The stream of people continued to flow around them as they walked through the hall. A bizarre blend of the sick, the dying, the healthy, the dead and the medical shaped egos all filing past them as quickly as they appeared. Lucy watched the parade, in mute awareness. She mentally rationed off who was going where. The little boy was being dragged to see a dying relative, probably a very old one, with big lipsticked lips. The business woman was going to be shown her dead husband. The nervous, twitching med student, was going to tell a lady that her husband, and father of her children was dead. His first time. She avoided being hit by a moving gurney. Paramedics going to rescue a 911. And well, she thought in mute awareness, the rest were most likely going to meet their masters.
She resumed feign interest in what Carter was telling her. "Nausea, symptoms of angina..." She blinked, pulling as much air into her lungs as was possible. She wondered what she was having for dinner.
His voice again. "I want-" Yeah Lucy thought, you want. I can't sit down without you wanting. I want a history Lucy, I want some coffee, I want you to focus Lucy, I want your ovaries- "-Hmm?"
She watched him turn towards her. She tried to psychically bring a smile to his face. Once again, her psychic abilities failed her. "I said I want you to check her ovaries Luce." Oh yeah, she thought numbly. Right. Ovaries. She put a little red tick next to them in her mind.
*Now* she was sure that he was saying something. She squinted at the words. "Blah, blah, blah, blah." No. She dodged out of the way of another speeding gurney. She again watched him. His mouth moved, but all that escaped was one, dull, long, endless moan. Was this what patients heard when they were being diagnosed? Medical jargon coming out as a strange, mindless, incomprehensive language. Completely unintelligible.
Her head began to spin.
"Lucy?" the moans had disappeared. The words began to take solid shape again. Lucy. That was who she was. Lucy.
"Hmmm?" She grunted.
"You know if she has any relatives?"
Lucy shrugged, her mind several time zones away. "Yep, sure, lots and lots of them."
She blinked. He *was* smiling. "Lucy? You ok?"
Carter stopped walking abruptly and she bumped against him. And yet, the world continued to move around her. She became aware of the concern in his tone, and shook her head, trying to make sense of what he was saying.
*What?* Lucy thought exasperated. Her mute senses became aware of Carter's face blurring into two, and then back into one again. She suddenly felt tired. *Too* tired. With one last ounce of energy she turned around to see why her world had gone all fuzzy. And then with mute senses she could feel the coolness of the ground as it met her head.
Mark sighed. Click, click. Shortness of breath. Click, click. Dull headaches, mornings. Click, click. Sore throat. Click, click. Will he miss Bull's game on Friday? Click, click. He hesitated, re-reading his notes. He shook his head, and with another click of his pen his stray thoughts vanished from the page.
"So, you want to give up smoking?" He sighed, already knowing what the answer would be, and then his following reply.
Mark hated stereotypes. Hated the whole idea of them. And, yet, with diseases, everything was either stereotypical this, or text-book symptoms that, and in medical terminology everybody soon became just another stereotype.
He shifted on his feet, his gaze falling across the bleached white walls and the cracked ceiling to the middle-aged man in a suit that really had to be somewhere else right now, so would he like to get on with it?
Was it merely becoming boring? Is that what it was? He'd long ago forgotten the thin line between boredom and sleep deprivation, but he'd been feeling restless for several weeks yet. Maybe he just needed a more pro-active social life. A cup of coffee and that day's special at Doc Mcgoos every Thursday and Friday night followed by a Blockbuster video weren't exactly adrenaline pumping activities.
"So, you want us to fork out for some hypnotist you saw on Oprah to help you give up nicotine?"
Routine. Everything had just become one more daily ritual. The guy who needed some more addictive pain meds, the girl who forgets to use condoms with her abusive alcoholic not-really-her-proper-boyfriend boyfriend, the mother whose child really looked like it was turning blue -but you had to see him from particular angles under certain lights. Everybody, before long, looked like everybody else. And everybody else began to look more and more like nobody else. And when patient's began to look like nobody's you knew that they were at risk. But what could he do?
"No, no, we can't make you a priority patient. No, not even if you have an important multi-millionaire client you've got an appointment with in half an hour."
Click, click. In the last minute at least two million people were falling in love. This did not include him. Click, click. In the last thirty seconds at least a million people were falling out of love. This did not include him. Click, click. In the last ten seconds maybe half a dozen or so had changed the world. This did not include him. Click, click. And in the last second at least one person had found themselves questioning their life choices and had tried to calculate where it had all gone wrong. Click, click. And this, maybe, included him.
"So, you would rather go to work than make sure you aren't suffering from a potentially life threatening disease?"
He had had long hair once. Listened to anti-politically affiliated music. Stood up in class and yelled, 'Down with the war in Vietnam.' He was going to change the world. And he knew, somewhere inside of him, lay a long haired, peace signing, Bob Dylan listening bad boy just waiting to get out.
