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By Allen Wyler
Astor + Blue Editions, LLCCopyright © 2012 Allen Wyler
All rights reserved.
Friday, Doctors Hospital, Seattle, Washington
Friday afternoon before Labor Day weekend—three blessed days without call. Having just signed out to another partner ten minutes ago, Tom McCarthy yawned and checked his watch: 1:07 pm. Maybe put in four hours of paperwork before heading home for a beer and some much-needed rest.
Yeah, a beer. He deserved it. Especially after last night. He'd rolled out of bed at 2:31 am for an emergency case in the ER that ended up in surgery until 8:30 am, dictated the operative report, checked on the still-unconscious patient in the recovery room, and rounded on three inpatients before enduring two back-to-back administrative meetings. The second one, the one he'd just finished, not only stretched on too long, but also included a buffet of crusty, dry lasagna and green salad drowned in a bad Caesar dressing. Which might've been tolerable except he was so hungry from missing breakfast that he scarfed down two helpings, which he now regretted.
"Afternoon, Maria." He entered his empty waiting room and closed the hall door, Styrofoam cup of coffee in hand.
His office manager glanced up from behind the reception counter and smiled, her flawless white teeth a contrast against her rich Filipino skin. Her desk radio softly played golden oldies, her favorite station. "Good afternoon, Dr. McCarthy. You must be tired after such a busy night."
"The good news is I have three days to rest up. How's your day been?"
"Slow. I let the others go at noon. Hope that's okay. I thought, give them an early start, this being a long weekend and all."
"Perfect. I'd take off early too, if I could. But hey, why don't you go ahead, get out of here?"
She glanced at the computer screen. "Maybe a little early, but I still have a few things to finish up. But now that you're here, you mind if I run downstairs to grab a sandwich before they close?"
"No problem. I'll be in my office." He headed that direction, thought about something, and turned to her. "Doesn't your family have a picnic this weekend?"
"We do." She pushed back her chair and reached underneath the counter for her purse. "Oh, almost forgot. Two men came by to see you this morning."
"Oh?" Odd, he wasn't expecting anyone. "They say what they wanted?"
She brushed strands of glossy black hair off her forehead. "No, but they sounded like it's important."
Who could that be? A process server? No, most of those snakes worked solo. Not a drug company salesman because the office didn't allow drop-ins. "What'd you tell them?"
"The truth, of course," she said, flashing a conspiratorial smile. "That you were in surgery and by the time you got out, you would be tied up the rest of the day." She started for the door, slipping the strap of her purse over her shoulder.
Part truth, part white lie: her way of protecting his time, especially from two men without an appointment or a good reason to see him. She knew he'd want to leave as soon as possible, maybe spend the weekend readying his boat for fall. He hadn't told her about Caroline yet.
"I appreciate that. Now go get some lunch before you starve to death."
* * *
He set the coffee on his desk, dropped into the chair, and eyed the stack of paperwork. Quarterly reports, budgets, productivity figures: information essential for managing a major department in a medical center. Maria strategically had the charge sheet for this morning's surgery on top, her not-so-subtle hint to fill it out first. He leaned back in the chair and sipped his coffee. Boring bureaucracy wasn't the career he had envisioned when working his ass off in med school.
Strange, the turns our lives take, and for what reasons. Two years ago—six months after Anne's death—he had accepted a headhunter's offer to interview for the chair of neurosciences. Moving from his married-life environment might provide a new start for him. And it did. Along with an increase in obligatory social functions, the kind more comfortably attended as a couple. He quickly became involve with Caroline.
But that turned out to be a huge mistake. A classic trap, he realized two months into the relationship. She was Anne in too many ways: her sense of style, humor, taste in movies, and a thousand other attributes. Caroline had resurrected memories of his dead wife instead of being a fresh start, making it a situation that was grossly unfair to them both. The right thing to do to was end the relationship before expectations and assumptions blossomed into regrets. So last week he tried to explain that he was involved with her for the wrong reasons, that it was a rebound thing and he felt a rebound wasn't the right basis for a relationship. She argued that they were good together, that she felt he genuinely cared for her. Feeling cornered, he disagreed and said that he wasn't going to continue seeing her. The conversation ended in bitterness and harsh words when she called him an asshole.
A man with a gruff voice said, "Put your hands on the desk and stand up."
Startled, McCarthy snapped out of his reverie and looked up to see a gun aimed at his head.CHAPTER 2
Doctors Hospital, Seattle
Sarah Hamilton's emotions whipsawed between pissed and anxious. The lousy thing was she didn't know why. She slapped the large red button harder than necessary, causing a bang as loud as a gunshot. Embarrassed, she glanced around to an empty hall, thank God. The clock on the wall showed 1:07 PM.
Calm down, girl. Get a grip.
