“Don’t leave me.”The woman lifted a withered hand from the white bedsheets, reaching for Haley. “You’re the only one who listens.”
Haley Donovan held the patient’s hand yet again, gently stroking the mottled skin on her wrist. “Mrs. Pendergrass, I would love to stay, but you know I have other patients to take care of.”
“I know that, but you can’t say no to an old woman who needs you. Now, be a doll and get me my handbag from the closet.”
As Haley reached for the purse, her nail caught on a sharp edge of the small cubby, snagging it. She winced as she handed over the bag, her supervisor’s voice haunting her.
Keep your nails trimmed and short. Don’t let your vanity get in the way of patient care.
“What’s the matter, princess?” the old woman asked.
“Nothing.” Haley looked away quickly, not sure what bothered her moretearing her nail or being called a princess. Was it because of her blond hair? Her long legs? Too much makeup?
People were so quick to stereotype her as a dumb blonde, and the princess thing . . . that just rubbed her the wrong way. Graham had called her princess, and he’d fully intended to take care of her as if she were a queen.
A queen trapped in a castle.
If she had stayed with him, she wouldn’t have to be here now, emptying bedpans, breaking nails, and ducking her supervisor. She would be well rested, well dressed, and well manicured. A fair princess, destined to follow her husband’s decisions and dream his dreams.
No . . . that wasn’t the life Haley wanted. But sometimes she wondered if she was really cut out for hospital work. Patients like Mrs. Pendergrass made Haley wonder if she was doing the right thing, trying to be a nurse. She didn’t mind giving the woman a sponge bath and brushing her hair and listening to her stories of how things used to be. But the woman, who seemed fit as a fiddle, was monopolizing her time. Haley couldn’t do anything to help Mrs. Pendergrass, and with two other patients waiting for care, Haley felt tension mounting.
She wasn’t cut out for this. Already she was a failure in her profession, and she wasn’t even out of nursing school yet.
It seemed to be a pattern in her life now. Failure in love. Failure in school. Failure in life.
No, that wasn’t entirely fair. She was giving it all another try, with some major changes. She’d returned to school and she was trying to make a positive difference in the world.
She tuned in to what her patient was saying, another story about her daughter and grandchildren who had moved to Pittsburgh. Her heart ached for this woman’s loneliness, but if Dr. Swanson found out that Haley had already spent so much time with one patient, she would be in big trouble.
“You won’t want me chattering in here when your show is on. It starts in ten minutes.” Haley showed Mrs. Pendergrass the TV remote and the call button, and then reminded her to drink some water.
“But you’ll come back?” the woman asked, her face awash with worry.
Haley sank her teeth into her lower lip as she noticed the clock over the nurses’ station. Two hours of her shift had already passed, and they’d been monopolized by Mrs. Pendergrass. It wasn’t fair to the other patients who legitimately needed care, and Haley knew she was going to be in a pickle if she didn’t get started on her clinical assessments. She hadn’t taken any notes, and if she didn’t get something down soon she would be lost when it came time to start her reports. “It’s clear that, as a nursing student, writing is your weakness,” Dr. Swanson, her clinical advisor, had told her. “You need to work on time management, and your patient notes need to be more concise.”
It was trueHaley knew itbut these were issues she had wrestled with all her life. A simple report became a challenge when letters jumped around the page and turned sideways.
“Stop biting your lip; it’s not a good look for you.” Aeesha didn’t even look up from the computer, where she was updating charts. Aeesha Wilkins, a fellow nursing student, always managed to keep her sense of humor, even during tense moments. “What’s stressing you, sweet pea?”
“Mrs. Pendergrass in 312.”
Haley blew back her bangs, nodding. “She’s sweet, but nothing I do satisfies her, and she just doesn’t understand that I can’t spend my entire shift doting on her. I have two other patients.”
“And charts to do. And Swanson breathing down our necks.” Aeesha clicked the mouse, then typed in some notes. “How about I trade you my Amish man for your whiner?”
Haley looked up at the board. “Mr. Yoder in 320? I wish.” Yoder had mangled a hand in a farming accidenta dramatic injury that had made the local news. Although she was still a nursing student, Haley knew she was drawn to patients who required more intensive care. “At least Mr. Yoder has a real injury,” Haley said. “He needs medical attention. Unlike Mrs. Pendergrass, who complains of phantom pain that comes and goes.”
