Production No. BPP-614

written by:
Evermore

edited by: Bonnie, Kimberly, and Melanie

MEET THE CAST

I hate this city.

Cascade is cold and wet and altogether icky in the wintertime. It was raining when we arrived, a painfully cold rain that turns your skin to ice on impact and always manages to go down the back of your neck past your overcoat, and the company had to send us here in February. Happy New Year, my Aunt Martha's fruitcake. This place didn't win any candy hearts, either.

So much for first impressions.

As soon as this assignment came in, Nick called and let me know; he's dating one of the secretaries in the main office so he finds everything out a few days ahead of time. I took full advantage and had headed down to the town library to check up on the city of Cascade, WA. It's an impressively-sized port city, north of Seattle, less than thirty miles from the Canadian border. Their police force has a great record, which is even more impressive, considering the staggeringly high crime rate. According to the newspaper articles, bombers, terrorists, serial killers, and hit men had appeared in the city at some point, and I'd only read scattered lead headlines from the past few years.

The news didn't exactly fill me with joy.

We'd actually flown in yesterday, and had met at our company-chosen hotel. Rick had one car, Laura the other, and the rest of us took taxis. The hotel wasn't bad but it didn't exactly qualify as really good, either. Seven people, two rooms. In our opinion, we needed a hotel that had room service and decent phone lines for modem access; anything beyond that was gravy. Most of the time, we were lucky to have housekeeping service. In Atlanta, we'd stayed at a truly atrocious motel... and swore we'd never stay there again. Here, our phone lines were so-so, but we had a fantastic room service menu from six local restaurants. As a last resort, there's a Wonderburger down the street, which advertises late-night service. But all things considered, the hotel didn't exactly fill me with joy, either.

At least, this time, I know most of the people on the film crew. There's nothing worse than being stuck in a strange city in a strange hospital having to work in close quarters and correlating your work with a bunch of total strangers. When you're working in film, you work with total strangers ninety-nine percent of the time, especially when you're crew for Trauma Room. Our job is simple: go into a hospital's emergency room, observe and record the proceedings, conduct interviews of the staff, and don't get involved in the action. Rick Vasquez, Julie Watson, and I would handle the actual E-R duties. Nick Fiely and Geoff Adams would ride with the paramedics, giving us tape of the accident scenes. Laura Williams would head out into the city and play tourist, so that we could show a little bit of what the city was like when you weren't seeing it from the back of an ambulance; she's from Seattle, so she probably knows all the best spots. Chandra Jefferson would handle legal compliance duties, making sure that everyone we interviewed had signed the right forms so that later the company didn't come down on our heads like the sword of Damocles.

That was the plan. Rick had told me that everything would be fine, but I knew from long experience not to believe anything he told me.

Wearing our custom-made fanny packs, designed to carry film and batteries as well as some money and identification, and our arms loaded down with film, papers, and other tools of the trade, we met up outside Cascade General's Emergency Room. After a seemingly interminable meeting with the hospital administrator -- a windbag named James Emerson Wheatley, in which he lived up to all three names -- we got down to business. He'd gone on and on and on endlessly so that I almost hoped for a huge multi-car accident just so he'd have to shut up. At any rate, I certainly hope he's not a practicing doctor; my vivid imagination could just picture a malpractice suit where the patient dies from utter boredom.

From what little I'd seen so far, Cascade General had a nice setup: a big roomy ER, kinda cold but more spacious than lots of others we've worked; really nice waiting rooms; and all the wards you come to expect in a busy urban hospital. Clearly there was plenty of old money involved in keeping the place above the undertow of the dreaded HMOs. They even offered us the use of their locker rooms, so we could store away our used film and our winter coats; that meant we didn't have to put all our available film for the shift in our packs. Without a doubt, this place was a far cry from New Saint A's, my local hometown hospital. It's little more than a band-aid station; if you're unlucky enough to actually have a trauma involving anything more dangerous than a broken arm, you'll be transported by air to one of the big medical centers in Keene.

Ahead of me, I could see a group of medical personnel gathered near the main desk, doctors and nurses in assorted quantities, and hoped that my assigned doctor was among them. Hopefully, this wouldn't be like the Phoenix fiasco at Good Sam's where the doctor I was supposed to trail had taken a personal day, apparently suffering from a case of stage fright. Spending the next seventy-two hours bouncing from doctor to nurse to medical student like a bee trapped in a pinball machine isn't my idea of a good time. Reaching the myriad of medical personnel -- a groaning of grad students, a drove of doctors, a nuisance of nurses -- I decided to take the offensive. "I'm looking for Doctor Linda Cunningham."

Off to the right, a tall woman with light brown hair raised one hand slightly in greeting. "That would be me." A smile graced her lips for a moment. "I assume you're...."

