The road you take
Julie had a tiring call from the night before. She had two active CPRs, several cases in the asthma bay as well as three isolated drowning cases from two separate locations.
‘The storms and floods are getting worse.’ The Emergency physician sounded alarmed in his morning briefing. ‘We are to expect more cases to -forgive me- FLOOD in, and I have asked our friends in all disciplines to be of extra help whenever they can. I have also sent out personal notices to our primary care clinics and the town council is meeting next week to discuss emergency drills in case – you know- it ever comes to that.’
Daniel sat quietly behind, closing his eyes and calming his nerves. It was the end of his shift and he had a movie date planned. It was his mother’s idea, and he couldn’t say ‘NO’. The suitor was an engineer who worked for a huge Chinese Petrochemical Company. She was single, Malay and Muslim; a noteworthy trifecta. Besides that, she was moderate in her faith, free-haired, skinny, and just a tad shorter than the boy himself. His mother was already taken by her smile and sense of filial piety, through just one example of watching the girl help her own mother with their groceries in their local supermarket. It was more than satisfactory for her to convince herself that this girl might be the ‘ONE’ for her little Daniel, instead of, in her words, ‘that Chinese whore that broke his heart’.
‘Finally, a word of caution. Please be safe on the wet, slippery roads. We don’t want you yourselves coming in as patients. Then you will have to treat yourselves.’ The man ended his speech, giggling unreciprocated to his own morbid sense of humour.
Daniel was quick. He wiped the sweat and grime off his face and changed his scrubs back into the formal-wears he came with the night before. He walked out the side door, hoping no one would notice him and rushed ahead to clock out. The rains were pouring heavy outside, but the cold was felt equally inside.
A screeching yelp from his left, in the distance. He had to turn toward it, out of courtesy, though he knew who it was and had no intention to strike a conversation.
‘Wait!’ she kept running toward him, halting to a stop just a few meters away. ‘I thought I would catch you before you head home.’
‘Dr Julie. How are you?’ Daniel smiled.
‘Can we,’ she gasped eyeing the cafeteria to their right, hoping to wet her throat, ‘…talk?’
‘SURE!’ reluctant, but as it was his nature, his obliged anyway.
They sat in the cafeteria, opposing each other. Daniel eyed his watch. ‘I hope she isn’t going to be waiting for me long,’ he thought about his date, and imagined how she looked like.
‘It won’t take long.’ Julie gathered her thoughts. ‘I just need to ask you something.’
‘You sure this is the best place? There are eyes everywhere, and cameras.’
‘At this point I don’t even care. To hell with everything and everyone. If Siti has a problem with two colleagues just having a drink, then she’s clearly lost it.’
Though tired, Daniel was beginning to get intrigued. ‘So, what is it?’
‘You were her friend. I mean Sheila. And, you were there.’
Daniel had just revisited that night in his dreams and he remembered waking up drenched in sweat and urine as per usual. It ruined his sleep and disturbed his concentration during his early morning prayers. He didn’t want to think about it.
Daniel noticed the water in the glass on top the table ripple and stir, only that it was from his hands, actively shaking from underneath.
‘Ya, Allah, ya Rahman,’ he told himself. ‘Dr Julie, I don’t want to do this.’ He got up.
‘Daniel please, wait.’
The house officer was getting anxious, and people were starting to turn their heads toward them.
Julie insisted. ‘I just need to know if she said anything, whether about me, or to me to for me. Just anything?’
‘Daniel tightened his lips and sat back down. ‘I’m sorry, but like I told everyone else before, she didn’t say anything. She just…’
It was apparent that Julie wasn’t content with that response. ‘Why?’ Daniel enquired, ‘Why her? Why now?’
‘You know her. She was obsessed with me.’
‘As you were with her.’
‘Come on Daniel. You’ve been a houseman in our department before. You know how many of you desperately try to seek our approval, each with their own sob stories. “Mamma” puts up with a lot of her ducklings’ antics.’
‘No. I don’t buy it. Sheila was different and personal to you, – the ugly duckling- maybe, if I was to follow the analogy. It had to be. Otherwise you wouldn’t be here.’
