“How’s it going, Alexis?”
Taking a sip of coffee from my thermos and breathing in the aroma of hospital air, I looked up to find one of the new medical students give me a quick wave and a nod. I couldn’t remember her name, and almost felt guilty about it until she redirected her attention elsewhere so quickly that I didn’t even have time to respond.
“It’s going good. How about you,” I muttered. I thought back to my own days in school. Initially, I had dreamed of becoming a doctor. But the more I studied in the field and learned the roles of the players within it, life as a doctor started to seem too distant and cold. Sure, doctors had one of the most important jobs in the world. Yet, in my time studying and working with them, I felt they spent too much time treating symptoms rather than people. I was drawn to the medical field because I wanted to help people, not just their symptoms.
Fortunately, I came to the conclusion that nursing would allow me to experience the personal connection I desired in terms of helping those in need. I was well aware that when people walked out of the hospital doors after a prolonged illness, an accident, or a frightening brush with death, it was often the nurses and the care they received that they remembered afterwards. I wanted to be a part of those memories.
That being said, caring for patients wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, particularly in the emergency department. That’s why every day, before I left home, I made a ritual of looking in the mirror, taking a deep breath, and saying to myself, “You got this, Alexis.” I’ve come to depend on this daily pep talk because constantly witnessing trauma after trauma could quickly burn you out.
In fact, the past week had been exceptionally busy. Even though I was just starting my shift, I was already praying for an easy day. But I hardly had time to sit my coffee down before I realized my hopes for an easy day weren’t going to be granted.
“INCOMING BITE WOUND!”
The announcement rang through the air and instantly sent my heart pumping. Nurses began to dash across the floor, hurrying to prep. Instinctually, I reached into my pocket for my hairband, quickly and efficiently twirling my hair up and out of the way. My body went into auto-pilot mode. Everyone working in the emergency department quickly learned to expect bites wounds from time to time. Shifters tend to gravitate toward our neck of the woods so it’s not uncommon to get injuries from their fights. Things can get pretty intense, I’ve been told. No matter how many times you’ve worked with a shifter wound, though, it never gets easier to deal with, just like any other serious injury... There was always pressure when someone’s life was potentially on the line, pouring from a wound.
The typical questions started firing back and forth throughout the emergency department while we all scattered about, trying to prepare.
“Male or female?” I asked.
“Male,” someone yelled in reply.
“Location of the bite?”
“How long ago?”
“About fifteen minutes.”
I analyzed the information, trying to determine what would potentially be needed for the incoming patient. By the time paramedics rolled him through the hospital doors, I was ready. I followed closely behind them, noting the amount of blood collecting at the bottom of his shirt.
My nerves were already starting to subside, confident that Dr. Presch would be able to save this one.
Dr. Presch, a kind and caring Indian woman, was the doctor I usually got assigned to. Together, we made an excellent team. After some of the previous doctors I’d worked with, all whom had distant and aloof attitudes, it had been a breath of fresh air when I first got assigned to Dr. Presch. Rarely did I encounter doctors who cared about patients just as much as I did. When I first met her, she smiled, looked at me with her warm brown eyes, took my hand and said, “Let’s save some lives, Alexis.”
“You’re going to be fine,” I said, jogging alongside the patient as he was wheeled in to the emergency department bay. He glanced up at me through his pained expression. “What’s your name?”
“Well, you’re going to be okay, Nate. I promise.”
I didn’t leave his side until we reached the bay and the emergency room technicians began tending to him, preparing him for the doctor.
I scanned the area in search of Dr. Presch, coming to a complete halt at the sight of someone else in her spot.
Standing at the sink was a doctor I did not recognize. Male. I saw the flash of tattoos on his skin as he stood at the sink, scrubbing his hands and forearms with antibacterial soap.
“Where’s Dr. Presch?” I asked the room at large, though I instantly regretted doing so. I didn’t want to make the patient nervous.
“She’s not in today. Dr. Bradford will be covering for her.”
At the sound of his name, or perhaps at my question, Dr. Bradford took a quick glance over his shoulder at me.
My heart gave an unusual patter that had nothing to do with the job ahead of me. In just that brief instant, it was impossible to not notice how handsome Dr. Bradford was. Even through his scrubs, his muscular build was evident. He had a headful of dark shiny hair, a prominent jawline that was covered with a 5 o’clock shadow, dark penetrating eyes, and an expression that showed he was all-business. But that wasn’t all of him. I could see there was something else hiding right behind that professional demeanor. I couldn’t pinpoint what it was.
“Alexis?” I jumped. A fellow nurse—Lorraine—stared at me with her eyebrows raised. “Are you all right?”
I nodded. “Yeah.”
Dr. Bradford made his way over, briskly walking straight to the patient, who was now unconscious. I took a deep breath and forced myself to concentrate while several nurses attempted to disrobe the patient’s wound area.
“Careful,” I said. “Don’t destroy the clothing, particularly in the area of the bite.”
Dr. Bradford glanced at me for an instant, although I couldn’t quite decipher his expression. There was no time to anyway. All my attention was on the patient now, making sure everything ran smoothly. All the while, I made sure to stay one step ahead of the doctor, anticipating his needs and his moves before he had even figured them out himself. That was my job.
