I wish I had worn different underwear. I’m uncomfortable: my panties have crept too far north since I changed into my scrubs. I lean up against the nurse’s station and covertly wiggle, hoping to dislodge the fabric that seems intent on riding up. Of all the stupid things to do. I know better than to model new undergarments at work - always stick with dependable briefs. That’s what I get for wanting to feel feminine under the boring blue unisex uniform.“Something get stuck?” a rich baritone ask from behind me.
“No!” I blurt out defensively. I have to look up because when I turn to face my accuser all I see is chest. The wink and amused quirk to his mouth infer he must be joking, or else he doesn’t believe me, I don’t really know. Mortified, I turn away as heat floods my face in a rosy blush. My pale complexion fails, like always, to hide my embarrassment despite how stoically I school my expression. Feeling his blue eyes still watching me I pray and give God what I feel are three very acceptable options. One, this is all a dream and my first day of residency didn’t really just start off with a cute co-resident catching me working out a wedge. Two, the world comes to an end, overshadowing the last few minutes and our conversation. Or three, orientation will begin and give Dr. Good Looking with the boyish charm something else to focus his attention on.
Not three seconds later Dr. Baker’s booming voice calls our mismatched group of surgical residents to order, proving God does exist. Mentally I cross myself and vow to look into attending mass later this week after I get settled in. Pretending to focus on the welcoming address I tactfully ignore Dr. Good Looking, who hasn’t budged an inch. My palms are sweating and I will Dr. Baker to talk faster and get on with the tour so I can put some distance between me and the presumptive male resident. They only accept three candidates a year into the integrated plastics residency at Oregon Health and Science University so chances are good that if I can just escape this nurse’s station I won’t have to spend much time with what’s-his-face again. Likely he’s one of the many general or orthopedic surgery residents. He certainly has that I’m-too-good-for-everyone-else quality that a lot of orthopedic guys exude.
“Now if you will all follow me, I’ll show you everything the campus has to offer.”
Now’s my chance! Stealthily I slip between the shuffling bodies like only a short person can, positioning myself toward the head of the line. With each passing step I begin to relax. OHSU is a premiere facility, nestled on top of a hill overlooking downtown Portland. The over five hundred bed facility is a nationally prominent research university and Oregon’s only public academic health center. The only downside to the otherwise picturesque setting can be seen drizzling down on the windows anytime you gaze outside. I’m a transplant from southern California so I’m not a fan of the dreary storm clouds that seem to dominate the sky.
By the time we reach the surgical suites my mood has drastically improved. Daring a glance behind I check to see where the guy from earlier ended up, but thanks to my small stature it’s next to impossible to see over the herd of people and I fail to make visual contact.
“Excuse me, I’m so sorry,” I say as I inadvertently bump into the woman in front of me. Focused yet again on the cute guy from this morning I’d been oblivious to the fact we’d stopped. Glaring at me like I’m a wad of gum she’s just stepped in she doesn’t speak a word, dismissing me with a turn of her head when Dr. Baker begins speaking again.
Wow you’ve got issues! I’m amazed by her incredibly rude behavior. Well, I did run into her I remind myself and decide to cut her some slack. I chastise myself and promise to forget about what’s-his-name and pay closer attention to what I’m doing, annoyed that he’s managed to humiliate me twice in one day.
This is my first day of residency! All of my hard work and self-sacrifice over the last few years has finally paid off. I’ve been called up to the majors, and I realize I’m missing it when our group starts moving again and I can’t recall a single thing Dr. Baker just told us.
I better get my shit together. I get lost in my own head a lot; it’s the only place I’m truly comfortable, besides the operating room. The only problem with walking around locked in your own head all the time is that you miss things going on around you. A lot of things, like the Asian woman I’d unintentionally stepped on and the attending physician to whom I was supposed to be listening.
“Please save your questions for your residency coordinator. I trust you all remember who your residency coordinator is.” Dr. Baker winks knowingly because there’s one in every crowd: that student who shows up unprepared on the first day without books, syllabus, or knowing the name of their supervising physician. “You will need to locate them to obtain your rotation and work schedule. Have a great day,” Dr. Baker finishes and dismisses us.
