Power Lines

Power lines

“Hey, Doc. Remember me?”

I quickly glanced again at the name on the chart. He was a new patient. His name did not ring a bell. I squinted at his face. Dark beard and hair with some gray in it, a bit shaggy, but fairly well groomed. Lips. No. Then his eyes. I remembered the eyes from somewhere….

My heart caught and my fingertips went numb.

“How do I know you?” I asked, playing dumb. 

I knew good and well who he was. 

He smiled at me. “February 14th, 2016.” He paused a second to let it sink in. “That was the day you found me guilty of aggravated sexual assault and sentenced me to 10 years in jail.”

I quickly tapped a help message on IM to my office manager. 

“I don’t remember…”

“Sure you do, Doc.” He leaned forward close, too close, and spoke again in barely a whisper. “They made a big deal about who you were during jury selection. Got out a bit early. I had very, very good behavior. Not a day went by, though, that I did not think about what I was going to do to you when I got out. I have a very good memory.”

He sat up straight. There was a knock on the door and my office manager popped his head in. 

“This visit is over. Leave,” I rasped, embarrassed that my voice caught in my throat like a frightened fool instead of conveying strength and force. 

Damn.

A look of mock hurt crossed his face and he laughed. “Fine. See you around, Doc.” 

He sauntered out, slowly, pausing before rounding the corner to look over his shoulder and wink.

*********************************

In case it needs clarifying, this IS a work of fiction. 

Impact: Chapter Eight

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*Adult content warning…*

I knew what I needed to do next and it did not make me happy.

Not one bit.

Whipping out the phone, I tapped at it fiercely only to remember that it no longer functioned. It had been years since I had seen an actual payphone anywhere and good luck getting someone to let me “borrow” their phone, especially when I started to explain to him what I needed.

A groan of frustration escaped my lips. I was going to have to go to his office. Or apartment. But no. I needed to keep things professional. It would have to be his office.

I groaned again and chucked the useless thing into the trash can. It made a satisfying crunch against the metal canister as it made impact. I could imagine the spider web of cracks that must now stretch across the screen.

Good.

The sharply dressed middle aged woman walking past me at that very moment paused slightly, looking hard at my contorted face, while clearly debating internally whether or not she should check to see if I was OK. She ended up talking herself out of it, going on her way instead. That was good. I didn’t want to have to deal with a do-gooding stranger’s concern.

What time was it anyway? I glanced around for a clock somewhere, anywhere, and found none. He was a few blocks away. I could get there quickly, certainly before five, if I left now.

I started to walk down Jackson Blvd.

Everett Haydar

My buttocks burned at the thought of his name, feeling the echo of the stinging slap of his hand followed by a lingering caress before the burn of the next strike.

Why does memory have to be so physical?

He was protective but he was also controlling. I was not the naive, docile, sweet woman he wanted from me but he was physically attracted. Very strongly so. As was I. So much so that I was willing to play the role. Those neurochemicals are incredibly hard to resist once you get a taste of them. As such, we pushed and pulled each scrabbling for the upper hand, for control of the relationship, never quite getting what we desired from the other but trying harder and harder still to get it, working up to a fevered pitch that could only culminate in intense lovemaking.

The fact of the matter was that if he started undressing me even now, I would not stop him. I would gladly offer my body up to him. Even now I wanted him to posses me physically. I just could not allow him to possess my soul. I remembered the delicious wetness of him on my thighs afterwards, the heady feeling of power that came from knowing that even while tied up, I could make him do things….

Powerful things.

We were on a dangerous path, he and I. It had to end. We each wanted to believe we pulled the plug but in truth, it was mutual and it hurt in a way I was not prepared to accept. The sting of the memory even now was worse than that of his hand on my backside.

In the end I found that I could not stomach making love to anyone else.

So there had been no one else.

People didn’t like him, people that I knew at least. They did not like how he spoke to me, how he hovered and yet seemed to look through me rather than at me.

