I stand in a stupor for a few minutes, unsure of what is real and what is not. People file out, leaving me with the body of my patient. It still doesn't sink in, only lingers like sickness in the pit of my stomach.
After I shake off my daze, I mimic the others in the room and rip the bloodied cloth from my body, glancing back while I shove it in the bin. The blood still drips from the table into the puddles on the floor. I'm going to be fucking sick.
I stagger into the scrub room just before I hurl, and thankfully, the contents of my stomach make it into the sink. When the heaving stops, I rinse away my beloved sandwich and my expensive pills down the drain and take a steadying breath.
When I feel ready, I go outside. My heart drops again when I find Doctor Corbin waiting, leaning back against the wall, his tattooed arms crossed against his chest. "How'd it go?" he asks me.
A lump starts to form in my throat. "We lost him."
He nods in understanding. "Did you throw up?"
"Well . . ." he starts to say as he leans up from the wall. "Congratulations on not being a psychopath. Now, come on. We have to go tell the family." Like a ghost, I follow him once again.
The cold on my skin begins to settle into a painful layer of guilt and shame. All I have accomplished today is maintaining a constant state of confusion while failing. Nearly a decade of struggling in college, putting my loved ones through hell so I could follow what was statistically a pipe dream, and for what? So I could kill a kid on my first day?
I wipe a tear from my cheek, sniffling quietly. "How do you tell a parent their child is dead?" I ask Corbin.
He stares ahead blankly, something about his posture grows tenser than before. "The same way you tell anyone," he answers. "Look them in the eye and say you did everything you could. For your sake, that better be the goddamn truth."
With every step we take closer to the waiting room, the gravity seems to grow stronger. Once in the room, I spot the family and fight the urge to turn around and run.
When we approach, the mother and another young man stand and look at me expectantly. Why me? "What happened? Is my baby okay?" she asks me.
I feel my brow tense, my eyes blur with tears that quickly fall down my cheeks. The ache in my chest pains me beyond words as I say, "I am so, so sorry . . ."
Her expression breaks. She crumples to her knees, wailing in agony, the young man falling to his knees beside her to wrap her into a hug.
My heartbeat becomes erratic and I feel like I can't catch my breath.
I can't. I can't do this.
I turn and run away, wanting to get as far away from this as possible. I can't see through my tears when a hand takes by the arm and pulls me through a pair of doors into a staff corridor. I lean against the wall and stifle my sobs under the shield of my hands. The foreign grip on my arm is the only thing keeping me on my feet.
I drop my hands and look down at a tattoo. I straighten my posture, knowing Corbin's next degrading quip is on its way. "Next time, maybe don't cry before the family does," Corbin suggests. There it is. I nod but keep crying.
"This is where you tell me all the ways I fucked up, right?" I ask him.
His mouth twists, but he doesn't hesitate to say, "No, actually. I was going to say you did as well as I expected."
"You expected me to lose a patient?"
"Yes," he responds. When the tears come again, he takes a step closer. "It was going to happen at some point. Might as well get it out of the way your first day."
My crying stops when my body goes numb. I look him in the eyes, wanting to see his expression when I ask him, "Did you know he wasn't going to make it?"
"We can never know for sure, but yes," he says. "Guns were made to kill, not injure. We're fighting a losing battle when they come to us. With a wound like that . . . it would have taken a miracle to save him."
I glare at him, my numbness cools into anger. "You did this on purpose?" I ask incredulously. "Put me in charge of a patient you knew wouldn't live?" He gives me a sideways glance but says nothing. "You made me watch a kid die, Corbin. And for what? To teach me some sort of lesson?"
"I did it to show you the truth!" he yells. "This isn't a game, Reece. These are real people with real lives and real families. You want to put on your white coat and play God in an OR one day? You're going to find yourself right here—feeling exactly like this—more times than you can count." He stares me in the eyes. "If I teach you nothing else, that is the lesson I will force you to accept."
I break eye contact and wipe my nose like the pathetic, whimpering mess I am. I know what guilt feels like. I live with the pain of my mistakes every day of my life. "I didn't need a 'lesson' like that," I spit as I walk away.
"Where are you going?" he calls after me, but I don't respond.
Fuck him. Fuck this shit.
Aimlessly, I stumble down the hall until I find the locker room. Once I make it inside, I slump down onto the bench by my locker and hang my face in my hands. I cry, letting all my anger and frustration escape in the only way I can let it. My stomach starts to cramp, only making the situation worse. My body forces me to choose between soothing my physical or emotional pain. I can never seem to do both.
Taking a deep breath, I calm my tears, the thoughts still circling in my head. What did I do? Can I really be a doctor if it means feeling like this all the time?
"You okay, baby girl?"
I look up to find Ezra poking his head into the room. I wipe my eyes. "I don't know," I answer truthfully.
He frowns and walks over to sit on the bench beside me. "What did Crotchety Corbin do to you?"
I want to laugh, but I am nowhere near the mood. "He made me watch a kid die to teach me a lesson. He thinks that's okay?"
He shrugs. "If that man had a heart, it died a long time ago. People swear he's a good teacher, but with him, it's a trial by fire." He wraps his arm around my shoulders in encouragement. "I've seen a lot of doctors come in and out of here in my day. All of them feel like this at some point. The first day, the first week, maybe a month down the line. Some don't have it in them to keep going, but I think you do." He nudges me. "That tiny body has some fight in it. I can tell."
"Thanks," I tell him. "I guess."
"You can do this, girl. Only nineteen hours left."
My heart sinks. Fuck my life.
. . .
By the time I get home, I feel like death warmed over. Spending the rest of my shift doing bullshit like rectal exams and sutures was a reprieve after what happened in the OR, but it doesn't feel like it right now. I had to tell myself not to fall asleep every five minutes on the light rail. By the time I walk up to my front door, all I can think about are my sheets. Until I open the door and see Aaron.
"Fucking hell," I muse to myself.
"You're back," he says.
I roll my eyes and start to head up the stairs.
"We need to talk, Nay," he says as he follows me.
"I told you I wanted you gone."
"Well, sorry, but it's not that simple."
I kick off my shoes, drop my bag, and fall face-first onto my bed. Damn, that feels good.
"We need to figure things out."
"I'm too tired for this shit right now," I mumble, my face mashed against my pillow. Aaron says something else, but I don't hear him before sleep takes me.
YOU ARE READING
"Call me an assh*le all you want. It won't stop me from making you the best doctor you can be." . . . . . Naomi Reece's life was complicated long before starting her residency. As a woman of color at the beginning of her medical career, she has eno...