Doctor D’s Orderly Affair by C.A. King
Whoever said silence was golden was wrong. Being alone with one’s thoughts was as loud as, if not more than, the emergency room she worked in. For her, music was what soothed both the soul and mind, blocking out everything else, even if it was only for fifteen minutes. Breaks were too short, especially for the hours being put in—and she wasn’t even a nurse yet. That was still to come in her journey.
A grape popped into her mouth, tongue swirling it about, relishing in the feel of the cold smooth texture of its skin before her teeth chomped down. A burst of cool sweet flavour exploded, refreshing her palate. It was one of nature’s ways of dealing with thirst.
“Ow!” She almost spit.
She hated surprises. Most people failed to realize not all of them were good. In fact, some weren’t nice at all. Sneaking up on a person like a ninja topped that list. Touching them without warning was even worse. The one she just experienced wasn’t a gentle tap, either. Instead, it was more of a hard poke, the sort best effective when applied under the ribs, luckily it was just below her shoulder blade on her back.
A yank pulled the buds from her ears. “What?”
The nurse behind her stood, one hand on each hip, with the ‘you know what’ look plastered to her face; the sort only Vivian could get away with. In a way, it matched the flower-print garbs she wore everyday perfectly. She was loud, bossy, and a veteran of the hospital staff. To think, all those years she’d put in were served in one of the worst of the worst places, too; the emergency room.
“I have eleven minutes left,” Emily whined.
“It’s all hands on deck,” Vivian barked back. “You can have your minutes later. We have an emergency en route.”
Vivian’s pencilled-on brows rose slowly, before finally forcing together to form a pronounced frown. “It’s always bad,” she huffed. Her chiselled-on expression softened slightly. “This time it’s kids. A school bus rolled over on the highway. ETA in less than five minutes.”
“And it’s bad enough to need me?” Emily asked, her voice squeaking. Confidence wasn’t her forte. She was a simple orderly, not a sought-after medical professional.
The job wasn’t as bad as it sounded. Working with people was what she enjoyed the most, even if it was merely assisting with a patient’s daily living activities. Besides cleaning, feeding, bathing, dressing, and transporting patients from one place to another, she aided with some nursing duties, as well. It was all part of her own personal five-year plan—involving work experience, coupled with a harsh regiment of schooling—the combination of which tended to run her days completely around the clock. It was the ending which was what mattered most, though: an enrolment in a program known as Nurses Without Limits, the equivalent of Doctors Without Borders.
“You know darn well there is a high demand for orderlies, especially ones with your skills. Simply having someone know how to perform basic nursing duties is enough to take some of the strain off of the rest of the staff in a busy emergency room.” Vivian’s eyes bulged. “Well? Get your tush in gear. There’s no time to wallow in glory with this job. There are lives to save and bedpans to change.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Emily replied, firing off a quick salute.
For anyone who worked in the medical profession, talent was a requirement of his or her job. Years of experience was the tool which made anything burdensome slightly easier to handle. Neither guaranteed success, of course. Failure, for the most part, meant someone wound up dead. It wasn’t an easy way to live, but that was what set nurses apart from others. That was what made them different—special. That was why she wanted to be one. The pain, the joy; only members of the nursing community knew the true extent of those mood swings: minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour, day-to-day, week-to-week.
The glass double doors slid open as the two women approached. For now, the corridors were quiet, empty. That was about to change. She’d only been at Eastport General for a year and a half but had seen similar situations to the one unfolding happen time and again.
Crowds of distraught patients filling beds and chairs around every corner. Too many for the number of examination rooms available.
Family members with worry etched onto their faces pacing the waiting areas.
Sirens wailed in the distance, reminding all that the time was nigh. Suddenly, it was as if the director of a major movie called for places. Nurses stood at the ready by their stations, doctors downed last-minute cups of caffeine, technicians and maintenance workers alike readied their carts for what was sure to be a long night ahead. On some days being stationed in the ER was the greatest gift of all, on others it was more of an inhumane curse.
“Orderly!” The voice came from behind her. “A mask is required. If you don’t know the new rules, I suggest you read them over again... and this time memorize them.”
The rules were everywhere and had been for over a couple of years. It was impossible to avoid them. Every single detail was etched into the minds of the members of the staff. Safety came first. It had to or they’d end up the patients, or so they were told. Truth be known, the defence they were adding to thwart any virus was only paper-thin. Wearing protection was more a morale booster than anything else. Only a full hazmat suit was an adequate safeguard. She had yet to see a breakout considered serious enough for that, yet.
“Yes, Doctor,” Emily replied, even though her break wasn’t technically over. Being lax about protocols wasn’t helping further her career.