What do you like about him, anyway? 

liked having my nipples crushed between his thumb and forefinger but that was not the answer anyone wanted to hear. It was not the kind of relationship I could explain to friends, so they drifted off and away. Here I was in the giant city of Chicago, a place full of people of every type, and I had no one else I could turn to for help.

No one but him.

Maybe he had won our battle of wills, after all?

I stood at the foot of his building, at Wacker Street, squinting to block out the glare of the sun as I looked up to the 62nd floor. Right there at the corner was his office. He had pointed it out to me from the outside one day. A strange mingling of dread and desire rose up from within, making my heart pound and my fingertips tingle as I strode into the lobby working hard to maintain a facade of confidence that I did not feel.

The speed of the elevator always surprised me. 62 floors in as many seconds. The force pressing down on my shoulders always made me feel heavier than I really was.

A trim dark haired woman in a black dress glanced up as I entered the reception area through the thick glass doors. I recognized her.

“Do you have an appointment?”

“No, Laura. No, I don’t have an appointment.”

She sighed and rolled her eyes. “You know he won’t see you.”

The sentence was not even completely out of her mouth before I was down the hall, turning the handle on his office door.

My breath caught.

Him.

There he was, standing at the window looking out over the city, hands clasped behind his back.

He chuckled a bit then turned around.

“I’ve been waiting for you.”

And then I knew.

———————————-

Want to know how we got to this point? Check out the other chapters of Impact:

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

What’s On Your Shelf, Victo Dolore?

I am hanging out over at Every Day’s A Mystery sharing what’s on my shelf. Come check it out!

It’s time for  ‘What’s On Your Shelf?’ and today, ladies and gentlemen, we have the doctor in the house! Yes, I know what a coup, please give a very warm welcome to Victo Dolore from ‘Behind The White Coat’. Victo can be found blogging about the daily rollercoaster that  is working in the health service, interspersed with dark, witty and frankly therapeutic, fiction and poetry. If you haven’t already, you can check out Victo’s blog here and more wonderful fiction here. So, without further ado, let’s see what’s on the doc’s shelf!

‘I love books. I have spent my entire life surrounded by them. They taught, provided escape, and empowered me. Much of who I am is because of those words.

My house has hundreds of books spread out all over the place spanning hundreds of years and covering just about any genre. The oldest ones date from the 1600’s but my favorite is the Victorian period. People said and wrote crazy…

View original post 356 more words

Take Me Higher

Entrance to St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican.
The young woman glanced down at the distinguished, gray haired gentleman propped up on pillows as she hung the bag of potassium from the IV pole at the head of the bed. 

He was more handsome in person than he appeared on TV, she decided.

“This might burn going in,” she murmured. “The computer says your level was a smidge too low.” They were piloting a new AI program that made treatment decisions instead of doctors. It was said to be more effective and more reliable, better outcomes.

The patient looked up at her from his newspaper and nodded, winking. “Thanks for the heads up.” A great wracking cough rattled through his chest at that moment, leaving him gasping for breath. He sat down the paper. There was his face on the front page in an article talking about his admission to this very hospital for pneumonia.

“That sounds… better?” It was a statement and a question. She looked at him hopefully.

“Oh, believe me, I do feel better than I did yesterday.” He spit out the great glob of yellow phlegm that had caught in his throat, then wiped his mouth.

“On the mend, then!” She smiled down at her VIP patient. Her shift was approaching its end and she felt some degree of melancholia about that. Rubbing elbows with the rich and famous was quite fun.

Illness was the great leveler, after all.

She couldn’t wait to tell her fiancé! 

And her mom. 

And her best friend. 

Technically she was not supposed to tell anyone about this fellow, privacy laws and all that, but how could she be expected to keep a secret like this? She had really met him, spoken to him, touched him. The part she would not tell anyone about was the number in her pocket. He had slipped it to her after telling her she was beautiful and that he would like to hook up sometime. She patted her scrubs absently to make sure the paper was still there. Not that she would ever take him up on it, mind you.

Power was sexy…. but phlegm? Not so much.