Mark sighed. Click, click. Chest X-ray. Click, click. Blood sample. Click, click. Do we have a fax-e-mail-phone he could use? Click, click. He hesitated, re-reading his notes. He shook his head, and with another click of his pen his stray thoughts vanished from the page.
"Working on a night shift,
High on a 'fore day drive
I'm energized from sundown to sunrise,
And I'll sleep from nine to five,
Shadows fallin' all down the li-ine
Get ready 'cause it's night shift ti-ime
...dum, dum, dee, dee-dee dum, and then some-really cool guitar solo...," Her un-manicured, tooth marked nails drummed against the speaker absently.
Reverting her eyes back to page 378, paragraph 18, line 98 and the 876th word, she again attempted to make it speak English. She squinted, pulling her hair back and forcing herself to absorb the words in front of her, which only served to make them irritate her further.
"Ok, words, tell me what you're thinking. Come on, hit me," she muttered moodily, scanning from line to line. 'Inflammation and constriction of the bronchioles is a reaction to allergic or non-allergic stimulation. Treatment is with beta-2 agonists such as albuterol...'
-"and get ready 'cos it's night shift ti-ime..."
Abby hated this the most. Dense paragraphs and pages and diagrams and vocabulary that was only ever there to make it appear smarter than it actually was. It was like once the authors had been through med school they somehow earned the right to talk in riddles and fancy Shakespearean English.
She filled in another 'oh' with her biro.
And then making her chair squeal across the linoleum she got up, and left the muddle of medicine alone. The radio continued to entertain the dull silences that the empty lounge area seemed to evoke.
She eyed the marooned contents of tins, sandwiches and saucepans in the fridge with disdain. Yikes. Weren't doctors supposed to be health nuts? Half the stuff in there looked as though it would walk out when her back was turned.
Come on...There *had* to be something...opened strawberry yoghurt, dishes of day old pasta, ohhh...
Content with her discovery she retuned to the blur of words swimming around in the dim lighting.
"-I got a feeling that I can't mistake
Sun rises and I'm still awake-"
...many of the symptoms--fever, neck stiffness, photophobia, and in numerous cases, altered mental status...
"-I'll play my music - I don't mind working over time-"
...as cerebral abnormalities, cerebellar malformation, hydrocephalus...
"-And if I lose it, I'll come and... something, something, dee-dee, some-thing-"
...resulting in death or a permanent vegetative state (PVS)...
"-So get ready 'cos it's night shift ti-ime."
"Hey Abby, you seen a bowl of corn flakes lying around?" She heard Dave ask from the doorway of the fridge.
"No, Dave, sorry."
She could hear him sigh, mumbling and cursing the surgeons who thought that they could waltz down there whenever the hell they felt like it and have a pick at whatever they damn well pleased.
The door slammed shut behind him, and she grudgingly returned to page 378, paragraph 19 and a quarter, line 116 and word 982, and sighed.
"So get ready 'cos it's night shift ti-ime..."
"I-er-I-a, no-a speaking the English."
Luka Kovac sighed loudly. "Well, don't you think that it would be best if you let me speak to someone who does?" He asked, not attempting to mask the frustration and irritation in his tone.
A light bulb seemed to go off above the Latin girl's head. "I-er-I is get you somebody who is-a speaking the English."
"Great. Yes. That's a great idea," Luka muttered humourlessly, his grip on the phone tightening with boredom and frustration.
"Oh-a, OK. One moment please. You-a hold on."
"No, don't-" but it was too late. His angry voice was soon drowned out to the strains of dodgy, two star motel jazz music. He groaned.
Weren't these people ever taught just how vital a hospital phone call could be? Someone's liver could have been coming through, a new-born could have been in need of immediate transport to someone, some where who *could* perform the kind of miracle they needed. Lives could have been on hold. All time, hope, reduced to that one phone call. Reduced to bad, second rate elevator music.
"Hello third floor receptionist, how may I help you?"
He gave out another, more thankful sigh on hearing a human, intelligible voice on the other end. "Hello, this is Dr. Kovac I'm calling from the emergency department. I was wondering if you could send maintenance over, the men's toilet is um," his mind tried to find a suitable American word. "It is flowing everywhere."
Ok, so maybe he wasn't saving lives, or helping little kids who needed new lungs, but, well, he could have been.
Today had just been one of those days. One of those days where people, patients, colleagues, seemed more of an occupational hazard than anything else. It wasn't even a personal thing. No vendetta's, no bad vibes, and not even the bad karma seeping from Romano having anything to do with it.
He was just exhausted. Physically; For having to spend forever and a day on constant alert mode. Ceaselessly washing hands, scrubbing between each finger, each thumb. Never sleeping. Never eating. And yet consistently having to be perfect, and concise, and accurate. Always having to be on top of things.
