Jeremy, Part 5

I’ve been really busy lately, having recently finished a rotation in the medical ICU for a month, which is where the sickest patients in the hospital are. I had a short stay in the ICU myself, back when I first had my accident almost five years ago. Along with losing both my legs, I lost quite a bit of my blood volume and was “hemodynamically unstable” or so I’ve been told (I was medicated up to my ears, so the stuff I remember from that period is almost nothing).

The ICU is really depressing. It’s sort of creepy to think that I was once a patient in there. Practically every day one of our patients dies, or at least, we send them somewhere else to die in more comfort. Eventually you kind of get desensitized to it though.

I was actually very happy when my ICU rotation started, because my last rotation (in infectious disease) was really miserable. The attending and the senior resident wouldn’t get off my back and I have no idea why. In all modesty, I’m a really good intern. But it seemed like they were always yelling at me and acting like I couldn’t keep up just because I use a wheelchair. The attending, Dr. Whitney, actually said to me when I left the team, “Jeremy, I really hope you’re not going into inpatient medicine.” I couldn’t believe it when he said that. Most of the attendings I’ve had said really great things about me.

So I started the ICU rotation, thinking it had to be better than infectious disease. The attending was Dr. Eva Elliott, one of the very few female attendings in the hospital, and the only female critical care attending. She was in her early forties and had sort of a reputation for being a cold bitch, both to patients and to her team. She also had a reputation for having male interns and medical students fall in love with her, no matter how mean she was.

I could see why the other guys thought Dr. Elliott was hot. She had this sort of exotic look, with very dark hair and eyes and a slight accent none of us could identify. But she was definitely a bitch. The first day we met her, I could tell right away. Another intern named Bill was the first to present to her in the morning and she basically ripped him apart. Bill wasn’t the greatest doctor in the world, but he seemed like an complete idiot when she was done with him.

“So you don’t know how many days the central line has been in?” Dr. Elliott asked incredulously. “How are you going to know when to change it?”

“Uh...” Bill said, shuffling through the pile of papers in his hands.

“How come you didn’t mention that he desat’ed yesterday?” Dr. Elliott said.

“Uh... I didn’t know,” Bill said. I winced when he said that because it was the worst thing he could have said. She yelled at him for about ten minutes after that.

When it was my turn, I did a little bit better. Three out of my four patients had pancreatitis, so all I had to do was field a few questions about Ranson’s criteria and related stuff, and she let me off the hook. It was much better than Dr. Whitney anyway.

I felt sorry for our medical students too. We had three of them, but since it was late in the year, they mostly knew what they were doing. Except for one of them, Claudia, who was starting the year late and basically had no idea what she was doing. I met Claudia when she was trying to figure out how to log onto one of the computers and looking very confused. Anyone who looks really confused is usually a medical student.

“Do you need help?” I asked.

“Oh yeah,” she said. She looked at me and seemed a little surprised to see that I was in a wheelchair, but she recovered fast. You’d be surprised how many people see me in my wheelchair and think I’m a patient, even though I’m wearing a white coat. “I’m one of the medical students starting in the ICU. My name is Claudia.”

“Hi Claudia,” I said. “I’m Jeremy, one of the ICU residents.”

“I know,” she said.

“You know?” I didn’t understand what that meant.

“Well, I mean, I’ve seen you around,” was what she said. I guess once you see a doctor who’s a double amputee, you tend to remember something like that. At least I’m memorable.

I tried to help Claudia as much as I could, but it wasn’t like I had a lot of free time and Claudia needed so much help. I remember what it was like to be starting third year and I try to be patient with the students, but sometimes they drive me crazy. Claudia couldn’t do one thing without asking me first. She had this patient with Hodgkin Disease who wasn’t even my patient and she persisted in asking me any time she had to do any little thing on the patient.

She was definitely useful sometimes though. Since any time I want to go between floors, I have to take the slow elevators, I sometimes used her to run errands to other floors, like picking up X-Rays or stuff like that. She once made a joke that she was my legs, which made me a little bit uncomfortable, but it was sort of true. It was a lot easier to ask her to drop what she was doing and help me out than try to do the errands myself. Technically, we’re told we shouldn’t “scut out” the med students (that means giving them random errands to run where they won’t learn anything), but most of my med students know it’s harder for me to get around and don’t mind helping me out. Especially since all of sudden, two of the four elevators broke down and were “under repair” for weeks, so I would have to wait for the elevator fifteen minutes on average, then half the time when it came it would be too full for my chair to fit inside. Luckily, Claudia was really eager to do whatever I asked of her.

