Authors: Bobby Hutchinson
Undaunted, Kate went on. “That error was intentionally concealed. And not a single person has apologized.”
Tony felt his temper begin to simmer. She couldn't be accusing him of unethical behavior, could she?
“I'm not trying to avoid a lawsuit and I resent that you're even suggesting I am. What I'm saying is that you're overstepping hospital boundariesâ¦.”
“I'm not laying blame here, Tony. All I'm saying is that when a mistake has been made an apology is in order.”
The frustration he was feeling pushed him over the edge. “For God's sake, Kate, stop being a bleeding heart and get practical about your job or you'll lose it,” he thundered.
She looked up at him with huge, wounded eyes. “Are you threatening me, Dr. O'Connor?”
“Of course I'm not,” he growled. “We're simply having a discussion.”
“No, we aren't. We're having a fight.”
The pain in her voice made him ashamed of himself, but this had gone way too far for him to back down now. “I'm sorry, Kate, but the fact is I think you're wrong.”
Families! We love them, but there are times they make us crazy. What always intrigues me about families is the myriad ways they force us to grow, to adapt, to reluctantly accept traits in them that we'd reject in acquaintances. Family members have the capacity to push all our buttons, to make us question our belief systems, reevaluate our boundaries. If life is a school, maybe they're our best teachers.
Always, I learn from each book I write. It's as if the people I create are actually
teachers, saying with a smile, “C'mon, Bobby, you've avoided looking at this part of your personality. It's time you took a peek, uncomfortable as it might be.” This book taught me a lot about anger, and forgiveness, and the unlimited number of ways there are to live a life. I hope it makes you laughâand maybe cry a little, the way it did me.
Thank you, readers, for trusting me enough to take you on another journey from beginning to end.
With my love and gratitude,
This book is for Patricia Gibson,
dear wise friend and mentor, who teaches by example
that for every problem there is a solution, and we get there
by giving up blame. For your constant encouragement
and assistance, I am humbly grateful.
Thank you to a charming young lady, McKensy Balch,
for the use of her beautiful name.
mother was making him crazy.
The shouting match they'd had before he left the house this morning was also making him late for the 7:00 a.m. meeting of the ethics committee, which was embarrassing because he was the one who'd insisted the committee convene at that early hour. Tony had only been chief of staff for four months, and punctuality was something he prided himself on.
The meeting was being held in the main boardroom at St. Joseph's Medical Center, just off the lobby. He jogged in from the parking lot, squinting irritably in the glare of the rising sun. He ignored the softness of the June morning, and he was oblivious to the slight breeze that carried the salt tang of the sea up from Vancouver's inner harbor. Shouldering his way through the revolving doors he hit the lobby at full, impatient stride.
“Morning, Doctor. Nice day, huh?”
The cheerful greeting came from his left, and he turned in mid stride to see who it was. The leather sole of his right loafer hit something slippery on the
linoleum and he stumbled. Flailing wildly, he twisted to catch his balance, and felt his ankle turn painfully in the instant before he hit the floor. Instinct from years of playing rugby made him break the fall with his shoulder, but the wind was knocked out of him. For a dazed and breathless moment he lay prone, watching assorted feet rush toward him.
“Hey, Doc, you okay?” The news vendor from the lobby kiosk, in peacock blue trainers, was the first on the scene. Tony could hear exclamations of alarm from the elderly volunteers behind a nearby desk, and he sensed the beginnings of a general stampede.
To avoid it, he rolled to one side, got up on his knees, then pushed smoothly to his feet, ignoring the bolt of red-hot pain that shot from his ankle to his groin. On the floor was the foil candy wrapper he'd slipped on. He bent and picked it up, swearing under his breath, and shoved it into his jacket pocket.
“I'm fine, I'm fine,” he assured two nurses and a clerk who'd joined the kiosk attendant. “Twisted my ankle a bit, nothing serious.”
Before anyone could dispute that, he brushed off his trousers and straightened his jacket, and in spite of the pain that streaked through his leg and made him catch his breath, he headed down the corridor.
a memorable morning, and triage nurse Leslie Yates was doing her per
sonal best to sort out sufferers in the order in which they needed treatment when the admitting clerk called, “Les, line three's for you. I think it's your mother.”
She hurried to the desk and snatched the phone. “Hi, Mom, thanks for calling back. Listen, I won't be able to break off at noon to take you to your doctor's appointment. You'll have to call a cab. You wouldn't believe the scene down here this morning. Think Shriners convention and food poisoning. Yeah, I will. You, too. Talk to you later, Mom. Bye.”
