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Story Time Contest: Hero Edition
is going to be a cat when she grows up.
19th Jul 2012 at 5:28 AM
Thanks: 36244 in 84 Posts
Eric Cowert is a brilliant doctor, but after he loses a young patient in surgery, his talent can't overcome his fear. His colleagues still believe in him, but he doesn't believe in himself, and his comeback trail is rapidly growing dark.
Nothing has changed.
I still come into the hospital whenever I'm called—and they literally call whenever. I still work back-to-back shifts. I still drink my breakfast from a cheap convenience store cup and my dinner from a rocks glass.
My assistant hasn't quit yet.
"Dr. Cowert? … did you sleep in here, sir? Those are the clothes you wore yesterday. Have you been here all night?"
"… yup. What time is it?"
My eyes are dried out, and my head is swimming from dehydration, hangover, very little sleep, or some combination of the three. All the same, when she sets my tea down, I see the set of bruises on her wrist.
She yanks her sweater sleeve over them and glares at me.
"… what the hell was that, Mrs. Hallenbeck?"
She's savvy enough not to make an excuse about running into the door frame or the couch. Besides, I'm a doctor. She knows better than to give me a line like that. "You already know what it is, and it's not open for discussion."
"As long as it didn't happen here, you mean."
I do wonder how someone with such a strong backbone got herself into a situation like that. But she's right. It's not my business.
I still see Dr. Jyoti Pradyash, and she still tries to get me to open up a bit more about the Klarris County Fair incident. But there's honestly nothing to left say anymore. She's heard the story too many times, I can't add anything else in. So lately when I come to see her, she tries a new tactic. "Put your scrubs on," she insists.
"Go to hell."
"Let me clarify something for you that you appear to be failing to understand, Eric. This isn't a charity, it's a hospital. When you're repeatedly sent to therapy, it's because you have a problem. The job of the therapist is to help you to make some improvement, and I can't do my job if you just lay about wallowing in misery. And you can't do
job if you don't start at least
to envision yourself as a surgeon." She holds the set of scrubs out to me. "Put them on.
Her voice is so much like an impatient, harried mother's, that at first I respond like a sulky teenager, stomping away and doing what she says. Then my temper and my ego flare, I throw the top across the room, and we're arguing—she, occasionally falling into rapid-fire Hindi, and I, naked from the waist up. It's a stupid, childish argument and we both know it, but it doesn't stop us from raising our voices. We have enough self-control not to shove each other—thank god for the little things.
Afterwards she's tearful and I'm ashamed.
"I'll be right back," I mutter, and finally put the top on.
I can hear the muttering behind me as I walk through the corridors of the hospital in full scrubs. More than one voice asks
Is he back? Is he really operating again?
Not hardly, folks. I'm no hero, scrubs or no scrubs.
I reach my office without having to actually speak to anyone and find just what I was looking for in my desk: a half-full bottle and two glasses. Always be prepared.
I'm on my way back over to the psychiatry department when I hear another argument, and another familiar voice, begging. The piteous pleas are met with shouting, accusations.
Truthfully, I know this scene all too well. It happens a lot. A jealous lover shows up in the lobby and makes a big scene. Since work policy forbids us to get involved, we call security and watch to make sure none of the expensive equipment gets broken. Afterwards we either gossip about it, or have a laugh if the event was especially ridiculous.
But now everything is different. For starters, I'm the only one around. The receptionist is away from the area, and security's nowhere to be seen. For another thing, this isn't some random employee, it's my assistant. And I'm not going to watch some guy snap her wrist in two right in front of me, policy be damned.
I separate them and shove him backwards. "Time for you to go, isn't it?"
"The hell's your problem, buddy?" he slurs, though there's no smell of alcohol on him. Speech impediment, maybe? "I'm 'llowed t' talk t' her!"
"I didn't hear much talking going on. And since when do you talk by grabbing someone's wrist?"
"Who th' hell 're you?"
"Her boss," I snap, but he remains unimpressed, which suits me just fine. I need someone to scream at.
