“Excuse me, Dr. Browne?”
Claire turned around from her leaning position against the counter of the nurses station, clipboard in hand. Her shift had only just started and she had been informed of every minor or large change in her patients’ conditions, but still she wanted to make sure she was aware of every little detail. It’s who she was, and she preferred to work this way.
“Mr. Cartwright, good morning. How’s your wife doing so far?” Mrs. Cartwright had been admitted to the hospital a few days prior, suffering from symptoms that almost immediately led to the diagnosis hyperemesis gravidarum, due to her severe nausea and vomiting and the fact that she was in the early stages of pregnancy.
“Last night she was doing much better, but now she’s feeling nauseous again,” the man, Claire thought him to be in his early thirties, looked exhausted and almost ready to collapse with worry. Beside him, the young couple’s first-born, a lovely toddler with dark hair who was clutching his teddy bear closely against his little chest, looked up at her with a mixture of seriousness and curiosity in his large brown eyes.
“I’m afraid she won’t be able to keep it in much longer, and she doesn’t want little Nicholas to witness that. We don’t want to distress him, you know?” Claire nodded, and gave the young father a reassuring smile. A hospital was not an ideal place to bring your child, but she instinctively understood that bringing him was the only choice they had had. She felt sorry for the couple, and for the little boy as well. His parents not only had to worry about the mother and their unborn child’s condition, but also about their son who was clearly not supposed to be here. There was only one thing she could do to ease some of their trouble.
“Do you want me to keep an eye on the little one?” Mr. Cartwright’s face lit up, the young doctor’s suggestion clearly made him feel better. “If you could, yes please. Nicholas was supposed to stay at his grandmother’s, but she had somewhere else to be and now she’s trapped in a traffic jam on her way here.” Mr. Cartwright shrugged, and as if the little guy sensed his father’s frustration and dissatisfaction with the current situation, he started to whimper and pull on his father’s arm, as if he attempted to drag his father back to the room where his mommy was.
“I understand, sir. I’ll keep an eye on him for you. I’ll also send a nurse to assist your wife,” she offered, with a reassuring smile. Though they were closely monitoring the young woman, there was no immediate cause for serious concern, but Claire was able to sense unerringly what they needed most in this situation. Her shift had only just started anyway, and there were no patients who required her immediate attention.
“Nicholas?” The boy’s gaze flew from Claire’s at the sound of his father’s voice, and he curiously looked up at him. “Will you help Dr. Browne with her very important work while I go check up on mommy?” The boy’s face momentarily fell, but when he looked up at Claire again, who smiled sweetly at him, he couldn’t help but mimic her facial expression.
“Hey Nicholas, my name is Claire. Can I tell you a secret?” Claire whispered conspiratorially. Nicholas nodded, his eyes large with mischief. Secrets were good. Claire reached out to him to take his hand. Without hesitation, the toddler let go of his father’s large hand and took Claire’s smaller hand in his instead. She winked at the boy’s father and pulled Nicholas a bit closer to him to whisper in his ear.
“Once we’re done with our very important work, we will go on a treasure hunt to find the best candies and lemonade this hospital has. Would you like that?” The boy smiled a full set of perfectly white milk teeth and reached up to her so Claire could pick him up. As she did so, she automatically placed the boy on her hip and turned towards the nurses station once more, where she found nurse Fryday sitting behind one of her computers, acting like she was fully occupied by the charts on her screen, while in truth she was fighting the urge to look up at Nicholas, who was now waving his little hand at her.
“Nurse Fryday, could you please walk Mr. Cartwright back to room 401 and see if there’s anything you can do to help his wife?” Nurse Fryday nodded, a small smile playing on her lips. Little Nicholas Cartwright had everyone in the unit wrapped around his little fingers – patients, doctors, nurses.. even the stern ones like nurse Fryday. “I’m right on it, Dr. Browne.”
Claire smiled gratefully at the older woman, who quickly disappeared from view, along with Mr. Cartwright.
“Alright, here we go,” Claire reached over the counter to take a white paper sheet from the printer and a pen.
As she bent forward, her neckline came within reach and Nicholas happily grabbed it. “No, no Nicky,” she good-heartedly rebuked him, disentangling his chubby fingers from her blouse. “We don’t want to get into trouble by stretching out my clothes at the wrong places, right? ”
Nicholas let go but kept studying her intently as she assembled her supplies. “Now, do you want to help me take notes?” Nicholas nodded solemnly, a determined look at his face. “Wait,” Claire reached out once more time to bring out an empty clipboard. “There you go.” It took her some time to attach the piece of paper to it and when she finished, he proudly took it from her, clearly impressed by the important ‘task’ that he had been assigned with.
