I was too sad to be angry at Josephine for making me revisit Elena's death. I was in a mess of tears, and she just sat there with her hands in her lap.
"Casper, dear, I'm afraid I need to make something clear to you."
"There's nothing you could say that I haven't already told myself."
"No. This may hurt your feelings, but you have to hear it. You say you've failed as a doctor, but her death has nothing to do with you. It's not about you."
"No buts!" She lifted a finger. "You weren't in that operating room."
"I should've been," I countered. "First, do no harm, remember? But I did nothing. I-I could've saved her."
"It's not about you," Josie repeated. "Casper, listen to what I'm saying. Your attending, who's more experienced and skilled than you, couldn't save her. So how could you have?"
"I'll never know because I bailed!"
"Exactly. Yes, actions do have consequences, but her death was not a consequence of your absence. Try to remember that. I'll say it again, it's not about you. Two parents lost their baby girl. Don't get me wrong, it'll affect you immensely. Of course, you have every right to feel her loss. But to go around blaming and pitying yourself? I won't let you."
God, I hated this woman. Damn it.
I grunted quietly, rolling my eyes to the ceiling in exasperation. Still, she was right. Brutally honest, but right.
"Now," she continued. "Tell me. What was her cause of death? Was it you?"
I sucked in a shaky breath. "I..."
Josie stared me down. "What was her cause of death? Was it you?"
"N-no. It's... it's not about me." I shut my eyes in an attempt to stop my tears. I didn't know if I could believe those words, but maybe if I told myself enough, I might find some truth in them.
"What was her cause of death?"
I swallowed. "She died from her escalating condition and... complications during surgery."
"Okay." Josie nodded, the concern in her brown eyes seeming like she was sending me a mental hug. "Mourn her freely. Don't let guilt cloud your grief or you'll be crying forever."
I took a deep breath, staying silent for a few minutes. "I swear, I'm allergic to being happy."
"Oh, honey. I told you sex was a temporary fix."
I almost laughed. If I wasn't trying to hold back my tears I probably would have.
"Don't worry," she said. "Depression takes time to overcome, lots of it. There's no rush. Do you wanna keep talking?"
"Um... sure. Might as well."
"Okay. So, that patient of yours, the one you're so fond of?"
I wiped my eyes. "What about him?"
"Well, I can tell that he was your safe place at work. When you felt the pressures of your job and were overwhelmed, his room was the one you'd go to."
I nodded, feeling a little ashamed. I knew she wasn't judging me; just merely stating her observations.
"Why were you attached to him?"
I sighed, directing my eyes anywhere else. "He's always reminded me of David."
"Right. This is the same patient you said that you resuscitated?"
"Yeah, he's the one."
"So, how did things go downhill?"
I shrugged helplessly. "I wish I knew. I felt like everything was going wrong, and not just at work."
I sighed. "I didn't tell David about Avery until the day I got suspended. Plus he found out through an argument I had with my coworker. He was so... confused, and understandably hurt. According to him, he could sense something had been off about me for weeks. I never meant to hide; I-I just felt guilty."
Wasn't she listening? Or was she just trying to make me spell it out?
"Guilty for holding affection for my patient. Like I said, David knew something was off. I was spending more time at work, for example, especially after Elena died."
"You were compensating. Trying to make up for not being in her operating room that day by working more."
"Yes, that was half the reason, along with trying to get back into Dr. Naiman's good graces. Avery was the other reason." I rubbed my hands. "I ended up missing my daughter's dance recital. She was so excited about it." I rolled my eyes at my stupidity. "David was right to be anxious; I haven't been myself in a long time. I keep feeling like I can't do anything right."
"That's understandable. You work in a field where lives are at stake. In other words, you have no control whatsoever."
"Yeah, but I never cared about being in control before. So what's wrong with me?" I was desperate to know; I was practically begging her with the look in my eyes.
"Are you sure you want me to hurt your feelings today?"
I gave her a flat look. "Out with it."
"I need you to understand; this isn't me judging you. I can only tell you my observations, lay out the truth in front of you, and allow you the freedom to think about it."
"No, I get it. Tell me. I give you permission to crush my feelings into oblivion."
Josie leaned forward a little. "You're obsessing over the thought of your loved ones dying."
"Everybody does," I tried to justify.
"No, they don't," she stated calmly. "It's a fear that majority of people share, yes. But you're running yourself into the ground to make sure this fear doesn't become your reality. I'm sure seeing so much death around you isn't helping either. I think... if you're going to get better, it might be time to start letting go of the things you can't control and focus on the things that you can."
I slumped back on the sofa with a sigh. "I don't like you very much."
"Oh, you like me." She smiled. "You're just not too fond of the truth. It's okay. I'm not saying to suddenly stop being afraid, or to not care. Just find a way to keep it from consuming you."