"Anne Sedgewick, ma'am, with Trauma Room. I'm your shadow for the next few hours." That brought a laugh from the woman, which I was glad to hear. If she had a good outlook on this whole thing, then this whole experience would be far more interesting and it would pass much faster.

"What should I call you?"

"Call me 'Annie', most people do, but I'll respond to pretty much anything." I followed the comment with what I hoped was a quirky grin. We started walking toward a sunny hallway, where I could ask some questions but where we'd still be reasonably close. One of the doctors in Nashville hadn't been able to remember my name, so I'd answered to 'Shadow' for three days. It made a better nickname than 'Hey You', which was what he'd called Rick over those same three days. Actually, 'Annie' wasn't too bad, considering my middle name was Elizabeth. Anne E., see? So it worked, as far as I was concerned.

Doctor Cunningham grinned back in response, and I felt much better to see that. Still, the time to interview had arrived and it would be best to get as much of it done as I could before a case rolled in here. After getting her in position, where the lens could get some natural light from the window without catching a glare and where I had a smudge of fuzzy ER in the background, I began with the standard questions. "Tell me a little about yourself."

She hemmed and hawed for a moment, chewing on her lower lip, but I could see that this was just plain old nervousness. "Doctor Linda Cunningham, I'm a third-year resident in Cascade General's Emergency Room."

"Are you from this city originally?"

Doctor Cunningham smiled again; good, she was getting more relaxed in front of the camera. Once the code for a new patient went off, chances were she wouldn't even notice I was there, but I wanted her to act as normally as possible. This is reality-tv, after all. "No," she answered, "I'm from Seattle, actually, but I came up here because this hospital has a good program. All things considered, Cascade is a nice city... so long as you don't ruin your vacation with an unexpected visit back in this joint." She punctuated her sentence with a sharp gesture backwards with an outstretched thumb indicating the ER behind us.

That made me laugh. "Hey, I'm supposed to be narrating this interview." That made her laugh, and the camera loved her. "What made you decide on Emergency Medicine?"

"This is going to make me sound like a commercial, and a cliched commercial at that, but I really do want to help people." She was quiet for a moment. "About three years ago, my mother and sister were in a car accident. They weren't hurt too badly, thank God, but because their car went into a ditch in the middle of nowhere with no medical help for miles and miles in any direction, they had to be airlifted to a hospital where they could be checked over for injuries." I understood intimately what she was saying; when one of my uncles had suffered a heart attack some months ago, he'd been airlifted to a decent hospital for treatment. Probably the only thing that saved his life was that a nurse happened to be in the restaurant eating lunch when he collapsed. "If they'd been badly hurt, well, it could have been a while before help got to them," she continued, "and I want to make sure that there are plenty of medical personnel available when people need them."

"So you might head out to some under-served area, when you finish your residency?"

"Maybe. I've always liked the mountains, and being a country doctor doesn't sound that bad." Doctor Cunningham smiled in a reminiscent sort of way, like she was thinking of some out-of-the- way spot that contained particularly happy memories. "First things first, though. I'd like to get into surgery or maybe orthopedics, but right now I'm happy doing what I'm doing."

"What sort of cases might you see on a typical day at Cascade General's ER?"

"Pretty much the same as most other busy urban hospitals these days. Shootings, motor vehicle accidents, overdoses, domestic injuries, the average injuries of life." I made a quick mental note about that phrase; it sounded like something the editors might want to use as a sound bite. "Luckily, we're not the only hospital in town, but--"

A sharp tone rang out and echoed, and even though it wasn't familiar to me, I was able to immediately recognize its significance, based on the reactions it created. It was a trauma code, announcing the arrival of a patient to the emergency room, and I ran hot on the heels of Doctor Cunningham to the main arrival bay where the treatment rooms were located. Someone passed me in a big hurry -- which caught my attention as strange, since I naturally figured people would be running to the bay rather than away from it -- but I recognized Administrator Wheatley, fleeing the building, heading toward the double doors to the outside world.

I followed Doctor Cunningham inside Room 2, and watched her gown up, greeting three nurses, another doctor, and three medical students in preparation for the fast-approaching ambulance. Sure, they were gowned and masked just like everybody else, but I knew they had to be medical students. Not only had their lab-coat pockets been loaded down with everything your successful third-year medical student could possibly need -- from vision acuity charts to the Essential Principles Handbook of Trauma Medicine to battered out-of-date file cards -- but each carried a pocket notebook and at least five pens. That was the clincher. No resident on the ward carried a pen; why bother when you could always filch one from a student?

"Anyone know what we have?" she asked. All business now, I noticed.

"Heart case."

