“Happy New Year, sweetheart,” my wife said softly as she met me at the door. Following my mandatory COVID vaccination, she had finally relented on the front porch strip tease routine and allowed me to come inside before stripping off my scrubs just before the real winter blast had hit. “How was your night?” she asked with a warm smile while handing me a flute of champagne.
“We’ve been doing this a long time,” I said pausing for a long moment. “You know the last baby of 1999 turned 21 this morning. Who knows maybe this is his or her first drink.”
“Wow” she said with a far off look. “Y2K is 21. I remember that night. Some people thought the world was going to end because all the computers that ran the world didn’t have the ability to change their internal calendars or something.”
“Yeah,” I said taking a long drink. “They thought that planes were going to fall out of the sky, the stock market would crash, there would be food and heat shortages. I remember that I worked New Years Eve that night, too.”
“Do you remember anything about the night?” she asked.
“Yeah, don’t you remember? It was really freaky. It was eerily quiet in the ER, well at least for that ER. But we had a really old man die in one room while a young homeless woman delivered her baby in another room. The old man was trying to hold out to the next millennium and he died before midnight. And the young homeless woman was trying to make herself have the first baby of the new millennium, thinking she would get a lot of money, I guess. And she didn’t succeed in that either. Altogether Y2K came in like a dud.”
“How about last night? Was Y2K plus 21 a dud, too?”
“My perspective on the answer to that has changed a lot in the last two decades,” I said raising my eyebrows as I held up the empty flute.
“I take it you want another,” she said taking my glass with a sly smile. I nodded yes, doing my best doggy begging look. As she walked toward the kitchen I followed her and flopped down on the couch in front of the fireplace.
“You know it’s weird to think about all the nights I’ve worked and come home to you asking the same questions. They all seem to run together. But for the person coming into the ER that might be one of the most memorable nights of their lives. Or the last. Isn’t it strange that I can remember details of the night of Y2K, but I can’t tell you much about what happened last week.”
“You’re getting old, Mark. Don’t act like I don’t see you pulling out the drawers of the dresser still not sure which is your underwear drawer.”
“Hey, that’s not a bad memory. I just can’t decide whether to start dressing from the top down or inside to outside.”
She just shook her head. “So tell me about some of your cases last night.”
“Well there was the little kid who was playing Spider-Man and jumped off the bunk bed and split his chin open. His middle aged parents brought him. They were completely hammered. I’m shocked they weren’t stopped by the cops going down the road. The mom had this beautiful cocktail dressed completely smeared with blood. She was trying to hold a towel on the kid’s chin and he was screaming and fighting her. She was sobbing about her beautiful baby with snot running down her face mixing with her mascara. I even thought about giving her something to sedate her before I tried to do anything with the kid. The dad just stood over in the corner with glazed eyes. I thought he would fall over any second.”
“You didn’t put them back in the car after you fixed the child did you?”
“Oh, noooooooo,” I said. “Security made them call for an Uber and kept the keys to the car. I saw it when I left this morning. It was a frickin’ Bentley. Those things cost over $200k. I think they were both lawyers. I should’ve offered to drive them home.”
“Anything more…exciting?” She was shy about asking about the trauma cases. But I knew that she was always curious about the cases back when I worked in the trauma center.
“We had a code about midnight,” I said teasing her curiosity a little.
“Really,” she said as a cloud came over her expression. To me codes were just a part of life, and certainly part of my job. But to her a code was more of a metaphor for life’s doomed struggle.
“The patient was a 97-year-old WWII veteran from a nursing home. And you won’t believe it, but someone had tested him for COVID and low and behold he was positive.”
“You didn’t touch him did you,” she said starting to back away from me.
“Of course I did. But I was all geared up like Darth Vader. You know we wear complete gowns to protect us and even double glove. We have helmets that filter the air.” I started making a hissing breathing sound. “Not like those silly masks you wear to the grocery store.”
“Speaking of masks,” she interrupted, “Are you going to stop wearing masks now that you have been vaccinated?”
“I’d love to, but I hear that they are giving out $500 fines downtown if they catch you without a mask. I could probably beat it in court. But who wants the bother?”
“But you don’t really think that you need to wear a mask after you’re vaccinated?”
“Well, there’s actually no data yet whether you can pass an infection that can’t infect you, yourself. It doesn’t make any sense that you could. But now it seems we are all wearing masks as a fashion statement or a religious symbol that says ‘I care’. So I guess I’ll keep wearing them for what it’s worth.”
“So did he die… of COVID?”
“Hell if I know. One of the other female residents said he came into her room and was getting into bed with her. And then he just went limp and died.”
“He went limp?” my wife asked trying to hold back a chuckle.
“Yeah, he just went limp. That’s what she said,” I repeated in mock seriousness. “I don’t know if they knew each other and this was their normal routine, if this was his New Year’s Eve present, or whether he was just disoriented and got into the wrong bed. I don’t know if it was shock or anticipation that killed him.”
“So you don’t think it was COVID that killed him?”
“Well, it was reported as a ‘COVID-related death’. He goes in the statistics. I don’t know. Maybe he just got sick of being locked up in his room and decided to go out with a bang.
“A bang? Did they say whether the lady seemed upset that he came into her bedroom?”
“Nope. But I think I saw a smile on his face and I was tubing him.”
“So, what about me? Are we going to start off the new year with a little…you know ’bang’?”
“What? So you can tell all those 30,000 doctors who read your silly stories that you got lucky on New Year’s Day?”
“No, Ma’am. Your secret is safe.”
Night Shift is a collection of fictionalized stories that Dr. Plaster has written over the last several decades. These stories are inspired by actual happenings/cases.