Ann arrived at the hospital earlier than usual on Monday to pre-round on her three patients. She didn’t want Dr. Dergan… that is, Joel to think that she was going to slack off now that he had given her a bunch of compliments. She had her notes pre-written and she was ready to round with the team at promptly nine o’clock. She wanted to prove to him that she was worthy of the praise he had given her.
Cody was already waiting at the nurse’s station when Ann got there, perched up on the counter, holding her notes in her lap. As Cody waved a cheerful hello, Ann couldn’t help but compare herself unfavorably to Cody. Cody was really beautiful, sweet, bright, and never fumbling like Ann was. How could she ever hope to impress her attending when Cody was around?
A few minutes later, Ann saw Joel wheeling toward them. Maybe it was her imagination but she thought he looked like he had spent a little extra time on his appearance today. He was clean shaven rather than his usual little bit of stubble, and his shirt looked like it had just been pressed instead of just pulled straight out of the dryer. She could see the vague outline of his shoulder muscles under his shirt. Most noticeable was the cologne that wafted through the air into Ann’s nostrils. She didn’t recognize the brand, but she loved the way he smelled today. She felt her knees getting a little weak.
“Hello, ladies,” Joel said. “Where’s the rest of our team?”
“Mrs. Kaplan’s family is in her room, so I think Sheldon and Raj are talking to them,” Cody spoke up.
“I see,” Joel said. “Then do I have a minute to make a phone call in my office?”
“More than a minute,” Cody replied. “This is Mrs. Kaplan’s family we’re talking about.”
“Then I’ll be back…”
As Joel wheeled down the hall, Cody gave Ann a look, “Oh my god, was Dr. Dergan wearing cologne?”
Ann tried to laugh but it only came out as a croak. “I didn’t notice.”
“Gee, maybe he’s got a girlfriend,” Cody giggled. “Wouldn’t that be cute?”
Ann didn’t know what to say. She was surprised by the flash of jealousy she felt at the thought of Dr. Dergan having a girlfriend, but she didn’t want Cody to see her reaction. “Um… I have to look up some labs on the computer…”
After fifteen more minutes, Joel returned but neither Raj nor Sheldon had turned up. “We can’t wait any longer,” Joel declared. “Why don’t we round on your patients, Cody? And don’t you have one on this floor, Ann?”
“Oh, um… yeah, but I’m following her with Sheldon…” Ann had never presented a patient of hers before without the intern being there to fill in any gaps.
“Well, I trust you,” Joel said. “Let’s get on with it.”
He had never trusted her before to do this and she felt an overwhelming sense of pride, but also of responsibility. She wanted to live up to his expectations.
After Cody had presented two of her patients, Sheldon and Raj still hadn’t shown up. Joel looked up at Ann, “Well, would you like to present Mrs. Thompson?”
Ann looked down the hall, hoping Sheldon would miraculously appear. Even though she often presented patients to him, Sheldon was like a crutch—she knew that if she missed any information, he would be there to fill in for her. But she did know the patient very well and there was no reason why she couldn’t do this. She took a deep breath and opened up her notebook to her data on Mrs. Thompson, a 78 year old woman who had been hospitalized for pneumonia. She announced that Mrs. Thompson had been afebrile overnight and the pneumonia was clinically resolving.
“Very good,” Joel said.
Ann braced herself for the inevitable barrage of follow-up questions, but it never came. Joel shifted his weight in his wheelchair and placed his hands on the wheels. Cody frowned at him, “What? No pimping this morning, Dr. Dergan?”
Ann wanted to kick Cody in the shins as she felt her heart skip a beat, but to her surprise, Joel laughed. “Guess not,” he said. “Are you very disappointed?”
“Slightly,” Cody admitted. “It’s how we know you love us…”
It was that moment that Sheldon and Raj chose to reappear, both looking exhausted from the effort of dealing with the patient’s family. “I’m not going in that room ever again,” Sheldon swore. He took a deep breath and shook his head, “I’m sorry, Dr. Dergan. Did Ann present Mrs. Thompson yet?”
