Beyond the Flame
Lauren closed the door gently and took two steps to the bed where she sat down on the edge of the mattress. Her knees crackled as she shifted the weight from her legs to her rear. She couldn't remember how long it had been since she had taken a break. Lauren rarely used the sleeping rooms made available to the doctors, but considering she was now on the twenty-seventh hour of her emergency room shift, time away to clear her mind was certainly warranted. She had mastered the sixteen hour work day, but anything longer than that pushed her body and mind a bit more than she found comfortable. Being short staffed a few doctors due to a big medical conference gave Lauren the unfortunate opportunity to work a few extra long shifts. She was wrapping up the last of those shifts, but her body screamed for rest and her eyes felt drier than the hot desert heat. Beyond the point where caffeine would even help, Lauren relished the calm afforded her from a few moments of focused breathing. The simple silence was her only option to help clear her mind and keep her sharp for a few more hours until her replacement would arrive.
The silence of the room was broken only by her deep breaths. She leaned forward so her elbows rested on her knees, stretching her back as much as possible. She felt her back and neck crack with the movement. The entire shift had been difficult. She tried not to think about the Jane Doe she treated several hours prior who was beaten so severely that both eyes were swollen shut. She tried to forget about the bruises lining that woman's arms, and not just fresh bruises but ones that told her history of abuse. Lauren didn't want to dwell on the fact that this woman was in a coma due to a head injury most likely received from an abusive boyfriend or husband. Instead, she focused on her own lungs and the air filling them with oxygen. More air, more focus: that was her mantra. It was her only escape right now. She visualized the air filtering into her lungs and the oxygen being distributed into her blood stream and pumped to every aching, exhausted muscle in her body. Not two minutes in to her meditation break, the silence was broken when Lauren's phone beeped. She pulled the device from her pocket, flicked off the lock screen and read the message. An ambulance was en route with a fire victim and she would be the first doctor to assess the patient. With one last deep breath, Lauren pushed away all exhaustion and stood up. She brushed her hands down the front of her white coat as an attempt to smooth out the wrinkles and proceeded down the hall to the front of the emergency room.
The scene was chaotic. As with many nights at the downtown city hospital, the hustle and bustle of patients and medical staff gave the hospital a rush-hour feel to it. The waiting room held at least a dozen people milling about, and that didn't include patients hidden behind ER curtains already being treated. The annoying intercom paged various hospital staff for various reasons, and Lauren immediately heard "Doctor Lewis to the ER" as she coincidentally arrived at the nurse's station.
"What do you have for me, Tara?" Lauren asked.
The nurse shuffling paperwork behind the desk, Tara, responded without even looking up. She knew all the doctor's voices, seeing as she worked this same position for the past twelve years. Lauren knew very little about the woman other than she was always at her post. Even though Tara maintained a focus on her task at hand, she always carried a pleasant tone in her voice.
"Detective Tamsin wanted you paged. She's in her usual spot."
Lauren glanced at the clock. It was five in the morning and Tamsin rarely worked night shift since she made the switch to the robbery division. She considered Tamsin was going to work early, but that certainly did not sound like anything the detective would voluntarily do. Concerned for her friend's presence at this hour, Lauren thanked Tara for the message and walked down the short hall to the main ER doors. Stepping outside, the cool air that greeted her felt refreshing. The lighting outside the doors was just as bright as inside the ER but the surrounding space was still enveloped in the darkness of night. Lauren glanced to her right and as expected, Tamsin stood twenty feet away from her, taking a drag from a cigarette next to a "No Smoking" sign. Lauren took the twenty paces in Tamsin's direction.
"Tamsin," Lauren called out as she approached.
Startled, Tamsin jumped before quickly dropping her cigarette and extinguishing it with her boot.
"Hey Doc," Tamsin said on the exhale.
Lauren folded her arms across her chest and shook her head at her old friend. "You know, just because you're a cop doesn't mean you can break the law. Plus it's bad for your health, Tam." Lauren nodded at the "No Smoking" sign.
"Good to see you too, doc," Tamsin replied, her voice dripping with sarcasm.
"God, it's late Tamsin. Well, I suppose it's really early, technically. Are you okay? What brings you here at this awful hour?" Lauren asked with concern.
