Chapter 1 - Fresh Air
This is exactly what I needed.
It is the start of my second week at this new hospital, and I still get lost. It’s gorgeous, expensive, and freaking humongous. But what do you expect for California?
There are three main departments situated in wings; Diagnostics and women’s health together in one, oncology in another, and in the largest, plastics, because once again, California. It is filled with private rooms and has the newest, technologically advanced surgical suites. It’s the country club of medical centers.
It’s pretentious, but the pay is ridiculously high and so is patient satisfaction. I’m convinced I snagged my dream job.
I left my last job in a well-known hospice because it was affecting me more than it should. Hospice care takes someone very special. Apparently, I was not special enough. I knew I wanted to work with people who needed the empathetic, emotional support I love to give. What I hadn’t known was that I would miss the medicine, that I would miss my patients having a chance to get better. I needed that hope back, so I came here.
They have me shadowing Theresa, a fifty-year-old Charge Nurse with more wisdom than she realizes. The nurses and doctors in our department call her Mother Theresa, and for good reason. I am loving every minute of it. She trusts me to know what I am doing and never makes me second-guess myself when it comes to patient care, which is so refreshing. She has been showing me the ropes, and more often than not, keeping me from getting lost in this sprawling mansion they call a hospital.
“The people here are the most wonderful and the most annoying,” Theresa explains to me. “Most are well established, come from money, or both, which means they will look at you like you’re a servant rather than a nurse.”
“That doesn’t bother me,” I tell her. “Most people don’t realize how much they need us until they really need us.” That is why I do this job.
She nods her head. “That’s very true. And it goes for the doctors as well.” He raises an eyebrow at me, making me smile as I follow her down the hall.
We are on our way to receive our newest patient. This one is young with ambiguous symptoms. The doctors have been talking him up as a medical mystery. Every diagnostic doctor’s pipe dream is to meet a medical mystery and solve it, but that never really happens. I still don’t understand why they want it to. Sometimes, I think they forget that patients are people.
“Where is he?” I ask her.
“They put him on the gurney already. She points toward the hall. “He’s a fall risk.”
We walk over to him and I almost trip when he looks at me. He sits lounging in his hospital gown, one arm covered in tattoos to the wrist, the other to his fingers. His hair is cut short on the sides and back, leaving a long patch in the middle that he combs absentmindedly with his fingers. It’s bleached blond but looks like it grows in much darker. He looks over at us with hazel-green eyes and a pretentious, cocky gaze. The man is seriously hot.
“Mr. Ziegler,” Theresa greets him.
“Hi there,” he says with a perfectly straight, white smile.
“I’m Nurse Diaz and this is Nurse Brennan,” she introduces us. “We’ll be taking care of you today.”
“Nice to meet you.” He shakes her hand then turns to me. “And especially you,” he flirts, holding his hand out to me.
I shake it but quickly spot his bracelets. I grab the thin, woven braids with my fingers, feeling them for wires. “These don’t have metal in them, right?” I ask.
“No ma’am,” he growls. Everything that comes out of his mouth sounds suggestive. He pulls his arm away slowly, still smiling at me all the while.
“Do you remove any piercings, Mr. Ziegler?” I ask.
"I don't have any, but you can take a look if you don’t believe me, Nurse Brennan.”
He playfully tugs down his gown. I find his sleeves have an eclectic mix of black ink portraits and classics like colorful flowers, waves, and koi fish, and stop at the top of his shoulders. His chest is smooth and inkless. I look back at Theresa with a laughing smirk.
“I think you’ll be just fine,” she tells him. “Are you ready?”
“Yes! Take me for a ride.”
Theresa wheels him down the wide halls toward the elevators as I trot alongside her. I can’t get over how beautiful this place is. Each wing is decorated with a different family of colors. This one has shades of aqua, the walls adorned with ocean-related artworks.
“You know I can walk, right?” Mr. Ziegler says to Theresa.
“That’s what you said last time. Right before you passed out and almost got yourself a concussion,” Theresa scolds him. He snarls at her like a playful child. I grab the tablet from the front of the bed and take a look.
His symptoms are mostly vague: unexplained weight loss, headache, body aches, and fatigue. The only symptoms of actual concern are the stabbing pains in the abdomen and back and fainting spells.
They have already run a battery of tests on him, too. X-rays, various blood panels, an ultrasound, and now an MRI. “Come in for an STD screening, stay to find out you have some un-diagnosable, mystery disease,” he says tongue-in-cheek. “I never thought I’d prefer to have syphilis.”
