As I grab the chart from the holder outside the emergency room door, I barely register what Nurse Stritch it telling me – apparently, my latest patient is the victim of a mugging, and was dumped outside the emergency room doors.
A couple of years ago, I would have been shocked or aghast, but after what I’ve seen come though our hospital doors since the beginning my residency, nothing surprises me anymore.
Until I open the door.
The girl from Sainsbury’s – with the oranges and the smile that could melt the iceberg that sank the Titanic.
Not quite so smiley now, though, with a welt on her face and clearly some bruises and pain marring her otherwise beautiful features.
What kind of punk would try and beat the hell out of tiny girl like her? A girl with soft curves, a sweet smile, and long, long hair a man could get lost in, along with those eyes that seem to everything?
Her eyes widen in surprise, her expression mirroring my own. After a moment, she gives me a rueful smile. “Since I wasn’t invited to your fabulous dinner party, I had to find my own fun,” she says, gesturing to her torn shirt and bruised features apologetically.
I give her a reassuring smile, willing my mind and mouth to begin working again after the initial shock of seeing her again. For some reason, I’ve been unable to get her off my mind – it was one of those instant connections you sometimes have in life, where you pass someone on the pavement or bump into them in a clothing store, and for a moment, just a moment, you think ‘this is her, this is the girl I’m going to spend the rest of my life with,’ and then in a moment, it’s gone, but for one fleeting moment, you see your whole future with that one person.
She was one of those for me, I must admit.
And now, here she is again, sitting in my emergency room, admittedly looking the worse for wear, but still with those piercing green eyes and dimpled smile that makes me woozy inside.
“You could have just asked – I might have even bought an extra bag of crisps for you,” I say, sitting down on the stool beside her, and then flipping her chart closed, ready to begin my examination.
“*Now* you tell me,” she says, and I smile again.
“Let’s take a look, shall we?” I ask, my professional voice taking over the teasing, shy one from a moment ago. She may be beautiful, but she is a) extraordinarily out of my league and b) a patient in my hospital.
‘Warning: do not cross’, I think wryly as I gently tilt her face to the light. “What happened to you?”
She hesitates for only a moment, and then begins to explain. “I was coming home from work a couple of hours ago, and an attacker hit me from behind and tried to take my purse. I fought as best I could, but…”
I nod, making a few mental notes and diagnosing her copious wounds. There are a lot of contusions on the arms and around the neck, as though she’d been choked by her attacker. As I gently probe her abdomen, I detect a bruised rib, but no other lasting damage. Her legs appear to be in working order, though there is a slight inflammation at the back of the right knee joint, which may give her intermittent pain in the coming days, but should present no future problems.
She may be small, but it could have been a lot worse, if this attacker was even remotely bigger than her, or more determined. Unless she fought back, though she doesn’t look like she could hurt a fly…
It suddenly occurs to me that I don’t know her name. She may the reason my heart is thumping against my chest, and yet I don’t even know her name…
Flipping open her chart again, I make a few notes of the injuries I’ve found, then make sure to look at the name at the top.
“Makes me wonder what the other guy looks like,” I say softly, as she winces when I lightly press a finger to her bruised cheek and note the small cut there.
“Oh, he’s mincemeat,” she replies proudly, puffing out her chest mockingly, and I smile.
“How does your head feel?”
“Fuzzy,” she admits after a long pause, as though she doesn’t really want to admit this to me. “I seem to be flowing in and out of reality, if you know what I mean. And it hurts like hell…”
“Any noticeable memory loss?”
She nods once, wincing at the pain this movement causes. “I can’t seem to remember anything from the time that goon knocked me down on the pavement until… well, until I came in here, really. Should I be worried?”
“I don’t think it’s amnesia, if that’s what you mean,” I reassure her, and she looks relieved. “Brain damage, probably, but not amnesia.”
