A Christmas To Remember (An Emergency tale)
By Barb, with a lot of help from her friends.
The small office granted a haven of peace and quiet for a change. It had been a long forty-eight hours. The supposed “Emergency on Call” regimen, for only the second twenty-four hours, had turned out to be nonstop pandemonium. Dr. Kelly Brackett, full to the brim of Christmas spirit, had volunteered for the double duty. The first day ensured his second-in-command’s extra time off, needed for travel down to Florida, a Christmas visit with elderly parents. The additional shift entailed hard work but, the way he figured, with the two bright interns he had on staff, being “second on” for covering Christmas Eve should have meant he could snatch a wink of sleep before heading home to spend a quiet Christmas day alone.
He hadn’t counted on the major traffic accident that had occurred around midday on Christmas Eve. The incident had kept them all on their toes for many hours. Things had gone well though , as they had managed to patch all the victims up and send them home to spend Christmas with their families. Then, one of his two trusted staff interns had been called away - a family problem that couldn’t wait. Doctor Brackett merely smiled and told the anxious young physician to get on home to his family. With the remaining intern, Brackett could cope. After all, it was Christmas Eve, and most people would be heading out to enjoy the holiday with their loved ones. The most likely patients over the next twenty-four hours would be local drunks seeking a bed for the night.
Kel’s planned Christmas seemed to be going miserably wrong anyway. Somehow, despite long hours caused by a staffing crisis, he’d managed to purchase presents for his friends, but then there just hadn‘t been time to wrap and give them. Now it was too late. The intention to wine and dine his head nurse, Dixie, then surprise her with tickets to a musical, had failed, his shift extended by one of those ever-erupting emergencies. By the time he made it to the box office, all seats were sold out. He hadn’t the heart to ask Dixie out for even the meal, lacking the post-dinner entertainment; especially as on quite a few occasions she’d expressed a wish to see the show.
Sinking back with a sigh, he relaxed into the beckoning softness of his favorite armchair. Tepid coffee sat on the table, ignored for now, as the tired man allowed himself a few minutes rest. This past month had been a strain on all staff in Rampart’s emergency department, with several nurses leaving, no replacements in sight. The work had been hard, tempers short, yet the overburdened staff struggled to keep up standards against all odds.
Dixie, his right-hand man - well, woman - and he had battled through several clashes lately. Aware that overwork and fatigue played a part, he hoped Dixie knew it, too; one of the reasons why he’d wanted to surprise her with the night out. After one particularly pointed argument, she had suddenly announced she’d be taking a few days off, and she was gone before any chance had arisen to speak to her or smooth things over.
Now, five A.M. on Christmas morning, Kel had never felt less Christmassy in his life. He pulled long fingers through his dark locks, pushing the stragglers back from his eyes, and stifled a yawn that threatened to break out. He forced heavy eyelids to open and focus on the cooling coffee. Reaching forward to pry the cup from the table, he took a tentative sip - lukewarm, but at least fluid.
Outside the office, he could hear soft voices. The staff, finishing up, handed duties over to the next shift. Just another few hours and he’d be able to follow. Strangely, apart from a need to sleep for a week, he was not looking forward to going home to an empty apartment on Christmas day. Customarily, he spent the holidays at his parents’ home, but this year his mother and father had opted for a cruise, to forgo the season’s usual hustle and bustle. They’d asked if he minded, but, no, Kel thought it a good idea. At the time, he truly believed. Now, in the cold light of Christmas morning, he was feeling tired, miserable, and rather sorry for himself. He sat back again, closing his eyes against the harsh fluorescent lighting, and let himself drift. The emergency room lay quiet now. If needed, the roster personnel would immediately rouse him.
Loud, forced whispering and hushed laughter brought him back to the virtual world. Coming forcefully awake, he blinked several times and then rubbed at sleep-clouded eyes, uncertain if the sight before him was real. In front of him stood two rather worse for wear Santa Claus look-alikes. He closed his eyes tightly, said a silent prayer barring hallucination from exhaustion, then slowly opened them again. The Santas were still there. His gaze fixed on the six foot, decorated tree that reigned in the far corner of the room, taking up a large portion of available space. He hadn’t noticed the Christmas monstrosity earlier. Brightly twinkling lights drew his eye to a wealth of presents stashed beneath.
“Hi, Doc. ’Bout time you woke up. Been a tough shift?”