I can’t help but laugh. He gives me an accomplished smile.
“We will figure out what is wrong with you and get you on your way soon enough,” Theresa says.
“I think you want to keep me here as long as possible.” He winks at Theresa. She shakes her head at him as we reach the elevator lobby. “Must be this sexy hospital gown driving you girls crazy,” he says, stretching it out in front of his chest. I stifle my laughter.
I push the button and we wait quietly. I look back at him and smile. He raises his eyebrows suggestively. I try not to roll my eyes.
Suddenly, Theresa gets a page. “It’s a code. I’ll meet you up there.” She starts to run off. “Fourth floor to the right!” she yells as she hurries away. She must read minds, too.
“Are you new here?” he asks me.
“Is it that obvious?”
The elevator arrives. I push the bed inside and press the button for our floor. He laces his fingers behind his head and lays back against his pillow, looking up at me. “So, what’s your first name, Ms. Brennan? Mrs. Brennan?”
“Miss. It’s Sabine.”
"Sabine,” he repeats with a growl. He rolls to his side and props up a knee under his blanket. He appraises me with his eyes, and asks, “Are you Italian? You don’t look Italian.”
“My great-grandmother was. You can thank her for the name. Yours is Neil, right?”
“Yeah. My friends call me Ziggy. You can call me Ziggy if you want.”
“Sure thing, Ziggy.” The elevator chimes and the doors open.
I take a wrong turn and end up near the surgical hall. I resort to following the signs like a visitor, my patient laughing all the way. We finally make it to the room, but the attendant inside can’t be distracted from his magazine. At least I know I’m in the right place now.
“Alright, I need you to transfer onto this table for me,” I pat the spot in question.
“Do I get to take this stupid dress off?”
“And be naked?” I laugh. “No.”
“Ah, you’re missing out.”
I help him climb onto the table, though he doesn’t seem to need my help. He is in amazing shape; slim and noticeably muscular. Everything about him makes it seem like he’s in perfect health. I start to get excited about the idea of figuring out what is wrong with him and making him better. “Are you claustrophobic, Ziggy?”
He chuckles to himself. “No, I’m quite fond of sticking myself into tight places.”
A groan of disgust escapes me before I can stop it. He laughs at my misfortune as he lies down. “You’re too much,” I say.
“That’s what they all tell me,” he quips with a suggestive smile. There is no winning with this one.
I push the button to move him into the machine. He tries to hide the nervousness from his expression as he moves into the tube. “How long does this take?”
“Just a few minutes. If you hold still.”
Once he’s in place, I leave the room to let the scan begin. I sit with the silent attendant as he slurps his coffee periodically, still engrossed in his Men’s Health magazine. When I glance back at Mr. Ziegler I find him fidgeting with his hands the way I do when I’m nervous. You think you aren’t claustrophobic until you’re in an MRI. He needs a distraction.
I press the button to speak to him. “Just a couple more minutes, Mr. Ziegler.”
“Cool,” he says with a bit of apprehension.
“What was it you said you do for a living?” I ask him, knowing he never mentioned it before.
“I’m a photographer.”
“Well, that’s awesome. What kind?”
“Fashion mainly, but I do all types of portraiture. Anything with people and the possibility of drama.”
He seems passionate about what he does, so I stay on topic. “Anything I’ve seen?”
“I’ve been in GQ a handful of times. Vogue once.”
He allows himself a small laugh. “Way.”
“I bet your Instagram is super cool,” I say tongue-in-cheek.
He groans. “Oh, don’t tell me you’re one of those people.”
“What, a hipster?”
“Sure. Let’s call it that.”
“I think my taste in clothing and music might suggest that.” The computer beeps and the images start to come in. “But, for the record, my Instagram latte pics are very original and authentic.”
That gets a big smile from him. “Don’t make me laugh, I’m supposed to be still.”
“Go ahead, you’re all done.”
“Already.” I walk back into the room and press the button to let him out, being sure to scan his legs for any signs of mysterious discoloration or something else mildly exciting. “Are you feeling okay?”
“Yes, of course. Though I’m disappointed to find out my hot nurse is so boring.”
“Excuse me. Boring?” I say with a playful grin.
He laughs, sitting up as the machine comes to a stop. I pull the gurney closer and help him stand. “Maybe you’ll . . .” he stops short, his face tensing slightly.
His eyes roll back and he goes limp. I recklessly jump in his path, catching him in my arms. His weight pulls me down hard onto my hip, but I manage to keep both of our heads from hitting the ground.
My heart beats rapidly in my chest as I yell, “Page the attending, please!”
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