He hated the white coat. It made him feel like a lab rat scurrying through a hospital maze. Without it, though, security would treat him like some criminal instead of a resident on rounds. He liked the stethoscope. He slung it around his neck, where it drooped like an unknotted tie. He shut Locker 33 and slid a padlock through the handle, clicking the shackle and turning the blue dial twice past zero.
Tonight he was working the glass-walled Intensive Care Unit, a laminated ID card hanging from his neck. Dr. Thomas Block, it said, under the obligatory grainy head shot. It didn’t look like him at all.
He picked up the first chart and stared at it. Okay, he thought. Let’s see if we can’t get Mr. Gregory Hampton’s pain level down. He slid a syringe into the IV tube and pushed the plunger. He moved on to the second bed and pulled the chart. Metastatic melanoma, he read. Bowel. Good candidate, he grimaced. He administered the shot and moved on.
The night nurse came in.
“Excuse me, Doctor”—she located his name tag—“Block. Where is Dr. Isaacs? She’s supposed to be on rounds.”
“Family emergency,” he said. “Last-minute kind of thing.” The nurse eyed him. “But I’m glad you’re here,” he continued. “Can’t seem to find the lab results for bed three. Any clues?”
“Didn’t know labs were ordered for Ms. Ruiz,” the nurse replied. “I’ll check.” The nurse went back to her desk and picked up the phone. The door to the ICU whispered shut and he stared at the innocent face of the comatose Ms. Ruiz. High-grade lymphoma, the chart said. How could he not administer the miracle cure? He pulled the needle out just as Mr. Hampton in bed one began coding.
A riot of alarms and beeps coming from the bedside monitors brought the night nurse back in, running. She bent over bed one just as the monitors for bed two erupted.
“Doctor Block!” she cried. “I’ll take Hampton. You take the melanoma!” He stared at her heaving shoulders, saw the way her spine bulged like a cable through the back of her green scrubs. He moved behind her and wrapped the stethoscope around her neck and pulled, his knee in her back. She was a fighter. She flailed and kicked back, trying to topple him. She went limp and fell to the floor just as the third set of monitors went off.
He dropped the dry, empty syringe into a sharps box, then walked out of the ICU and down the hall. Nurses and EMT’s went running past him, pushing complicated-looking machines, heading for the ICU. He took the back elevator that went express to the basement.
He stuffed the white coat and the laminated ID into a trash bin just outside the morgue and followed the signs to the Emergency Room and exited to the street. The night air was freedom on his face. That was just it, he thought. Air was freedom, whether in his lungs or in the barrel of a syringe.
He could still smell the nurse on him, her Johnson & Johnson hair, her Dove-white neck. He thought he might swoon as he stumbled along, inhaling the scent clinging to his shirt.
When he got home, he poured a glass of Chablis and surfed the Internet for some naughty nurse porn and released himself manually into a flushable wipe. He fell into bed and slept dreamlessly until he was awakened midday by the garbage men slamming metal trash cans against the back of their truck. He rubbed his eyes and went to the window and opened it, letting in some air. He poured himself a bowl of Frosted Flakes and sat at the computer to check his sales on E-Bay. He was happy to see that his volume had almost doubled overnight.
The next day, the police used bolt cutters on the padlock of Locker 33, after they were pretty sure it wasn’t just a sandwich going bad in there. When they pulled open the door, out fell a bloated, greenish-blue body. It had a wad of surgical gauze stuffed down its throat. Dental records identified the remains as Dr. Thomas Block, a resident physician who had been missing since the day before.
Dr. Block’s ID had been retrieved outside the morgue, where his body was taken. The medical examiner leaned against the slab, looking back and forth from the ID to the swollen green hamburger of Dr. Block’s face. The M.E. was sure of only one thing.
Dr. Block’s ID didn’t look anything like him.
"First Do Some Harm"
Copyright: © 2010 Robert Meade
Copyright: © 2010 Robert Meade
Robert Meade is a transplanted Bostonian now firmly rooted in Mohegan Lake, in Westchester County, NY, with his wife and three children. He teaches at Loyola School in Manhattan. He won the Wordweaving Award for Excellence for his book, Daily Bread: Seven Days to a Healthier Soul. A published author of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, his recent work has appeared in Angels on Earth magazine and online at Guideposts and Apollo’s Lyre.