1| The Doctor and the Hospital

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Dr. Kieran Sung sat at his desk with a look of frustration across his dark brows. He was in the middle of a confrontation with a frustrated and distraught parent of one of his patients, and she was causing the comfortable location of his office to become decidedly uncomfortable. He adjusted in the large leather chair behind his desk, flinching as it made that awful squeaking noise and the puff of air from the cushions exuded the smell of leather. The chair was well over three years old, yet it still smelled strongly of leather. He tolerated that smell, but the creaking sound the leather made was why he rarely sat in this chair. It also made him look even smaller than he already was, and he seriously considered asking to have the thing replaced. A second person could easily sit beside him due to his thin, small stature.

The atmosphere of his office had become heavy with his anxiety as she continued to complain. He glanced over toward the large bank of windows that looked out onto the busy street of North New Ballas Road. His office sat at the back of the private hospital, and he could see the main road on the side, and one of the green, open outside gardens on the other. He kept the dark brown curtains pulled tight against the sunlight because it caused such a glare. It was not terrible today, as it had turned cloudy after the rain they had the day before. Somehow, it made him feel dreary with the current situation.

He pulled his attention from the dull light filtering through the heavy drapes and returned it to the woman sitting across from him.

“I requested a doctor to do the surgery on my daughter, not a student. Why am I sitting across from a child?”

This woman, with her hard, hazel eyes, and her ash blonde hair tied up in a tight bun on top of her head, was being completely obtuse about the fact Kieran was trying to save her daughter’s life. He noted the wrinkles that spread out around her eyes, colloquially called “crows’ feet,” and thought that perhaps this woman stressed a lot over things she should not. He dragged his short fingers across the dark surface of the desk and wondered why she could not seem to understand that his young age was not a concern. He understood the woman’s problem with him. He knew that his age had initiated this particular confrontation. At twenty-five, Kieran was well aware of the perception others often had. Kieran had never let these situations bother him for too long; once he got past the initial anxiety attack caused by confrontation, he was able to cope with it. At least, he used to be able to cope with them easily.

Lately, Kieran was having a great deal of difficulty moving on from these types of situations. Kieran knew he did not fit well in the world, but he never minded it before. He had always taken care not to care. If people did not like him for who he was, he would move on. In recent months, the little things that separated him from the rest of world were growing considerably, and he was beginning to be bothered by this fact. Those like the woman sitting across from him had always been in his life, but he had only recently become more and more irritated by them.

His focus landed on the things on his desk despite the fact that he knew this woman was waiting for him to come up with some sort of response. He noted that his pen cup was too far to the right, and the cords that came up from the plastic rimmed hole in the wood were disorganized. He gave a slight shake of his head to remove his focus from the disorder on his desk. It was not a large desk, as Kieran did not need a lot of space. It was a plain desk with three two smaller drawers and a file drawer on either side of it. His focus shifted to the fact that one of the file drawers was askew.

He turned his attention back to the woman. How could he respond to her displeasure that he was young? It was not like he could change his age, or change the fact that he was the only doctor that would even attempt removal of her daughter’s brain tumor. Upon entering the office, she had been antagonistic. She had pushed open the dark wooden door with more force than necessary then glared at Kieran as though he were someone who should not be in his desk. It was early afternoon and he had not even taken out his laptop after returning from an early lunch.

Gritting his teeth, he knew that he had to get himself under control. Impulse control, echoed in his mind. Emotional control. Those are your biggest deficits, Kieran. He frowned because he did not need to be hearing his therapist’s voice in his head right now. This week Kieran had been trying to do all the things that he was expected to do. He was trying so hard to be normal. Normal is the goal, Kieran. You can do it.

He turned and looked at the patient’s mother again, his hand drumming rhythmically along his right thigh. This self-stimulation was quiet, and only he could hear the slight patting against the smooth cotton of his scrubs. He felt the slight rise where the embossed fabric made a pattern of interlocking diamonds of blue.

Hearing a light knock on the door, he saw that his mentor Dr. Thomas McKellar was looking in. He was leaning against the door frame with his arms crossed over his chest and a bemused grin on his face. The old doctor’s dark brown eyes were centered on Kieran as the younger doctor nodded to him. Thomas was in a pristine deep gray suit, as always. He was the current Director of Medical Services for McKellar Hospital as well as Kieran’s long-time therapist and teacher. Thomas had a way with patients that Kieran was never able to copy appropriately.

Mary Jameson, Kieran’s personal nurse and childhood friend, had told Kieran that this one was going to be difficult, and then had gone to summon Thomas. Usually, the fact that Mary would assume these things would not bother him in the least. Yet today, the thoughts that raced through his mind revolved around why she thought she had to intercede all the time. Even if he could not handle a situation, he wondered why she felt it was her place to make the call and not his.

Kieran knew that Thomas would intercede. Kieran would attempt to deal with this woman without his assistance and fail. Several times, Thomas had informed Kieran that he was unable to tell when he needed help. He informed him also that was a part of his deficits in the social areas.

Thomas spoke as he walked into the room toward Kieran’s desk. “Ma’am, you requested Dr. Kieran Sung. Dr. Sung is the world-renowned neurologist and neurosurgeon. He is also the head of our elite Neurosurgery department here at McKellar Hospital.”

He dropped a hand on the back of the slight young doctor’s neck. At the motion, Kieran’s attention shifted on the dark-grained wood of his desk. He took one of his trim nails and began to dig it into the grain of the wood on the edge facing him. The hand on his neck felt good, despite feeling as though he were being reprimanded for not doing a good enough job.

“I requested a doctor.” Mrs. Edison glared at Kieran. “This is a child. He’s barely older than my daughter!”