Caught totally off guard for the first time in many years, Doctor Kelly Brackett recognized the voice. This man he’d frequently spoken with over emergency paramedic mobile radios. “Roy?’ he questioned while peering up at the face heavily covered by a white beard.
Roy continued to laugh, removing the false beard, grateful to be rid of it. “That’s better,” he stated. “Bet you’re wondering what’s going on.”
Instead of replying, Kel looked at the other Father Christmas who was now also removing reams of false facial hair. “You here too, Johnny? What are you two up to?”
“Our shift ended hours ago. We dropped into a nearby bar for a nightcap and got to thinking. Last call, you sounded like you’d lost your best friend. We knew you had a few more hours to go, so we thought we’d bring Christmas to you. Can’t have our favorite doc spending Christmas alone.” Johnny gestured expansively across the room as he spoke.
About to protest, Doctor Brackett relinquished when another voice, one close to his heart, although he rarely let it show, joined in the conversation. “Kel, I know things weren’t turning out quite as you’d hoped, but we’re going to change all that.” Dixie stepped out from the shadows where she’d been watching the proceedings.
Realization dawned on Kel. He’d been set up. Dix had known all along about his parents going away. She’d organized all this. While he did appreciate the gesture, in fact he felt really warmed by the whole thing, he was not in a position to join in right now. “Well, thanks for the thought, guys, but I still have a few hours on duty, you know.”
“Not anymore, you don’t. Dr. Early’s true to his name. He’s persuaded your relief to come in a couple hours early. So you just sit back and enjoy the party.” She offered the still bewildered Kel a mug of hot, spiced, mulled cider from a flask. Then, pouring herself a helping, she passed it ’round to the two winsome paramedics. “Cheers!” She raised her cup to meet Kel’s as the others joined in. “Happy Christmas, doctor. And when this is over, you’re coming home with me to get a few hours’ decent sleep before dinner. You’d better be hungry, Kel, ’cause I’ve got the full, five-course, mammoth meal lined up. And the boys are joining us.”
Remembering how busy the whole team had been during the entire season, he wondered when she’d finagled the opportunity do such a humungous shop and get everything prepared. He had to ask, “How did you manage? Er, I mean, when did you find the time?” Incredulous, wide blue eyes swept the room.
“Those few days I took off. When I realized what a miserable Christmas you looked likely to have, and then finding out the boys had nothing special planned either, I took the time to arrange a few things, amongst other little dalliances.” Dixie gave her best smile, pleased by the happiness she saw in Kel’s return grin. She’d meant to be with her parents for the holidays. All members of her large family would be there, but they’d understood and forgiven her change in plans. Anyway, if things went well, maybe she could persuade Kel to drive up with her after Christmas day.
Attention returned to the office festivities, they watched Roy walk casually over to the tree and stoop to pick up one of the brightly wrapped presents. “Hey, Doc, I think these are for you. Looks like you must have been a good boy this year.” He approached Kel and thrust a small card into his hand, holding back on the larger parcel.
Embracing the moment‘s joyous atmosphere, Kel looked at the envelope and read the inscription out loud, “To Doctor Brackett. Merry Christmas, from Carol. I hope you will accept this in the spirit of fun in which it was given.” He didn’t recognize the name at first, but then Dixie reminded, “Carol is the hospital’s public relations manager. She interviewed you recently for that publicity piece in the Times to raise funds for the emergency room. You made quite an impression on her, you know.”
“Oh, yes. I remember. She was really nice. Easy to talk to, extremely pretty. Don’t know how I could have forgotten her,” Kel teased.
“Well, you were obviously impressive, because that other package is from her, too.” Dixie laughed when Kel blushed slightly at the reciprocal ribbing. “Hurry up and open it. I want to know what she’s given you.”
He pulled out the card and stared hard at the gift certificate inside.
“Well?” prompted Johnny and Roy together.
“It’s a subscription for Gentleman’s Quarterly. What is that?” Kel asked, genuinely perplexed.
“I believe it’s a fashion magazine for the man about town. She must have been intent on improving your image before being seen out and about with you,” Dixie laughed, enjoying Kel’s further embarrassment.
“But I’ve never asked her… I mean, she is attractive, but I didn’t think she’d be interes…” the floundering man tried to explain.
“I’d quit while you’re ahead, Doctor Brackett. Why not open up the other gift?” Johnny interceded.