As soon as the paramedics brought the gurney through the doorway, everything began to happen at once. Doctors, nurses, and third or fourth-year medical students swarming like bees around the hapless woman, doing all kinds of things simultaneously in seeming chaos in a long- standing pattern of medical aid. One person checks the patient's airway and determines respiration, while someone else checks for pulses in all the relevant spots. Everyone's asking questions and talking to the patient as well as to each other. If they weren't able to follow the many conversations simultaneously while keeping all their respective findings straight, there would be madness. Everything happening served a purpose. For example, a patient arriving with a near-amputation of a leg would have his pulses checked both at the throat and/or the wrist, but also the 'pedal pulse' behind the knee if at all possible, to determine whether or not the partially separated portion is still receiving blood flow. Depending on the injuries, the patient might be checked for spinal or extremity fractures. I could see that our first patient was an attractive middle-aged woman, her immaculate coif and dress somewhat disheveled by lines, monitors, and an oxygen mask. She was clearly very distraught, sobbing noisily, black lines of mascara trailing down the edges of her nose and red coloring nibbled away on her lower lip.

"What do we have?" Cunningham directed her question at the attending paramedic.

"Forty-five year old female with a syncopal episode, probably neurogenic shock. LOC was three minutes, woke up fifteen minutes ago," he answered. "Complaining of chest pain and shortness of breath, looks like a possible panic attack." His expression was torn between emotions. "Pulse of 118 and regular, resps 28 labored, BP 138/90. Patient reports being in good health."

She mulled this over for a brief moment. "Karen, call up cardiology and let them know, they might want to come down and check her if we find anything untoward." Most of the rest of her orders I didn't understand, but the upshot was that she wanted some blood drawn and sent to the lab to check the amount of oxygenation in her bloodstream. The patient would be sent upstairs for observation, since the cardiac monitor seemed to be indicating that everything was fine and dandy, and that this aberrant incident was simply a panic attack. Still, when the problem was potentially deadly, caution is the watchword.

Before he could make good his escape, I managed to corral the paramedic who had accompanied the patient into the trauma room. "So," I said, "what happened?" This sort of information can be real helpful by giving the viewer a context, and professionally by aiding us in matching up my trauma room footage to the appropriate paramedic footage, if any. Doctor Cunningham was on the phone, discussing something or other with one of the muckety-mucks upstairs.

The paramedic allowed a very small smile to fleetingly cross his face. "She bought her brother a classic car for his birthday, a real expensive car, but found it had been vandalized." He paused. "It's kind of rotten, actually, but the car was already on blocks when it was wrecked. Apparently she was just overcome with the shock of it all."

"She bought her brother a car he couldn't drive?" Now, I was shocked. Who would buy a car that's undriveable, classic or not?

"Sure did, and here's the kicker: the brother is the administrator of this very place." I let the paramedic escape, probably to the great relief of his partner, stuck cleaning the back of their transport. So this lady was Wheatley's sister.

Huh. Small world.

I hurried to catch up with Doctor Cunningham, who was still on the phone with cardiology. Apparently, there was some disagreement as to whether observation was necessary in this case; if it was really just a panic attack as all the symptoms indicated, why should she have to be admitted, asked the cardiologist. At least, that's what I imagined he or she was saying. Don't ever let anyone tell you otherwise: a lot of what goes on behind the scenes of hospitals is turf battling and political maneuvering.

Most people also think that just because we run around after doctors and nurses all the time means that we always completely understand everything they say. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Oh, sure, we do some basic medical research so that we can ask intelligent questions and know basically what's going on with a patient and what sort of general complications might be possible. Most of the time, though, it gets so we tune out most of it as it's happening because we're too busy making sure that the action stays in our viewfinder and that the film doesn't run out at a critical moment. If we need to ask questions later and qualify what something is or what something means, we can do that; after all, we'll have plenty of time after filming, but the patient needs the doctor's full attention right at that minute. The last thing any of us want to do is distract the doctor from what he or she is doing.

When Cunningham hung up the phone, I was waiting for her. "What's going to happen now?"

"Observation for a while to see if any fluctuations in her heart rate develop. When the labs come back, that might give us more clues. Right now, though, it seems Mrs. Ashton had a panic attack and passed out." She smiled at me. "I imagine, assuming that all her tests come back normal, that she'll be fine and will leave the hospital in a few hours. If something pops up, though, then we'll have to run more tests and keep her to find out what's wrong."

A trip in the elevator and a short walk took us to cardiology, where we found Mrs. Ashton, now clad in a flowery hospital gown, lying on a hospital gurney, attached to several leads and television-like monitors. She looked distinctly cross about the whole thing as well as somewhat embarrassed. That's understandable; held up at the hospital because you fainted is hardly something to be proud of.

Doctor Cunningham began quietly explaining to her what was going on right now, and why the monitors were attached. Even I could see the patient's face pale a bit when she was told that, because she initially presented as a possible heart attack, they were taking precautions just in case first impressions had been correct. In my opinion, the hospital was correct to be cautious. First heart attacks are frequently very small and often go unnoticed, so better safe than sorry.

