Women who wore heels all day belonged in a mental institution for heinous self harm. Residency taught us to always look professional, and I envied the female docs who rocked nice shoes every day, but I drew the line with heels. Hello, plantar fasciitis, anyone?
Even in sneakers, pain bubbled around my ankles and prickled up my calves. One month of fifteen-hour days in one of Houston’s busiest emergency departments had turned my ankles into dainty twigs ready to snap in half.
I tried not to wobble to room twenty-three, and the wheelchair in the corner called my name. Maybe the ED tech could wheel me to the next patient?
The nurses giggled as I hobbled past station two.
“Oh, honey, try doing this for a living,” Mara said.
“You’ll get used to it,” David encouraged.
I skimmed over the file I’d been using to fan myself with. It belonged to a man who lived in epic STDville. Eww. Thank goodness his numerous venereal diseases couldn’t attach to his folder and fly off onto my mouth.
“Oh, wait, this one.” Dr. Lemur snatched that folder from me and replaced it with a thinner one.
This man thought he had a broken ankle. Much better! On my last day in ED rotation, I wasn’t in the mood to deal with another nasty sexaholic. I had already had one last week, and the guy had persistently hit on me. He had been lucky that he’d walked out with his genitals intact.
More times than not, the reality of a person’s illness paled in comparison to what they thought they had. This broken ankle was more likely a sprained one, and that was an easy fix.
Still attached to my notes, I opened and closed the glass door to room twenty-three, then closed the curtain behind me before looking up. What a mistake! I almost stumbled over my aching feet. Okay, I had to close my mouth now before the patient slapped a piece of tape across my forehead that read, “Idiotic Buffoon.”
The patient straightened and gave me a lazy smile. Yeah, he knew he had the looks. Shimmering green eyes like emeralds. Auburn hair, a little wavy, wisped across his forehead, curled over his ears, and flirted with his shirt collar. Kissable lips curved upward, set above a firm, square jaw. He almost had me stuttering like a boy-crazy teenager, the way his intense eyes held my attention.
Icy air puffed down from the ceiling vent and tickled the back of my neck, jolting me back to my senses. It was one of those weird moments when time stopped and all of a sudden you couldn’t remember what you were doing or how long you’d been mentally gone. It was a moment that made me think, Damn!
“Tyler O’Connor?” I managed to say, playing off my unprofessional reaction to the stunningly handsome man and quelling any interest.
“Yep,” he replied in a thick, low voice. Either too dreamy to be real or sleepy from pain medicine.
“Think you sprained your ankle or broke it?”
“Okay, let’s take a look.” I snapped on a pair of white gloves from the triage cart, pulled up a rolling stool, and sat down. All the while, I surreptitiously noticed that Tyler was focused on my face, so meeting his eyes again was impossible.
With shoe off, sock on, Tyler rested the injured foot on a chair. The butcher paper crinkled underneath him as he shifted on the gurney while I lifted his foot onto my lap. At six-foot-one and a muscular two hundred pounds, according to his chart, his leg felt like dead weight.
I pulled down his sock to check for bruising and wounds, then pressed and felt for swelling. He hissed.
“Yep,” he responded in his amazing verbal repertoire.
“What were you doing when you injured yourself?”
“Walked off stage and buckled on a step.”
The image of this tall, brawny man stumbling down a few steps tickled me. I stifled a giggle. When I looked up, he rested his forearms on his thighs and leaned in, his face way too close for comfort.
“Oh, sorry.” Apparently, the giggle had escaped.
He flashed an insanely swoon-worthy smile. “Do I need an X-ray?”
“Only if you want to spend a bunch of time in our lovely hospital.”
“Do I get a meal and you at my bedside?”
I responded dryly to subdue his flirting, “You get a hit of high-energy electrons and an hour of sitting alone.”
“It’s not even broken, is it?”
“No.” I couldn’t help myself. I thumped his ankle. He jerked forward. “A broken ankle would hurt much worse.” I returned his foot to the chair and rolled away.
“Yeah, I figured. Bar owner demanded I get it checked.”
“Guess he thought you’d sue?”
He shrugged and I wrote a few notes as he craned his neck to look over the folder’s edge. “Thought you guys had electronic notes.”
“We do. This is for my personal notes to take to clinic. I’m a resident, so…” I responded as if that explained anything because, of course, everyone knew residents made their own notes to study and report back to their attending doctors.
“Are you in pain? I can prescribe something.” This tactic tended to flush out drug abusers, those who went straight to narcotics.
“Nah. Rest, ice, compress, elevate. Right?”
“You got it.”
“Guess I wasted two hours and a hundred bucks for nothing. I should make the bar owner pay.”
“Look on the bright side, Mr. O’Connor, at least you have good insurance.”
“Better than that, I have a good doctor. Are you working late?”