Glad to be let off the hook, Kel quickly tore paper from the larger package. “Ah, now this is more like it,” he stated appreciatively, evaluating the top quality tennis racket and balls.
The next item, supplied by Johnny, came from Roy and Johnny together. Kel was just admiring the ten year old bottle of best malt whiskey when a hesitant knock rattled. Dixie went to open the door. Bright lights spilling in from the corridor, in contrast with the subtly lit room, made recognition difficult. From where Kel was sitting, Dixie’s body effectively blocked his view. He strained to hear what the two female voices were discussing, but couldn’t make out what was being said over the two paramedics’ jovial banter.
The more luminous corridor light shut off Dixie’s return, yet Kel felt her perch on the arm of his chair. She’d brought a newcomer and, from the way they talked together, they were obviously old friends. Looking up expectantly, Kel waited for Dixie to do the introductions. He didn’t wait long.
“Doctor Brackett,” she used his formal title, “May I introduce Moira Small, a very old friend of mine. We trained together and have kept in touch ever since. Moira, this is Doctor Kelly Brackett. Kel, to his friends, and I’m sure you two will become the best of friends.” Then, remembering the other two occupants of the room, she added, “And these two reprobates are Johnny and Roy, our top paramedic team. You’ll work with them a lot.”
Three sets of male eyebrows shot up at that last statement. Up until that moment they’d been admiring the physical attributes of the pretty, young woman, but they now turned their total attention back to Dixie. In good humor, she furthered, “You heard me right, boys. Moira is to be our new deputy head nurse in the E.R.”
Moira now spoke up, “Pleased to meet you all, and I’m certainly looking forward to working with you, Doctor Brackett. I’ve heard so much about you.” She winked at Dixie who responded with a smile.
“B… But, I thought no one had applied for the post,” Kel said, stymied by the turn of events.
“No one did, Kel. Or at least no one of the right caliber. But I heard rumors that Moira was set on moving back here and on the lookout for a suitable job. I managed to convince her that Rampart was the place for her. That’s what I was doing during my other leisure time,” Dixie explained, taking great pleasure in being able to pull off the coup. “Moira starts today and I get to have a few more days off. I’m sure I’ll find plenty to occupy my time, though.” She stared pointedly at Kel.
“Well, if you’ll excuse me now, Doctor Brackett, I should report.” Moira turned to go, but halted at the prestigious doctor’s throat-clearing.
Kel liked the new nurse already. The very fact that Dixie knew her well, and recommended her, said a lot about the woman. “Kel,” he instructed, “Just call me Kel, at least when not on duty.”
“Thanks, Kel, boys,” she smiled prettily at them. “I hope to see you after the holidays. Have a nice Christmas.” Then she was gone, leaving three bemused men behind her.
“How did you manage to pull that off, Dix? I thought we were going to have to struggle with low staffing levels until the new year at least. I owe you one,” Kel spoke, admiration clear in his tone of voice.
“Call it part of your Christmas present. You’ll get the rest later, when I get you back to my place.” She winked at Kel mischievously while refilling his glass, leaving the bewildered doctor uncertain as to her exact meaning, yet eager to find out.
Before he could ask for clarification, the office door opened, and a somewhat tentative Dr. early eyed the room. Seeing Kel, he stepped in, closing the door behind him. “Ah, this is where you’re hiding. The duty nurse said you were going to try for a few hours sleep since things have quieted down. I gather it’s been a busy shift.”
“One of the busiest in a long time,” Kel sated with conviction. “Hopefully, the worst is over. Just a few more hours and I’m off duty.”
“Consider yourself off duty as of now. I’ll cover for you,” Doctor Early advised. “Seems you have a little party all your own going on here.”
“Have they got you involved in this insurrection, too?” Kel asked goodnaturedly.
“Let’s just say I knew it was happening, so I pulled a few strings of my own.” Doctor Early beamed when he saw Kel’s eyebrows raise in question. “I have a little gift for you, as well.” Then he coughed and corrected himself, “Actually, it’s not from me, I’m just the bearer of tidings of great joy, you might say.”
Dixie, Johnny, and Roy glanced at each other, trying to hide guilty expressions. They’d known about this last little “gift” for several days but had been under strict orders not to even drop the slightest hint. They weren’t quick enough to hide the conspiracy, however, as Kel found them out. “All right, just what is going on?” he queried. While he greatly appreciated this unexpected gesture of friendship, he’d been totally caught off guard by it all. The excitement and anticipation of wondering just what was going to happen next had him on edge. He would much rather face a major medical crisis than this emotionally-charged, nerve-wracking party with him the center of attention.
