Post-Call Rounds

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Pender stood in line at the SaveCo pharmacy near his home and waited his turn. It was near noon and there were still several people ahead of him. He was beginning to feel trapped and his ragged nerves were protesting. It was well past his time. Pender was afraid the shakes that were ramping up would become severe enough to be noticed. He was embarrassed by his circumstances and was constantly trying to hide it from people.
I’ve got to get a handle on this, Pender thought. The line really isn’t that long.
Pender glanced over the top of the ten people in front of him to the customer service counter beyond. It might as well be one hundred miles away. He could feel a big pussy-fat panic building. Pender still had his emergency Quaalude left. It rested down at the bottom of his right front trouser pocket. He thought that right this very minute would be a darn good time to use it.
Pender thrust his hand down deep into his pocket, retrieving both a candy mint and the pill. The both of them he popped in his mouth. He chewed them together rather loudly and with great relish. Just the thought of how the pill will soon relax him made Pender visibly content.
Pender glanced around at the customers milling about. He wondered how many of the respectable-looking people had a drug habit as nasty as his.
I hope a lot of them, he thought. The line for prescription refills had shortened by one person. I’d hate to be the only one. A decade of higher education and advance training costing nearly one hundred thousand Notes and worth infinitely more, Pender mused wryly. All so I can become a god damned junkie. I have become the butt of my own stupid joke.
Pender, of course, wasn’t always an addict. He was once a respected researcher; still was in some circles, but it has been a while since he had studied with any real intensity. Years before, Pender was even a practicing resident physician of Internal Medicine at St. Anthony Medical Center.
“The vivacious and vicious Ms. Hannah Bergh put a stop to that,” Pender mumbled louder than he intended. The sudden angry words caused unwanted stares in Pender’s direction.
Pender smiled at the patrons, trying to appear harmless. But his tall stature, as well as his underfed, limping, haggard appearance painted a somewhat different picture than what he hoped. He was certainly used to people taking notice of him. It used to be for his looks, brains, and his accomplishments. That had been one hell of a long time ago. It’s been –he stopped to think- more than ten years, when he’d seen much better days.
Before Bergh, Pender thought with a scowl. That bitch ruined me. She always made sure I was fed with these drugs. She knows that I can never leave Hudson-Smythe and I can barely live with what we’ve done. What I’d done.
Pender dropped his blanched, unshaven face. He let the greasy blonde, graying hair fall over his hazel eyes.
“I never had a chance,” he mumbled aloud. This time he could give a shit who heard him.
Pender thought back to how easy it had been to crawl into bed with Hannah Bergh. Pender did this while he waited in line for the synthetic heroin. It was his lifeblood. Hannah Bergh had arranged it for him.
Always in her debt, he thought morosely, always, always.


Memory Lane:

The gym locker room had smelled of warm humidity and stale sweat. Dr. Jon Pender, Internal Medicine Resident at St. Anthony Medical Center, twisted the small black dial of his locker and opened the blue-gray door. He stripped quietly out of his overly faded 501 jeans and pulled off the white Izod polo shirt.
Pender folded the clothes neatly and carefully as he prepared for his basketball work-out. He removed the gym bag from the bottom slot of the locker and set it down on the long wooden bench beside him. Pender unzipped the red canvas bag. He removed a small but stout knee brace. He tugged it up his left leg and wrapped it tight around the knee. A pair of standard one-size-is-supposed-to-fit-all dark blue physical education shorts came out next. Then he put on white sweat socks, a grey extra large t-shirt and a size thirteen pair of Addidas high-top basketball shoes from the gym bag.
Pender dressed carefully. He even ran a comb through his medium length, curly blonde hair. Silly, but that was the old Dr. Jon Pender.
Pender warmed up a little bit by stretching the firm muscles of his athletic build. These were the days before the really heavy drug use began. Pender still reveled in his impressive physique. A Percodan here and a Tylenol #3 there was all he would allow himself in those days.
Back then Pender still believed the pills were just to ease the pain of a torn cartilage in his left knee. The knee had been scoped a few times, but the pain persisted. He wasn’t abusing the pain pills. He did have pain, so he did need them. No big deal.
Pender shut the locker door, twisted the lock and strolled happily out of the locker room. The indoor basketball court was right outside the door. The five other Central Desert Valley University players were already on the hardwood, taking some practice shots.
The self-proclaimed Docs & Jocks Hard-Knocks Basketball Challenge was a casual weekly event. It was held every Saturday morning at seven. It consisted of four males and two females. Two of the males were students of the medical school, while the third was a Medical Resident like Pender. The two female players were members of the college’s basketball team. The women were scary good. If it was twenty years later, they would both be in the WNBA.
All four of the men were in their mid to late twenties, all in pretty decent condition. But even with Pender, who’d started and ended each day with fifty push-ups and one hundred crunches, the dudes were severely outclassed by the chicks. The men were no match for the varsity players.
The two women were either side of twenty years old. They both were taller than any of the men, even though they averaged six foot. The women were so much better than the men they were made to play opposite each other on teams of three each.
Made isn’t the right word. The women were politely asked to play on opposing teams. The Docs knew the varsity Jocks could kick their monkey-asses off the court, as well as on. These boys didn’t get into medical school because they were stupid.
The two varsity players preferred the more intellectual company of the medical people to their fellow athletes. The group normally played half-court, makers-takers, to fifty points.
That day’s game lasted all of forty minutes. It was a quick game because Pender was actually able to sink the ball on a number of occasions, practically at will. It was glorious. He couldn’t miss. It was just like snapping a string; either all net, or if the ball did hop around the rim and backboard, Pender seemed to get the kind bounce.
“Damn, boy,” one of the varsity players told him, “someone sure is smiling on you today.”
Pender had to agree. Today’s going to be a good one, he thought.
Pender’s team won for the first time in weeks. It gave him some long overdue satisfaction. He’d been getting his ass handed to him by the Chief Resident and Pender could hardly blame her. He just wasn’t very good.
Pender found himself more than a little surprised that he didn’t like clinical medicine one bit. He did not dig working with patients. All those sick and dying folks demanding cures from him drove him nuts. He couldn’t provide a reversal of their disease processes and return them to pristine health. Especially since most of them would be loathed to give up their smokes and cocktails and hoagie sandwiches and grams of blow, etc. etc. His ego became seriously bruised. Pender was used to being the best, or very nearly so, with anything he set his sights on. But he was being forced to concede that that just wasn’t possible for him in clinical medicine.
What the fuck did I become a doctor for, then? He asked himself. Again.
Things were, however, finally showing some signs of improvement. The evening before, in fact, Pender had made a few salient points and one spot-on diagnosis of pulmonary edema. He felt there was fluid in her lungs, secondary to the old bird’s congestive heart failure.
Pender stood firm when the other interns and residents were insisting on asthma exacerbation, or a rain of emboli through the lung vasculature. Some even wanted to isolate the elderly patient for TB. Pender refused to vacillate. He was taking a butt-load of snarky shit from his peers over it.
On top of that Pender went against the accepted grain and sought the opinion of the staff working directly with the patient. Doctors normally think they’ve cornered the market on brain power, but Pender knew better.
Pender knew he was right on the money with his diagnosis when the nurses and respiratory techs concurred heartily with his assessment. He stuck to his guns and began treating her as such. His follow-up therapy of Lasix (to make her pee), morphine and oxygen (to ease her breathing) had the old gal sitting up in bed in no time at all. She was chatting happily with everyone like she was witnessing at a church revival.
The patient made wonderful moon eyes of gratitude at him. Her nurse (one of the prettiest visions on the planet) graced Pender with one of her incredible smiles. The respiratory tech insisted on shaking his hand with thanks and the Chief Resident was no longer completely disgusted with Dr. Pender.
Pender was pleased with the outcome, naturally, but he instinctively knew it wouldn’t last. Last night’s triumph over the asshole convention that is hospital-based clinical medicine and this morning’s victory on the court made Pender obnoxiously happy.
He hoped to God it would last. It wouldn’t, but he could wish.
Pender was still wishing when he heard his name.

–END Post #8….go to ‘NEWER POSTS’ for Post #9 and more on Dr. Jon Pender!!