This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the authors imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2012 by Angela Sherwood
All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of the brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
First paperback edition, 2012
ISBN-13: 978-0615623573 (Custom Universal)
For Ken Kilkuskie
Days that begin when I run so late, I have to slip on my nylons during red lights while in the car, never bode well for me. I should have known better than to have any hope of the rest of the day going well. Sure enough, upon hurtling into Cedars Memorial Hospital’s parking lot, my little VW bug did a slip and slide on the icy pavement and nicked a giant SUV that was just pulling into a space. I quickly threw my car into reverse and took off to another parking spot about three spaces down. Usually, I would have stopped on the spot and spoken to the other driver but the waist band of my nylons was wrapped around my thighs, and I wanted to finish pulling them up before confronting my victim.
I had just finished hoisting the nylons up and was pulling my skirt back down, which was not and easy feat in the confines of my beloved bug, when there was a knock on my window. I finished tucking my skirt around my legs and quickly threw open the door. It thumped into the man who’d just knocked. He was holding a paper cup of coffee and the coffee went flying into his chest, where it spilled down his overcoat in rivulets. I stared at his coat in horror for a moment then pulled my gaze to his face. The man who stood before me had blonde hair that shone in the wintry sun, a profile to match that of Adonis, and green eyes, which were fixed on me with a certain, well I’m not sure hate is quite the right word, but maybe a strong dislike?
I opened my mouth to speak but the man held up a hand to stop me and spoke instead. “You do realize it’s against the law to hit someone else’s car and then make a run for it? Don’t you?”
“What are you? A cop?” I asked.
“No. I’m a concerned citizen, who’s brand new Cadillac SUV, was just whacked by your little…what the heck do they call those things anyway?”
“A bug.” I answered, glancing at my watch. I had exactly ten minutes to report for my new job, which I needed desperately.
“A what?” He answered.
“A bug.” I retorted. “I whacked your brand new, gas guzzling, Cadillac SUV, with my poor little bug.”
“You don’t seem very sorry.” He replied.
“I am sorry. Very, very, sorry, but I’m really late too, and I wasn’t just going to run off. I was going to park and come talk to you, but you jumped the gun, and so now you have coffee spilt all over your nice over coat, which I’m really, really sorry about too. There. Satisfied?”
“Well could you please tell me what you want me to do so I can get to work?”
He just stood there and stared at me with astonishment. I guess I didn’t sound sorry enough or something but staring at him, staring at me, was getting me nowhere. Plus, the man was so beautiful to look at, he was making my eyes hurt.
I ducked into my car, grabbed my bag, pulled out a pen, and grabbed his hand. Before he could protest, I scribbled my name on his palm along with my phone number. “When you figure it out, call me. I’ll give you all my insurance info, whatever you want but right now I’ve got to go…. see ya!”
I took off and headed for the entrance of the hospital as fast as my legs would take me. I hoped he wouldn’t follow me and as I reached the door, I glanced back. He had disappeared.
I arrived at the Human Resource office with one minute to spare and was told by the receptionist to have a seat. I took the moment to get my breath and try to re-assemble myself into some state of calm, all the while wondering how much the green eyed Adonis back in the parking lot was going to gouge me for. As for my little bug, it already had so many dings and dents, that I doubted whatever damage I’d inflicted would even be noticeable.
The receptionist returned and asked me to follow her to the Emergency Department.
“The Emergency Department?” I asked.
She nodded. “Dr. Caudill requests you meet him in the Emergency Department, he said you were to start there today.” She led me out the door and we started down a long corridor.
I was starting to feel a little nervous. “But this is a desk job right…I’m not expected to take care of patients or anything am I?”
The receptionist just kept walking and shrugged. “I really don’t know. I don’t assign the jobs. I just lead people around and file paperwork all day. I do know, given I filed your paper work, that you’re making more money than me, and that just kind of irks me you know?”
I didn’t reply. I was too busy remembering my mother and the countless Sunday dinners she’d destroyed with the gruesome tales she told about volunteering at the local nursing home. Although my mother had a nursing license, she choose to volunteer in order to set a good example for the congregation of the church where my father had preached.
Mom’s volunteer work involved things like bathing patients, rubbing their feet, brushing their teeth. The things she discovered while doing these things could curdle the stomachs of the heartiest eaters.