Thomas squeezed his hand on Kieran’s neck. Kieran could imagine the older doctor’s face turning into the gentle and comforting look he used with patients. It was something that Kieran would never master. Kieran knew that Thomas had already looked over the files on this patient. Thomas always looked over the files on Kieran’s patients. Well, he always seemed to know everything about the patients like this. He knew all about surgeries that would bring attention to Kieran. 

“Mrs. Edison, correct me if I’m wrong, but you took your daughter to St. Luke’s a month ago. She was having seizures and migraines which led you to the emergency admittance. They showed a stage two tumor. Their neurology department determined that it was a stage two cancerous tumor. They had defined it as inoperable. The neurosurgeon referred you to Dr. Kieran Sung.” The voice Thomas used must have soothed patients, but it grated on Kieran’s nerves. It sounded too fake, almost condescending, to his ears. It was not sincere. “I believe you consulted several other private doctors who refused to help. Her file shows four referrals for hospice end of life care. You want to save your daughter’s life, so you brought her here to see Dr. Sung. Dr. Sung has agreed to this surgery based on the scans alone when others refused.”

Mrs. Edison nodded. “Yes. They said that to try and operate on the tumor would only shorten her life. Dr. Shyrock from St. Luke’s said that Dr. Sung was the only one that would even attempt the surgery.”

“Yes,” Thomas commented. “That’s because Dr. Sung’s specialty is in micro laser surgery. He uses some innovative techniques to do this. He also has equipment of his own design that no one else had been able to achieve before. There is a very good reason that you were referred here by Dr. Shyrock. She is one of the people that worked with Dr. Sung during his internship days.”

When Mrs. Edison turned to look at Kieran, her eyes were still hard.  “That may be so, but how do you expect me to allow a man this young to operate on my only child.”

“I understand your trepidation. Considering the nature of Janet’s tumor, Dr. Sung has already begun the process of setting up this surgery for next week,” Thomas affirmed. “I assure you, you want Dr. Sung to do this surgery.”

Kieran stared at her in annoyance; the young woman was nineteen, so the hospital did not have to work with her mother. He did not have to work with her mother. Janet worked full time and had her own insurance. Yet, here they sat arguing over what to do anyway as if she were twelve years old. If Thomas had not told him that it was essential that he speak with this woman, he would have simply gone to speak with Janet without having this meeting.

This reminded him why he put off speaking to patients and families until the last possible moment. If he never had to deal with another human being, he could have lived out his life with happiness. Still, being a doctor meant that he had to have some interactions with others. He could not avoid patients and their families all the time, though he did a decent job of doing it on a regular basis. This was the hardest parts of his job. He knew other doctors who simply did not care that they were not good with patients; he always did care. He had just never been good at it.

Thomas was constantly telling him he had to be more ‘normal’ with his patients. He always needed to be normal. He always needed to act like everyone else and not act weird. He put his head in his hands and began to comb through the black hair at his temples. The hair at his temples always appeared thinner because of this nervous tick.

Kieran was coming close to the end of his control. He could feel the need to put himself in a small space swelling. The room around him was far too big to be comfortable. Thomas spoke up. “Um, Mrs. Edison, might I inquire about if you have researched Dr. Sung?”

She turned her dull green gaze on the taller man who moved to stand behind Kieran. Thomas moved his hands onto Kieran’s shoulders and squeezed. Kieran appreciated the pressure since it helped the tension in his shoulders. His nose crinkled slightly at the smell that came off Thomas. He never told him, but he hated whatever deodorant or after shave he used. It smelled like wet socks.

“Of course,” Mrs. Edison answered with a roll of her eyes. “His credentials seemed impressive. But he is far too young!”

Thomas continued to rub Kieran’s shoulders, and Kieran felt a bit of the tension in ebb from the strong pressure. In any other person, it would be quite painful. Kieran craved deep pressure sensation. It was one of the few things that could curb his anxiety. In fact, the more pressure Thomas applied, the quicker Kieran relaxed. With the reduction of anxiety, his perception of the room as growing in size began to fade.

Thomas smiled sweetly at her. “I assure you, Kieran has more than enough experience in his twenty-five years to deal with this. He is quite frankly the best and only option you have for your daughter. Dr. Sung here is one of the few doctors in the state, country even, that specializes in both neurosurgery and neurology. He is widely published, and has done more innovative work with brain surgery than anyone in the last fifteen years.”

Giving Kieran a harsh glare, she nearly snarled. “Even if this is the doctor I was looking for, how in the world am I supposed to allow a child barely older than my daughter to open up her brain?”

Kieran let out a breath with a small degree of satisfaction. He supposed that it was a step in the right direction, even if that entire statement was not logical at all; age did not play into ability. In fact, Kieran knew surgeons in their fifties still unable to suture a wound closed properly. Lack of logic always annoyed him to no end. Despite his youth, he had far more quality of experience than doctors twice his age. He covered his face with his hands and then looked up at the woman in front of him. Thomas was massaging his shoulders still and he felt like he could run the script now.

“I graduated the medical doctor program in four years, a full year sooner than they generally allow. I then took a residency at Washington University. I dual specialized in neurology and neurosurgery. No one had ever succeeded in this before at Washington University, or any major medical program. During residency, I completed a master’s of science in biostatistics. I then completed a master's in clinical investigation. The year after my residency, I finished with a Ph.D. in neuroscience. My research and dissertation centered on using the same micro-laser surgery I will use on your daughter. I also finished the Doctor of Medicine and Doctor of Philosophy program. I took the head of neurosurgery position here at the age of twenty-three,” he stated, eyes focused on the bridge of the woman’s nose. Always the bridge of the person’s nose. Years of therapy that taught him to “look people in the eye” had only taught him that staring at the bridge of someone’s nose would make people think he was looking in their eyes.