Almost as if reading Kel’s mind, Doctor Early laughed before he spoke again. “Relax, my boy. It’s not that bad. Kel, I swear, you’re cool as ice in life and death situations in E.R., but when the spotlight is turned on you personally, you go to pieces. You wouldn’t think you were one and the same person. Here.” With that last word he shoved two envelopes forward.
Fumbling, Kel opened the larger, more official envelope first. He found himself studying the delivery notice for a brand-new defibrillator, the very latest model, in fact. At least six months in the works, he’d been begging the hospital administration for a replacement, without success. Puzzled, he looked up. “How did you swing this? The last memo I got was a negative.”
“That isn’t coming from our tight-fisted finance department. Read the letter that’s with it,” Doctor Early ordered, still with a knowing smile lighting his eyes. Kel did exactly that, then grinned, a smile even bigger than his colleague’s filling his handsome face.
“Well?” urged Roy, “What is it?” He’d known of the grant, but not the details of how it had come to be donated.
Still beaming, Kel explained, “You remember that TV company that wanted to make a series based on E.R. staff?” Roy nodded, so Kel continued, “I wasn’t happy about it, but the hospital administrators made it pretty clear I was to cooperate with the program developers. I agreed to talk it through with their representatives and allowed them to film for a few days to get the feel of the place.”
“I remember that,” Dixie stated. “They weren’t to intrusive, actually, and we got along really well with the crew.”
“Well, it would seem that the guys from the network were really impressed. The main production engineer was that young career woman, Vernette.”
“Yes, she kept insisting you call her V, “ Dixie said, a hint of jealousy in her voice.
Kel laughed outright now, recalling the daggers Dixie had plunged whenever the attractive woman and Kel had been spotted together. All perfectly innocent, of course, but Dix wasn’t happy about it, nonetheless. “Anyway, V…” He gave a nervous cough and corrected himself, aware of Dixie’s eyes burning into him. “… er, Vernette, wants me to know that the show is going ahead. It will be called Emergency!, and it seems they’re expecting great things from it. They’re going to give Rampart’s staff credit for their support and hope they can call on us for advice in the future.”
“Not if I can help it,” Dixie muttered to herself. Wisely, Kel and the others pretended they hadn’t heard.
“That still doesn’t explain the new de-fib,” Johnny said, taking the delivery notice from Kel’s hands and scanning it for clues.
Kel opened up the other, smaller envelope. It contained a letter in handwriting he recognized. Tactfully he perused the script, then gave an abbreviated version to his friends, choosing to keep the rest of the personal message to himself. “Remember that other co-producer, the quiet one? Barb was her name,” he started to inform.
“Oh, yes,” Dixie commented, “she was the one with all the bright ideas and kept asking questions and taking notes. I took a liking to her.” What Dixie meant was - she hadn’t seen her spending too much time around Kel.
“It seems, on the grounds of the projected success of the show, she has persuaded the backers to donate this de-fib to us. If things go as anticipated, there may be more items of equipment sent as charitable donations,” Kel finished up.
“That’s what I call a gift in the real Christmas spirit,” Roy said.
Dixie nodded her agreement. “I wonder how she knew we desperately needed a new de-fib? I never mentioned it to her, and she seemed to spend most of her time shadowing me.”
“I expect she overheard one of the other staff discussing it.” In view of Dixie’s earlier tinge of jealousy, Kel decided it would be better not to reveal the quiet discussions in which he’d engaged Barb, over numerous dinner dates he’d managed to fit in when off duty. He missed the young, overseas jetsetter, but they’d promised to keep in touch. In the many phone conversations since, Barb had not even once hinted at the de-fib’s purchase, but she had obviously been listening intently when he’d opened up about the E.R.’s major problems.
“This is certainly turning out to be a Christmas to remember,” Kel said with feeling, considering this merriment so much better than the lonely, isolated, ‘none’ celebration he had been looking forward to - or not.
“It certainly is,” Doctor Early stated while turning to go. “If you’ll excuse me, some of us have work to do.” He meant to walk out, but then recollected another delivery. “Sorry, in all the excitement I almost forgot this one. It’s for you and Dixie, Kel. Mister Gill left it for you.” Handing the second envelope over to Kel, Doctor Early finally made his escape.
