The last six-and-a-half months had been a living nightmare. There had been funeral arrangements and memorial services to organize and attend. Then there had been the months of pitying stares. I had become a recluse. I hadn’t wanted to deal with friends and coworkers. I had gone to work then gone home. When I ran out of excuses to avoid their offers, I had occasional meals with them. My life had shattered. Richard had recommended therapy on more than one occasion because I was clearly depressed. Of course I was depressed. The man I loved had died.
Chance had been one of three people who had been directly in the vehicle’s path when it had run through the crowd. After the NYPD investigation, it was ruled an accident. The car’s tire had blown after hitting a metal object in the street, which had caused the driver to lose control of the vehicle. She had tried to regain it but couldn’t. I heard through the grapevine that she was now being treated at an inpatient psychiatric facility upstate after she had attempted suicide. The woman hadn’t been ready for the media scrutiny and the accident’s fallout in her life. Part of me was glad she’d had a mental breakdown, but that was the evil, vindictive side. Another part was sorry for her. As horrible as it was, accidents happened. I saw accidents every day. Some were preventable. Some were not.
I had agreed to another Sunday brunch with Bryce and Richard. I hadn’t wanted to go, but I found myself at their door with a bottle of wine. I plastered on my best fake smile and knocked.
“Just a second,” Richard’s voice rang from the other side. A few seconds later, the door opened. “Darrin, we’re so glad you could make it. Brunch is almost ready.” He ushered me inside the townhouse as he kept talking. “We’re having a quiche I whipped up from scratch. It has a smattering of vegetables with sausage and bacon. I also threw together a mixed green salad and a raspberry tart for dessert.” I handed him the bottle of wine. Richard inspected it and nodded before saying, “Good choice.”
Bryce came from the backroom. “How are you doing?” he asked me.
“I’m doing…” I left the phrase hanging in the air.
“Well,” Bryce said without acknowledging the ambiguity of my statement, “at least you’re up and moving around.”
I forced a smile and followed Bryce and Richard into the small dining room. The table was set for three. As usual, Richard had set an immaculate table that would make Emily Post jealous. Bryce motioned to a chair, and I took a seat as Richard left.
“So, how are things in your world?” I asked, breaking the silence.
“Richard and I are doing well. We’ve been looking into surrogacy again. I think Richard’s biological clock is ticking. He wants a baby.”
“I heard that,” Richard’s voice echoed from the kitchen next to the dining room. Richard walked in with the salad and placed it in the middle of the table. “And don’t let this one fool you,” he said, sticking his thumb in Bryce’s direction. “He wants to be a doting father as much as I do. We have a lot of love to give a little one.”
“Why not adopt?” I asked.
“We talked about that,” Bryce acknowledged, “but ultimately we want to have a little baby. We have thought about having one through surrogacy, then adopting her or him a little brother or sister.”
“Two kids?” I asked.
“Don’t be so shocked,” Richard said, returning to the dining room with the quiche. “I’m doing more and more of my work from home. After the pandemic, the firm has embraced remote work, so the timing couldn’t be more perfect.”
Richard set about serving up the quiche. We spent the next hour talking about a range of topics deemed ‘safe’ by the group.
After an appropriate amount of time once we’d all eaten, I looked at Bryce and Richard and said, “Well, I need to get to the gym before taking a nap. I’m working the ten-to-ten shift tonight.”
“Let me put together a to-go box for you,” Richard said. “I worry that you’re not getting enough home-cooked food.”
Sadly, he was right. Most nights I grabbed takeout or heated something from a box in the microwave. “Thanks,” I said. “It would be much appreciated. You can only eat takeout Chinese so many days in a row.”
When Richard left the dining room, Bryce turned and stared at me. For the first time that day, he put on his serious face.
“I’m worried about you,” Bryce said. “I know it’s only been six months, but you’ve almost completely shut down.”
“I’m still grieving. Is there an appropriate amount of time one should grieve?”
“No, there’s not,” Bryce said hesitantly. “But I worry that you’re not making progress toward getting healthy. Have you reconsidered Richard’s suggestion about therapy?”
“I don’t need a shrink… I need time.” I blinked back tears that had started to swell in my eyes. “I need him back.” I was amazed when the words came out of my mouth.
“I know. We all miss him,” Bryce said. He looked at me for a second, and I could tell he was trying to plan what to say next. “I don’t know how I would react if Richard died, so I won’t presume to tell you how you’re supposed to behave. I won’t. But I will say I’m worried.”