“I am your daughter’s greatest chance of survival. I specialize in impossible operations. Almost exclusively, my patients are those other neurosurgeons will not touch. I have yet to lose a patient due to my inability to perform a procedure. The chances of success, I deem, are about 10 percent when performed by any other doctor. I estimate a 75 percent likelihood of success. I have done some much more difficult surgeries in my time here. I succeeded. The surgery will take approximately fourteen hours, assuming no complications. As far as my experience, while I do not have the age you expected, I do have the training and experience suitable to this work.”

He paused and closed his eyes, finishing the script in almost one breath. “I cannot put a bookshelf together to save my own life, but I can cut into a person’s brain with almost a .08 percent miscalculation risk on my part. I understand that I appear to be incapable of what I am quite capable of doing. I have given you everything you need to know and more.”

He took a deep breath because he was running off the predefined script. He swallowed hard against the anxiety that welled in the back of his throat. He hated being off script but the woman stared at him with a blank look. The surge of anxiety made Kieran uncomfortable now that his practiced speech had completed. Once more, his perception of the room began to alter. He needed to find a small space and get rid of this feeling.

“If we have that settled, I have rounds. I also must see your daughter. Thank you,” he finished, standing and walking out the door.

Kieran just barely registered the smirk on Thomas’s face and the shocked and disbelieving face of the woman he left. He did not care what either of them thought now. He was quiet as he ducked into one of his hiding places to collect himself. This spot was one of the smaller linen closets. He breathed in and out a few more times, using the anxiety coping skills he had been using since he was a child. Breathe in, count to five, breathe out. Repeat. The breathing and the close confines of the linen closet helped. He’d rather be wrapped up in his weighted blanket at home, but that was not something he had here.

This happened too often for his liking. Rarely did anyone believe that someone with his youth could handle this job. He was not a child. He had finally relented to Thomas’s pleading and let him have a writer do a biography. It had taken time to compile all the data. Since then Thomas had been begging him to start making public appearances. Thomas seemed to think that if he appeared in public, people would be less likely to question him. If people stopped questioning, then Kieran would not have as much anxiety around families and patients. Kieran seriously doubted that, but he would humor Thomas. Aside from his best friends Artemis and Mary, and his father, Thomas meant more to him than anyone else in the world. He would do the things he hated for him.

Even so, he was needing someone like Artemis to soothe him. Artemis did not tell him what to do and he let him be himself.

Right now, he was wishing that Thomas had not sent Artemis to another floor to help prep a patient for Dr. Santos. It annoyed him that even as the head nurse on the neurology floor, Artemis ended up having to go do things like this. Thomas had insisted that Artemis handle the situation, something about the patient being in a delicate condition and needing the best nurse they had on the floor. Kieran let out a sigh. He supposed Artemis was the best nurse on the floor. It seemed to him that there were often instances where the best nurse on the neurology floor had to go somewhere else.

A last deep breath and Kieran opened the door. He stepped back into the empty hallway. Thomas had made sure that Kieran’s office was set somewhat apart from the busier parts of the floor. The subtle shade of blue that the walls here were painted always calmed him as well. Before he headed to Janet Edison’s room, he had to go down to radiology and grab her file. At least there would be no one there now; he did not even want to deal with the radiology staff right now. He kept his head down and watched his feet on the slightly pinkish tan colored carpeting that lead to the elevator. He entered it, and was happy to ride it uneventfully down to the basement.

Kieran stepped off the empty elevator and walked up to the door to the radiology records room. This hallway always sounded so empty and echoed. The blank white walls were featureless for the most part except for a couple doors. He walked down halfway to one of the featureless doors with a punch code lock on it. The only feature that revealed that it was radiology records was the small plaque beside the door. Of course, because of restrictions on patient file access, not just anyone had access to these rooms. Only doctors and the head nurse of each floor could open the records’ offices throughout the hospital. He grabbed the file waiting for him. The record’s receptionist was on lunch at this hour, so he had asked her to leave it there for him. He paused, getting ready to head back down the hall toward the elevator again. 

He went back over his script for his qualifications once more in his mind. He hated having to tell people that information. If he wanted to have access to his singular obsession, he had to make his qualifications apparent. Of course, that was only one of his idiosyncrasies that made him stand out. His interpersonal relationships were rather rudimentary. As a child, he had struggled to even make friendships with other students his age. Truthfully, he never tried. He found others his own age dull, boring even. Such small-minded thinking, and they seemed to be unable to keep up with him when he did choose to speak to them. Instead, he found the medical journals far more interesting. He found people’s bodies and biology fascinating, especially their brains.  He had no real interest in relationships with those inside the bodies he studied. Each surgery was a challenge and a new opportunity to hone his exacting skills.

Lost in thought, Kieran almost did not notice the family that was heading down the hallway toward him. He froze for a second and stepped to the side to look over the films. He tried to act like he was ignoring them completely. Kieran just wanted them to hurry past him. He concentrated hard on looking at the films. But honestly his attention was fully focused on the group passing him. He heard every word even though they spoke quietly. They were talking about their cousin having a mammogram later that day. Sometimes, there simply was too much noise and information for him, especially since he took it all in even when it was unnecessary.

Kieran moved on and took a series of long breaths as he headed the rest of the way to the elevator. At least they were not going there. His anxiety made it impossible for him to deal with that many people. They would get close to him and touch him, and people touching him irritated him to no end. As usual, his mind wandered to his problems when he had issues with a patient. It had been nice that Thomas had given him a shoulder rub. When he was the most stressed, he craved pressure sensations and proprioceptive input. The brief shoulder pressure had been a good short-term fix, but he wanted more than just that. He really needed to see about finding out if there were compression vests that would work under his scrubs without being obvious. He chewed his lip. Thomas would say normal people did not need to use things like that. He would worry on that later, he guessed as he stepped into the elevator.

