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January 30, 2023

No Ordinary December Day

By Terry Petersen

Kim carefully drew up a vial of Dilantin into a syringe and injected it into 100ml of normal saline. The pharmacist-for-the-day arrived to check her work. STAT! Someone on the eighth floor of the hospital was probably having a life-threatening seizure. Kim knew about emergencies, but she kept focused -- as much as possible.

Dana, her Tuesday comrade, blasted unfiltered complaints through her mask into the Laminar flow hood as she prepared the antibiotics that didn't come premade. Work, school, even her top-of-the-line wedding dress couldn't please her. She claimed the bridal shop tailored the bodice without giving her room to exhale. Kim decided not to mention Dana's morning doughnuts, a routine started after the dress purchase.

"Aren't you tired of ho-ho-ho songs by now?" Dana asked, nodding toward the radio on the back counter in the adjacent room.

Kim shrugged. Sure "Frosty the Snowman" earned freezer burn by December 23, but Kim's Phil played a "Silent Night" that could calm a hurricane. She wanted to picture him playing guitar before his recent round of chemo. She imagined him in his red plaid flannel shirt and khaki pants that didn't match, his leg muscles strong from jogging, his dark hair three weeks late for a trim. When Phil plucked a string, it answered with a celestial ring, even on his nephew's student guitar. Phil's upbeat attitude never fell out of rhythm, no matter how he felt.

What a family he has, Kim thought. And they accepted her the first time she met them, with all her quirks, something Kim never understood. Her mother died when she was two. And the only memory she had of her father came with a belt buckle flung across her back. Although she never saw the belt or her father again after the ambulance came and got her. Just the inside of three foster homes, the last an okay shelter, a good place only because Phil lived two doors away.

Tess, Phil's mother, always said, "Look for the miracle, Kim." Even through the worst of Phil's illnesses. "Expect the good."

"How can you still believe in such things?" Kim would ask.

"You're here, aren't you?" Tess answered.

The IV room printer made demands that slowed Dana's whining and took the edge off Kim's worry about Phil's cancer surgery, scheduled at ten, after five years of remission. She sighed. The doctor said the tumor was larger than the first or the second recurrences. She had told no one. In fact, she told no one about anything in her private life, even insignificant details. Fortunately, Phil was in another hospital. She regretted insisting that no one call her on the job. Ever. Her heart beat overtime and her stomach fed on itself.

"Hey, who was that hunk I saw you with in the cafeteria last week?" Dana asked.

Kim gasped. Hunk? Phil weighed less than she did now.

"A friend." My fiancé someday, maybe. Tess may believe in divine intervention, but ... She drilled an unblinking stare into Dana's eyes. "Is there some reason you need to know?"

"Well, I ..."

"Well, we're running low on 5ml syringes. Should I get anything else before I scrub again?"

"No, but you don't need to get so testy. I only asked."

Kim kept her head down as she pushed a cart through the pharmacy's IV supply aisle.

Dana said little the rest of the day, but the sweet Christmas songs lost their flavor.

Kim had known Phil seventeen years, since fourth grade when they played basketball in his driveway. She beat him. Before his growth spurt. Tess gave her a basketball for Christmas. Phil wrapped it with leftover Christmas wrap in haphazard, clumsy patches. Then he presented it with mock flourish as if it were a work of art. Even Phil's dad, usually serious, couldn't stifle a laugh.

Kim knew she had found a home, even if it wasn't official.

As she got into her car at the end of her shift, she called Tess to get Phil's room number.

"Oh, Kim, I wish you had let me call you at work," Tess cried. "I almost did anyway."

But the connection was so poor in the employee parking garage that Kim couldn't catch her tone.

"What room is he in? I can barely hear you," Kim shouted until she discovered at least that much. "Tell me the rest when I get there."

When she arrived, Kim walked behind two men headed for the elevator.

"I know I'm only on first-year rotation, but I was in the OR. I saw everything," one man said.

"But I saw the tumor on the scan, less than a week ago, not the first one he's had either. Things don't happen this way. You checked his labs?"

"Double checked."

"And they just closed him back up again?"


Kim paled. No, it couldn't be. She stared straight ahead as if she were deaf. The second man said something about the first tumor appearing when the patient turned thirteen. This could not be some peculiar coincidence. They were talking about Phil.

When she got to his closed door, Tess opened it the instant Kim knocked.

"I should have called you anyway, whether you wanted me to or not," Tess said.

Kim went to the bed. Phil opened his eyes for a moment, then closed them again. "Sorry, sweetie, too many drugs, but the miracle lady's got news for you," he whispered.

Tess made a mock swing toward her son, then laughed. "I understand the confusion in the OR was unprecedented. When they cut Phil open, the tumor wasn't there. As in disappeared. Gone. Ended up sewing him back up again. He may be released tomorrow."

"But, how?" Kim asked.

"Doesn't matter," Phil said, his voice weak, but clear.

"I'm confused." Kim looked from Phil as if she could catch something invisible in the air between them, something they knew that she didn't.

"What matters is that we don't give up. What do you think? Big bash or small chapel wedding?" Tess acted as calm as if Phil had just had his teeth cleaned -- and received a no-cavities report.

Kim hesitated. Carolers began singing at the other end of the hallway. As they passed Phil's door their harmony reached a crescendo, then settled into a gentle sweetness that faded into the opposite wing.

"This is the first time a man's mother ever proposed for him, but ... Simple ceremony and celebration, lots of family," she finally answered. "All I ask is that you be there, Mr. Phil."

Kim caught Tess's smile and grinned back.

"You can invite work friends if you want," Tess said.

"I'll think about it," Kim answered. She realized she didn't have work friends, but she hadn't tried either. For now, she would settle for one miracle at a time.

Article © Terry Petersen. All rights reserved.
Published on 2016-12-12
Image(s) © Terry Petersen. All rights reserved.
1 Reader Comments
Kathy Steinemann
09:29:15 PM
Dawwww. Thanks for an upbeat story, Terry.
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