The phone rang. Margaret started to get up only to realize if she let go of her string the bead work she just did might fall apart. “Oh, tits,” she said aloud. It was probably just telemarketers or Mom calling to make sure Margaret hadn’t gone out.
The answering machine clicked on, but not in time to catch who was calling, “—we have documents that will delivered to your home or workplace. We will only provide two attempts. If you have any questions you can contact us or our attorneys at—” Margaret replaced her headphones. “The only people I owe money these days is the Federal Government,” she told Nip, “and I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t phone ahead to let me know they were sending the bill.”
“What are you going to make next?” Nip asked as Margaret pulled the indeed-tacky turquoise bracelet from the loom. She set about tying a T-clasp over the end.
“Well,” Margaret regarded the bead loom. “It’s awfully big, kind of a waste of space to just make bracelets.”
Margaret loaded more string. “I dunno what I’m gonna make. Maybe a tapestry. Something to help use up this four bags of beads.”
“You’ll need a pattern.”
“You’re awfully talkative these days,” Margaret noted.
“I’ve got stuff to say.”
“Well, it’s nice to hear a friendly voice. Even if it’s in my head.” Margaret paused, considered the pink and black beads of her dead Aunt’s nineties sensibilities.
“I think I’ve got a pattern,” she answered, and loaded her needle.
“All right, team. This is going to be a rough week,” Margaret held her intern and medical student’s shoulders as they stood in the side of the work lounge. “I’ve dealt with this attending before. It’s not pretty, but I’m hoping she’s chilled out over the last year. Thankfully, I remember what her pet peeves are, and, like most of these guys, I’ve already been through hard times with her once.”
“I can’t help but feel you’re trying to tell us something,” Zach the Intern replied.
“Like tuck our heads between our knees and kiss our asses good-bye,” Lewis added with a jocular grin.
Zack nodded. “I have a hard time believing this attending can be rougher, cause that last one was totes ridicks. Why do you carry the entire team? I have one patient. The med student has more patients than me. You have like six and she kept piling more on you.”
“They’re training me to take on eight.”
“Is that a thing?” Lewis the Med Student asked.
Margaret sighed. It was embarrassing to talk about the process she was undergoing, but the intern deserved to know, so they could avoid her fate. “It is for me. Because I’m not as good at my job as the other residents. Anyhow, this is how we’re going to play this week. The most important thing will be our pre-pre check out with Dr. Bechet. We’ll need to review every plan and make sure every phone call she mentioned even in passing has been made. And never, ever forget a urine test result. Lewis, making phone calls and badgering nurses about pee tests will be your wheelhouse. Zach, get your notes done as much as possible before rounds, we’ll double check orders as we go and triple check after rounds. You and I will review meds together. When it comes to admissions and your note writing, give me the pager, I’ll run interference so you don’t have to be bogged down. Lewis, don’t bother with admission notes, just copy-paste what I write and change it to your taste.”
Lewis blinked, “You have to write my notes?”
“OK,” Lewis raised an eyebrow, then added, “I brought cookies, since that’s apparently the only thing I can contribute to Team Margaret over here.”
Margaret smiled. “You guys are the best team ever. I’m glad you’re here. Both of you.”
“Hey, Maggie, you’re looking bright today. I like that dress,” Candace, one of Margaret’s fellow residents, touched her shoulder as Margaret walked down the hall.
“Thanks, hey, want a tacky bracelet?” Margaret pulled out a peach and blue bracelet with a diamond pattern. “I’m learning to bead, and now I have all these tacky bracelets. You want one?”
Candace gave her an uncertain look, then accepted the bracelet, “Thanks. I’ll probably wear it on Halloween at least.”
“Awesome,” Margaret answered.
“Is it a fun hobby?” the blond resident asked.
“Yeah, I’m running out of beads though. I’ll have to order some or something. I’m not even sure where you get replacements.”
“Why not the craft store on Apollo?”
“Never been there.”
“Look it up, you could get your beads tonight. No pause in productivity,” Candace laughed, using the words of one of the attendings.
“Thanks, um, can I ask you a question?”
“Sure Mags, anything.”
“You ever carry eight patients on the ward teams as, you know, an intern?”
“Oh yeah, once. It was forever after known as ‘hell day.’ Everyone else on the team was sick but me. Then I got the stomach bug the next day and Callie had to carry like seven. It was god awful. Why?”
“No reason, thanks.” Margaret turned to follow her own team, pulled out her phone to look up the promised craft store.
One new email, from the secretary of her boss. “Are you available for a meeting at 1 pm Monday?”
“Sure,” Margaret typed back. I wonder how bad that’s going to be?