‘For a long time, I thought the girl had only gotten herself in trouble yet again with another superior. But then, I started to really think back.’
Daniel’s pocket vibrated. He took out his phone and there was a message from ‘Amelia’ – the girl he was supposed to meet in an hour. ‘We still on for tonight?’ she added a smiley face emoji.
Daniel quickly replied, ‘Yes,’ and turned his phone face down. He brought his shoulders closer to the table, as if cueing the woman before him to proceed.
‘I had a conversation with Dr Satya about this several weeks ago, and maybe I forgot, but it has been so long, in my defence. We tend to forget – you know- how it was back then, how it felt like, to be in your exact shoes. Granted, times have changed, and you are a bunch of snowflakes compared to us. Still, you get it. You know how it feels, and that makes it relatable in some way I guess.’
‘I don’t understand the point you are trying to make,’
‘I’m saying I don’t know if I was right by her.’
‘I can’t tell you that Dr Julie and I’m sorry, but neither can she.’ Daniel exclaimed. He always wanted to yell at her for the way she treated him, Sheila, and many of his other friends. ‘It’s a little too LATE for that,’ he added.
Julie smirked, ‘As much as it pleases you to watch me agonize in my own guilt, I can tell you for a fact that the girl was strong. She wouldn’t have just – you know- KILLED herself. It’s just stuff about work, about patients. I mean, she was a tough girl. I KNOW she was.’ Julie eyes was watery.
‘She never told us what you told her. So, I can’t really.’
‘It was just something someone told me. Yes, it did make me stronger and that was all that mattered. That’s housemanship. That’s the road you take. It makes you really appreciate what you have.’
‘And now you look back and laugh at the old days?’
‘Yes, most times we do, Daniel.’
‘And the person who said those mean and horrible things to you. What about that person?’
‘Never saw him again. Well, I actively tried to avoid him. I still hate him. He is retired now anyway. So, the odds of meeting him is extremely slim.’
‘Unless he shows up as patient.’ Daniel chuckled.
A rumble echoed through the walls of the cafeteria. The rains poured even heavier. ‘I’m sorry Dr Julie, but I have a dinner that I…’
‘Oh, I’m so sorry to keep you waiting. Tell Jenny I said ‘HI!’’
Daniel smiled. ‘Dr Julie, Jenny and I are no longer…’
‘Oh!’ she backed away, ‘I’m sorry… again.’
‘It’s fine. It’s been months.’
Julie was genuinely apologetic and even Daniel could see the regret in her eyes. ‘It’s alright Dr Julie. It was a mutual thing. You don’t have to feel bad for us.’
‘Sorry,’ curious, she couldn’t stop herself from pursuing a line of questions. ‘It’s just. You guys were so perfect. Was it a religion thing?’
Daniel had no intention to answer that. Deep down he knew lines were about to be crossed and he was not comfortable. Still, to be rude was not how Daniel was raised. ‘Well. She (Jenny) says it is. But I don’t think that’s true. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have even started the thing.’
‘That sounds complicated. I once dated a Muslim you know. It also didn’t end well.’
Daniel pretended that it was news to him. Anyone who was anyone knew that it was Mr Jamal she was referring to. Perhaps it was the timing but Daniel sure wasn’t interested. He got up once more, politely signalling his time to leave. He pulled his courage and turned to face away.
‘They just use us for our asses until the next one comes along, don’t they?’ Her voice cracked between quiet sniffles and supressed sobs.
Daniel physically froze, symptomatic, a clear product of his upbringing. He closed his eyes and sighed. Without hesitation, he turned back and resat on his chair, giving Julie his full attention. His phone vibrated again in exactly an hour, to which he just replied, ‘Sorry. Rain cheque?’ not even realising the pun.
Julie was deeply remorseful that she ruined Daniel’s evening. She even offered to apologize to the girl, but Daniel stopped her from making things any worse for him. That night, Daniel and Amelia called each other over the phone and easily spoke for the hours they lost under bed sheet covers like little high-schoolers. It started off with just casual things, keeping it light.
