Say “Cheese” – Part 1


“How long has she been like this?”

“Since she came in. She was babbling about the camera, the camera, so I tried to take the camera and she went ballistic. It took Tony, me and Amber to hold her down long enough to give her the sedative.”

Dr. Marissa Tollin, a single, thirty-something physician with few friends and fewer dates to her credit, adjusted her glasses on her narrow, perky nose and pushed a mouse-brown lock behind one ear, and studied the patient’s chart. Beside her, Evelyn Belkin stared into the ER exam room with a wary eye, and rubbed one hand over her tender shoulder, nursing a bruise.

“Little brat’s crazy,” Belkin added to the pregnant pause.

“Is that your official diagnosis … nurse?” The emphasis on the title and the glare over the top of the glasses sent a clear message. Belkin’s eyes shot to Tollin’s and she tucked her tongue between her cheek and gum, then shifted her weight to her other leg.

“You didn’t have to wrestle with her … doctor.” Belkin put as much stink as she could on the last word, but Tollin snorted a dismissing breath through her nostrils and returned her gaze to the chart.

“I’ll make the diagnoses in the ER while I’m the attending, if you don’t mind. Now why don’t you see to your other duties and I’ll see to the patient?”

Belkin opened her mouth but Tollin walked away, heading into exam room 14. It was one of the few with an actual door and walls rather than the translucent white curtains ringing the rows of beds in the majority of Bennington General Hospital’s ER in Bennington, VT. It was, for all practical purposes, a country hospital with more beds than patients, and staffed by old country doctors with more interest in patient care than politics and administration. The draw for Tollin, from Mercy General in New York City, was immediate and obvious. She didn’t even think about it when the chief of staff, Dr. William Gorman, called her after her residency at Mercy ended. She loved her job and in five short years became the ER chief attending. She chose night shift because most nights it was quiet and slow.

But not always.

Tollin could see the young girl trembling from across the room, curled atop the upright bed. Her skin reflected the light from the sheen of sweat that coated her, and plastered her matted hair against her forehead and beside her ears. Her eyes, wide and dilated, darted around the room, head jerking in jittery, skittish, frightened-bird movements.

“Melody?” Tollin’s voice was soft, gentle. The girl’s eyes locked on her and she could see the olive green tones, edged with a yellowish tint, and heard the tiny rasping breaths she drew through her mouth. She was perhaps 16 or 17, not older. Her clothes were wet with persperation and her hands clutched something, a black box, in her lap. Tollin noted she would’ve been cute, a classic apple-pie, freckle-faced, red-headed kid, with chin-length hair and clear, pale skin.

When she nodded it was spastic, fast, as if she were amped up on drugs of some kind.

“Melody, my name’s Dr. Tollin,” she approached the bed, moving slow and using a soothing, mellow voice. “I’m not going to hurt you, okay?”

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