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A Time To Mend
By Angela Hunt
Steeple HillCopyright © 2006 Angela Hunt
All right reserved.
A dazzling white blur of sun stood fixed on the eastern horizon, bathing the enormous Chambers-Wyatt Hospital complex in a sterile light. Jacquelyn Wilkes stepped from her car, adjusted her spotless uniform, then drew a deep, contented breath. Before her stood the concrete and glass cancer clinic, the hospital's facility for outpatient therapy. Her home away from home. The spot she'd been longing for through two eternal weeks of what was supposed to be a solitary and restful vacation on a Bahamas beach.
"No problem, mon, I'm happy to change gears," she whispered. "Back to work. Let the rich and famous keep the beaches, I'll take my job any day." She lifted her chin, easily slipping back into the disciplined frame of mind through which she had captured the title of "Nurse of the Year" at the hospital's last two awards banquets. At twenty-seven, she had been the youngest nurse ever to win that coveted honor, and she intended to keep it.
Gaynel Morrow, the receptionist, flashed a warm smile as Jacquelyn entered the building. "Ah, look who's back! But where's your tan?"
"Hiding beneath a layer of sunblock, where it belongs." Jacquelyn paused to sign in. "Skin cancer, remember?"
Gaynel rolled her eyes. "You're no fun at all, Jackie. You're the only person I know who could go to the beach for two weeks and comeback without a tan — or a man."
"Red hair and sun don't mix." Jacquelyn snapped the pen to the desk. "And I wasn't looking for romance, I'm perfectly happy with Craig. I wanted to rest!"
In truth, she'd wanted rest about as much as a dog wants fleas, but what else could you do on a solitary vacation?
She sighed in feigned despair as she looked around the reception area. The same old magazines littered the tables, the same morning talk shows droned from the television in the corner. "I see nothing around here has changed."
"That's what you think." Gaynel leaned forward and lowered her voice. "There's a new doctor in your office. Dr. Kastner finally found someone to replace Dr. Winston."
"Another one of his old medical school buddies?"
"Hardly." Gaynel let out a low, throaty laugh. "Jonah Martin is anything but old. He's —" She grinned. "Well, you'll have to see him for yourself."
Jacquelyn felt a disturbing quake in her serenity. She was glad to be back, but she wasn't sure she wanted to deal with a new doctor. The recently retired Dr. Winston had worked at the clinic for years, and she had grown so used to him she could practically read his mind. But a new doctor would have his own way of doing things, and she'd have to learn to deal with an entirely different set of idiosyncrasies. He might even be one of those bossy types that ordered nurses about with impunity and flung blame on everyone from interns to orderlies when something went wrong....
Jacquelyn leaned against Gaynel's desk. "What do you know about this new guy?"
"I have his bio right here." The receptionist pulled a brochure from the papers scattered over her desk. "Dr. Jonah Martin graduated from University of Virginia Medical School with honors seven years ago. He served at UVA Hospital, then transferred to Tidewater General, then to Roanoke Community, followed by the Thomas Morris Cancer Institute in Seattle. Last year he worked at Jackson Memorial in Tallahassee." She dropped the brochure and lifted an eyebrow.
"Now he's here."
"So many places." Jacquelyn frowned. "Don't you think that's strange? So many hospitals in how long — seven years? I can't imagine a doctor moving his family around so much."
"He's not married." Amusement twinkled in the reception-ist's eyes. "And his resume is impressive — Dr. Kastner says the guy just keeps moving up to bigger and better things. He says we're lucky Dr. Martin is willing to come here."
Jacquelyn drummed her fingers on the desk, bracing herself for the day ahead. Not only was she going to have to shift her mental focus from vacation to work, she was also going to have to shift from Dr. Winston mode to Dr. Martin mode, whatever that was....
"Do you like him?" Jacquelyn's brows lifted at the question.
"What's not to like?" The phone buzzed on Gaynel's desk, so the receptionist gave Jacquelyn a parting wave as she answered the call. Jacquelyn's mind bulged with unasked questions as she crossed the reception area. Gaynel liked the new doctor, and that was a good sign. But receptionists and doctors didn't work together as closely as doctors and nurses.
A breath of cool morning air blew past her as the wide glass entry doors slid open. Jacquelyn turned and flashed a quick smile at Mrs. Johnson, who led her five-year-old daughter, Megan, by the hand. Megan had gone completely bald from the effects of her treatment, but she gazed up at Jacquelyn with a bright smile and waved enthusiastically.
Jacquelyn gave a quick wave in response, then turned and quickened her pace, sighing in relief when she entered the hallway that led to the nurses' station. She'd make sure Lauren or Stacy worked with little Megan this morning. The darling kid had been in treatment for two years and the prognosis was not good.
Jacquelyn moved toward the chattering voices at the end of the hall. She could claim to be so exhausted from all the fun she'd had on vacation that she couldn't handle a squirming child as her first patient of the week....
"Dr. Martin, extension 210. Dr. Martin, please pick up." An unusual thread of exasperation echoed in the reception-ist's voice, Jacquelyn noticed as she checked her watch and pressed her fingertips to her patient's pulse. "Pick up, Mystery Doctor, wherever you are," she murmured. She paused to look up and smile at the woman seated in the chair beside her.
"You'll have to excuse my little wisecracks, Mrs. Baldovino," she said, loosening the blood pressure cuff around her patient's upper arm. "But Dr. Martin is new around here, and I'm beginning to think he's the invisible man. I haven't even seen him yet, but that's the third time I've heard him paged this morning."
"I like him," the woman answered, her eyes darting nervously to the chart where Jacquelyn recorded the sphygmomanometer's reading. Thin wisps of dark hair escaped from under the hat she wore and framed her pale face. "I saw him last week, and he's the first doctor I've met who makes me feel like I'm not taking up too much of his time. How is it today — the blood pressure, I mean?"