As he entered, he stumbled a bit. Steadying himself on the wall, he cursed under his breath in Korean as he pushed the button for the seventh floor. He realized that the light for the ground floor was lit. He had hoped to make it to the seventh before dealing with people, but it seemed someone was getting on the elevator soon. He stood to the side of the door as it stopped and opened at the ground floor. He had one last hope that no one actually got on.

His luck seemed to be nothing if not consistent because someone was getting on. He looked up and hid a grimace. She was a slender and buxom woman, mid-twenties it appeared, with platinum blonde hair in a bun. He noted that she had a set of clear blue eyes accented with neutral makeup. She smiled down at him slightly. Most irritatingly, she stood quite a bit taller than him with her heels. Of course, at five foot three, most people were taller than Kieran. He smiled back, then immediately realized that she had not pushed another button. That meant that she was getting off at the seventh floor and he was going to be in the elevator with her until then.

“Hey!” She smiled at him with far too many teeth for his liking.

“H-hey,” Kieran responded, glancing at her. His face turned pink immediately before he could think about anything else to say.

Unfortunately, when he blushed at speaking with women they assumed it meant attraction. It did not mean that at all. He just hated interpersonal relations that had nothing to do with his job. Granted, he hated interpersonal relations that did have to do with his job. He always lacked the correct script for a situation dealing with others in social situations. Operating on brains was so much easier. His continual state of embarrassment tended to encourage those trying to make sexual advances. They seemed to perceive his discomfort as some sort of inane mating ritual. He didn’t know how to stop that sort of thing from happening, but it was quite frustrating.

“Are you a doctor here?” she continued, tilting her head and looking at him. He did wear his usual white coat over his scrubs, so he refrained from making the comment that he was obviously a doctor.

She kept trying to make eye contact. He found it not only uncomfortable but her mere presence seems to exude some sort of…something. He felt almost compelled to answer when she spoke. It was strange. He supposed that most would consider her attractive. He made note of her dress, though. She wore a short black skirt with a black blazer over a lowcut red camisole revealing her ample cleavage. Again, his brain insisted on taking in all the information possible, even when it was not needed.

“Um, yeah,” he answered, turning to stare once again at the numbers on the elevator. Why did they move so slow? When was this elevator going to get to the floor he wanted?

“Oh, you’re so young, are you an intern? Or resident is what they call it?” she asked, moving a bit closer, making Kieran back away into the other side of the elevator. She was not intending to try and crowd him, he knew. He was already on the other side of the elevator and people tended to get closer to individuals they were speaking with. Now he was pressed against the mirrored side.

“N-no,” he stammered, glancing up at her, then back up to the lit numbers of the elevator. One more floor. One more floor.

“Oh, really? What do you do?” She glanced down her nose at him with that smile again. She was inside his comfort zone now and he felt boxed in.

“I-I am head of neurosurgery, but I must see to a patient waiting, nice talking to you,” he stammered. He gasped, almost tripping since he could not get out of the elevator fast enough.

After he was out, he glanced behind him to see the woman walking in the same direction. She appeared to be looking at room numbers. He shook the encounter off and wound his way around the seventh floor and saw the room he was looking for, 756, and knocked gently before opening it. In the bed sat a pretty girl with long hair that was a dark auburn color, and wide grayish green eyes. The room she was in was not much different than the average hospital room. There was not a lot of equipment out since she was only admitted for evaluation for surgery. The bed dominated the center of the room, and there were two windows to the left of the bed. The windows had a seat below them that turned down into a bed for any family members that stayed with a patient. The only other furnishing in the room was the TV along the east wall and a recliner next to the plain hospital bed. The bathroom sat behind and to the right of the bed. All the neurosurgery rooms were single occupant rooms, which was one thing that Kieran was grateful for.

He gave her his best “nice doctor” smile that he practiced so much in front of the mirror. He picked up her chart, and flipped through it even though he already knew every detail in it. It seemed to comfort patients to have the doctor looking over their charts in front of them.

“Um, hello, who are you?” she asked timidly, glancing around the otherwise empty room.

His distracted state had led him to mess up the script already. He was supposed to begin the script as soon as he came in before he picked up the chart. This was one of the main reasons he did not like to meet with patients’ family members independent of the patient like that. It threw off his routine and the scripts he used when dealing with patients.

“I am Dr. Sung. Assuming that you sign for the surgery, I will be taking the tumor out of your brain first thing on Monday morning.” He looked up and smiled again, trying to get onto the script as quickly as he could. “Then I am afraid you shall be stuck here for a couple weeks with our hospital food. For that I must apologize in advance.”

He felt the strain on his facial muscles from holding the fake smile. Granted, it worked, because the anxious look on Janet’s face faded a bit. She looked at him with a nod. He thanked all the psychology texts he had read over the years for his ability to manipulate his actions in front of his patients. Happy patients asked fewer questions and caused him less stress, after all. He placed the new films on the counter to look at for the patient’s benefit. He did not really need to look at them again; he had them memorized already.

As he was about to continue, he heard speaking behind him as the door opened. He glanced behind him to see two people coming into the room. The blonde he had ridden up on the elevator with was walking in with the Janet’s mother. She must have stopped in the main waiting room to meet with Mrs. Edison. Great, more people that made his anxiety spike higher. It was hard enough dealing with his patients, but family and friends such were a nightmare.

“Dr. Sung, you beat me here.” The woman looked anywhere but his face. It appeared that Thomas had taken a bit to give her a talk. “Dr. McKellar said you’d come to speak to Janet once you’d picked up her films from radiology.”

