"Don't forget your coffee, my love." David placed my sleek blue tumbler into my hand on my way out the door as he kissed my cheek.
"Thank you. Get some sleep, okay?"
"I will. You're on call tonight, right?"
"Yes. I'll see you tomorrow morning." I wrapped an arm around his neck in a hug.
"I don't enjoy being away from you for an entire day." We pulled apart and he held my hands. "But you're saving lives. l have to remind myself that. You're happy, doing what you love—what you worked hard for. I'll always be proud of you, Casper."
I smiled softly. "I do feel it. I felt the ache of not seeing you for, what, forty-eight hours straight during my internship? Now I work a bit less but still extensively. I haven't seen our babies awake in two days, three tomorrow. I feel that ache, and so do you." I shrugged. "David, you come first. Always. No job, no amount of hard work, time, effort, and sleepless nights will ever take precedence over my family."
"I understand, truly. I'm not that man-that husband-who would fault you for being a surgeon or working long hours. I'm a wonderful judge of character, and I know that with everything you do, you're thinking of us."
I pressed my lips together, turning around to balance my coffee tumbler on the rail of the balcony. Then I turned back, leaning against him to give him a long, appreciative kiss. "I still don't know how I got so lucky," I whispered afterward, resuming our little display of affection.
"Elia, please present."
And so the routine of each day continued. The 7 a.m rounds were first and foremost.
Elia stepped forward, smiling at our patient warmly. "This is 36-year-old Lysa Miller. She was brought into the ER complaining of chest pain and there was evidence of trauma... to the um, to the chest... which was the cause of the chest pain, of course..." she stumbled, clearing her throat.
"Andrew," I called on another intern.
"Right, uh... chest x-rays showed that there are no signs of fracture, but an abnormality on her left clavicle--"
"And what, pray tell, was the cause of her trauma?" I tilted my head. "Or do I have to call on a third person to give me that vital information?"
"Oh, cut 'em some slack, Cassie," Lysa joked, but I just wagged a finger at her.
"What did I tell you the last time I saw you here? You've gotta stop getting into these accidents. Doctor's orders."
"You know each other?" one of the interns asked, but I couldn't tell who.
"This is Lysa's third time being admitted in six months," I informed before looking back at her. "And I'm assuming you were in an accident like the last two times?"
She smiled. "I went for a run near a hilly cliff or something and I fell down. It's no big deal. Just stitch me up if I need it and I'll be out of here."
I furrowed my eyebrows and watched my interns glance at each other strangely. "What?" I asked.
"Her chart, Dr. Larsen," Hazel answered, stepping forward to whisper to me. "She went biking, not for a run."
I nodded, reading over the information on the tablet in my arms. Apparently, she had a sternoclavicular dislocation and, because she was stable, her dislocation was to be reduced under anesthesia this morning.
I huffed. "Alright. We'll be back to get you prepped for your procedure, Lysa." I started to walk out the room to continue rounds. Once we were all out, I said, "Elia, this is your patient with me. I love that woman, and we need to keep her alive. We also need to do a brain MRI before that procedure."
"Because," I said firmly. "She thought she went for a run on a hill and fell. That's what she said the last time she was brought in. And the time before that."
"She could have a tumor. Or dementia!" Elia gasped as if she'd discovered it first.
I frowned. "Precisely. I don't and will never understand why you just lit up as if it were Christmas morning, but if she has an underlying condition, it's not exactly good news."
She swallowed, bowing her head to the ground. "Of course, Dr. Larsen."
I took a breath. "We have two more rooms. Let's go."
"Dr. Larsen," Avery breathed out as he woke up and saw me near his bed. He sighed, blinking a few times.
"I told you, it's Casper. I find that calling a doctor by first name encourages trust. It's... personal. Approachable."
"Mm, personal you say?" He slowly sat up with a smile.
I eyed him carefully, pointing a finger at him. "Don't abuse the privilege. It can always be withdrawn."
"Hey, don't tell me you were watching me sleep."
"I'm monitoring your vitals."
"Oh? Is that what they're calling it these days?" He smirked, his brown eyes falling to my hand.
"It's my job. Your surgery is tomorrow and if this tumor reaches your brain stem..."
He squinted at me, waiting for me to continue. I just ended up heaving a sigh. "Are you sure there's no one you can call? Not even a friend?"
"What, are you saying I'm gonna die?" His eyebrows went up.
"Avery, I'm saying that... Listen, I'm a neurosurgeon. I'm not an expert, and I haven't mastered this but one thing I know with my entire being is that we all need someone to get us through this shit life."
"I'm serious." I sat down in the chair beside his bed. "Having support is always beneficial. Recovery time is quicker, less lonely-"
"I'm not lonely," he cut me off. "I've got a team of doctors swarming me. I'm fine. And you'll be one of them, right?"
I nodded, holding his hand in reassurance. "I will."
He gave my hand a light squeeze. "I appreciate that. Truly. My brother and I... we have a large age gap between us. He was protective over me when our parents died in an awful car crash. I was a child while he was sixteen. We went into the foster care system, and it wasn't the best experience as you can imagine. We weren't abused but we weren't very loved either. He got into trouble, a lot of it. He turned eighteen, got out the system, got into more trouble, went to jail for a bit..." Avery shook his head. "Our relationship just isn't the same. It never will be. I don't know how to call him and tell him I'm dying."
"Avery," I looked him in the eyes. "You're not dying, you hear me?"
"Stop," he huffed, staring up at the ceiling. "You think I don't notice the looks on everyone's faces while they come check on me, making sure I'm comfortable. They know it. I know it."
"You're not going to die," I whispered, feeling my eyes wet with tears. I cleared my throat and quickly blinked them away before he could notice. I needed to remember my education. Doctors weren't supposed to be a crying mess of emotions, not ever. That was always tough for me. My heart was squeezing with sadness, and the empathy overcame me.
"It wouldn't be so bad," he said after some silence. "Dying, I mean. Seriously, sometimes I think about it because... well, I have to, you know? I hope it's like being unconscious. Have you ever fainted before? I hope it's like that. Nothingness. You're a doctor; what do you think it's like?"
I saw the curiosity in his eyes, and how they pleaded for me to be honest. "When your heart stops, it's possible for the brain to remain active for a short time afterward. For the first few moments, your sense of self, your humor, everything that you are shuts down. After that, your memories and language centers go. I think death is a blank, quiet void. I think it's peaceful because being alive is exhausting and you finally get to rest. You wouldn't know if you're dead or not after metacognition ceases."
"It's the awareness of one's own thought processes. Thinking about thinking, that's how people describe it. If you're no longer aware, if you can no longer think, then you won't know you're dead. You don't exist to yourself anymore."
I rolled my eyes. "But you're not going to experience that because you're. not. dying."
"Okay," he accepted. "Not dying, got it."
I smiled, standing. "Good. Now, let's get you something to eat. Your last meal will be early this evening because you can't eat before surgery tomorrow."
"You know, I never did get that chocolate pudding."
I chuckled. "I'll have a stern word with the nurse then." I patted his hand and let it go. "I have a patient to check on. I'll see you later."
"Yeah, okay." There was a dim sadness in his brown eyes, and I hated to leave him alone.
But duty called.