The heavy doors to Cardiac Intensive Care Unit whooshed open. She entered, heading straight to the nursing station. With her mother's black hair and delicate graceful features, Sarah was often mistaken for Italian rather than the child of a "mixed couple." She hated the expression, as if the union between her Cuban mother and African American father came out of a Waring blender rather than a Catholic marriage.
The charge nurse saw her approach and smiled. "Afternoon, doctor."
"Afternoon. Any inquires about 621?" she asked, referring to the patient admitted last night.
With a raised eyebrow, he asked, "You asking about the family or Dr. Witherspoon?"
"Witherspoon." Witherspoon was the code word used by staff to refer to a man impersonating a doctor who'd recently attempted to gain access to patient information.
The nurse leaned closer and lowered his voice. "Well, he's not been in here. But you heard, didn't you, a guy fitting his description tried again last evening in the Neuro ICU?" He pronounced the acronym "nick you."
A jolt of adrenaline tingled down her arms to her fingertips. "Oh? NICU? As in neuro, not neonatal?"
He nodded. "Right, neuro."
Her initial excitement morphed into a glow of vindication for having spent almost an hour at 2 am convincing administration to break the rules and admit Bobbie Baker under a false name and Social Security number. Not only that, but to also place her in the cardiac ICU instead of the neurology intensive care. On second thought, panic hit. Maybe Bobbie wasn't paranoid after all. Maybe someone really was really out to get her. She asked, "What exactly happened?"
"Not much fortunately. I mean, no scenes or anything. Apparently a security guard recognized him from description and confronted him. He turned and walked away. Wasn't much the guard could do by then."
Tom needs to hear about this. Now. "And he's not shown up here?"
The nurse gave a sideways glance of suspicion. "No, but now I get the distinct impression you're part of this drama. Mind telling me what it's about?"
Tell him? Why not? As long as she didn't divulge Baker's true identity, what harm could it do? "What do you know about her history?"
The nurse studied his palm computer a moment, then slid it back into the breast pocket of his scrubs. "She's an overdose. She was admitted here because neuro is full."
Perfect. That was the fabricated cover story exactly. "This isn't—" she caught herself before using Bobbie's real name, "—Leslie's first admit. During a prior admit to Nine West a man claiming to be Dr. James Witherspoon tried to access her chart. You know Diane Halvorson?"
The nurse nodded. "Charge nurse on psych?"
"Yup. She's been here longer than God and knows just about everyone on staff. Anyway, this Witherspoon shows up on her ward asking for Leslie's chart. Diane doesn't recognize him so she asks him for his ID. He pulls one out of his pocket. It looks okay, but something just doesn't sit right so she digs in and says no. You know how most docs would be—they'd go bat shit on her. But this Witherspoon guy just walks away without a word.
"Soon as I heard about it I called medical affairs. Turns out Witherspoon's not on staff. That got me curious, so I checked with the King County Medical Society and the state licensing office. Same thing. There's no such doctor in this state. He's a fraud."
The charge nurse adjusted his wristwatch. "So, what's up with him? I mean, why all the lurking around?"
Crap. She didn't want to go into details. On the other hand, it'd feel good to defend herself against all the accusing stares from the other residents. She imagined the rumors floating around about her incompetence. Rumors that would quickly spill over from house staff to nursing staff.
"It's complicated, but here's the short version: She's in for a Valium overdose, obviously." Baker had washed down a bottle of Valium with most of a bottle of Cutty Sark. "But here's the thing: With her history of depression, she never should've been given the Valium in the first place. Turns out, when they checked the prescription, my name was on the bottle. And that's nuts. I never prescribed a sedative for her, much less Valium." Too much emotion spiced her words, she realized. Tone it down. "The only prescription I ever wrote her was Paxil."
The nurse's silence prompted Sarah to continue. "Turns out the Valium came from the same Walgreens she uses for other prescriptions, but when I checked with the head pharmacist there, he claimed there's no record of a Valium script for her. None! It was fake."
The nurse asked, "So what are you saying, that this Witherspoon gave her that prescription?"
Exactly! At least, her gut knew that was it. But gut feelings didn't prove a thing and certainly couldn't exonerate her for apparently prescribing the wrong drug for Bobbie—a drug that would've killed her if Trent hadn't come home in time. The only person to know for certain who gave her the prescription was Bobbie, and right now she was in the other room drugged and intubated.
"I don't know. But I intend to find out. Until this is cleared up I'm on probation." She should get to work. "Sorry, I've taken too much of your time. I'll let you get back to your patients. Thanks for the information."
* * *
As Sarah entered room 621 a nurse in purple scrubs connected a liter of normal saline onto an IV holder, a clear plastic tube snaking down to a vein in the back of Bobbie's hand. A single sheet covered Bobbie's body; her eyes were shut, and a breathing tube and bite block were taped securely in her mouth. At the head of the bed a corrugated plastic tube linked an air humidifier to a tube in Bobbie Baker's trachea inserted three days ago as a lifesaving measure when Baker was too drugged to breathe. The respirator next to the bed stood silent now, allowing her to breathe on her own. The question being, Was she breathing well enough to remove the tube?