Pulling my informational packet from my purple folder I run a finger over the section pertaining to me and review the details I know by heart, having reread the material repeatedly since my acceptance letter came. Dr. Trisha Gunderson, a fourth year resident, will be my supervising physician for the foreseeable future. Her resume is quite impressive - I know because I googled her. I even tracked down the couple of journal articles she co-published in med school. Swallowing the anxious lump in my throat that’s comprised of two parts excitement and one part nerves I meander through the halls and head to find Dr. Gunderson. I scoped out the hospital ahead of time so I know where the small office the residency coordinators share is located, but what I don’t know is if she’ll be there. A surgeon’s schedule is dictated by “The Board,” which sounds more ominous than it really is. In actuality it’s just a large dry erase board that lists all the surgeries planned for the day. There is little wiggle room between cases which is why when a trauma or emergent event comes in through the emergency department everyone scrambles to make room and realign the elective cases so everything still gets done. “The Board” runs a surgeon’s life and luxuries such as food and recreation often go right out the window on a hectic day.
Side stepping a gurney I enter the open office with fingers crossed that Dr. Gunderson is inside. Just my luck the tall, slightly sour-looking woman rummaging through a stack of paperwork a mile high on the left hand desk is just whom I’m looking for. She glances up and acknowledges me by gesturing with a raised finger for me to wait. Biting my tongue I clutch my folder to my chest while butterflies perform acrobatics in my stomach.
“You must be Veronica,” she guesses, continuing to ignore me while she completes her task. “Ah ha!” she announces. Turning proudly she graces me with a smile, and it’s the kind of look that makes you wonder just how friendly she really is. Something about the gesture feels forced and the sentiment doesn’t reach her eyes, which size me up in two seconds flat. Standing tall under the scrutiny I do the only thing I can: smile back genuinely and hope that whatever snap judgment she’s already made about me puts me on her good side.
“This is your rotation and work schedule. Pay particular attention to the nights you’re on-call and plan your life accordingly.” I nod and accept the paper she’s dangling in front of my face. “We are not friends, and I hate sucking up. That being said, apply yourself, work hard, and maybe someday we will be,” she says and smirks as if to say that no one’s lived up to the challenge yet. “Walk with me, I’m due in operating room two,” she orders, jetting out of the office. I dodge another resident in the doorway as I speed walk to catch her. “Get lunch. When I’m done,” she glances at her watch, “which should be around 1400 we’ll regroup with your co-residents in the library to discuss what’s expected of you. Welcome to the pros,” she tacks on, ducking through the doors that separate the surgical area from the rest of the hospital.
I linger in her wake, staring numbly at the doors through which she disappeared, only vaguely aware I’m smack dab in the middle of a hallway blocking everything. Like a whirlwind, she seems to have sucked all the energy from the room inside with her, leaving the rest of us with little to get by on.
Man I can’t wait to get in there!
“Excuse me miss,” one of the housekeepers says, trying to maneuver a supply cart past me.
“Oh sorry,” I mumble stepping aside. Pulling myself together I turn around and shuffle off, trying to remember how to get to the cafeteria.
* * *
With my tray in hand I survey the boisterous dining hall with trepidation. Striking up conversations with complete strangers has never been my forte, but the place is packed so disappearing to an empty table in the back is not an option. Scanning the room a second time I lock onto the familiar face of the Asian resident I ran into on the tour. Oh Lord, here we go I tell myself, deciding I’ve got a better shot approaching someone I work with than trying to convince a visitor to make room for me. Plus stranger germs scare me to death.
“Is this seat taken?” I ask, extra sugary sweet.
“No, it’s free,” she responds emotionlessly. I take this as a good sign; at least she spoke to me this time. Setting down my tray I pull out a chair and am preparing to sit when my table companion does something most unexpected: she grabs her stuff and vacates her seat like a bee has just stung her on the behind. Dumping her garbage she exits the cafeteria without a second glance my direction. Completely dejected, I seat myself as casually as possible and hope that amidst the chaotic environment no one else noticed our interaction. I unfold my napkin and glance up only to make eye contact with the pretty boy who’d been teasing me this morning. It becomes blatantly obvious that there was at least one keen observer to my most recent fiasco. Ducking down to hide my blush I focus on forcing myself to look normal and eat.
“Still not making any friends I see.” The baritone voice chuckles while approaching my table.
He actually came over here! I stare at his loafers and want to die. Why is he here? Did I do something wrong in another life? Am I doomed to have this guy forever showing up at my most awkward moments? News flash: it’s already getting old.
I attempt a weak smile since speech seems to have completely abandoned me.
“I’m Archie,” he says sliding into the seat across from me with an easy confidence. “And you are?” he presses when I don’t automatically introduce myself like etiquette dictates.
“Veronica,” I state flatly. Amused, his face draws up in an appreciative grin that draws attention to his full, sensual lips.
“And what specialty brings you to OHSU?” he inquires as his blue eyes snap with mirth.
I just can’t fathom what’s so funny…is he laughing at me? If he’s not I’d really like in on the joke, I think before answering. “Plastic surgery. I’m starting the integrated residency program.”
