Story Time Contest: Hero Edition
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31st Jul 2012 at 10:27 AM
Thanks: 16673 in 33 Posts
Still haunted by an unsuccessful and ultimately fatal operation on a young child, Dr. Eric Cowert is ready to hang up his towel forever. So far, all efforts to restore his confidence have failed, and no one has been able to make him see reason or talk him down from the ledge. Is today the day this shooting star burns out for good?
… no …
"Paging Dr. Eric Cowert, you're needed in OR—"
"There is a child patient in OR, you're needed to operate—"
Not this again. Please.
But I'm there regardless, staring down at him. He's bruised all over his abdomen, but it's especially bad on his ribs. I look at the chart in my hand, I look at the wide-eyed nurse. "This chart says he was trampled by other kids his own age. So why the hell does he look like he was run over by a truck?"
"He just came off the ambulance, there was no time for X-rays …" Her voice is weak. I look at her again, harder. "Have you seen something like this before?"
She doesn't answer.
At the first cut we can see that we're in completely over our heads. This kid's ribs are shattered. He's hemorrhaging from the bone fragments lodged in his organs.
The nurse is fainting. I force her to turn away from the body and tell her to start making some calls. We need more blood, we need more attendants, we need more everything … and there's nothing and no one except the two of us. She goes, weeping. Traumatized.
I'm operating, but what the hell can I do alone?
I'm still extracting the pieces of bone from his lungs when I hear the single, steady "beeeeeeeep."
After multiple unsuccessful attempts to restart his heart, I stand there and stare at his corpse. He never made a sound from the moment he came into this damned place. He probably wasn't even ten years old.
This much damage …
… I've seen it before …
… on people who've been trampled …
"Are you giving up, then?"
I turn toward the window, looking out at the city. "I already gave up, but HR won't accept my resignation. You happen to know anything about that?"
"Of course not, I'm not even in your department." Dr. Pradyash slides off her desk. She looks more annoyed with me than usual. "You're so frustrating, you know that? Don't you understand that they won't release you because you're
"And what the hell are those other 72 doctors on payroll doing? Playing Farmville? Twiddling their thumbs?"
"Eric …" She sighs. "Be honest with me, please. Why did you become a doctor? To fulfill some childhood dream? To feed your ego? Just to be in step with the family tradition? Were you just so amazing on your college exams that they had to shove you into the medical track?"
"Honest?" I bite out. "Fine. I'm a doctor because I'm in too much debt from medical school to choose another career now. I do it because it pays the bills. Happy?"
She smiles bitterly. "That's all you care about, hmm?"
She throws herself back into her chair and begins to massage her temples. "My MD doesn't help people, you know. All I can really do is point a patient in the direction that they should go and hope like hell that the drugs I prescribe for them will enable them to do the right thing and make the right choices. You, on the other hand, actually save lives. Your MD gives people the opportunity to see another sunrise. And all you get out of that is a
… we're done here. Go home. Or don't. Just get out, please."
it's too damn late to apologize?"
"You're damn right it is," she snaps, and turns back to her computer.
As I leave her office, I realize that it's Sunday. Normally on Sundays Jyoti and I eat together. Not this Sunday, apparently.
I'm pulling out of the parking lot when I see Mrs. Hallenbeck waiting at the entrance of the subway. I roll down the window and shout, "You're not supposed to be here today."
She ignores me.
"You already missed the train, went by 5 minutes ago."
"I can read the schedule, sir. Thank you."
"C'mon," I yell again, "it's too cold to hang out around here, even if you're into self-punishment."
If looks could kill, I'd be slumped over the steering wheel. What can I say? I'm not a nice person. But she comes anyway. Her cheap coat and thin slacks aren't cutting the wind in the least; she's shivering. I turn the heater up a little.
"Thank you," she murmurs.
"Have you eaten today?"
I take her into the grim wharf district, to a cheap little shack surrounded on two sides by oily water. She looks surprised. "Doesn't seem like your kind of place."
"Any place serving food is my kind of place."