As Leslie hung up, she glanced around and shook her head in utter amazement. It was barely nine in the morning, and the place resembled a war zone. Stretchers were lined up, every cubicle and examining room was filled, and men with urgent, utter desperation etched on their faces stood in front of every bathroom.
Sounds of retching and moaning filled the air, and the putrid odors of feces and vomit hung over the area like a pall. Nurses trying to get the attention of overworked ER doctors raised their voices as they hurried from one bed to another, keeping a wary eye out for puddles on the floor.
“Bed four has a pacemaker and he's hyperventilating.”
“Did you get the antiemetic into seven?”
“Where are the commodes we asked Geriatrics for? Marvin, get on to Housekeeping and tell them
we're frantic down here, they have to send more staff to clean up this mess. Oh, and, Marvin, try the rehab ward again. They must have commodes we could use.”
Technicians drawing blood cultures and taking stool samples bumped into one another as they hurried from one sufferer to the next while doctors searched for veins and nurses hung more and more IVs of Ringer's Lactate.
As if elderly Shriners with gastroenteritis weren't enough, the ER
have to be short staffed. It was late June, and many of the medical staff were already on holiday, while others had succumbed to a particularly vicious strain of bronchial flu currently doing the rounds.
Leslie questioned still another suffering Shriner who'd attended the annual banquet the day before, filling in information as she listened carefully to the all-too-familiar recounting of symptoms. She slotted him in the lineup for treatment. It was days like this, she muttered under her breath, that reminded her she was fifty-three years old, twenty-two pounds overweight, and had bunions.
“Excuse me, nurse? Leslie? Leslie, I need an X ray on this ankle, and I need it immediately.”
The imperious and irritable male voice got Leslie's full attention because it belonged to Dr. Antony O'Connor, St. Joe's chief of staff.
Leslie usually saw his tall, vigorous figure striding down hallways, vanishing into some meeting
room or another. She knew him well enough to exchange a polite good-morning, and she'd attended staff meetings where he was present, but she certainly wasn't on intimate terms with him.
Not that she and her friend Kate Lewis hadn't wickedly speculated about O'Connor and intimacy. Leslie surmised there wasn't a red-blooded heterosexual female at St. Joe's who hadn't had lascivious thoughts about Tony O'Connor. Physically, at least, he was a prime specimen.
This morning, however, he wasn't looking as hunky as usual. He was seated in a wheelchair in her admitting area, one hugely swollen bare ankle propped high on the chair's footrest, with a good six inches of well-shaped hairy calf peeking out from under the cuff of his gray trousers.
The volunteer pushing O'Connor was an elderly man named Harold, whom Leslie knew well. Harold rolled his rheumy eyes at the ceiling and made a face, warning Leslie that his passenger wasn't in the best of moods.
Maintaining the same tranquil expression she'd perfected from seventeen years of dealing with every variety of calamity the universe could devise, Leslie hurried over to the wheelchair, but her serenity was a facade. All the ER needed this morning to top the utter chaos was thisâSt. Joe's chief of staff requiring medical attention.
“What's happened to you, Tony?” She was
pleased that her voice didn't betray any of her inner tumult.
“Fractured ankleâI'd think that was pretty obvious,” he snapped in a querulous tone, jabbing a finger in the direction of his swollen foot. “Call the radiologist. I need an X ray just to confirm that the damn thing's broken. And then get hold of Jensenâhe'll deal with it from there.”
Leslie's heart sank. She knew from long and painful experience that a doctor with an injury was like a bear with a sore toothâunreasonable, irascible, impossible to deal with and ready to maul the first person in his path.
“First let's get you into an examining room.” Which, Leslie knew, would take a miracle. All the examining rooms were overflowing with vomiting Shriners. But at that moment an orderly whisked a stretcher out of number three, and Leslie breathed a prayer of thanks and hurriedly wheeled O'Connor in. The room stank, so she located a can of air freshener and sprayed it around in liberal doses.
He made a disgusted sound, but she ignored it. In her books, freshener was preferable to the alternative.
“Now, what happened exactly?” Leslie put the can down and poised her pen above a clipboard. Usually this information was taken by a clerk, but she didn't have to glance in that direction to know that a long line of moaning Shriners and a few poor unfortunate walk-ins were waiting for the harassed
clerks to get to them. It wouldn't do at all to send O'Connor over to sit in line and wait his turn.
“How did the accident occur, Tony?”
“Candy wrapper,” O'Connor growled, his face flushing. “I slipped on the foil from a stupid roll of candies. Damn thing was on the floor in the lobby. What's with the cleaning staff, leaving junk like that lying around?”
“You slipped on a candy wrapper?” She was simply confirming information, but he glared at her from angry brown eyes as if she'd said something insulting.