I remember one story in particular, where she had to pry a glob of rotten food out of a woman named Mrs. Patterson’s mouth. At the end of the story, mom had thunked a jar containing Mrs. Patterson’s glob on the table. This had delighted my younger brothers but had left an anything but healthy impression upon me. In fact, I had heard enough horror stories about bed sores, mile long toe nails, matted, louse ridden hair, plugged noses, and don’t even get me started on what vaginal areas could contain…that I decided I would never, ever, ever, want to be involved in the medical profession. Which is why I was confused and somewhat horrified, to find myself being sent to the Emergency Department.
My guide led me to a small anteroom just outside the E.R. doors and told me to wait on a small couch. She closed the door behind her as she left and I became engrossed in studying the plaques on one wall, all in memoriam to doctors and nurses who had all seemingly met an untimely demise. Losing interest in the plaques, I turned to study my reflection in the etched mirror on another wall.
My short, blond hair was beginning to lose some of its lighter streaks due to the winter months, and I wiped at an errant smear of mascara under my dark, brown eyes. The skirt and shirt I wore were well used but looked passable; besides, I knew my best features were my long legs. Most people forgot about the skirt after seeing the legs. I looked delicate at first glance (Mom’s features), but I was a tomboy and could pack a punch, thanks to my two brothers, who were currently career air force men, living overseas. I gave up on the mascara smear and sat back down.
Before too long, a forty-ish, bearded male entered the room and introduced himself as Dr. David Caudill, Manager of the E.R. at Cedars. His hair was dark and peppered with gray. He was thin, almost to the point of gaunt, and had a slightly distracted air about him, as though he had several internal lines of thought running at once.
“Welcome,” He said as he shook my hand. “We’re pleased to have you onboard our staff. I’m sorry to have kept you waiting but one of my resident physicians had some sort of altercation with a crazy woman in the parking lot this morning. I was trying to help him decipher the name she’d scribbled on his hand.”
I gulped. I was pretty positive the crazy lady had been me, even though I didn’t consider myself crazy. “Where you able to?” I asked wondering if I was about to be fired before I even started my job.
“Able to do what?” He asked distractedly. He was looking down at a clipboard he’d carried in with him, which had my resume attached to it. My name was highlighted in bold yellow, right at the top.
“Decipher the crazy lady’s name.”
“Oh that. No. His hand was wet with coffee when she’d written it. The writing ended up just a smeared mess.”
I sighed in relief but then my stomach clenched, realizing that Dr. Caudill had said the man was one of his resident physicians. I knew I’d run into the guy somewhere. I decided to worry about that later and deal with the business at hand.
‘Um Dr. Caudill,” I began, “I think there might be a mistake?”
“Mistake?” he asked.
“Well yes,” I answered, “I was led to believe I’d been hired for a desk job, in an office.”
Surprisingly, he threw his head back, laughed and said, “I bet you did. I just bet you did.” This did not ease my unease, one little bit.
At my confused, and probably slightly, terrified, look, he went on. “The position you’re entering here is brand new. I’ll wager whoever interviewed and hired you wasn’t exactly sure of the job description themselves. However, I’ve looked at your resume and am pleased with your disaster response history, as well as your education.” He was referring to 2 years of Disaster Assistance work with the National Emergency Response Team, otherwise known as NERT, and 4 years of college, resulting in a Bachelors degree in Psychology. “I think Human Resources made an excellent choice. So, if it suits you, we’d like to get you started today.”
I hesitated, my stomach in knots. Memories of Sundays, danced through my mind’s eye. “What exactly will I be doing, Dr. Caudill?” I asked, hoping against hope, he’d tell me I’d sit in a cute little office somewhere, taking phone messages.
“Wow!” he answered with a big grin. “You really are clueless. Aren’t you?”
Normally I would have been insulted by a comment like that but the way he said the words, with a childlike glee, made it okay.
“Yep. Clueless. That’s me.” I answered, trying to muster a smile. I already had a sneaking suspicion I’d keep the job. I liked my boss. That’s huge these days. I really couldn’t afford not to take the job anyway, as I’d just been laid off from NERT, due to a serious lack of horrific, U.S. disasters. My checkbook was feeling the pinch. It was nearing Christmas, which meant spending money on presents. I already had Alfred, my slightly, slimy landlord, breathing down my neck, and the electric company was threatening to cut off my power.
Dr. Caudill went on to describe his vision of the role I’d play at Cedar’s Memorial Hospital. At first it didn’t sound too bad. I would greet the walk-in patients and their families, coordinate visitors with patients, help patients with no family, friends, or money with rides home, coordinate shelters for the homeless. The list went on. I was beginning to think the job might be okay after all.