As Claire turned her attention to her clipboard once more, Nicholas frowned and furiously began to attack the empty sheet with his pan.
“Claire?” Claire flinched at the sound of his voice. Her friend and colleague, Dr. Shaun Murphy was now standing behind her. “Good morning, Shaun,” she cheerfully replied, her face positively radiant as she turned to greet him. Shaun smiled to himself. Smiles were contagious after all.
“Claire, why is there a baby on your hip?”
“This is a toddler, Shaun, and not a baby.”
“But why is it on your hip?”
“Because his father needed some space to fully focus on his mother,” Claire began to explain, but shrieked before she could finish her sentence. “Ow, Nicholas, stop!”
Now that his new friend wasn’t paying much attention to him or their very important work anymore, Nicholas had dropped his clipboard and instead had turned his attention to Claire – and her beautiful loose hanging curls. Those curls clearly seemed to fascinate and mesmerize him. Young Nicholas squinted, his eyes intent on the soft curls that bounced so perfectly at every movement she made with her head. Right now, his little grabby fingers had disappeared between them in order to be able to inspect them a little closer, and by the looks of it, he was very strong.
“Ow, ow! Nicholas! Let go!”
Shaun bounced on the balls of his feet, not making any gesture that showed he felt inclined to come to her rescue. “The baby is pulling on your hair,” he remarked, his eyes shining with plain glee.
“A toddler, – ow! – Shaun. He’s a toddler. And thanks for the diagnosis, I – ow! – somehow would never have come to that conclusion myself..”
“Are you being sarcastic?”
“Yes, and I’m in pain. Could you help me, please Shaun?” She was nearly pleading with him now. Every time she thought she had disengaged the small chubby fingers from her hair, the young tease managed to grab another fistful of hair.
“Here, let me,” a familiar and oh so pleasant and most welcome masculine voice came from her right. Two slightly calloused but tender hands touched her scalp, momentarily wrestled with the hands of the little invader, and won the battle. A small frustrated whine escaped Nicholas’s slightly puckered lips, but his anger was soon forgotten as he momentarily floated through the air in those strong hands, before he comfortably came to rest against a strong chest which smelled very, very nice if Claire had a say in it.
“There, there,” Dr. Neil Melendez soothed, gently and lovingly stroking the boy’s head. “You should know young man, that duty always comes before pleasure. Which means, we have to work hard first before we can go after the ladies, after work hours” Melendez looked at a blushing Claire and winked. Nicholas wasn’t affected by him as much as his new friend was. Instead, he looked at Melendez with undisguised interest as he sucked his thumb contentedly. Claire, who had stepped closer to the duo and absentmindedly started to rub Nicholas’s back, suddenly wasn’t so sure who had who wrapped around his finger now – but she instinctively knew that both men had that inexplicable talent to enchant others with their charm. Melendez and Claire shared a look and tenderly smiled at each other over the toddler’s head.
“I believe congratulations are in order?” Dr. Audrey Lim’s chuckle drifted closer as she made her way towards the small group that had assembled in front of the nurses station. A mischievous grin played on her lips as she leaned closer. “Too bad I didn’t bring my phone. I would have loved to record this moment and rub it under Park’s nose.”
“Rub what under Dr. Park’s nose?” Shaun inquired, clearly giving voice to the one thing they all (with the exception of young Nicholas) were wondering about.
“Park and I made a bet last Summer, after the ceremony. I told him I was sure that Dr. Browne-Melendez would present her husband with their first bundle of joy within a year of their marriage, and he disagreed. Park was determined the two of them would wait a little longer, at least until she finished her residency here.”
“So you mean to tell us, that Park and you made a bet on our wedding day?” Melendez’ eyes shone with mirth, and Claire’s blush deepened.
“Naturally. I blame the fantastic champagne the two of you served your guests with,” she added, as if the alcohol was the main reason why they made the bet in the first place. “If I win, he owes me one hundred bucks.”
Claire laughed nervously at Dr. Lim’s remark, while her mind automatically flew to the test that lay waiting for her in her purse. She had been suspecting something for a few weeks now, but wasn’t completely sure yet. So that morning, right before her shift started, she had gone to the pharmacy to pick up a test. She was going to run the test tonight, with Neil, in the privacy and peace of their home. She couldn’t wait to see the excited look on her face after telling him about her suspicions. But judging from the look he was giving her now, his brown eyes shining with hope and infinite love, she instinctively knew he somehow understood. Oh how she loved him. Her husband. Her Neil. The father of their very own growing bundle of joy.