And we take a moment to wrap everything up all nice. I hope you all enjoyed the story!
The blackness was closing from the outside of my vision. Sudden onset of tunnel vision...That's usually a sign of diffuse cerebral hypoxia. The earlier warning sign is a gradual loss of color vision. I wonder why I didn't notice that... Can't see anymore, but my eyes are still open, right? I think they're still open... Could be that my brain being starved of oxygen somehow... how could that happen? I'm not a fighter pilot, at least I don't think so. I hope I don't have a cerebral edema. Those are really hard to fix and the vet would probably just have to put me down. That would be too bad...
Something was squeezing my arm. I pulled but I couldn't get my arm back. It felt like the way the Jackal would put pressure on me sometimes. I couldn't escape. No... Go away! I'll be a good dog, I promise...
"N-no I'm a good dog!" I felt a sudden lurch, but nothing moved very much. "But I... w-wha-"
"Donna? Donna, it's Dr. Carter. Can you look at me?"
I slowly turned my head to center the bleary image of Dr. Carter's face in my field of vision. "I... I think your pupils are dilated, Doctor."
He smiled. "What a coincidence, that's what I was looking for. They ought to be, anyway. The lights are dimmed. Not fixed dilation though, so you're okay there."
I heard the hiss of his sphygmomanometer and felt the pressure on my arm ease. Dr. Carter tapped at his datapad after he took the cuff off.
"You need a calculator just to take BP, Doc?" I asked, still feeling a little giddy.
"Well, your arm is quite thin, so I have to use the pediatric cuff. There's a conversion factor for that. Then I have to use the baseline value for a large dog to compare it to..." He worked at the calculations some more.
"So, what did you end up with?"
"Uhm... You're fine."
I smiled as my awareness started to come back. I was lying in a cot with a blanket over me. This was too big to be a patient's room though...
"Oh... I wish my first trip to the nurse's lounge could've been on better terms..."
"Yeah, I certainly didn't make you any new friends with how I cleared them all out of here. But, regulations, you know. I can't give you a patient's room because we're not allowed to treat animals. Even if they work here."
"I get it. It's okay..." I couldn't help but nuzzle against his warm hand at the side of my head. His gentle rubbing by my ear made my leg jump and twitch underneath the blankets.
"Well, reflexes are good..."
Normally I'd fidget and try to get him to cut it out, but I'm weak to those little... creature comforts when I'm not feeling well. I let him carry on a minute, paying no mind to the appreciative gyrations of my paws.
I smelled something sweet... it was the IV in my arm. "Huh? Glucose... Really?"
"Hey, don't touch that. Do you have any idea how hard it was to set that needle through your fur?"
I took a closer sniff. "Hard enough that you got a nurse to do it for you?"
"Well, yeah. That hard."
"Why a glucose drip though?"
"Well, I assumed that you were doing what you always do when you're stressed out, Donna. You stop eating or sleeping altogether in order to more efficiently direct your energy towards freaking out for sustained periods."
"Oh, it's not all that bad."
"Oh really?" he asked. "When was the last time you ate?"
"I had lunch. Yesterday... but I threw up later..."
"And when did you last sleep?"
"Well I was on-call... so, um... It would've... been..."
I groaned and slumped my head back into the pillow.
"Your blood sugar was dangerously low, even for a dog," my doctor explained. "Your stress response was the only thing keeping you conscious."
"I'm sorry, I just didn't... h-hot dogs... Oooh..." I only noticed the smell because I was starting to choke on my own drool.
"They were all I could get out of the cafeteria at this time of night," he said, producing two cheap, plain hot dogs. "Now be careful, I don't want you to-"
The hot dogs were gone all of a sudden. The process of deciding to eat them and subsequently leaping on them was lost on me. I had spent a few seconds licking Dr. Carter's empty hands before I realized this. It also slowly occurred to me that scarfing food out of someone's hands with your face is rather impolite.
"Oh, Oh! I-I..." I noticed some drool dripping onto my chest and swallowed nervously.
"It's fine, Donna just... give me a minute to wash up and... count my fingers."
I listened to the funny noises my stomach was making while Dr. Carter washed his hands. Apparently my belly was quite upset with me and I needed to hear about it. I fidgeted a bit as he sat back down.
"I don't even like hot dogs..." I mumbled.
