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with a little help (from my friends)

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“Do we know what happened?” Alex shouted at Neil, as they all ran down the hall.

“The EMTs said he smelled like booze. Fell off a barstool. Might have hit his head,” Neil shouted back.

Booze? Shaun was day drinking? What the hell pushed him to do that? I’d like to give Han a piece of my mind, Claire thought furiously, as she ran. This has something to do with that meeting.

“Why the hell was Shaun in a bar at ten AM?” Morgan asked the group at large.

“Han,” Claire replied. “It’s that meeting! I bet you!”

“Not important right now,” Neil cut in. “All right, let’s just pause a second here. We can’t all go to Murphy’s bedside. The bartender said he called the ambulance, and then he called Murphy’s girlfriend to come to the hospital – interesting, by the way – Park, you’re with Dr. Lim. Reznick, you too. Browne – go find Murphy’s girlfriend.”

“Why can’t I come? Shaun will talk to me,” Claire argued. “You guys, I’m not so sure.”

“Fair point,” Neil conceded. “Okay, not Reznick. Park. You go find the girlfriend.”

“Lea,” Claire said. “Her name is Lea. She has chin-length brown curly hair, about yay tall, probably freaking out.”

“This Lea have a surname?” Alex asked. “In case I have to page her?”

“It’s Dilallo. I saw it on some paperwork in Shaun’s apartment when I was there,” Morgan spoke up, somewhat reluctant to disclose that she’d ever been to that apartment.

Neil raised his eyebrows. “Murphy’s apartment? You? Exactly how many of you women is that ladykiller involved with?”

“Maybe you should be sending me to look for multiple girlfriends,” Alex joked. “Or have we got two of them right here?”

“Not the time to clown around about Murphy’s love life. Let’s just assume it’s one girl, and her name is Lea Dilallo,” Audrey cut in. “Move it.”

Alex zoomed off to the lobby to look for Lea.

Turning to Neil, Audrey spoke: “You’re cardiothoracic, Dr. Melendez; I’m not sure how useful you’ll be — ”

Neil nodded, catching her meaning. “Yeah, I’m going to talk to Han. Maybe Andrews as well. I want to know what the hell happened in that meeting today. I knew Han was considering putting Murphy in Path, but I can’t have one of my residents getting toasted in the middle of the day. I have to assume that whatever it was that happened in that meeting, it rocked Murphy’s world.”

“Dr. Han’s in surgery right now, Dr. Melendez — ” Audrey began.

“Then I’ll get him out,” Neil countered. “I want answers. I need to know why our resident wasn’t at work, and why we weren’t told he was gone for the day. What if we needed him in surgery? That’s not okay with me. I’m pretty sure it’s not okay with you, either, Dr. Lim.”

“Oh, Neil, don’t be a hothead — ” Audrey started, then stopped speaking abruptly.

Claire and Morgan exchanged glances. ‘Neil’? That’s personal.

“I am not a hothead,” Neil bit out, giving Audrey an irritated look. “I have a resident – our resident – in my ER, who is not treating a patient, he is one. I have questions.”

“Yes, Murphy is a patient, and I need to get to him now,” Audrey said, pointedly.

Neil recognised the dismissal, and went back the way they’d all came.

“Okay, ladies, let’s go find out what happened to Murphy,” Audrey said, motioning for Claire and Morgan to follow her.

Alex, meanwhile, was making his way through the lobby, looking for Lea.

He was on his third lap of the room, when a panicked-looking, curly-haired brunette practically barrelled through the entrance doors.

She ran up to the Reception desk with a surprising amount of speed, although Alex was quick, too.

He caught up with her at the desk, where she was yelling frantically at the receptionist, whom she had interrupted from serving two freaked-out parents who were ahead of her.

“My boyfr – roommate – God, I’ve gotta stop doing that until – came in an ambulance. Can I see him, or – how is he?”

“Young lady, I have no idea who you are talking about. I appreciate that you are worried, but, please, wait your turn.”

“You’ve gotta be Lea,” Alex said, drawing her away from the put-upon receptionist, who looked relieved to see the back of Lea. “I’m Dr. Alex Park. I’m a resident along with Shaun, and I believe you’ve met Claire and Morgan as well.”