I turned as the door opened to see who was joining us. Two men, one tall and nicely verging on middle-age with bright blue eyes and short hair followed by one short and young with long curly hair that I'd give my eyeteeth for, walked inside the room, giving us all the once-over as they did so. The tall one -- Mr. Buffed -- did a very discreet double take when he saw me and my camera, which is pretty normal, but the short one -- Mr. Gorgeous -- didn't react to me at all except to nudge his companion slightly in the ribs.

"Mrs. Ashton," the tall one said, "I'm Detective Ellison, Cascade PD, Major Crime." He gestured almost carelessly with one hand toward his cohort. "This is my partner, Detective Sandburg. We'd like to ask you a few brief questions if we may." That said, he glanced at Doctor Cunningham, clearly knowing that her permission might be required before they could so much as breathe on a patient. Detective Gorgeous smiled gently. I bet he's a charmer.

"Nice to see you upright, Detective Sandburg. I trust you've been staying away from lead mugs?" She smiled at Detective Gorgeous -- who blushed and nodded cutely at her comment -- before glancing at her patient and making a decision. "If she's willing to talk to you, then I'll allow it but for a few minutes only. Anything else will have to wait until later."

The two detectives glanced at each other, and I could tell they'd probably been partnered for some time. They were able to speak with each other with just looks because they were on the same wavelength, just like the sort of partners you find on television. Hopefully, they'd show up a few more times so I could catch them on tape again. The camera eye loved them. "That would be fine, thank you."

Even though the camera eye remained focused on Cunningham, my attention stayed on the detectives. Call it inquisitiveness, call it curiosity, call it eavesdropping, but my highly developed journalistic instincts told me something was going on around here. The detectives were definitely working on a case, and if they were from Major Crime, then it had to be something big. They questioned Mrs. Ashton very carefully, leading her back and forth over the events that had led up to her hospitalization. After hearing her admit that she'd had an odd sense of being watched, the detectives shared a small glance before returning to the questioning.

I followed the doctor over to another part of the room, where we spent the next ten minutes examining the results so far. As far as I could tell, everything was just peachy with Mrs. Ashton except for the condition of the car for which she'd just paid far too much money. Not long after that revelation, I hurriedly inserted a new tape into the camcorder, tagging and secreting the full one into my pack. Tagging was necessary so I wouldn't accidentally tape over footage I'd already shot. The process also allows me to put the rolls in some kind of chronological order, which will aid us as well as the editors.

Some new facts came out, regarding the incident that had brought the woman to Cascade General. It seemed that Administrator Wheatley and his family had been plagued with bad luck over the past few days. His house, right in the middle of some extensive remodeling all the way down to the wood, was severely vandalized a few days ago with some of the new woodwork having been hacked to bits. I cringed a bit, hearing that, since -- coming from a family of woodworkers, having watched my dad toil over a lathe to get just one piece finished just so -- I know how long quality woodworking can take... and how much it can cost. A couple days before that, all four of his car's tires were slashed, and now this. Sure, it was just vandalism but that was pretty violent vandalism.

"I don't know why I'm surprised," commented Detective Gorgeous. His voice was pitched so low that I could barely make out the words. "After all, this kind of thing is just what I've come to expect of Cascade. Two serial killers in every garage and a spirit guide in every pot."

That made no sense to me whatsoever. However, his partner seemed to understand it, cuffing the younger detective gently on the side of the head. With that affectionate gesture, I realized that they were not only partners but also good friends. All in all, I felt oddly safe.

"It's the most dangerous city in America, remember?"

So much for feeling safe.

There was more to Cascade than met the lens, and there's also something weird going on here. To me, it sounded awfully like someone had a serious argument with Wheatley about something. By now, the doctor was shooting both detectives serious looks, indicating very explicitly that they'd better wrap this up right now. After both lovely men were shooed out the door, I picked up my tongue and followed Doctor Cunningham out of the room.

She was heading upstairs to do some rounds, but I had to get some tape of these two, hopefully with them telling me what was happening. "Doctor, I'll meet you right upstairs. I just have to get some closure on tape."

"That's fine." She nodded her head in serene approval but her eyes twinkled mischievously. "I'll be reviewing the charts at the front desk, Fourth Floor West."

"I'll be there in five or ten minutes." As soon as Doctor Cunningham disappeared around the corner, I hurried on the detectives' trail. One of Geoff's hobbies is small-scale electronics, the smaller the better, and he'd given me one of his newest creations the day we'd arrived in Cascade. If I wanted to plant the tiny battery-powered microphone, then I had to do it before they left the hospital.

There they were, up ahead, and I could see them talking amiably as they walked. Shortly before I reached them, Ellison lightly tapped the back of his partner's head in a cuffing gesture. Seeing it pleased me, probably because it just added more evidence to their status as television- heroes. "Detectives, just a moment, please!"

