In 1986, my mother-in-law was seriously injured in an automobile accident.

She and my father-in-law were driving up the Eau Galle Causeway just outside Melbourne, Florida. Their car was struck head-on by another automobile that had separated from the pickup truck and rental trailer towing it in the opposite direction. Mom suffered a serious neck injury resulting in a week's stay in a Melbourne hospital. We later learned that the bone damage in her neck was so serious that too much motion prior to stabilization potentially could have been fatal.

During her hospital stay, she was fitted with a halo brace to stabilize her damaged vertibrae. The doctors requested that she not travel by air or any extended automobile trips for at least four months. My wife and I lived near Jacksonville, a short trip by car, and we all decided that she would convalase with us while my father-in-law returned home to Long Island.

My wife Kelly was a few months pregnant, and we had been living in our new house for about four months when Mom came to stay. I was on active duty with the Navy and worked nights. My wife is a teacher and was away all day. Despite her inability to be very active, Mom seemed to manage pretty well, and although she always worried about being a bother, we didn't mind her extended visit at all, as our priority was for her to get better.

About two months into her stay, I arrived home from work one evening to find the two women also just arriving home. As I approached the front door, my wife exclaimed "Thank goodness you're home. You wouldn't believe what we've been through since you left for work." She then related what had happened to her mother that day.

Shortly after I left, Mom went into the bathroom. When she closed the door, she heard the sound of something metallic fall to the floor. She managed to negotiate herself around and found a small metal object on the floor. Already prone to unnecessary panic, she began to worry that the object had fallen from the halo brace. She proceded to sit down on the sofa to wait for my wife to arrive home. She was literally afraid to move for fear the halo brace would come apart.

My wife arrived home a few hours later, and her mother related the incident to her. Kelly spent the next hour carefully examining the halo brace, looking over every inch of the device in an attempt to determine from where the metal object came. When she failed to find anything wrong, her mother went into a somewhat higher level of panic. They decided to visit the local hospital for assistance.

They waited in the hospital emergency room for a few hours, since Mom's allegedly faulty halo brace had a much lower priority than the routine stabbings, whiplash and skateboard accidents. Finally, she was examined by a doctor and nurse, who brought in specialists from other departments to assist. Failing to find the location for the mystery object, they carefully examined the condition of the halo brace, assured her that all was well and sent the two women home.

The story concluded, my wife reached into her purse and removed the object to show me. "Do you have any idea what this thing is?" she asked. When I saw what it was, my immediate reaction was to burst into an uncontrollable laughing fit. The two of them stared in disbelief, then demanded to know what was so funny.

The object was a small metal rod, about one-eighth inch in diameter and about four inches long. One end was curved into a oval loop. The opposite end was tapered flat like the blade of a small straight-slot screwdriver.

We all entered the house, and I directed them to come to the bathroom where Mom discovered the object. I inserted the flat end of the object into a small hole on the outer doorknob of the bathroom. I demonstrated that the device was a key used to lock and unlock the door from the outside. I then took them into the bathroom and showed them where the key had been stored: on the small ledge created by the trim above the bathroom door. The key fell to the floor when she closed the bathroom door. The contractor who installed the bedroom and bathroom doors in the house had placed a key on each similar ledge for each door they installed.

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