She walked out of the room and back to the nurses station where she charted her activities of the past hour or so in the EHR. She caught sight of the man’s wife getting off an elevator and she found herself watching with envy. The woman was beautiful in a way she herself could never hope to be. His wife walked purposefully, a blue coat draped elegantly over her arm, a slight smile curled on her lips. No one at the hospital had ever seen her smile before. They were all warned to stay out of her way.

He must have called to tell her he was feeling better.

The nurse glanced back at the computer screen. There was a new order for another six bags of potassium for the fellow in room 432. 

How odd.

A quick check of the blood test results reassured her. His potassium level was indeed very low.

She checked her watch. It would be another 30 minutes before she could hang the next one. The next shift would be kept busy, that was for sure.

*********************************

The papers and news stations all shouted about his death. Across every front page. Leading every news program.

He was dead.

She couldn’t believe it. How? He was getting better.

Then fear. 

Did she do something wrong?

*********************************

The voice on the other line spoke a greeting in Russian. 

“It is done?” she asked.

“Da,” the voice said gruffly then hung up.

She smiled to herself as she dropped the burner phone into the crackling fire and poured herself a glass of champagne.

Yes. Of course it was done. A simple hacking right under their noses and no one would ever know. Cardiac arrest from a potassium overdose. In the hospital. They would do everything possible to keep it hidden if it were discovered. No one wants to be the hospital that killed someone like him…

It was a beautiful, elegant thing.

There would be no other women. 

Veracity


He chuckled to himself. Potassium level?

Let’s make this one 6.5….

He hit enter then scanned down the list. 

Ahhh… a 90 year old woman. Perfect!

This time he picked the sodium level. 

126

In thirty minutes he had changed the results on over three dozen patients. Just one or two per provider, not enough to cause much of a stir…. Since none of the docs at the various system clinics spoke to each other.

*******************************

Potassium level 6.5? No eveidence of hemolysis noted. Damn.

She sighed and dialed the patient’s number, hoping he would pick up.

“Hello?” a male voice said

“Mr. James?”

“That’s me…”

“This is Dr. Stephens. I was calling to discuss your lab results. Do you have a second?”

“Sure, Doc!”

“Your potassium is showing as rather elevated. Most of the time this ends up being an error but at this level, if it is true, it can kill you. We need to get it rechecked. The best place to do that is the ER. They will recheck the levels and do an EKG and if it is really elevated they can bring it down.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, sir. I know going to the ER is not a cheap proposition but I don’t feel like at this level we have much of a choice.”

He sighed audibly. “Ok, Doc. If you say so. Should I go right now?”

“Yes. I’ll call ahead and let them know you are coming and why.”

She had alerted the lab to these abnormal results several times. Each and every time it seemed they were proven false. It had been occurring since the mandate that all providers had to use the system laboratory instead of sending their samples to an outside place. Invariably she was told it must be a problem with the way staff was drawing the blood. 

Only it wasn’t… She knew that was not possible.

*********************************

The board gave a standing ovation. Revenue for the system had reached an all time high. It had been a banner quarter. Things had been looking grim for so long….

A nondescript figure in a dark suit with a light blue silk tie sat silently in the corner, arms crossed, smiling to himself. 

Impact: Chapter Seven

Chicago in lights

“Next.” 

I stepped forward to the granite counter top and managed a weak smile. The woman in the bank’s uniform half-smiled back at me. Her striped blue and red scarf was tied jauntily at her neck.

Like a flight attendant.

“How can I help you?” She sounded bored. In her mid fifties, the woman had amazing hair with just the right amount of wave and body. 

I felt the familiar envy. I stared at that hair, wishing my own head was not covered with the flat, lifeless, straight as a board hair I had been cursed with. It was a dull mousy brown until I started to dye it blonde. At least the blonde helped. Speaking of which, my roots were showing. I needed to make a hair appointment if I was going to have to start interviewing for jobs now.