Both of them plastered smiles on their faces before turning to face me, but I had seen their frustration at being caught by someone with a camera. "Yes?" Ellison asked. There was a slight -- well, somewhat more than slight -- edge to his voice, and I got the definite feeling that he was not comfortable being in my sights.

"My name is Annie Sedgewick, from Trauma Room. I understand that you're investigating the events that brought Mrs. Ashton to the Emergency Room."

He nodded but said nothing more. His partner wasn't saying anything either.

I brought my focus in on them a bit tighter. "Can you give me any details regarding the scene, anything that would give me some background for her footage?" That really didn't come out right. "The more information we have, the happier our editors are."

"No comment."

"No comment."

Damn. Can't say I'm surprised, though. "That's okay, I do understand the bind you're in." I lowered the camera a bit, getting my right hand free to reach out to Detective Gorgeous. "Thanks for talking to me at all." He looked a bit startled, but shook my hand cheerfully, giving me a great smile. I offered my hand to Ellison next, and he also had a reasonably pleasant look on his face. Hmm. Nice grip. Maybe they'd had bad experiences with the press in the past; it's not uncommon for cops, and being in a high-profile department like Major Crime, I imagine it happens fairly frequently.

Looping around Ellison, I put my right hand in my pocket, fingering the tiny bug. Pulling it out, I did my best to conceal it in my hand. As I passed them, I knew just what to do and it went off without a hitch. The mike went into the back pocket of his partner's pants, and just so he wouldn't suspect anything, I delivered a pinch right on that nicely formed muscle.

Times like this, I really do love my work. Of course, I would never use such illegally obtained information for purposes of publication but only for purposes of education and clarification as to the investigation. And a certain portion of personal satisfaction, too.

He yelped and jumped back, but I just gave him what I hoped was a mischievous and satiated smile and prayed he'd take it as a compliment. Please, God, don't let him arrest me. Gorgeous looked like a deer caught in headlights but his tall buff partner looked like he wanted to laugh himself sick.

Neither made a move towards their handcuffs, so I hurried off to catch up with Doctor Cunningham. While I made my way down the corridor, I fished the earpiece out of my pocket, inserted it, and hit the remote to listen.

"Jim, that girl just pinched my butt!"

A muffled snicker. "What do you want to do, Chief, bring her up on charges for assaulting an officer?"

"Well, no, of course not, but--" Thank God for that.

A louder snicker.

"Jim! Man, I can't believe you--"

"You should have seen your face."

"Yeah, well, I think I'm going to find bruises there in the morning. Don't you dare laugh."

"I wasn't laughing." Well, his voice sounded pretty suspicious to me. "We have to go over what we found at the car... it had a smell like fertilizer with an almost flowery hint. We'd better see what else forensics has come up with, something to add to what we already know."

"We might want to talk to Doctor Wheatley again. You said it sounded like he was lying about something." Wheatley? Why would he destroy his own car?

Just when things started to get interesting, I spotted Doctor Cunningham waiting patiently for me. Punching the remote off, I waved to her. She met me with a knowing smile on her face.

"Did you get Detective Sandburg's phone number?"

I've never turned so red in my life. She laughed, and I turned my camera back on, checking the focus and remaining tape length in an effort to not blush any redder. A faint shrug was all I could answer her with, and she patted my shoulder. We headed into the ward to visit some patients.

Most of what we saw wasn't anything to write home about but they were a real variety, just like she'd said. One young man with a gunshot wound, several people of various ages and with varying degrees of injury caused by motor vehicle accidents, two cancer patients, and one young boy with a head injury caused by a sledding accident. From what she'd told me, his sled had gotten out of control and flew headlong into an oncoming car. Everyone seemed to be progressing fairly nicely with a few exceptions. The gunshot wound was to the abdomen, so he was at large risk for infection and other complications. They were worried one of the MVA victims might lose some function in her left arm, but they were very concerned about cancer patient number one and the little boy.

Technically, none of them are really her patients anymore, but everybody likes closure, especially when it's an especially difficult or otherwise painful case. Doctors are human, too; they like to find out how this or that patient fared. We headed back downstairs to wait, but less than thirty minutes passed. We spent that time updating charts and completing other paperwork. What fun! There wasn't any conversation, so I took the opportunity to listen to my favorite detectives.

"--How long have these letters been coming?" That was definitely Ellison's voice.

"For the past three weeks." Wheatley's voice. "I thought they were just some delinquent's idea of a joke. You know how children are these days, I'm sure."

"What kind of things have the letters said?" Sandburg.

"Ridiculous things, mostly." A sniff, probably disgust or frustration from Wheatley. "Threatening to kill me, accusations of murder. Honestly! I'm a doctor; I wouldn't kill anybody!"

A pause for a few moments. The detectives must be trying to gather their thoughts and decide what direction to take the questioning. "But you've had patients die, haven't you, Doctor?" Ellison again.