“Yes, nurse, as ridiculous as it sounds, that's exactly what I did.” His tone was not only sarcastic but strident. “And now I'd appreciate it if you'd call the radiologist immediately. I have another meeting, which I'm already late for.”
Leslie struggled with the impulse, developed over her years as a triage nurse, to inform O'Connor that bullying would get him nowhere, and he was going to have to wait his turn. Good sense overcame impetuosity, however, as she reminded herself that this guy was the Big Kahuna, and she and her mother enjoyed living well on what Leslie earned at St. Joe's.
She knew that Antony O'Connor had been chief of staff for only four months. Leslie had seen him around before that, of course; he had a busy family practice and admitting privileges at St. Joe's.
During these last four months, however, he'd es
tablished a formidable reputation. The general consensus was that he was meticulous, impatient, critical of anything he deemed unnecessary, and willing to go to extreme lengths to correct whatever he saw as a waste of the medical center's time and money. It was rumored that his iron fist bore no sign of a velvet glove. He had energy to burn and had maintained a busy general practice after his appointment as chief, seeing his patients in the afternoon and spending his mornings at St. Joe's. Leslie knew he had a great rep as a GP. She didn't know him well enough to guess whether or not he had a sense of humor, though. She suspected not.
The wisest thing she could do, she decided, was to summon one of the doctors and let him or her deal with O'Connor.
she finished this damned medical history. Pen poised over the clipboard, she began again.
“Have you been a patient here before, Tony?”
“Of course not.” His tone was beyond edgy. “You know who I am, Leslie. Surely you'd know if I'd been seen in Emerg.”
“Not necessarily.” She didn't exactly spend twenty-four hours a day here. Although this morning it felt as if she had already, and she was only three hours into her shift.
“What medications are you on?”
“None. Well, I did take four Tylenol to ease the pain after I did this, but nothing on a regular basis.”
“And what time did the accident occur?”
“Seven-fifteen. I was on my way to an early meeting.”
It was now nine-thirty. The time lapse accounted for the extreme swelling evident in his ankle.
“So you walked on it right away?”
“Yeah, of course I did. It didn't get really painful and start swelling until afterward.”
“You didn't try icing it?”
“There wasn't ice available.”
Leslie thought that was a crock, but she didn't say so.
“Eggs. Look, is this really necessary? All this stuff is on record with the hospital already.”
“In your personnel file, perhaps, but not here in Emerg.” She kept her voice impersonal. “Next of kin?”
“Next of kin? I've got a broken ankle, not a broken neck. Damn it all, this is ridiculous.” His brow furrowed and the flash of temper that darkened his thick-lashed eyes might have cowed a younger, less confident nurse. At her age, Leslie wasn't about to let him intimidate her. She'd seen it all, and she'd learned how best to deal with irate patients.
He glanced at her and recognized relentless determination. His tone took on a pleading note.
“Leslie, I've got a sore ankle, for cripes' sake. Next of kin isn't relevant. This is a total waste of time, in my opinion.”
“I'm sorry you feel that way, but it's standard procedure.” She wanted to remind him of his own insistence on procedure, but she bit her tongue and added, “We find this the fastest and most beneficial way to proceed. Now, next of kin would beâ¦?”
His lips thinned and he scowled. “My mother, Dorothy O'Connor.” In an exasperated tone he rhymed off address and phone number before she could ask, and as quickly as she could, Leslie finished the rest of the questions on the form.
“I'll send Alf right in.”
She closed the examining room door gently behind her, took a deep breath before she remembered about the stench, and hurried over to Alf Jensen, who was treating a Shriner who'd gone into defib.
“We got trouble,” she said in a low voice.
“You're telling me.” Jensen applied the paddles and everyone stood back. When the monitor registered a heartbeat and the patient was stable, he sighed and turned to Leslie. “What's up?”
“Chief of staff's in three, suspected fracture of the ankle. He's mad as a hornet and wants an X ray stat.”
“He'll have to wait his turn. There's only me and Sorenson and those new med students who don't know their ass from a hole in the ground.” Jensen was noted for his colorful vocabulary. “And
most of these Shriners are a hell of a lot worse off than somebody with a sore ankle.”
“I know, but he's the chief of staff, and he's not in a waiting mood. Can you go in and have a word with him? Please?”
With a short expletive, Jensen jogged over to three.
An aide pushing a gurney said, “The patient rep is looking for you, Leslie. She's over there at admitting.”
Leslie saw Kate and waved a hand, conscious all of a sudden of the nasty stains on her green scrub suit and the fact that her hair was escaping from the clip on the back of her head. As always, Kate was perfectly groomed, her mass of auburn hair gleaming, a sky-blue summer shirtwaist skimming a slender but curvaceous body.