(Trilogy finale to Pocket Change, and Pocket Change 2: A Game of Cards)
Her hair was so soft, he’d almost forgotten. He loved to touch it as she slept - gently, very gently so as not to wake her. He’d stroke it from the top to the tips almost as though to reassure himself that she was with him. But this night he kept his hand on her head feeling the warmth of her as she squirmed a bit while tending to her night time dreamscapes. It had become a habit of his to fight his own heavy eyelids until he knew for sure that she was comfortably beyond what had become a frightful awakening. It’s not as if he hadn’t wanted this in the past. Being with her was something that he had fought from within for both her sake and his. But now, after everything they had been through, they had come to… to… this. And this time he would make it work. Her hair was so soft…
Chapter One: Three months previous
Chuny had already called for someone to clean up after the last code, but knowing that they wouldn’t be able to wait much longer for the next GOMER to grace them with their presence, Sam started in on the mess left behind. Full moon, Friday night, motorcycle convention in town and a freak spring snowstorm. Almost made the tenth viewing of Mad Max at home with Alex seem inviting. Almost, not quite. The last transvestite biker bitch in high heeled go-go boots looked better than Tina Turner.
“Sam, have you seen Carter?” Abby stuck her head in the door, a stack of charts toppling to the floor. “Damn it!”
“Hey, how was your ENT rotation?”
“I’m beginning to think that every kid in the greater Chicago area has bilateral tubes,” Abby groaned as the two dropped to the floor to pick up what would be the start to her next and final rotation of med school. “I mean, I like kids, but how excited can I get about charting and observing twenty-five of those a day? They put ear tubes in kids like it’s some minor cosmetic surgery. Parents ask - kids get.”
“Alex had tubes.”
“Oh,” she grimaced, “sorry.”
“That’s okay. What did you need?”
“Carter. Weaver keeps calling down for him. I thought I’d find him and save Frank from another ugly heart attack.”
“He and Luka are next door with a drunk.”
Abby stood and peaked over Sam’s shoulder at the two doctors behind the glass window sitting on either side of a very large passed out patient. “What’s his story?”
“According to Haleh he decided to sleep it off in a garbage truck. Multiple lacs, fractured sternum and ribs, bruised pericardium, putrid breath and one hell of a headache.”
“It takes two Attendings to suture a drunk?”
“I have five H & Ps to do before I can manage a very overdue glucose fix at the vending machine. Can you tell Carter that Weaver’s on the war path for him and the students and residents are aware of it?”
“The Attendings are old and rusty when it comes to fleeing from Weaver’s grasp.”
“No, actually just annoyingly unaffected. Thanks Sam.”
The door swung back and forth with a reverberating thud as Abby left with the usual speed at which students were expected to move - that would be warp speed. As Sam turned her attention back to the vacated and waste strewn trauma room and her chore at hand, she heard a crash of charts down the hall and a faint complaint in the distance.
“Damn it all.”
Sam chuckled under her breath as she finished disposing the syringes in the red sharps container.
“Okay, we’re here Nurse Sam. I hurried right away for you.”
Two guys from Environmental Services stood in the doorway. Artie had Down Syndrome, was a hard worker and was also very fond of all of the nurses, Sam in particular. Bobby was a terminal college student working on a degree in ‘Living at Home and Sponging Off Mom and Dad’.
“They called me and I came pronto for Nurse Sam,” Artie gushed with a big smile.
“Yeah, nimrod,” Bobby spouted loudly enough for the entire ER to hear, “and you ran into that other lady doctor in the hall.”
“Hey,” Sam interrupted as she spied Luka taking his gloves off and leaving the trauma room next door, “it’s okay. Just get to work.” Sam washed her hands before giving Artie a pat on the back. “Thank you for coming so fast, Artie.”
“I like Dr. Abby too.”
“That’s good,” she assured the young man, “variety is the spice of life, Artie.”
The guy had a Frankenstein aura about him - now, that is. The sutures didn’t take away from the guy’s looks. Rather they added to the tattoos and randomly odd placed piercings.
“Is that…?” Sam tilted her head and pointed at the man’s midsection as Carter finished suturing a hip laceration.
“A tattoo?” Carter raised his eyebrows and managed to grin between tying knots. “Yep. The lack of color leads me to believe it’s a prison tat.”
“But… but doesn’t skin have to be, um, taut to ink on a tattoo?” She scrunched her face as the obvious answer preceded Carter’s.
“Cut please.” He held the last of the suture material up for Sam’s scissors, then winked. “Yep.”
“Eww. I’m getting a mental picture here that I don’t particularly want hanging around in my head.”
“Yep, once again. I don’t even want to think about it.” Carter couldn’t hide a shiver that involuntarily passed through his body and tried to cover as he reached for the gauze pads and tape.
