I woke up on the wrong side of the bed the next day. Everything annoyed me a little bit more than usual. When I stepped into the train station about five seconds after I saw my train pulling away, I felt my blood pressure begin to rise. When I ended up waiting fifteen minutes for a second train to come, I felt an aneurysm in my brain threatening to pop. Usually, I try not to let the little things get to me. But today I didn’t have the reserves to brush off annoyances like late trains.
I’m never outright mean, but I found myself being more curt than usual with Chloe as well as with the nursing staff. The latter is a dangerous game: there’s no enemy worse than an angry nurse. But when I got to the rehab ward and found that the coagulation studies I had ordered yesterday on Alex Connors hadn’t yet been drawn, I found myself more than a little irritated.
“Why haven’t these labs been drawn?” I demanded of Carla, the petite Filipina charge nurse. “I ordered them yesterday morning.”
“I guess they didn’t get around to it,” Carla said, looking much less concerned than I wanted her to be. It was often that way on the rehab floor. Everything seemed to happen in slow motion here. God forbid a patient was having chest pain and you needed an EKG. It could take a week.
“You know it’s an order, not a suggestion,” I said to Carla. “I want that lab drawn.”
“Don’t worry, Dr. Miller,” Carla said. She seemed amused rather than perturbed by my mini-tantrum. “The phlebotomist will draw the blood this afternoon.”
“This afternoon!” I cried furiously, despite the fact that I probably wouldn’t see the labs until the next morning, even if they got drawn this instant.
Carla shrugged. “If you need them now, you can make the order STAT. Or else, draw them yourself. He’s in his room right now.”
“Well, then maybe I will,” I said. “I’ll draw the labs myself.”
Carla shrugged again and pointed me in the direction of the nursing supply room. It was only after I had self-righteously charged into the room and the door slammed behind me that it occurred to me that I hadn’t drawn a patient’s blood since internship. Most hospital these days had ancillary staff like phlebotomists who did those sorts of things so that I, the physician, would never have to. But unfortunately, that left me staring at the pink trays of supplies, not sure if I had the ability to draw a patient’s blood.
After searching in several different trays, I came out with a butterfly needle, a tourniquet, lots of alcohol and gauze, a roll of tape, and some test tubes to collect the blood. I stuffed the supplies into the pocket of my white coat with hands that were shaking only slightly.
I found Alex in his room, as promised, eating lunch in his bed. I know the therapists encouraged patients to get out of bed for meals, so I knew Alex was disobeying his therapists’ instructions. As soon as I laid eyes on him, I felt an involuntary smile rise on my lips. As nervous as I’d been about drawing blood only moments before, it suddenly occurred to me that I was about to jab a needle into the arm of the guy who had made my life miserable. My day just got a little better.
“Hi, Dr. Miller,” he said cheerfully when he saw me.
I returned the smile, only wider. “Hi, Mr. Connors.”
“How are you today?” he politely asked me.
I walked over to his bed and dropped the butterfly needle down on his lunch tray. I was pleased to see how his eyes widened. “I’ve got to draw some blood,” I said apologetically.
“I can’t finish eating, huh?” Alex asked me, gesturing at his mostly full plate of food.
I shook my head, thinking if I had to wait to do this, I’d probably change my mind and let the phlebotomist do it. Besides, who the hell was he, telling me to come back later? I was a busy woman.
“All right,” he said, pushing his tray away. “Go for it.”
I immediately went for his right arm, his dominant one. I wasn’t the first one to stick a needle into Alex’s right arm. Both arms from his elbow down to the back of his hands were peppered with bruises from previous blood draws and IVs. As I tied the tourniquet around his right biceps, I couldn’t help but notice they were pretty firm. I felt my fingers lingering on the muscle for just a moment too long—long enough for Alex to notice and smile up at me. The smile irked me and I felt a sudden rush of resentful.
That’s when I jabbed the needle into his arm.
There are tricks I’ve learned to distract patients from getting needle sticks and ease their pain. I did none of those tricks. Alex gasped, and I wasn’t gentle in my attempts to locate the vein. Grace would have been proud. I almost wished I would miss the blood vessel so I could have a chance to stick him again. He was going to have one hell of a bruise from this.
“Sheesh,” Alex said, as I filled up the test tube with his blood. “You’re… aggressive.”
“Thanks,” I said. I pulled the needle out of his arm and replaced it with some gauze. I secured the gauze to his skin with a nice large piece of tape that was sure to take several dozen hairs with it when removed.
Felicia’s office has been the most consistent thing in my life for the last seven years. Since I’ve started seeing her, I’ve lived in three different apartments, gone from the horrible county hospital where I did my internship to the university hospital of my current employment, and I’ve been through a countless number of first dates. But no matter where I’m living, where I’m working, or who I’m dating, I can always count on Felicia’s office being the same. I think if she moved, I might have a nervous breakdown.
There’s something instantly comforting about that office. I love the mood lighting and the collection of pottery on her bookcase. And the drawings by her kids on the walls. But really, it’s probably Felicia herself that makes the office comforting. She fits into the leather chair she sits in like it’s a glove.
I admit, I was still feeling like crap today when I walked into Felicia’s office. Despite my opportunity to jab Alex with a needle, my self esteem was in the toilet thanks to Charlie. That was the topic I broached with Felicia. I told her about my date, about how he promised to call but didn’t. I felt liked I’d evolved into a painful stereotype as I whined, “But why didn’t he call?” But I can say those things to Felicia without reservation.
“But Rachel,” she said, as I finished my sob story, “you don’t even like him.”
“I do!” I protested. “Sort of.”
Felicia smiled patiently. “You just said you didn’t understand how a, and I quote, ‘fat disgusting bald guy’ wouldn’t call you back.”
Yes, that was what I said. She had me there.
“I thought he could go with me to Shauna’s wedding,” I admitted. “Going to that wedding without a date is going to be… painful.”
“Maybe you should look for a date somewhere else,” Felicia suggested. “How long before you gave up on online dating?”
“Those guys were all losers,” I reminded her. “They couldn’t spell. And their grammar was atrocious.”
Felicia was silent like she often is when I’ve said something completely ridiculous, and she knows I know it’s ridiculous.
I sighed. “Look, I’ve been on enough dates. I’m just sick of rejection. It’s too painful. I’d prefer to just be single than to keep going through that over and over.”
“So you’ve officially given up on love?” Felicia asked me, with an amused expression on her face.
“Yes. I have.”
“Yes. I’ve decided I’m going to stay single.”
She looked me in the eyes. “That must be a relief.”
Actually, it was a relief. I felt a weight off my shoulders at the thought of never having to go on a date ever again. Of never having to get dressed up in uncomfortable clothes and get butterflies in my stomach wondering what the guy would think of me. Of never having to sit by the phone and wonder if the guy was going to call me back. Of never having to kiss another man, to feel the gentle burn of his stubble against my chest, the scent of aftershave wafting into my nostrils as he pulled me closer, threading his fingers through my hair and…
Okay, there were a few things I might miss about dating.
But in general, this was going to be a good thing. Yeah, it was not going to be fun to go to Shauna’s wedding solo. But I was going to tell everyone there in no uncertain terms that I had absolutely no interest in dating and they were all just going to have to damn well accept it. Especially my mother.