Pic of Dawson
I was huddled underneath the covers of my bed, shutting myself out from the rest of the world.
I could hear the faint sounds of my children's laughter downstairs as David played with them. I just couldn't bring myself to be so lively.
An entire day had passed and I still hadn't fully read the email from work; all I knew was they were asking me to return. Possibly for a meeting, either to officially fire me or to ease me back into surgery again.
I was seconds away from dozing off when someone shook my body. "Get up, sleeping beauty!" The covers were ripped off my body and I groaned. "I thought you'd be happy to see me!"
I lifted myself up groggily to find my brother staring down at me. Dawson was a 21-year-old tower, but that familiar goofy smirk on his face reminded me that he'd always be my baby brother.
I gave him a dazzling, yet sleepy, smile. "I am. You just got here?"
"I was downstairs for a bit with the babies, but yeah pretty much."
"Oh, so that's why they were laughing like banshees. I thought it was all David." I chuckled as he fell onto the bed like he owned it and faced me.
"I heard your life's gone to shit, Cas."
I pouted. "Yeah, that sums it up."
"David filled me in." He bit his lip, shaking his head. "You fucked up."
"He said you were coming to cheer me up. If you're gonna mock me, go back to college."
"And here I thought my mere presence would do the trick. Alright, fine. I guess I'll have to actually try to make you feel better."
I couldn't help but laugh.
"Look, Casper. I know you." His voice sounded unusually serious, and I knew he was concerned for me. "You're retreating, and being on the other end of your silence isn't fun."
"I'm not silent!" I denied.
"You may say a few words here and there, sure, but... you're silent. In other words, you're shutting everyone out."
"Great, just what I need. Another therapist."
Dawson cracked a smile. "No. Just... another person who is worried about you. Like I said, I know you. Better than some shrink and better than David."
I gasped, snapping my head up and pointing accusingly at my brother. "He brought you here to figure me out, not make me feel better!"
Dawson grimaced. "I definitely could've worded that differently but—no! That's not why I'm here."
I lowered my hand, still holding up my walls.
"Cas, back when you had that falling incident, you didn't speak to me or anyone for months. And yeah, I was little, but I still felt helpless. All I know is, I would've given anything for you to be okay. That's how I feel now. If you aren't okay, something's got to give. I'm sorry, you can do the whole retreating thing with everybody else, but I won't let you do it to me. So!" He pulled himself upright and sat with legs crossed. "That being said, I need full details."
I stared at him for a long minute, but he wouldn't budge. I sighed dramatically. "It's nothing. I'm just having an existential crisis."
"Yes, you tend to have quite a few of those each year. Something's different this time. What is it?"
"I just..." I tossed my hands up and let them fall in exasperation. "What's the point, Dawson? Everything we do, what's the real point of it? I wish I could have those answers, you know? It's kinda cruel to be thrown into existence, only to find out nothing you do matters. You could become a surgeon and save someone who ends up dying the next day anyway! So yeah. That's where I'm at right now." I fell back onto the pillows.
"I really wish I could tell you to suck it up," Dawson lamented. "But I know this is a real issue you're struggling with. Look, I get it. All of us are... specks in comparison to the vast universe. We're like a blip in the map of time, if that. And in the grand scheme of things, who we are and what we do amount to absolutely nothing in the end."
"Gee, I feel better already," I grumbled.
"I'm saying that I understand. In fact, I sort of live by the concept that nothing truly matters. It's why I don't stress myself out. Like, when I'm on my deathbed, I'm not gonna be worried that I skipped class today. Or that I failed some Chemistry test in tenth grade. But I know that when I go, I wanna be surrounded by the people I care about."
"Why? You're not gonna remember them on your deathbed. Your organs will be shutting down."
Dawson gave me a blank face. "You better be at my bedside holding my hand super tight!"
I snorted. "Deal. I wish... I wish I knew if there's another life after this one. I doubt it. I think this is the only life we ever get, and once it's gone, that's it forever. I don't buy the whole 'they're looking down on you' crap."
"You're so morbid. You should've never become a surgeon." Dawson laughed.
"No, I shouldn't have."
"Is that what this is about? You want a new job?"
"It's deeper than wanting another job. I love neurosurgery. It's everything to me. I worked my ass off to be where I am, and David helped. Dawson, you know firsthand how much it took to get to this point." He nodded, listening to my words, and I continued. "It was the only thing I had faith in. Existential crisis aside, I felt like I could always count on science and medicine."
I saw it click in his head; he fully understood my issue. Well, thank God I didn't have to spell it out any further. "You lost faith in the only thing you believed in," he said.
"It's like being in a relationship then getting heartbroken. No, it's like being betrayed. I love surgery, but it let me down. It hurt me. It wasn't there for me when I needed it most. So, I need time to... I don't know, heal."
"Yeah, of course. I mean, I can't dictate your healing process. I will say that you should consider putting your faith somewhere else."
I side-eyed him playfully. "If you say God or church, I'm kicking you out."