Two elastics extended around her ears, mouth and nose immediately fully covered. Next, plastic snapped on each of her hands, after which they remained held high in the air. Even with the gloves on, it was better not to touch anything where possible. Playing the part, the same as everyone else on the hospital’s payroll, was an unspoken obligation each staff member attempted to fulfill.
Of course, the public’s mental health had to be taken into consideration, as well. Carrying on life, in as normal a manner as possible, eased worried minds. People were frightened, and they had a right to be. Today wasn’t pleasant and tomorrow wasn’t promised. Between an ongoing pandemic, budget cuts, and a lack of beds, hospitals were hit the hardest over the past couple of years. The fact they continued operating under the circumstances was a testament to their staff’s commitment. There was no use applying an additional straw to the camel’s back just to see if it would break.
Medical facilities of all types had it the worst. Diseases gained strength in confined areas, especially places where the sick congregated. Visiting a local health centre was dangerous, albeit necessary for some, but not all. People needed to understand Eastport General was no exception. It was the same as any hospital, overflowing with visits regardless of whether it was in the middle of the day or night. Not only was the atmosphere dismal, but regardless of the face they put on, the staff was, too—all underpaid and overworked.
There was no fun to be had there, either—no relief from the turmoil. A hospital waiting room was among one of the most depressing places to be stuck in, even more so than a graveyard. At least there, the pain and suffering was already over.
Masking strong emotions was always slightly easier than she anticipated. It was a matter of being prepared. They never went away completely, though. Instead, those feelings travelled through her veins, sent shivers up and down her spine, even left the beginnings of goosebumps behind as calling cards on her skin. The trick was to never once allow them to make it past her muscles and flesh to take on a visual form. Holding a poker face was an emergency worker’s first, and last, line of defence.
Sadness filled bright blue eyes. It was time. Her mind counted to ten, eyelids closing. When they opened, their vibrant colour had dimmed to a steely grey, hardening with her soul as it prepared for the work ahead. Chart in hand, she headed to the first stop, transporting someone to the X-ray department, except the patient had already been vanquished from his examination room. She paused for a moment, finally realizing the severity of the situation.
He was only a child. Technically they all were. She’d known that, but seeing a child, sitting alone in the hallway, legs swinging back and forth, his brightly coloured sneakers clearing the tiled floor by a few inches on each pass, pulled on her heartstrings.
Emily’s nostrils flared, taking in air. Her nerves steeled for the sake of the boy. He was alone: no parents, no teacher, no recognizable faces. That was more than enough to jar the nerves of an adult under the circumstances.
She moved into his full view before addressing him. “Hello.” A quick glance down at the chart told her his name. “Steven.”
There was no response. His face had a pale unhealthy look to it, sunken eyes fixated on the tile beneath his still swinging feet.
“I’m Emily,” she explained. “I help patients move around different departments of the hospital. You get to stay in that chair, and I’m going to push. Okay?”
“Is my mommy here?” the boy asked.
A glance at the nurse behind him was enough to know she wasn’t. “Not yet,” she admitted. “But I’m sure she’ll be here soon. I’m going to be taking you to see a photographer,” Emily continued, “and I bet your mommy will be here when we come back.”
“Why do I need to go?”
“Because...” her voice elongated the word, “...the doctor is going to want to see a few pictures of where you are hurt. That’s how he figures out how to make you better. Is that okay?”
Steven nodded, pursing his lips tightly closed.
“All right.” Emily’s foot snapped off the brake on the chair. “Here we go. We are going to be following the grey arrows. See that’s one, right there.” She pointed in a way in which he could see the direction of her finger.
“Are there different coloured arrows?” Steven asked.
“There are,” Emily answered. “They all lead to different places. It’s so no one gets lost. What’s your favourite colour?”
“I like yellow,” Steven replied. “For my birthday, I had cake and yellow balloons everywhere.”
“I bet that was fun.” Emily steered them down a corridor carefully.
“It was,” Steven agreed. “Until one popped. I was really sad... like I am now. It didn’t hurt as much as this does, though, and my mom bought me a bunch of new ones the next day.”
“That was nice of her.” The corner of her eye briefly caught sight of a doctor moving quickly in the opposite direction. It was good the emergency department had some extra help.
“I wish she was here,” Steven sobbed. “I don’t like being alone.”
“Oh, it’s okay, buddy,” Emily reassured him. “I bet your mom is waiting for you when we return. She’s probably on her way. I’ll tell you what, I’ll stay with you while you have the pictures taken. Okay?”
“Okay.” His voice was soft and trembling, but the crying ceased.
The hospital might have been busier than usual. There were definitely other patients needing attention. None of that mattered, though. She was staying with Steven until he was united with his mother again. Making him feel safe and easing the anxiety of being separated from his family were her two priorities.
Even without a yellow balloon, even if she wasn’t a nurse and just a part of the hospital staff, she had the training. As long as one of them held on to hope, tears could be held at bay.