“Thanks…” He meant well. Part of me wanted to come back with a snarky comment, but I held my tongue. “Each day is a little better,” I lied.
“Here’s your to-go box,” Richard said, breezing back into the dining room. He took one look at the serious faces in the room. “Did I miss something?”
“Not at all,” I said, using the break in the conversation to my advantage. “Thank you for an amazing meal and lovely company, but I must get to the gym.”
Bryce looked like he wanted to say something, but he kept his words to himself, which suited me just fine. I said goodbyes and hugged both men before going home to change and head off to the gym.
* * * *
After hitting the gym, I had run home and grabbed a shower before walking down to the corner supermarket to stock up on boxed meals for the week. I had thrown some pieces of fresh fruit in my basket, but they would spoil before I ate them. Afterward, I had gone home and taken a nap before going in to work at ten p.m.
Overnights on Sundays were quiet most nights. Now that’s not saying the random holiday or full moon Sunday didn’t bring out the whack jobs, but your average Sunday in early April was nice and quiet. I had seen a couple of panic attacks and a heart attack before one. By six a.m., the ED was quiet, and I hadn’t had any interesting cases, just one emergency appendectomy. Then, I helped suture a guy who had sliced open his finger, because I had nothing better to do and the other ED staffers were busy. When Bryce showed up with fresh bagels and coffee, I was mostly bored and catching up on paperwork.
“How’s the shift?” Bryce asked, sitting down next to me.
“Relatively uneventful.” I ran through the series of cases, and he nodded his head.
“Despite the slow night and lack of adrenaline, I’m doing fine. Thank God for coffee. Nature’s nectar.”
“How much have you had?”
“Depends on which unit of measurement you’re using,” I said as I suppressed a smile. He’s a doctor, so of course he wanted me to respond in ounces or cups, but where’s the fun in that?
“Darrin,” Bryce said, his exasperation barely contained. “What am I going to do with you?”
I had an answer right on the tip of my tongue, but we were cut off by one of the ED nurses. “Have a pedestrian hit-and-run coming in. Who wants it?”
“I haven’t clocked in yet,” Bryce said.
“Go, clock in,” I told Bryce. “I’ll take it.” I took another swig of the coffee Bryce had given me and stood to follow the nurse.
I donned some PPE to get ready for the patient and headed outside the ED doors to wait in the ambulance turnaround. I heard the siren thirty seconds later, then the flashing lights created their strobe-light effect off the area buildings as the boxy truck pulled up. Two paramedics jumped out of the back and started rattling off information about the patient. He was a middle-aged man who was nonresponsive but breathing on his own. I sent him to get a CT scan. Bryce joined me outside as a second ambulance pulled up with our next patient…the driver.
The EMT wasn’t even out of the truck before he was speaking. “We deployed a breathalyzer, but the results were inconsistent. We got two different readings. In either case, the driver was over the legal limit. NYPD should be here any minute.”
Like clockwork, the white car with red and blue lights pulled up. Two officers got out of the car as I headed with the patient into the Emergency Department. Other than finding the patient being drunk, the EMTs had only found a small laceration on the guy’s forehead. The drunk patient was docile, so Bryce transferred him into a wheelchair, then wheeled him into the ED.
I followed Bryce and the drunk driver inside. I walked back and took a quick swig of coffee while I waited for the pedestrian victim to finish his CT. Depending on the results, I would determine if he needed to go to ICU or if I would have to scrub in for surgery. I called the operating room and put them on standby, just in case. A nurse wheeled the pedestrian back into the ED after finishing with the CT. I walked over to the patient and spent a minute looking at the chart. The internal trauma wasn’t significant. I was getting in my mental space preparing for the inevitable surgery. The shrill sound of beeping cut through my concentration.
“Fuck, he’s coding!” I yelled.
Immediately, the code team swung into high gear, and the process of trying to save the man started. I started on chest compressions, and one of the ED nurses began the manual pump CPR bag. I pushed and counted. Then the nurse squeezed the bag twice, forcing oxygen into the man’s lungs. As the rest of the code team got there, I handed off compression duties. In less than thirty seconds, we had five nurses and me overseeing the code. One nurse continued the compressions, one handled breathing, one prepped the defibrillator reader, one got the IV ready for drugs and one recorded the code. I looked over the bag of personal effects that had been dropped off with the patient. On top was a smart watch. I gave Chance that same model for his birthday…his last birthday.