“I’ll do that,” Sam offered as she began to dress the repaired wounds, the patient snoring and snorting below. “Anything else you need?”
“A bed. I’ve called 4C three times and they don’t seem to want him.”
“I’ll see what I can do. You need to learn to leave out the sordid details.”
Carter sat to the side and finished the chart looking forward to that cup of coffee Luka had offered him. It had been a long day - hell, it had now become a long night. He signed off on the treatment sheet, double checked that the labs were all in order and made a mental note to call the unit in the morning to check on the guy.
“I know he’s Haleh’s patient, but would you mind getting another crit before he goes upstairs? And increase the rate on his banana bag too. Maybe tag one of these new flustered med students to babysit him.” Carter paused to rub the sleep from his eyes. “And, thank you.”
“Sure. Hey Carter, can I ask you a question?”
“You and Luka are good friends. Close. Has he always been this…”
“Whoa. Wait a minute. You two are still together, aren’t you?”
Sam nodded. “Well, yeah. But…”
“You should really be talking to him.”
“I would, but sometimes he seems so distant. I think he’d jump at a chance to make a commitment to stay in Alex’s life, but when it comes to me he just gets,” Sam sat down exasperated with herself, “distant,” she repeated.
“Sam,” Carter scratched his head with the end of his pen and smiled, “isn’t this girl talk or something?”
“It’s like he has all these secrets.” She looked up at Carter and realized that she wouldn’t be getting any help from Luka’s friend. “Okay. Never mind. By the way, Weaver’s looking for you.”
“Still? Okay,” he sighed heavily, “I’ll see what I can do about that. Come get me when Harold here is ready to go upstairs.”
Carter nearly tripped over a large family finally getting discharged, all six of the children treated for Sarcoptic Mange - scabies. After spending hours cooped up in a small exam room they ran out the door into the snowfall, laughing and shouting. The littlest one stopped to wave meekly, but with a wide grin, at Carter reminding him of Mbuto.
I hear children playin' laughin' so loud
I don't think of your smile
So if you never come to me
You'll stay a distant memory
“Turn off the TV, Jerry.”
“I just got on,” the large sized unit clerk whined as he licked the donut glaze from his fingers. “It’s Friday night. They always have Chicago’s most wanted on the news.”
“Keep it up Jerry, and you’ll be following in Frank’s footsteps in more ways than one.” Carter went into the lounge where Luka had disappeared a short time ago.
“Where’s Haleh?” Sam asked exiting the trauma room.
“Off. Just left,” Jerry mumbled.
“Gross. Wipe your mouth, at least.” Sam expected more from her own kid. “Let me know when labs come back on the drunk in two. I got a bed for him on 3B but I’ve got to hurry up and get him there before they realize what they’re in for.”
“You get the nice parting gift,” Susan announced. “The only unit Carter hasn’t tried to get that guy to yet is OB. You know, he talks too much.”
“Maybe about work, but he’s pretty tight lipped otherwise. I tried to talk to him about Luka and he wasn’t very forthcoming.”
“Guys don’t do that,” Susan added. “They do things together, but they don’t talk.”
“Those two do. It’s like… like…”
“Like they have secrets.” Abby put down her stack of charts with a thud just in time for Susan to hand her more.
“Yeah,” Susan and Sam said in unison.
Abby reached for a pen, losing out to Jerry whose sticky hands got to it first. “Why are you two looking at me?”
“You dated both of them,” Susan remarked without much of a pause. “Kind of like expert opinion.”
“Well, yeah, and both of them broke up with me. That right there should tell you something about my expertise.”
“Here comes Weaver,” Jerry sputtered between swallows.
“You’d think there would be some evil klunky music playing in the background when she got within ten yards of the department,” Susan mumbled. “It would only be right.”
“Come on gals,” Abby secreted over her shoulder, “let’s go make up a catheter snafu in the supply closet to manage.”
The creak and thwup of her crutch cleared the halls as she approached the admit desk. “Kovac and Carter?” Weaver bellowed following Jerry’s more than happy to please pointed finger to the lounge.
The three women took a moment to gather themselves in the quiet of the supply closet far, far away from Kerry Weaver’s accusing eye. With Susan safely parked on top of a step stool and Abby leaning up against the closed door, Sam got to work sorting the catheters.
“What are you doing?” Susan asked while trying not to laugh.
“You said that…,” Sam wised up as she noticed the shoulders of both women shaking with laughter. “Okay. I get it.”
“I can’t stay long, girls,” Susan announced, pulling a candy bar from her lab coat pocket. “There are med students on the loose out there.”
“And I’m one of them.” The temptation was too much for Abby as she reached for the chocolate. “Did you bring enough to share with everybody, little Susie?”