"Of course. Unfortunately, every doctor -- except perhaps radiologists and dermatologists -- have had patients die on occasion. I'm no exception. What exactly are you implying, Detective?"

"I'm not implying anything, but it is possible that the family of a deceased patient might consider you responsible for their loved one's death."

The conversation lulled for a few more moments. Wheatley spoke, hesitantly. "Well, yes. I suppose that's possible."

Another pause. I could almost see, in my mind's eye, Ellison and Sandburg trading looks in unison. "In the past, have charges of negligence ever been made against the hospital regarding a patient's death or injury? Or have charges been made against any personnel in particular?"

"Why do you ask?"

"Because that's where we should start looking... before our letter-writer tries to bring one of his fictions into the Real World."

So there was a mystery here. But it had to wait when one of the receptionists called on us with a patient.

It seemed an elderly white-haired man, perhaps seventy or seventy-five years old, had walked into the ER of his own accord and asked to see a doctor about an itchy rash on his leg. After a quick examination to make sure nothing else was wrong, Doctor Cunningham set to checking out the prickly redness on the man's left shin. "Mister Woods, can you tell me how long you've had this rash?"

His face pinking, he shifted uncomfortably on the paper covering of the gurney. "It might have been there yesterday, but I really noticed it this morning. The itching was terrible, and when it kept getting worse, I figured I'd better come here."

Palpating the rash gently with a gloved hand, she seemed to already have a good guess as to what was wrong. Whatever it was, I didn't want to be anywhere nearby so I was making use of the zoom feature of the camera. The rash formed a series of reddish pimples in lines on the skin, and I could see the tracks of his fingernails where he'd been maddeningly scratching. She prepared a small sample of affected skin before standing upright. "I won't be absolutely certain until the results come back from the lab," she began, compassion in her eyes, "but I'm fairly certain that your rash is called scabies. It's an infestation of an itch mite, but don't worry, it's completely treatable."

"You're sure?" I didn't blame him for being upset. Any sort of parasite is bad news.

"Yes, I'm sure." Doctor Cunningham spread some white cream on the affected skin and all around the area before stripping off her gloves and throwing them into the biohazard bin. She then scribbled something vaguely legible on an Rx pad and handed it to him. "Here's a prescription for the cream I just used. Make sure you use it just as the instructions say. I don't think you need to stay overnight or anything, and if you'd like to call back tomorrow or the next day, just to confirm the lab tests, that shouldn't be a problem."

"Should I wash my sheets as soon as I get home to kill them all?" Killing them all seemed like a great idea to me, but I held my tongue.

While crossing to the sink and washing her hands, she thought on that for a moment. "No, mites don't usually spread that way but, if it makes you feel better, it couldn't hurt."

"I will." So would I. Just thinking about little bugs skittering around under my skin made my stomach turn over and my aforementioned skin crawl.

We left the man in peace so he could get dressed, and I caught myself looking longingly in the direction of the sink as we exited. The next chance I got, a few minutes later, I hurriedly excused myself, ran to the ladies' room, and scrubbed my hands. It made absolutely no difference that I'd not laid a hand on him, but emotionally I simply had to do the deed.

Paranoia? Sure, but a little bit of hypochondria is normal once you've been doing this for a while. You see everything that can possibly go wrong in the human body, and either it begins to get to you or you simply stop worrying. After I watched Rick's footage last year about a woman who'd had a deer tick crawl into her ear while she was sleeping and get stuck after feeding, I was afraid to sleep for a week and a half.

Lunch is a big disappointment, but at least I can indulge in one of my obsessions when away from home. You have to understand, I'm from New England. Clam chowder to a New Englander is just as important as chili to a Texan. So, every city I visit must take the clam chowder electric Kool-Aid test to determine its score on the chowder-meter of life. Manhattan doesn't even rate, not with that dreck they call chowder; properly made, tomatoes are nowhere near the recipe. So far, the most inexplicable thing I've found is that a high-scale steak restaurant in Phoenix, Arizona, makes a decent clam chowder. I was staggered.

My hopes were soundly dashed with the contents of the bowl I was given in the cafeteria. It was thin and watery with only mere specks of clam that I could count on one hand. At least no tomatoes dared to show their fat red faces near my chowder. I said as much to Doctor Cunningham.

"So you're the reason there are no tomatoes in my salad."

I shrugged. "What can I say? They fear me."

She said nothing, but I could see the amusement on her face. At least I thought it was amusement. For a vaguely rational conversation between two reasonable and educated adults, this lunch was becoming ever more surreal. I took a brief break and checked to see what my detectives were doing.

"--Missing from the supply room except for some pads of paper and a mouse pad." Ellison's voice.

"Someone must have been running low. But if that's the case, why do we need to speak with the head of pharmacy? You think someone's been filching from the stores?"

"Maybe. Or maybe adding something else." A pause. "We won't know until we get there, Chief."

