BACK IN MEDICAL RECORDS, Lindsey straps on her wrist-tendinitis brace and sits down to it. Pulling on the headset and plugging into Number Two E.R. line, she’s relieved Gayle’s got Trauma Doc and his dramatic flourishes. She goes into her patented zombie state and her fingers fly. She doesn’t have to think about it any more—once she enters the patient workup info and diagnosis, the terminology’s pretty well selected, and only occasionally is she jarred out of it with an unusual case or nomenclature. Her mind goes thankfully numb, just occupied enough to keep the “brain whirl” at bay, all the endlessly cycling and recycling wounds and arguments and pleas and fears receding to white noise. And when the hot flashes attack along with the nausea and vertigo they bring, she can fake it, pretend to keep typing and no one seems to notice.
Static now in the headset, then a popping as Dr. Octavio with his thick accent she’s learned to decode hangs up and a new doc starts recording:
“Bennerton here. Patient Montague, Richard, male forty-five head trauma motor vehicle accident arrived via ambulance 2:45 am….”
Lindsey cringes, braces herself to keep typing. Dr. Bennerton is the backup neurosurgeon on call for emergency head and spinal injuries. She keeps praying he’ll move out of town or they’ll take away his surgery privileges. Everyone dreads it when they see his name on a chart, but the audit committee protects its own. She can predict the complications piling up in the next reports to come down the line after the patient’s admitted from E.R. She takes a deep breath and tries to shunt the thoughts away, not summon bad luck on this faceless man, hoping the next report she types isn’t about fluid pressure buildup on the brain, infection, vitals deteriorating, non-response to stimuli.
The office phone rings and she realizes she’s been sitting stiff, fingers poised motionless above the keyboard, staring at the blank monitor screen.
She flinches, takes a breath, starts typing.
“Lindsey, it’s for you.” Gayle is leaning around from her station, pointing at the blinking red on the phone extension. “Hey you okay?”
She mouths, “Bennerton,” indicating her headphones as she pulls them off, and Gayle makes a commiserating ouch face.
Lindsey picks up the phone. “Hello?” She keeps her new little cell phone off while working, per office policy.
It’s her older sister Francine. “Lin, sorry to call you at work, but it’s Mom. She’s having another bad spell. Can you pick her up and take her to the doc?” Fran has already booked the latest appointment she could get today, but her number two grandkid’s sick, and she’s daycare backup for her Phyllis who’s moved back home after her divorce. It’s Lindsey’s turn to cope with Mom. Make sure she understands the meds, make sure she doesn’t try to drive. Ratcheting more gears, Lindsey figures she can make it home on her bike after work, pick up her car, and get Mom to the doc on time.
She braces to finish the Dr. Bennerton report, sends it to the printer, and shuts down for lunch break. She needs some fresh air. Then she stops short as she’s passing Olivia’s desk. Crap. She’d forgotten about staying late to catch up the surgery line.
They work out a deal. Lindsey can come back for a couple hours on the evening shift.
“Thanks.” She ducks her head, can’t meet her boss’s eyes, hates having asked one more favor.
She looks up to see Olivia giving her a motherly look. “It’s okay, Lin.”
Her eyes are burning, damn she’s so tired of losing it. Every time she lets a little crack open, feels anything, it turns to tears. “You know. How everything feels like a source of suffering.” The stranger in the basement stairwell, calmly seeing through her careful mask.
She blinks, gives Olivia a quick nod, bites her lip and makes it to the stairs before the tears spill.
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