That thought was almost immediately stamped into non-existence with his next words. “When patients come in dead, or trying to die, you will be expected to be present in the resuscitation room. You’ll be in charge of recovering their belongings, assisting in identifying the patient if necessary, contacting the hospital chaplain, and comforting any grieving family members. Oh and do you, by the way, have any aversion to blood or emesis?”
Dead people? I thought. Even mom didn’t mention many dead people. I had almost no experience with dead people. I realized he was waiting for an answer of some kind but couldn’t remember the question.
“Umm what was that? I asked. “I was still stuck on the dead and dying people.”
“Blood and emesis, can you work around it? Or do you gag and faint?”
“What’s emesis?” I asked.
“Vomit.” There was that huge grin again.
I considered what working with dead people, blood and vomit would be like. I thought of my checkbook. I thought of Alfred. I thought about Sunday dinners. I thought about my checkbook. I thought about Christmas happening next week.
“No problem.” I answered. “Bring on the blood and vomit.”
And that was how I, Charlene, Charlie for short, Ross Meadows came to work at Cedar’s Memorial Hospital.
I got to discover my tolerance for vomit later that day. A perky little nurse had stationed me at a desk in the Emergency Room waiting room. This desk sat in front of the doors separating the waiting room from the rest of the Emergency Department. A lone, miniature, Christmas tree adorned my desk and piped in Christmas carols permeated the air.
My instructions were to sign in newly, arriving patients on little sign-in slips and hand the slips to the triage nurse, who resided in a little office to my right. The slips were to be handed to her through an opening cut in the bulletproof glass that surrounded her desk. I wanted to know why the triage nurse needed bulletproof glass. If she needed it, why didn’t I have it?
So far, I had signed in an abdominal pain, a man with a migraine headache, and a screaming infant, with a fever of 102 degrees. There were already at least 8 assorted other patients in various states of moaning discomfort, milling around the waiting room, when I’d arrived.
The nurse who’d shown me my desk, had handed me a stack of pink rectangular tubs and said. “Here, it’s flu season, you’ll need these.” She’d also told me if I had any questions to ask the triage nurse. I wanted to know what the pink rectangular tubs were for but my first encounter with the triage nurse made me hesitant to ask. I decided to add it to a list, along with the bulletproof glass question.
The triage nurse, whos name was Katy Dee, was in her late 30’s and built like a linebacker, with hair dyed a gothic black, that hung in a blunt cut to her shoulders. She had piercing blue eyes, a harsh voice, and an even harsher manner. Actually Katy Dee was just plain scary in general.
After I signed in the patients, Katy Dee would prioritize them. This involved calling them into her office, talking to them about their symptoms, and getting their vital signs, such as blood pressure, temperature, and weight. Then she’d give the patient an armband and send them back out to the waiting room. This is where the other aspect of my waiting room tasks would come into play. According to Katy Dee, I was to observe the patients and talk to them now and then so they would feel like they hadn’t been forgotten.
“Why would they feel like they’d been forgotten?” I asked.
Katy Dee had smiled. “You’ll figure that one out eventually, Ms. Charlene.” She gave me a once over and said. “Do you really think those shoes are a good idea in here?”
I looked down at my favorite black pumps and asked. “These? What’s wrong with these?”
Katy Dee laughed and didn’t answer. She did looked me over again and said. “I think you ought to know, if you’re here to snag a rich doctor, you can forget it. Do you know how many nurses, fresh faced and just out of nursing school, have come here thinking the same thing?” I wasn’t sure of a good answer here so I thanked her for the advice and left her little, glass enclosed office. I hadn’t considered the rich doctor angle. Actually, I hadn’t given much thought to my love life at all, probably because I didn’t have one in existence to think about.
I spent the first hour observing the patients in the waiting room and intermittently signing in new patients. It seemed for every four patients signed in, a nurse would come and call one patient back, to be seen by a doctor. At this pace, the waiting room was filling at an alarming rate.
I noticed a slightly overweight woman in the back corner rocking herself back and forth in her chair. She had her arms wrapped around her knees, and as she rocked, she quietly muttered to her self. I wasn’t sure what she was there for, as she had already been signed in when I arrived. As I watched, she lifted her head, and appeared to start conversing with someone next to her. The problem was, no one was there to talk to.
I decided I probably ought to check on her, so I left my desk and started walking toward her. As I approached, her one-way conversation became more animated and I was able to make out some of the words. “I won’t! mutter, mutter. “No! mutter, mutter. Bastard! mutter, mutter.” She started thumping her fists on her knees and her face scrunched up in a ball. “I won’t, I won’t, I won’t.”
“Miss?” I asked. “Can I help you with anything?”
