Friday Fiction: Dr. DeCarlo’s Patient

pexels-photo-263402.jpegHappy Friday, readers!

I’ve been working on some additional short stories that I’ll be adding to my collection I’m putting together for a summer release.

For years, I’ve been envious of Stephenie Meyer, who wrote the novel Twilight. Apparently, the story goes that she dreamed it and turned it into a novel. How does she get so lucky to have a story come into her subconscious like that, I’ve wondered. What a stroke of brilliance.

Well, it finally happened to me the other night. This story was a dream, as if I were watching it on the big screen. I woke up the next morning and wrote it, sent it off to my friend Elizabeth who gave it a blessing, spruced it up a little, and I’m sharing it today.

It’s a WIP (work in progress), so there is still more to be done, but as I am never too afraid to show my writing or talk about the process of writing, I thought I’d post it today for Friday Fiction.

Here’s my newest short story, Dr. DeCarlo’s Patient (and yes, his name was actually in my dream).

***

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DR. DeCARLO’S PATIENT (copyright April 6, 2018 | Stephanie Verni

Dr. DeCarlo checks into the hospital at four o’clock in the afternoon. By seven that night, he has seen numerous patients with injuries and ailments ranging from an elderly woman who has fallen and broken her hip to a child with an asthmatic reaction to a teenager who has been hit in the face with a baseball by a batter during a local high school game. On any given day, Dr. DeCarlo sees to patients, caring for them all the same way: with a direct, warm approach and comprehensive analysis to try to heal their traumas that have brought them to the emergency room at all hours of the day or night.

At exactly ten thirty-five, Dr. DeCarlo runs his fingers through his dark hair and scratches his chin. His skin is tanned from playing golf, a benefit of living in the south, his one recreational activity he plays frequently that relaxes and revives him. It’s by far his favorite de-stressor from work, and he squeezes in a round or two of at least 9-holes a couple of days a week. A car accident victim is arriving in the ambulance and his associate gives him a head’s up having heard the ambulance call. He finishes up with the woman who has broken her hip as she is being prepped for surgery with another doctor—the poor lady, scared to death and worried—and begins his walk to where he will meet the accident victim. He needs a cup of coffee, but it must wait. His back is tired from bending over for the majority of the afternoon, and he is burdened by the fact that he must return Sophia’s call, which popped up on his cellphone over three hours ago. Dialing her number doesn’t interest him at all, but he knows it’s something he will eventually have to do.

The woman being wheeled out of the ambulance is semi-conscious, and he sees her face is bruised, her nose bleeding. There’s a gash over her left eye. Her hand is wrapped in gauze to stop the bleeding and she’s moaning slightly; a little wet tear slides down her unaffected cheek. He reads the quick report—she was hit on the driver’s side by what appears to have been an intoxicated driver. Glass shattered. The car was totaled. The paramedics report that she may have broken ribs and other parts, and they found her fainted in the vehicle upon their arrival. Dr. DeCarlo looks at his patient and begins to examine her in a hurried manner, the nurses quickly dulling her pain at his order. He reads the name on her chart so that he can call her by name, a habit some of his other colleagues do not do so well. He remembers the tip his father, a doctor himself, had given him years ago: patients are people, not numbers. They are people with emotions and pain, sadness and worry. They are often scared. Dr. DeCarlo prides himself that he regards his patients as individuals, and it’s been one of his long-standing doctor goals: to remember their names. It is something he regularly works to do with each face he meets.

As the patient begins to feel the effects of the pain medication, he reaches for her hand—the one not bandaged—and speaks gently to her. “You will be okay, Emelie. We’re going to take care of you.”

Her eyes close, and she drifts off. Dr. DeCarlo begins to get to work.

*

Emelie awakens hours later to a nurse telling her to drink some Ginger Ale. The nurse is trying to bring her to full consciousness, and she slowly begins to focus her eyes to see her surroundings. She is not dead. At least she doesn’t think so. She is alive and surrounded by people in hospital garbs, the smell of formaldehyde taking over her senses. She sees her bandaged left arm and looks down to see her left leg in a cast. Her chest hurts; it aches to breathe. The thought of drinking anything at this very moment is not appealing.

“Let’s see if we can begin to get you hydrated,” the nurse with the big breasts says as she leans over her. “We want to get you off the IV if we can.” It takes a few minutes for her to come around, and at the nurse’s urging, she takes some sips from a straw.

“Which hospital am I in?” she asks.

Just then, a man walks through the door in a white coat. He looks familiar. The nurse greets him, and he says hello back to her. They seem to know each other. The doctor’s face is friendly, and he looks at Emelie and begins to speak.

“Good morning, Emelie,” he says kindly. “I’m Dr. DeCarlo, and I worked to stabilize you last night. How are you feeling?”

“Like I’ve been hit by a car,” Emelie says, knowing full well what she is saying, the corners of her mouth turning into a little bit of a smile.

The doctor is pleased by her response and smiles at her. “I see you have a good sense of humor,” he replies. “I don’t often get that after an accident, but you seem to know what happened.”

