Sometimes I surprise myself. Like I get a tricky question right during rounds, or I do a perfect orotracheal intubation on the very first try, or I make it past the janitor without insulting him or getting tripped or being shoved in my locker or used as a mop.
Sometimes I even surprise Dr. Cox.
"Patricia," Dr. Cox says to me. "What in the name of God's green and red and purple earth are you doing?"
I freeze where I'm standing on Zombie Elvis' bathroom sink, trying to see if these scrubs make my butt look big instead of firm and scrumptious and grabbable. Rrrow.
"Trying to see my butt in the mirror," I tell him, which maybe isn't a good idea, because he gets that look on his face. Not the it's a shame I'm too tired to kill you right now one but the my God, Catherine Therese, somehow, despite all my hopes for you, despite all the time and effort and painstaking attention I've put into your professional development, you've managed to become even stupider than I could have imagined, how is it possible you're still walking around without falling over dead from the stupid? one.
Or maybe his gum was just losing its flavor.
I hop down from the sink. "Elliot said these scrubs aren't a good color on me."
Actually, what she said was:
"I don't know," Elliot said, scrunching up her nose. "They make you look kinda chunky."
"What if I said your hair made you look chunky!" I demanded.
She gasped and put a hand to her head. "Does it?"
"No," I said dreamily. "It's pretty."
"--listening to me?" Dr. Cox says. "Earth to Newbie, uh, come in, Newbie?"
"Pretty," I say.
He does that whistle thing of his. "Me and Zombie Elvis are gonna watch the game, so scram."
"Ooh, can I--"
"Shoo! Shoo!" he says, swatting at me with his rolled up newspaper, the tails of his big white doctor coat flapping like an angry mama bird. I shoo, skittering into the hall like a frightened baby bird, sneakers squeaking. The door slams behind me. He's so mean. All I want to do is spend some time with him. It doesn't have to be sports. We could watch soaps, or do the jumble, or just talk about our feelings. Also, I think I pulled something when I ran away.
I limp over to the nurses station. "Laverne, is Zombie Elvis' blood work back yet?"
"No, child, not yet."
"Fine," I say, keeping a stiff upper lip. "I'll just find some other patient to cure."
"Uh huh," Laverne says.
I limp down the hall, keeping an eye out for sick people I can heal with my doctorly knowledge. I find a whole room of them, but mostly they want to know what's for lunch. They didn't teach me that in med school, but I improvise and predict a high chance of jello. They want to know what color. Sick people can be so demanding. I fake a page and escape.
Across the hall, the janitor's leaning on his mop and eating a cup of yogurt. "Nice pants," he says.
I freeze, hoping he can't see me if I don't move. It works with T-Rexes. Sam Neill said so.
The janitor cocks his head at me. "I can see you, you know."
So he's not part dinosaur, but he can read minds. I panic and start thinking about all the things I shouldn't think about. My sixth grade teacher in the angora sweater with the tiny pearl buttons. Turk singing in the shower. Unicorns. Oh god! Say something, say something!
"They make me feel pretty!" I blurt.
Not that! Run!
"Good for you," he calls out after me. "And don't you worry about what those other janitors are saying. I defended you!"
It's a trap; there are no other janitors. I leap into the elevator.
Nervous Guy is there.
"I don't remember what floor I want," he moans. "I've been in here all morning. I think I'm getting seasick."
"Steady," I tell him. "We'll get through this."
I lead Nervous Guy to dry land and park him by the nurses station with a juice box. I can tell by the way Laverne hits me with a ruler that Zombie Elvis' blood panel still isn't done and I should stop asking. This calls for a vigil. I sit on the counter and try to look like the kind of doctor that needs his lab work back immediately. While I'm waiting, I practice my pout in the cap of Carla's fancy pen. My natural talent is undeniable. I'm instantly the darling of the hospital supply industry. Everyone wants me to wear their scrubs. I slink to the end of the catwalk and turn and look over my shoulder and pout. The air explodes with flashbulbs and the press claw at each other, calling my name, all trying to get a picture of me, the world famous scrubs model. I toss my hair. Dr. Cox flings himself at my feet, begging for my autograph on a release form.
"Bambi," Carla says to me, "I need that."
"Okeydokey," I say, handing it over, no longer a world famous scrubs model.
She takes her pen back and starts doing mysterious, nursey things to a stack of charts. "You're awfully quiet today. What's up?"
"I'm not sure about these pants."
She gives me a look a lot like the one Dr. Cox gave me. It makes me want to cry a little.
"Please tell me you're kidding."
"I'm not!" I sniff. "They're getting me nothing but negative attention, and," I say, frantically, my voice racing up like the mercury in a thermometer, "some people think they make my butt look big! I mean, who asked them? Like I care what Elliot and the janitor say about my butt!"
"Well," Carla says, moving off, "that makes two of us."
I have to sit quietly and think about that for a while. I'm still thinking when Turk gets off the elevator and comes wheeling around the corner.
"Hold on to your superior mesenteric artery, folks, 'cause Master Tizzle is in da--" He spots me and screeches to a halt. "You're wearing girl scrubs!"
