Friday – 8 P.M.
I had a healthy dinner and took my vitamins. Those 12- hour emergency room shifts are the roughest on a weekend. I clock in wearing a spiffy white lab coat. I feel shower-fresh. My energy is high.
“Who’s first,” I ask dependable Mable Jean.
She hands me the familiar chart of Webster Wainright, man of a thousand electric tools and no clue how they work. She rolls her eyes to confirm what I already know before I enter the cubicle.
“Evening, Mr. Wainright. What calamity has befallen you now, my friend?”
He is reclining on the examining table with his left foot propped on a pillow and draped with a sterile towel. Mable Jean is so efficient she has the suture tray open and ready to go.
“Let me guess – chain saw?”
Webster grins and grimaces at the same time. “Yeah, Doc…but I had on those steel toed work boots you told me to get. Otherwise, I guess it would be worse.”
Poor fellow seems helplessly dazzled by any power tool sale. His delusions of remodel-grandeur catapult him into a world for which he is totally untrained. He won’t even hear of taking a course in Construction 101. Someday, I may be the one who is unable to fix him.
I have time for one sip of hot coffee before the automatic double doors slam open and three EMT propelled stretchers rush down the hall like a warp-speed parade. Mable Jean and her crew stand ready for the transfer to our gurneys.
Two of the three kids are unconscious. I lay my hand on the young fellow who was the driver.
“How old are you, Son?”
“Sixteen, yesterday.” His trembling voice sounds more like he’s twelve.
“So…you were at the wheel, right?”
“Yes Sir. That car was my birthday present from my parents.”
His mother rushes in, typical parental fear and shock on her face.
“Oh Chad,” The distraught woman wails, “You said you were just going a few blocks.”
After he is bandaged up I give him my serious lecture about how driving is a really big deal and he needs to take baby steps before he is ready for foggy, wet nights on unfamiliar roads. I’m probably talking to myself, but it has to be said. Apparently, no one else has bothered. I go in search of my cold java.
From out of nowhere, quiet little Mable Jean appears with the next chart and a fresh cup of hot coffee. This time, she doesn’t roll her eyes –only shakes her head.
The stomach pumping is over and the woman moans and thrashes about as I check her pupils and order blood work. Her husband tells me she tried to stop her prescription pain pill addiction cold turkey and became so crazed she took a whole bottle of tranquilizers. We admit her for evaluation and I move on. My coffee cup has disappeared again.
Saturday - 6:45 P.M.
I don’t remember sitting down all night until now. Three gunshot wounds, two stabbings and a burn all needed my undivided attention. My favorite mug has been found and is miraculously filled with steaming hazelnut flavor.
As I rest my head in my hands and breathe deeply I hear a baby crying. I look up to see the horrified expression of a girl who can’t be more than fifteen. The baby is dirty and they both reek.
“He’s sick! Help me…Donny ain’t never been like this before. I don’t know what to do.”
Mable takes the infant child from the teen child and gently leads the hapless girl to an examining room. It’s too late to tell the unprepared-to-be-a-mother person how many steps she skipped between childhood and maturity and that now she is reaping way too early what she sowed way too soon. I get one big swig of the delicious mountain grown liquid and exhale with relief. The end of this shift is on the horizon.
I have shed that nasty, stained, rumpled lab coat and scrubbed my hands.
The sun feels so good on my face as I stride across the parking lot, determined to get some breakfast and then hit the sack.
One thing I learned in the endless years it took me to get from wide-eyed, idealistic freshman to experienced physician is this: I cannot function without nutritious food, daily prayer, and plenty of sleep before the next round…and probably not without Mable Jean either.
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