She stares at the handwritten menu. "What's good here?"
pollo con arroz y plantains."
She gets it. I order the flat-iron steak, but they're out of it, so I settle for a bowl of shrimp soup.
We sit at a worn old table with gummy plastic seats and drink icy soda. She looks pensive, and much as I don't want to make things worse … well, I'm a mean-spirited man, I suppose. "Is eating out with me gonna piss off your brother?"
… of course I shouldn't have said that. She looks down. She's blinking too much. "He's … he's in jail. Please don't ask about it."
I'm silent, thinking. I hear what I'm saying too late to stop myself. "… so that's why you were at work on a Sunday? Bail?"
Now she makes no effort to hide her anguish. "Do you enjoy being cruel to people, sir?"
"Maybe. Doing things the other way doesn't get you far, I've found."
The waitress brings our food out, and departs quickly. Myrna takes a few bites and hiccups. "It's … it's good. Thank you."
"At this point, I think you can call me Eric."
She swallows. "I know you think that I'm enabling Aaron, and maybe I am—"
"So stop drinking on the clock and tearing your assistants to shreds," she snaps back. "Not so easy, is it?"
Mrs. Hallenbeck." I shell the last shrimp. "You know, you've lasted the longest of all of them. Maybe you enjoy punishing yourself more than you realize."
She shoves her food away. "You … you …"
"Go ahead, cuss me out." I'm really hoping she does. She doesn't seem like she gets much opportunity to vent, and I'm practically immune to screaming. It'll be good for us both.
Instead, she fumbles through her meager wallet and finds a photo. It is clearly old, and also clearly well-loved. She slides it over to me with a trembling hand. "Do you know who this is?"
I don't, though I can tell that the beaming teenager standing next to the mystery lady is Myrna. I guess anyway. "Your grandmother."
"Yes. Dorothea Hallenbeck. She fell over in her garden one day. The fall dislocated her left leg and broke her hip. Six different doctors told us that she was too old for major surgery, she'd never walk again, that we needed to put her in a convalescence home. One doctor was willing to operate on her and replace her hip. At first my mother refused because he was so young, but he was the only one who gave Grandma a chance." She wipes her eyes with the napkin I offer. "She couldn't get around much, but she was able to stay in her house and enjoy her garden until she died. That meant the world to her."
She's looking at me searchingly. "Eric …
operated on her. You gave her back her life and her garden, and you gave me my grandma for ten more years. I don't know what she would have become, cooped up in some nursing home, and I'm glad that neither she nor I had to find out. To you she was probably just another old lady, but she was everything to me. She taught me almost everything I know about sacrifice and love, and how to take care of someone who won't take care of themselves."
For once, I'm speechless.
"So when you ask why I put up with my brother the way I do … or why I haven't stopped working for you yet … patient HAL-3490 is the reason why."
She takes the photo back and throws some money on the table, and walks away into the cold again.
I don't go home. I head right back to the office and find another bottle—this one's hidden in the bookcase. Then I pour myself a glass and drink while reading over a long-forgotten file.
Dorothea Hallenbeck, seen on 06/18/20xx. Patient is a pleasant Caucasian female in her late 70s. Has multiple fractures along the obturator foramen area of her left hip and dislocated her left femur due to a fall. Patient is still in good spirits. Patient's age is of some concern, but due to her willingness to consider surgery I have recommended her for hip replacement and referred her to Dr. Eric Cowert at Bridgeport Regional for further consultation.
Words. Just words. Except for a girl's memories and an old Polaroid, they would just be words.
"Damn you, Myrna," I mutter.
And I pour the drink down the drain.
CC used: store items, custom eyes, OMSP, tipsy OMSP, skin by HP. Also used: Hospital set by Hekate999, wheelchair set by BuffSumm, Scribbling Pad by Buzzler, custom medical folder by me.
Plot points used (current round): Good is Boring, Beware the Nice Guy
Plot points used (previous rounds): Mysterious Past, Embarrassing Rescue.
Word count: 1,555.