Authors: Melissa Yi,Melissa Yuan-Innes
by Melissa Yi
Published by Olo
with Windtree Press
© B Scott Photography
Copyright © 2011
For Cara, Mai-Anh, Bernice, and the rest
of my posse.
With special thanks to Shaun Visser.
I'd avoided St. Joseph's emergency room
for the past week, but it hadn't changed. Stretcher patients lined the wall and
spilled into the hallway. Fluorescent lights turned everyone's skin yellow,
even though most of them weren't Asian like me.
I smiled at a nurse who squeezed my arm
and said, "Welcome back, Hope!" just before a patient's wrinkled
mother waved me down.
We need a blanket!"
Home, sweet home.
sweet except for the smell of stool drifting from bed 12.
I nodded at a few fellow medical
residents. Officially, we're doctors in our first post-graduate training year,
formerly known as interns. Unofficially, we're scut monkeys rotating from
service to service. Last month, I'd done emergency medicine and tracked down a
murderer; this month, I was on psychiatry and opting out of any drama.
I just needed to see one scut monkey in
particular. A blond dude. A guy who appreciated sausages and beer and me, not
necessarily in that order. A guy I'd overlooked when I first came to Montreal
for my residency, but I wasn't about to make that mistake again.
Sadly, no matter how casually I glanced
out of the corners of my eyes, John Tucker did not appear.
Since I was officially starting my psychiatry
rotation a week late, duty called first. I perched on the chair in the psych
corner of the nurses' station, near the printer, and grabbed the chart lying on
the table. Normally the psych nurse would occupy this chair, but she was
probably talking to the patient whose chart I was holding, Mrs. Regina Lee.
I pretended to read the triage note, my
skin still electric at the possibility of seeing Tucker. Was that high school
or what? I might be twenty-six years old, with an M.D. behind my name, but I
still got rattled thinking about A BOY.
One of my favourite emerg nurses,
Roxanne, paused beside me and shoved a pen behind her ear. "Hope! Nice to
see you. Are you doing okay?"
I nodded. We hugged. She smelled like
Purell and she was built like me, skinny but strong. Once she told me her
Italian grandmothers practically cried when they saw her, they found her so
emaciated-looking. Of course, being relatively thin didn't stop me from
complaining about my thighs on a bad day.
Roxanne glanced at the blue plastic card
clipped to my chart. "Oh, no. You got Mrs. Lee. Is it Fall already?"
I frowned. "August eighth?"
After sitting in school twenty-odd years of my life, including most summer
vacations, I hate when people call autumn prematurely. As far as I'm concerned,
it's still summer until the snow hits the ground. I don't even like to see the
leaves change colour. Call it denial if you want. Whoa—I was in psych
Roxanne shrugged. "Close enough. She
always comes here. Especially around now. It's very sad."
"Did you know Laura Lee?"
She shook her head. "You're too
young. Anyway. She was a resident here. Star of her year."
A resident, just like me. "What does
that have to do with Mrs. Lee?
Roxanne pointed to the clipboard.
"I'll let Mrs. Lee tell you. It's her favorite story."
I strode through the open door of room 14, the designated psych room. The
stretcher and its five-point restraints stood empty, but a woman sat in a chair
by one indented white wall.
She clutched the clunky leather purse in
her lap as she turned to face me. Her permed black hair was streaked with
white, but I noticed her strong cheekbones and her skin, still enviably smooth
considering her sixty-four years. Although her lips parted, no sound emerged.
"Hi." I held out my hand.
She didn't take it. My hand hovered in
the air until I shoved it back in my lab coat pocket. I belatedly remembered I
was trying to improve my body language and dropped my hand to my side instead.
The smell of bloody stool wafted toward us from room 12 and we both winced
before I changed the subject. "My name is Dr. Hope Sze. I'm a resident
from psychiatry. Could we—"
She was staring at me with such
intensity, I faltered.
Her eyes filled with tears.
Oh, dear. She really was depressed. The
psychiatric patients who come to the emergency room are usually depressed or
psychotic. I set her file down on the desk and scanned the room for tissues.
They always kept a box handy on psych.
She said something in Chinese.
"I'm sorry. I don't speak Chinese.
But I could get a translator if you like." My parents thought we should be
Canadian and always spoke English to us.
She reached a hand toward my face, gazing
at me like she was in a dream.
I flinched, not wanting to jerk away, but
mildly freaked. Who
She checked herself. Her hand dropped to
her side and she tried to smile. "Excuse me," she said, in perfectly
good English. "It's just that you look so much like my daughter."
I relaxed a little. "Oh. That's nice.
Is your daughter, ah, here with you?"
"Not anymore." Her brown eyes
met mine, direct and level. "She's dead and somebody killed her."
My shoulders tensed. It's an answer you
never expect. And, even though I tried not to be superstitious, I found it eerie
that her dead daughter was a resident who looked just like me.
She blinked. The tears already shining in
her eyes dripped on to her cheeks. She ignored them, still staring at me.
"I'm sorry," she said. "You must think me very foolish."
"Not at all."
She dabbed her eyes with a tissue she
extracted from her purse. "I know you're not Laura. I know she's gone.
It's just that I've been without hope for so long."
I twitched. My name, Hope, is a constant
sore spot for me. When people mention the concept, I always feel like they're
talking about me, although Mrs. Lee was the most poignant example.