I hugged a throw pillow to my chest, wondering how in the hell I was going to do that.
It had been nearly a week since Elena's death, and I was still walking on eggshells around Dr. Naiman.
Reminiscent of my highschool days, word had traveled fast that he'd practically dumped me off his service and it felt like I'd fallen off this invisible pedestal. All the prying eyes didn't make me feel any better.
As I approached my interns in the morning to get rounds started, I heard one of them, Elia, whispering to the group. "I heard he has a thing for his patient too. You know the one in room 307?"
The short, curvy girl beside her gasped. "No freaking way! Isn't he married?"
"Should we really be discussing rumors?" Hazel butted in.
"It's hardly a rumor. He's always in that room! He didn't even go home the other night even though his shift had ended."
I stood behind them and cleared my throat. The five of them whipped around, eyes wide as soon as they saw me.
"Dr. Larsen, good morning!" greeted one of the young men.
My face remained stony as I tucked my hands in my white coat and tilted my head. "Why don't you guys just ask? I'm sure it's easier than speculating."
They exchanged embarrassed glances.
"So which one of you wants to do rectal exams?" I inquired. "Show of hands."
When not a single one of them raised their hand, I stood taller. "Really? No one? I guess that makes sense, since a few of you seem to be very far up my ass already."
Hazel, the only sensible one, spoke up for the group. "We're sorry, Dr. Larsen."
"It happens, and I get it," I stated firmly. "But don't let it happen again or I'll bury you in scut. Come on, we have work to do."
With Elena's death still fresh in my mind, I busied myself with other patients. I didn't visit Avery much that day, fearing I'd give everybody more reasons to spread gossip. I did spend a lot of time in labs trying to come up with extra plans of care for him.
It was well into the night before I decided I'd go home and get some rest. But the minute I stepped out of the elevator, that plan changed.
"I'm glad I've run into you."
I looked up to see Dr. Naiman approaching me with a tablet in his hand. I was surprised; he hadn't bothered to acknowledge me for a week.
"My patient needs an aneurysm clipped. Think you can handle it?"
He extended the tablet toward me and I carefully took it with a nod. "Y-yes, I can."
And just like that, I was back in his good graces. Well, somewhat.
Five hours later, around one in the morning, I was back home and exhausted.
I headed straight to my room, greeted by the soft light that David usually left on for me so I wouldn't be met by total darkness. He was asleep, so I headed directly to the shower. The warm water was soothing against my skin, and I couldn't wait to relax next to my husband. I stepped out, dried off, and put on pajamas before slipping into bed.
David turned, now awake, and breathed out a small sigh. "I'm happy you're back safe. I was worried."
"Yeah, it's been a long day." I attempted to snuggle up with him but he slowly sat up and switched on the lamp.
"What happened to being home by seven?"
My confusion was readable, but I slowly registered my wrongdoing. I sat up as well, burying my face in my hands. "Damn it. Damn it."
"I thought maybe you'd call me back or..."
"I was in surgery, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to miss the recital." I shook my head at myself. "Damn it."
He shrugged. "I didn't know what to say to her. I don't fault you for being pulled into a surgery. I know how unpredictable your job can be, but our daughter comes first. No matter what."
My shoulders sagged, feeling the impact of not only his disappointment but my own. I couldn't believe I forgot. It was all Dawn could talk about for days and I was looking forward to seeing her dance her heart out on stage.
And I completely missed it. How could I be so stupid?
"Casper, what's going on? Talk to me."
"What could I possibly say?" My frustration was clear. "What excuse could I give? I'm trying, I really am, but all I can think about lately is that poor little girl who passed away."
"Casper, I understand, and I'm here for you. I just want you to remember your little girl too. She really needed you today."
"I-I know. I'm so, so sorry. How is she; how did she do?"
David sighed, lying down a bit. "I thought she did amazing, and she was a joy to watch."
"I'm sure she was." I hated myself even more for forgetting.
"She, on the other hand... You know her; she's a perfectionist when it comes to dancing. Apparently she forgot part of her routine and had to improv through a few seconds of it. Honestly, if I hadn't watched her practice the dance so many times, I wouldn't have known she made a mistake."
"My poor girl. Please tell me she wasn't too hard on herself."
"At first, no. Then we came back home and she cried in my arms for half an hour."
I pouted. "And I wasn't there." I ran my fingers through my hair in frustration.
"Hey." David reached out to stroke a thumb against my cheek tenderly. He could tell how distressed I was, how sorry I was. "There will be other recitals, and tomorrow is a new day. It'll work out, okay?"
I nodded sullenly as he switched off the lamp. "Come here, love. It's alright." He pulled me into an embrace as we laid as close together as possible. "Get some sleep."
"I'm sorry," I whispered.
"Shh, it's okay. Sleep." He kissed my forehead and I closed my eyes, finally bringing an end to my lackluster day.