Thursday, January 07, 2010

Finding My Fix

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.”

“You’re kidding?”

“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

Peace, Linda


  1. This is a wild ride for sure. Very well paced, great dialogue and very keen insight..someone close to me was a surg nurse until he lost his license for remarkably similar events as described here.. too real..too much. great piece. Look forward to the whole body!

  2. I'm a nurse and you captured an all too realistic scenario here. I was surprised you knew the drugs! Loved the story and the dialogue. Just one very picky edit, in case you wish to correct-- "I wrote up these orders up last night" --only needs a single up.
    I enjoyed this!

  3. Another great excerpt, Linda. This is going to be one terrific book.

  4. You have me so excited to read this book. I devour your words, dear Linda. I don't do that well or often.

  5. This made me so uneasy and sick that I almost stopped reading but I couldn't. I had to know if he got the patch or not. Great work.

    The fact that this is very real is also something that makes me uneasy.


  6. This is great, I'm looking forward to reading the entire novel.

    What an interesting conflict you've set up. It's like a kid working in a candy store, or an alcholic barman.

    Nurse Ratchet Rivers sounds evil.

  7. I loved this! I love the Dr.'s character...he's an interesting soul; make's me want to know what makes him tick & why he is who he is! I bet your book's gonna be amazing!

  8. My heart was pounding right along with his. The tension and paranoia you have written into this feels so real. I can't tell you often enough how much I am looking forward to reading the whole thing.

  9. I am so buying your book when it's published. Thoroughly enjoyed this excerpt.

  10. Brilliantly tense. Great work, Linda. I too can't wait to read the book.

  11. I join all those who can't wait for the book!

    Great pacing, dialogue, description.

  12. ... and so the net begins to close.

    The tension here is sharp. Well done.

  13. Great work! I was as tense as he was-and even though I knew I shouldn't have been--was surprised somewhat when the truth of the drug abuse began to come through. It starts as such a "typical" rounds experience. Great pacing. Can't wait to read more.

  14. Linda,

    Look at all of the buzz you're creating for PURE.

    Congrats. I enjoyed reading this again -- and am waiting for more.

  15. Can you say "tension"? I can!
    Fantastic stuff Linda, I can't wait to read the whole thing

  16. Great scene here, Linda. Keep on working, the book is going to be great.

  17. Linda,

    I can't get enough! You always leave me wanting more, more, more! Loved reading from Kevin's perspective and will check out the link to more about him.

    On a quick break b/w class and knitting group and couldn't resist coming on to read, even though I have no time. I am so loving PURE! I have to say I am such a sucker for anything mecial-related so this just makes my day.

  18. Thanks all for reading. I do heart my Kevin.

    GP, by day I play a pharmacy professor (believe me, the stuff I write about is OHHHHHHHHH so real).

    Peace, Linda

  19. Linda, this is fantastic! It's so sharp and, as others have said, tense.

    Besides that, I so appreciate a doctor story that's real yet not necessarily about patients or murder, but this story wouldn't work in a different setting.

    I'll have to catch up to the other Pure posts, and I too, look forward to the book.

  20. Linda, this is fantastic. I loved
    everything about this. My daughter ia an RN. She had been a sx nurse.
    I have heard a lot. She has left the hospital and wants no part of things that you mention here. Everyone has sid it all, but I have to tell you if this doesn't go into print as soon as you send it out. Then there is no justice.

  21. Ah you guys are too kind (blush).

    I still have a lot of revising to do, like the last two-thirds.

    I am hoping this stuff resonates -- sometimes horror is in the shape of a prescription vial. Peace, Linda

  22. The taunting of George is really well done. Calling it a boo-boo is pitch-perfect. Once again, thanks for a great read.

  23. The pacing in this was great - and, at the pace your Kevin is going, he's heading for a hard fall.

    Love the "Nurse Ratchet Rivers".

    Very well done.

  24. Linda,

    This is great! I would love to read the entire work.

    So much tension, and such a great setting. You have so many realistic details, I had to go to your bio again to see if you were a nurse.

    My husband works in a very large health system and this story line is VERY realistic. Also been seeing lots of news stories about this big addiction among hospital staff. Really hot topic right now!

  25. Wow this writing is so hot it's smoking. I want to know more. When's PURE coming out? I am THERE!

  26. So much tension in this one little piece! I didn't realize I was holding my breath. Wow, can't wait to read the whole thing!!!

  27. Very fast paced and enjoyable reading . . . I'm with everyone else on wanting to read the book! Well done.

  28. Suspenseful pacing - I was on the edge of my seat while reading, wondering if he was going to get away with it. Great stuff, Linda!

  29. I was really getting into this. Very well crafted and an enjoyable read.

    good stuff

  30. Very real. I could feel the conniving and rationalization coming through. Thanks.

  31. I really enjoyed this too.

    I did stumble slightly over a continuity issue that could easily be fixed. At the start of the bedside conversation Phoebe has a mask on. Then he goes for the kiss (is the mask there?). Then "Her lips stay pressed together" - the mask must be gone. I think what's happening to the mask is important because there's sequential images of the eyes over the mask, the kiss and the lips pressed together.

    I still thought this was great.

  32. This work is quite compelling, hooking the reader in right from the start and not letting go. It feels very realistic—the situations, the descriptions, the dialogue. The narrator is well fleshed out in this excerpt. Great job.

  33. Everyone's said it already, but I have to add my two cents - outstanding work! I can't wait to read the whole book. Your style reminds me a lot of Tess Gerritsen, though you have an empathy for your characters that I've not seen in her work, making it all your own of course.
    Now, hurry up - I want to buy the book. :)