Ethan was having a terrible, no good, very bad week, and it was only Tuesday.
Not only did he have to come in on his day off on Monday just to sit through through an awkward police interview while someone from legal breathed down his neck —
“No, I did not sign off on her transfer. No, I don’t know why she was taken off Doctor Lim’s list. I wasn’t there.”
— Ethan had come out of the meeting room …and promptly ran into his own father talking to one of the pathologists from upstairs. Ethan had received an extremely constipated glare of the paternal kind, a sympathetic pat from one of the junior officers, and an overwhelming desire to break something. Vegas was in a black mood as well: she too had been called in to talk to the police about their missing firestarter. To top it all off, Oliver’s article had named the hospitals in question, and both Vegas and Ethan had spent another hour being grilled by legal.
“If you’d blocked him like you said you would,” Ethan complained when they got home.
Furious, Vegas switched out mushrooms for pineapples on their pizza, and did not tell Ethan until it was too late.
“We didn’t even know about Highgate,” she had said, “we didn’t know about any of this—”
“Well someone clearly tattled, and they think it was us! How else could Ollie have known?”
“Because he is a sneaky, obsessive piece of shit who will do anything to get a story!” roared Vegas.
Then she burst into tears.
“I miss him so much,” she sobbed through a mouth full of lukewarm pineapple and sad pepperoni, “he’s gonna get the Pulitzer one day and forget about me. He’s going to date Florence and write about murders every week. Look, see, their names are next to each other again. The paper is gonna decide to save space one day and just shorten to one surname. See it’s s…Ethan. Ethan, you’re not looking.”
“…oh lord,” said Ethan, and went to get the wine.
That had been Monday.
It was Tuesday morning now, and Ethan again found himself in another beige meeting room. Opposite him sat four suits, three ties and no personalities. All four were backlit by the large squat windows lining the length of the wall, and Ethan had to squint a little from the reflection off the glass. Going in, he only recognised the Trauma department head, a woman with short cropped hair and a severe jaw. The other three were vaguely familiar silhouettes, like stock photographs.
Someone had placed cups of water for each of them on the table, and Ethan had initially balked: waters meant a long meeting.
He hadn’t been wrong. Twenty minutes in, and Ethan was wishing vehemently for the operating room: there were no windows, he got to cover-up most of his face, and people rarely asked unnecessary questions.
“Let me get this straight, Doctor Faulkner,” said the man on the far left.
Ethan had already forgotten his name. He was wearing a navy tie.
“Your V.M. was reading red by the time you arrived in the O.R. The surgical resident took over cardiac massage. And yet you still chose to operate?”
His skin felt hot beneath the collar of his shirt. Ethan pretended he was in one of the fishbowl rooms downstairs, talking to a particularly difficult family member.
They need you here, he thought, keep your cool.
“I chose to assist, yes,” said Ethan, keeping his expression mild. He was hyper-aware of where his eyebrows were, and the height of his own eyes. “The patient was in critical condition and at that point in time we were not confident that her heart—”
“—was safely put on bypass,” Navy Tie interrupted, “we’ve already spoken to the trauma surgical resident on call that night, as well as the Consultant. Why insist on operating when you were hours over your shift and your V.M. was telling you not to?”
The patronising tone grated on Ethan’s teeth, like wet chalk, and it was only years of practice that had him merely blink in response.
“Because she had suffered extensive damage to her left apical segment,” Ethan said, “and if I hadn’t intervened, we would have had to consign that part of the lung entirely. She would have been predisposed to ARDS, lifelong pulmonary fibrosis, and so on. I felt, at the time, that I was able to see the regeneration through. And I did.”
“By all accounts, you almost went into shock,” said Doctor Nejiam, taking a sip of her water, “you fainted mid-operation.”
Ethan took a deep breath, rationing it slowly so his chest wouldn’t rise too fast and give away his irritation. He met her eyes when he spoke.
“I had a momentary…lapse, when the clamps were taken off,” said Ethan, “I very much regret that it happened, but this was after I finished regenerating.”
“You gave your colleagues quite the scare.”
“But it didn’t jeopardise the patient,” Ethan said, “which is what’s important, right?”
“You were extremely fortunate that it did not,” Doctor Nejiam continued, “but what if you had hit your limits even just moments before? At best, you force your colleagues into contingencies they would otherwise have prepared for, if you had taken Doctor Lim’s concerns seriously. At worst you cause a fatal mistake — or distraction.”
You’re no good to me like this.
“I think Doctor Nejiam speaks to our concern for your health,” said the HR representative, smiling at Ethan with lipstick drawn sincerity.