Mrs. Hallenbeck has paged security in the meanwhile, so a perfectly good argument is sadly cut short by the arrival of the guards. They're big men. Mr. Hallenbeck leaves the area under protest. But he does leave.
She won't look at me when I order her into the first aid room. Same bruises, different wrist. She has a matching set on her face. She leans on the counter and stares deep into the wall, all prickles and barbs. "I already know what you're thinking, doctor."
"Bet you don't."
"I'm sure you believe he's a devil in disguise—"
"What disguise?" I ask, flatly. She smiles, but it evaporates in seconds.
"That man isn't my husband. He's my brother, Aaron."
She stops speaking to swallow the pills I offer. After a hard gulp, she goes on. "This is … embarrassing for me, you see. Up until three months ago, he was waited on hand and foot by my mother. Now that she's remarried and her new husband doesn't want a virtual invalid in his house, it's fallen to me to take care of someone who can't handle being alone after a certain time of day. Aaron doesn't handle deviations from the routine all that well, he wants things done at the same time, in the same way, every day of the week. He needs that kind of structure, or he goes berserk. When you saw him just now, he was upset and afraid because he had been alone for too long. Normally I'm home by now, but tonight I had to stay. The legal department needed help finding files for the FDA study, I was roped into assisting, time got away from me, you saw the rest."
"I see why you make such a good assistant," I say as I touch cotton gauze to her swollen lips. "I suppose you have to be, when you're literally a clock-watcher for a spoiled brat."
She goes scarlet with anger, and her eyes turn away again. "That was a bit uncalled for, doctor."
"Uncalled for? Having your brother show up at your job to attack you instead of getting his own corn dogs for dinner isn't uncalled for? Just so you know, I've seen your files, Mrs. Hallenbeck. You've lost jobs because of this situation. Good jobs, too."
"It wasn't my business before, but having this sort of thing happen in the middle of my hospital makes it my business. And it wouldn't have come up at all, except that it appears to be a pattern. And it's going to follow you from job to job unless you deal with it."
She stands up straight with no further ado. "If it's alright with you, Dr. Cowert, I'd like to get my things and go home, please."
"Of course you do. You're your mother's daughter, aren't you?"
And that's when she slapped me.
"Eric? … where have you been? What time is it?"
"It's 9:20, and I was taking care of a situation."
I set down the bottle and glasses. Dr. Pradyash blinks a few times and sits up slowly. "Did you take care of it?"
"My god, you're hopeless."
She comes over to where I am and takes a glass of whisky. She winces as it touches her lips. "Disgusting. Why do you drink this?"
"If it tasted better, I'd drink it more often. You don't want me to do that."
"… I suppose that's true."
Her caress is absent-minded. Once I move her hand, she starts a little and goes red. "I'm not in the mood. Not now, anyway. Your office is right down the hall, what took you so long?"
"Myrna? … what was she still doing here? All clerical staff is off the clock by 5:30 at latest."
"You ever met her brother?"
"Once or twice, he's a fairly intense young man."
"If by intense you mean 'psychotic,' I'd agree with you."
She stares at me over the rim of her glass. "He has a great deal of separation anxiety, coupled with obsession-compulsion tendencies. Basically, if things aren't exactly the same all of the time, he becomes very fearful and lashes out. Why are you …"
Comprehension sets in, and she slumps. "Oh, Eric. Tell me you didn't pick on that girl about her brother."
"Next time I see her she's going to have a fractured wrist. Sorry for giving enough of a damn to try to keep that from happening."
"You're just a charging bull, aren't you? He's practically been abandoned by their mother, Myrna feels responsible for him. You're not going to be able to dissuade her from doing something she sees as a personal duty by loading her with contempt. I assure you she feels guilty enough without you piling on."
"Thank you, Dear Abby."
She sets the glass down. "You are a truly horrible human being, you know that?"
"Only when I'm conscious."
This time when I take her hand, she doesn't pull away. The zipper on the back of her dress opens easily, and her soft curves fit nicely against me. She, and the whisky, distract me for some time.
When I leave her office much later that night, I try to avoid my reflection in the mirrors.
Nothing has changed.
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