Summary: The tables are turned on Dr. Morton
April 1, 2001
“Look, Mr. Honeycutt, the truth of the matter is, you’re out of shape. This is the only body you’re ever gonna have, so if you continue to smoke, and drink, and ride your recliner every weekend rather than going out and getting some *exercise*, the next time you won’t be so lucky, and you’ll have a real heart attack. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes, Dr. Morton,” the patient said meekly, more like a chastened schoolboy than a 45-year-old man.
Dixie watched the exchange from the doorway, her brow furrowed with concern.
+ + + + +
“Little hard on him, wouldn’t you say?” Dix asked when Morton joined her at the nurse’s station ten minutes later.
“Who? Mr. Honeycutt?” the doctor asked incredulously.
The nurse arched an eyebrow in reply.
“Come on, Dix, I’m right and you know it. He’s a classic case. Comes home from work every night, pops a six-pack and watches the Dodgers. Then he has some chest pain and he wonders why. Someone had to set him straight.”
The woman said nothing, so finally Mike had to ask. “Right?”
“You’re probably right about his lifestyle, Dr. Morton,” she allowed. “But what I saw was a very scared man. It’s frightening, what we do here, you know--all the activity and the tests and everything we put him through. And he didn’t need you scaring him any more. ”
Morton scoffed. “I think that’s exactly what he needed,” the resident said forcefully. “Exactly. I’ll be in two.” And he walked away, effectively ending the discussion.
+ + + + +
“Hey Dix, what’s up?” John Gage asked as he and his partner approached the desk. The woman didn’t respond, and looked to be deep in thought.
“Dix??” he repeated, waving his hand in front of her to get her attention.
She came around, startled, and smiled sheepishly when she realized she’d been a million miles away. “Hi guys,” she said. “What can I do for you?”
“Where were _you_?” John asked with a grin.
“Ohhh, just thinking,” the nurse answered.
“We need some Ringer’s, Dix,” Roy told her, realizing that the woman probably didn’t want to talk about it.
“No kidding!” John continued, ignoring his partner’s attempts to change the subject. “What’s going on?”
“Nothing, Johnny, I’m fine,” Dixie said dismissively as she turned to get the IV solution from the cabinet behind her.
Dr. Morton approached the desk while Dix’s back was turned. “Dixie, would you please call x-ray for Mr. Santiago in three? He’ll need a full skull series.”
Dixie’s back straightened at the sound of Mike’s voice, and she didn’t turn. “Right away, doctor,” she said stiffly.
She waited until she was fairly certain was gone before she turned around. And she was immediately faced with Gage’s broad, knowing grin.
“Dix,” he said, drawing her name out conspiratorially, “what’s going on?”
“Come on, Johnny,” Roy said quietly, trying to lead his partner away.
Gage shook him off. “Come on, Dixie, what’s the deal?”
The nurse looked at the paramedic. She knew he had the tenacity of a bulldog sometimes, and she suspected this was one such time.
“We had a disagreement, that’s all,” she said, hoping in vain that it would satisfy him.
The young man leaned on the counter, his wide grin getting impossibly wider. He was clearly enjoying this.
“Johnny,” Roy entreated under his breath. But he, too, knew his efforts were in vain.
“’Bout what?” John continued, undaunted.
Dix studied the man splayed on her countertop and sighed. He’d get it out of her eventually. “Let’s just say it was. . .” she paused, choosing her words carefully, “. . . it was about our differing approaches to patient care.”
Gage stood up quickly. “I _knew_ it!” he said triumphantly. “Dix, how long have I been saying that guy has a lousy bedside manner, huh?” He didn’t wait for an answer before turning toward his partner. “Roy,” he declared, “haven’t I been saying that all along? Huh?”
DeSoto just looked at his partner impassively, his lips slightly pursed and his arms crossed tightly on his chest to convey his disapproval. He was staying out of it. He’d learned long ago that that was the best course of action.
“So,” the dark-haired paramedic continued, turning his attention back to the nurse. “What’d he do?”
“Nothing, Johnny, it doesn’t matter,” Dixie said forcefully, trying to end it there.
“But,” John started, but he was stopped by Roy, who had heard Dixie’s tone, and knew enough was enough.
“Come on, Johnny, we’ve gotta go.” He physically grabbed his partner by the arm, and started to pull him away. “Bye, Dix.”
“Bye, guys,” she said, trying to silently convey her gratitude to the older man with only her eyes. He gave her a slight grin, and she knew he understood.