“You bet.” Susan reached in and pulled out two more, passing them to her comrades in hiding. “So spill the beans, Nurse Sam. Does Dr. Kovac have some serious competition from Artie?”
“Stop it. He’s a nice guy. Nicer than that creep, Bobby.” The Milky Way melted in her mouth as she indulged in the impromptu sugar fix. “So you two knew Luka and Carter before they went to Africa. Were they always this close?”
“Ha!” Abby nearly choked on her treat. “Ah… no. They had their differences.”
“What changed that?”
“Well, when they came back from their first trip there, they had shared a horrible experience,” Susan explained. “We all knew in general what had happened, but I’m sure there’s more to the story.”
“What about this last time?” Sam asked while nibbling away at the outer edges of the chocolate bar. “They went to Africa and set up a refuge camp and clinic. I assume Carter came back to fill the position opened up when Romano died and Weaver moved up.”
“Actually, the search for that spot didn’t even materialize until after Carter came back.” Susan wished she had a bottle of water. “He came back here, Luka signed on with the moonlighting service a month of so later when he got back from Croatia, and things just sort of fell into place, I guess.”
“Sam’s right,” Abby interjected. “I know they said that they left Uganda only after they had established the camp and turned it over to permanent staff, but I can’t help think that they left something out.”
Sam sighed as she walked over to the door. “Well, I don’t have much to go on, and Luka won’t say much about either trip. But he and Carter sometimes exchange looks or talk in a corner. It just bugs me.”
“Don’t let it.” Susan held the door for Abby and her new stack of charts. “When guys want to talk, they do it in code. Just be on the look out for it. Chuck’s a pro.”
“Damn it, Bobby!” Abby shouted as her charts flew over the trash bin being wheeled down the hall by the slacker.
Sam watched as Carter caught the end of a news report on the television, seemed to lose a little of his coloring, then traded some words in private with Luka before going into an exam room.
Luka remained seated at the computer reading his e-mails. Lost in thought, Sam watched from a distance as a spectator, glad that when he stood to accompany the paramedics with a new patient into a trauma room that he didn’t see her staring at him.
“Sam.” Kerry tapped her crutch against the supply room door that Sam was holding open for no reason. “Do me a favor and make sure that Dr. Kovac calls this number. Stand over his shoulder if you have to. Tell him I’ll make it worth his while - give the agency a call and arrange for him to have the time off. I’m sure she would more than appreciate it.”
Kerry shoved a piece of pink paper in Sam’s hand before walking to the elevators, coat in hand. The paper had been scrunched up, then smoothed out again, and only had a phone number and name. Sam looked at it and wondered. She had heard the name before, or read it. She wasn’t sure. As Carter came out of the exam room, she looked at the paper again.
“Hey, Sam - you’re still here.” Carter leaned against the desk across from her and put pen to chart. “Because I owe you for fixing me up with the unibrow chick from radiology with severe halitosis, I’m going to let you discharge this very fine patient before you go home.”
“Uh-oh, please don’t tell me it’s a code brown.”
“Would I do that to you?”
Sam tilted her head with a ‘you’re kidding me’ look.
“Right. Was that just yesterday? Hmmm.” Carter returned his attention to the patient’s chart as he unsuccessfully stifled a friendly giggle. “Okay then, Acetaminophen 650mg q 6 h as needed. I gave him a script for Gent otic drops. Reinforce the desire not to insert foreign objects into the ear canal. Standard discharge instructions and follow up with primary physician. But first, get a psych consult down here.”
Sam’s ears perked up and pulled her attention to the exam room door where a man’s voice lingered on one particular line of a song, over and over again. “The sun’ll come out, tomorrow. Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow… -NO-… it’s three part, not two. Now, again.”
“Annie,” she asked, “he’s singing Annie?”
“Seems the little people inside his ear drums are refusing to sing in harmony.” Carter was enjoying watching Sam discover this prize patient for the first time. “For an encore he does Bea Arthur in Mame - a real treat.” The patient load was infinite and Carter was anxious to reduce the double spacing on the board back to normal before the night was out. “Let’s help him out with that, shall we? Call Psych.” Handing the chart to Sam, he turned and walked back towards Admitting.
“Carter,” Sam called out hoping to catch his attention as he walked away. “Who is Colleen Reilly?”
With that, Carter stopped dead in his tracks, his back turned to Sam.
Lyrics: Don’t Miss You at All
Music by Duke Ellington, lyrics by Norah Jones
Sung by Norah Jones
CD - Feels like Home
Part 13 Part 14 Part 15 Part 16 Part 17 Part 18 Part 19 Part 20 Part 21 Part 22 Part 23