“The old phantom pain story.” Aeesha shook her head. “So many of them just come in for drugs. It’s sad, but I don’t mind doting. I figure TLC is nonaddicting, and I’m good with the old ones. The Amishthat’s another story. Did you see all the visitors he has? His room is packed with Amish men. All those men, talking a mile a minute with their long beards and black fedoras. It’s way out of my comfort zone to march in and start a sponge bath. Telling an Amish man to get naked, that just seems wrong.”
Haley grinned. “He’s a patient, like any other. And he needs real nursing care, not just sympathy and back rubs. Believe me, I’d switch with you if Swanson wouldn’t blow a gasket over it.”
“At least you’re considering my gaskets before you make an arbitrary change.” The clipped voice made Haley and Aeesha look up from the counter. Dr. Sonia Swanson, their clinical supervisor, stood there beside a young man in a navy suit with the bluest eyes Haley had ever seen.
“Dr. Swanson . . .” Haley stammered. “We were just”
“Comparing notes? Broadcasting patients’ personal details? Displaying blatant unprofessionalism?” She glared at Haley and Aeesha as if they’d been dancing down the hall in bikinis.
“Sorry.” Haley wasn’t sure how much their instructor had heard, but she couldn’t let this incident impact her grade. With her test anxiety, she was counting on a high clinical evaluation to bring up her overall grade. Her scholarship would dry up if she didn’t maintain a B average, and she couldn’t afford to continue nursing school without that stipend. “We were just wondering if our patients might be better off if we made a switch.”
“We’re just trying to work things out so that we can play to our strengths,” Aeesha added. “No disrespect intended.”
“None taken.” Swanson pinched a button on her crisp white jacket with her name monogrammed over the pocket. “But before you go trading patients like stocks, you need to know that I don’t sling out assignments randomly. When you’re certified staff nurses, you’ll need to work with patients who do not play to your strengths, and you might as well learn to do it now.”
“I get your point,” Aeesha said, “but does it really matter if Haley changes a dressing while I help Mrs. Pendergrass onto the toilet?”
“It does.” Swanson cocked her head to the side, as if she needed to see Aeesha from a new angle. “You need to review your class notes on assessing patient needs. Mr. Yoder is showing signs of post-traumatic stress, and just because Mrs. Pendergrass isn’t diagnosed yet doesn’t mean she doesn’t deserve your time and attention.”
“We treat the body and the mind,” the young man said. “At least, we try to.”
When the man spoke up, Haley was glad to have a chance to ease away from the glare of her professor. He wasn’t from around hereshe could tell by the smooth suit and the crisp-collared shirt. Plenty of doctors wore suits, but they weren’t quite so designer perfect. Or was he too young to be a doctor? Haley couldn’t tell, but she liked his vibe. She would have smiled and chatted him up if she weren’t still facing the wrath of Swanson.
“Are you a doctor?” asked Aeesha.
Swanson gestured toward the young man and introduced Aeesha and Haley. “Meet Dr. Dylan Monroe. He just joined our staff as a psychologist.”
“I’ll be coordinating the community outreach program.”
So he was here to stay. That was good news. “Welcome to LanCo General, Dr. Monroe,” Haley said, trying to smooth over the shaky introduction. He probably thought she was a slacker, trying to dump Mrs. Pendergrass on another nursing student.
“Please . . . call me Dylan. If I’m going to blend with the community, I can’t stand on formality.”
As Dr. Monroe shook her hand, Haley wanted to tell him that there was no way he would blend in here wearing a suit like that. Lancaster County was the land of Amish and rolling hills, apple butter and quilts. But for once she kept her mouth shut and smiled up into his bedazzling eyes. The new doctor was one good-looking guy, but he didn’t seem to know it. By the end of the week, he’d be the talk of the nursing staff, students and RNs alike.
No wedding ring, Haley noticed. Of course, she was just curious, not looking for herself. After the disastrous results of a wedding called off at the last minute in June, she was taking a break from relationships and commitments. Her mind spun to the image of the gold band she’d purchased for Graham, which had been returned to the jeweler for a partial refund.