And yeah, I did think Claudia was cute, which might have been why I put in all that extra effort. (Although I’m really not like that and I try to teach all my students, cute or not. But Claudia was really cute.) She was a petite blonde girl and really sweet. I got this feeling she was attracted to me too. She was very touchy-feely with me, like always touching my shoulder when she laughed, stuff like that. She even hugged me more than once.

I haven’t had a female act that way with me in a while. Even the girls I go out with seem a little nervous to get too close sometimes. And to be honest, most of the times, I’d rather they didn’t touch me too much. Not that I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like being touched, just the opposite, but I feel like they might accidentally touch one of my stumps and get freaked out.

Once when Claudia was hugging me, one of my stumps twitched a little and went up in the air and sort of rubbed against her. She jumped back in surprise, but she didn’t say anything about it and it didn’t seem to change anything. That was definitely a relief, but it’s one reason I get nervous when someone hugs me.

Dr. Elliott gave Claudia a harder time than anyone else on the team. The first day Claudia presented a patient, Dr. Elliott said to her, “Claudia, I think that was the worst presentation I’ve ever seen before by a medical student in all my years of practice. No, I take that back. It was definitely the worst.”

Claudia was in tears after that. I found her crying in the on-call room and I did my best to comfort her and tell her she wasn’t the worst medical student ever. It was a little bit hard, because the on-call room is so narrow that my chair just barely fits inside, so I had to wedge myself between the bed and the wall as I tried to calm her down. Then, nice guy I was, I told her she could go home early. (And later got in trouble for it. Dr. Elliott said to me, “Jeremy, the last thing that girl needs is less training. Anyway, only the senior resident is allowed to send them home!” Never mind that she was crying.)

I really tried not to give up on Claudia, even when she was constantly screwing up. We had a patient on our team who had surgery a few days earlier and was ready to have his staples out. I asked Claudia if she wanted to do it and she seemed a little nervous about it. I said to her: “You can do this, Claudia.” I figured she was going to have to take staples out when she took her surgery rotation and it was better that she learn now with me, instead of some impatient surgery resident.

So we went to the patient’s room with the staple-remover. I showed her how to do it a couple of times and then I handed her the staple-remover to do it herself. Her hands were shaking but she got the staples out okay. Then when she was almost done, she must have held the remover at the wrong angle or something, because the staple somehow got stuck. I took the remover from her and tried to get the staple out, but it was very hard for me to get the right angle sitting in my wheelchair and all. I kept apologizing to the patient, but he looked really pissed at us anyway.

Finally, after several unsuccessful tries, I swallowed my pride and paged Dr. Elliott and told her the situation. She said in a disgusted voice, “Don’t touch it. I’ll be right over.” She came over and it took her about half an hour to get that one staple out, using a scissors. I knew Dr. Elliott was already angry at Claudia, so I was planning to just take the blame and say it was my fault, but before I could, Claudia went right up to her and said she was the one who got it stuck. But Dr. Elliott didn’t let me off the hook so easily. She said, “But you were supervising, right Jeremy?” And she was right, I was supervising, so it was my fault too.

Claudia got me in trouble another time too. At the end of the first week, I passed her and Dr. Elliott in the hallway, Dr. Elliott was yelling at her for not knowing anything about her new patient. I pulled over to them, just to interrupt Dr. Elliot’s yelling, but instead she started grilling me about the patient. “It’s not my patient,” I kept saying.

“But this is a patient on the team,” said Dr. Elliott. “What if you’re on call and this patient is sick? What will you do if you don’t know anything about him?”

“But he just got here a few minutes ago,” I tried to tell her.

“Dr. Andrews, could I have a word with you in my office?” Dr. Elliot said to me.

That was just as bad as it sounded. I went into her office and the first thing she said to me was, “Dr. Whitney told me you were a problem.”

I swear my jaw fell open. I couldn’t believe he told her that. “I think we just had a conflict of personalities,” I explained.

“Look,” Dr. Elliott said. “I don’t know if people have made exceptions for you because of your handicap, but that’s not going to happen on my team. If you can’t do the work, then you can get out.”

“I can do the work,” I said.

“I’m not going to give you any extra time or extra slack, like you’re used to,” Dr. Elliott said.

That got me so angry when she said that. I resented that she just assumed I had been getting handouts my whole life. I got into med school before I even had my disability and really, nobody has made any exceptions for me. I have to work harder than everyone else just to stay even, but I work even harder than that. I was so pissed off that a dick like Dr. Whitney was making everyone think I was a slacker.