“No. You’re my last patient.”
“Are you doing anything after work?”
I peered up and tried very hard to hide an impending grin. My lips quivered in the futile effort, and the boy-crazy teenager inside of me giggled with excitement. “I’m not allowed to date patients, Mr. O’Connor.”
“Ah. Well, in half an hour I won’t be your patient, right?”
“You know what I mean. We would have had to meet a different way.”
“Well, how about you come by The Harmon’s where my band’s playing? We could meet there.”
“The bar? Your bar? Where you tripped?” An image of him falling crossed my thoughts.
“You think it’s funny?”
I frowned. “Sorry. Of course it’s not funny, Mr. O’Connor.”
He chuckled. “Anyway, check us out. We’ll be going back on at eleven.”
Standing, I handed him a piece of paper to end the conversation before it traveled down personal roads. “Here’s a prescription for pain medicine, in case you need it. Eight hundred milligrams of Tylenol.”
“I could just inhale four over-the-counter Tylenol, right?”
“I didn’t catch your name.”
“I’m sorry. I failed to introduce myself. I’m Dr. Patel.”
“And your first name?”
He lowered his eyes to my chest and slowly dragged them back up. “Pry-anne-kah?”
I flipped the name badge and slapped it against my chest. “Observant, aren’t you?” I said curtly, hating that the residents had both first and last names on our badges.
“Did I pronounce it wrong?” He grinned again.
“Yes. It’s pronounced Pree-ahn-ka. Priyanka.”
“That’s kinda hard. Think I’ll call you Pree.”
“You can call me Dr. Patel.” I gritted my teeth.
“Is that offensive?”
“Houston only has a million Indians, and a million other ethnic people. You should try harder to properly pronounce names instead of being lazy and assigning unwanted and unwarranted nicknames.”
I shook my head and forced a smile. “Don’t overdo it tonight. Have a good one, and take care of that ankle.”
“Bye, Dr. Patel,” he said in a somewhat amused tone.
There were many things I couldn’t tolerate, including people who judged, those who expected doctors and nurses to be at their beck and call, and people who thought they couldn’t pronounce a three-syllable name. “Priyanka” wasn’t that difficult, especially in comparison to some names. Snapping at a cocky patient wasn’t acceptable, but Tyler would walk out of here unscathed by my anger. Mostly.
Like the rest of the patients who wandered in and out of the ED, Mr. Tyler O’Connor faded from memory soon enough. Despite his remarkable good looks, perhaps the hottest Irishman ever, only patients with interesting reasons to visit stayed with me. Like the STD guy, and the woman who had lacerated her vulva because she had decided to crawl over a bathroom partition to get out of her locked stall…as opposed to crawling under on a dirty floor in her pretty dress. The partition had broken beneath her weight, and well, the rest had been a painful, tear-filled adventure. I tingled with sympathy for her.
My shift officially ended, and hell month in ED would soon be a haunting memory. Another hour of electronic charting and handwritten notes for myself and I was ready to skip right on out. Well, I would’ve stayed if a car accident came in, a stroke victim, or the always emotional pediatric case—for the experience—but nothing of the sort happened.
I changed out of my hospital-assigned blue scrubs and into jeans and a snug, black top. I slipped on my favorite plaid pink and purple backpack because, of course, I intended to bring plaid back, and hurried out to my car just as my cell rang.
“Hey, Vicki. What’s going on?”
“Are you coming to dinner, or what?” my roommate asked in a high-pitched voice above the clamor of what sounded like a party in the background.
“I’m just leaving work. Where are you?”
“Oh, uh, sure.”
“We just got here, waiting for a table. We should be seated by the time you get here, but you can still grab some food from the bar menu.”
The thought of running into a patient outside of work, particularly to a place he had invited me to, caused me to hesitate. “It’s late.”
“Have you eaten?”
“Not all day, right? Get some food, hang with us, come out once in a while!”
“Ugh, sure. Be there in twenty minutes.”
Though I dreaded being seen by Tyler O’Connor, because he would assume I went there for him, The Harmon’s Brewery & Restaurant had the best food, a rocking vibe, and was centrally located for my friends. We ate there at least once a month. The only problem with the place was its downtown location, which meant a ton of one-way streets, horrible parking, outrageous parking fees, and weekend crowds half drunk and wholly pushy. But I was starved because I hadn’t had time for lunch or dinner again, and the fridge at the apartment was a little sad.
Vicki cooked more than I did. She had a nine-to-five job, Monday through Friday, and loved the Food Network. But she never cooked on Fridays, which were knighted “leftover day.” She never cooked on Saturdays, either, because it was girls’ night out. Sometimes I believed Vicki didn’t cook on those days to dwindle down our food supply so I had no choice but to meet her someplace if I wanted to eat.