‘And I just kept pressing and pressing on it,’ Daniel couldn’t stop giggling, ‘and his bowels just kept slipping out between my fingers. Thank the mighty God they rushed him to theatre.’ He thought he could share an incident that happened that same morning.
‘Gross! Can we like talk about something else instead of some old guy’s bowels?’ she chuckled back, politely hiding her awkwardness.
Amelia was not like Jenny, or any other girl in the Medical profession. She wasn’t going to appreciate his twisted sense of humour, nor would she understand his casual rants about people who showed up to him as patients. Strangely, he wasn’t dissuaded or put off by it. Perhaps it was time he hung out with people who behaved more ‘normal’. Then again, he knew that Jenny would have been on the floor by now if it was her, cackling to herself in a way that was pathognomonic to Jenny and Jenny alone.
‘Hi Jen,’ he texted her number, in deep thoughts. His heart was suddenly racing. ‘I missed you.’ His thumbs twiddled. He cursed himself and deleting it before it was sent. He closed his eyes again and sighed. There was no reply and soon, he was in a deep restless slumber with his phone clenched hard in his grip.
He woke up that night on the floor, fallen from the side of his bed, drenched in sweat, with a pounding headache, and cursed himself once more. He noticed that his phone had bounced off the floor flashing a message sent nearly 2 hours ago.
‘Hi Daniel,’ it read, and he couldn’t have been happier.
Julie went home feeling sorry for what had happened to Daniel and Jenny. She couldn’t stop thinking about Sheila, after months of trying to avoid in among gossip circles. Julie had also just learned that Tzen was meeting with Dr Satya, Damia had gone through a divorce and apparently there was this other person called Ram who had left some time back due to sudden unprecedented ‘disciplinary’ issues. Then, there was also this overzealous detective that kept snooping about every chance she could trying to solve a case that didn’t quite exist.
‘This is one complicated gang of interns,’ she laughed by herself.
The television was on, and it was more of background noise, really. Julie took out her little notebook. As it was customary to her, she would pour through some notes, in preparation for her next professional exam. It was now going to be her 5th attempt.
She stared at the cover for a while, under the dimmed glimmer of her lampstand. There was an illustration of two toddlers playing by a tree, freely, without any barricades of fear, status or responsibility. She wondered how she had never noticed before. Something about it just put her mood off and she flung the little booklet to the side.
‘You WIN.’ She cried, in the emptiness of her four walls. ‘FINE-LAH! You WIN OK?’ dulled by the noise of the television and the rain patter, her screams reached no one.
Julie got up to reach her medicine cabinet, behind her bathroom mirror. Her head was screaming for some Paracetamol. She caught a glimpse of her tired reflection. ‘You just can’t keep making me feel bad. I didn’t kill you. You’re just…’
Julie suddenly remembered her surgeon, from all those years back.
‘Don’t ever come to work again. With this ineptitude, you dare call yourself a doctor? You’re a murderer. I would never trust you, not even in my deathbed, Dear Lord Jesus, I pray you never become my doctor.’
Julie started laughing by herself, thinking of her reflection and the many times she has seen herself in that mirror, in the smiles of her smallest inconsequential victories, the worries of her aging wrinkles and drying womb, the painful sexual moans given to her by men who meant nothing to her, and in the ugly grimace and tears of all her disappointments in the thirty-plus years of her existence.
What was she now? Who was THIS person? She clasped hard the ceramic of the sink below, putting all her weight on it. A sudden burst of rage took over as she started vigorously shaking it against its foundations to the wall.
’ARGHHHHHH! She screamed her lungs out; the noises of in that toilet amplifying in a deafening horror. She then brought her palms close to her face and started repeatedly hitting herself. Bruised, she looked at her face in the reflection once more, and slammed her palms against the glass, vigorously until it finally shattered and started falling piece by piece onto the sink and tile below.
She pushed herself back against the wall of her narrow bathroom, weeping and wailing, her hands and soles were red, wet, and dripping. Julie fell to her bottom, sitting in a puddle of her own blood, and laid there until the pain finally crept in and the sounds of rain patter was prominent to her again.