“I’ve said it all along,” she heard Gage continue as he was led away. “Morton’s too hard on patients. They’re scared and sick; you can’t just go yellin’ at them like that.” The sound of his voice was fading as he got farther away from the desk, but still Dix could hear every word. “Remember when I hurt my shoulder? Remember how he chewed me out? And I didn’t _do_ anything! Man, I’m tellin’ ya, it’s not right. . . .”
She smiled and shook her head at the excitable young man’s diatribe as his voice faded around the corner, but there was one thing she couldn’t shake from her mind.
Johnny was right.
+ + + + +
“Rampart, be advised the victim is Dr. Morton.”
John Gage’s words reverberated in Dixie’s mind as she anxiously awaited the arrival of the ambulance. Mike had left the hospital not an hour earlier, after one of those murderous 36-hour shifts residents were routinely subjected to, and had somehow driven his car into a tree. Details were sketchy; no one was sure what had happened.
She had that sick feeling in the pit of her stomach that settled in whenever it was one of their own. Sure, she and Mike had had words a few days earlier, and had yet to mend their fences. But that didn’t mean she wasn’t scared out of her mind. She’d heard the concern in Johnny’s voice as he communicated with them. She knew Mike was seriously injured. It was just a matter of _how_ seriously.
The ambulance backed into place, and she was at Kelly Brackett’s side as the doors swung open. Gage’s grim expression as he helped lower the gurney to the ground spoke volumes.
“He complained of increased difficulty breathing on the way in,” Johnny reported as they entered the treatment room. “Further decreased breath sounds on the right. I upped the O2 to 10 liters.”
“Good Johnny, thanks,” Dix heard Dr. Brackett tell the paramedic. They lifted Mike onto the treatment room table, and the young doctor cried out in pain.
“Ahh Jesus,” he exclaimed, his breaths coming in short, pain-filled gasps.
“Mike,” Gage took a moment to say, “I don’t need to tell you that you’re in good hands. Take it easy now.” The paramedic gave his patient a reassuring squeeze on the shoulder and quietly let himself out of the room.
“Dix, draw blood. I want the works. But get a blood gas first.” She forced herself to push back her own shock and get to work.
“Kel, I can’t breathe,” Morton said urgently. Fear was not a tone of voice they were used to hearing from the brash physician. But there was no doubt he was scared now.
“It’s all right,” the doctor promised. “You just relax.” Dixie caught Kel looking at her, and she turned her attention to their patient’s wrist, readying it to draw the blood they needed.
“You’ll feel a stick, Mike,” the nurse said before she drove the needle straight into the artery in his wrist. He squealed in pain and tried to pull his arm away, but the nurse was ready for it, and held fast. He should know better, she knew. But she also knew he wasn’t thinking like a doctor right now. She pulled the needle out and applied pressure to stop the bleeding. The rest of the blood they needed she’d get from an easier stick in his elbow.
“Can’t breathe, can’t breathe,” Morton kept exhaling as Brackett conducted his examination.
The portable x-ray arrived. “Full skull series, chest, pelvis, left wrist and hand, left ankle,” he ordered before ushering Dix from the room. “We’ll be right back, Mike,” he promised.
The last thing the nurse heard was Mike moaning in pain as the x-ray tech started to move him.
“Collapsed lung?” she asked Brackett once they were outside.
“Yeah, looks like it,” Kel said thoughtfully, the corner of his mouth hitching upward slightly as it often did when he was concerned. “Hope that’s all it is,” he added.
A cry of pain could be heard from within the treatment room, and Dixie cringed.
+ + + + +
The blood gas readings came back; the oxygen level in Mike’s blood was dangerously low, and Kel decided to insert the chest tube without further delay.
“Don’t, don’t, STOP!” Mike pleaded during the excruciating procedure.
Dixie held him down and tried to calm him. “It’ll be over in a minute, and then you’ll be able to breathe better,” she told him. “Just hold on. One more minute.”
The tube was in place before the x-rays came back and confirmed that Mike had four broken ribs. One of them must have caused the pneumothorax. In addition, he had a broken ankle and two broken bones in his left hand. But that looked to be the extent of his injuries.
“Let’s give him some more meperidine,” she heard Brackett tell her, and she went to the cabinet to get the painkiller. The worst was over for Mike now, she hoped.
“Mike,” Kel was saying, attempting to capture the injured man’s full attention. Dr. Morton tried his best to accommodate, but Dix could still see the pain and fear in his eyes.
