Solace


AUTHOR: Julia
EMAIL: dauphine01@yahoo.com
CATEGORY: KW, AL, angst
RATING: G? PG? Nothing really objectionable.
SPOILERS: None
DISCLAIMER: They're not mine. Please don't sue me.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Song used is "Hand Me Downs" by the Indigo Girls. It's also not mine.
SUMMARY: An unexpected encounter leads to some soul-searching. How does a doctor's personal experience affect her professional behavior?



**********
I've taken so many down
I've helped them all to dismount
I've followed so many down
I take their hand-me-downs
**********

"Dr. Weaver!" called a large black coat. Kerry looked up to see a very cold Luka waiting in the ambulance bay. It was already April but rapidly nearing midnight, and the still-wintry breeze was picking up. "You're back?"

"Not really," she said. "I just... thought I'd drop by." She knew she had no business being at the hospital, but somehow a restless evening had brought her there. A week's suspension had reminded her more than ever how much this chaotic place was home. As much as she disliked having to play the nagging mother from time to time, she'd felt compelled to check on her family and their mangled lives. She left Luka to his waiting as the unseasonably bitter wind forced her inside.

It was a slow night and strangely quiet. From down the hall, the wail of a single child floated out, evaporating into the atmosphere of tense efficiency that lingered in the ER.

Her ER.

When Romano had suspended her - caught her red-handed doing what she thought was right - she'd been almost glad. Glad to get away from it all for a few days - away from Romano's posturing and Malucci's cheerful incompetence. Away from Carter's suffering, and Mark's. Away from Carol's stubbornness and how much she'd changed. And away from Abby, who wanted so badly to do the right thing but time after time failed to conquer her doubt. It was painful to watch. How Kerry had longed to escape from that world.

She hadn't counted on missing it this much. Not until this moment, not until she found herself wandering the halls as a visitor, a stranger, did she realize how much it all meant to her.

**********
All with hope, all with hope
That emptiness brings fullness
And loss of love brings wholeness
All with hope, all with hope
That emptiness brings fullness
And loss of love brings wholeness to us all
**********

Barreling down the hall behind her came Luka and the paramedics, with the trauma patient he'd been waiting for. Kerry wanted to avoid a premature welcome back; she quickly turned a corner and ducked into the ladies' room to wait out the commotion.

She was not alone.

There was Abby, sitting on the floor under the paper towel dispenser. She, too, appeared lost in thought.

**********
Everything that I believe crawls from underneath the street
Everything I truly love comes from somewhere far above
Everything that I believe is wrong with you, is wrong with me
Everything I truly love, I love in you and I love in me
**********

Lynn Parker was home by now, Abby guessed. Home with her five kids and her loving husband. And it was all Abby's fault.

She'd known, of course. From the look on Mrs. Parker's face when baby number six lit up the ultrasound, the voice that fell silent when asked what she thought, the gaze that flinched down when she spoke forbidden words - Abby knew those motions. Out of all the people Mrs. Parker would see at the hospital that day, she was the one who should have known, without a doubt, what was happening and how to help. She'd tried; she'd even gone to Dr. Greene, hinting as hard as she could, hoping he wouldn't ask how she knew. But it hadn't worked, and her confident air had fallen to pieces when she looked into Mr. Parker's angry eyes. She'd seen them before, too. And she'd let another patient down.

She let her head fall back against the tile. The stinging smell of disinfectant was overwhelming, and the flat white light made her eyes water.

Going home was a possibility, if she ever decided to move; her shift had ended hours ago. She wasn't sure why she'd stayed, checking on patients, wandering around OB, up to the roof to smoke what she'd vowed would be her last cigarette, and now finding herself on the bathroom floor at five to midnight.

"He forgave me." And you'll forgive him, too, and forgive, and keep forgiving until the one that's unforgivable. And then what?

The door shut with a loud metallic click, startling her awake.

"Dr. Weaver?"

"Abby?" Kerry looked understandably surprised. "What are you doing here?"

She didn't have an answer for that.

"Are you on now?"

She shook her head.

"I'm not supposed to be here," explained Kerry quickly as she moved away from the door. "I was just checking in." She paused before asking, "Is everything okay?"

Abby paused before answering, "Not really."

"Oh..." Kerry knew something of Abby's troubles, but she thought it best to play it safe. "Was it a patient?"

"Yeah." Abby hoped she could leave it at that, but something in Kerry's tone and her steady gaze brought out the story and her brimming emotions. "I... screwed up again."

"Again," Kerry could have groaned, but there was an edge in Abby's voice that made her think there was more to this story than a missed diagnosis or a botched procedure. "Do you want to talk about it?"