"A moot point, really," he replied. "You'd eat a pair of leather gloves if I put them in front of you now."
"Oooh..." I felt my drool starting to come back. "Y-you don't happen to actually have-"
"I'm not going to let you eat leather gloves, Donna. I thought that I was exaggerating."
I actually slumped in disappointment. He was right. I really was sick.
"Besides, it's too soon to let you eat any more," he explained. "Right now you don't have the energy to digest- Stop chewing on your blanket!"
He pulled at the fabric that was clenched in my teeth. I jerked my head and growled.
"Donna. Drop it."
The blanket slid from my jaws. Darn it... he knows the password...
"Sorry..." I said. "I know I shouldn't, but you pulled on it and all my muscles went 'Yay! Tug-of-war!' all at the same time."
"I know, it's rough. But could you just try to keep still? Don't make me get out the neck-cone."
"I've been threatened with that one-too-many times, Doctor," I said. "Do you guys even have one of those cones back there?"
"Pray you don't have to find out," he said, without skipping a beat.
"You're right. That's a lot to risk. Fine, I won't eat any more for a while. I've got to save room for when I eat Dr. Howard anyway."
"Yeah," Dr. Carter laughed. "I noticed that he didn't make a positive impression on you. He was certainly first out of the Conference Room by a good margin. There's been some speculation that he may have encountered a sudden need to change his pants."
"What was his deal anyway?"
"Well, he's never been your biggest fan, but there's more to it than that..."
"Well, I'm not going anywhere."
"Hmmm..." He considered his answer for a moment. "That kind of thing, as painful as it was to watch, and stressful as it was to endure, was part of the interview."
"I sincerely doubt that all applicants have to-"
"Yes, yes, you were something of a special case, but I'm sure you're used to that by now. You had a lot more to prove than any of the other applicants. With their being human and all, there are a lot of assumptions that can be made about how everyone else will perform. To the Board, you looked like too much of a wildcard to be trusted with this kind of responsibility. You represent a potential liability to the hospital."
"But I'm absolutely responsible enough! I'm a good nurse, and I do good work."
"You do, but that's not what the interview is about. Proving your knowledge is what you do at nursing school. Proving your skill and work ethic is what you do during your internship. The interview is meant to test your convictions. Someone who knows the answer and can do the work isn't worth anything if they can't find the nerve to speak up, don't have the courage to take action, or if they're too timid to defend themselves from opposition.
"There will be differences of opinion, and you're going to have to know how to convince other people that you know what's right. That's what the interview is about. They challenge your resolve. They push you and push you, to see if you push back. It's not something you can train or practice for, but it's something you have to learn all the same. And it's of critical importance, too. That's why you've never heard of the Oral Interview before now. It's kept secret until you're up for it. They don't want to hear planned responses. They want to know what's really going on in your head. Of course... I suppose they chose a rather inopportune time to put you through a stress-test."
"That's one way of phrasing it... I'm not in any trouble, am I?"
"Oh, no... certainly not. There are undoubtedly some people that are going to... keep their distance from you, for awhile. But we understand the stress you were under. Most of us have been there before. The idea that you could've killed someone, it's... not something that you get over too easily. I think that's what Dr. Howard was getting at, in his... rather vindictive sort of way.
"He saw the way that this was affecting you. The fear, the uncertainty... It's that sort of stuff that can make you flinch when it really counts. I wouldn't blame you for being scared to make a decision like this again, knowing the consequences it could have for the patient. But you're going to have to make decisions like this again, and not all of them are going to turn out well. It's not always going to be an unlucky break. Someday, you could really do something wrong."
"He didn't have to be so mean about it," I pouted. "He said-"
"He said many terrible, hurtful things to you, Donna. Every one of them made me want to tear him in half."
"Heh, make sure you save half for me!"
He leaned against the bed as we shared a gentle laugh. I rubbed my head against his when he didn't say anything more. Old habits...
"Don't hate him too much though," he said. "That sort of trial-by-fire is what was needed here. A lot of us here thought that you were ready. But we had to be sure you thought that you were ready."
"What? But I was-"
"You jumped up when Dr. Fine asked if you'd like to submit your application, but that was a reflex. You always assumed that you would just get denied because of your species. To be honest, I was ready to accept that possibility myself... It was a complete surprise to think that this was possible. You never really had to consider the decision.