For a moment, Kel looked baffled, and then his face lit up as he recalled the gentleman in question. “You remember, Dix, don’t you? Tony Gill. He was rushed in here one night after an attempted robbery in his home. He managed to fend off the attackers, with little damage done, but then as he gave chase he tripped and fell over the garden fence. He came in here with a fractured wrist and a mild concussion.”
“Oh yes, I do remember now. He was quite a character, wasn’t he? He kept saying he had show biz connections and wanted to pay us back for the good job we’d done. I’d forgotten all about him.” Dixie moved to sit on the arm of the chair Kel was occupying. She waited eagerly to see what lay within the communiqué.
Quickly Kel tore open the the envelope and tipped the contents out onto his lap. “Definately looks as if he wasn’t exaggerating about his connections.”
Dixie leaned down and picked up the two tickets. “Wow! They’re for that new musical. I thought it was sold out. Best seats in the house, too. I guess he really must have connections.”
Taking the tickets, Kel gave a low, appreciative whistle - front row seats for the show he’d desperately wanted to take Dixie to. December 26th, he’d still be off duty. He noticed the other slips of paper lying neglected in his lap and picked them up to investigate. “It seems our Mr. Gill has a lot of miracles up his sleeve. This is a voucher for a meal for two at Giovannes, and the reservation’s three hours before the show.”
“Isn’t that the new Italian restaurant that’s booked up weeks in advance?” Roy commented. “You lucky stiffs.”
“Not just us, Roy. There’s another note here with reservations for you two, but for another night. You were the team that brought him in, after all.”
Johnny laughed and winked at Dixie. “A different night, huh? Guess he didn’t want to cramp your style.”
“If this mulled wine is starting to loosen your tongue that much, I think it’s time we collected our things and head home. Oh, and boys, I intend to serve Christmas dinner promptly, so don’t oversleep.”
Dutifully they tidied up the evidence of their Christmas party and fled the hospital. Kel was feeling somewhat the worse for wear as the combination of overwork, exhaustion, and mulled wine came together with the cold morning air to make him drowsy. Hiding a yawn, he tossed his car keys to Dixie. “I guess you’d better drive.”
He was just about to crawl into the passenger seat when a female voice hailed him from across the parking lot. “There you are, Doctor Brackett. I’m so glad I caught you before the holidays.” Kel looked up into the smiling face of the personnel manager. For the life of him he couldn’t think what she could want. “I know you’re tired and probably just want to get home to sleep, but I really thought you would want this now,” the woman persisted.
“What is it?’ he asked, camouflaging another yawn.
“It’s your prize, Doctor Brackett. The hospital charity lottery was drawn last night. I’m afraid I should have brought this to you sooner but it was a busy evening with the children’s party and such. Then when I finally went looking for you, you were busy and later you seemed to have dropped off the face of the earth. I only spotted you now as I was heading home myself.”
“Thank you very much, but I’m sure it could have waited till I came back on duty,” Kel stated, thinking of the bottle of wine or obligatory Christmas food basket, which was all he could remember of the prize list for the lottery ticket he’d purchased what felt like months ago.
Her next words brought him fully awake. “No, it couldn’t wait. You’ve won first prize, doctor. A holiday cruise for two, including a week on your own private Pacific island. The ship sails on New Year’s Eve.” His bemused expression pleased as she continued, “And don’t worry, I’ve cleared the extended leave with the directors. You’ve been working far too hard and deserve a break.” She thrust all the documents at him before hurrying off, not giving him time to argue.
Recovering somewhat, Kel looked at Dixie who warned, “Don’t even start to say you can’t go.”
“But it’s for two, Dix. Who’d want to go with me?” he asked innocently.
“You’re looking at one person for sure, right now,” she insisted.
“You would?” He almost didn’t dare believe what he was hearing.
“Of course I would, if you want me to.”
Not prepared to risk her change of mind for an instant, Kel responded quickly, “I’d love you to go, Dix.”
“Good, now that’s settled, let’s get you home so you can get some sleep.” She turned the key and revved the engine.
With Dix driving, they headed for her sprawling apartment. Kel settled back into the passenger seat and let the engine lull as he mused on how things had totally turned around in just a few short hours. From what had looked to be the worst holiday experience of his life, he was now set to have the best Christmas ever, and the New Year looked better than gold, too! All due to those around him who really cared. Absolutely, a Christmas to remember!