The perishing sun dove into the shimmering expanse of the desert. This, the last day of her residency, Christine McDaniel, a gangly redhead, all angles, caught the spectacle through one of the windows of the University of Arizona Medical Center. No more than momentary, it lifted her spirits. Achieving adulthood on the East Coast in Boston, she seldom saw the sun, as the clouds always hung over Harvard Square, where she matriculated for undergraduate and medical school.
Tomorrow, July 1st, she would no longer be a resident. Celebrations were in order; at Maria’s, her favorite Mexican food restaurant, she would dine with Michael Mitchell, her present squeeze. She’d be accompanied by Vicki Turner, another resident, and her boyfriend, Tom Davidson. Tomorrow night would be a night of reflection and joy. In a month she’d ply her profession as a hospitalist at St. Cecilia’s, one of the largest hospitals in Tucson.
Just before midnight, the emergency room paged her while she was assisting one of her interns drain the cloudy fluid from a patient’s abdomen, her learned hands confirming the diagnosis she had made in the ER of this jaundiced cirrhotic, enduring long past his time. “Can you finish this?” she asked her intern. Fluid drawn out with a syringe wasn’t clear, but was cloudy, like cirrus clouds skating across the sky. The cloudiness of the fluid told her no more than her fingers knew when she palpated the patient’s protuberant belly earlier.
Like a soldier walking worn and weary, she passed through the covert door that led down to the ER. More thought had gone into planning the Medical Center than most hospitals: the ICU was directly above the ER. According to the ward clerk, it was Turner who paged her. The ER was full and smelled of putrefaction. Exchanging merry salutations with Turner, for it was both their last call day of residency, Turner said, “I’ve got a grandma in the third bay who needs to come in for pneumonia.”
“Thanks. You up for tonight?” queried Christy.
“You bet. Meet you at six.”
Grabbing the patient’s chart from the rotating metal rack, she walked over to the third bay and introduced herself to the woman who looked frail, but in no distress, a soul in her ninth decade. Quickly teasing out her history and examining her, she had her headed to the ward for her intern to take on as a patient. But she would not go quietly into the night of her last call day as a resident. Throughout the thin hours of the morning, before the sun rose, she examined patient after patient, passing them on to her two interns to admit to the hospital.
When her shift was over at eight the next morning, she handed the code beeper to the resident coming on, gathered her personal items and her copy of the Washington Manual of Medicine out of her locker, retreating to her apartment. Collapsing on her bed, she was asleep as soon as her head met the pillow.
For midsummer, the evening was cool, and the four of them sat in director’s chairs, sipping Margaritas, while they ate corn chips dipped in salsa, at Maria’s. When the main fare was brought out, twilight blanketed Phoenix, and the stars were just beginning to come out. Whenever Vicki or Christy would talk shop too much, either Tom would roll his eyes back, or Mike would hold his hands up like a traffic cop. Following dinner, they jaunted down to Reynaldo’s, a bar not a block away. While Tom and Mike began knocking back shots of tequila, their Vicki and Christy slowly drank bottles of Corona. In short order, the men were drunk. The more inebriated they became, the louder they grew, slapping each other on the back, as well as the bartender, Eddy, who was a dour man for such a position. Tom took two quick shots of Jose Cuervo, and in dousing himself with the last one, stepped back, bumping into a tall, stout Anglo, who spilled his glass of liquor down the front of his shirt. The man immediately shoved Tom, junior in weight and size to him, piling him on the floor of the canteen. Vicki came to the aid of her boyfriend, shoving the stranger, causing him to spill more of his drink. The man brushed her aside. Mike, stumbling over to the man, shoved him, but being his inferior in size, barely budged him. The man launched a haymaker at Mike, who could only partially block it with his arm, the blow landing him on the floor. Like a drunken Phoenix, Tom rose from the floor, where he’d just been met by his friend, only to be met by a stiff jab that sprang from the man and put Vicki’s boyfriend back on the floor. Christy, crying now, went over and slapped the man. Slapping him again, he threw what liquor remained into Christy’s face. Again she slapped him. He reached around to his seat pant’s pocket, and pulled out a leather wallet. With a flick of the wrist, he flipped it open. Inside was a law officer’s badge. “You see this,” he said to her. “I’m a deputy sheriff, and I’m arresting all of you for disturbing the peace, and you,” he said turning towards Christy, “I’m arresting you for assault.”
“You can’t do that,” said Tom brazenly, holding his nose which was bleeding.
“You wanna bet?” Pulling out his mobile phone he called the police.
For what seemed an interminable time, they sat sobering up in a holding cell for those about to be booked. They sat there till morning, when court opened.
The judge, the next morning, listening to the complaint written out by the arresting officer, was an older Hispanic man whose hair had just begun to recede, looking frosted from the grey of age. The four of them stood before the judge, who read the legal document like he’d read the sports page that early in the morning. Finished, he rested his cheek on his hand, and looked over at one of the police officers. “Officer,” he queried one of the lawmen. “Do any of the defendants have a criminal record? “
“No sir, they don’t.”
The judge turned to the defendants. He lowered the hand that had been supporting his head and straightened up in his chair. “You know I could throw all of you in jail.”
“Yes, sir,” they all muttered almost simultaneously.
“I’m going to drop the disturbing the peace charges. It seems that things just got out of hand like they do in bars where people are innocently drinking. But if I ever catch you again in this same situation, I’m going to throw the book at you.” Then his gaze wandered over to Christy. “You, young lady, I’m going to bind over for misdemeanor assault. You can’t just go around slapping people, and you slapped Deputy O’Duel three times.”
“But it was provoked,” said Christy.
“You may have been provoked, Dr. McDaniel, but that’s still assault.”
“Don’t think your position as a physician places you above the law.” Grabbing his calendar, he set the court date for a month hence.
Christy obtained a lawyer who frequently represented doctors, a surprisingly pleasant man, who told her the offense should not be a problem with the Arizona Board of Medical Examiners, but it might be troublesome to her employers at St. Cecilia’s Hospital, or any other medical facility where she sought gainful employment in the future.”
Nonplussed, she said, “You mean that I might not be able to work? I’ve worked hard ever since I was in high school to be a doctor, through college, medical school and now residency. There are no blemishes on my record. All this trouble for a simple slap?”
“I’m afraid so.”
At the trial the sole witness was the bartender. She was found guilty of simple assault. With the conviction, she had to pay a thousand dollar fine, report to a probation officer for a year, and undergo anger management.
Upon sentencing, she called the chief of staff at St. Celia’s, a Dr. Olds, to inform him of the conviction. “I’m afraid I must bring this up to the CEO and the legal department to see where the hospital stands on your employment.”
“But it was all so minor.”
“Perhaps it was, but we must seek their counsel.”
Two days later, Dr. Olds called to tell her that she had been terminated at St. Cecilia’s. Terminated before she had even begun her job there. “I did all I could for you, but it was the consensus of the CEO and the attorneys for the hospital.”
Furiously she began calling medical recruiters. One she knew particularly well, Jude Winters. Though he dug and dug, he could not find a job for her. “I’m sorry,” he told Christy.
“If I’d been busted for drugs, and gone through rehab, I’d have a job right away.”
By Joseph Dylan
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