Please see Page One for disclaimers.
Three - Rush Hour
"Somebody tell me why I decided to drive today." Impatient eyes scanned the congested streets of rush hour, fingers tapping absently at the steering wheel. Piersen usually savoured her 20 minute walk to work - a morning ritual that cleared her mind, a chance to absorb the feel of this city that was her new home. No, this isn't the way I would've liked to get to know this place at all.
Sydney was in some ways very similar to London - the language, for one - Piersen laughed aloud at herself. The park in the city, the pubs on the corner, even the crazy traffic. But it was very different in other ways - the harbour, the amazing smell of salt in the air, stinging your nostrils... Ever since she saw pictures of the city, she knew that she would have to be near the harbour; she had always felt an affinity for water, its shifting textures and capricious nature that could calm her one minute and fascinate her the next. She smiled as she saw her former Docklands home in her minds eye. Well, it definately blows the Thames away.
Piersen knew that the new position at the MCA must have been a present from a benevolent god, because it was perfect. The gallery stood on the fringe of the harbour, at the busy ferry terminal - a 1930s sandstone building that glowed in understated early-Art Deco elegance. Its collection wasn't the largest, nor its reputation as well-established as some others where she had worked before, but it had an eclectic, dynamic selection that reflected the vibrance of the city's people and cultures. It was a new position for her, being placed at the artistic helm of an art museum as sizeable as this, and every fibre of her being cried for the challenge.
Part of which, Piersen ruefully observed, involved driving into work today. She had two very important lunch meetings at either end of the city, one with representatives from a major company expressing an interest in a sponsorship package, and the other with middlemen to negotiate the loan of several Warhols from New York. Two lunches. Somebody explain to me the logic in that.
She threw her head back and laughed a glorious moment. Oh, they'll never believe I said that. Her friends at the London gallery where she work before had always poked fun at her readiness to eat whenever, wherever. Good thing I had a light breakfast. Looking at the traffic about her, she mentally ticked off her schedule for the day, making sure everything was in order.
She spied an opening in the adjoining lane and skilfully swerved her silver BMW into the gap, smiling and waving pleasantly behind her to the irate driver very obviously swearing at her.
I really should drop into the hospital later today as well. The thought sent unpleasant sensations down her spine, guilt following quickly as it did so. Receiving the call from the hospital had been one of the biggest shocks of her life - the preface into a bizarre story about a crazed gunman, doctors, emergency rooms and... Richard. Her estranged husband was the last thing she'd expected to hear from, even indirectly. He was meant to be in London, and I was meant to be here. Away from him.
Piersen had been looking forward to a quiet night at home after an extended day at work, and had only been inside for a few minutes before the telephone rang. The nurse, with her crisp voice muffled by the bustle in the background, efficiently explained that her home number was found in a patient's wallet by the ward nurse. After revealing the name of the patient and having ascertained the nature of their relationship, the nurse requested her immediate presence at the hospital.
The operation had already been well under for some hours by the time she arrived, her thoughts in a tight rage after driving blindly along the twisting confusion of lanes and alleyways around the hospital. The first hour in the makeshift waiting room was spent filling out forms, trying to remember details of health insurance plans and other facts she had hoped to forget while she waited for him to be transferred from theatre to the intensive care unit. The second hour was spent in a half-waking daze, her eyelids fighting gravity while her body leaned further and further against the clammy off-white wall of the waiting room. It was mid-way through the third hour that a nurse emerged from the swinging double doors that shut the lethargy of the waiting room from the hubbub in Casualty. Directing her to a row of recovery rooms, she left as quickly as she came, leaving Piersen alone to part the curtains and see her husband's face for the first time in almost half a year -
Hey! Eyes widening, she jammed the brake suddenly, the traffic having stopped in its unending gridlock in the maze of one-way streets. I swear this is the last time I'm driving to work. Blowing out a breath, Piersen slipped uneasily back into her thoughts, still hearing echoes of the sudden pounding of blood in her ears.
She knew that in that one instant her eyes fell on his face, a million questions had exploded in her mind at one, clamouring for her attention. But the most pressing concern was what was he doing here? And how did he get my number...? If he was carrying my number around in his wallet, surely his presence here has something to do with me... She had wrestled with all the possible reasons that could explain this, every unwelcome possibility gnawing on her sanity as she sat for interminable moments in the recovery room.
