The stack of papers had diminished in size and the heat rising off his half eaten cashew chicken and basmati had long since disappeared when Wilson heard a faint scraping.
He’d heard it all of his life. The door to his apartment when he was a kid, and he’d huddled under the blankets as his father clenched the Slugger in both hands. He’d heard it again when he worked at the 7-11 on 5th, and those times, it was his turn to reach for the baseball bat beneath the counter. In the past few years, it happened every now and again. Wilson had learned it was better to head them off. Send them packing before they got in. No need to involve the police that way; the prisons were full enough as it was.
Wilson stood up and winced as a muscle in his back reminded him how tight it was.
Damn I’m getting old. He started to walk down the hallway.
Two people cast their silhouettes on the frosted glass door like shadows on the wall in a child’s midnight drama. At least these ones had the decorum to pick the lock instead of putting a mark on the shatterproof glass.
Wilson knocked on the door and the two figures jumped away.
“You won’t be getting your fix tonight,” Wilson said, recalling the authoritative tone of his attending back in residency.
There was a burst of hushed conversation outside the door.
“Get on your way!” Wilson said.
“Please, we need your help,” a man’s voice easily cut through the glass that a bullet could not hope to pierce.
Wilson was silent. He’d heard of the scam already. It routinely worked on the old school doctors.
“Please, she’s bleeding.”
Something clicked in Wilson’s head and he realized why it worked on the old school doctors. The good ones didn’t turn away someone in need. He reached forward and unlocked the door. His heart trembled at the sight: one man supporting a pregnant woman. There was a wet darkness staining her pants.
“Hurry, come in, I’m the doctor,” Wilson felt a better part of him taking over as he ushered the couple through the doors.
He opened the first exam room door and rushed them inside, then he helped the man get the woman up on the exam table.
“What’s your name?” Wilson asked the man.
The man hesitated.
“Spit it out.”
“Brandon, I need you to stay calm.”
“Okay,” Brandon’s face was ashen.
“What’s your name, honey?” Wilson asked the girl. Sweat poured down the contorted mask of her face.
“Carrie,” Brandon answered for her.
“Carrie, I’m going to need to take off your pants, is that okay?”
“Yes,” she groaned.
Wilson and Brandon peeled Carrie’s pants off and Wilson stepped in to examine. She was a bloody mess and as Wilson processed it, he froze.
What the hell am I supposed to do?
“Are you in pain?” Wilson asked, looking up at her. “Stupid question. When did you start bleeding?”
Carrie started to answer but Brandon finished for her. “About an hour.”
“That’s okay. That’s fine.” Wilson wiped away the blood with some linens and took a closer look. She was heavily dilated.
“She needs a hospital,” he finally said. Wilson hadn’t delivered a baby in well over a decade, and that one had been uncomplicated.
“We can’t,” Brandon said. Wilson looked up at Brandon seriously.
“She could die.”
“We can’t!” Brandon said again.
“I’m not listening to this,” Wilson replied. He reached for his phone.
“Give me one good reason,” Wilson held the phone between them.
“They’ll take her away!”
The realization hit him like a line of cocaine. The couple’s skin was coated with the grit and grime of travel and both had heavy bags under their eyes. Their clothes were unwashed and ragged and Brandon’s beard hadn’t seen the pull of a razor in months. They weren’t registered. Wilson’s eyes flitted to Brandon’s wrist. It was covered with a bandana. Brandon followed Wilson’s gaze.
Brandon wasn’t lying. They would take both of them away. There were rumours about what happened to nodents. Wilson wasn’t sure which ones were true, if any of them, but he wouldn’t wish the nicest of them on his worst enemy.
“I’ll do my best.”
Wilson fell into a pattern. The bleeding was wrong. It was too much. As he felt for the baby through Carrie’s stomach, his memory worked to find the source of the bleeding. An abruption?
His mind found through a solution. Wilson didn’t like the odds, but it could work.
“I need a few things,” he said quickly. Wilson dashed from the room and grabbed a few pieces from the storage room, then returned.
Carrie was breathing hard and sweating profusely. When he probed her, she was barely responsive.
“Carrie, I need you to stay with me, we’re going to get the baby out. I need you to push okay?”
Carried moaned, but pushed weakly.
“I know it hurts, but you need to push harder,” Wilson shot a look at Brandon and Brandon jumped to her side.
Carrie pushed again. And again, and Wilson lost track of how many times she pushed. It was terrifying, but it was exhilarating. It was medicine. It was patient care. It was an experience all too rare.
He caught the baby as it finally slipped out and Carrie slumped, falling into shock. Wilson clipped the cord and handed the wailing and bloodied newborn to Brandon.
Wilson wasn’t sure how he did it, but as he worked, the bleeding stopped. It was a blur. He had a line running artiBlood, but she was still a long way from conscious.
When he finally stepped away, his formerly pristine coat was speckled with red, soaked in places.
“I think she’ll make it,” Wilson said. He stood straighter, prouder, as he addressed Brandon. “Are you the father?”
“Yes,” Brandon said quietly, cradling his daughter in his arms.
“Congratulations, she’s beautiful.”
“Thank you. Thank you for everything.”
“It’s my job,” Wilson replied. He felt right saying that. Such a different feeling. No, not different. It was a long lost familiarity that probed his heart, quickening his pulse. Wilson was more alive at that moment than he’d been on his first day of residency. He was reawakened.
Wilson looked up at the sound of the clinic door opening for too long and boots filing into the waiting room.
“Doctor Robert Wilson,” a voice said calmly.
“Stay here,” Wilson whispered.
He shrugged off his lab coat and stepped out into the hall, following the voice as it repeated his name. In the waiting room, he found four uniformed men, appropriately, waiting for him.
“What do you want.” Wilson said.
“Your clinic was flagged for emergency response citing unregistered use of pharmaceuticals.”
“Marta.” Wilson whispered. She had warned him. They’d seen the drugs and transfusion he used. How he longed for the good old days.
“Explain,” the man in charge said.
“I had to do right,” Wilson said lamely. They weren’t listening. He felt the cuffs close around his wrists.
– ∇ –
They only kept him overnight. Just long enough to process the papers that would bar him from practice. Some called it a forced early retirement, but even they knew the truth. Doctor Robert Wilson would not be practicing again. Time to find a new GP.
Word spread quickly through the community about what had happened. When he asked around, nobody knew what had become of the nodents. Brandon and Carrie and…
God, what did they name their daughter?
Wilson opened the door to the clinic; he had leave to collect his things. He avoided the stares from his staff as he walked through the waiting room in his slept-in and soiled clothing. He walked pointedly, though his purpose was diminished by his hand on his back and the shame in his eyes.
He sighed slowly as he shut the door behind him, and shut out the world at the same time. He sat down at his desk and yearned for the strips in The Times. Anything to make life a little lighter. But he’d missed the delivery that morning.
He looked down at his desk and noticed a small capsule sitting on top of a handwritten note. If he’d been another sort of doctor, he might have recognized the pill right away, but on that morning, he didn’t.
Here’s a free sample. Enjoy.
Wilson picked up the pill and held it between his thumb and forefinger.
“So that’s how it keeps happening,” he mused. He had done the first bit of real medicine in over ten years, and for it, he had lost his licence. Lost his livelihood. Lost his reason for living. He’d always lived for medicine, and in a way, they’d taken that away from him a long time ago. Then again, maybe it was his fault. He’d lost it all when he let Lena go.
He glanced back at yesterday’s Times sitting in the wastepaper basket, and the pieces fell into place. “I understand, Doctor Knowles,” Wilson swallowed the pill dry, “to the patient.”