“You have some broken ribs and a collapsed lung,” the doctor started. “and a broken ankle and hand. But all in all, I’d say you were very lucky. Johnny said your car was totaled.”
“My hand?” Mike asked. He’s a surgeon; of course he’d worry about the hand.
“Simple fractures of the second and third metacarpals, Mike. Don’t worry about it too much,” Brackett said with a slight reassuring grin. “But Dr. Mitchell is going to take care of it for you. Nothing but the best,” he added, naming the head of Orthopedics. “You just relax. We’ll get your hand and ankle taken care of, then settle you into a room and you can get some rest. You’re going to be with us for a bit, I’m afraid.” Kel patted his resident on the shoulder and turned to leave.
“Thanks, Kel,” Mike said quietly.
The doctor turned around to look at his patient one more time. “Don’t mention it,” he said. This time when he started to leave, he motioned Dixie to accompany him.
“Well, that was a scare,” Brackett said with a relieved sigh as soon as they were in the hallway.
“I’ll say,” Dixie agreed. “For us _and_ for him.”
+ + + + +
Her shift had ended, but before she went home Dixie decided to check on Mike. She knew his broken bones had been set and he’d been admitted and was ‘doing well,’ but still she wanted to see for herself. She pushed his door open quietly. His arm and ankle were propped up on pillows; his eyes were closed, and she studied his breathing for a bit. It was better, much better, but still being aided by oxygen.
Satisfied, she turned to leave.
“Dix,” he said quietly.
She turned to find him looking at her. “You should be asleep,” she chided.
“Mmmm Hmmm,” he agreed, shifting slightly and grimacing.
“Are you in pain, Mike? I can talk to Kel.”
“No, it’s okay,” he said, settling. “I suppose you came to say ‘I told you so.’”
Dixie was taken aback. “What?”
“You know, about taking patients’ anxiety into consideration, being more sympathetic. Now that the shoe is on the other foot. . . .” he let the thought finish unspoken.
“Dr. Morton,” the nurse started sternly, “you should know I’d never kick a man when he’s down. No need to add to your troubles now.”
“But you would have eventually,” he predicted.
“Probably,” Dix agreed with a smile. “But not until you were back on your feet.”
“It’s okay, you can do it now. I probably deserve it.”
Dixie sat down next to the young doctor. “I imagine it was pretty scary.”
“It was. It was. I was trapped in the car, you know. Roy and John, they had to cut me out. The noise, the vibration, the pain. I’ve never been so frightened.” The nurse just nodded, letting him continue. “And those guys. I had no idea what they do out there in the field. It’s something else.” Mike shook his head, remembering.
“They’re special people,” she said simply.
“And then, it got harder and harder to breathe, and I panicked, Dix, I really did. I’m a doctor, and I knew what the problem was--I _knew_ it--but I couldn’t help myself. Gage practically had to sit on me in the ambulance.”
“What?” the injured man asked.
“Oh nothing. Johnny didn’t tell us that, that’s all. I guess he was trying to spare your dignity, huh?”
“Maybe,” Morton said pensively. “I’ll have to thank him. And DeSoto.”
“They’ll tell you they were only doing their job. But I’m sure they’ll be checking in on you. You’ll have your chance.”
“I’ll never forget how scared I was, even here in the ER. And I knew what was going on, and why you were doing everything you were doing.”
The woman nodded. “Imagine what it’s like for someone who doesn’t know what’s happening,” Dixie said. As long as he wanted to talk about it, she was going to get her point across.
“I know. I know now.” He paused a moment, looking at the nurse. “When you’re right, you’re right.”
“Think you’ll be a little easier on those patients in the future, Dr. Morton?”
Morton smiled slightly, and winced as he took a deep breath. “I’ll try, Dix, I’ll try. But I’ll still lecture those out-of-shape armchair quarterbacks. Someone needs to tell them what’s what. They should know better.”
Dixie gave the patient another stern look. “You mean like you should have known better than to get behind the wheel of a car when you were absolutely exhausted?” Her countenance softened as she continued. “This is the only body you’ll ever get, Mike Morton,” she started, mimicking the lecture she’d heard him give countless times. “You shouldn’t go doing foolish things like that.”
She smiled to let him know she was teasing, then stood and rested her hand on his forearm. “I don’t think we could handle another scare like that,” She said, suddenly serious. “Could you?”
The patient just grinned tiredly and shook his head as his eyes closed.
“Get some sleep, Mike,” the nurse advised. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
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