Author's note: Written for the 'ficlet' challenge; see details here; This one is for Sarken: Susan Lewis and a stethoscope
On the day she lost her tenth patient since returning to County General, Susan Lewis walked out of the ER, white coat still on, stethoscope around her neck, and straight into Doc Magoo's.
"Coffee, black," she said.
"Tough day?" The waitress behind the counter, an eighteen-year old with a face scarred both by life and acne, poured Susan a cup of coffee. Susan grimaced as she took a sip; bottom of the pot and her tongue was scratchy with coffee grounds. The waitress had already moved onto someone else.
"Want to talk about it?"
Susan turned. Carter stood behind her, his hands jammed into the pockets of his pants. It occurred to her then she'd couldn't recall ever having seen Carter wear jeans, not once in the nine years she'd known him.
"Number 10," she said. "Mrs. Donaldson."
"Congestive heart failure. Nothing you could have done." Carter took the seat next to hers.
"Iit's a milestone."
"I can't believe you count," Carter said.
"And you don't?"
The waitress stood in front of them. "Coffee or food?"
"How about both?" Carter glanced at Susan. "I don't know about you, but I'm starving." He reached for the stethoscope, still coiled around Susan's neck, his fingers grazing against her neck. A casual, but intimate gesture; Susan couldn't help the shiver that went down her spine. "We're not in the ER anymore, Susan."
She looked at him. "When did you grow up, Carter?"
She knitted her fingers together. "I go away for five years and I come back and you're all grown up. Not the fresh-faced kid I remember." Susan smiled. "There was a time when you needed looking out for and now, look who's doing the protecting."
Carter shrugged. "Like you said, five years." He reached for a menu. "So, hungry?"
"No, not really."
"How long have you been on shift?"
"Yes, of course. And later on, an apple. To keep the doctor away. But apparently, it's not working so well."
"It's going to be all right, Susan."
Susan cupped her hands around her mug. The stethoscope felt heavy around her neck, an additional burden. Of course she'd known when she'd gone to medical school she'd lose patients, and the odds were higher than normal in an emergency room that, regardless of her best efforts, a patient would still bleed out.
"And you? When this happens, do *you* act like it's all right?"
Carter stared at her.
"Well?" Susan asked impatiently. "Do you?"
He shook his head. "No. You're right." Carter tapped his fingers on the counter lightly as he looked across at her. "I usually come here, if I can, to mentally go over what just happened. You know, that's the worst -- when we have time to think about what I could have done, what I should have done." He sighed. "If there's time, I drink a cup of coffee and then go back in."
"Just like that?" Susan tipped her head to the side, looking at Carter with interest.
"Just like that." He paused. "You used to do it too, Susan. You used to be able to shake it off and I always wondered how you could do it, how you could be so cool and collected." He eyed her pensively and she had a sudden memory of the way the woman she used to be: crisp, clinical, professional and not always tactful. "You've only been back for a few weeks. It'll just take you a little time to get used to being back in the ER. One day at a time." He grinned at her, a lopsidedly adorable upward movement of his mouth. "It's good to have you back with us, Susan."
Susan smiled, mentally contrasting the fresh-faced doctor she'd left behind and the confident professional who now sat next to her. Look who's giving who advice, she thought. "It is good to be back," she said finally. "Even if it does mean dealing with Weaver again."
"Consider that an occupational hazard."
The waitress stood in front of them impatiently.
"Well?" she asked.
"I'd like that to go," Carter said, pointing at a ready-made chicken salad sandwich. "Susan?"
"Nah, I'm fine," she said. She waved a hand. "Go on, get. I'll be fine." She offered Carter another smile and listened as the bell on the door jangled as he went out.
By now, her coffee had gone cold. Susan pushed the mug away. Her stomach was growling, twisting in on itself, sending a stabbing pain straight to her heart. Taking a deep breath, Susan stood up, her palm on the counter for balance. She put 85 cents for the coffee she didn't finish next to the cup.
Outside, the air was brisk, cool, the barest aroma of winter. She crossed the street, narrowly avoiding stepping into a puddle. Her hands jammed deep into her pockets, she approached the ER. Staring at those glass doors, she took a deep breath, inhaling deeply, letting the sharpness of the Chicago air tighten her chest. In a few minutes she would once again meet with Mrs. Donaldson's family, talk to them for a few minutes, see how they were holding up.
The sound of sirens caught her attention. Without thinking, she burst into action. The ambulance pulled up, the EMTs pulled out a gurney, rattling off vital signs.
"One white female, thirty-six years old, gun shot wound to the right leg, BP is 112 over 60 --" the words were lost as Susan pulled her stethoscope from around her neck and took her place next to the gurney, ushering in the victim along with the EMTs. The woman moaned and Susan reached for her hand.
"It's all right," Susan said softly. "I'm Dr. Lewis, and I'm going to take care of you."
~ the end
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