The woman ignored me and continued thumping her legs, “I won’t, I won’t, I won’t.” I noticed other patients staring at her in alarm.
“Miss?” I asked more firmly this time. “Is there something I can do for you?”
The woman swung her head toward me and fixed me with a point blank gaze. “Henrietta here says I need to kill you but I told her I won’t.” The woman turned to the empty seat next to her. “You hear that Henrietta, I won’t and you can’t make me, Bitch!”
“Huh.” I answered and started backing away. I wondered who Henrietta was and what I had done to upset her.
The woman didn’t appear to notice my gradual exit and continued to stare at the spot where I’d just been standing.
I pushed into Katy Dee’s office. She was taking advantage of a break in incoming patients, and had her nose buried in a Harlequin Romance.
“Ahem.” I cleared my throat and Katy Dee looked up at me with raised eyebrows.
“Anything wrong?” she asked.
“Do you see the lady in the back corner there?”
Katy Dee looked and shrugged. “Sandy? What about her?”
“She says her invisible friend Henrietta wants her to kill me and I was kind of wondering if I ought to be concerned. Like maybe we should call Security or something?”
Katy Dee laughed. “Sandy is on the homicidal rant today, is she? Bless her heart.”
I stood staring at Katy Dee and felt like slapping myself to make sure I was awake. I’d just been issued a death threat and she was blessing the heart of the woman who’d issued it.
Katy Dee sighed and turned to her computer hitting a few keys. “This is Sandy’s file. Today is her 298th visit to Cedar’s Memorial Hospital, Emergency Room. She’s a homeless schizophrenic with homicidal thought patterns. Some days, she comes in for a snack and to get out of the cold, other days, like today, she comes to us hoping we’ll make the voices stop. Don’t mind her. She’s harmless. “
I looked dubiously at Katy Dee who was now getting crackers and juice from a mini-fridge under her desk “Give her the juice and crackers. It’ll settle her down for a bit.”
I was still hesitant. I mean after all, the person telling me to “not worry”, was sitting behind bulletproof glass, now wasn’t she?
I took Sandy the juice and crackers. I was still nervous but Katy Dee’s absolute lack of concern had bolstered my courage, somewhat. Sandy was back to rocking back and forth, along with the unintelligible muttering. I placed the juice and crackers in her hands. Without looking up, she said. “Henrietta says thanks for the juice but she’s still going to find a way to stick a knife in you.” Then she looked up at me and smiled the most angelic smile imaginable.
“Tell Henrietta she’s welcome but if she comes near me with a knife, her juice and cracker days are over.” I answered and turned back to the rest of the waiting room. I didn’t have time to dwell on the Sandy situation though because that was when the emesis, a.k.a., vomiting, began.
It started with the baby with the fever. Mother was leaning over her child, gazing adoringly, into her infant’s eyes. Baby had her mouth open in a little O and as I watched a geyser of yellow vomit erupted from the little O mouth, rising and swelling over the mother. When the geyser subsided, baby started grinning and giggling and mom’s mouth was formed into an O of stunned surprise.
“Um, hang on. I’ll get you a towel.” I said. Vomit no problem my ass, I thought as I started toward the triage office for a towel. Who would of thought such a little baby could hold that much? I grabbed a towel and hurried back out to the waiting room. The sight before me stopped me in my tracks.
A man sitting two seats down from the mother and baby had his head buried in a trashcan, retching and acking out his breakfast. A little old lady, two seats away, couldn’t seem to look away from him and as I watched, she covered her mouth with her hands, and her throat began to work. As I stood watching, about every third patient started gagging in a grisly domino effect. I grabbed the pink rectangular tubs from under my desk, I knew what they were for now, and ran around passing them out as quickly as I could. I ran to the triage office for more towels, back to the waiting room, then back to the triage office. “Katy Dee, everyone’s throwing up and I’m out of tubs and…”
Katy Dee slowly looked up from her book. “Call housekeeping.” She returned to her book. “By the way, looks like your shoes could use a little cleaning too.”
I looked down at my favorite, black pumps and sure enough, they’d become the casualty of someone’s breakfast.
I called housekeeping and escaped to the restroom to clean up my shoes. Remembering Katy Dee’s comment about them, I wondered what kind of shoes would be better for the job; rubber galoshes? thigh high waders? Maybe I should just wrap them in cling wrap and call it good. I was still mulling this over, as I headed back to my little desk, when I stopped cold. There, leaning his perfect butt on my desk, was the Adonis from the parking lot. I couldn’t be sure but I was pretty confident he was waiting for me.