Behind The Mask

AUTHOR: Cathy Roberts
SPOILERS: Contains spoilers for Season Six
ARCHIVE: This story may not be used, distributed or archived without the permission of the author.
DISCLAIMER: "ER" and all its characters belong to Warner Bros. No infringement of their copyright is intended. This story was written for the enjoyment of "ER" fans everywhere, and may be downloaded for your own pleasure.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: This story has not been edited, so if there are any mistakes, blame me and not Melissa. As for the medical stuff, the surgery is something I made up. I have no idea if it can even be done, but I'm tired of having Carter be in pain.
SUMMARY: A multi-character story dealing with what happens after Romano discovers that Carter has been sent to Atlanta.

Robert Romano sat in the reception area, his fingers impatiently tapping out a tattoo on his crossed knee. He was still angry, but he knew that would pass. He had to make it pass, at least for now. Being angry here wouldn't do any good. He watched as the receptionist answered her phone, then she hung up and smiled at him.

"Doctor Romano? Doctor Stephenson is ready for you now."

Robert got to his feet, gripping his briefcase tightly as he followed her directions to the psychiatrist's office. The door was open and he found himself smiling at his old friend. Hank Stephenson and he went back a long time -- they had been in college together. Lord, that was ages ago. But, the friendship forged then had lasted all these years. If Hank was on top of this, then Robert knew everything would be all right.

"Hank, it's good to see you," Robert said as they shook hands.

"It's good to see you, too. I wish the circumstances were better. Let me introduce you to the rest of the team. This is Doctor Chelsey Davis and this is Doctor Jim Maxwell."

Robert shook their hands, not even bothering to check out the shapely Doctor Davis. There might be time for that later. They all sat down.

"I'm glad you were willing to come down here, Robert. John has been very cooperative with us on everything but this. I was hoping to be able to convince Doctor Benton to come back down or see if Doctors Greene or Weaver could make the trip, but I'm glad I ended up speaking with you instead. Since you are the Chief of Staff at County, he might listen to you more readily."

"We can hope so, at least," Robert carefully answered. He still didn't know all the details surrounding John Carter's admission to this rehab clinic. He had been kept in the dark about all of it. He didn't know if it was because Kerry and Mark hated him or because they didn't think he could be a compassionate person. He had known that something was up that night when he went down to the ER and found Kerry, Mark and Lizzie huddled together talking. They had gone silent the minute they saw him. He knew something was up, though. They all looked guilty. Then the next day, he had been going through the regular paperwork and saw where Kerry had signed a leave of absence for John Carter. No explanation given, not that one was necessary. Still, it would have been decent of them to inform him that one of his staff was having problems. Getting the telephone call from Hank had been a surprise. Hank had been trying to reach Kerry or Mark, or even Peter Benton, but with no success. So, he finally called him to ask if he would be willing to come down to Atlanta to talk with John Carter about seeing a neurological specialist regarding his severe back pain. While they were having success treating his addiction, they felt that if the pain were allowed to continue unchecked, that it would all be for nothing. Robert had managed to sound as if he knew what was going on, but he didn't. He had told Hank he would be on the next flight out, then had his secretary get him Carter's files, both medical and the one from personnel. Carter had been gone for three weeks and no one had bothered to tell him. Well, no matter the reasons why Kerry and Mark had left him out of the loop, he knew one thing: he was not going to allow Paul Sobriki to destroy John Carter the way he had destroyed Lucy Knight.

"How is Carter doing?"

"As I mentioned on the phone, we've got the addiction under control. It wasn't as bad as Doctor Greene had feared. John was mainly misusing his prescribed painkillers. He claimed he needed it in order to function normally. Of course, we hear that all the time, but when he and Doctor Benton arrived here, John wasn't shaking from withdrawal and he said that he hadn't taken anything since he had been caught injecting himself with Fentanyl earlier in the day. For the first week, we let him take his prescribed medication as needed and saw that he did have physical limitations from the back pain. We've since determined that most of it is not psychological in nature, but physiological. We've spoken with Doctor Reinhard Laenger, who is currently using an experimental procedure to address severe pain which doesn't seem to have a medical reason for existing, such as in John's case. Laenger has been severing the nerves of patients, with good results. In some cases all of the pain has been eliminated, in some it's just been a percentage of the pain, but it's still brought relief to the patient. We've gone over John's medical records with Laenger and it appears that most, if not all, of John's pain is a result of the hematoma that formed on the lumbar plexus as a result of the stabbing. This can be extremely painful and we feel that this surgery will help him."

"And he's refusing the surgery?" Robert asked.

Chelsey Davis nodded. "He said that he's been through all the surgery he can handle and doesn't want any more."

"He did have to undergo two operations. The first to save his life and the second to take down the colostomy that he had due to having his colon sliced open by Sobriki," Robert said. "I can sympathize with him on that."

"I think it's more than that, Robert. He won't really talk about the attack with me, but he has skirted around it. As could be expected, John is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress, with a heavy emphasis on survivor's guilt and depression. He's suffering from insomnia and hasadmitted to having flashbacks to the attack, often while at work. Several times he's mentioned that he doesn't feel as if he has the right to complain about being in pain. It's his opinion that he's alive and that should be enough."

"Is he suicidal?" Robert found himself asking. Inside though, he was berating himself for not being more on top of things. Carter should have been forced to get help a long time ago.

"I'm not sure. He's very lucky that he didn't accidentally overdose before he was caught. Robert, will you speak with him? Try to get him to at least agree to see Laenger? I wish I could have also reached Peter Benton, I know that John would listen to him, but I also feel he'll listen to you."

"I'll try my best." Robert got to his feet. "Where is he?"

"I'll take you to him," Chelsey Davis stood.

"Thank you. Hank, I'll check back in with you later. Thank you for calling. I have no intention of losing John Carter."

"You're welcome. Good luck."

Robert followed Chelsey Davis into the hallway and outside.

"Doctor Romano, I..."

"Please call me Robert." He flashed her his friendliest smile as opposed to his lady-killer smile. This wasn't the time to be looking for a good time in bed.

"Robert it is then. Most patients end up arriving here alone. Many of them are scared because they've been forced to come here or lose their jobs. Hell, all of them are scared. John was no exception. But, having Peter Benton come here with him helped a lot. It was kind of you to allow him to accompany John."

"I didn't. To tell you the truth, Doctor Davis, I didn't know about any of this until Hank called this morning."

"Oh." She was quiet for a few moments. "Well, if you have any questions about John's treatment, please don't hesitate to ask. I'm more than willing to fill you in on anything that won't violate doctor-patient confidentiality. And, please, call me Chelsey."

"Thank you. I'm sure I'll take you up on that offer."

She stopped and pointed in the direction of the pond. Robert could see a person seated at a cement picnic table. John Carter. "He doesn't know that you were called."

"I see. I'll do my best, Chelsey."

"That's all any of us can ask for, Robert." She smiled at him, then turned and walked back to the administrative building.

Robert stood there for a minute, his mind full of jumbled thoughts. He had no idea what to say to Carter, but he knew he had to find the right words. He slowly walked toward the pond. Not wanting to startle Carter with his sudden appearance, Robert stopped a few feet away.

"Doctor Carter?"

John looked up from the book he was reading and stared. What was Romano doing here? He could have sworn that Benton had told him that Romano didn't know about this. Did this mean that he was fired after all? Please God, not that. He couldn't handle that. While it was true he had said he quit, he hadn't meant it. He couldn't envision living the rest of his life and not practicing medicine. Romano couldn't take that away from him.

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