“As you know this hospital takes the well being of all our staff very seriously, but it is especially important for someone of your skill set.”
Ethan nodded. His skin felt too warm, but his hands were cold.
He swallowed the dozen retorts sticking dry to the roof of his mouth, and instead focused on looking apologetic. The eyebrows go up, but not too much, lest it be mistaken for attitude.
“Of course,” he said. “I’ll be much more cautious going forwards. This has never happened before.”
“That is true,” said the man sitting to the right of Doctor Nejiam, who wore grey, “I spoke to Doctor Caroe regarding the…precursor to this unfortunate occurrence. She endorses your abilities as a Healer…”
Ethan waited for the but that was coming. He felt a little nauseous – he’d thought Ivy had always liked him.
“And you have been an invaluable part of the St Ophie family since you joined.”
Ethan furrowed his brow in polite confusion.
“Even so, your actions two nights ago have raised some concerns about the quality of care in his hospital—”
“The quality of—!“ Ethan swallowed, “who, exactly, has been complaining? The physicians at Highgate? Her family?”
Ethan thought of the patient’s brother. No doubt he had made a fuss after Ethan left, the entitled bastard. The man struck such a tragically sympathetic figure, even to Ethan who thought himself immune to tears by now…
“Has something happened to her? Because the V.M.s are not an exact science. I made a judgment call, given the condition she was in, to do what I thought best. Her lung was—”
“Questions were raised yesterday as to why exactly you had been so extensively involved, despite the log showing your V.M. being close to red ever since you left Ms Caroe’s O.R,” said Doctor Nejiam.
“If I hadn’t taken that ER consult,” said Ethan stiffly, “she would have died before they got her off that gurney.”
“No one here is suggesting you erred when you consulted for Doctor Kelsey, but the fact you stayed even after you had fainted: there are questions as to the…motivations behind your decisions leading up to her transfer.”
Ethan stared at her.
“Motivations? I wasn’t even present when—”
“Did you know the patient?”
There was a brief flash of déjà vu to the police interview, and Ethan shook his head instead of rolling his eyes like he wanted to.
“As I told the officers yesterday: no, I did not.”
“Do you know the family?”
Oh yeah, thought Ethan sarcastically, I know everyone in the family except this one sibling. For her, I’ve got amnesia.
“No,” he said.
There was a very long pause.
Eventually it was HR who broke the silence. She was still smiling at Ethan.
“As I mentioned, we are most concerned about your well being, and the potential impact exhaustion can have on a healer and your patients. You’re quite young—”
“I’m perfectly aware of the potential impact,” said Ethan, “my mother was a very good example.”
Doctor Nejiam looked away.
Good, thought Ethan, unkindly. Rub this in someone else’s face for a change.
“Given that this is a first instance…and in light of your good track record,” HR plowed onwards, “we would prefer to keep this incident as an…internal disciplinary matter. Informal, if you will.”
Ethan straightened in his seat
“You’re punishing me because she was transferred under someone else’s watch?” asked Ethan, unable to keep his voice level anymore, “ma’am, I specifically told the ICU staff that she was not stable enough to—”
“You weren’t even supposed to be there at the time,” interrupted Doctor Nejiam, “I don’t think you grasp the seriousness of your actions. You could have killed the patient. We are lucky all you were doing was regenerating the left apical segment and not holding an artery.”
Ethan’s face felt hot with humiliation, his stomach cold.
“That’s because I had already healed the…in any case, an artery takes significantly less time. A third of a lung however…if I hadn’t been there—”
“Doctor Kelsey would have no doubt been perfectly competent,” said Doctor Nejiam, raising an eyebrow.
“She appeared to think otherwise,” said Ethan, “given that she called me.”
“As I mentioned,” repeated HR, looking anxiously between Ethan and Doctor Nejiam, “we’d much rather keep this internal. The real issue here is your well being, Doctor Faulkner. There are policies in place for a reason. We were absolutely devastated when your mother passed.”
Elise Faulkner had died in the back of an ambulance, having been called out when there had been a gas fire on Level Seventeen. It had been after hours at a primary school. The kid survived, and St Ophie lost a Healer. Ethan had been seven.
It had probably been quite expensive for the hospital.
The woman leaned forward.
“We think it best that you take some time to rest,” she said, “at least two weeks, starting tomorrow.”
Ethan eyebrows shot up. He couldn’t help himself.
“Tomorrow?” He echoed, “for two weeks? I have scheduled operations with—”
“That’s taken care of, I understand?” asked Navy Tie.