“Me too,” he announces resting his arms on the table top.
Fate really is out to get me.
“I really make you uncomfortable, don’t I?” he muses, picking up on my horrified expression no doubt.
“No,” I lie unconvincingly. Under normal circumstances I don’t think Archie would make me uncomfortable at all: he’s cute and friendly. It’s just that he caught me working out a wedgie this morning and I can’t let it go.
“Reconstruction?” he inquires breaking up my thoughts.
“Huh, what’d you say?” I ask, feeling like I may have missed an earlier question.
“I said did you choose plastics to specialize in reconstruction?”
“Yes, how did you know that?” I answer, baffled. Archie is reading me like a book and I still can’t figure out why he seems on the verge of bursting into laughter.
“You’re not the type who goes into it for the boobs.”
“Alright wise guy, why did you choose plastic surgery?” I ask, hoping to deflect the attention off of me.
“The boobs,” he answers as his crystal blue eyes sparkle.
“Are you kidding me!” I exclaim with irritation. He really is just an asshole wrapped in a nice package.
“That was so worth it,” he laughs, clearly unfazed by my look of scorn. “The look on your face…”
“I’m out of here,” I interrupt, as I stand.
“No wait,” he pleads grabbing my wrist and pulling me back to the table. “I was kidding.” I’m willing to hear him out for some reason so I sit. “My wife is the one who’s interested in the boobs and all the other imperfections I’ll be able to fix as she gets older.”
“Oh,” I whisper caught by surprise.
“Don’t misunderstand, she’s not the vain type. It’s just something we like to joke about.”
I like the way he defends his wife and appreciate her sense of humor. “She sounds nice.”
“Kate is the best,” he answers, wearing that dopey expression guys sometimes get when thinking about the object of their affection. “I’m an artist and I love medicine. Plastic surgery allows me to combine my two passions and that’s why I chose it. Here, let me show you.” He indicates for me to scoot my chair closer and pulls his phone out of his white coat. “See what I mean,” he says as he flips through pictures of what I presume is his artwork.
“Archie, those are incredible!” I mean it - his collection of sketches and paintings are quite impressive.
“What’s so funny?” I finally ask, fed up with the humorous way he keeps eyeing me.
“I’ve been waiting for you to figure it out,” he smirks.
“Figure what out?” I stare blankly, clueless as to what he’s talking about.
“Come on, I’m a redhead named Archie and you’re a raven haired beauty named Veronica. Nothing about that is remotely comical to you? Didn’t you read comics when you were a kid?”
Of course, Archie and the Gang! I used to beg our housekeeper to buy me a copy whenever I was fortunate enough to accompany her to the grocery store.
“Oh my goodness, you don’t think the third resident in our program will be our Betty do you?” I blurt out excitedly and then quickly become anxious because what I’ve just said is totally stupid.
“Not unless Erica Chin changes her name and bleaches her hair,” Archie continues to joke.
“Your lunch companion for all of five seconds.”
“That was her?” Of their own accord, my eyes travel toward the exit where I’d last seen the frigid woman.
Of all the people in the world for me to end up with, I get partnered with a comic book character and the most unfriendly woman alive. As I dial back into my conversation with Archie I notice another familiar face several tables over.
“Do you know who that is?” I whisper excitedly, whipping my head around before he can notice me.
“Who? Dr. Bates?” Archie asks.
“Yes silly,” I hiss like it should have been obvious who I was talking about. The fabulous Dr. Bates is sitting just three tables away from me; I practically swoon in my chair. The guy is a plastic surgery god and everything he does is a masterpiece. He’s one of the leading minds in the field of reconstruction, a complete genius, and one of my heroes. I never miss a conference where Dr. Brenden Bates is slotted to speak and truth be told, he’s one of the reasons I applied to OHSU. To work with him I’d gladly take the worst weather Portland has to offer.
“Guy’s a total prick.”
Dumfounded I stare at Archie. Did he really just call my idol a prick? “He’s a fabulous surgeon,” I counter.
“Doesn’t mean he’s not a prick.” Checking his watch he rises and states, “Come on Snow, it’s almost two and we’ve got places to be.”
“Snow?” I question, half out of my chair.
“Yeah, as in Snow White.”
“Because I’m the fairest in the land?” The vain reply leaps from my lips before I can stop it.
“Fair, yes and way too wholesome to be a Ronnie,” he chuckles.
Wow. I have a side-kick, a nemesis, and a nickname all on my first day. Picking up my feet to catch Archie, who has already exited the cafeteria, I fret over what fate has in store for me should I choose to get out of bed tomorrow.