"Dude, you are."
"They're not girl scrubs."
"They're pink!" he says, pointing.
"It's what the scrubs machine gave me," I say.
He gives me a disappointed look. "Because that's the button you pushed."
"Yes," I say automatically, helpless to resist. "Damn your cunning!"
"So what's up?"
"I'm having a gay day," I confess.
Turk grins and claps me on the shoulder. "No shame in admitting it, man. Happens to the best of us."
"Not to you," I say.
"Hell, no. This here's nothing but one hundred percent prime grade A straightness." He beats his chest, gives Carla a smooch, then moonwalks away to a consult.
Carla comes up behind me. "He's lying, you know."
"I know." I'm not the only one who cries at the end of Turner & Hooch.
Thinking about how Hooch liked to drink beer straight from the can makes me sad, so when Zombie Elvis' blood work comes back, I'm busy thinking happy thoughts about nachos and kittens, and before I can pull myself away from the nacho-eating kittens Dr. Cox swoops in like a flying monkey and grabs the results right out of my hand.
"Hey!" I say. "Zombie Elvis is mine!"
"Gosh, Peggy, I know you were hopin' he'd ask you to the big homecoming dance, but it's just not! gonna! hap--" He flips the paper over a couple times. "Hm," he says, scanning the results.
"Hm?" I say. "Good hm or bad hm? Lemme see!"
"Not now, Abigail. Let daddy work."
I try to snatch the lab report from him, but he yanks it away and smacks me with the rolled up newspaper again. I yelp. He's so big and mean and barrel chested. I clasp my hands to my chest, and watch adoringly as he blows across the barrel of the paper, gives it a spin, then holsters it like it's high noon at the O.R. Corral.
The dust settles and Nervous Guy peeps out from behind the counter of the saloon.
Dr. Cox deputizes him with a whistle: "You! Nervous Guy! Over here!"
Nervous Guy looks like he's about to cry, but shuffles forward, whimpering and clutching his juice box.
"I should have left you in the elevator," I growl.
Dr. Cox swaggers off, spurs jingling, and Nervous Guy shoots me a nervous look and scampers after him. A tumbleweed of gauze rolls past. I try being a world famous scrubs model again, but now the press is whispering that Elliot was right, I really do look fat in these pants, and I can't even be trusted to treat a zombie. I sigh and decide I might as well drown my chubby sorrows in sweet, sweet carbohydrates since half the hospital already thinks I'm a giant tubbo, but when I get to the break room, I can't find my lunch. I brought it special from home and it had my name on it and everything! I stamp my foot.
"Has anyone seen my yogurt?" I demand, rooting around in the fridge. "It's fruit on the bottom."
"I'll give you fruit on the bottom," The Todd says, coming up behind me and touching me in my special place.
"My tushie!" I cry.
"You just grabbed my ass!"
The Todd looks confused. "High five?"
I clap my hands to my bottom. "Why, Todd, why did you grab my ass?"
"I don't know," he says. "It was just so tight and pink and grabbable."
"Oh no," Ted moans from the floor. His sweaty head pokes up from behind the couch. "I beg of you, please stop what you're doing. It would be construed as sexual harassment even by lawyers much worse than me."
"I'd like to see her assment," The Todd says, leering at me.
"I'm not a girl," I remind him.
Ted's still talking. "Oh no, I don't think I can do this again. The lawsuits and the blame, and then there's the screaming, oh God, the screaming. I don't want to be locked in the basement. It's cold down there." He takes a flask out of his briefcase, knocks back a slug, and then slides down to the floor. "I don't want to die," he says in a small, creaky voice.
"You really think my tushie's grabbable?" I ask The Todd.
"Definitely!" he says, then frowns. "That sounded kinda gay. Did you make me gay?"
"I hope not."
"I gotta go find some hot chicks, stat!" The Todd leaves, then ducks back into the room and snaps his fingers. "You're wearing girl pants! That's why I grabbed your ass, you were asking for it!"
"Noooo," wails Ted, feet twitching.
The Todd beams, obviously proud of himself. "High five!"
I raise my hand up to just below shoulder height. The Todd may have given my tushie self-esteem a boost, but he still violated me in the fridge and he doesn't get a full five for that.
The Todd fives me hard enough to knock me back against the counter, then takes off, passing Dr. Cox on his way in. Dr. Cox vaults over the couch and lands in a perfect reclining slouch.
"Ow," says the floor quietly.
"Uh huh," Dr. Cox says into the phone.
He puts up a hand. "Can't you see I'm on the phone, Gloria?"
I can. I sit down on the arm of the couch to wait.
"Yuh huh," he says, wagging his head back and forth like he does when I'm talking to him and he's pretending not to care. I smile at him in solidarity. He sets one foot against my thigh and slowly pushes me off the couch.
I hit the floor with a thud. Ted and I stare at each other miserably.
"I couldn't agree more!" Dr. Cox says into the phone.
"I think Dr. Cox is avoiding me," I say to Ted.