He laughed once. "I was going to be all Ghandi and say you should have faith in yourself. Okay! Anyway, enough of this; your depression is going to rub off on me. You and I are going somewhere, and you're going to love it. There's food involved. Food fixes everything." He climbed off of the bed.
"Wait, could you... could you send David up? I need to talk to him."
"Coming clean?" Dawson teased with a knowing smirk.
"Yeah. Something like that."
"I gotcha, fam." He granted me my privacy, and I waited on the bed until David quietly entered, shutting the door behind him.
"Hey. You okay?" He asked, a loving tenderness in his voice as he sat down beside me. His eyes shined with unfallen tears, and he looked so desperate that I felt my heart crack.
Dawson was right. Josie was right, too. I was shutting everybody out, and my husband deserved better than that. The very last thing I'd ever want to do was hurt him.
I placed a warm hand over his. "I'm okay."
"Have you read the email from work yet?"
"Hm? Oh- no, I haven't. I wanted to talk to you first. About... everything."
His entire posture relaxed in relief. "Yes, of course. I'm all ears."
I tried to stand tall while I crushed the soul of the woman standing in front of me. She clung to her sister for dear life, and her eyes begged me for an explanation.
I forced myself to hold her teary gaze, as I informed her that her husband had died. "He suffered elevated intracranial pressure--"
"W-w-what does that mean? I don't..." She shook her head, her breath shaking. There went my poor attempt to remain detached.
"His brain swelled during the procedure. That caused pressure to build up really quickly... and it cut off blood flow. And without blood flow, his brain couldn't receive the oxygen it needed." I swallowed. "We did everything we could, but... despite our best efforts, Byron died."
I winced as she sobbed into her sister's arms. I hated this. We did everything we could?
Thankfully, a nurse came to take over, giving me the opportunity to extricate myself. They needed this moment to mourn, and I needed to be level headed.
I tried to push all the sadness away, but it kept flooding back. I went to the ER, hoping to help out and keep myself busy. And, today of all days, it wasn't a bustling chaos which, I guess, was a good thing. I stayed anyway, working where I was needed until I decided to head to the cafeteria for some lunch. Thankfully, I didn't run into any of my friends. I wasn't in any mood to listen to their gossip.
I ordered a sandwich, apple slices, and some water, then my treacherous eyes caught sight of the cups of chocolate pudding. And the thoughts I'd been trying to avoid hit me like a tidal wave.
It had been three days since I last spoke to Avery, and I chastised myself every hour for it. I missed him.
And he had no one.
I snatched a cup of pudding along with a spoon, abandoning my order and making my way to the elevators.
I climbed off on the third floor and strolled down the hall near Avery's room, trying to talk myself out of visiting him. I didn't know why I just couldn't stay away.
"Is that pudding for me?" I heard as somebody fell into step beside me.
"Not now, Lorenzo," I acknowledged, moving further.
"I know, I know. I'm glad I ran into you, actually. I've been wanting to apologize for a couple days now. I'm sorry for giving you such a hard time."
I stopped abruptly, facing him. He halted too, a bit of surprise registered on his tense face. "On a scale of one to ten, how painful was that to say out loud?"
He cracked a wide smile, a laugh escaping his lips. "I'm serious. I'm proud of you."
"For keeping your distance from that patient you were attached to. You might not notice, but it's made all the difference."
I couldn't tell if I was more shocked or more offended. "Wait a second, your apology is actually an I told you so?"
"What? No! You're our chief resident. When you're stressed out, it affects the rest of us. But ever since you distanced yourself from 307, you've been focused and efficient. On top of that, Dr. Naiman's been singing your praises. All I'm saying is, you did the right thing."
"Okay, first of all, his name is Avery. Second, I didn't decide to 'distance myself' just to make your job easier. And third, it's funny you chose now to give me that nonexistent excuse of an apology because- see this chocolate pudding? It's his favorite flavor. And when I give it to him, I'm gonna tell him how awful I feel for ever quitting as his doctor and I'm going to support him as he takes his last breath. You know why? Because this isn't about me. I'm scared and I want him to live, but the very least I can do is be there for him. Feel free to follow me and watch as I show you what a genuine apology looks like."
"Dr. Larsen?" I turned to see my intern, Hazel, rushing up to me with a pale face. "I-I didn't know what to do. I panicked-"
"What is it, Hazel?"
"It's Mr. Weppler, he's in respiratory distress. I don't know if we can intubate. I-I think he's dying."
The human in me froze in utter shock, and I dropped the cup of chocolate pudding while giving Lorenzo an alarmed expression. Luckily, the doctor in me leaped into action.
"You think?" I gasped as we all rushed to room 307 to find Avery very much so not in distress, but flatlining instead. "Oh my god, Avery!" I cried, at his side in a flash. In a mix of fear, dread, and haste, I barked an order at Hazel. "Get a crash cart in here, right now!"