"Think about it for a second though. When you were out there wandering the halls, worrying yourself sick, were you thinking 'Oh, looks like I just killed someone. Boy, I can't wait to become a nurse and do this sort of thing full-time!'? If you hadn't been going to pieces as you were, you would've realized the implications and been terrified by them."
"You're right... I wanted to get as far away from medicine as possible. I was scared. It wasn't until my motives came into question that... that I..."
"That you remembered why you're here. That you remembered the motivations that made you not just tolerate, but overcome all the bureaucratic nonsense that you've been mired in since you joined the field. That you made a room full of seasoned physicians feel like a bunch of interns that still don't know what they're doing with their lives?"
"Yeah... all that stuff..."
"It's comforting to know, isn't it? I know I find it very reassuring that even when you've been utterly torn to pieces and are a hair's breadth from completely losing your mind, you're still the most worthy practitioner of medicine I've ever known. You can still stand up for what doctors have always stood for and give wings to the Angel of Hippocrates with your dauntless conviction."
"You... really think so?"
"Could I have said that with a straight face if I didn't believe it?"
"I'm impressed that you could say 'give wings to the Angel of Hippocrates' with a straight face in general. I think you're exaggerating..."
"Am I? Donna, there are people that can practice medicine for decades without ever really learning what practicing medicine is all about. It's not just about fighting disease and fixing leaky heart valves. It's about so much more than that. Something I can't even put into words. Some intangible, fundamental part of the human condition that compels us to fight the creeping decay of all that is good and ordered into the slow, unceasing march of entropy. Something... about us, something that you understand far better than we do ourselves."
"I suppose... it says something that I was able to overcome all this in order to accomplish what I have," I admitted. "I was starting to think that it was impossible just the same way everyone else did."
"Oh, Donna... Someone had faith in you. Why do you think your nursing certificate had been printed and framed already?"
"I... hadn't thought of that..."
"You can do this, Donna. Just... not now. You need time to rest, and I've arranged for that. Nurse Barnes didn't see how... distressed you were in there and she admitted that she was a bit... premature, in your duty assignment."
"Doctor, you didn't have to do that. I can-"
"I did have to do that, Donna. It was so painful to watch you up there getting grilled by the Board and not be able to do anything about it. Now that I actually can help you, please let me."
"Nonsense," I told him, "you know I bounce back quickly. I wouldn't want to leave slack for someone else to pick up..."
"Something tells me you're going to be one of those people that have always maxed-out all their overtime by two weeks into the month."
"And there's a problem with that?" I asked.
"Oh, no certainly not. That's how Nurse Barnes got to where she is today. I know that I can't stop you from working yourself to the bone, but I can stop you from stumbling out of the starting box before the gate opens."
"Is that a horseracing metaphor?"
"More of a dog-racing metaphor really, but they're interchangeable for the most part. The point is, you need to rest, Donna."
"But the duty schedule-"
"That's not going to be a problem. We had to take you off the volunteer rotation anyway. It was a simple matter to leave a gap before you start your new shift as a nurse."
"Heh..." I felt my tail wriggling beneath me. "I'm a nurse..."
"Yes, you're a nurse with the rest of today and tomorrow off. And you will take those days off."
"Donna, as a Doctor to a patient, I am ordering you to-"
"W-what?" I gasped, "But, but I..." I whined weakly when no more words would come.
"No! Not... order, like that... you know..." he sighed. "Just, please do this, Donna. I can't watch you push yourself any further. I had to carry you down here once. I don't want to have to do that again."
"Okay, Doctor. I'll take a break. That actually sounds kind of nice right about now."
"Good. And you know, you can call me Brian. We're both off work at the moment, and of course now we're contemporaries."
"Because I actually work at the hospital now, too!" I managed to carefully wrap my arms around him, mindful of the infuser line. He obligingly let me drag him down to the cot with me, giving me a gentle squeeze.
"Yes, as a nurse..."
"As a nurse..." I said into the gentle embrace.
"So, what's my new nurse going to do with her day off?" he asked, sitting back up.
"Well, after I go home and give Edward a call, I think I'll go visit a new friend of mine and tell him the good news."
"Oh? Who's your new friend?"
"Just this robot massage therapist that I caught hijacking our ultrasound machine this morning. Turns out he knew a great deal about medicine. We got along pretty well."
"Oh... sure. I'm... just gonna check you for head injuries one last time before you go..."