Mentally. From the strain of having to always hold someone's hand, comfortingly, reassuringly, and compassionately. Acutely aware of every symptom, every diagnoses, every medication. Having to clock them through his mental encyclopaedia at 200 miles per hour. Having to remember names, and faces, and every bad, fatal, contagious thing that could ever afflict someone. Having to know that death was never an impossibility.
And then emotionally. Family, friends, TV's- He never had any time for any of them, let alone himself. His spare time was spent under bad lighting, reading annals and the like. It was all too easy to forget that there was a life beyond the hospital walls, that people did just go out after work for no other reason that to socialise. That people laughed, and stayed out late, drank too much, never once thinking about train crashes, or bed sores, or anything remotely squeamish.
Randi shoved another chart under his nose. "Old lady in four needs some TLC."
Luka found himself frowning. "Tell Mark to-"
Randi shook her head, as she returned her focus back to her duties. Now where was that nail file?
Randi seemed surprised by his persistence. "She specifically asked for the dark and sultry guy with the European accent. That's you."
Luka groaned. Great. Once again he was befuddled by his past.
The jazz music was still playing through his ear. He sighed, and fiddled with the cord, knowing full well that winding and unwinding phone wire was not going to increase the speed of the person on the other end.
He contemplated the use of adopting an American accent. Thinking about the possibility of trying it out on some hapless phone operator.
Suddenly, he was aware of a small tug at his green scrub shirt. He turned around to find an old lady with an intoxicating smile across her face. He returned it with difficulty.
"Kovac isn't it? You treated me a few weeks back, don't you remember?" She said, the smiling causing her dry skin to crack.
Luka shook his head, smiling weakly, and condemning all phone misuser's to hell. Or at least to a bad yeast infection. "Yeah, sure I do, Miss, uh-"
"Miss. Frost. That ointment you gave me really seemed to work." She paused, "Would you like me to show you?"
Luka smiled politely as the lady began pulling up her flowery dress. He could see a grin begin to find it's way across Randi's mouth. "Uh, no, Miss Frost. It's OK. Really." He paused, "If you get back to Exam Room 4 I'll be there as soon as I can, OK?"
The woman nodded enthusiastically, and after several more words of thanks and praise, made her way back down the halls, and into the room from whence she came. Luka dragged a tired palm across his face.
"Smooth Luka. *Real* smooth." He heard Randi mutter beneath her breath.
Why couldn't his luck with women work when he actually *wanted* it to?
He returned his distraction back to the phone in his hand. He could hear some ruffling before a voice was heard.
"Hello, this is Dr. Mason. I'm not here at the moment, but if you would like to contact me, then please dial 2 for my mobile number, 3 for my hospital pager number, 4 for my own personal pager, and 5 if you would like to speak to my secretary. Or if you could please hold on for a second you could leave your message at the tone. Thank you for calling. Have a nice day and goo-"
Discarding the phone and picking up his chart (and the other one which Randi kindly reminded him to finish up) he walked back out into the thick of the un-living.
Dave completed another spin on his chair. The admin area becoming one long wall of colour again. He could feel the contents of his stomach give protest, but he allowed the wall of colour to melt back into solid shapes before he took heed.
"Patient in two needs..." Dave watched Weaver's lips move with tired numbness. The words falling out, clicked to his dulled neurotransmitters. Medication, xylocane, amitriptyline, three weeks, four months, psych consult, three weeks, four months, counseling, now, now, now. And then his world became a wall of colour again.
His chair shuddered to a halt, and he dumbly reached out for something to balance him. The adrenaline giving him the ability to think in whole sentences again. "I was listening Weaver. Heard every word you said." Kerry extracted her foot from the wheel of Dave's chair, and she continued to look down her nose at him. Not, that that was a new thing.
He regurgitated all the information she had bombarded him with, and then she eased the frown she was giving him. "OK, Dave. Good." He looked up at her, in what he hoped was a disarming manner. She continued to purse her lips, and he could hear her psychological foot tapping away impatiently.
He sighed, longing for his wall of colour. "Um..."
She raised her eyebrows despairingly, "The patient Dave. Some time this century would be welcome."
He managed to will his feet into life, and found himself leaving Weaver's menacing gaze behind. It was the twenty-sixth hour in a thirty-six hour shift, and the more patients he saw, the more he longed for his own personal virus. Something debilitating, something numbing, and most of all something that would confine him to bed for the next few months with his own band of nurses, med students and doctors surrounding him.
Hadn't the woman ever heard of a break? Of over working? Of the rare form of humanity that had been going around? He sighed, finding exam room three.
He stood at the door, blinked and rubbed at his eyes.
Nope, the two girls in tight leather cat suits were still lying across the bed, chatting girlishly, blonde and red hair all mussed up. He found a smile rising in his cheekbones. He owed Weaver. Owed her big.
Silently thanking God for dress-code only Hallowe'en parties he approached the young ladies. And in his most charming beside manner, reserved for sweet old ladies, Weaver and girls in latex said.
"Good afternoon ladies, what can I do for you today?"
To be continued...?