“Hum, yes, I was just telling your daughter that I would be performing the surgery Monday morning if she agrees to it.” He nodded at them, focusing his eyes on their noses to avoid their piercing gazes.

The blonde-haired woman was gaping at him openly. “You…you were serious? You’re like twenty!”

Kieran arched a brow, turning back to the chart in his hands. “I turned twenty-five this year. But that does not change the fact that I need a decision on the surgery today so I can confirm the staff for Monday morning. I also need to set up pre-surgery tests and preparation. I have already put the staff on alert for the surgery as of last week, when Janet came in. Janet’s surgery would take top priority as one step down from emergency. The mass is large enough to start interfering with her bodily functions, and if it is not removed soon, her estimated time to live is around six to ten months, depending on results of chemotherapy. My experience with this type of tumor is that it does not respond well, and chemo is not a fun experience to go through, especially when the results are debatable.”

He received blinking eyes as a response from all those in the room. “You are cold,” the busty blonde-haired woman hissed. “Do you not have any bedside manner?”

“Clair!” Janet chided, slapping the blonde woman on the arm. “Enough. He’s just giving me the information. Don’t treat me like I don’t know I’m dying, Clair. I’m well aware of that fact. I would much rather hear it straight out rather than someone trying to sugar-coat it.”

Clair started to say something then nodded. “I’m sorry, Janet, I just worry about you, you’re like the kid sister I never had. I don’t like to think about the fact that you’re so close to leaving me.”

Kieran frowned, looking up in thought as they spoke. He ran through what he’d said. Smile at the patient, check. Joke with the patient about bad hospital food post-surgery, check. Explain place of priority of surgery compared to others, check… He paused. That’s when she'd interrupted. And he couldn’t be sure he’d done it properly. Had he done the risk and benefit part wrong again? That was the hardest for him. He tended to get technical and provide more information than the patient wanted from him. Why a patient wouldn’t want the most complete information, he didn’t understand. They always wanted good news and never the truth. He had found that the less information they had, the better things went. All those things were in the social area of dealing with patients, of course. It made no sense whatsoever to him. No logic at all.

Kieran arched a brow for a moment, and then knitted his brows together in a deep scowl. Kieran left quickly without another word and stepped into the hallway. He looked around and flagged down Mary.

Mary Jameson had grown up next door to Kieran’s family in Chesterfield. In fact, Mary still lived with her parents there. She sighed, running a hand through her short, brown hair. Kieran shrugged, staring at her blue paisley scrub top intently. He was avoiding her hazel eyes. She put her hands on her hips for a second and sighed. Mary was much shorter than the blonde woman from the elevator. She was perhaps five foot in height, and rather plump about the middle.

“Need some intervention with them?” she asked and put a hand on his shoulder. Kieran, of course, noticed the extra pressure she exerted. It didn’t make any impact on him. He liked pressure sensations, after all.

“Perhaps,” he responded, looking up slightly and smiling at her.

Nodding, Mary went back into the room with him. She grabbed the chart  out of his hands, startling him before she smiled at the three women in the room. Kieran stepped back to stand back against the glass door. He stared at the ground with his arms crossed over his chest. He hated that he had to be in the room for this because he knew that Mary would say things that would annoy him. He grabbed the tablet from his pocket and started a new game of Angry Birds on silent.

“So, we have Miss Janet Edison? How are you today? I see you met Dr. Sung, and he said he was perhaps…ah, well, his normal self. I’m here to clarify and answer any questions. My name is Mary Jameson, so I’ll take any questions about the procedure. I’ll be assisting the doctor during the surgery. I’ll also be the liaison to the family during the procedure.” She glanced back and saw Kieran busy on the tablet and looked back at them. Kieran was watching her even if she didn’t realize it. “I’ll apologize for Dr. Sung’s…ah manner. He tends to be somewhat abrasive with patients.”

Kieran cut his eyes up and felt a pang of annoyance. She always “apologized” for him. Not only that, she always did it in such a way that she seemed to think he was not paying attention. He did not appreciate some of the things she said when she felt certain his attention was diverted. He was fully capable of listening to her and playing a game on the tablet he carried. Why could she not be more like Artemis and accept him as he was? She seemed to align with Thomas and his beliefs about what was best for him. Artemis, on the other hand, seemed to be fine with Kieran’s thoughts on things no matter what they were. Perhaps he should rethink how he felt about the people in his life.

“I told him he didn’t have much of a bedside manner.” Clair glanced at her friend in the bed. “He doesn’t seem to care much for the impact of his words on someone who is facing…facing what she is.”

Mary ran a hand over her short brown hair. “Ah, I know, I know, but you know what they say about the best doctors, they tend to be terrible at the bedside. His is rather clinical.”

“Is he really the best?” Janet spoke with a tone just over a whisper. “I mean, he’s going to do surgery on my brain, so…”

Kieran smirked at the tablet. No matter what else came out of this debacle, the choice about the surgery had already been made. Janet would sign the paperwork, and then Monday would see the long and strenuous surgery. He felt the surging sensation of excitement in his stomach at the prospect of the challenging surgery. This was what made all the frustrating parts of the job worth it. Monday, he would go into the surgery theater and open her skull. He would see the tumor that was teasing him from the films with the seemingly inoperable problem it presented. He would solve that problem.

“Ah, he’s a genius at surgery, there is little doubt about that,” Mary answered. “I would ask that you ignore his terrible bedside manner. Please understand that he is definitely not good with people.” Mary handed Janet the clipboard with the paperwork on it. She lowered her voice a bit, “He’s just…socially awkward, you see. He doesn’t do well with people anytime.”