“Yes, she did.”
“So what do you think about her elevated white count?” Sheldon asked.
Joel raised an eyebrow and looked at Ann. “Elevated white count?”
Ann’s face turned red as she frantically flipped through her notes, trying to find where she had written Mrs. Thompson’s white count for the day. She found the page and saw that she had written 10.2, which was a normal white count. She bit her lip, trying to figure out where she had gone wrong. “Wasn’t her white count 10.2?”
“No, that was from yesterday,” Sheldon said. “She’s at 17 today with 30% bands.”
Joel’s eyes widened. “You’re kidding. But she’s afebrile?”
“She spiked a temp to 101.5 last night,” Sheldon reported.
Ann wanted to crawl under a crash cart. How had she missed all that important information? The one day Joel had trusted her, she had completely blown it. She could see the look on Joel’s face as Sheldon filled him in on all the information she had missed. “Shit,” Joel said. “And all her cultures are negative so far? Sputum? Blood? Urine?”
“We weren’t able to get a sputum sample,” Sheldon said.
Joel looked at Ann. “What antibiotics is she getting?”
“Umm…” Ann fumbled through her papers, making a last ditch attempt to redeem herself. Before she could come up with the answer, Sheldon told Joel that she was on IV moxifloxacin.
“All right, let’s expand her coverage,” Joel said. “Ann, what do you want to give her?”
Ann knew she had read the answer to this question, but her mind was completely blank. She bit her lip and clutched her notes to her chest. “I… I’m not sure…”
“Ann…” Joel shook his head. “You’re really not impressing me today.”
For the third time since she had started working with Joel Dergan, Ann felt tears coming to her eyes. This time she didn’t wait for him to call her on it. She murmured a quick “excuse me” and ran in the direction of the resident’s lounge. All the residents were rounding now so she knew she’d have privacy in there.
Ann threw herself down on the couch and sobbed into the pillow. She knew her eyes would be red and puffy after this, but she didn’t care. She felt like a failure. She didn’t need Joel to tell her that she had screwed up—she recognized that she had dropped the ball with her patient. How the hell was she going to become a surgeon if she couldn’t even manage a simple pneumonia patient?
Ann heard the door to the resident’s lounge open and she sat up straight, quickly wiping her eyes. She was surprised to see Joel wheeling into the room. She had never seen him in the resident’s lounge before. She watched his legs bounce slightly as he wheeled across the room. “What are you doing here?” she sniffled.
“I came to check on you,” he said.
“What about the rest of the team?”
“I told them we’d meet up again in half an hour.”
He wheeled over to the couch, where Ann was slumped against the cushions. He took a deep breath, “Ann, I’m really sorry I snapped at you.”
“You didn’t snap at me.”
“Well, I upset you,” he said. His voice was gentle this time, unlike the last two times she had nearly burst into tears.
“No, I’m upset at myself,” Ann sighed. “I just want to be a good doctor and I’m mad at myself that I screwed up. I knew the answer to your question, I really did…”
“It’s okay,” Joel said. “I… I don’t really care. I mean, I do care for the sake of your… learning, I guess, but…”
Ann lifted her face and saw the longing in Joel’s eyes. She felt her heart speed up as she suddenly realized that he wanted to kiss her.
Don’t fucking kiss her, Joel told himself. Don’t do it. That would be really stupid. That would be beyond stupid.
And then all of a sudden his lips were on hers. He wasn’t even sure who had initiated it, all he knew was that somehow he was kissing the med student on his team. This felt wrong on so many levels. Yet on the most important level, it felt great.
How long has it been since I kissed a woman? It had been about six years. Six years, for christ’s sake.
