Fiction Fix

Fiction: Eve’s Empathy

It takes great courage to faithfully follow what we know to be true. – Sara Anderson

“Hey Eve,” a man in a tight turtleneck sweater said while rushing past. “Piper can’t make it in tonight, can you cover?” He continued his fast pace and didn’t wait for her to answer. “Thanks! I owe you!”

Eve sighed and watched the head of Human Resources make his way back to his wonderfully posh, and sweet smelling, office. She’d love to hole up in his office sometime, just to get away from all of the musty hospital smells she was forced to endure on a daily basis. She wouldn’t do much, just sleep. Was that too much to ask?

“Think he’ll ever pay up?” Vicki, Eve’s best friend, said practically in her ear.

The emergency room was hopping for a Thursday night and between the crying, the groans and the general loud talking over the equally loud television, it was sometimes necessary to get right up on someone’s ear in order to be heard.

She turned to her friend and gave her a weary smile. “It’s doubtful.”

“Why do you think Piper’s not coming in?”

Eve shrugged while replacing one chart and taking another. She gave it a quick once-over before answering her friend. “There’s no telling. Maybe she has a hangover. Or a hangnail. You never know with Piper. She’s such a wuss.”

“You can say that again,” Vicki nodded in agreement. “Oops, there goes my pager. Gotta go. Coffee later?”

“If not sooner!” Eve called after her friend as she scurried down the hall, the soft soles of her shoes squeaking slightly on the hard tile floor.

“Make way!” a man’s voice called and Eve looked toward the emergency room entrance. Her eyes widened in surprise when she recognized the man.

“Troy? Troy Wilson?” she asked while moving around the front desk.

Troy had his arm around a woman who was bent over with pain and obviously very pregnant.

“Eve Michaels?” he asked in surprise. “Wow. I didn’t know you went to med school.”

“Nursing school, actually,” she said and moved to grab a wheel chair. “Who’s your friend?” she asked while smiling at the woman and helping her into the chair.

“My wife,” Troy replied and Eve gave him a sharp look.

“Your wife?”

“Yeah, you got a problem with that?” the woman in the wheelchair growled between clenched teeth. Her growl quickly turned into a groan as a contraction ripped through her.

Eve laughed. “Not at all. Troy and I knew each other back in college. God, eons ago, right Troy?”

“Another lifetime ago,” Troy responded while making sure his wife was comfortable, or as comfortable as she could be, given the circumstances.

Eve helped them check in before taking hold of the wheelchair. “Let’s get you set up in your room, shall we?”

The woman opened her mouth to reply, but promptly closed it as every muscle in her body tightened with pain.

“How close are the contractions?” Eve asked.

“I’m clocking them about three minutes apart,” Troy said.

Eve nodded, suddenly all business. “Then we need to hustle.”

Together she and Troy moved his wife to the room and she left to give them privacy while his wife changed into a gown. After exactly five minutes, she re-entered the room and began taking the woman’s vitals while filling out her chart.

“You’ve called your doctor?” Eve asked, her eyes trained on the chart, her left hand busy making notes.

“Yeah. But he’s out of town, of course,” Troy grumbled. “I think they said that Dr. Lowe would be helping us?”

Eve smiled while she replaced the chart. “You’re in luck. She’s awesome.”

“Oh? The doctor is female?” the woman asked and sucked in a breath as another contraction hit. “Of course she is,” she ground out and grimaced with pain. “Troy will have her eating out of his hand in no time.”

Eve grinned at Troy. He hadn’t changed much, apparently. “The anesthesiologist should be along shortly,” she said while patting the woman’s hand, “hang in there.”

The woman snatched her hand away and gave Eve a dirty look. “Were you and Troy a couple in college?”

Troy sputtered an awkward chuckle while color flooded his cheeks. “Hardly. We were just friends.”

“I find that hard to believe,” the woman snapped and turned her back on the two of them as she tried to find a more comfortable position.

“Eve, I’m sorry about …” Troy helplessly gestured to his wife.

She held up a hand to silence him before he said something he might regret. “No need to apologize. She’s in pain and well … given your track record with women, I can understand her assumption.”

The woman laughed and turned her head to give Eve a good look. “I like you already. Thanks for your help.”

Eve patted the woman’s leg and nodded. “Any time. Good luck with the birth. I’ll check back in on you two later.”

Troy nodded, but only had eyes for his wife.

Eve re-read what she wrote on the woman’s chart and frowned. That wasn’t right, was it? She squinted down at what she wrote and then noticed her mistake. Correction, make that more than one mistake. Clenching her teeth in frustration, she erased her earlier notes and re-wrote fresh instructions before replacing the chart in the slot in the door.

She snuck a glance at Troy and his wife, but they were pre-occupied with getting through several contractions.

Eve unconsciously exhaled her relief. That was a close one.

She rubbed her eyes as she exited the room. It always got worse when she was tired, which was most of the time, quite frankly. She really should go see someone about her problem, but she was afraid that it would jeopardize her job. But at the same time, if she didn’t see someone about her problem, it could cost a patient his or her life.

Her heart jumped at the thought of being responsible for someone’s death all because she was too stubborn, and embarrassed, to do something about her Dyslexia.

