Ann tried to find Joel after work that day, but he had left early. His secretary said that he was in clinic, but she wondered if he was just trying to avoid her. She wished she knew his phone number so that she could call him, but she was scared of seeming like a stalker.
When Ann arrived for rounds the next day, she found that Cody and Joel had both arrived early and were talking animatedly. Joel had his hands on the wheels of his chair, as if he was ready to take off. Cody was clutching her notes to chest and her pretty oval eyes were widened. Cody was easily the most attractive resident in the hospital—Joel had to have noticed that.
Ann walked up to them quietly and stood there waiting for them to finish talking. She heard Joel saying something about blood cultures. From the end of their conversation, she couldn’t tell what they had been talking about. “Hi,” she said timidly.
Joel glanced at her and smiled. “Uh… hi. How are you?”
“I’m okay,” she said. The whole interaction felt terribly awkward. Ann felt an irrepressible urge to start biting her nails.
“I think we’re going to do sit down rounds today, maybe in an hour,” Joel said. “We’re not going to have much time this morning. Cody and I need to go see a patient in the ER who’s kind of sick.”
Ann looked from Joel to Cody and felt a flash of jealousy, although she wasn’t quite sure why. “Can I come?” she asked.
“You already have two patients,” Joel pointed out.
“I can handle three,” Ann insisted.
Joel looked skeptical but Ann was adamant about going downstairs with them. At the very least, she wanted to prove to him that she could handle a difficult patient.
They headed down to the ER. It was 9 o’clock and the elevators were at their peak level of crowds. The first elevator that came was packed and Joel shook his head, backing his wheelchair away from the doors, “I don’t think I’ll fit.”
“Nonsense!” cried one of the social workers who was already in the elevator. “We can make room for you, Dr. Dergan!”
The people within the elevator reassembled themselves and one person left, saying he’d take the stairs down the extra flight. There was just barely room for Joel to squeeze his chair into the elevator. Ann and Cody were both small enough to slip inside as well.
Ann was behind Joel, pressed up against one of the wheels of his chair. Cody was in front of him, facing him, and Ann could see her leg was squeezed up against his. Cody didn’t seem at all uncomfortable and once again, Ann felt that flash of jealousy. She tried to remind herself that Joel couldn’t feel Cody pressed against his leg.
As they rode down in the elevator, Ann attempted to make eye contact with Joel. She wanted him to acknowledge that there was something between them. But he didn’t look at her once during the entire ride. He was choosing to pretend that their encounter yesterday hadn’t happened. Did he think she’d just forget about it? Nothing that incredible had ever happened to her in her entire life.
As soon as they were down in the ER, Ann was instantly sorry she had tagged along. The patient was having unexplained fevers and Cody was very busy writing orders and discussing the case with Joel. The patient was fairly ill and there wasn’t much time for them to spend trying to keep Ann up to date on what was going on. They didn’t even try.
“You got blood cultures before starting the antibiotic, right?” Joel asked.
“Of course,” Cody said. “And the urine culture and U/A. We’ll get a sputum sample too if she coughs up anything.”
“Fantastic job down here, Cody,” he said. Ann could tell by his voice that he was genuinely pleased. “You took care of everything. I don’t even know why I needed to come down here.” He winked at her.
“Well, I wouldn’t want to deprive Mrs. Brewster of the pleasure of your company, Joel,” Cody teased him.
Ann almost choked when she heard Cody calling Joel by his first name. What was going on here? She was the one who had kissed Joel in the resident lounge yesterday—why was he suddenly so familiar with Cody?
For the rest of the morning, Joel barely looked at Ann. She had no idea what was going on between the two of them. She wished she could work up the nerve to ask him and find out for sure.
Due to spending time with the new patient that morning, the team missed noon conference. Usually when they missed conference, Ann and Cody went together to get food from the cafeteria. Today Cody nudged Ann’s arm, “Hey, maybe we should invite Dr. Dergan to have lunch with us?”
“What?” Ann said. She knew her face must have been turning red.
“I always see him eating alone in his office,” Cody said. “We should ask him to join us.”
“Uh…” Ann said.