"We should speak to the clerks, too."

"And why's that?"

"Little people usually know more than big people, especially when it comes to the trials of everyday life." I could see the younger detective peering up at his partner, mischief in those blue eyes. Such a lightly veiled insult would probably be rewarded with a mock fight or something. There was too much affection there for real fighting. A slapping sound came through the mike. "Jeez, you're cranky today."

"Haven't had my quota of cholesterol today."

"If that's your way of saying 'it's time for lunch'... then I'm all for it. I mean, look at the sky. So long as we don't have to go out there anytime soon, I'm good."

Looking out the windows, I could see that the cold Cascade rain had changed to colder Cascade snow. Wonderful. Then, everything went from bad to worse as Cunningham's pager sounded, calling us back to the trauma bay.

We had another one, and her tense expression told me it was bad. "What do we have, do we know?" It was hard to talk, running down halls and stairs in an effort to get back in time. The trek was made harder by the fact that I was trying to get it all on tape.

"MVA, a bad one. At least three victims, maybe more, in five by LifeFlight." Winter was the bane of emergency personnel everywhere, causing accidents left and right in the first few evil months of white-out and black ice. It's as if people suddenly forget how to drive in snow from the first fall to about mid-February. Despite the ten months of winter in Syracuse, New York -- located deep in the snow belt, optimistically called 'Arctic Circle South' by those of us who lived there year-round -- people are no smarter.

We hurried up to the roof and were joined by two more doctors and several nurses, among others, to await the medical helicopter in the cold nasty snow. Rick and his doctor were among them, and I spared him a brief smile. A little over five minutes later, a sharp thudding noise boomed across the roof, thundering like the fast heartbeat of an angry giant. People charged the helicopter, swarming over the incoming patients strapped to backboards and oxygen rebreathers like maddened army ants, shouting down and tearing up anyone in their path. Geoff stood in the middle of the maelstrom, filming from inside the chopper.

The flight paramedic was right there, yelling the history, as we trekked them as fast as we could toward warmth, safety, and health. Geoff had stayed behind to interview the other paramedic still with the helicopter, and he would probably grab this one when she headed back upstairs. "We brought the three worst injured, two more coming via ground. ETA, twenty minutes." She panted, her breath coming out in white puffs of smoke. "Number one is Mom, unrestrained driver, approximately thirty-five years old, with a left femur fracture possibly involving the knee." I focused my camera first on Mom's face, noticing her dark skin had a grayish cast to it, and trailed down her body, noting also the IVs and saline bags. Her left knee definitely did appear bloody and swollen, so I supposed it might be broken. Her left arm was also clearly broken as it was splinted. "Left arm is broken at the wrist. Some difficulty breathing, and complaining at scene of chest and belly pain." She then rattled off vital signs but I missed hearing them, thinking of what that might mean for her recovery. I could always check the tape later.

"Did she hit the steering wheel?"

"She didn't say, but it's likely. The wheel and probably the car frame on her side, judging from what the wreck looked like."

"How did the accident happen?"

"She and her family were heading up to Canada for a short vacation, but some kid out on a joyride nailed them. They weren't going real fast because of the roads, but the other driver must've been going sixty miles per hour easy." Her face showing her disgust, the paramedic used her hands to display what happened as we hurried along the hallways. "The family was going straight when the kid came around the corner." Her hands dived toward each other before parting in opposite directions. "Both cars swerved to avoid, but that and the icy road sent both vehicles careening into the side-ditches and into the trees on the roadside."

"The other driver?"

"A Code-F at the scene."

I swallowed. That meant the other driver had been pronounced dead at the scene. Dropping back, I made sure to get film of the other victims brought in on the copter, knowing now that they were all members of the same family. Second in line was a little girl, strapped to a backboard and crying. There was an awful lot of blood all over her face, but I couldn't see where it was coming from. The last in line was a teenager, her pretty face lacerated most likely by flying glass, and strapped to the backboard on her left side.

Passing Rick and getting a brief glimpse of him in my viewfinder -- he was getting more footage of the kids -- I ran back up to Doctor Cunningham just in time to hear her asking Mom about her children's allergies or medications. Mom was pretty woozy but managed to answer in the negative, so we moved back a bit to get the information on the other two patients.

"Number two is Dominique, unrestrained back seat passenger, nine years old. Some relatively minor lacerations to the face and right forearm, complaining of pain in both." The paramedic held her tongue while we wrestled the gurney around a particularly sharp corner. "She also lost a front tooth at the scene, with a significant blood loss." More vitals came that I missed, thinking this time about losing one's front tooth in a car accident. Probably better than losing one due to utter stupidity like I had when I was seven.

"Number three is Jennifer, big sister, restrained back seat passenger, seventeen years old. Lots of facial lacerations, plus complaining of dizziness and pain to torso and stomach. Also," she looked up, catching my attention in the viewfinder, "she thinks she's pregnant."