Times of stress always left me to dwell on each of my own flaws. My thighs were probably going to come up next. Maybe the crows feet. I was getting old. I looked closely at the woman’s eyes. She had great skin, too. I focused on her chin looking for hairs. 

Please let there be whiskers. Please let there be whiskers.

Nope. Not a single one. 

Damn it.

“Ma’am?” Irritation was in her voice and any trace of smile had now left her face.

“Oh. Sorry.” I felt my cheeks flush. “I need to make a deposit.” 

I pulled the paper paycheck, my last paycheck, out of the envelope. “Wait. I forgot to sign it.” 

The woman raised an eyebrow and passed a ballpoint pen to me. It was attached to the counter by a chain that made a slapping noise with each stroke. Banks were always disconcerting… unearthly quiet despite the hard surfaces and volumes of people. I felt I was disturbing the peace just by scribbling my name.

I passed the signed check to the woman. Her name tag read Elyse.

She waited, expectantly. “Where’s your deposit slip?” She looked at me, incredulous.

It had been too long since I had manually deposited anything into my bank account. My checks had always been deposited electronically. 

“Um, I don’t have one.”

“What’s your account number?” I could tell she was holding back the disdain with great effort.

“You know what? I don’t know that either. I have my bank card, though. Can you pull it up from that?”

I pulled the card out of my keychain wallet and handed it over.

“Do you have some ID?”

I cringed self consciously as I showed her my awful driver’s license picture. It was from before the blonde. She nodded, handing it back, and I tucked it quickly into the safety of my billfold.

Curt typing ensued. Then a scowl at the screen. More typing. Finally, she looked up at me suspiciously. 

“It says here that you closed out that account yesterday.”

A wave of nausea came over me.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that it says you were here yesterday and closed out the account.”

There was $20,000 in that account.

“Does it say if I took that money in check or cash?”

She manipulated her computer mouse and clicked twice.

“Cash.”

There was no way to trace it.

“What about my savings account?”

“Also closed out.” 

I had scrimped and saved, trying to accumulate enough to eventually retire, hopefully sooner rather than later. I didn’t know how long I could keep up working as an ER physician. They had a high burnout rate after all.

It was gone. Every bit of it.

What was happening to me? Should I say something? Report it to the police? 

“That wasn’t me,” I said softly.

“Customers are not allowed to cash out accounts, particularly NOT accounts that large, without notice and without proper ID. I can assure you that you did indeed close out that account.”

“It was not me.”

A “Hmmmf…” of disbelief was all she uttered. The woman offered no other explanation, no further assistance. 

“Can I just cash this check, then?

“Fine,” she said sharply.

“In tens and twenties, please.”

I weighed my options as I watched her count out the bills, one by one. Four thousand dollars was not going to last me very long. Not in Chicago. 

Not anywhere, really.

At least I had paid the month’s rent last week. I was good there. 

The wad of bills was thick. I registered that my work computer was still there as I stashed them at the bottom of my bag. That could be helpful. I wondered how long it would take for them to realize I still had the thing.

I walked the few blocks back to my apartment mulling things over. Who could I call for help? I needed advice. Six months ago I would have called my boyfriend. Well. I would have if my phone had been working, but now, even if we were still on speaking terms I realized I did not know his phone number. I had never had to know it despite texting and calling him thousands of times over the years we had been together. My phone made communication with him a no-brainer. 

There had to be someone else I could call. Surely. As I rode the elevator up to my floor, I wracked my brain but there was no one. I had no friends. Only work acquaintances. There was no one I was close enough to that I could call them up and confess that my world was falling apart. No one except for him. Having regular sex with someone allowed you certain lifelong privileges didn’t it?

Probably not, but I still had to try. 

Maybe I could look him up on the work computer if my password hadn’t been shut down already. Not his cell number, of course, but I could Google his office number. He’d be in clinic right now if it was not a hospital week. If wifi was not working in my apartment, and something in the pit of my stomach told me it would not be, I could find a Starbucks somewhere… 

I turned my key in the lock. It stuck a bit and I panicked as I jiggled the key and retried it. Finally the lock clicked and I pushed open the door, relief flooding through me. 

