Need Someone

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Chapter 2.1 - Skin Deep

The next morning, I sat next to Theresa while the attendings discussed our patients.

Our attending, Dr. Smith, was an old-school stickler for hierarchy. He was young for his mindset, maybe forty or forty-five, and seemed threatened by anyone who questioned his authority as Chief of Diagnostics. He had no female doctors on his service, and always had something to say about the staffing schedules. His only redeeming quality is that he listened to what the head nurses had observed while he was away. For the most part, at least. He was very smart, but he was also a bit of a prick.

Every week, the heads of each department got together to compare patient notes, and every week, Dr. Smith tried to prove his superiority.

“Moving on to Mr. Ziegler,” he began. I perked up, excited to hear a possible diagnosis. “His symptoms are a bit misleading. Everything is pointing to the fact that something being wrong, yet all definitive testing is coming back negative or inconclusive.”

The oncologist, Dr. Mathews, spoke up. “Do you have the results of his MRI?” Smith handed them over. Mathews strokes his short, white beard as he studied them. To me, he looked like an off-season Santa Claus. He was in impressive shape for being sixty but had a full head of gray hair, and a well-trimmed beard the color of snow. He was a well-known surgeon in his field, or so the nurses said. “There is a bit of a shadow between the pancreas and duodenojejunal flexure.”

“There is no shadow,” Smith said plainly. “Have we considered anything psychosomatic?”

“Have you considered something more serious?” I asked.

He turned and looked at me challengingly. “Like what, Nurse Brennan?”

“When he passed out the last time, his face tensed like he was hurting. Maybe the fainting spells are a vasovagal syncope in response to a deeper pain.” The doctors looked at me curiously, so I continued. “Looking through his chart, his white cell counts were elevated. I know that doesn’t mean anything specific, but maybe the lack of definitive results leans towards a general infection or some kind of cancer.”

“Is that all?” he asked me with a raised eyebrow. I knew that meant to shut up, so I did just that. “I would run additional blood panels and a lumbar puncture to see if there is a connection between his high white cell count and back pain.” I smiled, knowing he listened at least a little. “Also, let’s request a psych consult.” My smile faded.

I knew he was wrong but hoped he was right. No one wants cancer to be the answer.


I paged psych and returned to Theresa for staffing. We had a few rolling CMAs and CNAs shared between departments, but only four full-time RNs, Theresa, Denise, Tiffany, and me.

Everyone was nice enough but I kept picking up on a bit of animosity. I outranked them technically, having more certifications from my previous positions, putting me next in line for Charge Nurse when Theresa was ultimately promoted. I couldn’t tell if their distaste came from an outsider cutting in line for a position, or if it stemmed from something more than that.

I didn’t seem to fit. They were all native to California, unlike me, and talked about things in terms I had yet to learn. They managed to coordinate the color of their scrubs each day and I had yet to figure out how. Every day they would show up with their hair done and makeup on while I would be lucky I rolled out of bed in enough time to wash my hair at all. More noticeably, I was the only one with a healthy BMI.

They would spend all lunch talking about their meals and new diet plans, but go silent every time I tried to join in on the conversation. Comments here and there about my scrubs being too loose, or comments about how it “must be nice” to wear some of the things I arrived to work in. I understood the animosity came from the social construct that led us to believe thin women were more beautiful, but some of their comments hurt my feelings.

I wanted to be their friend, to be part of a group of twenty-somethings trying to make it in the big city, but I wasn’t there yet. Their hesitance to let me in was upsetting, but I had been the new girl before. We would warm up eventually.

Theresa snapped me out of my self-pity when she looked my way. “Mr. Ziegler is getting the blood tests. If you could make sure the CMA isn’t butchering him like she tends to do, I would very much appreciate it,” Theresa said.

“Sure thing.” Theresa could ask me to cut off my own arm in front of her and I would consider it. I found myself smiling as I went to his room. “Mr. Ziegler,” I say, knocking on the door as I entered.

“Hi,” he said with a grimace.

“What’s wrong?” I asked him.

“I really hate needles.”

I laughed. “You have full sleeves, how do you hate needles?”

“I never said it made sense,” he said jokingly. “This one is much bigger. And slower.” He looked nauseous as he said it.

“But it only has to go in once,” I tried to distract him while the CMA got him hooked up. “Just think, these tests will help the doctors figure out what’s going on with you, then they will be able to make you feel better and you can leave.”

“You sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“Good. Not that I’m feeling like shit or anything. I just kinda feel like shit.” I smiled and patted his arm. He stared as the nurse went to place the needle. “Ow! Fuck!” he pulled his arm away, covering the spot with his hand. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to do that,” he said apologetically. “I’m just being a pansy today.”

“Do you want me to do it?” I asked him. He nodded. “If I screw it up, he’ll never let me live it down,” I said to the CMA to soften the blow, but she did not seem amused. I put on gloves and cleaned up the spot from his failed puncture, noticing it was not on the vein. She was well on her way to butchering him. Theresa always knows best. I place the tourniquet on his other beautifully tattooed arm. “Let’s give this one a shot, shall we?”

He looked nervous. “I hate this so much,” he whined.

“I know.” I find a promising vein and gave him a warm smile. “Look away and it will make it better,” I instructed as I cleaned off the area. He complied. “You’ve had to have tattoos that hurt way worse than this.”

“No, I avoided all those.”

“Really? The fingers didn’t hurt?”

He lifted his other hand as if to help him remember. “Yeah, I guess they did hurt.” I readied the needle. “Will you tell me before you do it?” he asked as I placed it.

“No, because it’s done.”

He looked at his arm then up to me.

“Holy shit, you’re good.”

“That’s what they all tell me,” I winked at him.

He gave me a mischievous smile. “Stealing my best lines, Ms. Brennan?”

“Unoriginal, I know. I’ve been told I’m basic.”

“Well, what you lack in originality you make up for in sheer aesthetics.” I sneered at him while switching out the tube and watched him looking me up and down. “Seriously, though. Why are you a nurse?”

I sighed amusedly. “Because I care about people’s insides more than their outsides. Unlike someone I know.” I smiled and retract the needle from his arm without warning. He hissed quietly as I did it, but he knew he deserved it. “We will get these to the lab, and hopefully we’ll have a diagnosis for you soon.”

“Here’s hoping.” I placed his bandage. “Thank you for putting up with me. I know I tend to be a prick around insanely beautiful women.”

I pursed my lips, trying to keep from smiling. “Thank you for the never-ending, unsolicited compliments,” I said disingenuously. “But I’m here for whoever needs me, whether they’re a prick or not.”

“Well, I appreciate it nonetheless.” He gave me a smile so handsome I forgot to say anything when I left his room. I stumbled out with the samples.

Flirtatious patients like him were usually annoying, but Ziggy was far too entertaining to hate. I liked him. For now, at least.

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