He hadn’t made out with a woman in so long that he wasn’t even sure if he was any good at it anymore. He loved the felt of Ann lips and tongue, but he felt distinctly self-conscious when she slid onto his lap. As her body nuzzled close to his, he thought of the bulge of his abdomen and all the parts of him that were disfigured from his quadriplegia.
She ran her hands through his hair as she kissed him, pressing herself into his body. He was pretty sure he wasn’t hard, but he loved the way she felt against the parts of his body that he could feel. He loved the feel of her soft black hair, the delicate nape of her neck, her thin shoulders. I can’t believe this is happening.
Ann pulled off her white coat, then climbed back on Joel’s lap as she kissed him. He felt her lips going down his neck and he gasped with pleasure. God, I hope she isn’t giving me a hickey. Her tongue explored the area below his ear, then she nibbled gently on his earlobe. Joel ran the palm of his hand up her smooth thigh, careful not to go too high up, into an area where he hadn’t been invited yet. He was walking a delicate line, making out with a student. And in the resident’s lounge, for christ’s sake—what was he doing?
Ann loosened his tie and began undoing the buttons on his shirt, revealing dark hairs on his upper chest. He stopped her before she got to the third button. “I’d just as soon you didn’t,” he said.
“You don’t want me to open your shirt?” Ann looked shocked.
How did he explain to her that he hadn’t taken his shirt off in front of a woman in a really long time? That there was nothing there that was worth seeing? “I don’t have much sensation there,” he explained awkwardly.
Ann frowned. She looked a little bit hurt.
“Okay,” he said finally.
She undid the rest of his buttons with such eagerness that one of them ripped off in the process. He was only 34, but Joel knew he had a significant “beer belly” that hung over his belt. There was nothing he could do about it. He tried the exercises his doctor recommended, but he’d never get rid of his gut. He looked up at Ann and expected to see disgust on her face, but there was nothing like that. Instead, she reached out and rubbed his shoulders. “You have really nice delts,” she said timidly.
“No six-pack though,” he said.
Ann shrugged, “Nobody’s perfect.”
Ann was perfect though. When she undid the buttons on her own shirt, revealing her see-through bra, he couldn’t help but stare at her perfect curves. He ran his hand over the smooth skin of her back as she pressed her half-naked body against his and continued to explore his mouth with her tongue. He lifted his fingers up and made a half-hearted attempt to unhook her bra, although he knew he no longer possessed the dexterity for that kind of an action.
Ann made one attempt to dip her fingers down his slacks, but he had quickly grabbed her hand to stop her. She didn’t try again after that.
There was a loud noise outside and they jumped apart like they had been set on fire. Through some stroke of luck, nobody came into the room, but Joel felt his heart racing. He had almost forgotten they were in a public place—the resident lounge. They could easily have been caught. “We can’t do this in here,” he said.
Ann nodded. Her face was very flushed and he thought he had never seen a woman look so sexy in his whole life. He wanted her more than anything right now, but not at the cost of his job. He was relieved when she started buttoning up her shirt without an argument.
Joel looked down and saw that with all the excitement, his left leg had slipped out of the footrest. Since he was unable to move it on his own, he lifted his leg up with his hand and quickly adjusted his foot in the rest so that it was pointing forward. When he looked up, he saw that Ann had been watching him. His face flushed. “Sorry,” he said.
“Nothing, never mind…”
He made an effort to do the buttons on his shirt by himself this time as Ann did her own buttons and tucked in her shirt. It was another impossible task, but he decided to try anyway. It was sort of ironic that he had once been the most talented surgery resident in his program and now he couldn’t even button up his own damn shirt. By the time she had all of hers done, he had only gotten the middle button almost through the hole. He laughed self-consciously, “Pretty bad, huh?”
“What do you usually do?”
“Usually I never unbutton it. I just pull it over my head.”
She helped him with his tie and with the rest of the buttons, except for the one that she had ripped out. She looked around on the floor, but couldn’t find where it had disappeared to.