“Sir, I’d have to speak with Mr Latham,” said Ethan, “and Ms Caroe. We have patients who cannot wait.”
“We’ll see what can be rescheduled,” said HR, “further, you’re to be taken off call for all night shifts, and we want you to take a break from consulting for the ER, to focus on your cardioth—”
Ethan wasn’t able to keep the incredulity off his face.
“Take a ‘break’?” He repeated, “for how long, exactly?”
The panel exchanged looks.
“Three months,” said HR.
“Our policy also require that you undertake refresher training regarding safety and compliance with—”
“This has never happened before,” said Ethan, louder than he intended, “I have one lapse, post op, with no repercussions for the patient and I’m banned from the ER for three months?!”
“You habitually operate on high amber,” said Doctor Nejiam, “your colleagues have been concerned.”
Ethan stared at her, incredulous.
“I’m needed in the ER, three months is too long,” he said, “you’re willing to risk lives to—”
“You flouting safety procedure is risking lives, Doctor,” said Navy Tie, “And may I remind you that you are not the only healer in his hospital—”
“No,” said Ethan, smiling tightly, “but I am a third of them.”
“Look,” said HR, “we are in a difficult position here. We’d rather not have this escalate to the Healer’s Guild or the General Medical Council…and I’m sure you’d rather not, either. But we can’t let this slide, especially given the police attention. Work with us here.”
Ethan tilted his head.
“I’m obliged to,” he said, “until next August.”
It was HR’s turn to look apprehensive. Grey Suit, who had thus far been fairly quiet, spoke up.
“I’m sure we can revisit how your break is treating you, after a month or so,” he said, “it’s not all that inflexible.”
“Definitely,” said HR, nodding.
“Our priority is always the safety of our patients,” said Doctor Nejiam.
“Of course,” said Ethan.
Grey Suit leaned back in his chair.
“Yes, it’s all about safety. We appreciate how hard you work.”
“Perhaps you should also revisit the short-staffing issues,” said Ethan mildly, “after a month or two.”
“You should never feel pressured to work over your shift, and if any individual had suggested you do so, it is not the policy of this hospital,” HR said immediately, “no one should be paging you once your V.M. is so high amber.”
“Right,” said Ethan.
“Some rest and reflection will do you good,” said Doctor Nejiam, as if they had been doing anything other than damage control after losing a patient to a private clinic.
Ethan glanced at the Rolex at the edge of Navy Tie’s cuff. The man had clumsy fingers, no doubt soft from counting money.
“…if that’s all, I need to head to the OR,” said Ethan, “I’ll do my best with the…last minute rescheduling.”
“We’ll take care of it,” said HR, standing up.
Doctor Nejiam stood up as well, signalling the end of the meeting.
“Thanks for your time Doctor,” said Grey Suit.
Ethan smiled, bland as the walls.
He didn’t even make it to the O.R. before he was waylaid by sheer bad luck.
St Ophie’s was so big that the main building itself was built around one of the foundational pillars. It started on level nineteen, but the top three floors sat above the street-level of twenty. As a result, there were two sets of ambulance bays, with an industrial-sized elevator that took the level twenty entrants straight down to the ER on the ground floor. There was also an adjacent goods lift, which always smelled of sweat and half-hearted lemon cleaner.
Ethan took that lift, banking on its general unpleasantness to keep people away.
The plan was to take the shortcut through reception, past the mail-room and straight to the other side of the building where he needed to be. It was faster than using the main lifts, and most importantly, it would avoid the Trauma department completely. He might even have time to grab something from the break lounge, which sat next door to the mail-room and housed enough biscuits to feed the British Navy, three fridges, two microwaves and Vegas’ stash of jammie dodgers.
Ethan was not banking on the receptionist waving him down the instant he emerged around the goods’ lift corridor.
“Doctor Faulkner! Doctor Faulkner — how are you going?”
Sophie was wearing a positively gleeful expression. The receptionist sitting next to her was smirking.
Ethan slowed down reluctantly.
“…hi?” to Sophie’s partner, he said, “sorry, I don’t think we’ve met. I’m Ethan Faulkner.”
“Ashley,” she said.
“I’m so glad I caught you, because we were saying it’d be super sad if you didn’t pick it up today,” Sophie paused, getting up from her chair to lean over the edge of the long reception counter and hollered: “BROOKE. No need to bring it upstairs, he’s here!”
She turned back to Ethan, “we would have given them to Vegas when she finished up, but still.”
“Given what?” asked Ethan, bewildered.
“I wish my boyfriend would send me presents at work,” sighed Ashley.