Kieran felt somewhat betrayed by Mary now. That comment was outside the realm of his bedside manner with patients. She had been more and more aggressive with telling him what he should do, as though he could not make the choices for himself. He ground his teeth and shifted his weight to his other hip. He wanted this over. He needed to talk to someone else besides Mary before he had another

 episode with the tics.

Janet took the clipboard and looked over the paperwork. She scribbled a few times on the pages and then handed it back. Kieran knew the sound by heart. She had signed the paperwork for the surgery. He swallowed a thick lump in his throat, hoping Mary deemed his presence finished soon. He wanted to get out of the room and see if he could find Artemis. He needed to be with someone who was not judging him for a little bit. Mary’s words left him with a feeling of deep irritation and he had to get away from her.

“Alright, Dr. Sung,” she said as she looked over the paperwork. She looked at Kieran. “Everything here seems to be in order.” Kieran snapped the tablet case closed and stood up straight. He glanced at Mary.

“I shall see you Monday morning.” Kieran gave Janet and her visitors a curt nod. He then quickly escaped out the door.

He heard Mary continuing to speak behind him but he had to get out of that room immediately. His eye had already started twitching just standing there and listening. Completely unaware of where he was he nearly ran into someone in a set of scrubs. He stopped, apologized without thinking and cursed his constant motor issues. If Mary had been around, she would have chided him for being clumsy, as though he had control over it. He had to get to Artemis right away or he was going to say something to Mary he would have to apologize for later. It did not strike him as odd that he would fear such a thing, though Artemis told him again and again that he should never feel bad for being himself. He really hoped that Artemis was back from the Long-Term Care floor, because he needed to talk to him.

-oooooo-OOOOOO-oooooo-

As Artemis Seath made his way through the Long-Term Care ward to the patient’s room, no one bothered to approach him. He was an unassuming looking person that wasn’t quite five and half feet tall, typically easily looked over. He was not in the best mood as he navigated the hallways with practiced ease. He found the room he was looking for, and tucked his dark brown hair behind his ear. His hair tended to fall into his face on the right side but he preferred it that way most of the time, but with patients like Ms. Dankin, he pushed it back. He pushed open the door and went into the dimly lit room.

The elderly woman turned and gave him a wide toothless grin. Artemis had visited her yesterday after she had finished the testing on seventh. They had found a “berry” aneurysm that had been causing some troublesome symptoms for the septuagenarian. It was a common type of aneurism, and Dr. Santos had been confident that he could successfully clip it without much trouble.

“Ms. Dankin, how are you today, beautiful?” he asked with a broad smile. His bright greenish blue eyes took in her vitals with a practiced glance. He saw that she was doing relatively well today.

 “Oh, sweetie,” she nodded. “I’m feeling better, I think. I slept last night! Am I moving to the seventh floor today?”

“I think we might be able to bring you upstairs and figure out what to do about that little blood vessel in your noggin that seems to be misbehaving.” He looked over her chart. He knew her case at Thomas’s request. Dr. Santos should have come down himself, or his primary nurse. Instead, Thomas had sent Artemis, saying something about wanting his best nurse on Ms. Dankin’s case. Artemis was sure that the real reason had more to do with keeping him off the seventh floor as much as possible.

“Is that doctor good? Dr. Santos?” she asked as her face turned a bit concerned. “I know all you here at this hospital are good, but…”

“Dr. Santos specializes in vascular neurosurgery, so he is very good at what he does,” Artemis told her as he checked to make sure everything was ready for the transfer. “All seems in order, lovely. The orderlies will be down in about an hour to move up upstairs. They’ll bring Dr. Santos’s regular nurse with you, her name’s Deana. She’s a lovely lady, and she’ll get you situated in a nice room upstairs. I’ll come by and check in to make sure everything’s going well and just to say hi.” Artemis smiled at her again as he put the chart back down.

Artemis moved up to the head of the bed and checked over the IV. Anna Dankin had a hip replacement several days ago. Unfortunately, she had developed a series of symptoms that was worrisome so close to surgery. Headaches, dizziness, and occasional blind spots had started occurring, leading them to have her sent for MRI. Luckily, they’d found the aneurysm and it was a very good candidate for clipping, or a surgery where the little bubble on the artery was simply clipped off, and the artery repaired. She was good health for her age, and was only staying on Long Term Care long enough to go through physical therapy.

“Aren’t you the head nurse up there?” she asked as he patted her shoulder after checking that all the lines were still in place.

 “Everyone was a bit busy today, so I thought I’d come down and see to this myself,” he commented, not wanting to tell her that it hadn’t been his idea to do this today. It was true he hadn’t been otherwise occupied, at least. “I don’t mind because I get to talk to lovely people like you.” As he spoke, he squeezed her shoulder.

“Oh, honey, if you don’t mind me asking, how in the world did you get such a scar on your face? It looks like an old one too!” She seemed to focus on the line that ran down his face.

Artemis put his hand against the scar without thinking, feeling the ridge that ran from the corner of his eye down to his chin. He smiled, though, because he didn’t mind so much when people like this asked him about it.

“Oh, there was a sort of incident when I was a kid...” He trailed off. How was he going to put that some men came into his house and tried to murder his family because of who his family was. He swallowed and chewed his lip for a second. “A home invasion,” he settled on. “I got cut by this one guy that didn’t know how to handle his knife. I was lucky, though. My best friend, he lived nearby, and his dad’s a pediatric surgeon. So, he stitched me right up!”

“Goodness, that’s something…” the older woman said with a shake of her head. “I bet that was scary for you as a child.”

“Ah, I got to stay at my best friend’s house for a while. Brat kept sneaking into my room the whole time to stay with me, even when he was told to stay out. He’s a bit funny like that. He gets really attached to people he likes. There aren’t too many on that list, though. And he doesn’t listen well when he wants to do something.” He smirked as he crossed his arms over his chest. 