And I froze. It seemed like an hour, but I stood there, unable to do anything. I’d never frozen in my entire career. The code recorder snapped her fingers in my face.
“Doctor, get your head out of your ass,” she barked.
Normally, I would have dressed her down, but I couldn’t. Everything was happening around me in fast forward, and I was on pause.
“Dr. Camden-Thompson!” The code recorder yelled across the ED. My friend and mentor got there, shoved me out of the way and took over. I think Bryce may have said something to me, but I honestly don’t know. The last thing I heard was, “I knew he was going to crack eventually.”
“Get him out of here,” Bryce yelled to another nurse.
There was a firm grip on my upper arm, and I was led away from the patient. A single tear crept out of the corner of my eye before I shrugged off the nurse.
“I’m fine,” I grumbled.
I headed toward the locker room, aware of all the eyes on me in the ED. For a few more steps, I needed to keep it together. I pushed open the door, then walked over to my locker. I fumbled with the lock and couldn’t get my fingers to work properly, so I hit the locker. I split the skin on my knuckles and immediately regretted that decision.
“What the fuck?” came a voice from somewhere else in the room.
“Sorry,” I said before leaning against the locker and letting myself collapse to the ground in front of it. There was a wooden bench in front of me, but I didn’t feel like getting up to sit on it. A few people entered the locker room and passed me. A couple even asked if I was all right, and I grumbled an answer. I sat there in a daze.
Eventually, someone eased onto the ground next to me. I looked over to see Bryce looking at me. “What happened?” Bryce questioned.
“I don’t know,” I admitted, almost amazed to hear the words escaping my mouth. “I was handling the code, and I froze.”
“I don’t know. He…” I tried to remember what had stopped me in my tracks. “The watch.” The words escaped my lips almost inaudibly.
“The victim had the same watch I’d given Chance for his birthday.”
“Ahh, fuck,” Bryce said. I looked at Bryce’s face and the sympathy the man had for me at that moment made me lose it. I started bawling. Honestly, it may have been the first time I’d cried since the funeral. I’d bottled up those emotions for so long. Bryce placed his arm around my shoulder.
I heard the door to the locker room open, and the recording nurse walked in and said, “What the hell is his problem?” I hadn’t liked that nurse from the moment I’d met her. She was one of those old-school, no-nonsense-type nurses who have zero humanity. Still, she was very efficient at pushing pencils and doing paperwork. “Is he on drugs?”
“What?” Bryce asked on my behalf. “Why would you say that?”
“Look at him,” she groused. “He clearly doesn’t have his shit together. I’m going to have to report this. And, for the record, I still think he’s on drugs.”
“Then test me, you old bat.” So, it may not have been my best insult, but it was the only one I had the energy for.
“Great,” the nurse said with an evil smile. “I believe that was consent.”
Before Bryce could disagree, she hauled me up and motioned for another nurse to come draw my blood. From my seated position, I hadn’t even realized another nurse was with her. The nurse who drew the blood at least looked sympathetic as she did her job. I didn’t have the energy to care.
“Darrin, you’ve got to get your shit together,” Bryce said after the nurses had left. “Please tell me they won’t find anything—?”
“I’m not on drugs,” I blurted. “I barely drink. I barely do anything. I go to the gym. I go home. I work. Once in a blue moon, I have sex. That’s my life.”
“I think you need some time off,” Bryce said flatly. “You never took time off after Chance’s—”
“I’m fine,” I yelled, but I heard myself and winced.
Bryce’s eyes bored into me. “You’re going to take that vacation you’ve been meaning to take.”
“That wasn’t a suggestion. After what happened in the ED today, I should suspend you pending an investigation.” I started to say something, but Bryce waved me off and kept going. “And I’m not going to document a suspension unless you refuse to go on a voluntary vacation to get your act together. You are going to take at least the next three weeks off. No, ifs, ands or buts. Is that understood?”
“Yes,” I said flatly.
“Good. Now, pull yourself together and get out of my emergency department.”
Bryce looked at my hand, then looked at my locker as I fiddled with the lock again, which immediately opened this time.
“Need me to look at that?” he asked, gesturing to my hand.
“It’ll be fine.” I flexed all my fingers to show him my hand was fully operational.
Bryce left me in the locker room as I pulled out my street clothes and changed. I didn’t say goodbye to anyone and opted to take the back way out of the ED to avoid more pitying stares. I was done with that for the day.