My relief was short lived, however. It evaporated when I saw what was waiting for me inside. Or rather, what was not waiting for me.

Nothing

There was nothing at all inside. Every scrap of furniture was gone. Every last one of my possessions, gone. All that remained were the indentations in the carpet where my couch and chairs and other furniture had once been.

I was exposed. Bare. Naked. Nothing was left of me. At least nothing of the me that I once was.

My life was being dismantled before my very eyes.

It was time to fight back.

———————————-

Want to know how we got to this point? Check out the other chapters of Impact:

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Impact: Chapter Six

Chicago elevated train.

I awoke to sunlight streaming in through the windows. I stretched lazily. There was nothing more blissful than waking up to bright, warm light on your face after a long shift. This was why I always opened the curtains before crawling under the covers. That, and there was something reassuring about waking up in the night to see the lights of the city outside. It helped with the loneliness.

My shift! OMG.

My heart leapt into my throat and I sat bolt upright in bed. I had picked up an extra shift. I was supposed to work today.

Why hadn’t the alarm gone off?!?!!?!?

I distinctly remembered setting the alarm. Did I do something wrong? The new phone lay on the empty pillow next to me. I snatched it up and after hitting the button over and over again found that it was dead. 

How? 

I checked the power chord. It was plugged into the phone and the wall properly. Last night should have been a clue when email wasn’t working, I realized. I picked up the land line phone beside my bed. I needed to call in but there was no dial tone. I punched a few numbers and clicked the receiver a several times. Nothing. I slammed the receiver down in frustration. 

Skidding to the bathroom, I flipped the light switch but no light. I tried every damn light switch in the apartment but none worked. The clock on the microwave was a black, empty space. The TV would not turn on. Soon it was clear that the power was off completely. 

There hadn’t been a storm, had there? 

I checked out the window. The streets looked dry.

The clock on the wall in the kitchen read 9:18. I wondered if it was right or not but remembered it was battery operated. I was so miserably late and this time I did not have a Good Samaritan excuse. They probably wouldn’t believe me about the power.

I threw on some clothes. I had a habit of sleeping naked. It felt good to strip off all vestiges of the day and lie beneath clean sheets but now I felt terribly vulnerable. 

Exposed.

What was going on?

I would have to sort out everything later. The first order of business was getting to the hospital. 

Brushing my teeth helped. So did splashing water on my face. Quickly, I pulled my hair back into a ponytail. There was no time for make up. I shoved my make-up bag into the satchel next to my computer and headed out the door. Maybe I would have time later to apply something. I didn’t want to scare the patients…

Without my phone, I could not summon Uber. I was going to have to use the train. I zipped around other people as I ran two blocks to the nearest station. I flashed my card at the till but the light did not turn green. I tried again. 

Still red. I was getting frustrated and contemplated just hopping over.

“Hey, lady, do you think you could maybe go through or get out of the way?” The voice behind me was irritated. I turned to see a blond twenty-something in a light gray suit wielding his briefcase with an air of self importance. He glared at me. He was probably running late, too. So was the middle aged woman behind him and the older woman behind her.

“It’s broken.”

He rolled his eyes and reached around me with his card. The light turned green and he pushed past muttering obscenities under his breath.

The woman behind him did the same. I tried my card again but still got a red light. 

Fine.

The bodies behind me were pressing forward. I backed up from the turnstile pushing past the line that had accumulated behind me and did a quick visual search for a kiosk. 

Something was wrong with my card. Maybe I had lost track of how much was on it? I found one of the vending machines and attempted to load more money onto it but the message flashed that the card was invalid. I tried to purchase a regular ticket using my bank card but it said that card was invalid. Then I tried my credit card but received the same message.

Damn it!

Precious minutes were wasting! I fished out some cash and purchased a ticket that way, then made my way to the platform. 

I found a seat in the corner of the train and stewed. How could it be possible that all of my cards were dead? I watched the faces of the other commuters, wondering if any of them was experiencing something similar. No. They all seemed calm.