Blip. Blip. Blip. That machine was counting out my life. She laughed, but it did not reach her darkened eyes. It's a strange sensation - feeling my life slip out of my hands slowly, and my sanity along with it...
And then there was the good doctor. Jamieson. She came in thinking she had all my answers. Thinking she could rattle off a string of medical jargon, bombard me with her supreme knowledge of the human body, and think that would satisfy me.
She frowned, as the traffic lurched its way through congested streets, a giant multicoloured boa with indigestion.
Oh, doctor - how little you know. How little you know.
She sighed, feeling an unexpected pang of grief on the heels of that thought. Okay, now you're feeling sorry for yourself. Come on, let's get to business, shall we? She shifted in her seat, and turned her thoughts away. There were too many questions to be asked.
And, while she dreaded having to face him, she was going to be there when Richard woke up.
It was nearly the end of the day when Kai finished off her regular rounds. Now the irregular rounds begin. She shook her head - she had a bad habit of making nonsensical remarks to herself when she was tired, and that particular one demonstrated her state of mind spectacularly.
Although Kai had always regarded herself as a nocturnal creature, the night before had sorely tested her resilience. She did vaguely remember falling asleep to a dimly lit sky, with a strange haze of ethereal green light caught in the room - like something from a Poltergeist movie, only distinctly un-scary. She chuckled. Must've poured out a bit too much last night, I think.
She snorted at her excuse. Right. You're more likely to be seeing things, Kai. Sitting up all night like a zombie doesn't do wonders for your state of mind. Despite her obvious exhaustion, her internal clock kept its unerring rhythm - blue eyes opened a little after dawn, before she had the chance to get into any decent length of slumber.
Reports had indicated that the ICU was back to its usual operating routine, following the extraordinary events of yesterday. Most of the patients were downgraded from intensive care to some of the other wards, which was encouraging news to the doctor. Good. I'd like to visit a ward today that doesn't have hoards of people clamouring about. She sighed as she deftly sidestepped a group of wardens and their food trolleys, who clattered onward down the corridor, leaving a lingering smell of sloppy lamb casserole in their wake.
She could not resist wrinkling her nose a little. Well, I know I won't be having that for dinner tonight. She blinked, surprised by her own words, and looked at her watch. God, dinner already? Time flies when you're... up to here in work. The last time she had really taken note of her stomach was...
Breakfast. A tight pang from her epigastrium decided to make itself known following the much-overdue realisation. Despite that, her lips wore a small smile of satisfaction, knowing that much had been done today. The morning was spent in her office with her outpatients and a several reports that were awaiting her approval, and the remainder of the day had been designated for the wards and her post-op patients. She was mostly pleased with their progress, requiring only a few more days of rest and observation to monitor for infection and other complications. I didn't end up doing too badly after all, she conceded, faintly amused, considering I felt like crap at the time.
Her final two patients were slightly more difficult - one of them had indeed contracted an infection, and she had to go check his dressings, and investigate his antibiotic regimen. The other, Richard Stamford - her mind usefully supplied - was still in a steady coma and had to be watched very carefully. I still can't understand why that happened - the first procedure I did on him was almost perfect, and he was fine when I was checking up on him afterwards in ICU... An uncomfortable feeling passed over her as she remembered the other event that had transpired in the cubicle. No. I'm absolutely certain I haven't missed anything. Frowning a little in thought, she resolved to check up on him first, and take his scans home to ponder over in detail. She rounded the corner and reached for the swinging doors, grateful to be leaving the bustle of the corridor and into some relative calm and quiet.
Stepping through the doors, however, Kai was forced to re-evaluate her initial assessment of the ICU.
A huge throng of people were gathered around the admissions desk, with a single frustrated intern trying to get things into order at the helm. More were lined up along the corridors and scattered between the reception and the waiting room in various states of anger, irritation and boredom. Okay. This looks messy. The doctor paused a moment to take in the scene, noting with a shake of the head that the air almost prickled with tension.
Oh crap. Yet another sign of the global trend for hospitals to gravitate towards chaos. Sighing, she kissed her evening goodbye as she straightened and took long, purposeful strides into the fray.