Anyway, what I said was (respectfully), “I don’t expect anything extra.”

“I’m glad we’re on the same page,” Dr. Elliott said.

Even though I was pissed off at Dr. Elliott, I feel that I’m a professional if nothing else, so I vowed to prove to her that I knew what I was doing. From that day forward, I started pushing myself harder than I had ever before on a rotation. I was the first resident to arrive in the morning and I was usually the last to leave. And during my night calls, I didn’t sleep at all. I have no idea how I got the energy to do all this, but I wanted to prove to Dr. Elliott that I was a good doctor.

I do think I managed to impress her. I knew the answer to every question she asked about my patients and most of the related questions she asked. I could see her searching for extra-hard questions to ask me, and the impressed look on her face when I knew the answers. I think I surprised myself, to be honest.

I was also having to do extra work to cover for Bill’s increasing incompetence. I don’t know why, but I always seem to get paired with interns who don’t know what they’re doing. He would let his patients’ electrolytes get way out of hand and then at 3 AM I would be awake dealing with their torsades arrhythmia.

I kept this pace up for about two weeks when I started to not feel so good. Claudia told me that I looked a little bit pale and sweaty and I definitely felt sort of hot and dizzy, but I had too much work to do to slow down. That night when I came home, I noticed that my right stump was all red and very tender to the touch. It looked a little bit infected, but I did the stupid doctor thing and ignored my own medical problem.

The next day, I felt like a complete train wreck. During morning rounds, I had my papers balanced on my stumps but I kept sliding down in my chair because I felt so tired and sick. Finally, while I was wiping off the line of sweat on my forehead, all the papers fell off my lap onto the floor and Claudia had to pick them up for me. (Thank god I had her there to help me, because I was sure Dr. Elliott would have yelled at me otherwise.)

I managed to present my patients successfully, but at the end of rounds, Dr. Elliott gestured to me, “Jeremy, I’d like to talk with you.”

We went into one of the empty ICU rooms. I felt so hot and sweaty and my stump was so painful, I didn’t really feel like a famous Eva Elliott speech right now. I just tried to focus on how I was going to get my work done for today so I could get out of here as soon as possible.

“Jeremy, you look like shit,” Dr. Elliott said. “Are you okay?”

That was not what I expected. Dr. Elliott had her arms crossed along her thin waist and I couldn’t help but feel sort of touched by her concern. I guess this is what her patients saw.

“I’m okay,” I said.

But Eva Elliott didn’t give up so easily. “I think you need to see a doctor, Jeremy. What’s going on?”

Finally, I admitted: “I think I have a skin infection.”

“Let’s see,” said Dr. Elliott.

I don’t know if I was feverish or blushing anymore. “It’s, um, on my stump.”

I was surprised when Dr. Elliott didn’t even flinch. “Then take off your pants and let’s see,” she said.

I guess you can’t say no to your attending. But at least she let me have the privacy of transferring into the patient bed and changing behind the curtains. When I pulled my pants off, I myself was surprised at how bad my right stump looked now. It was very erythematous (i.e. red) and edematous (i.e. swollen) and it even looked like there might have been some pus. It looked just as bad as the infections that some of my patients got near their central lines. My white count was probably up about thirty thousand.

Dr. Elliott pulled back the curtain and I held up my right stump for her to take a look. “Wow,” Dr. Elliott said. “That looks awful, Jeremy. How long has it looked like that?”

“I just noticed it yesterday,” I told her.

Dr. Elliott put on a pair of gloves and picked up my stump to examine it more closely. I winced at the pain. She picked up my left stump for comparison. “That’s some scar,” she commented. “What happened to you?”

“I was in a car accident about five years ago.”

Dr. Elliott didn’t say anything to that. I don’t know if I expected her to say she was sorry for acting like I had been getting handouts my whole life, but I guess I expected her to say something.

She went back to looking at my infected leg, even though I was biting my lip to keep from crying out. It felt so inappropriate to have my attending examining me like this. I try to hide my stumps from people and I didn’t like having them completely bare in front of none other than Eva Elliott.

“Do you wear prosthetics?” Dr. Elliott asked me.

“No, never,” I said. “They got very infected when I tried to wear them.”

Dr. Elliott nodded. “Jeremy, I’d like to admit you to the hospital for IV antibiotics.”