“How am I supposed to explain that I went to talk to you and now one of my buttons is gone?”
Ann laughed. “Well, you’re the brilliant doctor. You’ll think of something.”
Joel rolled his eyes. He watched her as she stood up and brushed herself off. She pulled her hair out of its ponytail, smoothed it out, then redid her ponytail. “Do you…” He stopped himself in mid-sentence. He had nearly invited her over to his apartment tonight, but then he realized what a huge mistake that would have been. What had happened was a one-time kind of thing and there was no way she was going to want to take it further than that.
“What?” Ann asked.
“Nothing,” Joel shook his head as he straightened his tie. “I have to get back to rounds, but you can sit it out if you need to.”
“I don’t want you to make any exceptions for me,” she said in a firm voice.
As he looked at Ann’s pale, young face, he felt a wave of regret wash over him. God, what have I done? She’s a med student, for christ’s sake.
Whether or not Ann was genuinely attracted to him, this was very clearly an abuse of his position over her. He was the attending physician and she was just a medical student. Maybe she was drawn to his position of power and he had taken advantage of that.
But was it really so bad? Ann was an adult of consenting age. And anyway, nothing much had happened between the two of them. It wasn’t like they had sex.
Who the hell are you kidding, Joel? You’re just a dirty old man.
Ann felt like she was walking on a cloud for the rest of the day. Even though she had been fantasizing about her attending for weeks, she never imagined that it would ever become a reality. She kept thinking about that kiss, how his lips had felt soft grazing against hers, how his stubble had felt against her chin. Then a second later, they were ripping each other’s clothes off. She loved the feel of the tight muscles in his arms and shoulders, contrasting with his soft belly. Every time she thought about it, she became very wet.
Ann couldn’t get over the fact that out of everyone, he had chosen her. He wanted her. When she went to the bathroom to make sure she didn’t look too disheveled, she couldn’t help but stare at her reflection and wonder what Joel saw in her. She wasn’t ugly but she was decidedly plain. There were a lot more attractive girls than her, like Cody for instance.
Part of her couldn’t help but wonder if that was the very reason he had chosen her. She noticed his self-consciousness when she tried to take off his shirt—maybe he liked that she wasn’t that attractive because it made her less threatening. Maybe he thought that she was the best a guy in a wheelchair could do.
Ann pushed these thoughts aside and went to find the rest of her team. Sheldon was presenting his final patient to Joel, but everyone stopped talking when Ann arrived. She wrapped her short white coat tighter around her body. “Hi,” she said.
Joel nodded in her direction, not acknowledging what they had done less than an hour earlier. She wondered for a second if she had imagined the whole thing. “Go on, Sheldon,” he said.
Cody put a hand on Ann’s shoulder. “Are you okay?” she whispered.
“I’m fine,” Ann whispered back.
“What’s this?” Cody asked, reaching into Ann’s hair. She plucked out a little white object and held it up. “It’s a button!”
Ann realized with horror that this was the missing button from Joel’s shirt. She searched Cody’s face but there were no signs that the intern had pieced things together. Ann glanced at Joel and saw the distressed look on his face. She snatched the button out of Cody’s palm. “Thanks,” she said quickly. “I thought I lost that this morning.”
As Joel tried to wheel away, he slammed his chair into the side of a phlebotomy cart. She had never seen him do anything like that before, which was testimony to how nervous he was. Several test tubes spilled onto the floor, much to the dismay of the nurse who had been plucking supplies from the cart. “Shit, I’m sorry,” Joel said, reaching down to help her pick up the test tubes. She had never heard him swear before on rounds either.
“Please, Dr. Dergan,” the nurse said, brushing away his efforts. “It’s okay, don’t bother yourself.”
Joel’s face was red when he straightened up. Ann had never seen him appear so flustered. She couldn’t help but feel a little flattered that she had managed to disturb his seemingly impenetrable calm.
To be continued...