"What's the problem here?" Kai's voice shot across the sea of humanity as she plowed through the crowd.
The intern looked up, and upon recognising the dark haired woman, froze. "Oh god."
A part of the doctor was faintly amused. Well, at least she'll follow instructions. "No, but I'm as close as you can get to one in this mess. What's going on?" Her voice was even and calm, noting that the harried expression on the intern's face was too close to hysteria.
Fearful eyes flickered on and off her face, not daring to linger for long. "I... that is, the network in Cas is down. They can't do admissions, none of the monitoring equipment is online... They've redirected admissions to this department so we can enter all their details and then send them back out for treatment."
"But surely Cas can still handle some patients without their computers online." Kai frowned, gesturing at the crowd.
The intern swallowed. "There was that accident involving the bus just over at Oxford Street, and they've been bringing them in here. Casualty's been full since."
"How long have these patients been waiting here? Have they been screened?"
"Oh yes. The urgent cases have been cleared, but the less serious patients that were waiting have been brought here. Things were okay until a little while ago, when few of them began storming in here demanding treatment, and now it's out of control - "
"When did this happen?"
"About 5 hours ago. The techs have been working on the computers, but they think it's a cable, and they've been trying to locate it for ages."
Kai mentally rolled her eyes. This is where Health budget cuts will get you. "Where's everyone else? Are you the only one here?"
"No, but many of our staff are already looking after the more critical patients, or they're in Cas helping out. We've got two doctors looking after all the people here at the moment, but we're just not equipped to deal with this volume of people - we're stretched to capacity as it is." She pointed towards the makeshift cubicles set up in the reception area, curtained off from the crowd.
Kai ran through a few strategies in her mind, feeling the pieces fall into place. Bloody computers. Where are those EDS people when you want them, damn it. Grabbing the phone, she notified the various departments of the imminent influx of patients into their wards, and called her own ward to request for extra nursing staff. Satisfied, she eyed the crowd, took a deep breath and raised her voice.
"ALL RIGHT, ladies and gentlemen, if you could listen for a moment please."
There was stunned silence as the disgruntled mob turned to catch sight of a towering, dark haired woman, her shock-blue eyes flashing.
"Thank you." The doctor cast an imperious glance across the crowd, her sonorous voice carrying effortlessly in the room. "I'm Dr. Jamieson, and I'm going to sort out a few things here. I know you're all waiting to get looked after, and this is the way we're going to get you treatment as quickly as possible, under these circumstances. Now..."
In a corner of the room, Piersen stood transfixed at the transformation that occured before her. Was it just my imagination, or was this room filled with an angry mob only moments before? She had arrived about half an hour before, and was shocked to find the disorder that seethed in the ICU area. Refused entry by the head nurse until the situation was resolved, she was content to pass time by half-dozing over a stack of contracts when a commanding voice cut through the room and kickstarted her body, her heart shocked into double time.
The doctor barked quick instructions to marshal the grumbling crowd, her stern, powerful presence radiating like a silken web, holding in and drawing together the chaos. Gradually, vaguely disparate groups emerged from the sea of people and were directed to the intern, who now had two nurses assisting her in admissions, while the reinforcements from neurology escorted the various groups to their relevant departments in the other wings. Meanwhile, Kai prowled the room, her tall figure cutting through the throng as the crowd dissipated steadily.
Time passed slowly, but eventually the room resembled normal capacity, and after another half an hour there were only a handful of people sporting various cuts, bruises and lacerations left in the room. Kai selected the relevant trolley, pulled it beside her, and snapped on some latex gloves. Making room in one of the temporary treatment cubicles, she grimly eyed the closest man to her.
"Right. You, sir, may I look at your arm, please." She allowed the man to enter in front of her, then yanked at the curtains behind her. And with that, Kai settled in the familiar rhythm of her work, not noticing as the ICU drifted slowly back into a semblance of peace.
The blood still pounded in her ears as Piersen watched the woman only scant metres away , the partially closed curtains allowing her a glimpse of the doctor with her patient. Such a dichotomy - one minute she can be a field marshal, and the next...
The patient's thick Irish brogue brightened up his weak smile. "I was mightily impressed w' that, doctor. Thanks for the show."
The doctor nodded, her eyes focused on the arm before her. "How did this happen, Mr...?"