"God." Doctor Cunningham shook her head. "Do we know how far along she is?"

"She's not sure."

I saw Cunningham glance upwards, in all likelihood a silent plea for patience or help from above, and at this point I was ready to do the same. By now, we had arrived at the trauma bay where three rooms had been set up and waiting for us. It seemed to take forever to get back downstairs from the roof. "Call Ob-Gyn, and get someone down here who can do a sonogram. We need to check on Baby." I saw Rick waiting with Jennifer, asking her some questions about what happened, and keeping her calm. Good. She had to be scared to death.

Doctor Cunningham hurried to Mom's side to check her out, and I followed. So much was going on at once, and Mom still had to be told that she might be a grandmother. Everything was happening faster than I could keep track of it all; one minute things were so, but I glanced away for a split second and things had changed. People were racing around from room to room and out again, and Cunningham was calling for X-ray and to alert CT. Apparently, they were going to bring Dominique to CT just to make sure she hadn't been seriously hurt and just wasn't presenting any injury. While X-ray was seeing to Mom, Cunningham was arguing with someone in pediatrics, Rick was busily filming the progressing sonogram, so I decided to hang back a bit and get some film of the whole scene.

Into this swarm of chaos, an ambulance arrived carrying the remaining two victims of the MVA. Some uniformed cops poured in, doing whatever it is cops do. Detective Buffed flew by, one hand on a gurney, with a paramedic on either side; it looked like he'd been at the scene, and if he was there, his partner had to be somewhere nearby. I saw Nick follow the paramedics in, Julie joined him and I knew there was little to worry about with this mess as far as coverage was concerned. Their injuries were another story, so I eavesdropped shamelessly. Dad had suffered a few lacerations to his arms and was complaining of pain to his belly and chest. The paramedics had found him outside the car and had assumed he'd been thrown clear until he told them otherwise. Little brother had not been injured that they could see, but were taking all precautions just in case. Both of them had apparently avoided serious injury because both had been wearing their seatbelts.

The deceased driver had not been wearing a seatbelt. He'd also been speeding.

I sneaked in to ask Dominique a few questions on film, intending to take her mind off the frightening events that had interrupted her vacation, and found Detective Gorgeous holding her hand and talking soothingly to her. Nodding to him, I'm sure my approval showed on my face because he smiled in return. Tightly strapped down to a backboard from head to toe, the child was clutching a small teddy bear when I entered, something I hadn't noticed her holding earlier. I guessed that it was what some of the EMTs and paramedics call a 'trauma bear', the idea being that a terrifying experience gives rise to a need for something warm and soft to cling to for comfort. "Hi," I said softly, moving into her line of vision so that she could easily see me.

"Hi." She sniffled. Like most children do when suddenly in front of a camera, Dominique kept her attention focused on the camera. A bit shy, which was unsurprising, considering, but far more restrained than some adults I've seen. She was probably wondering why I was walking around with a camcorder.

"It was pretty scary, wasn't it?"

"Yeah."

"But you're okay. I'm sure everything will be fine." Have I said that I'm not good with children? I just can't seem to cope on that level, so trying to comfort a child isn't exactly in my field of experience. Most of my relatives are my age or older, and none of my friends have children. Sitting there next to Dominique, patting her dark hair, Detective Gorgeous seemed to be approving of what I was doing. He had that same encouraging expression on his face that my high school geometry teacher used when I was doing well. "In fact, your Mom's right next door."

"Really?"

"Really." Getting a little closer, I crept down to impart a secret. "I heard that your dad did something silly, too." It was the only thing I could think of to explain how Dad could have wound up outside the car without it being open or him being thrown, and I hoped I was right. Then all at once she giggled, confirming my guess.

"Yeah, Daddy jumped out the window." Her eyes moved up to meet mine, laughter shining in them but a considerable amount of wonder and hero worship lived there as well. "Why did Daddy jump out the window?"

Probably because he couldn't get the door open, I thought, fearing the car might catch fire, and wanted to make sure he was able to extinguish it if that happened. However, I could hardly tell that to a nine-year-old. Apparently Detective Gorgeous had the same thought cross his mind because he jumped into the interview with both feet. "Probably because he couldn't get the door open, and he planned on going for help for you and your mommy."

"And Jenny and Frankie."

Frankie must be the little brother.

"Yes, and Jenny and Frankie," said Detective Gorgeous.

"Are they okay?" The fear had returned.

"Yes, sweetie, they're okay."

Just then the door swung open and Doctor Cunningham entered. She didn't look surprised to see me there, and we began moving Dominique to CT to get some scans of her brain. Shame I couldn't stay to get more footage of Detective Gorgeous, but this is Trauma Room, not Cheeks: The All-Male Review. Jeez, Annie, don't even go there.


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