More than anything.

Abby got up awkwardly and brushed herself off. As they headed for the door, she felt Kerry's hand on her back, a welcome gesture. Pensive blue met pensive brown as they saw each other for the first time. "I think there's an exam room open," Abby said, glad for the unlikely kindred spirit.

**********
So give me hope, give me hope
That emptiness brings fullness
And loss of love brings wholeness
All with hope, all with hope
That emptiness brings fullness
And loss of love brings wholeness to us all
**********

The fluorescent light flickered and caught, flooding the room with bland brightness. Abby sat down on the side of a bed, Kerry pulled up a chair, and the story spilled out, messy and confusing and sad.

"It was a woman - younger than me, with five kids already. She was pregnant again, and she'd been starving herself so she'd have a miscarriage. I helped her get up to GYN for an abortion." Pause. Breath. Time had stopped in the empty room. "She wanted it, I know she wanted it, but she was reluctant - like she was afraid of something." Another breath. "Turns out she hadn't told her husband she was pregnant - she couldn't handle another baby and she knew he'd never agree to the abortion. It was fine until he showed up and wanted to know where she was. I'm a bad liar. I told him." She glanced at Kerry's face to gauge her reaction; as usual, she couldn't tell. "It was done by then. When I went up to see her afterwards, he'd just been there. And she was like a completely different person. She said she'd made a mistake, but it was okay - he'd forgiven her. She even said they wanted another baby, that as soon as they could they'd start trying again. GYN discharged her a few hours ago."

It was a hard story to tell; Abby didn't even know the ending yet, although she could guess. And hadn't she been guessing all along? That was what did her in time and again: the uncertainty of it all. Malucci was years younger than she was and acted it, but he knew something she didn't. She had tried so hard to remember principles and procedure; she must have missed class the day her classmates learned a doctor's confidence.

**********
Swear you can't swim the river
I saw you running to jump in
I swore I'd never be your sinner
Till I held your sin
**********

"You did the right thing," Kerry said after a long pause, and Abby finally lifted her eyes from the floor.

"I didn't do enough."

"You can't save everybody." The words rang false even to her, and she hurried on. "A patient like that may not even know she needs help. It's a judgment call."

"I know." Abby looked down again. "I have bad judgment."

Kerry hated this speech. She hated hearing it, and most of all she hated giving it. It wasn't a judgment call, she thought. It couldn't be. There were rules and supervisors and teachers - why had this all come down to Abby's moral guessing game? She was reminded of an old joke; the punchline was "God doesn't think he's a doctor." It was true: what right had they to be making decisions, breaking rules? Who were they to think they knew best? Doctors were not immortal; they were flawed human beings with superhuman responsibilities.

Still, they did their best. Day in and day out, they made split-second decisions, saving lives and losing them. They put on their faces of efficiency and infallibility, and tried to forget that sometimes they were wrong. Because in a job where every day was a judgment call, uncertainty was failure. Abby was learning that the hard way, and so, still, was Kerry. She hadn't known what was best for Angie, who couldn't even show if she heard them arguing over what her life was worth. Romano hadn't known, either. What bothered her now wasn't the substance of the fight. It was the principle: that she could break the rules and have her way, and never find out if she had really been right. Decisions like these were as much about the doctor as the patient, and personal experiences always affected that judgment. And no one Kerry knew, least of all herself, had a clean slate.

Her murmured reply went almost unnoticed.

"What did you say?" asked Abby.

Kerry cleared her throat. "I said, 'Me too.'"

**********
Now you ask me why I'm here
The same as you, I'm scared, it's fear
I've become the beggar now
And you've become the saint somehow
**********

The weight of what had been left unsaid hung like so much smoke in the air. Kerry looked at Abby; she didn't want to pry, didn't want to judge her, but she knew that in the sudden shyness lay a story aching to be told. What little she knew of Abby's life was in fragments; an interrupted phone conversation here, an ambiguous remark there, and now this story of a destructive marriage, of fear and denial and... pain?

It was time to put the pieces together.

"So..." she started off slowly, treading carefully. "You made assumptions."

"Yes. But - I was right. I think. I just wish I could have done something about the husband, said something."

"Why didn't you?"

A deep breath. "I couldn't help it. He got so upset, so suddenly - I..." She paused to consider before continuing. "You know I'm in the middle of a divorce right now."

Kerry nodded.

"That's kind of the way it was with him - with my ex-husband. He'd get mad so often, I guess I just stopped fighting back after a while."

Kerry nodded again, sure of what was coming. She turned the words over and over before asking carefully, "Did he hit you?"

Abby stared at her hands in her lap for a long time. Finally, she whispered, "Yes."

