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 Beautifully Awake

by

Riley Mackenzie

To our two husbands and five children. Thank you for giving us our “HEA!”

Prologue

It was eerily quiet in the room. Only the rhythmic sound of the heart monitor interrupted the silence. This was how it was supposed to be. Not like the last time. The sounds from last time haunted me every day and night. A wave of nausea rolled through me. I gripped my stomach. I was going to be sick.

How did I let this happen?

I stood and stared motionlessly at the already lifeless body in the bed. Time stood still. It could have been minutes or hours, I had no clue. No one came in. I wanted to yell and scream. I wanted to break down and sob. I wanted to talk and explain. But it was too late. All of it.

Instead I hummed our favorite song. Music was our happy place.

Finally I reached out and brushed the hair from those familiar eyes, the mirror reflection of my own. You were awake. Your eyes were open. But the light was gone. There was nothing but darkness. Three years of complete emptiness.

It was time to close your eyes. 

1

July first

The sound of Katy Perry coming from the bedside table started getting louder and louder. Okay, I’m wide awake. 5:30 AM. Shit.

I slapped the oversized snooze button for the second time and kicked the light cream-colored sheet off my bare legs. The back of my sleeveless tank was damp with sweat. July was ridiculously hot.

Rubbing the sleep from my burning eyes, I blindly reached for my glasses on the nightstand. I needed to stop being a wimp and get the damn Lasik already.

Small clips from last night’s dream teased their way into my mind while I stretched my limbs. Tall grass- covered dunes, sea glass. It was a beach dream. Those were never bad. Why was it I never remembered the good dreams, and if I did, the details were etched in pencil. Easy to fade, easy to erase, while those other dreams were engraved in permanent black Sharpie.

The beach sounded like a fan-freakin-tastic idea. Anything was better than work today. Neurosurgery. Were we really talking brain surgery, why not just send my ass to NASA for the next month?

“Just get your butt out of bed and get it over with already.” I sighed my monthly mantra. So now I talked out loud to myself. Charming. I hated pretending I had the first clue what the surgery “team” was talking about on rounds. Being out of my element sucked. I scrunched my nose and mashed the pillow down over my face. The sun was barely up, and I already wanted the day to be over.

New service, new residents, new intern and a brand new attending. Still, nothing could be worse than the month I spent on the cardiac service. That attending was awful. Sounded harsh, but it was true. He was rude and inconsiderate, not to mention lacking any social graces whatsoever. And if I had to bear witness to pompous adults throwing temper tantrums, I could have done without a southern twang. It was kind of ironic if you thought about it, a heart surgeon without a heart. This one had to be a little better; rumor had it he was from NYC. That was already an improvement.

Philadelphia Hospital had more than its fair share of arrogant surgeons to go around and did not need another. I had the pleasure of being tortured on most of their services for the past two years, somehow escaping neuro until now.

Pediatrics was the exception, of course. My exception. It’s why I moved here and took this job. At least that was my story, even if it was a lie. I was hired to be case manager for the pediatric surgery service, and I dedicated every free second to the position when I first moved here. Case manager was a far cry from social worker, but I still got to work with needy kids. And because of that, my first year was fine. Not stellar, not dream job status, but doable.

All I ever wanted to do was work with the kids and their families. People who gravitated toward peds were pretty even-tempered, even the surgeons. Everyone’s focus was the kid’s well being. All the other bull was moot. And although I didn’t make as much of a difference as I would have liked, it was a safe place to channel my energy.

Then the hospital fell off some fiscal cliff and all the case managers needed to take turns rotating on the different surgery services. Two years later, the so-called reallocation of resources had zero effect on the hospital deficit, but had a seriously detrimental effect on my irritable bowel.

“Okay, okay. I’m going,” I huffed at myself. Good thing I lived alone.

Ten minutes later, showered, with contacts in, I stood in front of my bedroom closet. Correction. My bedroom/living room/dining room closet. My studio was on the smaller side, all five hundred square feet, but it was all mine.

The daily routine of picking out work clothes bored the heck out of me, so a light blue fitted blouse with my staple above the knee black pencil skirt was easy. I wore it entirely too often, but hopefully no one noticed. The rest of the team couldn’t care less, rolled out of bed, skipped the shower, and showed up in glorified pajamas. So why did I care? It’s not like I wanted to impress anyone.

My reflection bounced off the full-length mirror. The changes were subtle, but they were there. Still five-six, but three years of building a new life recharged my confidence. I stood a little taller. My size four frame looked less skinny and a little more toned, thanks to my new therapist—running.

It didn’t really matter because it was all about the shoes. A strange guilty pleasure for a girl from bumble fuck where UGGS and flip-flops defined footwear. I slipped on my favorite black patent leather peep toe pumps and cracked a half smile. They might not be designer shoes, but they looked good to me. It was my only real vice.

I ran a quick brush through my hair, not that it mattered much, since my loose dark brown curls would be up in a messy ponytail by lunch. I was predictable.

Mascara and chapstick. Good enough. I repeated my mantra: just get it over with.

“Mornin’, Miss Lili. Happy New Year, sunshine!”

“Good morning, Jorge. Aren’t you a comedian! How’s your family?” I asked, returning my friend’s infectious smile.

Anyone who had any connection, even remote, to medicine knew the significance of July first. Philly had a hospital every few hundred feet, so even my trusted elderly barista who owned the most delicious coffee cart in all of Center City was astutely aware.

He was right for all intents and purposes; it was a new year. Residents all moved up a year in training, but unfortunately their egos increased exponentially overnight. July also welcomed brand new interns to the floors. Medical student one day, doctor the next. Frightening. NEVER get sick in July.

“What can I getcha, sunshine? Usual?”

“I think I’ll pass on the latte, but it’s Wednesday, so I’ll take two of those delicious apple scones if you have them.”

Caffeine and nervous stomach was an ugly mix. I didn’t need anything fueling the rumble down below. Some people manifested stress with a simple pimple. Not me.

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