Robert Whiting stood in the center of his newly purchased house, looked at the boxes stacked nearly to the ceiling, and felt a deep and unending sense of despair. He wasn’t the kind of guy who gave up on anything; he was single-minded and determined to excel in every aspect of his life from his career to his marriage to his personal life.
“What personal life,” he muttered to himself. At the moment, his personal life consisted of a big empty house, subscription television, and a 6-pack of beer cooling in his fridge. He’d moved clear across the country, away from all his friends, away from anybody he knew really.
And for what? A job running the ER of a small hospital in small town in the middle of Nowheresville, USA? In the heat of the moment it had seemed like a lifeboat; something he could grab onto as the sinking ship of his marriage and career slipped below the surface. His ex-wife had done her best to make him pariah in the medical world of Chicago. He thought a change of scenery, moving to a place he’d never heard of and who’d never heard of him, would be the best possible solution.
Looking around now, he had his doubts. It wasn’t just that the town was so different compared to Chicago. The people were different, and he wasn’t sure it was in a good way. People waved hello for God’s sake. Like they knew him or something. Doing that back home was a good way to get shot.
His go-to attitude in life was to excel, but he wasn’t sure what excelling looked like in a place like this. His marriage had gone down in spectacular flames that surely couldn’t be considered a success. And his career? He was basically starting over, except instead of working in a world-renowned hospital and accredited trauma center, he was starting over in a place with less than 100 beds and chock full of small-time thinking.
Out of frustration, or maybe out of desperation, Robert grabbed the 6 pack out of the fridge, flopped down on his couch and clicked the power button on the television remote. An hour or two of vegging out on the couch with bad TV seemed as good a choice at the moment as any.
Monday morning found Robert standing in the break room in front of most of the ER staff. Most of them looked bored, maybe tired, and definitely not thrilled to be meeting their new boss, but Robert was determined to make the best of his first day.
“Okay, well as I said my name is Robert and I’m your new Chief. I have a lot of ideas about what I want this ER to become, and I want to start right off the bat with talking about implementing skills refreshers for trauma training.”
He heard a few groans from the audience, and saw one hand pop up. She wore the dark blue scrubs that all the nursing staff wore, and looked a fair bit younger than the others. When she didn’t put her hand down after a moment, he nodded her direction.
“Valentine. Everybody calls me Kit. I’m not sure if you’re aware, but the main reason we haven’t done a skills refresher in a while is that we’re pretty understaffed as it is. Pulling nurses off the floor to sit in a classroom all day pushes us into dangerous territory with ratios.”
“I’m not concerned about that,” Robert said irritably. “It’ll be worked out by the board. But being understaffed is no excuse for lagging behind in trauma training. This is your job.”
“Dr. Whiting, I know you come from a big hospital,” Kit pushed on. “But we just don’t have the resources here that you’re used to. Trust me on this, trauma isn’t something you’ll see a lot of here.”
“Enough,” Robert bit back. “This isn’t something up for debate. Time to get to work.” He made a shooing motion to his audience and the majority of them got the hint, heading out to the ER.
That damnable nurse was still standing stock still, her arms crossed over her chest. If he wasn’t so annoyed by her, he’d have to admit how sexy that pose made her look. She had great curves, and her scrubs fit her perfectly. He’d always been a sucker for a hot woman in scrubs, he thought to himself ruefully. Probably why he ended up marrying his ex.
“We don’t have the budget to pay for floats to cover for the people you’re planning to pull for training.”
“Like I said, this isn’t up for debate, Kate. It’s happening. You can either accept it or get out of the way.”
As if to emphasize his point, Robert muscled past Kit on his way out of the break room, leaving her looking bewildered and angry.
He headed for the main desk that sat in the center of the emergency department. It was a big half-circle thing that reminded him of older, out of date departments. He could already imagine how he could update the place, starting with the desk and moving on to the ancient atrocity he saw before him. He eyed the wire rack containing patient charts with disdain.
“Tell me about this patient,” Robert said as he grabbed the first chart in the rack. “And then after you can tell me why the hell you are still charting on paper around here.”
The triage nurse standing behind the desk was a meek looking little thing, with mousy brown hair and a small frame. Robert towered over her, and he swore he heard her squeak when he started talking to her.
“Mrs. Connolly’s 75 years old, she got in fender bender a couple blocks from here. Low speed, she was the car in the back. The other driver was fine but they called the ambulance for her because they said she was out of it and they didn’t want her driving again right after.”
“Right,” Robert said. “What’s she like now? Still going with a diagnosis of ‘out of it’ or do we have something more substantive?”
He didn’t wait around for an answer, instead he walked to the room indicated at the top of the chart.
“Mrs. Connolly,” Robert said blandly. “I’m Dr. Whiting. You’ve been here more than a few times in the last few months from the looks of it.”
He paused his perusal of her vital signs and other notations just long enough to glance up at the woman herself. She was old, and looked older; the kind of patient they referred to as a LOL-NAD back in Chicago. Little Old Lady in No Apparent Distress. Her previous visits had been for a variety of vague complaints: muscle weakness, bone pain, fatigue. Extensive imaging, all within normal limits. Nothing pointing to anything in particular other than what Robert suspected was a bored and lonely old woman looking for some social interaction.
“I haven’t felt myself in a long time,” the woman said. “Those nice people, I hit them with my car but I don’t remember doing it. I hope they’re okay. Can you find out if they’re okay?”
Robert shook his head. “Ma’am, they are fine, they weren’t hurt. I’m going to get you something to eat, I think you just had a fainting spell or something like that. After a sandwich you can get out of here and head back home.”
“Oh, well okay doctor if that’s what you think I should do. Thank you.”
Robert pulled back the curtain on the makeshift room, only to be confronted by that nurse from before. What was her name again?
“This patient needs something to eat,” he said coolly. “I assume you can handle it.”
Kit stood her ground. “I’m concerned she might be anemic. She doesn’t eat very well because she gets next to nothing from her social security.”
“Then I’m sure a sandwich will make her very happy, Nurse.” He bit off the rest of what he wanted to say. He might be an asshole but he knew better than to completely piss off the nursing staff. At least on his first day on the job.
For her part, Kit seemed to be biting back a retort of her own. Instead, she turned on her heels and headed for the break-room, and when Robert saw her come back out she had a sandwich in her hand. Good, he thought to himself. At least she listens when it comes to patient care.
He turned his attention to the next patient chart waiting in line and tried to get the fiery redheaded nurse out of his head for a while.