Toeing the Line

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Nurse Wallstead put her hands on her broad hips, a deep scowl on her face. “Chief! I don’t want his breathing to get any more aggravated. Can you two have it out later?”

Lanie slammed the drawer. “Fine. I’ll leave. But you had better radio for me the moment he’s stable. I’m going to go find that file.”

Ben’s uninjured arm waved, his ruined shirt slipping. “Stay,” he rasped.   

The nurse attached the drip. “Dr. Goldberg, we need to keep you calm. The Chief clearly distresses you.”

He tried to fit words into the spaces between his small, quick breaths. “She…doesn’t. I…want her…here.”

Lanie lifted her chin superiorly at Wallstead, who shook her head in exasperation as she finished attaching the leads to the electrodes. Lanie clamped a pulse-ox onto Ben’s index finger. It barely fit, but a reading came up, along with an alarm. She silenced it.

“Still hypoxic?” She grasped his chin in her hands and tugged his jaw, peering into his mouth. Then, she switched the pulse-ox to his pinky.

“Ninety…ninety-one…eighty-nine…” The nurse pressed the bell of the stethoscope just under Ben’s naked pectoral. “Can you get the oxygen mask, please?”

“Come on, Ben. You can do better than that.” After starting a low flow, Lanie lifted his head and fitted the elastic behind it. He put his hand over hers on the plastic shell, then took a deep breath, fixing wide, frightened eyes on her. “Another,” she ordered as her hand warmed under his touch, and he complied. She continued to coach him until at last, the reading was ninety-six. Then ninety-eight. Then one-hundred.

Wallstead held up her finger for silence. “Sounds like his lungs are opening up. Can you check his airway for me?”

Lanie pulled the mask down, then tapped his chin authoritatively. He obeyed, opening and letting her shine a light into his cavernous mouth. The swelling was going down markedly, and the redness in his throat was a lot less severe. Also, he had nice teeth. His breath smelled like he had been chewing cinnamon gum.

“His airway is clearing. Guess we won’t get to intubate the dummy. Or trach him.” Lanie smirked at his horrified expression. He licked his dry lips, which were looking a lot better, when she let him go.

“His sats are holding. So’s his pulse.” Nurse Wallstead put her fingers on Ben’s throat, probing. “He’s going to be fine in an hour, Chief.”

“Knowing him, he’ll probably drop dead the moment he steps out of this hospital.”

Wallstead ignored her. “Where were you stung, Dr. Goldberg?”

He shifted his eyes, then grabbed the oxygen mask and pulled it back up over his nose.

Lanie pried his fingers away, pulling the mask back down. “None of that. We’ve talked about this, Ben. Stop obstructing our work.”

He implored Nurse Wallstead. “Okay. Now she can leave.” Even though his voice was hoarse, it was clear. 

“Gladly.” Wallstead went over to Lanie, pressing a hand to the small of her back. “Out you go, then. You can go sit in the waiting room, or go back to Sector 6. Based on the rotation schedule, it’s past your bedtime.”

Screw you, Lanie thought. She did neither of those things, instead pacing the length of the hall that connected the trauma wing to the rest of the hospital.

She tuned her radio, then pressed the button. “Ali. Come in. It’s Lanie.”

The reply came instantly. “Copy. How’s Ben? I wish I could have gone with him. He looked really bad.”

“What happened?”

“I’m not sure. He yelled that there was a dead bee on his chair when he sat. He tried to go back to work, but he was making strange sounds, and kept saying he was fine. He was obviously having a pretty bad reaction, so I gave him a shot of epi anyway.”

“Why didn’t you get help?”

“I did. I radioed Terence privately to get the truck, because I knew he was on patrol, and Ben kept saying he didn’t want to go to the hospital, because he didn’t want to get in trouble with you. But I told him he was going to scare the children with his swollen face. He collapsed just as Terence pulled up.

For God’s sake, Ben. It was becoming her mantra. “So where was he stung?”

“I already told you.” It was a little hard to tell over the staticky reception, but it sounded like Ali was laughing.

Then it clicked. Oh. “Ten-four. Well. Serves him right. He tried to seduce me into not expelling him after bonfire night.”

“Lanie, I have to get back to the kids, who can hear you. Go to sleep. We’ll chat at lunch tomorrow. Over and out.”

Lanie felt more tired than ever. What was she going to do about him?

Wallstead poked her head out of Trauma 3. “Ah. You’re still here. Dr. Goldberg is asking for you. God knows why.”