She shook her head. "I know what
they say about me, that I can't accept my daughter's death. They think it's
tragic, but I should move on after eight years."
Although the emerg nurse, Roxanne, hadn't
rolled her eyes, I could certainly imagine others would, and Mrs. Lee knew it.
To use psych lingo, Mrs. Lee had insight, meaning that she understood her
condition. A lot of psych patients don't. They think
the nutbar who doesn't receive the secret messages from the
Cadbury commercial, and
So far, Mrs. Lee didn't seem crazy, just
Somehow that was worse.
Her mouth twisted with what might have
been humor under different circumstances. "They even think I should move
so I'll 'make new memories' and, not coincidentally, remove myself from their
I nodded. I only knew about sectors
because Tucker, who did psych last month, had explained them to me. The Island
of Montreal was carved into psychiatry "sectors" according to postal
code. If you had mental health issues, you had to go to whatever hospital
sector you belonged to. No exceptions, even if it made no sense. We had
patients who were literally born at St. Joe's and lived across the street, but
they had to get downtown to the Montreal General for their psychiatrist.
Mrs. Lee already knew this, which was a
little scary. She was clearly an intelligent woman who'd been grieving for
eight years. What was I going to do for her? I'd better steer her away from the
subject of her daughter's death, even though I really wanted to know how she'd
died. Curiosity not only killed the cat, it lured me into medical
school—and into fighting crime, although I was hanging up my magnifying
glass after my first-and-only case last month. "I'm very sorry for your
loss. Maybe we should start at the beginning. How would you describe your mood,
on a scale of one to ten—"
She waved her hand, cutting me off.
"I already have a psychiatrist. Dr. Saya is happy to prescribe me
medication or let me run off at the mouth, but I don't want to talk about it
anymore. I want justice."
Justice. I knew I should get back on
track, asking her about depression, but I couldn't resist. "Have you
talked to the police?"
She laughed and tossed her tissue in the
garbage. Two points. "They know me well. They say I don't have any proof
it wasn't an accident. It was a hit and run, you see."
Well. Maybe it really was an accident. I
crossed my legs. "
She leaned forward and placed her hands
on her knees, eyes suddenly sharp. "You believe me, don't you?"
I hesitated. I yearned to say yes, even
though my logic and medical training shied away from her.
She shook herself. "How silly of me.
Of course you don't, yet. But I could show you what I have. I have an entire
file on Laura."
I had to draw the line at sorting through
Laura's gap-toothed elementary school photos and stellar report cards.
"I'm sure you do, Mrs. Lee, but—"
"Not that kind of file. Evidence.
The police reports. The autopsy." She paused. "I used to carry it
with me, but most people here have seen it already and don't take it seriously.
I couldn't bear that."
How many mothers could say
"autopsy" without breaking down?
On the other hand, she'd had eight years to acclimatize to the word. I
had to admire her drive, still searching for justice.
But it wasn't my place. The fact that I
reminded her of Laura made it even more unprofessional. "I'm sorry, Mrs.
Lee. I do know one or two people at the police department. They might be able
to help you with...justice." The word tasted foreign in my mouth. I
hurried on. "In the emergency room, we deal with medical problems. You
seem quite stable. Are you feeling more depressed than usual lately?"
She shook her head. "I feel much better
now that I've met you."
I closed my eyes. I couldn't save this
woman. I could hardly save myself.
"Please, Dr. Sze. Just have a look
at her file. That's all I'm asking."
I had to say no. I took a breath.
One of the things I never liked about
psych was, when you interview a patient, you're not really an ally. You're
mentally critiquing what they say and how they say it while trying to
categorize them. It sounds harsh, but a gazillion people came to the ER and
said, "I'm depressed." Very few of them were truly suicidal. Some of
them were trying to manipulate you. Some of them just wanted attention. Of
course, this happened in emergency medicine too, which was what I planned to
specialize in, but I generally wanted to be on the patient's side instead of inspecting
them from behind glass.
This time, though, I needed to keep her
I knew what my supervisors would say. I
knew what I
say. I forced the
sentences into the air, creating a barrier between us. "Mrs. Lee, please,
let's concentrate on you. Have you thought about hurting yourself?"
She sighed. "No, I am not suicidal.
Naturally, after Laura was killed, I had days of despair, but I never attempted
to kill myself. I have never tried to hurt anyone else. I am not hallucinating.
I do not have a special relationship with God or Satan. I do not drink or take
any drugs except an occasional Ativan to help me sleep, and even then, I only
take half a milligram. I know I am at St. Joseph's Hospital in Montreal,
Quebec, Canada, and that it is August fourteenth in the year 2011."
I stared at her, wide-eyed. She'd just
encapsulated a psych interview better than I could have done.
She smiled. "It's just practice, Dr.
Sze. I've had many, many of these interviews. I could go on if you like. But I
am not crazy. I am not going to hurt you or anyone else, including myself. I
already have a doctor and I'm not asking for any special treatment. All I am
asking is for you to read my file on Laura. You don't even have to meet with
me. I could leave a copy in your mailbox."
I should say no. I should concentrate on
medicine. Or even on Tucker.
killed the cat.
brought him back.
At last, I looked into her steady brown
eyes and said, "All right."