the hospital from her home so early unless she lives around the corner. Even then no one can be that cheerful at 8 a.m., especially on a dark day.

The hospital regime is too upsetting to my routine. I think it was originally devised for farmers. What proof can they offer that it does a man any good to be awakened at 8 a.m., and put to sleep at 9 p.m., when all his life he has slept until noon and gone to bed at 4 a.m.? Let us be fair about this.

After a couple of weeks of hospital order I find myself dozing at gin rummy games like Jules Saranoff, the champion gin player of the Friars club, a famous man with his violin in the old days of vaudeville. When “Sary” plays gin, everyone bets on him up to the moment he heaves the ten of spades when he should have chucked the nine of clubs, which is apt to happen any minute after he has played eight or ten hours because he no longer possesses the stamina of former years.

One night I was nodding on “Sary’s” left and did not see exactly what came off but it seems his opponent ginned and won the game on a bad play by “Sary” and I was awakened by his backers clamoring to be declared off the next game on the ground that he was asleep. I remarked that his eyes were open so he must be awake.

“The one on your side is,” said a backer, “but the one on the other side is closed. He is sleeping one-eyed.”