Sunday, July 18, 2010


by Brendan Carson

I come into the ER, wet from rain. Bulmer looks up. “The late Doctor Robinson,” he says.

“Sorry,” I say. “You seen Donna? She didn’t come home”

“She was around,” Bulmer gestures vaguely. “It’s been busy.” Bulmer turns to the interns. “Doctor Robinson is senior on the morning shift. Run everything past her. She has a particular liking for the mad, the malodorous and the malingering.”

I grin and shake my head. “Who’ve we got?”

It’s first shift for the new interns, and night shift in Emergency can be hell. Sometimes I think I should have done Psych like Donna. She’s on one night in twenty, I’m one night in four. It’s hard to keep a relationship going. The screen is full. It’s been a busy night. Bulmer starts handover.

“Cubicle one is a sixty two year old man, viral pneumonia, stable on four litres oxygen…”

The new interns scribble copious notes, the others jot a word or two. The litany rolls on. Bulmer hands over the unstable cases himself, lets the interns (nervous, occasionally stammering) do the others. I smile, thank them, try to sound less impatient than I am. The last intern is squat, muscular, a thin film of sweat over his face. For a moment he seems oddly familiar. His lab coat hides his name-tag.

"Cubicle forty,” he starts, “is a thirty two year old man, detained under the mental health act as a danger to himself or others, with a long history of a schizophreniform illness. Since his early teens he -…,”

Bulmer looks up, irritated.

“We’ll see him first,” I say. “Tell me as you walk over there.”

Away from the other doctors he seems more nervous, more sweaty. He checks his notes as he walks. “Classic erotomanic psychosis, resistant to diagnosis and therapy, delusions about his female neighbours spying on him, inserting erotic thoughts into his head, she’s the one to blame for all his symptoms. Previous diagnoses paranoid subtype--,”

“In emerge,” I say, “we don’t care about all that developmental history stuff, how his mom molested him with a carrot or whatever.”

He looks surprised. “But what-- ,”

“It’s all about problem solving.”

He nods, like he understands. We reach the secure cubicle. I swipe my card, “So, briefly, what are we doing with him?”

“He’s for psych review today,” says the intern.

I shake my head. Psych are meant to review all emergency patients on day of admission. They act like seeing patients will kill them. I can say that because I live with one.

Inside the room is silent, simple. The thick door hisses shut behind us. No windows, a single light. A low stimulus environment keeps things quiet for all of us. The patient is a shape beneath the blankets.

“Medically stable?” I say over my shoulder. The intern is doing something with the keypad.

“Medically, he’s very strong.”

I glance over at him. It’s a strange thing to say. The patient hasn’t moved. The intern steps forward.

"Here" he grins. "I'll introduce you."

He reaches past me. He twitches the blanket away.

I stare. It's not a patient, it's Donna, and she's dead. My heart thumps in my chest, I feel like I’m going to be sick. I turn. I’m shaking so I can hardly stand.

Behind him, I see the keypad, hanging by a flex.

"She got me in a lot of trouble," says the new doctor. Now I remember his face, dark and suspicious, his door closing as we opened ours, across the apartment hallway. "But you won't, will you?"

And then I see the blood beneath his fingernails.


Brendan David Carson is a writer of science fiction, fantasy and horror. He has been published in Aurealis, Year's Best Australian Science Fiction and a number of other magazines. His blog is at, he went to Clarion South 2009 and he is facebookable.


Michael Stone said...

While this story held little in the way of surprises, the detail made it gripping and authentic. Excellent work, Brendan!

Kara McElhinny said...

I loved the words you used here Brenden! I don't squeal at much but when he told of what happened to the patient it took me by surprise! Nicely done!!

Karen from Mentor said...

oh man. That's dark.
Well spun Brendan.