“Did you get Mrs. Wilson settled in?” the head nurse asked Eve when she returned to the nurse’s station.

“Yep. She’s ready for her epidural. I hope they get there soon, her contractions are three minutes apart and she’s got that “look,” you know?”

“That look?” the head nurse repeated while raising her brows. “That’s a pretty technical diagnosis, Eve. I’ll have to remember that the next time I can’t be bothered with coming up with the correct technical term.”

Eve blushed and offered a small, apologetic smile. She knew the head nurse wasn’t exactly impressed with her. Especially since she had already discovered a few charts she had screwed up. She had been pretty diligent in making sure she double and triple checked her notations, but the head nurse had noticed them before she had.

That had been awkward to say the least. She was fast running out of excuses for her poor performance. Her stomach tightened at the stress of having to deal with her problem. She had worked so hard for this job and she loved it, she couldn’t imagine having to give it up because of her learning disability. But then again, how could she live with herself if it led to a misdiagnosis or worse, death?

Perhaps it was time to come clean about her condition. She would understand, wouldn’t she? She bit her lip and studied the head nurse as she consulted with a doctor. She didn’t look very compassionate.

The emergency room doors slid open with a soft “whoosh” and two paramedics entered wheeling a cart. The patient was dangerously obese, had long, greasy hair, was unshaven, dirty and there was a black motorcycle jacket slung on the bottom shelf of the stretcher. He looked painfully out of place in the stark, sterile, environment surrounded by efficient professionals and white coats.

He was definitely an untouchable.

All of the nurses suddenly busied themselves in the hopes that they would not be asked to admit the dirty man.

Eve continued to stare at the patient. His brow was furrowed, as if he were in pain or perhaps in the midst of a bad dream – probably both. He wore an oxygen mask, but Eve could see that his teeth were yellow and decaying with each breath. His eyes were tightly closed and his fists were clenched.

She wrinkled her nose at his smell and she had the sudden urge to take a hot shower just looking at him.

Before she could stop herself, she found herself saying, “I’ll admit him.”

Eve could see the other nurses’ shoulders visibly relax and she hid her grimace. She had no idea why she spoke up, she had no desire to even touch this dirty, lumpy man, but there was something about him that tugged at her heart strings.

He was a human being after all.

The head nurse’s face registered surprise that she volunteered, but she quickly masked her emotions and gave a brisk nod. “Take him to room 112, Eve.”

She led the paramedics to the room and the two men worked on moving the patient to his bed. It took several efforts to move him, but they were finally able to get him comfortably settled.

“He had a heart attack,” the first paramedic said gathering his equipment. “We were able to stabilize him and his vitals are all within normal range, if not a bit high.”

Eve nodded her thanks to the men. “Right. I’ll take it from here. Thanks guys. Be safe out there.”

They each gave her a tired smile before leaving the room to file their paperwork.

Grabbing some latex gloves, she snapped them on and began working on getting him hooked up to various machines and IV’s. The doctor would be in shortly to examine the man in order to ascertain the amount of damage his heart has sustained, but for now, she needed to clean him up and prepare him.

As she got ready to bathe the man, she continued to watch his face. She knew he was awake, but he had refused to open his eyes. Her heart melted for the poor man. Where was his family? What had happened to push him into this situation? Where was his mother? What must he have been like as a little boy? Did he have any friends?

The room grew quiet save for the ticking of the clock and the soft, steady breathing of her patient. She began to hum to alleviate her own fears and to perhaps help the man relax. She knew he had to be feeling uncomfortable and humiliated by his current situation and her heart melted in sympathy.

Poor man.

The man’s thick, rough, scaly, ruddy skin told its own story of his struggles with his addiction to food. She rubbed his tight muscles and his pores emitted a strong, acrid smell, most likely from an alcohol addiction. What had happened in this man’s life to make him so unhappy, to make his life spiral so completely out of control? How sad must a person get to simply give up on life like this, to fall in such a deep, dark despair?

After she had worked on getting the man cleaned up as best as she could, she warmed up some lotion and rubbed it onto his body. The skin reacted like a sponge and immediately soaked up the small amount of moisture. On a whim, she grabbed the baby powder and liberally sprinkled some onto his arms. This had to smell better than the streets.

She was putting up her supplies and cleaning up her mess when she looked at the man’s face.

His eyes were open and he was looking directly at her. His eyes were a surprising shade of warm brown sugar and they shimmered with moisture. A tear from each eye spilled over and gently ran down his cheeks.

He lifted a large hand and removed the mask from his face. He gasped for air for only a moment before his breathing steadied. He cleared his throat.

“Thank you,” he croaked softly and clearing his throat, tried again. “Thank you so much for caring. No one has touched me in years. I already feel so much better.” His lips curved into a grateful smile

Eve smiled back at him. She placed her hand on his and gave it a slight squeeze. She wanted to say something, but the lump in her throat wouldn’t allow any sound past it.

She suddenly knew that no matter what happened after the hospital found out about her learning disability, or what they decided to do with her, it really wouldn’t matter in the larger scheme of things: this was where she belonged.