Jennifer Quaid rinsed the blood from her hands and studied her hair in the mirror behind the sink. She needed a cut and possibly a dye job as her roots were starting to show. She blew upwards with her mouth, blowing her bangs up in the air away from her blue eyes and reflected on her strange day in the emergency room.
As a locum tenens physician she’d seen her share of interesting cases over the years. Like the middle-aged man whose wife brought him to the emergency room with not one, not two, but three pool balls stuck in his rectum. Or, the woman left at the emergency room entrance with her entire body, including her head, wrapped in plaster with only a straw to breathe through. Jennifer had seen so much for so long it required something unusual to pique her interest and her shift today had definitely been interesting. Slowly through the day, the activity in the ER had pushed her strange meter higher and higher.
The young woman on the fourth floor had nudged the strange meter to just under the yellow. Unless sedated, the woman’s temperature increased to a dangerous level and she screamed about burning in a fire. Her aunt explained the woman’s twin was missing and the woman shared a special link with her twin. The woman’s father had left the hospital with her boyfriend to find the twin.
Jennifer had watched the father leaving and wondered if the woman knew her father and aunt were sleeping together. She didn’t have to wonder long, she soon overheard two local nurses gossiping about the family. How the mom died of breast cancer and the aunt immediately divorced her husband and started chasing the widowed brother-in-law. They whispered guesses about what had happened to the woman’s drug addicted, married man chasing twin.
Her shift dragged on with nothing else of interest until the woman’s boyfriend returned to the hospital with a spear wound in his shoulder. Interesting, the first time she had ever operated on a spear wound. Her strange meter had slid up to the bottom of the red and Jennifer had considered her day a good one. Exciting cases and money were the reasons she worked as a locum tenens.
Locum tenens, which translated loosely as, placeholder, was a physician that filled in at hospitals or clinics for another physician out temporarily. When a hospital physician took four months off for maternity leave, they often hired a locum tenens to cover their duties. Currently Jennifer Quaid covered for a vacationing physician at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital.
Being a locum tenens meant you had your shit together and adapted quickly to new coworkers. It meant you traveled from hospital to hospital working long hours and seeing a lot of strange cases. It also meant you worked a lot of emergency room shifts and treated everything from an old man dying of exposure to a half dead man with a spear wound through his shoulder. More importantly, it meant you banked a Guardia truck of money each year.
Jennifer Quaid was a locum tenens for the money. Since you worked short contracted periods, you didn’t have a staff car or vacation time. While contracted with a hospital, you worked, period. All day, every day, if possible. When she started as a locum tenens, Jennifer planned to retire at the age of sixty and once retired she wanted the money to do whatever she felt like doing. That meant pouring as many greenbacks into her bank account as possible between now and then.
A rarity in the hospital world, Jenifer was a full time locum tenens, she set up one contract after another, traveling around the northwest United States from hospital to hospital. Her longest contract had been six months, her average stay a month. Initially, she worked through an agency that placed her with hospitals. The agency received as much money from the hospital as Jennifer. That seemed like a lot of money slipping through her fingers. After a couple of years of being a full time locum tenens, Jennifer dumped the agency. Her husband using Jennifer’s contacts opened his own agency, scheduling with hospitals, not just for Jennifer but for other locum tenens Jenifer knew. With the added money from her husband’s agency, Jennifer changed the age of her retirement from sixty to fifty-five.
She didn’t see much of her husband, in addition to running their locum tenens agency he worked as a flight attendant. If her husband wasn’t on his two-week tour of Europe he flew to whatever city she was working in and stayed with her in the hospital paid for motel. They often joked the only constants in their lives were each other and their laptops. Traveling constantly meant they didn’t need a house, not having a house meant they didn’t have a house payment and Jennifer lowered her retirement age from fifty-five to fifty.
She shut the water off in the sink and pulled on a new set of blue scrubs. Her suitcase at the hotel held one set of slacks, one faded pair of blue jeans and a couple of assorted shirts. When you worked in a hospital all the time, you didn’t need any clothes other than scrubs. She left the physician’s restroom and walked to intensive care to check in on her spear patient.
Fairbanks in the winter was the perfect place to work. When the temperature dropped to thirty below zero, all you saw were a few frozen drunks and a couple car wrecks. Otherwise the ER was a laid-back place, or it was until tonight. When Lifeflight brought in a half froze old man and a man with a spear wound. Jennifer had to have the nurse tell her twice the man had a spear wound before she believed it. She had opened the wound, cleaned it, and pumped the guy full of antibiotics and fresh blood.