She nods. His presence is comforting.

“Then, you can probably guess by the looks of things that your your arm is broken and that your leg is fractured. Your face was scratched by the shattered glass, with one cut above the left eye, and you have a couple of broken ribs. You fainted in the car and went into a bit of shock, but we’ve taken good care of you since you arrived, and you’re getting stabilized. The good news is there’s no broken nose despite that it was bleeding a little when you arrived. You’re actually looking very well despite it all. The nurses have done their jobs.”

“And you, I would guess,” Emelie says. She offers a slight grin, giving him the best she can under the circumstances. There is something about his demeanor and the sound of his voice that is so pleasing. She is grateful for him and to him—and she feels the need to express it.

“I cannot thank you enough, Doctor. I appreciate all the great care you all have given me. Thank you for what you did.”

The nurse excuses herself from the room to get some additional supplies while Dr. DeCarlo continues to stand next to Emelie.

“Is there anything we can get you to make you more comfortable? Is there someone we can contact for you?”

Emelie shakes her head from side to side. “No,” she says, “I will just wait to get discharged. How many days will I be here?”

“Probably just overnight again. Most likely, you will be released tomorrow in the afternoon, but someone will need to take you home.”

“Right,” Emelie says.

*

It’s six in the morning, and Dr. DeCarlo’s shift ended at midnight, but things were hectic, and he stayed on to help the overflow. It’s one of the perks of being an unwed doctor—no one is waiting for him to come home. His hours are his own.

The nurse re-enters the room with some food and a few supplies. She will need to help Emelie to the bathroom once the catheter comes out. Not to embarrass the patient, the nurse speaks gently to Dr. DeCarlo.

“I’ll just need to help her out in a minute. You have been here far longer than you ought to have been, Dr. DeCarlo. How sweet of you. You should have punched out hours ago.”

The doctor’s face brightens a little, showcasing a little bit of redness on the cheeks. “Of course, of course. I just wanted to make sure our patient was okay,” he says, looking at Emelie.

“A little broken physically,” Emelie says, “but I think my spirit will be fine. I’m sorry for passing out. I don’t have a high level of tolerance for pain or blood. Do the police know who hit me?”

“They do. She was identified and charged, and walked away from it amazingly unharmed. Apparently, she had a little too much fun at the local bar, it would seem,” the nurse says. Dr. DeCarlo continues to look at Emelie. There is something about her that compels him to be standing here talking to her. There’s something about her face—those eyes—the cheekbones that are scratched up a bit. The sense of humor and humility. The nurse begins to shoo him away and he feels the phone vibrate in his pocket. He still hasn’t called Sophia back.

“I guess I must be on my way to let Nurse Shay take care of you. I’ll check back to check on you later.”

Nurse Shay shoots him a look of surprise, for in her five years working with Dr. DeCarlo, she has never seen him go the extra mile for patients as he has with this one. To be sure, he is a kind and caring emergency doctor, but there’s something different about the way he’s treating this case, and she furrows her brow with puzzlement.

Meanwhile, he can hear Emelie say sweetly as he exits the door to her room, “Thank you.”

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*

Dr. DeCarlo heads to the locker room to collect his things. He is not due back until later tonight. As he places his coat on the hook of his locker and closes the door to it, he feels his phone vibrate again in his pocket. He grabs it and looks at the screen, sees her name again, and realizes that he really should clean his screen that’s full of fingerprints.

He exits the locker room, thinks about Emelie and wonders how she’s doing and why he’s thinking about her so much, and runs into Dr. Hickson, who is on call at the emergency room during the day. They share a passing greeting, and Dr. DeCarlo says he will see her later when he returns.

He walks outside into the warm morning sunshine, the blue sky cloudless, and sees her standing on the curb. He gingerly walks over to her.

“Hello, Sophia,” he says. At eight in the morning, she is coiffed and poised for action, and looks more like she is ready to go to a club than to go to her law office. Her severely highlighted blonde hair is piled on top of her head, her red lipstick never out of place.

“Do you have any idea how many times I’ve called you?” she demands.

“Yes,” he says. “I believe it was 12.”

“That sounds about right. So why haven’t you called me back?” she says indignantly.

“I was working.”

“In the past, you’ve found time to call me while you’re working. What’s going on, Hugh?”

“This isn’t the place to have this discussion, Sophia. I’m on hospital grounds.”

“I know that. So am I.”

“Yes, but you don’t work here. I don’t discuss personal matters at work.”

“What matters?”

He places his sunglasses on his face, the sun’s brightness blinding his eyes as it rises over the hospital’s facade. He looks at her. It is safer to have this uncomfortable and inevitable conversation from behind dark shades.

“This isn’t working for me, Sophia. I don’t want to be in this relationship, especially when it doesn’t feel right.”

“Doesn’t feel right? What’s not right about it? I’m a professional. You’re a professional. We have the same circle of friends. We both want the same things out of life. How does this not feel right?”