“Back to our patients.” Swanson looked up at the scheduling board, squinting in calculation. “Dylan, perhaps you can assist Haley in her assessment of Mrs. Pendergrass.”
He nodded. “I’d be happy to.”
Swanson turned to Aeesha. “As for our Amish patient, I will show you how to direct visitors out of the room so that you can care for Mr. Yoder.”
“It’s not that simple, Dr. Swanson,” Aeesha objected. “Believe me, I’ve tried.”
“Plain folk are very big on rules,” Dr. Swanson said, leading the way down the hall. “You just have to look them in the eye and communicate, same as with anyone else.” She motioned Aeesha away from the nurses’ station. “Come on. Let me show you how we do it.”
“So . . .” Dylan turned to Haley, showering her with the full force of his blue eyes. “Where is Mrs. Pendergrass?”
“In 312.” She pointed down the hall, reminding herself to breathe. What was this stupid, silly giddiness brought on by this man? It was more than the embarrassment over the bad first impression she must have made. She hadn’t felt this way since . . . well, since her parents had given her a puppy for her thirteenth birthday.
“You’re new here?” she asked cordially.
“This is my first day.”
“Where did you come from?”
“St. Xavier in Philadelphia.”
“What brought you here? You don’t look like the type to be lured by Amish quilts and jams.”
“Really?” The corner of his mouth curved a bit. “So I guess you’re not interested in my quilt collection.”
“I’m just saying, most city people who head out this way are looking for a quaint country weekend. They don’t come to stay.”
“City life doesn’t hold much appeal for me anymore,” he said as they walked side by side down the corridor. “And I am interested in the Amish, but not for their quilts. I’d like to develop a community outreach program for the Amish. A program that really works.”
“But they keep to themselves.” Haley considered her personal experiences, growing up side by side with the Amish here in Lancaster County. “I’ve lived here all my life, and I’ve barely exchanged a dozen words with Amish people. Mostly I notice them when I’m passing their horse-drawn buggies on the road or waiting in line behind them at Walmart or the ice-cream parlor.”
“Even Old Order Amish are allowed to be treated by medical doctors,” Dylan pointed out.
“But you’re a psychologist. You think they’re going to turn to you with their problems?”
“That’s the way the psych thing works.”
“I don’t think they’ll go for that. They’ve got lots of family and ministers to help them work things out. You won’t find an Amish person in therapy or anything.”
He turned to her, rubbing his knuckles over his chin. “Do you like seeing rain ruin a parade? Ice-cream scoops drop from cones? Babies cry?”
“I’m not that way. I’m just telling you”
“Someday we’ll have the conversation about the glass being half full or half empty. For now, tell me about the patient.”
Haley swallowed back the defense of her cheerful disposition and reeled off Mrs. Pendergrass’s profile. “She’s eighty-two and lives alone. No significant medical history, but came to the ER with complaints of abdominal pain. Nothing showed up in her film or blood work.”
“So far there’s no diagnosis?”
“Right, but she’s very cranky. She’s worried that the pain will return once she’s home alone.”
“And do you think her pain is real?” he asked.
“I know it’s real,” she said carefully. “I just don’t know if there’s a medical explanation for it.”
“Excellent answer, Haley. Do you think she’ll mind if I ask her some questions?”
“I think she’ll like it.” I would definitely like it, she thought.
Outside the patient’s door, he reached for Mrs. Pendergrass’s chart. His hand brushed hers as she gave him the clipboard, a casual contact that seemed so personal. It was personal. This was a guy who lived in the moment, not like the other doctors who seemed to have their minds on a thousand different things.
“Mrs. P is a talker.”
“That works. I’m a listener.”
Looking up at him, she suspected Dylan Monroe was an excellent listener.
Later that day, before her shift ended, she checked the schedule and changed her hours to coincide with Dr. Monroe’s. Sometimes destiny brought people together. And sometimes destiny needed a slight schedule change.
Elsie Lapp stepped onto a stool so that she could open the curtains to the warm glow of the sun rising over the trees. Orange and pink chased away the purple and sapphire of the night sky, promising another glorious day. Cold air seeped in, and she traced her fingers along the sill to a gap at the base of the windowpane.