"Johnson. Robert Johnson." Without thinking, he tried to offer one of his occupied hands before smiling sheepishly. "Well, I'm w' the construction site down the road there, doc. We were excavatin' the basement, and I lost me footin', and fell in the hole. There was all this rubble on the bottom greetin' me as I went, and me arm was the thing that broke the fall."
"You've been looked after, I gather." She noticed the haphazard attempt at cleaning the deep lacerations on his forearm, and the pressure points the man dutifully pressed.
"Yes, doc. The lovely nurse outside cleaned me up, checked for broken bones, and told me to press here to stop the bleedin'. But I'd much rather have a pretty thing like you look after me, ma'am." He bared his teeth in a rakish grin.
Kai tried hard not to smile as she cleaned his wound, and prepared his stitches. He must be in absolute pain, but he's still smiling, still joking around... "You're a brave man, Mr Johnson. You're not even flinching."
"Oh no, doc. Me mates'll attest to that - I was cryin' like a baby when this happened, I'll never hear the end of it." He winked at her, touching the side of his nose with his now-free hand . "Must keep a brave face in front of you ladies though, ma'am."
Piersen took in the doctor's profile, whose expression held the same detached seriousness that was directed at her only this morning. Crystal blue eyes gazed intently at the arm before her, but the hands that worked the cleanser and stitching were pliant, gentle... her long quick fingers almost dancing over the bloodied flesh. To her surprise, she saw the doctor's face break into a smile...
Kai chuckled, quietly studying his face as she laughed. Strange... Her gaze lingered a moment longer, paying particular attention to the subtle yellow tinge in his eyes. "Mr Johnson - do you take much alcohol?"
He laughed. "Oh, yes, doc. Every day after work me an' the boys'll go down to the pub for a pint or two."
She studied his hands as she worked on his arm, mentally making notes. Slight jaundice... "So - how much would you drink in a day?"
"Oh, I don't know - " He gestured expansively with his free hand. "We go through 7 or 8 rounds, then I lose count." The rakish grin returned. "Nothing like a couple of beers to finish a good day's worth of work, eh doc?"
Quickly looking at his ankles - minor peripheral oedema, she probed further. "You must get pretty tired by the end of the day. Do you find you get tired or puffed easily? Lifting things, climbing stairs?"
"Well, now you ask, I do, doc.
It's been going for a while, but I didn't think it needed any worryin' over. These old
bones, can't hold me up." He chuckled again.
Breathlessness on exertion. "How long, sir?"
"Oh, I dunno. Past few years, I suppose. It's been a long time."
Hm. Kai frowned, all the pieces of the quick history falling together. "Mr. Johnson, I'm done with your arm, but may I take a look at your chest for a moment?"
"I got nothing wrong with my chest, doc. It's fine."
"Yes, but I'd just like to do a quick check. Is that alright?"
He eyes her quickly, puzzled. "Sure. Go right ahead." He tried to undo his shirt buttons with his free hand.
Kai rose to her feet, reaching for his fumbling fingers. "Here, let me help you with that. If you could just lie down and relax." She quickly opened the shirt, and grabbed a stethoscope hanging by the sphygomanometer.
She listened briefly with an intent look in her face, moving the head of the stethoscope around his chest, and quickly examined his hands. The man watched her silently as she moved from his chest and examined his abdomen.
"Find something I should know about, doc?"
"A few things." She laid the her instrument on the bench. "Mr Johnson, I'd like you to do me a favour."
His eyes glinted wickedly. "Anything for you, ma'am. What's a man to do when he's propositioned by a beautiful lady like you?"
Kai pressed her lips together, willing herself not to laugh. "I'd like you to see a friend of mine - he's another doctor, and I think he might be able to help you a little more." She finished off her stitching, and removed her gloves. "I feel that you should have your heart and liver checked - that might be a part of what's causing your breathlessness and tiredness." She reached for a pen on the trolley, and fished out a piece of paper. "Do you think you can do that for me, Mr. Johnson?"
He looked a little puzzled. "Sure, doc. Why, is there something wrong?"
Fishing her glasses from her breast pocket and settling them on her nose, she wrote her referral to the cardiologist, expressing her suspicion of early liver damage and congestive heart disease. Personal favour, alright? He's a good man, and I don't think his accident was due to clumsiness alone. She signed off, and folded it over. "I think you might have a few problems with your liver from your drinking, and it might be good to take a look at your heart at as well. It's not terribly serious as yet, but I still think you should have it looked at."
