I find Phoebe in suite four, hair captured in a surgical net. From behind the glass wall, I watch her caress the red stubble of her patient’s skull. The morning’s hard edge softens.
The surgeon saunters in. Backs to me, they confer, heads bobbing. Phoebe jabs at the chart. I walk in, wondering what’s up. Air conditioning blasts from the ceiling vent, making me shiver. They look up when I enter.
“Sullivan,” the surgeon says. His pocket reminds me he’s George Arrias, Assistant Head of Oncology Surgery. “Something odd with this protocol.”
I scan the chart. Midazolam, sufentanyl, propofol, succinylcholine. My usual anesthesia regimen.
“Yes?” I say.
Phoebe’s eyes question me over her blue mask. Not in a good way. I look closer, double check the doses, the timing. Sweat slicks my palms.
“See the boo-boo?” George says, all jolly to find a colleague possibly fucking up.
I don’t see anything wrong with this order. I scan the chart, looking for allergies. Penicillin? No problems there.
“No, Arrias,” I say, accenting the last syllable. “Everything looks copasetic to me.”
“Well, Doctor Miller sees a problem,” he says. “And so do I. So where’s Waldo, Sullivan?”
My face flames. I stare at the chart. Typical slicer-and-dicer. I remember rotating with him five years ago. Protocols were different than at NYU. I was at the sink scrubbing up and he was beside me, doing the same, when suddenly he grabbed my hands.
“No, no… this is how you do it,” he said, smiling. His fingers, lean and strong, slid around and between mine, soaping them up. He pressed against me. “You’re new - drinks later? I can show you the lay of the land.”
I had shaken my head, embarrassed my washing wasn’t up to Hopkins par, embarrassed I had a hard-on, too. Arrias hasn’t been too nice to me since.
Phoebe’s pencil raps against the chart. Sufentanyl 50 micrograms. “That’s the dose for the patch.” Her green eyes narrow. “This patient needs a drip.”
Shit. Shit, shit, shit. The patch. I wrote these orders up last night, after sharing a few hits with the stage crew after the Christmas play rehearsal.
“Apologies. Long night.”
“There are no excuses in surgery,” Arrias says. “But thank you for providing an excellent teaching opportunity. Thankfully not at the expense of our patient. Good catch, Doctor Miller.” His gaze lingers on her overlong. “I’ll enjoy working with you.”
He strides out. I turn to Phoebe, who’s back to checking vitals. “You okay?”
“Are you?” She jabs at the calculator. I double check the numbers and look hard to find a mistake.
“Looks good, sweetie pie,” I say. She tilts out of my kiss. “Gotta go. Page me if you run into any problems – I’m checking on patients.”
Her lips stay pressed together. She doesn’t watch me leave the operating suite. In the hallway, I slump against the wall. When my heart stops slamming against my ribs, I walk around the corner to Recovery. My pre-dawn patient, blasted full of holes by a rival gang banger, is still behind curtains. I chart vitals. Doreen and some new nurse stand behind the small desk, drinking vente somethings. They’ve got the easiest job in the hospital – stare at a bunch of bleating monitors, serve Hawaiian Punch with tiny straws to waking patients, and shoot the shit with the docs. Boredom makes them lax.
I walk to the back supply closet. No one's around. I pull out my keys, insert one into the lockbox. It doesn’t open. I reinsert the key, twist it, but the lock doesn’t budge. Sweat drips into my left eye. My hands shake as I try another key, then another. No luck. I saunter back to the front.
“Hey beautiful,” I say to Doreen. “I need a patch for Mrs. Ossarian, but the box is locked.”
She looks up from writing at the desk. Her partner, R. Rivers according to ID dangling around her neck, laughs.
“That’s why it’s called a lock box, Doctor,” R says.
Smart ass bitch. I lean over the desk, blocking R’s view, and bat my eyes at Doreen. Last summer, before I settled with Phoebe, Dor and I’d gone out for beers after softball. The grapevine says she’d be happy to resume our relationship between the sheets.
“Well, hon, Mrs. O could use some help – she’s in pain from her lung resection.”
“They have morphine up there,” she says.
“She’s throwing up the oral.”
Doreen looks at Nurse Ratchet Rivers, who shrugs. Doreen opens a drawer and palms the key from the magnet embedded in the side of the drawer. I can’t see the drawer or the key, but I know they’re there; I make a point of knowing such things. She leads the way to the back.
“We changed the lock – a bunch of patches went missing. And Vicodin.” Her eyes flicker at me, probing.
“Really?” I meet her gaze. “You and your buddy better be more careful. Any slob could walk back here – narcotics are worth big bucks on the street.”
“No kidding.” The box pops open, revealing orange blister-packed morphine, OxyContin, tidy rows of Duragesics standing in their foil jackets. Saliva gushes in my mouth. I reach for three patches.
“One at a time.” Doreen’s hand covers mine before sliding me a clipboard with a pen dangling from a string. “Here - sign it out.”
“New policy.” She scrolls down the page to Duragesic 50 micrograms. “Patient name, date, and room number.”
I have no fucking idea where Mrs. Ossarian is; for all I know, she’s discharged from the hospital. The pen hovers over the space for room number.
“I can check for you,” she says.
“Room 434.” I pocket the patch.
“A bunch of us are trying to get up a racketball tourney – interested?”
“Absolutely.” I have what I came for, now I can leave. “Email me.”
I hustle from recovery, head pounding from this new complication with the lockbox. What a fucking pain. I’ll have to come back, when only one nurse is on duty.
Another excerpt from PURE. For more on the travails of my pill-popping anesthesiologist Kevin, read BREAK TIME