She smiled. “Well, that’s sweet, honey. Do you get to see him often these days? Sounds like you care about him a lot.”

Artemis nodded with a grin again. “Oh, yeah, he’s a doctor up on neuro, but he’s a specialist in micro-laser surgery, mostly oncology. He does a lot of tumor and mass removals. He did design the tools that Dr. Santos uses, though.” He was quiet for a second. “I wish I saw him more, but he doesn’t go out a lot, he’s autistic, and he doesn’t do people too well.”

“Well, you know, going out doesn’t have to be the only way you spend time with someone you love.” She winked at him slyly.

Artemis stared. “What?”

“Don’t look at me like that, I see those pink cheeks when you talk about him,” she observed. “In my day, if I learned anything, it was to tell the ones you love how much love them. When I was your age, I fell in love with a beautiful woman. You know, fifties and all, I never told her, and she married a man that abused her terribly.” She paused, and Artemis could tell her eyes were dampening. “I went to her funeral two years after she moved away. In her things, there was a letter for me, telling me how much love she’d held in her heart and couldn’t speak. I was happy, my husband and my kids, but I always wonder, what woulda happened if I’d told her how much I loved her.” She smiled again. “Just don’t waste time, that’s what I’ll say. Call it old advice from an interfering old woman.”

Artemis saw the genuine emotion in her eyes, and for a second he almost felt like telling her more, but he just smiled. “I’ll think about that.” He patted her arm before he left the room. “You take care, honey!” she called as she watched him leave. Artemis enjoyed the ones like her so much. Despite her age, there was still that mischievous sparkle to her gray eyes.  He shut the door and took a deep breath before he turned to head back out to confirm the transition with the nurses’ station on this floor.

As he headed out and over to the nurses’ station in the center of the floor, he was thoughtful. It seemed to be rather quiet today, which for this floor was a very good thing. He’d thought about working this floor, and it had been one of the choices he’d been given, but he wanted to be on neurology. He hadn’t spent the extra time and effort specializing in nursing related to neurology and neurosurgery to be sent to another floor, no matter how Thomas tried to convince him he was a good fit for another one.

What most people he worked with didn’t know was that the reason he got into nursing to start with had nothing to do with helping others. It had to do with his constant worry and need to take care of his best friend, Kieran. Sometimes, he found it odd that he had based one of the biggest choices of his life on anyone except his family. Other times, he found it only natural that he would have done so. He was an excellent nurse, though. He’d been offered top spots at several other hospitals in the St. Louis area, but down every one of them. He was home here with Kieran, and here he would stay.

It wasn’t that Artemis didn’t like Thomas, it was that Thomas seemed intent on keeping him away from Kieran. Artemis had no intention of letting that happen. Artemis had his suspicions as to why Thomas seemed to play hospital politics against him, but it wasn’t something he could ever prove.

Artemis got to the nurses’ station and quickly made sure everything was in order for the patient transfer. He sighed as he started to head back to the elevator and hoped that nothing had gone wrong upstairs in the hour he’d been gone. He hadn’t gotten any pages over the intercom and he hadn’t heard the pager go off in his pocket, so that was a good thing. He took the elevator up, and headed to his own nurses’ station once he got out on the seventh. He called for the orderlies doing the transfer of Ms. Dankin and sent for Deana to go with them. He found Dr. Santos and let him know she was coming up.  By the time he was finished with all that, he made his way back to the nurses’ station to find Kieran was standing there looking at a chart.

It was easy to tell by Kieran’s posture that he was anxious. He approached him from the side so Kieran could tell someone was coming up. He put both hands on Kieran’s shoulders. Kieran turned and looked at him, and Artemis knew he was bothered by something.

“Kie, what’s up?” he asked with a concerned frown.

Kieran tilted his head to the side and stared into space for a minute, grinding his teeth. At the motion, Artemis knew that Kieran needed to stim. He also knew that Kieran was trying not to stim, and that frustrated Artemis to no end. It wasn’t like drumming his fingers hurt anyone.

Artemis looked around, brushing a hand through his hair. He grabbed Kieran by the hand to usher him into an empty patient room and pushed him to sit down on the end of the bed. The room was dark since the curtains were pulled closed and the lights were all off. Artemis knew that if Kieran was upset, the less stimulation from the outside, the better.

Putting both hands on his hips, Artemis looked Kieran over. He could easily see that he was upset and Kieran was probably not sure how to explain it. Ever since childhood it had been this way with him. He would give him time and let him speak when he was ready. Artemis had never pushed Kieran to talk if he couldn’t or didn’t want to.

“Love, you look a bit flustered,” Artemis sighed, smiling gently at him.

Kieran nodded with a somewhat embarrassed look on his face. Artemis hated that Kieran always seemed to be so embarrassed by becoming upset like this. He especially didn’t like that Kieran felt embarrassed around him. Lately, he hadn’t seen Kieran outside the hospital. That shouldn’t have been something that bothered him, but he shook the thought away. They were both busy. He didn’t dwell on the fact that a lot of Kieran’s time was taken up by the things Mary and Thomas requested.

An eternity ago, a young Artemis had met this other little boy that lived in the area. Artemis had been seven, and Kieran had been six. It was before Kieran had gone to the other school. They would often play in the small park nearby while Kieran’s mom watched from a bench and Sherlock, Artemis’s caretaker and uncle, watched from the other side of the park.

Artemis remembered his Uncle Sherlock whispering that the little dark-haired boy needed someone to play with, and that the other kids made fun of him whenever they came to the park. Artemis wasn’t going to stand for that sort of thing. He’d marched right over where the little dark-haired boy sat in a sandbox filtering sand through his fingers again and again and told him that they were going to be friends and play together from now on. Kieran’s mother had smiled and told him to go on. From then on, Artemis played with the little boy everyone else had said was weird. Other kids would tease Kieran now and then, calling him names, and Artemis would yell at them to leave him alone.

