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I hold up my hand.
“Not today. Let’s not discuss that one. Okay? Let me just wrap my head around the fact that you’re retiring and I’ll likely be out of a job, and then tomorrow, we can keep coming up with ideas.”
His words stab me in the gut. Poor Dr. Lopez. It’s not his fault this is happening. What is he supposed to do, work himself into the grave just so I can have a steady job? (Yes.) No. I don’t want that for him.
I shake my head. “Don’t worry about it. Tomorrow things will look better. I know it.” I start to walk away. “And hey, thanks for trying. It was worth a shot, right?”
I break the news that we’ll be living on the streets to Josie over dinner. We’re eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and baby carrots, a pitiful dinner by anyone’s standards. It’s not that I don’t make good money as a surgical assistant, it’s just not great money. Twice a month, my paycheck hits my bank account, and as soon as the money goes in, it goes right back out thanks to credit card payments and rent and health insurance and cell phone bills and groceries and, and, and…it’s not easy, but we’re making do. I regret having to use credit cards to get us through the lean years back when I was getting certified, but I didn’t have any other option. Josie’s with me because our parents passed away in a car accident.
Their death was sudden and unplanned. No life insurance policies. No wills. I finished paying off their funeral costs two years after we buried them. Side note: funeral homes don’t appreciate you suggesting you’ll just make the caskets yourself. (Those things are expensive!)
The reality that they are gone gone, not just at-work gone or out-of-town gone still sinks into me like a sharp dagger whenever I think about it, but guess who doesn’t have the luxury of grief? Raises hand.
It’s just me and Josie. All that matters now is that we have each other and I won’t let her down.
“I’ll find another position,” I promise. “I was totally kidding about living on the streets.”
She shrugs. “I think it’d be fun to be homeless. I’ve always wanted to live under a bridge like a troll.”
“I mean it.” Her brown eyes are wide with wonder. “Think of how cool I’ll be at school when I tell everyone I’m a vagabond!” Then she tilts her head to the side and frowns as if realizing something. “It really does suck that you sold your car a while back. It was a clunker, but we could have lived in it if times got tough.”
I set my sandwich down and lean forward to ensure she’s really listening.
“Josie, we aren’t going to get kicked out of here. That was a bad joke. I’m going to find another doctor to work for. Now eat your dinner or no Grey’s Anatomy tonight.”
She stuffs the rest of her sandwich in her mouth in one fell swoop. Then she chugs her milk and sticks her tongue out like a mental patient proving they swallowed their medicine.
“Am I excused now?”
She doesn’t wait for me to reply, just scoots back and leaves me there to finish my meal by myself. I take a bite of the stale bread and convince myself I’m eating at a Michelin-starred restaurant. That’s not water, it’s champagne, and that line of ants trailing along the baseboard over there in perfect formation? That’s called having dinner and a show.
My brain breaks down my current predicament while I finish eating. I honestly have no clue what to do. If none of the spine surgeons want me, I could switch specialties, but retraining would take months, if not years, and I happen to like spine. I could switch to another hospital or move to another city, but I don’t want to have to pull Josie out of school and away from her friends unless it’s absolutely necessary.
I could potentially go back and grovel at the feet of Dr. Goddard, Dr. Richards, or Dr. Smoot, but honestly, I know they aren’t going to change their minds. If they turned me down with Dr. Lopez there to vouch for me, they really don’t need me.
I do the dishes, wipe down the counter, tuck away the loaf of bread, and set out ant bait. Then, as I’m walking out of the kitchen, I flip the light off, and there in the darkness, I finally allow myself to consider my last, desperate, really-not-an-option option:
Working for Dr. Russell.
The devil incarnate.
Everyone at the practice calls him that, but I was the one to draw that hilarious picture of him in the lounge. Kirt was crying and I felt bad for him because he’s 6’ 3’’ and built like a linebacker and I honestly had no idea so many tears could come out of a man that size. He was blowing his nose into a tissue I’d passed him and crying so hard I couldn’t understand him, so I added the devil horns and red tail to Dr. Russell’s headshot as a distraction. Everyone laughed and Kirt stopped crying, but I instantly regretted it.
Just the thought of Dr. Russell ever finding out about that picture sends a shiver down my spine.
There’s no way I can work for him.
Maybe Josie’s right—would living on the streets really be so bad?
I’ve been accused of being set in my ways by a few people in my life, and they’re right. I rely on routine. I eat the same breakfast every morning: protein smoothie, four egg whites scrambled with freshly cracked pepper, turkey sausage, and two cups of coffee (one right when I wake up and one when I arrive at work). After breakfast, I work out. That routine stays the same every day too. Cardio. Weights—not so much that I’m an over-engorged beast, but enough that I can stand over an operating table for nine hours and torque a spine without breaking a sweat. Core work is vital.
I wake up at 4:00 AM Monday through Friday, and I’m in my office by 5:30. If there’s a resident or a fellow on my team, I prefer for them to meet me at this time so we can go over the case schedule before we start rounding. During rounds, I check that post-op patients are recovering and go over any final questions with my pre-op patients and their guardians. I’ve learned to pad this time. Parents are always nervous, and children always come up with the most random, curious questions. Often, it’s about the anesthesia.
“You mean I won’t remember anything? It’ll feel like I’m sleeping? Will I dream?”
Today, I’m in the office at 5:00 AM, even earlier than usual. I have a routine procedure scheduled in a few hours, but I wanted to spend some time looking over Fiona’s file. Her parents aren’t sure they want to go through with the surgery. They’re confused why so many doctors turned her away and yet I’m willing to try. They don’t want to put their daughter in danger, which is understandable, but still, my gut tells me they’ll be back. Her case is severe and they’re going to be completely out of options soon. When that time comes, I want to be ready.
Unfortunately, when I arrive at my desk, I discover I won’t have the thirty minutes of uninterrupted time I was craving. My voicemail announces thirteen unheard messages, and there are a few dozen emails demanding responses. Two doctors are requesting a surgical visit in the upcoming week. Another one is asking for my assistance on a case on the west coast. It’s not unusual as there are so few of us who specialize in complex pediatric scoliosis.
Before I reply to the emails, the blinking red light from my office phone demands my attention. I press play and listen while I tidy up my desk. Three of the messages are from Victoria, telling me “it’s nothing urgent” but asking me to call her back as soon as possible. I wonder why she didn’t just call my cell phone, and then I remember I forgot to give her my new number. It wasn’t intentional, but now I wonder if it’s not better this way.
I have no idea what she’d want to talk to me about, but since it’s not urgent, I skip past her message and make a mental note to get back to her when I have the time.
“Knock knock!” Dr. Lopez says from the hallway as he opens the door and waltzes into my office without a care in the world. “Do you have a second?”
I don’t look up. “No.”
Undeterred, he walks in to take a seat across from me. I think he’s half-tempted to prop his feet up and interlace his fingers behind his head, but he knows that’d be pushing it too far.