To make up for the lack of Eva’s presence the day before, today Alex Connors’s entire family was packed into his tiny hospital room. It seemed like a lot of people, although in reality, it turned out to just be Eva, his parents, and his sister. Whenever I see large numbers of family members in a room, it makes me wonder who would show up if I ever was seriously ill. I suspect that it would just be my parents. I pictured my mother frittering about my sickbed, trying to stack the bedpans to make the room “more tidy.” And my father would sit in the corner by the window, reading the newspaper like usual, and intermittently glancing up at my mother and sighing. And possibly Grace would stop by too if she had a moment free in her busy day.
Alex seemed to be in pretty good spirits, surrounded by his family members. Chloe had completely fallen for his nice guy act and had declared to me this morning that he was her favorite patient. Then again, she told me that about a different patient nearly every day.
When Chloe and I walked into the room, Alex’s family introduced themselves to us and his mother pushed a Tupperware container into my hands. “This is for you, Dr. Miller,” she said. “For taking such good care of my Alex.”
I looked down at the Tupperware, which was stuffed with cookies. I could feel my thighs widening just looking at it. I handed the container off to Chloe, who took it obligingly. “Thank you so much, Mrs. Connors,” she said.
“Please call me Bette,” Mrs. Connors said.
I noticed the entire family was staring at me hopefully. “So have you gotten any movement back in your legs?” I asked Alex.
I watched him try again, although I could tell right away that he wasn’t going to be able to do it. I wrapped my fingers around his thigh, waiting to feel even a twitch, but there was nothing.
“Nothing,” I announced to his hopeful expression.
“But it’s still early, isn’t it?” Alex’s father spoke up.
I shrugged. Chloe gave me an odd look and said, “Of course it is! You should be really optimistic.”
“I wouldn’t say that,” I corrected her. “As I’ve said many times, it’s still very early. Much too soon to predict any sort of recovery. To be honest, the fact that he has no movement at all at this point isn’t a good prognostic sign.”
Everyone in the room was kind of staring at me. I wondered if I had somehow gone too far, although I was just telling the truth. I wasn’t expected to sugar coat the truth for every single patient, was I?
“What about all those blood tests?” Mrs. Connors asked, breaking the silence. “Did they show anything?”
Chloe shook her head. “Everything was normal.”
I looked down at the Foley catheter tube that came out from under the blankets and led to a bag of urine hung from the side of the bed. “We need to get that catheter out,” I said suddenly. “You don’t want to get a urinary tract infection.”
“Oh,” Alex said. “Um, great. Good idea.”
I met Alex’s gray eyes. Ordinarily, I would have saved this conversation for a private time, but I remembered our childhood and decided there was no time like the present. “You’re probably going to be incontinent when we take it out,” I said. “We can give you a chance to see if you can hold it in, but the fact that you can’t hold in your bowel movements means you’re probably going to have similar problems with voiding urine.”
Alex’s face went white. His entire family was gawking at me. But I ignored them and went on: “You’re probably going to need to catheterize yourself when you go home. If I had to guess.”
“Oh,” Alex said.
Usually I ask the family members if they have any questions, but I didn’t pay the Connors that courtesy. I simply told them it was nice to meet them and marched out of the room, flanked by a still flustered Chloe. As I shut the door behind me, I could hear Alex’s father say, “Well, she was a ray of sunshine, wasn’t she?”
Once the door was closed, I folded my arms across my chest. “Also, Chloe, I’ve been meaning to tell you that I think it’s very inappropriate to give patients false hope.” The cold tone in my voice was extremely unlike me—I almost didn’t recognize myself.
Chloe blinked, clearly also surprised by my sudden bitchiness. “But… you usually…”
“What if he doesn’t have a good recovery?” I said. “Then the family will say, ‘Well, Dr. Miller told us he was going to get all better.’ And then they’ll be pissed off at us. You know as well as I do that the fact that he has no movement at all in his legs doesn’t bode well for his recovery.”
“I think it’s okay to give them some hope,” Chloe argued. “I think Connors really needs it. In fact, I think…”
I frowned at her. “What?”
“I think he’s pretty depressed,” she finished.
“Suicidal?” I asked. The most important question to ask any patient was whether there was a chance they might harm themselves. I hated Alex, but I didn’t want him dead, especially not while under my care.
“No, nothing like that,” she said. “I just think he seems sad.”
I felt a little jab in my chest. I didn’t want to say it, but I had noticed the exact same thing yesterday. Of course, Alex had a right to be sad. But that didn’t mean I was obligated to have any sympathy. If Chloe knew what he was really like, she wouldn’t have been speaking up for him.
“Maybe,” I said to Chloe, “you should go get him a box of tissues then.”
She stared at me, shocked. I knew I had a reputation for being an easygoing, compassionate physician and that was what Chloe expected of me after two weeks together. But who the hell cared what she thought anyway?
While Grace and I were eating lunch that day, she dropped a bombshell on me: “I did a consult on Alex Connors yesterday.”
“What?” I was surprised. I hadn’t asked Chloe for a consult from the ICU on Alex. He had been nothing but stable since we admitted him.
Grace grinned. “Well, I figured that since he had some bleeding in his spinal cord, maybe he could use a little unofficial peek from the ICU. You know, just to see if the guy who ruined my best friend’s life had any blood pressure issues.”
I rolled my eyes. “Is that what you told him?”
“I made up a very believable story,” Grace assured me. “And I must say, he appeared to be quite a nice young man.”
That seemed to be the consensus. “Appearances can be deceiving.”
“He also appeared quite cute,” she added. “I can see why he made your eleven year old self all hot and bothered.”
“Shut-up,” I said, blushing.
“He’s got those gray eyes,” she went on, starting to smile. “And that scruffy unshaven look is really sexy on him. I can see why you found him so hard to resist.”
“I don’t…” I muttered. “I mean, I didn’t find him hard to… I mean, he’s okay looking I guess, but he’s, you know…”
Grace’s eyes narrowed for a moment then widened. “Oh my god, you still like him!”
“Are you joking?” I snorted. “I despise him!”
“True,” she admitted. “But I think you also think he’s hot and want to jump him.”
I shook my head. “You’re out of your mind.”
“Am I?” Grace smiled. “Honey, there’s a thin line between love and hate.”
I denied it vehemently, but I had to admit that Alex was still very cute. Not that it really mattered or was something I was thinking about in the slightest. Aside from the fact that I hated him, he was also engaged. And even if he wasn’t, he had made it abundantly clear twenty years ago that he had no romantic interests in the likes of me.