She watched as Cody walked right up to Joel and asked him if he wanted to join them for lunch. He immediately glanced over at Ann and shook his head. “I… I’ve got a lot of work to do, Cody.”
“Come on,” Cody said. “You can take a half hour break, can’t you?”
“Next time,” Joel promised.
Ann felt relief when she watched him wheel out of the room. She shrugged at Cody, trying to act like the whole thing was no big deal. “He probably doesn’t want to eat with an intern and a med student,” she said.
“I guess not,” Cody sighed. She brushed strands of dark hair from her eyes and glanced around the room to make sure everyone was gone. “Ann, can you keep a secret?”
Cody bit her lip. “I know this is going to sound weird, but… lately I’ve been kind of… interested in Dr. Dergan.”
Cody laughed nervously. “I know, it’s totally silly, but… I ran into him last week at the bookstore and we wound up getting coffee together and ever since…” She sighed. “I don’t know, I just think he’s very brilliant and he’s also so… cute.”
Ann didn’t know what to say. She couldn’t tell Cody what had happened between the two of them.
“I know it’s a bad idea,” Cody went on. “I mean, he’s my attending and that’s… well, at least somewhat unethical. It’s not like he’s giving me a grade, but still…”
Ann wanted to crawl under the table. “I thought you said he didn’t date,” she pointed out.
“Yeah, I know,” Cody said. “And, I mean, we couldn’t date seriously anyway. Can you imagine the look on my parents’ face if I brought home a white guy in a wheelchair? They’d kill me.”
Ann hadn’t even considered how her own parents would react if she brought Joel home with her. They had always wanted her to marry a doctor, but she didn’t think the disability thing would go over too well. Of course, it could never get that far with him.
“I’m being stupid, I know it,” Cody said. “But the thought of hooking up with my attending is just so exciting. And none of them have ever been as attractive as Dr. Dergan is. They’re mostly bald old men, you know? He’s so cute and… sexy.” She giggled nervously.
Ann held her tongue. She was terrified of saying the wrong thing and cluing Cody in to what had happened yesterday.
“Anyway, I’m all talk,” Cody went on. “Nothing will ever happen, I’m sure. Dr. Dergan is too ‘by the book’ to have an affair with an intern.”
I wouldn’t be so sure, Ann thought.
Joel couldn’t escape from morning rounds fast enough. Every time he looked up, Ann was staring at him and he felt the guilt boring into him. What he did with her the other day was horribly wrong, no matter how desperate he was to be with a woman. He wanted to apologize to her and let her know that it would never happen again.
Yet… she was all that he could think about… he could still feel her hands running through his hair, her soft lips on his… god, it had been so long…
Joel tried to focus his attention on the new patient that he had seen with Cody: Mrs. Brewster. This woman had come in last night with fevers and Joel was perplexed about the source of these fevers. She didn’t have any respiratory symptoms, no signs of meningeal irritation, and her urinalysis was clean. So why was she spiking fevers?
Mrs. Brewster had mild diffuse abdominal tenderness and was a good candidate for a gallbladder inflammation, but she’d already had her gallbladder taken out. The continued fevers and pain had prompted the ER to order a CAT scan of her abdomen. There was no sign of any diverticulitis or anything obvious, but he could tell right away that the scan wasn’t completely clean. Somehow Joel suspected that the etiology of the patient’s fevers lay in her films, but he didn’t have enough experience with CAT scans to put the pieces of the puzzle together. He decided it was time to take a trip down to radiology.
Joel always felt that going down to the radiology reading room was a surreal experience. The radiologists worked in a dimmed, quiet room filled with computers, located in the basement of the hospital. It was a sharp contrast to the bustle of the rest of the hospital. When he was post call, Joel had always tried to avoid coming down here, because he knew the atmosphere would just put him to sleep.
Maybe I should have become a radiologist. In some ways, radiology would have been ideal for a wheelchair-user, since the job was fairly sedentary anyway. But when Joel imagined himself sitting in front of a computer every day for the rest of his life, his stomach turned. He did think he could stand that kind of job.
