Day 13: Short Fiction 2014 – Another Other

“What the hell are you doing here?” The lovely voice of the relief nurse asked as she walked in from the break area. “I thought you had Tuesdays off?”

She took in the sight of her ragged coworker. His dark blue scrubs were wrinkled in a special way only medical staff on the overnight shift could do. He was drumming a pen along the table while staring intently at the clock.

“Oh,” David smiled. “I do.”

“Then why the hell are you here?”

David waved a hand at the board. She followed his gesture and cursed. Every single room in the Emergency Department was taken, including the old GP office they annexed on busy days and the extra spots which were really just stretchers in the halls.

“Jared is in room six,” he pointed down the hallway. “And Kelly is in room three so it fell to me to cover the shift.”

“Fuck.” She drew the word out.

“Fuck is right,” he nodded. “Do you want the report?”

“Oh boy, do I.”

“Beds one through eight present with fever, altered mental status ranging from confusion to aggressiveness.” He pointed out the rooms like a flight attendant showing the exits.

“Awesome.”

“It gets better,” he sighed. “Symptoms also include increase thirst, hunger, slurred speech, and seizures. Rooms nine, eleven and hallway three are blunt force trauma waiting for imaging. Ten and twelve have sutures while hallway one and two are next in line. And hallway four is shopping for pain meds and won’t leave. We’ve been waiting for PD for about an hour now to get him out of here. More details are in the notes, I’m out of here.”

“Jesus Christ.”

“No,” he held out his hand. “I’m David, I thought we’ve met.”

“How many cups of coffee have you had?”

“I stopped counting at the second pot.” He bounced as he spoke. “I’ve got just enough energy to get back home, turn off my phone and sleep. Don’t call me.”

“Okay,” a nervous chuckle escaped as she looked at the security feed of the packed waiting area. “Who else is on?”

“You,” he used the pen to point to her. “The Doctor Braun is in his little cubby catching up on notes; he’s the only doc on tonight.” He held up a hand. “Yes, we’ve made calls they aren’t answering or they aren’t coming in. Other than you there are two nurses. Jackie is stitching up room twelve as we speak and Sandra is running between the other rooms. We’ve got Patty working the phones trying to get anyone to come in and we’ve even drafted one of the registrars to run patients to imaging.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to stay?” She leaned back on the table. Her long legs stretched out in front of her, the tip of her foot gently caressed the inside of his calf.

“Marcy,” he took a step back. “Normally, I’d melt and say yes but I’ve been here for the past thirty hours. I desperately need to get some sleep and nothing short of that would get me to stay.”

“Damn,” she sighed as she stood up. “See you tonight then?”

“Nope,” he beamed. “I covered these two shifts in exchange for my vacation starting today.”

“Right,” she waved her hand dismissively as she turned her attention to the notes of her new patients. “You’re heading up to your camp.”

“It’s a cabin,” he corrected. “I don’t camp.”

“How long will you be out?”

“A week and a half,” he let out a contented sigh.

“Does this seem a little odd to you?” She turned back to speak with him.

“I switched a few shifts to get a couple extra days.”

“No,” she tapped the notes on the screen behind her. “All these patients are presenting with the same symptoms.”

“Yeah,” his shoulders slumped as he let out a breath.

“Do you think we’ve got something major going on here?”

“The Doc had the same thought,” he hooked a finger toward the notation area for doctors. “He made some calls but whoever he called was already aware of the situation. Aside from the usual ends of the spectrum there shouldn’t be anyone dropping off and things should clear up in the next seventy-two hours.”

“By the ends of the spectrum you mean old people and kids?”

“What?” He walked through the break area. “The sound my card makes when I swipe out is just too loud.”

His feet dragged more with each step as the coffee and adrenaline he had been running on lost its potency. By the time he made it out to his car he had lost most of his higher brain functions. Whatever had caused this sudden surge in sickness had been going on for about a few days now and he had been in the ER from day one. He had chosen the graveyard shift on the weekends on purpose. No one wanted to work those so if he was already on the schedule it wasn’t possible for him to have his weekend plans ruined. Three twelve hour shifts from Friday to Sunday and then the rest of the week off. Not that many people called out on a Wednesday night. It backfired on occasion, like times such as this and around the holiday seasons and he’d wind up with four or five shifts in a row.

The keys in his hand didn’t want to go into the slot in the door until the fourth try. He sunk heavily into the cushioned driver’s seat. On instinct he reached for his cellphone to call Casey only to find that his phone wasn’t in one of the many pockets on his scrubs. It was still in his locker. He started to chuckle as he leaned his head back on the rest. The only people to call him in the last month were from work looking for coverage. Casey wasn’t a factor anymore. She had been gone for a week before he had realized it but they had been headed for a wall for the last year or so. If it wasn’t for the lack of sleep he would have probably been more depressed but right now it just seemed really funny.

He leaned forward in the seat and looked out the windshield. For a moment it sounded like there was a helicopter nearby but he couldn’t see anything. A concentrated effort got the key into the ignition. For a moment he thought of just letting himself take a small nap right in the parking lot. He realized that anyone on their smoke break would see him then he’d probably be pulled back for more hours. His car wasn’t anything fancy and that made it stand out among the sparkling SUVs and trucks that still smelled like the dealership. It was an older blue Cadillac with a sizable dent along the rear passenger side but the tires were new and he was getting the dent fixed once his body guy had an opening. He called it his yacht because it was so big and exuded a sense of class that cars today lacked. It didn’t hurt that he could easily fit ten people in it. Not to mention the trunk was bigger than a shower stall. If he had really wanted to he could have stretched out on the back seat and slept like a king. He had done it before on days but not since Casey had left, without her it wasn’t warm enough.