I got very upset when she said that. I hate being a patient in the hospital, partly because even when I’m a doctor, everyone already assumes that I’m a patient. I have to work with this staff and I don’t want them to think of me as a patient. It’s hard enough for a doctor who’s dependent on a wheelchair to get respect from the staff. And just like I felt uncomfortable with Dr. Elliott examining me, it would have felt just as strange to have the nurses I work with on a daily basis seeing my bare stumps.

To my surprise, she seemed to see that this was not what I wanted. “How about if I get you admitted to the surgery team?” she suggested. “That way you won’t have to be around the people you work with.”

So that’s what we wound up doing. Dr. Elliott got me admitted to surgery and I got IV antibiotics for two days in the hospital. It was kind of annoying, because I missed two days of work, but people were pretty understanding about it. Nearly everyone on my team came to visit me in my room, which broke up some of the unbelievable boredom I was feeling. It was odd being in the hospital at night, but not having to round on patients. I kept expecting my pager to go off.

Claudia was one of the first people who came to visit me. I felt a little bit embarrassed because I was all laid up and my right stump was sticking out of the covers, all swathed in bandages. I wasn’t really at my best, although I was feeling a lot better already.

Claudia wasn’t bothered at all though by the way I looked. She came right in and sat down on the side of my bed. She even hugged me and told me she missed me in the ICU and that there was nobody around to tell her what to do (which I guess was why she was visiting me in the middle of the day). She stayed with me for almost an hour, chatting and stuff about how the ICU was falling apart without me.

I got this strong feeling that Claudia wanted me to ask her out, but the truth is, I was too scared to do it. I had asked out a couple of girls since things had ended really badly with my last girlfriend Gina, but they all told me no, although they were nice about it. The last girl I asked out was this nurse’s aid named Annie in our outpatient clinic. Annie was very nice to me and really cute and we got to talking more than once, about stuff like her family and movies, etc. One time when I had morning clinic, we went to lunch together and I said something like, “If you’re not doing anything this Friday night, maybe I could take you to dinner.” She got sort of flustered and said that she thought of me more as a friend, and of course, the rest of the lunch was really uncomfortable.

I got very discouraged. I’m sort of ashamed to admit it, but I got really lonely one night and I called Gina up and tried to talk her into getting back together with me. It was such a dumb thing to do, because I knew Gina wasn’t really into me and I didn’t really want to get back together anyway, but I was so lonely, I forgot how nasty she was when we broke up. She said that she’d think about it and I should call her back later, which I did, and she said basically the same thing, that she’d think about and I should call her again. At that point, I figured I have too much dignity to continue this ridiculousness, no matter how much I wanted to have a girlfriend again.

Finally, after we were talking a long time, Claudia said to me, “Hey Jeremy, there’s a festival on the main campus this weekend. Do you think you might be feeling well enough to go?”

“I think so,” I said. “I’m supposed to get discharged tomorrow.”

So we actually started making plans to go to this festival during the weekend. I had to ask Dr. Elliott if she wanted me to work during the weekend to make up for my absence, but she insisted that I get some rest. Dr. Elliott was so nice about the whole thing, it really surprised me. She visited me in the hospital and insisted on unwrapping my stump to see how it was healing. I could tell it was doing better by the fact that it didn’t hurt anymore when she touched it.

I felt a sort of strange closeness to Dr. Elliott as she examined my stump. She really was a good-looking woman and she handled my leg with a very gentle touch. I can’t claim that I wasn’t a little bit attracted to Dr. Elliott after all that had happened, even though I sort of also hated her. I’m sure Dr. Elliott would have been thrilled to know that her intern with no legs had a crush on her. Although I have this feeling she wouldn’t have been too surprised—Dr. Elliott seemed very aware of the impact that she had on other people.

I came back to work, feeling about 95% better. My stump still looked a little red and swollen and I was keeping it bandaged, but it was much better than it had been before. Still, I tried to take it easy for a few days, so as not to relapse. I was surprised and impressed to see that Claudia seemed a lot more capable than she had been before—she seemed to really be getting the hang of the ICU. Her patient with Hodgkin Disease was getting these mysterious fevers and when I hinted to her that there might be a noninfectious cause for these fevers (despite the patient’s neutropenia), she did some research and came up with an excellent little presentation on Pel-Ebstein fevers in Hodgkin Disease. I could see that even Dr. Elliott was impressed.

That weekend, Claudia and I attended the festival together on campus. The festival was more like an outdoors BBQ where people were setting up picnic blankets on the campus lawn. I used to sometimes go on picnics with my ex-fiance Wendy, but I hadn’t been on a picnic practically since college. After Claudia and I got food, we set up a blanket on the lawn. I eased out of my wheelchair onto the blanket, although I was careful to tuck my pants legs under my stumps so they wouldn’t be flapping around all over the place.

