“Dr. Benton! What are you doing here? They said you were in an accident…” The charge nurse, Susan, stood with her clip board by one of the empty trauma rooms.
“Nah. I wasn’t hurt. What’ve we got?”
“Well, they called in Dr. Waters.” She made an ugly face.
Dr. Waters was known for his angry outbursts. He could cuss like no one I had ever heard before. He’d gotten in trouble for tossing a patient chart at a nurse a few weeks before. They must have been desperate.
“Hey, I’m looking for a man that probably came in a few minutes ago. A hit and run…”
Suddenly there was a loud shriek from behind a curtain down the way. It was the crazed, angry kind of scream you hear from an elderly person with dementia and it was followed by the crash and clattering sound of one of the metallic trays with instruments toppling over.
“Could I get some goddamn help in here?” A male voice shouted. Staff and families milling about stopped what they were doing and went quiet, staring at each other wide-eyed, wondering who was going to intervene and hoping it wouldn’t have to be them.
Susan and I both looked at each other. It was Dr. Waters. We were not going to be in any hurry….
His voice rose higher, almost strangled, “Look, someone needs to get off their fucking ass and give me a hand.” There was a choking sound. “NOW!”
Well that gurgling sound was a bit different…
I shrugged and moved to the bay, poking my head behind the pinkish gray colored curtain. There was a frail, elderly woman with a large gash in her left forearm who had Dr. Waters held in a choke hold. He was a very small, very angry man and he had apparently been in the midst of sewing up that arm because the needle from the half used suture was dangling dangerously close to his eye.
She wasn’t strong enough to kill him but he was having a tough time extracting himself from her grip. There is nothing like sheer terror to give you super human strength and there is probably nothing more frightening in this world than a hospital when you are sick or hurting and have dementia. The poor woman’s eyes were wild with terror.
“Can I help?”
The woman made a guttural sound deep in her throat and tightened her grip on Dr. Water’s bird-like neck. He gasped, motioning to the patient’s arm as if I couldn’t see it.
The bastard deserved to suffocate for a bit longer. I owe him for a few of the times he has purposely dumped difficult patients on me.
Moving slowly, I eventually crossed the small cubicle and patted the patient on the shoulder. She loosened her grip just enough that Dr. Waters was able to scramble out.
“Dr. Benton! What the fuck took you so long?” he sputtered. His face was red.
He was clearly flustered.
I ignored the question, addressing the patient instead. “Want me to finish up?”
“Sure,” he said from the corner where he had retreated.
“I wasn’t talking to you.”
“She’s nonverbal, Ann,” he said, rolling his eyes at me.
“She still might understand, even if she can’t speak.”
He shook his head at my foolishness and stepped out through the curtain, flashing me the finger as he went.
I spoke calmly to the woman, getting her settled back onto the gurney again, pulling out a new set of instruments, and then gloved up. I started working on closing the rest of the laceration. It was a painstaking process as the gash was long and jagged.
“Well, he is a mean and nasty man but he sure can do a pretty stitch,” I murmured as I began with a new set of sutures at the other end of the gash. I thought I saw a bit of a smile play on her face. “It’s a good thing my grandmother taught me how to sew. If she didn’t like how my stitches looked, each one small and neat, she would rip them out and make me start all over again.” There was no mistaking it this time, there really was a little smile. I grinned back at her.
The charge nurse, Susan, popped her head in. “Need anything?”
“Nah.” Then I remembered. “Wait! Yes, I need to know if a guy was brought here. A Joseph Spellman. Hit and run. He was bad…”
“Just sec, let me check.”
She was gone for a few minutes. I was trimming off the last suture when she came back and shook her gray, curly head. “No, he’s not on the board.”
I stood up and stretched, then ripped off my gloves, snapping them into a pile on the intrument tray for someone to clean up later.
This was going to be an awfully fun note to write. I laughed to myself, remembering the image of Dr. Waters in the strangle hold.
That’s what you get for underestimating someone.
I winked at the patient and followed Susan out of the room.
Joseph Spellman had not ended up at Northwestern after all despite the fact that it was the closest ER and the EMT had indicated that was where they were going. It wouldn’t make sense to take him anywhere else.
What did this mean?
While I pretended to write the procedure note and discharge orders at the computer I pulled out his business card from my pocket. I typed in the URL for his website but the browser said it did not exist. I deleted and retyped, double checking every character. Still nothing. Then I pulled up Google and searched his name and business address. Nothing. I searched for Joseph Spellman and Chicago, then clicked the images button. I scrolled through a few screens of photos that had nothing to do with the fellow I was looking for. I was just about to give up.
A man with dark brown hair in a business suit was smiling at me from the bottom left corner. Take away the blood and that had to be him.
A nurse with a scruffy beard, named Paul was calling to me, holding up a chart. “Got a good one for ya!” He laughed and whispered laudly, “A fecal impaction.”
I sighed. “Ok. Gimme a sec.” I hurriedly typed my note and the orders for the patient I had just finished with and rushed off with Paul as he told me more about the impaction.
By the time I was finally able to get back to the computer, the image was gone. Poof. Just like that, a man’s life had been erased.
Something big was going on and I had stumbled onto it. I was determined, though, NOT to let curiosity be my nemesis. Not this time. I was just going to let this one go…