And here she’d been working extra hard to comply with all their demands. Well, aside from her hour prior to bed for beading. That had expanded to two hours and ate into the assumed-to-be ubiquitous study time.
“What’s this, the tapestry?”
“Oh, yes,” Margaret answered as she loaded beads onto the loom.
“A tapestry can tell a story, you know.” Nip commented from behind her.
Margaret shrugged, her smile promising there was a secret worth revealing behind her eyes.
“You bought a lot of black and blue beads.”
“Well, I feel like I’ve been a little beat on.”
“Covered in the kind of bruises one can’t see?”
“Something like that.”
“A pattern of bruises.” Nip nodded. “Once you’ve told your story, perhaps they won’t hurt anymore.”
“Maybe,” Margaret replied cheerfully, then sighed, more glum. “The person who gets out of the car every morning at that place isn’t the one who boarded the Honda here, you know?” Margaret paused, rolled the bead between her index and thumb. It popped out and rolled across the floor, invisible to her eyes.
“Oh, tits,” she hissed, digging in the gap between the floorboards. That one was lost, lodged in the groove where they didn’t fit quite together.
Zach stepped into the resident computer area, face pale. Only Lewis, Margaret and two residents from yellow team were in attendance. The rest were long gone home. Zach was pale, his eyes a little wide. “Uhh, Mags, I need your help,” he said in a flat tone.
“Yeah, Zach? Anything,” Mag turned from the computer.
“That young guy on green team just, like, died, and the family is screaming for a doctor and I can’t go alone. I don’t how to declare someone dead.”
Mags nodded. “Don’t worry, Zach, I’ll come with you. Sadly,” she said as she pulled her doctor coat on, “it’s the easiest physical exam you’ll ever do. Plus,” she added as she followed him to the medicine wing, “you just kinda know when you walk in the room that they’re not with you anymore. It’s not scientific, but I always know if the person is dead or about to die immediately when I come in.” Mags put a reassuring hand on Zach’s back as she walked with him, outlining the death exam.
A nurse greeted them in the hall and spoke in a hushed tone. “Just so you know, this has been very difficult, for everyone, you get that Doctor Maggie.”
“No worried,” Margaret assured the nurse, “will you introduce me?”
“Sure thing, Docs, come on,” the nurse led them in.
“Everyone, this is senior resident Dr. Mason, and our first year Dr. Thompson. They’ve come to examine Edmund.”
The scene before Margaret was a darkened room that smelled of jaundice and excrement. The young man lay indeed dead in his hospital bed. Eyes forced shut. The medical lines and equipment were still attached, waiting for the word from Margaret that it was OK to Quit.
The young man’s mother lay draped over the body, holding her son in, as literally as Margaret could say, a death grip. It reminded her of a poem by Edgar Allen Poe she’d read as a child.
“What exactly will that entail?” the mother demanded, her voice a messy mix of sobs and accusation.
“We will listen to Edmund’s chest and feel for a pulse, only a few minutes.” Margaret gently answered.
“Where will you take him to do it?”
“Right here, but, usually, it’s better if you don’t watch. We’re only listening, that’s all.”
“You mean you want us to step out?”
“For a moment or two, then you will have time to spend with Edmund to your discretion, so other family and friends can arrive,” this was usually the point in the conversation when Margaret, drowned in the swamp of emotions she was suddenly dunked in, would begin to cry. The mother saw Margaret’s face twist, lips purse with the effort not to cry.
“You’ll let us know exactly when you’re done?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Margaret nodded.
“OK, let’s go Todd, everybody, let’s clear out for the doctor,” the mother stood and waved the other family members, including two men looking about Ed’s age out from the floor behind the recliner.
The family made their exodus and Margaret pulled alongside Ed’s bedside.
“Hello, Ed, we’re the last doctors you’ll ever be dealt with,” Margaret said softly, taking the dead man’s hand as Zach offered her gloves. “Thanks,” she said, accepting them. “This exam doesn’t have to be overkill, if you’ll forgive the pun. Heart sounds, pulse, breath sounds, absent for a moment, along with absence of pupil response, and I call it.” Margaret leaned closer to Zach, “I don’t do that noxious stimuli stuff, like pinching them and rubbing shit on their eyeballs. Look at his monitor, Zach. You and I and the nurses and Ed here, we all already know. His mother knows.”
Afterward as they walked away from the room, Zach said, “Thank God you were there with me, Mags. I was tripping out. I don’t know what I would’ve done if I had to call the attending on call. Jesus. Will you write the note with me?”
“Of course. I would say next time will be easier. But it won’t. You’ll only know what to do.”
Zach nodded. “That makes the most sense of anything I’ve heard today.”
To BE CONTINUED….