I decided to distract myself by putting on some mascara and lipstick.

At the next stop a woman settled into the seat next to me. She looked like a talker. I scooted closer to the wall and crossed my arms across my chest, hoping the body language would send the clear message to leave me alone. I couldn’t bury my head in my phone since it wasn’t working. I felt exposed again.

“Good morning!” 

Clearly, she had not gotten the message.

“Morning,” I muttered.

“You look like you are having a bad day.” 

I glanced over at her and raised an eyebrow. 

“My daughter, Cordelia, does the same thing.”

“What?” I was puzzled.

“Wrinkles her forehead like you do.”

“Oh.” I hoped the clipped response would shut down the conversation. 

It didn’t.

“I work in real estate as a paralegal. It is the most dreary office ever, so small you would think it had once been a closet. I feel the life sucked out of me a little bit each day.” My brain flashed to the scene in The Dark Crystal where the Skeksis drain essence from the Podlings, leaving them dessicated, mindless zombies. “Where do you work?”

“In healthcare,” I said carefully. Admitting that I was a physician always opened me up to awkward questions.

“Oh how nice! What exactly do you do in healthcare?” She smiled.

“I’m in housekeeping at the hospital.” It was sort of true.

She squinted at me, then laughed. “That’s funny! I would have put you in management. You just never know about people.”

I shrugged.

“I get off up here,” she said, digging her purse. She handed me a business card. “If you ever need to buy some property…” She winked as the train stopped, then was gone.

I tucked the card into my bag next to the accident victim’s card, shaking my head. What a 24 hours this had been. 

The rest of the trip passed in blessed silence. 

At the correct stop, I exited and ran the remaining few blocks to the ER at Northwestern. I stoppped at the nurses’ station to catch my breath and survey the lay of land. I could see they were fully staffed. There was Dr. Prick, I mean Dr. Waters, back again to make everyone miserable. There were three other physicians seeing patients but they and the rest of the staff pointedly avoided making eye contact. I checked the board. I was not on the list for today. Then I realized my name had been erased from the rest of the week, replaced with Dr. Waters’ name. A sense of foreboding came over me.

“Dr. Benton!” It was the ER director, Dr. Boyack. Someone must have alerted him to my presence. “Why don’t you step into my office?”

Oh, god.

I followed him into the tiny office around the corner. He settled himself behind the desk, motioning to the chair across from him. The room was sparsely decorated except for an ivy plant by a window that looked out onto a brick wall and a framed illustration of a busty female robot stood on the corner of the desk. Eccentric was the word for him. He studied me for a moment, probably for dramatic effect, then leaned forward, steepling his fingers in front of his long beard. 

“We have decided to let you go, effective immediately.”

I let out the breath I hadn’t realized I was holding. A million panicked thoughts were racing through my brain. When I didn’t respond, he continued.

“You have excellent patient satisfaction scores. The staff loves you. But we need someone more reliable.”

Wait! I wanted to scream at him. This isn’t fair! But in his defense, I had a habit of running late. Getting used to the unpredictability of Chicago transportation had been difficult. If I had not already established a pattern of behavior, we would not be having this conversation. So instead I just nodded. 

I was not sure this day could get any worse but at least now I had time to figure out what was going on with my bank and credit cards and to try to get the power back on at my apartment. Oh, and the phone. That goddamn stupid phone that I had been forced to get after the men in suits had stolen my original. I fingered the cold screen in my pocket. I wanted to take the cursed thing out and stomp it to pieces right then and there. 

But I didn’t.

He pushed a long, white envelope across the desk. “Your last paycheck. I’ll need your badge and keys.” He smiled sympathetically.

I dug the items out of my bag and dropped them onto his desk, giving a satisfying clang as the metal and plastic hit the fake mahogany surface. I opened my mouth to speak but thought better of it, choosing instead to leave the office without a word. As I reached the door he called out to me.

“Hey, Dr. Benton?” I paused, looking over my shoulder. “Good luck. I have a feeling you are going to need it.”

