Nobody’s Fool (A Twelve Step Program)
by Eileen Merriman
You’re nobody’s fool. When you get home, you flick back through your text messages from Andy, intending to delete them. They’re all there—the photos, too. But before you delete them, you decide there’s only one way to stop the springy-smiley intern from becoming nobody’s fool. So you call the hospital operator, and find out the new intern’s cell number, and then you forward a photo of Andy, clothes off. The accompanying message is simple: Don’t be a fool.
You’re nobody’s. After the abortion, and after three weeks of crying non-stop, and after four weeks of antidepressants, and after five weeks of zero communication from the embryo’s father—after that—you start back on the wards as a second year doctor. But when you suck up the courage to go to the cardiology lab, you feel as though it is day one all over again. Because there’s a blonde intern, all smiley and springy, and she could be you. The intern is staring wide-eyed at the images of the coronary arteries on the screen, and Prof is staring bug-eyed at the intern.
The first day you throw up after breakfast, you think you’ve caught the Norovirus that’s been going around the geriatric ward. But by day three you know you need to pee on a stick, right now. This is what happens when you screw the Professor of Cardiology. When you visit him in the lab after hours, and tell him you’re pregnant, he barely even looks at you. He doesn’t even ask what you want to do. He just tells you he’ll pay for the procedure, and then he turns his back on you, because he doesn’t suffer fools. And that’s when you know you’re a fool.
You lose five kilograms over that first year. Andy likes that you’ve lost your baby-fat. You hate that word, baby-fat, but he doesn’t say that anymore because you’re svelte, and you’re hot. You know, because he tells you all the time. You wear your hair just the way he likes it, and you get a Brazilian even though it hurts like hell and you can’t sit down for the rest of the day. When he texts to ask you to come over, you cancel all your other plans. He texts you photos of himself, clothes on, clothes off, and asks you to do the same, but you never do.
You know the cardiology nurses are talking about you. But you’re shit-hot, because you’re an intern and you’re putting stents in coronary arteries already. You’re the crème de la crème, the pick of the bunch, Andy’s choice. They’ll have to swallow their tongues when you become the youngest cardiologist in the hospital. Professor Tania Jackson, yeah, you like the sound of that.
Raisin-woman is found dead, but she doesn’t die because of the melanoma. She dies because she falls down the spiral staircase in her crooked little house, and she lies on the floor for three days in a twisted heap. She’s still alive when the paramedics bring her in, but dies when they’re pinning her fractured hip in theatre. When you are called to declare Raisin-woman dead, you see that the naevus-mountain is even bigger, swollen like a blowfly on her lip. That night you dream the melanoma-bug crawled off the woman’s lip and is buzzing around you, trying to fly up your nose. You wake with a scream dying in the back of your throat. Andy says, maybe you shouldn’t stay over if you’re going to wake me up like that.
Six months an intern, and you’re surfing the waves, coasting to ever-greater heights. You stay after hours in the cardiology lab, under the attentive gaze of Prof Daniells (call me Andy). Sometimes he lets you inflate the balloons in the arteries, and once he lets you insert a stent, and that’s it, you’ve saved someone’s life. It’s such a rush. So it’s a small price to pay, if he wants to sit and talk into the small hours of the morning, or if his fingers linger on your thigh while he does it, or if he wants to kiss you goodbye. You haven’t done anything wrong.
When you return to the cardiology lab, the last patient has been dispatched to the coronary care unit. Prof Daniells is sitting at the computer in the doctor’s office, running his hand over his stubbly chin. You linger in the doorway, waiting to be acknowledged, expecting to be slapped with his words again. So when he says, sorry, you blink, surprised.
– Sorry, he repeats, blinking back at you, and for the first time you note that he’s kind of good looking, with his floppy blonde hair and his chocolate-brown eyes.
– I was out of line. Can I make you a coffee?
You’re tired. You want to go to bed. You don’t want a coffee.
You want to be a cardiologist. You say,
– A coffee. Okay.
Australia has the highest rate of melanoma in the world. You admit an elderly woman, all skinny and wrinkly, and she holds her handkerchief over her upper lip the whole time you are examining her. But when Raisin-woman falls asleep the hanky falls away, and you see a mountainous naevus erupting from her upper lip. Admit medical, refer to dermatology, and now there’s another chest pain to see—ah, great—now you’ll have to talk to prima donna Prof Daniells again.
Prof Daniells doesn’t suffer fools. Still, when you arrive in the cardiology lab to tell him his patient is ready for his pacemaker, you don’t expect to be told to fuck off. Blink. What?
– Fuck off. I don’t have your energy. I’ll get there in good time.
– You walk back to the Emergency Department, your eyelids prickling.
– Did I do something wrong? I must have done something wrong.
Veins like wires, like spaghetti, like cannelloni tubes. Paging Dr. Tania Jackson to the ward. Patient needs an IV. Patient needs bloods. Patient needs a urinary catheter. Patient needs, patient needs. You need. You need to learn how to put in a sodding IV; how are you ever going to be a cardiologist if you can’t put in a sodding IV?
It’s your first day. You’ve got an ID badge that says Dr. Tania Jackson, and a stethoscope around your neck, and a spring in your step. You’re the best of the best, the crème de la crème. You’ve wanted to be a cardiologist before you even knew what the word meant. So when you’re introduced to Professor Daniells, eminent cardiologist, and told he doesn’t suffer fools, you know that’s okay. Because you’re nobody’s fool.