“Looks like he was taken by surprise, the bear who attacked came from the back right side,” Dr. Bradford said in a voice that made knees weak.
“Let’s leave it to the forensics department to make that assessment,” I said, earning an annoyed glance from him.
“I know what I’m looking at,” he quipped. Maybe that’s what is hiding, arrogance.
This wasn’t starting out well, but I was terrible at walking away from a fight.
“I’m sure you do,” I responded, “but we have a very specific job to do here, doc. So we should stick to it.”
Dr. Bradford mumbled under his breath and several other nurses raised their eyebrows, making me realize my words had bit harder than I should have allowed. I couldn’t really care though; my concern was for Nate, and for his sake, we needed to stay on task. I was forcibly reminded of why I preferred Dr. Presch; we were always on the same page and she would have never taken a moment to contemplate any details other than what was absolutely necessary to treat the patient right then and there.
After a long stretch of silence, Dr. Bradford spoke again. “Lucky guy here. There won’t be any permanent damage. He’ll need therapy, but he’ll walk again. Maybe even run. No severe bone or nerve damage. The bite seems to have missed anything serious. Send a notice to the surgeon upstairs that he needs to be stitched up. And you,” he addressed Nate, “no more getting into shifter bar fights. This could have been a lot worse.”
I let out a relieved sigh, causing Dr. Bradford to stare at me again. I felt a flush rising over my cheeks.
I gave a start at him saying my last name. “Yes?”
“You almost looked more panicked than our patient did when he first came in. Word of advice for you—if this kind of thing is too much stress for you, then maybe you should reconsider your line of work.”
I blinked and felt a flush spreading across my face again, but this time, it was purely from rage. I cleared my throat. “I beg your pardon, doctor. But as I’ve said before, you should refrain from making assessments you are in no position to make—be it the type of bite wound, or my competence as an emergency room nurse. So a word of advice for you—stick to what you know.”
The room fell so silent, the beeping of the patient’s heart monitor practically sounded like a siren. One of the other nurses attempted to pass the tablet to another, but dropped it, for her eyes were too busy darting between me and Dr. Bradford.
“Sorry,” she said hastily, kneeling to retrieve it, but the other nurse—Miles—beat her to it.
Gripping the clipboard in his hands, Miles cleared his throat. “No offense, Dr. Bradford, but Alexis really is one of the best nurses we have here. So if she ever left this line of work, it would be a real tragedy.”
Dr. Bradford shot Miles an annoyed glance and then turned back to the patient.
I caught Miles’ eye and nodded in appreciation. “I’ll take that,” I said, reaching for the tablet. “Can someone read out his vital signs, please?”
I proceeded to record the patient’s information, deciding to let someone else take over handing Dr. Bradford the tools he needed because I suddenly wasn’t keen on having more interaction with him than necessary.
“Good work, team,” Dr. Bradford said after a while. “Put out the notice that Nate here can be sent up to a room awaiting surgery. Has his family been contacted?”
I glanced up from the tablet, dumbfounded. Dr. Bradford looked toward me, a challenging gleam within his gaze. “Yes?” he said.
I lowered the tablet. “You haven’t finished examining this patient. His whole body has to be examined, not just the area with the noticeable wound.” I looked around to my fellow nurses for backup, but they remained suspiciously quiet, some of them looking positively scandalized. Only Lorraine looked at me and nodded, encouraging me to go on. I shook my head and laughed, though I found the situation far from humorous. “Unbelievable,” I muttered, realizing they were all too intimidated to speak. This was yet another reason I appreciated Dr. Presch; she had taught me to follow my instincts and never be afraid to speak up on a patient’s behalf, even to the doctor in charge.
“What is it that you feel is unfinished, Ms. Lewis?” Dr. Bradford said. “The patient is stabilized. His vitals are good. He is expected to make a full recovery in due time. Surely, you can see that.”
I pursed my lips together and took a deep breath. Perhaps it was just my imagination that made me think Dr. Bradford’s eyes had briefly lowered to my chest…
I swallowed before speaking, staring him straight in those deep seductive eyes of his. “You should be well aware that it is standard procedure to give the patient a thorough whole-body examination, not just solely concentrate on the area of the bite wound. Although he appears to be fine otherwise, we have to be certain nothing is overlooked.”
I set the tablet down and approached the patient, ready to complete his examination even if I had to do it alone. All the while, I thought Dr. Bradford’s eyes would burn a hole in my head. But instead, after what felt like forever, he approached the patient again.
“Step aside, Lewis,” he said, and then proceeded to complete the examination.
The other nurses watched with bated breath until it was over.
“He’s just great.” Dr. Bradford glanced at me one last time before removing his gloves and leaving the area without saying another word.
“Good job, Alexis. Presch would be proud,” Lorraine said, stepping forward to pat me on the shoulder.
“Thank you.” I cleared my throat, attempting to ignore the obvious tension in the room. “Has this patient’s family been contacted?” I asked, mainly to just fill the silence.
“Yes, I believe they’re in the waiting room…Where are you going?”
“To go talk to them,” I said.
“I’m pretty sure that’s where Dr. Bradford went.”
I paused. “Oh…Okay.”
Lorraine shook her head and laughed. “Alexis, don’t get yourself in trouble, now.”
I recalled the way Dr. Bradford looked at me before he left. “I think it’s already too late for that.”