Her grin lights up her face, and my own expression mirrors hers. I shouldn’t tease in a professional situation, but…
“Oh, don’t worry,” she says slyly. “I’ve had brain damage for YEARS.”
“Any blurry vision? Change in your hearing?”
She nods. “My vision is a bit fuzzy around the edges, and my ears are ringing a little, but that could be from meeting the pavement when I wasn’t quite ready for it,” Emme replies and I nod again, making notes on her chart.
“Feeling a little off balance?”
“Feeling a lot off balance, actually,” she says, sounding a bit rueful. “I’m not quite ready for the Bolshoi Ballet tonight, I don’t think.”
I grin at her retort. “At least the blow to the head hasn’t affected your sarcasm center.”
“Oh no,” Emme said. “That’s hard as a rock.” She pauses, and watches me make some final notes. “What’s wrong with me?”
“Probably just a concussion, Emmanuelle,” I say, daring to use her name.
“Emme,” she corrects me immediately. “Call me Emme.”
“Emme,” I repeat after her, feeling triumphant for some odd reason. “We’ll run a CT scan on you to make sure it’s nothing more serious, but that’s how it seems to be presenting to me.”
I gently tug on her shirt collar, exposing her shoulder blade, which I notice is abraded, probably from being pushed to the pavement. No need for stitches, but at least some antiseptic would go a long way to getting that back to normal.
“Nice tattoo,” I say softly, carefully putting her shirt back into place. I couldn’t help but notice the flame artfully tattooed on her shoulder, practically glowing hot in reds and yellows. Pretty, though somehow unexpected on her.
“Oh my god…” she gasps out loud, and I wheel back around to meet her eye. She looks as though a penny has suddenly dropped.
“Emme?” I ask, puzzled by her reaction to my comment. “Are you all right? Do you hurt?”
She is staring into space, but snaps back at the sound of my voice. “No, I… I’m fine, I just realized… nothing, it’s not important. Just something about work I have to remember to do tomorrow…”
“Well, I’m telling you now, you’re taking tomorrow off,” I say sternly, standing up and grabbing a prescription pad. “You’ve had a bit of a blow to the head, plus some other injuries, so I’m prescribing a lot of rest until your wounds heal. It looks like a bruised rib and a lot of contusions and abrasions, as well as a probable concussion. No need for stitches, though, and you certainly don’t need to be admitted, as long as you look after yourself for a few days.” I jot notes into her file as I talk, before looking back to meet her eyes. “Because of the concussion, you’ll need to be awoken every two hours for the next twenty-four hours to watch for signs of further damage or brain swelling, and to avoid any risk of nausea or vomiting while you sleep. Do you have a family member who can keep watch over you tonight?”
“I have an alarm clock,” she tries, but I shake my head.
“A person is better – they need to check for pupil dilation, things like that. Do you have a husband or sister, or…”
She shakes her head. “No husband, no family.”
She smiles ruefully. “None. But I can probably call a friend of mine – no worries. I’ll find someone to babysit me, if it’s really necessary.”
“It’s really necessary,” I say as I close her chart again, and then extend my hand to her, giving her a prescription for pain medication. “Nurse Stritch will be in shortly to deal with your abrasions, and this is a prescription for pain medication, in case you need it. If you have any problems or concerns, or any changes in your condition, don’t hesitate to give me a call. We’ll also make sure Nurse Stritch passes on instructions for danger signs for your friend to watch for with the concussion, all right?”
She nods, suddenly looking alone and a bit scared. “I really appreciate your help, Dr…”
“Cross,” I fill in for her. “Dr. Connor Cross.”
“That’s a nice name,” she says absently, and I feel myself blushing slightly.
“Take care, Emme. No more street fighting for a week or two, eh?”
She laughs, a twinkly, musical sound. “I promise. Thanks again, doctor.”
And with that, I walk back out the door and close it gently, already trying to invent an excuse to return to the room, to talk to her longer…
But instead, a broken arm down the hall awaits my care.
Damn the luck.