Then the incident happened, and Artemis couldn’t remember all the details. He just remembered waking up and seeing Kieran leaning over him, crying about him being hurt. Kieran had refused to listen when the adults tried to make him leave. Artemis vividly remembered Sherlock arguing with Kieran’s father about having been brought to Kieran’s house. Artemis had never explained to Kieran what everything had meant, and he wouldn’t. Kieran didn’t need to be pulled into the messed-up situation that had left him scarred. He knew there was some connection between their family and Kieran’s, but every time he’d asked about it, Sherlock would say it wasn’t something he should worry about.

After that horrible incident, Artemis had struggled with containing his anger and being around Kieran helped him a lot. No matter how upset or angry he got, Kieran could calm him in an instant. The only other person that helped Artemis calm down was his boyfriend, but even then, he didn’t have the ability to drain his anger like Kieran’s presence did.

It wasn’t long after that when Artemis lost his temper completely for the first time in front of Kieran. Kieran had been playing hide and seek in the park with him and had gone well away from his mother's sight. A few boys cornered Kieran, pushing him back and forth between them. Kieran was scared, but it wasn’t the first time it had happened. Artemis was almost healed completely from the wound on his face; the flesh was still pink and fresh in the late healing stages. Artemis, for some reason, came around the corner and became furious. He ended up fighting with the bullies. Kieran had to pull him off of them, pleading with him not to hurt them anymore.

Artemis knew quite well that in Kieran’s life, he had very few people that had come to his aid for acting like himself. Artemis also knew how much Kieran had to act around Thomas and Mary. Kieran never had to be someone else around him, and Artemis made sure of that.

“Mary,” Kieran muttered. “Ssibal, she always thinks I do not hear what she says when I zone out. They all think that way, all but you.  You know that even when I look like I am not paying attention that I am still aware of my surroundings,” he grumbled, crossing his arms and rolling his head over his shoulders. “They are going to be looking for me in a minute.” He stopped and sighed deeply. “I still have to finish my rounds and talk to my father about that little girl that came in last night.”

“You can’t help your actions when she antagonizes you like that.” A deep scowl settled in across Artemis’s brows.

“At least I left the room before I started ticking,” Kieran muttered. He rubbed a hand over his freckled nose and cheekbones. “That would be bad, going off and yelling ‘fuck’ in the middle of a room with a patient. Even if it is not in English.” Kieran chewed his lip for a second before continuing. “Aigoo, this is so annoying, why does she have to think I do not know what she says?”

Artemis sat down beside him, putting an arm around him with a deep sigh. “Kie, you have to figure out how to make things work. You should tell her or something. She needs to know she should stop pushing your buttons like this. That’s fucked up. Friend or no. You’re not doing so well. You told me before that Dr. McKellar said if you aren’t careful…” he started.

Kieran nodded. He leaned his head over and rested it against Artemis’s shoulder. “A breakdown right now would mean medications. Medications mean no more surgery. No more surgery means I would go out of my mind. I have to have access to surgery. Thomas says there is no way he will let me do surgery on something as simple as anxiety medications. I do not understand the harm. They do not interfere with anything that has to do with surgery. Thomas should know, though. He has spent the last forty years working with autistic people like me. He has to know best.”

There was a second of silence before Artemis spoke up. “I don’t know, Kieran, you need to do something because you are suffering right now.”

“I know, I know, Artemis, believe me.” Artemis reached up and ran a hand over Kieran’s head where it lay against his shoulder. “I am trying. I do not want Thomas to see me like this, so I came to you, without thinking. He would be mad and tell me I should not be bothered by her saying the truth.”

There was a tickling at the back of Artemis’s mind. Artemis knew something was off about this situation. There was something wrong with that whole idea that Kieran couldn’t make his own choices about what medications he should take. Artemis knew that Kieran trusted Thomas, but Kieran was a doctor too, and he knew even more about the brain than Thomas did. Artemis knew that Kieran was as attached to him as he was to any family member, but still. Artemis couldn’t understand some of the things that Kieran told him Thomas said. He knew, though, that saying something would upset Kieran, and he didn’t want to do that. He’d do anything to avoid upsetting him. Instead, he kept those thoughts to himself. Artemis just supported his friend in whatever he decided to do. Kieran was smart enough to figure out if Thomas was doing something wrong…

Artemis adjusted his glasses a bit and realized Kieran had started to relax a bit. He rubbed his back for a second and then hugged him for a second. When Kieran responded with a firm nod of his head and sat back up, Artemis sat up straight himself.

Kieran stood slowly and Artemis watched him carefully. “Okay, go finish rounds, do your consult, and in ainm Dé, go home, rest, you have a big surgery Monday!” Artemis gently pushed him out of the empty room.

Kieran nodded and headed down the hall, lost in thought already. Artemis leaned against the doorframe and watched Kieran navigate down the hall while avoiding making eye contact with the passing nurses. Artemis didn’t know what to do, though. He wanted to help Kieran get through this problem with the others in his life, but he wasn’t sure how to do it. He reached up, thoughtfully fiddling with his necklace. Kieran was obviously stressed out and in need of some sort of relief. He knew ways that worked for him to relieve stress, but that wasn’t the right solution for everyone else. There were times when he needed to engage in the things that took him outside himself and to a place where the world ceased to exist. It was also a place of unconditional love.

Mrs. Dankin’s words came back. Was he wasting precious time?

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On The Training of Doctors is © to Beverly L. Anderson and Kenyon Y. Hunt.

Artwork is © to Leah Bliss.

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