Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Pink Hats and a Mack Truck

He was working the ER when they were brought in. Holiday weekends like this one -- Labor Day -- are the playground for Murphy's Law, i.e. anything that can happen, is likely to, so don't be surprised when it does. He began covering holidays after the divorce; it kept his emergency skills up to date and it was better than sitting at home, wondering why "I do," at least in his case, inevitably led to legal fees.

He really had no place to go; his work had become his life, and the only family he had left was so scattered, they may as well have lived on the dark side of the moon. Busy is good, he thought, why not give someone else a break to be with their kids, instead? That was five years ago and it had gotten to be a habit. Besides, it allowed him to spend time with nurses like Halley Henry, who'd more or less "adopted" him during his fourth year emergency med school rotation to prevent him from accidentally killing any of his patients.

He'd been on duty since 6.00 AM -- early morning was never his best time, but since he didn't write the schedule, there wasn't much he could do about it. Close to twelve hours later, he was anticipating washing down a Swiss and mushroom burger with a bottle of Rock Art American Red ale at the Old Port Tavern, a favorite watering hole for the post-call crowd, when an ambulance showed up. He could have turned it over to the evening guy, but this one was too good to pass on: twin girls, born only a few hours earlier, found by a medical student in a trash bag on the side of the road.
Neonatal care wasn't exactly his specialty, though he was competent to cover emergent cases and knew when to call in the cavalry. That was, what? thirty minutes ago? His initial exam complete, he decided they'd live -- after all they've been through, they'd damn well better, he thought -- and would benefit from observation in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

Halley, who'd worked-up the case with him, was holding a twin in the crook of each arm and looking over his shoulder as he wrote transfer orders. "Who would do such a thing?" she asked, stressing the "do" a little stronger than the rest of her sentence. "Throw these little darlings from a car like a cigarette butt and then drive away."

"God knows," he responded wearily, "he'd better, I sure as hell don't."

"Don't mind him, dears," she said, glancing at him over the tops of her wire-framed reading glasses and feigning a frown, "he still hasn't learned not to use that kind of language around us girls -- despite more years than I'd like to admit of trying to teach him."

"Mmph. You should hear the girls I know."

"The girls you know ought to have their mouths washed out with soap -- they would if I was their mother."

"Honey, if you were their mother, they'd still be wearing skirts down to their ankles," he said, with a smile.

"Go ahead, dig yourself in deeper. You can "honey" me all you want; I've got a good memory and I get even."

Previous experience told him to drop it while he had the chance; outnumbered by a superior force of one, he turned back to the computer screen and finished writing orders. He started out as an opthalmologist -- a younger cousin, as close to a brother as he'd ever come, was blinded in a bike racing accident, and became his inspiration -- but went back after a few years and completed a residency in pediatrics. It irked his wife who liked an eye doc's income, but he loved kids and never having had any, decided caring for other people's might approximate a close second. It always seemed like first one thing then another had interfered with children until finally, he guessed he'd let the idea go. It's a moot point, anyway, what would I do with kids at 62?

An hour later, at the Old Port, the image of the twins wrapped in warming blankets and wearing little pink knit watch caps, like tiny imitations of fishermen down on the wharf, nagged at him. Halfway through his burger, he realized he'd made up his mind to follow their case as an interested bystander. No one would mind, especially since he'd been the one to see them in the ER. It's perfectly normal for a concerned doc to show ongoing interest. No doubt the PR department would love him for it, once they got wind. As if I care, he thought.

It was dark when he pulled in the driveway of his home in the Stroudwater historic district, and he was tired -- in a good way -- but far too tired to hear the engine of a Mack truck heading his way.

Creative Commons image of "Day 2 -- Pink Hat" by Liz (byday) via Flikr)
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