She stopped in front of the monitors at the nurse’s station checking on her patient. Jennifer had ordered all the monitors in the hospital rooms off and only monitored the patients on the screens at the nurse’s station. A policy she put in place earlier in the day after watching the aunt of the crazy woman stare continuously at the temperature monitor. A quick glance told her the patient would live, barring something unforeseen. Blood pressure normal, oxygen levels low but ok, and he had been breathing on his own without aid for the last twenty minutes.
Tom stopped at her side, standing close enough to brush her. “Nice work Doc Quaid, you saved another one.” Jennifer smiled, said thanks and shifted slightly to the side away from Tom. That was another thing with being a locum tenens, each hospital had at least one nurse or another doctor who wanted to add you to their list of conquests. Jennifer always politely and firmly ignored their advances. Sex in the work place interfered with her goal, and her goal was to make money and retire, the sooner the better.
She excused herself and walked down the hall to check on her other patient. The door to the room was closed and after entering quietly, she left it ajar behind her crossing the room to the bed. Her patient lay unmoving, silvered hair tousled and matted to his brow. A blanket covered his face and Jennifer pulled it down to his chest. An old guy, probably in his late sixties, looking battered beyond his years. He arrived in the same Lifeflight as the man with the spear wound. The whispers around the hospital said he was some sort of local celebrity, famous for, of all things, killing a bear with a spear.
There were other whispers, he used to be friends with the crazy woman’s dad and frolic under the sheets with the crazy woman’s aunt. More whispers indicated he drank a lot and frolicked with a lot of women. When they unloaded him from the Lifeflight helicopter, Jennifer did everything she could for him except for one thing. Now in the quiet room she dropped her chin to her chest and clasping her hands in front of her she prayed. Her faith kept her focused in the midst of a chaotic profession, a rudder to guide her and keep her calm when her decisions determined life or death.
The door to the room shut with a click before she finished her prayer and Jennifer worried that Tom had followed her into the room. Instead of Tom, a dark haired woman leaned against the closed door her hands holding a large revolver. A black silencer longer than the revolver protruded from the barrel of the gun. Jennifer’s eyes studied the veins showing through the wrinkled skin of the woman’s hands and how it didn’t match to the tight skin around the edges of her eyes. A woman with hands that old should have crow’s feet in the corners of her eyes and her breasts shouldn’t be that high on her chest. The woman’s bright eyes stared unblinking at her and Jennifer knew that as much shit as she had seen in her life, the woman holding the gun had seen more and worse. Deadly, the thought popped into Jennifer’s head, old or not the woman’s manner and face made it clear her life was in danger. Jennifer’s strange meter leaped into the red.
The dark haired woman wiggled the barrel of the revolver in the direction of the man on the hospital bed. “Is he dead?”
Jennifer’s blood chilled and she could feel each beat of her heart. She studied the woman’s eyes and the way she held the gun realizing that her answer to that question meant her life or death. Over the years, Jennifer had treated hundreds of gunshot wounds. She knew exactly at this range how the bullet would make a small entrance wound, then tear through her at a speed that would compress her internal organs causing damage beyond the path of the bullet through her body. The bullet would disintegrate into smaller pieces or tumble off large bones before creating a large exit wound, leaving her hemorrhaging due to massive tissue destruction. Death would follow in seconds. Jennifer’s strange meter pegged all the way into the red.
The dark haired woman raised the gun until it pointed at her chest and repeated her question. “Is he dead?”
Often in the course of her job she made life and death decisions. Sometimes it didn’t even matter what the decision was, just making a decision saved a life. Sometimes you had to make the right decision and make it quickly or someone died. Jennifer had to give the woman the right answer quickly. But which way to answer? Did the woman want the old man dead or alive? If she wanted the old man alive, why show up with a gun. If she lied, could she keep the truth from the woman? Jennifer stared past the revolver into the woman’s coal colored eyes wondering if she would live to retire.
The barrel of the revolver slid off her chest and pointed at the old man’s body. Jennifer resisted the impulse, driven by a doctor’s drive to protect their patients, to sidestep and block the woman’s aim. Instead, she said, “You can’t kill him.”
Before she finished speaking, the revolver pointed at her face. The woman’s eyes sparked and her face wore a slight smile, “I’m not going to kill him, you are.”
Jennifer’s strange meter broke.