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 the largest dedicated to plastics, because once again, California. It is pretentious, but the pay is ridiculously high, and so is patient satisfaction. Now, I’m convinced this is the job I always wanted.
I left my last job in a well-known hospice because I realized it was affecting me more than I should let it. Hospice care takes someone very special. Apparently, I was not special enough. I knew I wanted to work with people that needed the empathetic, emotional support I loved to give. What I hadn’t known was that I would miss the medicine. I needed my patients to have a chance to get better. I needed that hope back.
They have me shadowing Theresa, a 50-year-old Charge Nurse with more wisdom than she realizes, and I am loving every minute of it. The nurses and the doctors in our department call her Mother Theresa, and for good reason. She trusts me to know what I am doing, and never makes me second-guess myself when it comes to patient care, which is refreshing. She is showing me the ropes, and more often than not, is keeping me from getting lost in this sprawling mansion they call a hospital. It is filled with mostly private patient rooms and has the newest, technologically advanced surgical suites. It’s the country club of medical centers – but that came with downfalls as well.
“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. Until they realize how much they need you.”
“It doesn’t bother me. Most people don’t realize they need someone until they really need someone.” That is why I do this job.
She nods her head. “That’s very true. And it goes for the doctors as well.”
We are walking to receive our newest patient. This one is young with ambiguous symptoms, and they 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 it 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.
“They put him on the gurney already.” She points towards the hall. “He’s a fall risk.”
We walk over to him and I almost trip when he looks at me. He sits upon the bed 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. Zeigler,” Teresa greets him.
“Hi there,” he says with an incredibly straight, white smile.
“I’m Nurse Diaz and this is Nurse Brennan,” Theresa 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 says flirtatiously, holding his hand out to me.
I shake it but see his bracelets. I grab the thin, woven braids with my fingers. “There is no metal in these, right?”
“No ma’am,” he says. Everything that comes out of his mouth sounds suggestive. He pulls his arm away slowly, still smiling at me.
“Did the doctor have any concern with his tattoos going in the machine?”
Theresa gives me a confused look. “No, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he hadn’t noticed either.”
“Do you mind if I take a look at your ink, Mr. Ziegler?”
He smiles. “You can take a look at whatever you’d like, Nurse Brennan.”
He holds his arms out to me, and I pull up his gown and see his sleeves stop at the shoulder. He has an eclectic mix of black ink portraits, and classics like colorful flowers, waves and koi fish. All pops of color are blue or green like his eyes, no reds or pinks. “Do you have any others?”
“I do. You want to see those too?” he asks enticingly.
“Not particularly. Can you tell me if any are red?”
He looks a bit confused. “They’re not.”
“What do you think?” Theresa asks me.
I smile at her. “I think he’ll be just fine.”
“Are you ready?” Theresa asks the patient.
“Yes! Take me for a ride.”
Theresa wheels him down the wide halls towards the elevators and I trot alongside her. I can’t get over how beautiful this place is. Each wing is painted a different family of colors. This area is shades of aqua adorned with water and 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 his chart from the front of the bed and take a look.
His symptoms are mostly vague: loss of appetite, unexplained weight loss, body aches, low-grade fever. The only one of actual concern is the stabbing pain in the abdomen and back, and fainting spells.
They had run a battery of tests on him, too. X-rays, various blood panels, EKG, 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 to him and smile politely, and he raises his eyebrows suggestively with a flirtatious smile. I try not to roll my eyes.
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.
I smile at him as the doors open. “Is it that obvious?”
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 in a growly voice. He rolls to his side and props up a knee under his blanket, looking up at me directly. “Are you Italian?”
“My 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, and the attendant can’t be bothered from his magazine. At least I know I’m in the right place now.
“All right, I need you to transfer onto this table for me,” I pat the table.
“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 need me to. He is in amazing shape – slim and noticeably muscular. He’s in perfect health, it seems. 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. “No, I’m quite fond of sticking myself into tight things.”
I groan in disgust. He laughs as he lies down. “You’re too much.”
“That’s what they all tell me,” he smiles suggestively. There was no winning with this one. I push the button to move him into the machine. He tries to hide his nerves as he moves into the tube. “How long does this take?”
“Just a few minutes. If you hold still.”
I go into the room and the scan begins. I sit with the silent attendant as he slurps his coffee periodically, still engrossed in his Men’s Health magazine. When I glance at the face view, I see he looks very nervous. You think you aren’t claustrophobic until you’re in an MRI. He needs a distraction.
“Just a couple more minutes, Mr. Zeigler.”
“Cool,” he says nervously.
“What did you say you do for a living?”
“I’m a photographer.”
“That’s awesome. What kind?”
“Fashion mainly. But I do all types of portraiture. Anything with people the possibility of drama.”
He seems very passionate. “Anything I’ve seen?”
“I’ve been in GQ a handful of times. Vogue once.”
He laughs lightly. “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 pictures start to come in. “But for the record, my Instagram latte pics are very original and authentic.”
“Don’t make me laugh, I’m supposed to be still.”
I get the thumbs up from the attendant. “Go ahead, you’re all done.”
“Already.” I walk back into the room and press the button to let him out, making 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?”
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, and his face tenses slightly.
“Mr. Ziegler?” His eyes roll and he goes limp. I disobey my training and jump in his path, catching him in my arms. His weight pulls me to my hip, but I manage to keep both our heads from hitting the ground. “Page the attending, please!” I yell.