"But Dr. Larsen, he's—"
"Right now!" I demanded, lowering Avery's bed until it was flat. "I'm starting chest compressions. Lorenzo, the ambu bag."
I quickly placed the heel of my hand on the center of Avery's chest, interlocking my fingers and applied even compressions. I was so frantic that I barely noticed that Lorenzo hadn't moved a muscle.
"Why are you standing there? Help me!" My heart was racing in panic. This couldn't be happening. Not right now. I had so much to say to him. I had so much to apologize for.
"Casper, he is a DNR patient. You have to let him go," Lorenzo attempted to reason.
"No!" I yelled. "I can save him! Help me or get out!" I continued the compressions, my mind spinning. "Oh, God. Damn it! Where is Hazel?"
I kept my entire focus on my feeble attempt to resuscitate Avery, so I didn't fully register Lorenzo telling a nurse to page Dr. Naiman.
"Avery, come back to me. Please. Please," I begged silently as Hazel returned with the cart.
"Casper, seriously. You need to let him go. You could get in trouble for this!"
I tuned the bastard out and ripped the front of Avery's hospital gown just enough to expose his chest. I grabbed the pads to stick to his skin.
"Dr. Larsen," Hazel called. I sensed the reluctance and uncertainty in her voice.
"I'm not stupid," I responded. "I know what I'm risking, and I don't care. I'm bringing him back."
I met her eyes, catching the sympathy in her gaze. "I'm here for you," she decided. "What do you need?"
"Charge to 200." I snatched up the paddles as she did as I asked. I could hear Lorenzo spewing bullshit as he marched closer, most likely to physically stop me.
My heart picked up speed at his audacity.
"Don't you dare touch me." I hissed at him when he got close. "Unless you want to get electrocuted, stay out of my way."
Without wasting another second, I placed the paddles over each pad and delivered the shock. His body lurched, and I stared at the heart monitor with fervent anticipation... and after an agonizing moment, his pulse was restored.
"You did it," Hazel reassured me. "He's back."
I replaced the paddles, then turned back to Avery, placing my hand over his. "Avery? Can you hear me?"
His response came in a dazed, soft groan, and my eyes welled up with tears. "Thank goodness," I sighed in overwhelming relief, too lost in my own world to make out whatever was happening around us. I felt him squeeze my hand very weakly.
"I'm here. I'm right here. Can you breathe okay?" I found his discarded cannula and fixed the tubes over his face. I watched as his chest rose and fell carefully.
"What... what happened?" His voice was low and faint, but I heard him. I leaned closer so he could look at me better.
"I'm so sorry. I couldn't lose you."
He tried to smile. "Probably f-for the best, hm?"
I snapped my head, seeing Dr. Naiman standing in front of Lorenzo. Hazel was near the door. I didn't remember her getting there, or my mentor arriving for that matter. Something about the force in his voice made it clear it wasn't the first time he attempted to get my attention.
"Step away from the patient," he continued in a firm tone.
I swallowed, standing up straight. I glanced down at Avery, who appeared to be in pain, and it killed me to let go of him. It felt like, the moment we weren't touching, the weight of what I'd done had finally hit me. "Dr. Naiman, I-"
"You're done for the day. Dr. Gutierrez, accompany Dr. Larsen to the chief's office."
"Yes, sir," Lorenzo answered as I glared at him.
"Wait," Avery pleaded. I turned back to him.
"It's okay," I soothed, making sure the others couldn't hear our exchange. "Everything will be fine."
"I shouldn't have signed that DNR. I should've just..."
"Hey, shh. It's okay. I should've listened to you. It'll work out. I'm gonna go, but I'll see you soon."
He nodded, putting his faith in my words. I backed away and numbly walked out of the room.
It was only when we got to the elevator that I bothered to acknowledge Lorenzo. "Thanks for having my back," I sarcastically snapped.
"Sure. Let me jeopardize my career because you can't keep your feelings in check."
I scoffed, shaking my head and blinking away the rest of my tears.
"What were you thinking?" He grunted. "You're gonna get fired, you realize that right? You'll be lucky if they stop there."
I pressed my lips together, digging into my white coat pocket to fish out my phone. I knew I wasn't stable enough to drive home, so I went to David's contact.
Oh, God. David.
We stepped off the elevator and I moved to a corner to call him. I ran my fingers through my hair multiple times nervously.
"Hey," I tried to fight the distress in my voice. "Are you busy?"
"Just cooking for the kids when they come home from school. Speaking of which, what are you feeling for dinner? maybe I can get a head start."
I cleared my throat. "Anything. I-I..."
"Casper? What's wrong?"
I rubbed my eyes. "Could you come pick me up? Please? I'll explain, I promise, I just... I can't drive right now."
"O-okay. Yeah, say no more. I'm on my way. Is everything alright?"
"No. I don't know. I'll see you?"
"Yes. Hang in there; I'm coming."
I felt close to breaking down all over again, so I hung up and tried to get my bearings before turning back around.
I had to face the consequences. I just wish it didn't feel so dreadful.