His face went serious. "Alright doctor. It sounds a bit serious, and I don't usually follow advice easily, but I'll take your word for it."
She stood, and her patient rose a little shakily after her.. "If you give this letter to the nurse, she'll send it to my friend - He'll look after you well, I promise. She'll make an appointment for you." She allowed a warm smile, wanting to reassure the worried man. "Here's my card, Mr. Johnson. If you have any questions, please let me know."
This is another side - gentleness? Perhaps... Piersen forced her eyes away, mindful that her thoughts were suddenly full of this enigmatic woman.
Strange - I look at her, and I have to break her down into colours, strokes, tones... she reminds me of a painting I've never seen, but she has a bit of something that I've seen before... She sat down and made a show of ruffling through her papers and scribbling notes, before giving up in disgust, pursed lips blowing blonde wisps from her face. She replaced her papers into her case, and looked up once more. Hidden by the partial darkness, Piersen gave up to the insistent pull of her muscles, leaned against the corner and watched with an artist's eyes, a faint smile stealing its way undetected to her lips.
Kai wrote for a moment in the prescription pad, elegant fingers forming strong strokes as she reached the end of the backlog of patients. Tearing out the page with some satisfaction, she addressed her patient.
"These should control any infection, if it comes to that. Take these once a day with food, for the next ten days." She watched him intently a moment, waiting for questions. The man smiled his thanks, and was wheeled to the pharmacy.
The dark haired doctor stood, clearing away the equipment and mess before closing weary eyes, indulging in a quiet moment when she saw the last of the patients leave. She smoothed her hair from her face and removed her glasses, feeling a pleasant tiredness smooth over her muscles that contrasted with the heavy weight earlier in the evening. I feel really good, surprisingly. It has been a good day. She sighed a contented smile and leaned slightly into the wall.
"Dr. Jamieson." A quiet, steady voice floated to her ears.
Kai opened her eyes, and found the expectant face of Piersen Evans.
Four - Clinical Examinations
Surprised, Kai struggled to regain her composure as she straightened to full height, smoothing out her skirt with suddenly clammy hands. "Good evening, Ms..." Stamford?
"Piersen Evans." She provided, having mistaken the hesitation. "We met last night - or was it this morning?" Vermillion lips curved into a slight smile.
"This morning. Yes, I remember." Kai nodded briefly, but her mind was blank, unable to find words.
Bright green eyes looked thoughtfully at the doctor's angular face. "I saw what you did just then - that was some display of crowd control."
"Thank you." The two stood without words for a moment, their eyes politely averted from each other.
Kai broke the awkward silence. "Actually, I was heading to check on your husband before I was held up." She hesitated, not sure whether to go on. "Would you like to come with me." Not a question, but certainly not an order.
Piersen's eyes returned to her face, her smile broadening. "Yes, I would. Thank you."
The dark head nodded curtly, walked
over to the desk and grabbed the patient folder and a tendon hammer. She turned, and
waited for the honey-blonde woman to join her before heading down the dimly lit
The doctor's long easy strides left her just out of conversationable reach, and Piersen tried without success to catch up to her powering frame. Grateful for the subtle peace overture, she wanted to make the best of it - at least make up for last night - but that at this distance it was impossible to achieve. She leapt out a little and placed a hand on the dark woman's shoulder. "Whoa, wait up a minute."
Kai's arm clenched, as if burned by a branding iron, and she turned, unknowingly gritting her teeth as she did so. "Yes?"
A startled look at the almost-violent reflex, then a nervous smile worked it way across her face as she laughed. "You always walk this fast?"
Do I? A puzzled frown touched her brows before she looked up again. "Yes. I didn't realise I was tiring you - we'll slow down a bit."
Piersen stifled a twinge of irritation and bit off a clever retort. Where does this incredible condescension come from? It's enough to drive me... "No - I wasn't tired... I was just hoping to speak with you - and it was kind of difficult, with you four paces ahead of me all the time."
Oh. She twirled the tendon hammer between restless fingers for an instant. "I'm... just not used to having people follow me on rounds." Boy, that was lame. Her voice betrayed nothing as they began walking again, slower this time.