"Pretty good." Jacquelyn folded the cuff. "But a little on the low side. Of course that could be a reflection of the weight you've been losing."
Mrs. Baldovino lifted her hands in apology. "It's the chemo. I can't eat after my visits here. I've tried everything from soup to crackers, but nothing will stay down." She released a nervous little laugh. "I guess it's to be expected, but sometimes I wonder if starvation will kill me before the cancer does —"
"We won't let you starve, Mrs. Baldovino, I promise." Jacquelyn turned away and studied the patient's chart. "I see that you were given Adriamycin and Cytoxan on your last visit. Well, the antinausea medicines I'll give you today should help. Emend and Kytril usually do the trick, and the doctor can prescribe a form of Compazine for you to take at home."
The woman lifted one shoulder in a helpless shrug. "I know the drugs should help, but they don't."
"If you're feeling sick, you should try not eating or drinking anything four to six hours before your chemo treatment. And when you eat, think of yourself as a grazing cow, not a hog at the trough." Jacquelyn gave her patient a stern smile and took a deep breath for what felt like her ten thousandth speech about how to avoid nausea. She'd pestered her supervising nurse, Lauren Oakes, to put this and other standard lectures on videotape, but Lauren had insisted that personal instruction was more important than saving her nurses time and effort.
Jacquelyn pitched her voice to the tone she would use with a stubborn child. "Eat lightly, take in five or six small snacks a day instead of three traditional large meals. And if you experience uncontrolled nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea, you should pick up the phone immediately and call us. Ask for me, Lauren or Stacy, not the doctor. If you let the condition continue all day, you will become dehydrated and we'll have to put you in the hospital. And I don't think you want that, do you?"
Blushing, the woman shook her head. "I thought not. Call us right away, and we'll be able to get an antiemetic to help control your nausea." She smiled to cover her annoyance. "So if you're feeling sick, what will you do?"
"I'll call you, Nurse Jacquelyn." Mrs. Baldovino opened her mouth as if she would say something else, but Jacquelyn stood and snapped the chart shut. Unlike Lauren and Stacy, she never encouraged her patients to talk about anything but routine matters. Cancer patients tended to want assurances and answers and Jacquelyn had none to give. She was a medical professional, not a counselor or preacher. How many times had that been hammered into her head during nursing school? She could still hear the echo of her professor's mantra: Let a patient into your heart, and you won't last ten days in oncology.
"Let's get you ready for Dr. Martin. I'm sure he'll want to hear about this nausea." Jacquelyn lifted her hand and gestured toward the examination room. "If the invisible doctor materializes, that is."
Without waiting for her patient, she moved down the hall to the freshly prepped exam room. She slid the woman's chart into the holder on the door and smiled at the efficient thunking sound the file made. Mrs. Baldovino was now Dr. Martin's concern.
"Will he be long, do you think?" Mrs. Baldovino asked, one hand lightly gliding over the wallpaper as she moved with glacial slowness down the hall. "I'm feeling a bit nauseous now. I don't know why, but I don't know how long I can wait without having to —"
"I'll get you a basin." Leaving her patient, Jacquelyn hurried to the supply closet. She flung the door open, then blinked in surprise.
Stacy Derry, another nurse, stood with her back against the shelves, a wad of tissues in her hand. Her nose was red, her face blotchy, and a hint of tears still glistened in the wells of her dark eyes.
"Stacy! Are you all right?"
The nurse nodded, her dark curls bobbing. "I'll be okay." She dabbed at her eyes. "It's just that Hospice called a few minutes ago. Alicia Hubbard passed away last night. Her husband wanted us to know about the funeral."
"Oh." Jacquelyn pressed her lips together in a sign of respect.
"Wasn't she one of Dr. Kastner's patients?"
"Yes." Stacy gave Jacquelyn a teary smile. "She was such a sweet lady. Always smiling, she never once complained. I know she was in pain, especially at the end, yet she never said a harsh word to anybody."
As Stacy broke into fresh tears, Jacquelyn folded her arms and took a deep breath. She was used to the sight of tears; she'd cried more than her share of them when her own mother died from complications stemming from breast cancer. At sixteen, Jacquelyn had been a lot like Stacy — frightened, unsure and heartbroken. But broken hearts could mend...if you learned how to bury the pain.
"Listen," Jacquelyn spoke with calm detachment, "I know it hurts to lose someone. But you've got to get past the pain. Trust me, I know. I lost my mother and then became an oncology nurse because I want to help people get better. And as a nurse, I've learned to detach myself from the hurt."
The tissues muffled Stacy's words. "That sounds impossible."
"No, it's not." Jacquelyn placed her hand on Stacy's arm. "You can't help your patients if you allow yourself to be paralyzed by sorrow or worry. They need someone who can be objective, who can stay cool in a crisis. They aren't asking for our pity. If you go out there looking like this, you'll only upset the patients who are still fighting to survive. If you're going to be a good nurse, a professional nurse, you've got to stop blubbering every time something goes wrong."
Do whatever you have to, but don't let the pain into your heart.
A cloud of guilt crossed Stacy's face. "I suppose you're right."
"Of course I am." Jacquelyn sighed. She'd never get that emesis basin for Mrs. Baldovino if Stacy didn't surrender the supply closet. "Listen, I know you haven't been here as long as I have —" she reached past Stacy for the stack of aluminum basins on the shelf " — but this is an oncology practice, and many of our patients die. Some of them live for years after treatment, some for months, but death is a part of life. We've all got to die sometime, and some of our patients die sooner than the others. But you can't let it get to you."
Excerpted from A Time To Mend by Angela Hunt Copyright © 2006 by Angela Hunt. Excerpted by permission.
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