"And you stayed?" Kerry hadn't meant to sound that incredulous.

"It wasn't like that," Abby sighed. "It's not like in the movies. He's not - a monster," she said quickly. "He just has trouble controlling himself. He's impulsive - he regrets things.

"You don't - stay," she said after a pause. "You just don't leave. Leaving is the action - you have to decide to do it. Staying is what happens when you don't want to think about the decision."

"How long were you married?"

"Eight years."

A long silence. "You never - I didn't know," said Kerry, almost accusingly.

"I know. I didn't tell anyone. I knew if I did, people would say things... It was part of my life for long enough," she said finally. "It's over now. I don't want people to feel sorry for me. I want to be able to forget him, forget all about... everything."

Kerry knew how that felt. It still amazed her, sometimes, that people couldn't look past what was different. She didn't want pity because she limped; it didn't make her vulnerable. She wondered whether she'd even notice it herself anymore, if not for the stares and second glances, the constant reminder. "And the patient's husband?"

"...Reminded me of him. Even before I saw him, he - the way she talked about him, the way she acted, there was just something..."

"You identified with her."

"Yeah." Undoubtedly, she had. But was that wrong? "I guess that's part of what's bothering me - that I assumed things about her that - that I still think are true, but... I didn't know."

"Abby." Kerry tried not to scold; she was ashamed to realize how quick that reflex had become. "You can't do that. You can't assume things, even if you think you know how the patient feels. I know it's hard."

Did she ever.

**********
Twist the words and place the blame
And tell me now, aren't we the same?
Tripping in our yellow feet
Checking underneath our sheets
**********

"I... lost my mentor this year." Kerry took her turn at self-reflection, something she was not used to sharing. "Gabe Lawrence." She looked inquisitively at Abby, who shook her head. Of course she didn't know who he was - how could she? - but it still made Kerry sad. She had thought, somehow, that his legend would go on forever even when mind and body could not. It hurt to remember that his influence, what he had meant to her, was not eternal. This was the end of the line.

"He was a great surgeon - truly great, one of the best. I learned everything from him. He was..." She caught herself and, taken aback, corrected her mistake. "Is. He's a wonderful man."

"He's still living?"

"Yes. Yes, I'm sorry. I was thinking..." How could she have done that? Better to tell the story first. "This year - before you came - I hired him. He'd just left another hospital," - cautiously avoiding the name - "due to what I assumed were political reasons. But then he started acting... erratic."

"Erratic?"

"Absentminded. Silly things, mainly - forgetting where he'd put his glasses, things like that. But it just kept happening, and I - " She took a moment to compose herself; she wasn't used to finding it so hard to express herself. "It did become a problem, and I had to address it."

"Was it Alzheimer's?" asked Abby, quietly, not wanting to offend if she was wrong.

Kerry nodded. "He knew. It had started a while ago - that's why he'd lost his job."

"What did you do?"

"What could I do? I let him go." Kerry sighed wearily, trying not to remember those moments. They had been agonizing, and unforgettable. "He was just so sad. Medicine, teaching, that was his life. He knew what was going to happen to him, to his mind - he felt it happening already. That was in the fall.

"Last week I saw a patient - a girl, though, a teenager - who'd lost all faculties, was just completely unresponsive. Her mother, her adoptive mother brought her in with an infection, and Dr. Romano said not to treat her. He said she couldn't possibly have any quality of life, there was no use, and I just couldn't bring myself to agree with him."

"Because of Dr..."

"...Lawrence. This girl - Angie - he was telling me that before long, he'll be like that, and I - " She was dangerously close to tears; she paused for a moment. "I have to believe there's something left - that even when you can't speak for yourself, can't think for yourself, there's something worth living for. Maybe it's just because of him, but I know there just has to be something essential about a person that never goes away. That even when I visit him in the hospital and he... doesn't know who I am, he'll still - somehow - be Gabe."

"So you treated the girl."

"I did. And Dr. Romano saw me, and he suspended me. And he had good cause to do it, but I don't regret what I did. So," she said, looking back to Abby, "everyone has patients that hit a little too close to home."

"And everyone makes mistakes. I know."

"It doesn't make it okay."

"But it helps." Abby looked up, and their eyes met again. "It helps to know, to talk about it."

"Yeah." The two women rose and stood for a moment next to each other. "It helps a lot." They did not embrace; they did not need to. They left together, managing to avoid the front desk. Separately, they walked home.

Alone.

And whole.

**********
For some hope, give me hope
That emptiness brings fullness
And loss of love brings wholeness
All with hope, all with hope
That emptiness brings fullness
And loss of love brings wholeness to us all
**********

The End




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