Lanie glared.

“Sir,” Wallstead added sarcastically. “He’s almost ready to be discharged, in an hour.” Lanie brushed by frostily.

“You’re still alive.” Lanie perched on the edge of the bed.

“Can’t get rid of me that easily.” He sat up, and swung his legs over. Blinking rapidly, he put a hand to his forehead.  

“Oh, no, you don’t. You’re staying here. We need to keep you overnight for observation.”

Wallstead crossed her arms. “That’s not indicated, Chief. We need the bed. His drip will be done in an hour, and he’s stable.”

“What if he gets stung by another bee?”

The Nurse stared. “What are you suggesting, Chief? That we keep him here indefinitely?”

Lanie felt her face heat. Yes. “No! I’m simply asking, what is the protocol if he gets stung again? It could be even worse next time. Should we get him straight here? Should we administer albuterol and epinephrine right away in the field?”

“Epi first. Then albuterol if he’s still declining after five minutes. And it might not necessarily be worse.”

“What about paradoxical bronchospasm?”

“Are you saying you don’t know how to treat that?”

“Of course not. I’m just mentioning that it could happen.”

“He tolerated the albuterol just fine this time. He’ll probably be fine.” The annoyance was tangible, and Wallstead acted as though she were talking to a child. “But, if he does have s a bronchospasm, give him prednisolone. Most of the first aid kits should have it.”

“If only we had inhalers,” she mused. “Stupid aerosol rule. Maybe I should order some nebulizers so we can use Metaproterenol.”

Ben watched the exchange like a game of tennis. “I’m not sure what language you guys are speaking, but from what I gather, I should be able to finish up my lessons today. The kids will be wondering where I am.”

“I spoke with Ali a few minutes ago. The kids are fine. You need to rest.”

“But Nurse Wallstead just said – ”

“Chief’s right,” Wallstead grunted. “You should take the day off. You’ll be tired after all these drugs. Both of you need to get some sleep. I’ll see you in fifty-seven minutes, Doctor. Chief, will you escort him to his bunk when he’s ready to go?”

“Sure. I’ll take the truck back to Sector 5.”

“Terence already took it back. And it belongs in Sector 6, as I’m sure you’re aware.”

“Oh, no worries. I’ll just take one of the hospital trucks, drop Ben off, and bring it right back.”

“Let him walk. It will help get the drugs out of his system.”

“You just said he should rest.”

“A short walk first will do him good. The medical trucks are for emergencies. Life or death. Not taxis. That’s your very explicit rule, which you have reiterated many, many times.”

“Well, apparently the safety measures are working too well; we need to run those trucks every now and then or the fuel will spoil.”

“Now, Chief de la Torres – ”

Ladies!”  The thunder of Ben’s voice cracked the air in two. Raspy though it was, they snapped their mouths shut, glaring at him. “What is the problem? Why are you guys fighting?”

Nurse Wallstead’s head whipped back to Lanie, her scarf ruffling with the gust she generated. “Now, look here, Chief. I respect you. You get things done. You keep us safe. And, your infamous little dalliances are none of my business. I don’t know what’s so special about this one – ”

“Hey!” this one protested.

“ – and I especially have no earthly idea why you’ve lost your head over him. But I’m not going to let you waste time, resources, hands and space just because of a pair of pretty eyes. He’s leaving in fifty-four minutes. You can carry him, for all I care. But no trucks. Those are the rules.”

“What is with everyone ragging on my eyes? I haven’t gotten it this bad since middle school.”

“You will show some deference, Nurse. I am not having a dalliance. I do not have a crush. I am simply concerned about this…very valuable volunteer. He’s an architect. With a Ph.D.! We need him to rebuild our precious school. For the children.”

“Hang the children!” snapped Wallstead unapologetically. “Do you think I’m blind? That I was born yesterday? I’ll have you know that I’m nearly twice your age, missy. I swear by our Lord above, I’ve been healing people since longer than you’ve been alive. If there’s deference to be shown, it’s to me.”

“Nurse Wallstead – ”

She crossed her arms. “By God, if you were my daughter – ”

“I’d be dead, then, wouldn’t I?”

Silence. The words were out before Lanie could stop them. They were faster than the hand she slapped over her mouth. Faster than the iron bars that slammed down over Emma Wallstead’s face. Ben’s eyes nearly popped out of his head as he looked between them in horror.

“Lanie!” he gasped, a delayed reaction.

“I – I’m sorry, Emma.”

And she fled.

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~ Romans 15:13

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