I screamed. It happened so fast. I’d never seen anyone use a gun, except my dad fooling around with a BB gun in our back yard, and now Stan dropped to his knees before he caught himself on his hands, gurgling.
Behind him, the blonde woman and her husband ducked into triage and slammed the door behind them. Suddenly, only me, Stan and the gunwoman stood in the hallway.
“Call 911!” I yelled in the general direction of the nursing station, ignoring the gunwoman. The triage nurse had probably seen or heard enough to call for help, but it never hurt to sound the alarm.
Meanwhile, I’d focus on the A, B, C’s of resuscitation. Especially the airway and breathing. My eyes fixed on the bloody hole in Stan’s back, just below the point of his left scapula. Probably too far from the midline to cut his spinal cord, but right in “the box” where shrapnel could pierce a heart or lung or both, depending on the trajectory.
Stan dropped on to his stomach, still breathing, so his heart probably hadn’t been hit. I have zero experience with gunshot wounds, but they say that after a heart attack, if you have myocardial rupture, and the heart bursts open, the person dies in a few beats. He’d already made it past that.
I fell on my knees beside Stan, who was barely sucking air into his lungs. Did he have a pneumothorax? The hole in his chest could still kill him within minutes.
My first instinct was to turn him on his back, because that’s how patients always roll into the emerg on a stretcher, face up. Also, the exit wound in front of his chest would gape more than the relatively neat hole in back.
I stopped and grabbed the stethoscope hung around the back of my neck. Even with Stan face-down, I could listen to his breath sounds.
“Don’t touch him,” said the burqa woman.
I looked up.
She trained her gun on my face.
My hands stilled, slowly relinquishing the navy rubber tube of my stethoscope. It wasn’t that I’d forgotten her, but I had a higher calling here. I lifted both palms in the air. “Look. I’m a doctor. He’s a doctor.”
“I need Casey Assim,” the woman said. Her voice had descended into growl territory.
It took me a second to process that. Casey. That was the name the ward clerk had buzzed us about in Manouchka’s room. So Casey Assim must be a patient, a new one who hadn’t made it on the whiteboard yet. The one Stan had been on his way to deliver?
Stan tried to cough. He choked instead. The breath rattled in his lungs before he boosted himself on to his hands and started crawling on his hands and knees toward the open doorway. Toward the case room. Or the closed triage door. Or the nursing station. Any way you sliced it, civilization.
He knew where to go. His brain was still clicking. He had the strength to crawl. Should I try and distract the burqa woman? Maybe try and wrestle the gun away from her?
But that was an insane Hollywood move. And also, I couldn’t help noticing that Stan was deserting me while this woman held us at gunpoint.
I could distract her for the few crucial seconds while Stan got away, but I wouldn’t jump her.
I heard a nurse scream from further down the hallway. She tried to stifle it, which made it sound even worse.
From my view, at least thirty feet away, I could tell that they’d sealed all four case room doors, but the nursing station was an open desk area. The counter might protect you a little, but not the open table.
Maybe the staff would run toward the OR and back out the other side of the U, toward the ward. But could the patients run that fast?
The overhead paging system blared, “Code Black, Fourth Floor. Code Noir, quatrième étage.”
Then someone pulled the fire alarm. The high-pitched bell made my ears cringe.
“Is Casey the person you’re looking for?” I asked, raising my voice above the alarm. My arms quivered in the air. “I—”
The burqa woman looked down at Stan crawling and shot him in the back of the head.
The sound of the bullet echoed through the hallway.
His body flopped on the floor.
Blood coursed from the back of his skull.
I couldn’t make a sound.
I’d met murderers before. But they’d never killed anyone in front of me.
This was like an execution. And what had Stan done? He hadn’t broken patient confidentiality. He’d done the “right thing.” Now he was probably dead.
I didn’t want to die.
I really didn’t want to die.
I gazed down the case room hall, now empty of obvious human habitat, although I knew the triage room must be packed like Sonic dance club on the night of a full moon, and at least three out of four women labouring in the case room hadn’t made a break for freedom.
It was just me and the burqa murderer now.
The fire alarm shrieked overhead, a piercing scream that made my jaw ache and my arms tremble.
This couldn’t be happening.
Oh, yes, it could. I’d survived enough tight situations to know that real life could surpass any nightmare.
They call me the detective doctor. But it’s one thing to try and figure out any wrongdoing after the fact. It’s quite another to have someone a) pull out a gun, and b) shoot your senior resident in front of you.
“How may I help you?” I said, trying to sound civil, like this was normal. Like I wasn’t about to get whumped. I thought of my main man, Ryan. My first runner-up, Tucker, who made my toes curl. My little brother, Kevin. My parents. My grandmothers.
I love you. I’m sorry I never told you enough.
The burqa woman detoured to grab me from behind, her body a solid presence behind mine while she drilled the muzzle of the gun against my right temple. The muzzle was still cool after shooting Stan.
She’s right-handed, I noticed with the back part of my brain. Maybe it would make a difference, maybe it wouldn’t. But my shocked brain insisted on memorizing facts like this and noticing that she smelled like beer, tangy sweat, and something unpleasantly familiar.
“Get me Casey Assim,” she said. “Now.”
Read Chapter 1 here.