Brevity Twelve

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Emergency Room, 1978

by Judith Beck

Sacked out in the on-call room, I awaken to a strident ring.  "You're the resident on call for ob, right?" a tired voice says through the receiver. "I got a real gusher. Think she's aborting, but that's technically still pregnant, so she's yours."

A bit of the meanness that comes with chronic sleep deprivation remains coiled heavy in my chest as I hurry down the steps to her curtained alcove.

From the bottom of the silver-stirruped gyn table where she lies, her vagina full of gauze to stop the bleeding, her groin draped discretely by the nurses, I introduce myself as her doctor, the one who is going to take care of her.

She moves her knees together; they fall apart again.

I put on gloves, lift the sheet slightly, and gingerly move the packing to the right, then to the left. Nothing. I push the gauze up far enough to see the opening of her womb. No active bleeding. She's not losing a baby.

When I expose the top wall, near her bladder, blood shoots out from a clean straight cut that transects her urethra, nearly to her bladder.  Damage obviously done by something very sharp and fine.

If she's ever to be continent again, she'll need to go to the OR. 

"Jesus, what happened?" I ask.

"Got kicked."

Patients in our charity hospital are people of few words; fewer of those words are true.  I know this trauma couldn't have been from a kick.  A kick would cause bruising and swelling, a starburst explosion of the tissue.

My stomach tightens. How dare she lie? I'll be up all night because of her. Tomorrow I'll work ten hours in the operating room so tired that my vision will blur and sweat will seep beneath my sterile mask. And she doesn't care to make my job any easier.

"Kicked, huh? Was he wearing ice skates?" I reply.  Behind the curtains, outside her stall, I hear laughter.

"You think I wanted this?" she whispers.

It's then I drag my attention from the bleeding gash, notice her labia are crudely shaven. I look at her face; see her eyes both stolid and angry. I shiver with fatigue.

As I help the nurse wheel her to the elevator, one of the cops hanging out, drinking coffee and guarding the staff from our clientele, congenially says, "Waste of your time, doc. She's in and out of the station house all the time, always roughed up. Nothing but a hooker."

An expression of pain crosses her face for the first time. She and I both look away.


Judith Beck has published short stories and nonfiction. She has upcoming work in Prairie Schooner. She is writing family stories about growing up a red-diaper baby and the time spent in her grandparents' bakery as well as stories about medicine. A physician, board certified in Internal Medicine, Beck grew up on East Coast and now lives in San Francisco 

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