Tamsin shuffled her feet and kicked at some small rocks resting on the sidewalk. She shoved her hands in her pockets to keep warm from the chilly, early morning air. "Eh, you know, working a robbery case that has no solid leads and I needed a break. I thought I'd stop by and see how you're doing."
Lauren felt sympathetic. Tamsin would occasionally vent to her about a case, just as Lauren would vent to her about a patient's disease or untreatable illness. Their friendship had years of deep rooted shared experiences and moments, and they relied on each other like family. She noticed Tamsin was wearing the same suit she had on when they met for lunch the day prior.
"So I guess I'm not the only one working past the twenty four hour mark?" Lauren quipped.
"Nope. I'm in that club too, doc."
Lauren put her hand on Tamsin's shoulder, using her for balance to stretch her ever aching muscles.
"Well, if you want a break from robbery, I have an unconscious Jane Doe who was beaten to within an inch of her life. Wanna go find the guy that did it and give him a swift kick in the ass for me?"
Lauren tried desperately to separate her emotions from each patient but sometimes her human nature got the best of her. She already knew what would happen: she would check in on the unconscious woman more than necessary, she would enlist Tamsin's help to find the jerk who hurt the woman, and she would go above and beyond her standard care to help her once she regained consciousness and had to face the realization that the man in her life was simply a monster. Survivors of abuse tugged at her heartstrings, and she had helped so many of them in the past that she was on a first name basis with contacts at several agencies that helped women in harmful situations. It didn't hurt that Lauren put her money where her mouth was as well and made large donations to help fund their work.
"You know I'm always happy to help you Lauren. Your Jane Doe, you know who brought her in?"
Lauren shifted to the other side of Tamsin and repeated the same stretch for the other side of her body.
"I think the guys from the one-nine. I'll check the paperwork and let you know, ok?"
The loud sirens echoing down the street went silent, pulling Lauren's attention away from their conversation. She knew that meant the ambulance had turned into the hospital driveway and would arrive in a moment.
"Sorry Tam, that's my cue."
"No worries doc, I'll wait with you."
Lauren nodded. The two walked the twenty steps back to the emergency room entrance as the ambulance stopped and the doors swung open.
Fire victims were never easy. While Lauren hated the pain that all patients had to endure, she especially hated what burns could do to a human body. Even minor burns could leave permanent damage. Extreme burns carried excruciating amounts of pain and the heightened possibility of infection. The healing process could feel like death itself. The disfiguring results could actually make some victims wish they had not survived. It was truly an evil that she wished upon no one.
Much to Lauren's surprise, the first to emerge from the ambulance was a female firefighter. She jumped from inside the back of the vehicle and scanned the few faces at the doorway. She wore all her gear except for her hat, which was currently gripped tightly in her hands. Her face was covered in dirt and sweat, but Lauren noticed the streaked lines down her face from the tears that had fallen. Her dark hair that was once surely pulled back neatly was now quite disheveled. Behind that worn appearance, dark brown eyes were full of sadness and fear. Unsure of this intriguing woman's presence, Lauren quickly slipped into doctor mode.
"Are you hurt, uh, Chief Dennis?" Lauren asked the firefighter point blank as she read the name from her firefighter jacket.
The brunette shook her head sideways. "No, but a member of my squad is. He fell through a floor while we were battling a fire over on Clark Street. Please help him."
The desperation in her voice echoed the look in her eyes. At that moment, the medics pulled the gurney from the ambulance. At first glance, the burns on his face appeared intense. The medics shouted vitals and fed Lauren loads of information about the patient. As Lauren raced inside the ER alongside the patient, Tamsin disappeared from sight but the brunette ran along with them, clomping in her firefighter boots with each step. Lauren yelled orders at her staff, knowing every second would count. Down the hall and around one corner, the medics steered the gurney through a set of double doors for hospital staff only. Lauren quickly glanced at Chief Dennis, who had stopped at the "staff only" sign. Those brown eyes, still filled with sadness and fear, begged Lauren to save this man's life.
"I'll do everything I can, Chief." Her words were soft but sincere.
The chief placed her firefighter hat over her heart and nodded as Lauren disappeared behind the closing double doors.