“Joel Dergan,” Lilly Simms, the attending radiologist in the room, greeted him cheerfully. Lilly was an attractive woman in her forties, although Joel wasn’t absolutely certain of her age or looks, since he had never seen her in the light of day. “How have you been?”
“Same old, same old,” Joel said. He pushed aside some of the many rolling chairs to make room for his wheelchair. When he was a surgical resident, he never once had sat down in the radiology room, always preferring to lean over the radiologist’s shoulder.
“I’ve got a woman you might be interested in, Joel,” Lilly said with a wink.
Lilly said that every time he came down to radiology by himself. He never allowed himself to be set up on a date. “I don’t think so, Lilly.”
“Why not?” Lilly pouted. “When is the last time you’ve been on a date, Joel?”
Joel thought back to yesterday. Maybe what happened with Ann was a sign that he should get out more. But he hated the idea of being set up. “I get around, don’t worry,” he said.
“Fair enough,” Lilly laughed. “So what brings you down here?”
“Got a 58 year old patient with fevers of unknown origin,” Joel explained.
Joel read off the medical record number and Mrs. Brewster’s films popped on the screen. Lilly loaded them up and the chest X-ray was the first to come up. “This looks fine,” she said. “No sign of pneumonia or any infiltrates…”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought.”
She declared the abdominal film to be equally benign. She then loaded the CT and scanned through the image. Joel noticed the frown on her face as she got into the abdominal region. “Did you notice anything irregular?” she asked him.
He had, which was why he came down here in the first place. He wheeled himself within arm’s reach of the screen and tried to point to an irregularity just anterior to the small bowel. Due to his inability to move his fingers, it looked like he was just slapping the screen. I hate the way my fingers look. He looked over at Lilly, who nodded. “I see it too,” she said. “What the hell is that?”
Lilly leaned back in her seat, deep in thought. Joel stared at the computer screen, trying to piece things together. He had hoped Lilly would look at the CT and know what was going on right away. He frowned as he suddenly came up with a thought, “Lilly, can you load the abdominal plain film again?”
Lilly complied and Mrs. Brewster’s bowel popped up on the screen. Something had always been bothering him about this image and now he knew what it was. “Shit…”
“There’s a mesh pattern,” Joel said.
Lilly glanced up at the screen. “Well, she was probably lying on some bedding…”
“No, she wasn’t lying on bedding,” Joel sighed. “She had surgery last month.” He rubbed his fists against his temples. “Fuck! The goddamn surgeon must have left a towel in her.”
“Oh my god,” Lilly murmured as she stared at the image. “You’re right, Joel…”
“I can’t believe the negligence that goes on,” he ranted. “There are checks set up to keep this from ever happening. Now this poor woman has to get her abdomen cut open again.” He sighed. “Lilly, can you check who the surgeon was who did the operation? Someone is going to pay for this.”
Lilly checked Mrs. Brewster’s online medical records. As the name popped up on the screen, Joel felt a sharp pain in his chest. “The surgeon’s name is Kyra Manning,” Lilly reported. She turned to Joel. “Have you heard of her?”
Dr. Kyra Manning hid behind the building where she held her outpatient visits, smoking a cigarette. She had only smoked intermittently since quitting in college, but in the last three or so years her one to two cigarette a day habit turned into a pack and a half a day. She didn’t like the idea of her patients knowing that she smoked, so she never did it right outside the building. She always hid a small alcove near the service entrance and sprayed herself with body mist before she went inside.
Kyra was feeling so tense that her left eye began to twitch slightly. She tried to calm herself as she stood in the elevator, waiting to go to the third floor. She took broad steps to her office and opened the door with a loud snap. Her secretary, Mina, looked up in surprise. “Dr. Manning, your patient is in the examining room, waiting for you.”
Instead of heading toward the examining room, Kyra folded her thin arms across her chest and flashed her secretary a hard look. “Mina,” Kyra said, “why didn’t you tell me the lap chole at 11AM was canceled?”
“It was canceled?” Mina’s eyes widened. “Doctor, I had no idea…”
“Come on, Mina,” Kyra raised her eyebrow. “The patient told me that she spoke to you.”