“Call me crazy, but I just think there should be something more than a convenient group of friends and ambition as the factors that would bind us together. I’m sorry, Sophia. I just don’t want to be in this relationship any longer.”

“It was hardly a relationship to begin with,” she snips. “I’ve been the one driving the thing from the beginning. Your heart was never in it.”

“And perhaps that’s been the problem all along,” he says. “This hasn’t been a two-way street. You deserve better.”

“You’re absolutely right I deserve better! Look at me! I’m a catch! And you’re just too ignorant to see it,” she says, turning on her heels as she begins to take long strides toward her silver, convertible BMW, her shoes clicking on the asphalt. Dr. DeCarlo can’t help but chuckle at her silly antics, as he’s witnessed them before, and whispers a soft ‘bye-bye’ as she climbs into her car. He hears his mother’s voice in his head, the one that always offered reasoning during times when decisions must be made—you will know when you’ve found the right person, Hugh. You will feel it in here, she would say, patting the area on his chest where his heart is. He should have known better than to waste his time on something that never felt right. He certainly has never experienced anything like what his mother refers to as a “magical feeling” when meeting the person who may be a potential companion for life. It’s not that he didn’t want a life-long partner, he did, it’s just that no one had ever felt right before. He should never have allowed Eddie to set him up with Sophia in the first place. Set-ups never worked for him. Not in all of his thirty-eight years.

*

At eleven-thirty that night, Emelie is wide awake. She slept most of the day, as she tried to remember how the accident happened. Could she have prevented being hit by that woman? Could five more seconds of acceleration have avoided the crash? She’s beaten herself up all day about it, and now she stares at the television from her hospital bed as she watches The Jimmy Fallon Show, the volume turned down low.

Nurse Shay left hours ago, and Nurse Jones who is on duty now helped her clean herself up, offered her a brush, and helped her put her long, dark hair in a long ponytail. Nurse Jones also refreshed her water and helped her get to the bathroom about an hour ago, and is now making her way along the corridor to visit patients. The thought of returning to her apartment without any help is giving Emelie anxiety. The thought of being without a car is doubling that anxiety. There will be calls to the insurance company to sort out in addition to needing a car to get to work. She’s learned to become much more independent since Evan left, but she is worried about dealing with the effects of the car accident alone and contemplates calling her mother to see if she can come and stay with her for a while. What an inconvenience to her mother who lives all the way across the country. She hated the idea of doing that to her.

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When Emelie first came to Atlanta last year, she came because of Evan. They met after graduate school—he working in sales, she finding employment as a teacher—and lived together for many years in Washington state. When Evan’s company transferred him back to his home state of Georgia, he jumped at the opportunity, and Emelie followed at his urging. Emelie found a teaching job locally, and Evan loved his new surroundings and environment, and especially loved his new assistant, Shannon. In a matter of months, he loved her more than he loved Emelie. So when the good doctor asked her earlier if there was anyone to call, the answer was an emphatic “no,” as there was no family or good friends local for her, only her teacher acquaintances from school that she hadn’t known for very long.

In her dreamlike state, half paying attention to Jimmy Fallon and half thinking about her present, unfortunate situation, she hears a knock on the door, and the door pushes open.

“Emelie?” the pleasant male voice says. She recognizes it right away as the Doctor’s.

“Hi,” she says. He is wearing his white coat again, and it shows off his deep tan and dark eyes. He walks closer and looks at her. “I wanted to see how you are doing before I begin my shift.”

“That’s very sweet of you,” she says. “I’m okay. Unable to sleep.”

“We can help you with that if you need some rest,” he says.

“No, thank you,” she says. “I slept most of the day. I’m just thinking and mindlessly watching the television.”

“That’s a good word for it–mindless,” he smirks, taking a peek at the television. “If I didn’t have to work, I would challenge you to game of Scrabble or cards.”

“It might be kind of a challenge to hold cards in my hands or shuffle,” she said.

He grinned.

“What can we get you?”

“I’m good, thank you. Honestly, the care here has been top-notch. Thank you for checking up on me.”

They both look at each other for a second, and the doctor slides over the guest chair to sit beside her.

“I hope you don’t think this is too forward of me, because trust me, what I’m about to say is completely out of character for me, especially when it comes to my patients, but I was wondering, seeing as how you seem to be without a car, if you need a ride home when you are discharged, it’s my day off and I’d be happy to help you get home.” Dr. DeCarlo has officially surprised himself by saying these words. She must think he’s weird … or worse, creepy. He hasn’t been able to shake her from his mind ever since he cared for her last night, but truly, what is he thinking? Does he have some sort of fever? Emelie is a patient, for God’s sake.

And then he hears his mother’s words echo in his head—you will feel it in here. There is something undeniable going on, at least from his perspective. Something extraordinary is happening to him, and he feels awkward, as it takes what seems like an eternity before Emelie responds to his offer.

“Do you cook, too?” she replies, smiling.

*

BooksStephanie Verni is a hopeless romantic, Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University, and the author of Inn Significant,  Baseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree. Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt. Follow her on Twitter at stephverni or on Instagram at stephanie.verni.

 

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