Chapter One

Chapter Two 

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

The Troll Under My Bridge

Bridge partially obscured by rays of sunlight

“Hey, Doc?”

“Ummmhmmm?” I was trying to figure out what button to push to get his tetanus booster to propagate into the right field of his health maintenance screen. I had a cuss word on the tip of my tongue that really wanted to get said…

“Are you happy?”

That made me stop what I was doing and look up at him. 

People don’t often ask me that question. Most people just assume that I am super happy. I mean, I do have that nice looking fake wedding ring, right? Plus, there is the fact that I work hard to project joy and happiness for my patients. They don’t need me dragging all of my baggage into their office visit. 

But now that the question had been asked I took a momentary inventory of my happiness quotient. Am I stressed? Sure am.

But, am I happy?

Then it hit me. Yes, yes I am happy. Very happy. You know how I know? Generally, I dislike the holidays but this year I find myself looking forward to them. The sound of Jingle Bells does not make me want to strangle some innocent, unwitting fluffy creature. 

I do my best writing from dark places but right now, I don’t want to go there.

So I say all of that to say that while you may read dark things, like yesterday’s mediocre medical poetry, I am not writing them because I am some shell of a person paralyzed by grief who spends the day curled up in a corner thumbing through a lifetime of regrets. Hardly. I have better things to do. And when I do go to dark places it is not because they are my places. Often I borrow them. And I don’t live there. Not for long, at least! Not anymore.

Today, I am happy. 

Today I am thankful. 

Impact: Chapter Five

The Bean in Chicago
I lay there wondering if I would ever be able to breathe again. 

We moved faster and faster.

Faster…

Then suddenly everything stopped.

There was a look of horror on the man’s face right before I connected with him, knocking the air out of my chest. The seconds of weightlessness just beforehand seemed like an out of place dream sequence in slow motion, especially with the startled screams going on in the background. 

I looked down at the man I had landed upon. His nose was broken, blood pouring from it. He wasn’t breathing. It wasn’t my fault, this whole thing, but I felt guilty nonetheless. I saw an arm beside me, impossibly bent with shards of bone protruding from it. At first I thought it was his arm, then realized that it was my own.

Whimpers. Cries for help. 

I could not move. 

What to do next?

I shrugged it off and stood up from the plastic seat, slung my bag over a shoulder, and exited the train.

On the platform people stood waiting to board, avoiding eye contact with everyone else around them… I wondered how many others were having these same images?

The truth was that death followed me. These intrusive scenes popped into my brain at the strangest times. 

What if that taxi cab hops the curb and takes me out?

I used to wonder what was wrong with me. It wasn’t that I wanted to die. One day I realized that maybe it was the opposite. That I wanted to live so much my brain was preparing me for survival by throwing scenarios at me to work through. So I stopped being afraid of it.

I walked the remaining few blocks to my apartment. It was dark and only few people were on the street. Some people were afraid to walk at night in Chicago… the most violent city in the United States. 

My apartment was lonely and I tried to avoid it as much as possible, instead lingering at the hospital for hours after my shift so I could stay around people. 

The key turned in the lock and I moved around flipping on lights. While heating up some ramen with cheese and frozen mixed veggies I paused to check email on the new phone I had picked up on the way home. An alert popped up to say that my password was incorrect. I reentered it and the message popped up again. 

Well. That was weird.

Probably just a bug since the phone was new. It would probably sort itself out in the morning.

I flipped open my laptop and tried to log in that way. No dice. 

Maybe hotmail was down for some reason?

The microwave dinged.

I tried to pull up a movie on Netflix, only it said my account didn’t exist. Hulu and Amazon were the same. I tried to call the hospital, but my phone said no service.

I decided to eat and get some sleep. Tomorrow was another day. I would have to sort it out then. 

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Impact: Chapter Four

Art Deco Chicago Metra station

“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. 

“Sorry…”

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.

There!

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.

“Dr. Benton!”

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…

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three