Being promoted to chief resident was the most satisfying feeling. As someone who never craved attention, I couldn't say that I minded the respect I received from my new title.
It meant my superiors and my bosses recognized my talents and my dedication to work. It might even mean I was far more skilled than my peers. I tried not to let it get to my head.
As chief resident, I was in charge of assigning responsibilities and patients to my fellow surgeons. Other than my newly added duties, my routine remained relatively the same. Rounds first thing in the morning, checking on all of my patients, saving a couple people from certain death, clipping an aneurysm here and performing a craniotomy there.
Later that evening, I managed to procure a nice cup of chocolate pudding to present to one of my favorite patients. Okay, I was being modest. He was definitely my favorite.
I strolled into his room with a bright smile on my face. Avery was staring absentmindedly at the TV mounted high on the wall across the room. I stood by the door for a second since he hadn't noticed me, and I just watched him. I took in his features, but I saw more than his outward appearance. He'd been through quite an ordeal, without the support of family or a friend. Yet, there was a strength in him that he exuded even while weak from surgery.
Every cancer patient I'd ever known carried that same strength.
I lightly sighed, staring down at the pudding in my hand. Was I really admiring him? I scolded myself in my head. What was wrong with me? I didn't need to be here; he was fine. I didn't need to get him his favorite snack just to see him smile.
I heard him gasp which made me look up. His hand flew to his chest as he sat up, trying to draw in air. It took my trained eyes a split second to realize he was having shortness of breath, so I rushed inside toward his bed and set the cup down.
His eyebrows knitted together as he huffed out my name, surprised that I was here. "C-Casp..." His breath was lost on him. I acted quickly, retrieving the nasal cannula to give him supplemental oxygen.
"Shh, just breathe," I instructed, leaning him back down onto the pillows. He just closed his eyes and nodded, steadily collecting himself.
"Was that a panic attack?" He asked me, reopening his eyes.
"It could've been."
His tense shoulders relaxed. "Thank you. Were you here the whole time?"
"Oh, I..." My cheeks flushed as I picked up the cup I'd brought in. "I got you this."
And there it was- his warm smile. "I appreciate it." He accepted the pudding. "Never fails to make me feel better."
"Hm. I'll bring you one every day then."
"I look forward to that." He stuffed a spoonful of the chocolate dessert into his mouth.
I pulled up a chair and sat down. "So, if that was a panic attack, what do you think triggered it? Are you anxious about something?"
Avery shrugged. "I technically still have a tumor, except now it's on my brainstem. Which, as I've been told, controls some of my body's most basic functions so if it's compromised, I'd cease to exist. I'd rather have stayed blind."
"I know how worrisome this is. I won't ask you to stay optimistic, but you're going to be fine. And you'll be discharged soon, so you can get back to your life. You have time, Avery."
"Honestly? I don't know how to go out there and simply live, being all too aware that my days are numbered."
I nodded. "I hear you. Just do what you know you won't regret later on. Do things that make you happy."
He smirked, seeming to heed my advice. "I almost don't want to leave. There are certain people here who have made my hospital stay very... memorable."
"Oh, is that so?" My eyebrows shot up.
"Yes. And," he lowered his voice. "I know I'll miss them after I go."
I blinked, looking away for a second. "I'm sure that these... people will miss you too."
I felt a warm hand on my shoulder, gently shaking me awake. "Hm?" I hummed, groggily sitting up.
"Have you been sleeping all day?"
I blinked, attempting to rub the sleep out of my face. "Why, did something happen?"
"The kids are back from school. I went to speak to the principal about Dawn." David sat down on the large bed, his body turned slightly toward me. "I even talked to Ms. Kurry, who promised to keep a close eye on our daughter for us."
"And those girls?"
"They're too young for suspension, but the principal assured me they will be facing consequences. Their parents were notified, and their theater privileges were revoked so they won't be in the play with Dawn. Also, I managed to get her into a different dance class. She'll still be in the same studio and closer to Athena. Our daughter has nothing to worry about." He took my hand. "Her happiness means the world to me. So does yours. Please tell me this gives you even a fraction of relief."
"Of course it does," I reassured. "Thank you for defending her. You took care of this in such a level headed manner; I would've raised a bit of hell."
David kissed my forehead. "If anything like this happens again, we will raise hell together."
We turned to see Dawn and Royce running into our room in excitement. They bounded straight to our bed and climbed on it, immediately tackling me in hugs.
"Oh, goodness!" I was caught by utter surprise. For one thing, our daughter hadn't really acknowledged me after her rejection and I'd been confined to the bed in my depression ever since. I embraced them, feeling a degree of peace.
"Guess what? I get to play Dorothy!" Dawn announced, pulling away.
"Oh?" I looked at David who shrugged in amusement.
"She wanted to break the news herself," he explained. I smiled at our girl.
"That's amazing, baby! You worked hard for that role." Taking my chance, I leaned in to kiss the side of her head. I mentally prepared myself for another rejection but she just giggled, erasing my anxiety. "And what about my little nugget?" I turned my attention to my shy Royce, who was the spitting image of me. "What did you do today?"
His small arms clung onto me as he answered, "Arts and 'cwafts.'"
"Yeah? What'd you make?"
I gasped. "A birdhouse! Like the one in the garden?" I cradled his head as he nodded, a smile forming on his face.
"We got to bwing it home."
"I can't wait to see it." I touched my nose to his in a playful gesture and he laughed. We all laid down on the bed, with Dawn's small feet across my chest and Royce played with David's hair.
"Can we have hot chocolate tonight, Dad, and a bedtime story?" Dawn asked hopefully. My husband, barely ever able to say no, swiftly agreed.
"Of course. With extra marshmallows."
We kept our babies entertained- singing, cracking jokes- for about half an hour before they both fell asleep for a nap. David gazed at me and smiled, and I did the same. "They make me so happy," I told him quietly, stroking Royce's blond hair.
"I haven't seen you smile this much in weeks. I need your happiness to be a permanent fixture, Casper. Tell me, have you made a decision about therapy?"
I sighed. "I'm not opposed to therapy. I know firsthand how useful it can be. But I want to talk to you. You said it yourself, I need the best. My husband is the best there is."
"You're flattering me." He thought for a moment. "People don't become the best on their own. While talent gets them far, they still have to be taught, trained, mentored."
"What're you getting at?"
"I'm saying, why don't you meet the person who trained me for years, who taught me everything I know?"
I had to admit, that definitely piqued my interest. "Alright. I'll try."