“Casey,” he yawned as he spoke.

He wasn’t exactly sure how he felt about the breakup. There were moments he missed, like the backseat on long trips but then he was relieved too. She had changed, they both had.

“Stop it,” he slapped his face to wake himself up. “Get home, and then have an existential crisis.”

David started the car. One of the reasons he loved the vehicle so much was that it felt like he was riding on a cloud. It felt like he floated out of the parking lot and onto the main road rather than drove. For just after six in the morning on a Tuesday the traffic was rather minimal. Usually there was a steady stream of commuters headed for work or for their first cup of coffee. The town he lived in, Gibraltar was a stuck in the classification between a city and a town. Ten years ago it had been a mix of residential area and woodlands, like so many other places in Maine, but it had grown by leaps and bounds once a couple of corporations realized the state taxes were friendly to businesses and that the land was cheap. A few companies decided to stake their claim and the town sprung up faster than most people thought possible. Track homes, apartment buildings and a town complete with a decent hospital just popped up in a few short years. They were still a bit isolated but there was construction going to get the major roads all linked up. No one really knew why they named the town Gibraltar. The locals dropped the ‘R’ on the end or just called it Gibs for short. David wasn’t originally from Maine. Like most of the residents he had relocated due to the wonderful incentives the state provided professionals.

Casey didn’t like Maine. She hated the woods and wanted to move back to Philly. He was pretty sure that she had but they didn’t talk anymore. She had blocked him online and honestly, he didn’t really want to pursue things anymore. The three years they had been together hadn’t been the best, just kind of steady. There was the constant feel like they were just waiting to move on. Better to be complacent together than all alone or something along those lines. It was better to just not think about it.

He blinked. Something had changed. The car had stopped. He looked down at the dash to see the lights were off. It took him a moment before he finally realized that he had parked somewhere. The trip home hadn’t taken nearly as long without the morning rush to push against him. David let out an amused sigh that turned into a yawn as he turned off the car. Most of the time he didn’t mind when spaced out and his body carried on, sometimes it was the only way to make it through the night, but it bothered him when it happened behind the wheel.

Home was the corner apartment on the third floor. The building was less than ten years old, like most of the town, and had all the modern amenities including an elevator and a laundry room in the basement that wasn’t actually younger than the Apollo moon landing. Usually he would take the stairs for a bit of exercise but he was too tired to think about the three floor trudge. It was his walk of shame, revenge on himself for when he’d give in to temptation and eat a pastry or one of the many doughnuts someone would bring in. Today, he deserved a treat. He had done his good deed by not just covering one open shift but two.

He hit the call button and leaned his head against the cool metal frame as he waited. It was quiet here too. Usually there were people around about to start their day. The elevator opened. When no one stepped out he went in and selected his floor. Basic etiquette, the route home, and how to make a pot of coffee were apparently still functional when he was spaced out. That was good to know in a slightly unsettling way. Generic soft music played as the metal box made its sluggish rise to the third floor.

Maybe there was a storm he didn’t know about. That had been something to get used to. Storms in these parts sent people into horde mode where the local stores would be stripped bare and people would hold up for the entirety of whatever was coming but most of the time the big storm turned out to be a few inches of rain or a foot of snow. David realized he didn’t really care. He had the next ten days off and nothing short of an earthquake could ruin it. His phone was in his locker at work so no one could bother him. Now that he thought about going to his cabin it didn’t really appeal to him. He didn’t need to get away for solitude. His empty apartment could do that and he wouldn’t have to spend the entire first day to unpack.

The doors opened onto his floor and he stepped out. There were six apartments between the elevator and the one he was headed for. Door number one was currently vacant but that wouldn’t last long. The next three doors were taken by nice quiet professional types that David was on a strictly ‘wave and smile’ basis with while the two after that he actually considered his neighbors. Two spots down was Mister Metal; which wasn’t his actual name but it was how David referred to the faceless tenant. He loathed that neighbor because whoever lived in the apartment had a steady stream of heavy metal turned up so loud it shook the door most hours of the day. His immediate neighbor was an older gentleman by the name of Stanley who worked at the electric company. David only knew the name because sometimes the mail got mixed up. It wasn’t that he tried to be a loner, it just kind of happened. The night shift didn’t lend itself the being social. Mister Metal didn’t have music on, thankfully. There were certain stretches that interfered with his daytime sleep schedule. Something inside the apartment thundered as he walked by. It didn’t sound much like music but then it heavy metal wasn’t his forte.

He grumbled to himself as he made it to his door. His hands didn’t shake like when he tried to get the key in the ignition. This happened without fail. If he had decided to sleep in his car he would have been asleep in a matter of moments but once he got home he caught a second wind. Even after what had turned out to be a thirty hour stretch he wound need to unwind. David groaned as something thumped then crashed from inside Mister Metal’s house. This was going to be a long morning.

David closed the door behind him. He tossed the car keys on the small kitchen table as he headed for the bathroom. Thirty hours with nothing but catnaps and subpar coffee to keep him going. He didn’t need this crap; sleep, that was what he needed and that was what he was going to get. David popped open his medicine cabinet and found the over the counter sleep medication. Two small blue pills dropped into his hand and he swallowed them dry. His heavy footsteps headed for the bed. He was out before he had his shoes off.

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