She nodded. “Can I see him – is he – hey, you’ve gotta be the cop surgeon — ”

“He’s in the ER. Look, are you going to be relatively calm, or are you gonna be a wreck? Murphy doesn’t need that right now. If you’re gonna be as hysterical as you just were with that receptionist, I’m gonna tell security not to let you in, and I’m definitely not gonna take you with me now.”

Lea took a deep breath and nodded. “Yes, I can get ahold of myself. I want to sit with him, please. If that’s possible.”

“It might not be possible right away, but I’ll take you to Trauma and we’ll find out what’s going on. Come on.”

When they arrived at Trauma, Alex overheard two nurses talking about the doctor in Bay 3, who was now their patient.

“Murphy’s in bay three. Let’s go. It’s not far,” Alex said to Lea. “He might be asleep. Or, well, in a coma.”

“But he might have a concussion. Isn’t it bad for him to sleep? I read that somewhere,” Lea protested. I’m pretty sure I could wake Shaun up for you.

“That’s older research. Newer guidelines are to wake concussion patients a minimum of every two hours.”

They arrived at Bay 3, where Lea stifled a gasp at the sight of Shaun on the bed in front of her. He looked small and vulnerable. Someone had taken his jacket off him, removed his shoes and socks, and untucked his shirt.

The machines behind him were all beeping steadily. I wish you could tell me what all the numbers mean, Shaunie. Are they good? Are they bad?

Audrey came in behind them.

“Thanks for that, Dr. Park. Hi, Lea, I’m Dr. Audrey Lim. I’m Shaun’s attending physician – in both senses, I suppose, at the moment — ”

Lea appreciated the levity. She felt reassured by it, because it was clear from her tone that this Dr. Lim was quite fond of Shaun. What, like it’s hard to be?

“As far as we’re aware, Shaun was doing shots at a bar nearby. We’re still trying to confirm exactly why he wasn’t at work. Dr. Claire Browne – you’ve met her, I’ve heard – believes it has something to do with a meeting Shaun had this morning, with our Chief of Surgery, but Dr. Han is currently in surgery, so we can’t ask him yet. Do you know anything about why Shaun wasn’t at work? Dr. Browne tells me you once got Shaun to play hooky last year. We were wondering if — ”

“Obviously he wasn’t with me. I just came from work myself,” Lea said, irritated. “But he drunk-dialled me from the bar. It went to voice mail because I was in the bathroom. I listened to it when I got back. Then the bartender called me, saying Shaun fell off a barstool, absolutely wasted, and told me to come here.”

“Would you allow us to listen to the message? It may help us put together a sequence of events,” Dr. Lim asked, gently.

Lea thought back on what the message contained, and went red. ‘I love you... so much... but you won’t love me.’

Lea shook her head. “No, I won’t. It’s personal. I’ll tell you the gist of it, though. Your Chief of Surgery – who, by the way, is now top on my list of least favourite people – took away Shaun’s surgical residency and stuck him in Pathology. Shaun was almost incoherent on the phone. He’s seriously traumatised.”

A furious look crossed Dr. Lim’s face. Lea caught it. She doesn’t like this Dr. Han either, Lea realised.

“By the way, has anyone looped in Glassy?” Lea asked.

Dr. Lim gave her a polite, blank stare.

“Dr. Glassman,” Claire elaborated, coming up behind Dr. Lim. “I’m not sure anyone — ”

“Well, don’t you think someone should? He’s a damn neurosurgeon! And if my boyfr – God dammit, that has to – anyway – Shaun may have hit his head on a concrete floor. And I’m no doctor, but I know what it means when someone hits their head. Do you not think a neurosurgeon might be useful right now?!”

“I understand you are upset, Lea, but Dr. Glassman is still on medical leave. We are not going to call him in to consult,” Dr. Lim said, calmly. “We all care about Shaun. I promise you that. And we are going to take good care of him. Will you trust us on that? Will you trust us to look after your boyfriend?”

“Okay, well, then call Glassy in as Shaun’s friend,” Lea urged. “And Shaun is not my boyfriend. He’s my roommate, and my best friend.”

“Isn’t this just like that Lana and Javi a couple weeks ago?” Morgan said, nudging Claire.