It was slightly awkward initially, but luckily, Claudia is a really outgoing girl. She had forgotten to get French fries and I offered her some of mine and she actually ate them right out of my hand. I took this as a good sign.

“I’m so glad you’re back in the ICU,” said Claudia. “Bill took over your patients and he had no idea what he was doing! Plus I missed having you around. Nobody else but you is willing to put up with me.”

“Are you kidding?” I said. “I’d go nuts if you weren’t around to keep me company.”

“I can’t believe I’m almost done with my medicine rotation,” Claudia said. “I’m doing surgery next. I’m really scared.”

“You have nothing to be scared about,” I tried to reassure her. “You’re going to be a great doctor.”

“You’re so sweet, Jeremy!” Claudia leaned in and kissed me on the cheek.

Okay, so any other guy on the face of the planet would have made a move by now with Claudia, but I was still scared. Like I said, I was getting rejected a lot lately. Also, I kept thinking how with Gina, practically every time I tried to kiss her, she’d pull away, and she was my girlfriend. Plus I was the intern on Claudia’s team and it was sort of unethical for me to be dating her, even though I wasn’t technically grading her.

Claudia moved over so that our arms were practically knocking into each other as we ate. Of course, she had a great view of my legs, which was making me feel self-conscious as hell. I was looking at her really great legs, very sexy in her short-shorts, and my little stumps laid out in front of me. I didn’t know what Claudia thought of this, but the whole thing made me nervous and I was way too afraid to make a move. (I know you’re thinking I’m a big wuss by now. I just turned 28 a couple of months ago and I’d hoped to be past this kind of stuff at my age.)

After Claudia finished her food, she let out a long sigh and leaned her head on my shoulder. At this point, I had no choice but to do something. I put my plate on the side and I put one arm around her shoulders. I had to keep one hand on the ground, because I can’t keep my balance very well when I’m just sitting on the floor. That encouraged Claudia and she snuggled up closer to me.

My heart was pounding and I felt myself getting hard. I really liked Claudia and even though I had gotten vibes from her, it was hard to believe this was really happening.

We didn’t really go much further than that, mostly because I felt nervous about pushing her. Of course, I would have loved to start making out with Claudia, but I do feel like I need to take things a little slow. I haven’t been in a real sexual relationship since my accident, and I feel like that’s something I need to work up to.

When we parted that night, we hugged each other and I kissed Claudia on the cheek and she kissed me back on the lips (very quick, no tongue). I think Claudia figured out she was going to have to push me a little bit, but I was really happy she seemed interested.

Since then, Claudia and I both finished our rotation in the ICU. I got a letter from Dr. Elliott that wasn’t exactly glowing, but according to the chief resident (who I showed it to) was “incredibly good—especially for Eva.” Dr. Elliott took me into her office at the end of the rotation and actually said to me, “You did a fine job, Jeremy. As usual, Dr. Whitney has no idea what he was talking about.” That made me feel really good about myself.

Claudia and I have been going out since then. No, we haven’t had sex or even close (we’re still at first base). Like I said, we’re taking things really slowly, but I think that we’re both interested in a serious relationship. I’m pretty terrified about Claudia eventually seeing my bare stumps when and if things get to that point, which is part of the reason I don’t mind taking things so slow. I don’t want her to see them before she gets to really know me and feel comfortable with me and vice versa.

However, I feel like I’m finally getting over my ex-fiance Wendy and I really just want to move on, and it was just a matter of finding the right person to do it with. I don’t know if I’ll ever really love anyone as much as Wendy, but I’m definitely falling for Claudia.

I really miss having a girlfriend and one thing I enjoy doing is spoiling the women I’m dating. I used to do that with Wendy all the time, but Gina really didn’t appreciate it. I don’t want to make Claudia feel suffocated or anything, but I can’t help myself and I have to send her flowers every few days, and I’m happy that she seems to really like this. I’m trying to find out the things she really likes so that I can surprise her with them. For instance, she really likes cats, so last week I surprised her with this charm bracelet with cat-shaped charms on it. You can really find anything on the internet. She was so excited when I gave it to her, I was happy I picked out the right thing.

So that’s my story and wish me luck with Claudia. Hopefully I’ll have a lot more good stories to write about her, or if there’s anything else you’d be interested to hear about, you can let me know.

Part 6