The very next morning, Julie took her first ever emergency leave, something she never thought she would do in all her years of service.
‘She said she had some family thing. I hope everything is alright.’ Dr Anna, the Internist on-call shared with the others in the department over their morning coffee in the briefing room. ‘I really hope everything is alright,’ she repeated herself with genuine concern over her subordinate.
Julie was ashamed at herself from the night before. ‘Maybe it was exactly the outburst you needed, Julie,’ she told herself. The Medical Officer decided to drive down to a hospital to seek medical attention for her wounds. She of course, chose another hospital apart from hers, quite a few districts away. She wasn’t going to be the talk of the town. So, she sprang out of bed, somehow bandaged both her hands, popped a fistful of non-drowsy pain killers, and steadily with the help of a miracle or two, maneuvered her steering wheel with both wrists to the Emergency room of a Hospital Maran, about three hours away.
As luck would have it, as soon she met with their triage, Emergency called Orthopedics for a consult and the first person they sent over to see their patient was none other that the houseman called Dr Ram.
‘Shit!’ She pretended that it was all unplanned, in fact she was counting on it that Ram would show up based on Daniel’s account.
‘Shit! -to you too!’ Ram replied, smug. Then he remembered her, from stories. ‘Dr Julie? From Hospital Puchong.’
Julie sneered. ‘I thought you were in Surgical.’
‘Can’t be in Surgical forever, right?’ he approached her and carefully and meticulously removed her bandages over the sink. Julie tried talking to through all the wincing to distract herself.
‘So, they been treating you right?’
‘Grass is greener, huh? You never did Medical over there. I’m sure it’s better here. The whole hospital looks- well, cozy- if you get my drift.’
‘I guess. You seem to think you know me quite well though, despite having never met me.’ Ram was finally done uncovering her wounds. There was blood everywhere. ‘How?’
‘My lamp fell on it.’
‘No, I mean how do you know about me?’
‘You’re a celebrity. How can I not?’ she smiled. Ram was amused.
‘And the cuts? A lamp? Really?’ Ram didn’t believe it. ‘Looks like you got into a fight Dr. And I know “fights”.’
‘Please! Me?’ Julie tried to cheer herself up in the pain.
‘I’ll get you intramuscular drugs for the pain.’
‘Yeah. You do that.’
Ram excused himself to prepare his injection. He studied the vials and drew the right dosage. He readied the syringe with voltaren, prepped with a sterile needle attached it, all placed in a cute little tray and brought it close to her.
‘I’ll have to pull your pants down a little to expose your upper buttock.’
‘Like hell you are.’ She rolled up her sleeve and presented to him her right shoulder.
‘OK?!’ Ram flicked the syringe to remove air bubbles and use an alcohol skin prep on her skin before counting to three and puncturing the needle into her Deltoids. ‘ARGHH! Julie moaned under her breath.
‘That should help with the pain. Now…’
‘Save it for the other dim-wits, would you? I just need to get this over with.’
‘I’ll have to do a proper assessment.’ He said while loosely covering the wound with a clean towel.
‘I can move all fingers, and nothing looks blue. It’s obvious the cuts aren’t that bad. Just stitch me up, give me the day off, and send me home.’ She looked at his puzzled face, ‘PLEASE!’ she begged.
‘Fine!’ Ram set aside his frustrations and complied to his patient’s wishes. ‘I’ll get the stitching set ready. We’ll finish this up and send you home. That’s all you want right?’
‘Yes!’ Julie stammered, watching dried blood pooling at the edge of nails. ‘I mean NO! There is another thing.’
‘This detective, – Nora or something-, any chance you might know how I can get to her?’
‘Nurul.’ Ram just stood there, stiff, his brows furrowed, his mind filled with a myriad of questions.
‘Dr Ram,’ Julie was getting impatient that look he kept giving her.
‘Could you please HURRY AND GET YOUR GODDAMN SET?’
‘Oh shit! Of course,’ Ram snapped back and rushed to help out his patient.