"I think Dr. Kelso is slowly crushing my will to live," Ted says to me.
"You win," I say, then crawl out of the lounge on my hands and knees. Being around Ted is depressing. That doesn't exactly explain why I'm crawling around on the floor, though. I bounce to my feet. "Gah!"
The janitor's lurking by the fire extinguisher, still eating yogurt. The cup has JDNITOR written on it in black sharpie.
"Hey, that's my yogurt!" I say. Everyone's taking my stuff today. First Zombie Elvis, now my yogurt. Next they'll want my pants!
The janitor just looks at me with that dumb janitor look. "Nuh uh."
"Is too. It's got my name on it."
"Want it back?" He sticks his tongue in and swirls it around.
"We could share," he says.
I leave and go stand in front of the vending machines. I have seventeen cents, and three of them are Canadian. I have eighteen cents. You can't buy anything with eighteen cents. Especially not delicious snack cakes.
Dejected, I return to my duties. There are boils to lance and weird rashes to be freaked out by. Mrs. Sampras slips me a dollar when I top off her IV and I try to tell her I'm not the bell boy but she's off in her own scary world where ordering room service gets you an enema. I'll steal her a pudding cup later. Keeping an eye out for the janitor, I sneak off to the vending machines, use my new dollar to buy some Devil Dogs, then sneak into Zombie Elvis' room. Zombie Elvis is the only one who understands me. Too bad I don't understand him.
I offer him a Devil Dog, but he just stares at the ceiling, all glassy-eyed and zombified. "Oh, Zombie Elvis," I sigh.
Dr. Cox pulls the curtain back from where he's sitting on the other side of Zombie Elvis' bed, feet up, watching Jeopardy! with the sound off. I shriek.
"Oh, very good, Marjorie. If the Devil Dogs don't cure him, maybe the ear piercing, blood curdling scream of a young boy whose testicles haven't yet dropped will wake him up. Hell, it can't hurt. Could be he's just got a wicked case of ear wax. Ya never know. It's not like there's a school for this kind of stuff." He's trying to cheer me up, but I can tell his heart's not in it.
"What is wrong with him?" I ask, slumping into the other chair and putting my feet up.
"The man's a zombie," Dr. Cox says.
We stare at him for a while.
"Why wouldn't you let me see his blood work?"
"Shirley, you do know you've got the entire hospital in an uproar? Some idiot up in pediatrics started a fist fight defending your honor, there's a pool going on how long before Kelso sets you up with his son, and, hold onto your pink pants, Hazel, because no one saw this coming: The Todd's saying you made him gay."
"I did not!"
"No, no, you didn't. That was his mother and a lifetime of secretly wearing women's underwear."
"He grabbed my ass," I say. Dr. Cox's eyes go extra googly and I gasp and lean forward to cover Zombie Elvis' delicate ears. "He might be able to hear us! What if we've traumatized him?" I uncover his ears. "You have a very nice pulse," I tell him. Zombie Elvis continues to stare at the ceiling, silent and unjudging, once again proving he's the best friend a doctor in pink pants could want.
I frown. "You didn't answer my question."
"Exactly which question is that, Vanessa? Because you've just been yap-yap-yapping away since you got in here and it's all just a big swirly blur of noise and hormones and feelings," he sneers. "So be sure to state your answer in the form of a question, and be very, very, very very very, very very specific or you will be disqualified."
I watch, fascinated, as his hands go from yapping motions to big swirly blur motions, get very, very, very very very, very very specific and then reach over Zombie Elvis and flick me in the ear. "Ow!"
Then it all comes together, Dr. Cox chasing me away from Zombie Elvis, shoving me off the couch, beating me with newspapers. I stand up and point at him accusingly.
"Why are you avoiding me?"
He starts to wail, rubbing his eyes with his fisted hands and screwing up his entire face like he does when he fake cries and makes Nervous Guy cry for real. Luckily, that doesn't work on me, but it is annoying.
"Knock it off," I say, surprising myself.
He does, looking a little surprised himself. "All right, Gretchen, it looks like you grew a pair there so I'm just gonna tell you. You are, and believe me, this hurts me way more than it hurts you, just incredibly distracting in those pants. Don't get me wrong, you're always distracting, like a festering pox on my soul, but those pants, sweet fancy Elvis, there is just no way I can even be in the same room with you in pants like that. It's just too much to ask! I can't do it!"
"We're in the same room now," I point out.
"It's dark," Dr. Cox says grimly. "And I'm kind of drunk."
I gasp. "You are not!"
"Fine, Dorothy, you've found me out, now will you please sit down?" He's so gruff and broad and googly-eyed, but I know he's got real feelings under there and it makes me all tingly in my girl parts -- I mean pants -- and Dr. Cox throws his arms on top of his head and growls and I'm so happy I just want to kiss his face and sit on his lap and give him half of everything I own.
"Want a Devil Dog?" I ask.
He smirks at me and lets his eyes wander. "You bet your sweet pink ass I do."
I surprise myself sometimes, and sometimes, Dr. Cox surprises me.