The smaller woman tucked a wisp of blonde hair behind her, feeling the silence threatened to grow between them again. "You know, about last night, or rather earlier this morning..." Piersen began, not knowing why those words fell out of her mouth -
Kai stopped abruptly. "Oh - not this one. It's the cubicle back there." She paced backwards to the adjacent cubicle.
Piersen paused a moment, letting out a rush of breath - Relief? Frustration? But she followed, and stepped into the curtain held open for her.
The room was as stark as she remembered it, the unrelenting light making everything seem almost two dimensional and almost surreal, like I've stepped into a strange world... she looked around a little to orientate herself, half expecting to see the clock melting. Richard still lay there, face in repose, with mask and tubes entering and exiting his face.
Kai produced her torch from her pocket and leaned over her patient, lifting his lids and flashing light into his eyes. "He went into a coma early this morning. We've stabilised him, and all the signs are good, but he's quite unresponsive." She motioned the woman over, and flashed the light into his eyes again. "See how the pupils react a little slowly to the light."
The smaller woman moved next to the doctor and leaned over, peering into the patient's face. Kai's eyes snapped shut on impulse as the scent of her perfume filtered to her sensitive nose. God...! Nerve endings spread sensation through her chest and limbs, leaving a tingling sensation in its wake. Where have I...? The fragrance lingered, and to her surprise, unbidden vague images rose from places unknown to flood her senses, images that disappeared like wood smoke from a futile grasp.
Momentarily stunned by this unexpected, uncanny response, she missed the question that floated up from a little beneath her. "I'm sorry - what was that?"
"I was asking why that happened."
"Ah." Oh boy. I think I need to call it a day. She pushed errant locks from her face with a slightly trembling hand. "It is related to the type of injury he has sustained, and the location of the injury itself..." Grateful for the distraction, Kai lost herself in the explanation, detailing the neuronal connections and nerve tracts related to the pupillary light reflex, all the while willing her own nerves to slow her galloping heartbeat.
Piersen sat on the edge of the bed as the doctor spoke and used the opportunity to study her face as she listened. It's rare you see someone with dark hair have such intensely blue eyes... they almost burned feverishly, and Piersen recalled the coldness she saw the last time they met in this room. But there was warmth there as well - I saw it for a moment, just like this, when she was explaining the scans to me...
"You must really love your work." She continued her thought aloud, receiving a puzzled look from the doctor, who stopped mid-sentence.
Kai started a little at the incongruity of the remark, and it was a while before she spoke. "Yes." She reached over and tested the patient's tendon reflexes, assuming a look of concentration on her face.
The blonde woman saw the movement for what it was, and stopped her questions. There - the look is there again. I wonder if her face would shatter if she smiled. She tried to remain silent, stumbling over words and thoughts, but found that she wanted to hear the doctor speak to her. What's going on behind that implacable face of hers?
They continued in silence - the doctor working through her systems examination, and the artist observing her at work, dissecting her form and shadows. She watched until the quiet woman rose, smoothing out her pinstripe skirt and walking to the wash basin. How long have we been here? She glanced at clock on the wall. Golly - 9 o'clock. And I haven't even eaten yet. And judging by the looks of her, she hasn't had anything all day. "Are you done?"
"Yes. I have good news, and bad news." Questioning eyes, calmed to sky blue by the silence, looked over at the woman. "Which one would you like first?"
Piersen made a show of looking at her watch. "Actually - neither. It's rather late, and I'm a little hungry... have you eaten yet?"
The deafening silence of her willpower almost surprised her. Hold on, why am I even considering this? The words fell from her lips before she could stop them.
"No, I haven't." Curious eyes looked over at the small blonde woman.
An almost-shy smile crept across her face. "Would you like dinner? Maybe you can tell me the news over a meal, kill two birds with one stone." Piersen turned expectant eyes at the tall woman standing opposite her.
Why did Kai feel so trapped? Yet something inside was soaring...
The doctor's expression softened slightly, and Piersen saw the closest thing to a genuine smile to come out of this stony-faced enigma.
"I'll meet you outside in ten." Kai grabbed a suture kit and walked out of the cubicle before she could change her mind.
To Be Continued...Part 3
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