Ethan opened his mouth to suggest that perhaps there’s been some mistake, when a door slammed, followed immediately by the sound of ten meters of thin plexiglass panels shuddering.
“This came for you earlier,” said Brooke, whose entire face and torso was hidden behind the largest bouquet of flowers Ethan had ever seen in his life.
“Oh,” said Ethan, stepping back, “oh no.”
Brooke slid the flowers carefully onto the reception counter. The whole arrangement was anchored by a heavy looking glass base, with a stand that was artfully tucked into the layers of translucent gold and grey paper. The flowers themselves were delicate looking, sets of blue and white pendants hanging from tall graceful stems. These were surrounded by a veritable explosion of tiny pastel flowers that disappeared into the depths of the bouquet, all tied off in a wide band of glossy satin.
Ethan didn’t know much about floral-anything, but everyone knew how much water it took to grow; which made for a truly excessive gesture. And these certainly smelled real.
They all stared at it.
Ashley propped both elbows up on the desk, chin in hand, hearts practically in her eyes. She sighed, and took a photo of the bouquet with her phone.
“They’re orchids,” said Brooke helpfully.
“Right,” said Ethan, faintly, “for the…department?”
“Nope!” said Sophie, “addressed to you.”
Brooke handed him a small palm sized envelope. It was heavier than it looked, made of thick cream paper. On the front, it said Dr. Ethan Faulkner in neat handwriting. There was no postal address. Ethan took the envelope between the very tips of his index and thumb.
There was no sender’s name on the back, but Ethan had a sinking suspicion who it was from.
He asked, anyway.
“No return address…?”
“Nah,” Brooke said, drawing out the word, “I thought: must be some VIP patient you saved! Or a secret admirer.”
“I have no admirers,” said Ethan dryly, “secret or otherwise.”
“You should open the note!”
“Well it can’t be anyone in the hospital,” said Sophie, leaning over to look at the card, “no doctor has handwriting that neat.”
“…nurse?” Brooke suggested, batting her eyelashes.
“Ha! On what salary?”
“Go on, then,” urged Ashley, nudging Ethan’s elbow.
Conscious of the eager eyes, Ethan peeled back the envelope and took out the card inside. It was handwritten on the same paper as the envelope, trimmed in grey foil. He angled it so the nurses couldn’t see.
Dear Ethan, the note read: I’m afraid that in my distress, I said some very offensive things. It’s been driving me mad with regret. You saved my sister’s life and I am more grateful than I can express. I know you don’t accept gratitude as currency, but maybe you’ll let me apologise in person over dinner? Please call me. — Javier.
Ethan felt his own eyebrows gravitate towards his hairline, and he wasn’t sure whether it was first or second hand embarrassment making his cheeks flush hot. It wasn’t the first time he had received flowers, but it was generally considered bad taste to single anyone out. Usually they were addressed to the team. Ethan mouthed the words “mad with regret”. Who talked like that anymore? Then again, the man had been wearing leather shoes on a rainy evening. The presumptuous flourish probably came with the territory.
Next to the signature were ten neat digits.
“Just because you ask nicely…” Ethan muttered.
“Well?” asked Brooke, practically bouncing on her toes, “who’s it from?”
Brought sharply back to the present, Ethan stuffed the card back into its envelope.
“Um, Vegas’ ex-boyfriend,” said Ethan, “addressed it to me because they knew she would throw it in the bin.”
“…uh huh,” said Brooke, raising one perfectly shaped eyebrow.
“Looks like someone’s having a good day,” came a familiar voice.
Ethan turned around, and to his absolute horror, it was Lim. He wore scrubs, and looked pointedly from the flowers to Ethan, eyebrows raised.
“They’re not mine,” Ethan said quickly, shoving the hand still holding the card into his pocket.
Ashley giggled behind the wrapping paper, before moving away to help the trauma surgeon. Ethan glanced at the orchids, and wondered how it was that he could heal a set of broken ribs and yet could not stop himself from blushing. He turned resolutely to face Brooke.
“Could you please take this up to Mrs. Connolly sometime today? She’s in ward thirteen-E. I’d deliver them myself but I’ve got to dash.”
Brooke was having none of it.
“Wouldn’t Vegas want to get the—”
“I think it would be a lovely surprise for our patient,” said Ethan, smiling through tight teeth, “she’s been in for so much longer than expected. It’ll cheer. Her. Up.”
“…sure, Doc,” said Brooke.
“Thank you,” exhaled Ethan, and legged it.
© Frances Wren 2019, all rights reserved.
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