Mina’s face flushed. “I… I honestly don’t remember that. I could check the schedule…”
“It’s already done,” Kyra said sharply. “Don’t let it happen again.”
You bet your ass it won’t. I’m firing you at the end of the day.
Kyra spun on her heels and walked down the hall to her office, slamming the door behind her. Mina was so infuriating—it would be good to be rid of her after today. Kyra would have liked to fire her right now, in front of all the patients in the waiting room, but she needed her for the rest of the day.
Kyra slid into the black leather chair behind her mahogany desk. She had the kind of office she had always dreamed of during all those long years of residency. Her diplomas and awards hung on the wall, parading her accomplishments for all to see.
Kyra pulled out her compact mirror and examined her face quickly. All those years of work had taken their toll—she looked at least ten years older than her 34 years. She tried to hide her wrinkles with make-up, but the circles under her eyes were too deep to cover up. She noticed many strands of gray streaking her short blonde hair and made a note to call for an appointment with her hairdresser.
She was in an especially foul mood today because she’d seen a notice in the paper that her ex-husband Paul was getting remarried. The ink was barely dry on their divorce papers and he had already found someone else—it figured. The last time she had seen Paul, he had been glaring at her across a conference table as they divided up their few shared assets. She had always thought that when she finally got married, she’d be able to sacrifice her work for the sake of spending time with her husband, but when it came down to it, she couldn’t do it. She had worked too hard to get where she was today.
Sometimes Kyra wondered if the problem with her marriage wasn’t her workaholic tendencies, but rather her lack of passion for Paul. She had cared for Paul, of course, and she had believed that she was in love with him when she married him, but the truth of the matter was that he never made her blood boil. Only one man had ever made Kyra’s blood boil.
And that man was Joel Dergan.
Joel… shit, what had happened to him? The last Kyra had heard, he was reluctantly applying for residencies in internal medicine. Kyra didn’t know how he was going to make it in medicine—he hated sitting around and talking about patients. Joel liked the action. But with his hands the way they were, he’d never be able to operate again.
Kyra had tried so hard to stay with him after his accident. She remembered the first time she had seen him in his new wheelchair, struggling just to stay upright, his legs limp, and she had felt sickened. She had tried to stay positive, but he had seen right through her. When he had finally asked her not to come back, all she felt was relief.
Kyra checked her watch and saw that she was now late for seeing her patient. It felt like all she ever did these days was operate and see patients. She never had a moment to herself and she was still making far less than any of the subspecialists. Between her debts, her rent, her office expenses, and her malpractice insurance, she didn’t have much to put in her savings. She remembered how Joel always talked about becoming a vascular surgeon and she wondered if it had been a mistake on her part not to subspecialize.
Kyra sighed as she struggled to her feet and pulled on her long white coat. It was too late to start having regrets. This was her life and she had to live it.
Ann didn’t see Joel for the rest of the day, so she decided to take the initiative and go to his office before she went home. She went to the ladies’ room and checked her reflection before going to see him, pulling her hair out of its bun to let it fall gently against her shoulders. I’m not that bad looking, she thought self-consciously. Of course, she couldn’t hold a candle to Cody Hwa.
She was initially discouraged when she saw the door to his office was closed and the secretary was gone, but she could see light shining from under the crack in the door. She knocked timidly and heard Joel calling for her to come in.
“Ann…” Joel said when he saw her. He looked terrified.
She cleared her throat, “Uh… Dr. Dergan, about the other day… I…”
“I’m so sorry, Ann,” he spoke up before she could complete her thought. “I just… got caught up in the moment, I guess. I feel terrible about it.”
An apology was the last thing she was looking for. She hesitated, not sure what the correct next move was. She wanted to tell him how sexy she thought he was, how much she wanted him. But she couldn’t make herself say the words.
“It wasn’t your fault,” Ann said.
He flashed a pained expression. “I’m your attending and I shouldn’t have behaved that way. If… if you want to report me for it, I would understand.”
“I’m not going to report you.” Ann hated the way this conversation was going. In her mind, they would have been making out by now. But at this point, they were left with only awkwardness. She felt like crying. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Dr. Dergan.”
He nodded, already turned back to his work.
To be continued...