"How is she?" Sarah asked.
Caught by surprise, the nurse jumped and spun around. "Oh, hi, Dr. Hamilton. Sorry, didn't hear you come in." She took a deep breath before returning to Baker to prod her shoulder. "Leslie! Wake up. Dr. Hamilton's here to see you."
Bobbie's eyes flickered open but squinted in the light.
Sarah leaned over the side rail and gently squeezed the young woman's hand. "Hi, kiddo."
Way Sarah saw it, Bobbie owed her life to the Mariners' lousy bullpen. If they had put away the Oakland batters instead allowing base hits, Bobbie's husband, Trent, might've stayed at Safeco Field. Instead, he walked out before the end of the seventh inning, came home, found her sprawled over the couch barely breathing, and called 9-1-1.
She should be dead.
Bobbie closed her eyes and turned her head away.
The nurse shrugged. "Her blood gases looked good enough for a trial off the respirator. She's been on room air since eight o'clock. Plan to check another gas in a few minutes. If things still look good, they'll pull the tube."
As a psychiatrist, Sarah wasn't responsible for Bobbie's ICU care, because Neurology handled overdoses. Bobbie had become her patient in the early morning hours two weeks ago when she showed up in the Emergency Room after being seen but not treated at the Lakeview ER.
"What's up?" She asks the ER doc who had called her down for a consult at 2 am. She's standing at the nursing station, the usual early morning bedlam of a busy ER playing out around them.
He glances up from the chart he's involved with. "She's nuts."
"Can you be a little more specific?"
Obviously irritated at the interruption, he sniped, "You're the shrink, ask her. Room 5," and returns to filling out a form. Then as an afterthought he added, "Husband's name's Trent."
"She remembers the delivery in so much detail—right down to the name of the nurses and the date and the time—that it just sounds too real to be made up." Trent admits.
Sarah asks, "Yet you say she's never been pregnant?"
He shakes his head. "No, never. And I know what you're thinking. Believe me, I would know if she had been."
She looks at Bobbie, curled into the fetal position on the exam table, picking at something on the sheet only she can see. Sarah believes the acute problem is psychosis due to seventy-two consecutive hours of sleep deprivation. She tells Trent, "I'm sorry Lake view wouldn't take her, but they don't have an inpatient psych ward other than the medical ward of the county jail. We do. I think she needs to be admitted and allowed to sleep. The Haldol looks to be kicking in, so she should be okay."
Trent appears grateful. "Thank you, doctor. But what's causing the memories?"
Sarah didn't have any idea. "Let's take one thing at a time, get her settled down, and then see what we can find out." She circles back to an important point. "The head injury, can you tell me a little more about it?" Trent has initially glossed over it, as if it were something difficult to discuss.
He puts a protective hand on Bobbie's shoulder, lowers his voice, and looks past Sarah at a spot far away. "She just got in her car ... it was at Walmart, the parking lot ... this guy jumped in the passenger seat and pulled a gun on her." He swallows, looks at the floor. "Forced her to drive to this deserted road and raped her. Beat her pretty bad too. Would've died except for a jogger found her and called 9-1-1."
Sarah looks at the still-visible scar on Bobbie's head. "Was that when her head was operated on?"
"Yeah. The docs at Lakeview saved her life. That's why I couldn't understand why they didn't admit her tonight. I mean, she was their patient."
Bobbie's diagnosis had morphed into the psychiatric case from hell. No psychiatrist on staff had ever seen anything like it. And Sarah couldn't find a case in the literature to come close to resembling hers. The symptoms—vivid memories of giving birth to Jordan, a son she never had—defied diagnosis.
Multiple Personality Disorder?
Sarah didn't buy it.
When her chairman, Herb Ripley, had suggested she ask Tom McCarthy about the case, she'd replied, "What good's a neurosurgeon going to be diagnosing psychiatric symptoms?"
"Because," Ripley had answered, "what if it's a little-known complication of head injury?"
Now Bobbie was in the cardiac ICU recovering from an overdose of a drug Sarah didn't prescribe but was being blamed for giving her. Nothing made sense. Sarah leaned close to Bobbie. "Hey, kiddo, did you hear that? You might get that tube out of your mouth later today. Isn't that terrific?"
Bobbie ignored her.
Sarah nodded for the nurse to step out of the room with her. Once in the hall out of earshot Sarah asked, "You heard about the guy who tried to get into neuro ICU last evening? Witherspoon?"
Excerpted from Dead Wrong by Allen Wyler. Copyright © 2012 Allen Wyler. Excerpted by permission of Astor + Blue Editions, LLC.
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