“Remarkably,” Claire replied, dryly.

“Uh, okay,” Dr. Lim interrupted. “Lea, we’re going to run some tests on Shaun now. Why don’t you call Dr. Glassman and let him know Shaun’s here?”

“Sure, I can do that,” Lea agreed, and she went to call Glassy.

“If those two are really just best friends, I will be shocked,” Audrey said, after Lea had excused herself. “She’s feisty. Protective. Good. Kid needs more people in his corner.”

‘I think they’re going to be a couple soon,’ Claire almost said aloud, but she kept quiet.

Instead, she busied herself with taking Shaun’s vitals and avoiding eye contact with Morgan, who was clearly hoping Claire’s jealousy would surface. Projecting much, Reznick? she thought.

There was a groggy moan from Shaun, but his eyes remained closed. The monitors were still beeping steadily, no alarms going off.

“Okay, he will likely wake up soon, a barstool isn’t the highest vantage point to fall from. Amazing he’s not bleeding, but let’s keep an eye out for anything internal, and – of course – the spine. Now, Reznick, we’ve just had an alert on an MVA incoming, dual-casualty. I’d like you and Park to go and attend to that. Browne, I’d like you to monitor Murphy’s vitals and let me know immediately when he is fully alert – hopefully, that is soon – and when he does come to, ask him the usual questions, please, no hints or lead-ins.”

“Okay,” Claire responded, taking up a perch at Shaun’s bedside.

Lea came back into the trauma bay as Audrey, Morgan and Alex were leaving. “Vehicle collision,” Audrey explained, noticing Lea’s confused expression. “Shaun just groaned in pain not a minute ago, and we predict he will be coming around soon. He’s about to have the worst headache in the world, and the shots he did will not be helping at all. Dr. Browne will stay with him for the moment, and there’s a chair for you as well, Lea. I’ll have someone bring another for Dr. Glassman. Is he coming?”

“Yeah, he said he’d hop in an Uber and get here ASAP,” Lea replied.

“All right. You don’t have to worry, Murphy’s in good hands with Browne.”

“I know,” Lea said, looking at Claire.

“Le — ” came Shaun’s voice, from the bed, groggy and faint.

“He’s coming back. Sounds like he’ll be asking for you when he does,” Claire commented, with a wink.

“Shaun really loves it here, doesn’t he?” Lea observed. “This is what fulfils him. Gets him out of bed in the morning. How can some new interloper just yank that away from him? Is that even legal? He’s autistic, isn’t that a disability, like maybe even an ADA violation?”

Claire leaned in confidentially, indicating that she was going to speak out of school.

“Dr. Melendez would like to know that too. Apparently. Dr. Han merely floated the idea of kicking Shaun over to Path, but he didn’t seem to have made a final decision. Dr. Melendez is furious Dr. Han sent Shaun home, he was looking for Shaun everywhere. Luckily he didn’t need him for anything urgent, but if he had — ”

Lea scowled. “That is such B. S..”

Claire nodded, “And, yeah, you’re probably right about the ADA violation. I don’t think anyone knows what to say or do. This guy is like a runaway freight train. Seems accountable to no-one. Certainly doesn’t run his decisions past anyone else.”

“Lea,” Shaun mumbled again, this time more clearly.

“Here he comes,” Claire said, getting out of her chair to examine Shaun more closely for further signs of waking.

“Is this your favourite part?” Lea asked. “Of the job? When people wake up?”

Looking back at her, Claire nodded. “Yeah, this is typically the part where you tell someone that what you did for them was worth it. Sometimes they aren’t going to make it, in the end, but the initial joy and relief that crosses everyone’s faces is wonderful.”

“I think that’s the second most beautiful thing I’ve heard today,” Lea said.

“Hmm. What was the first?” Claire asked. “I’m guessing it’s in that voice mail message you won’t let us hear.”

“Shut up, and take care of our friend,” Lea said, good-naturedly.

“One last thing,” Claire said. “You can’t answer any of his questions and you can’t say anyone’s name, the year, anything at all. We’re going to check what memory, if any, he has of today. I’m going to ask him things and it’s going to sound impersonal. Just so you’re aware.”

“Where... am... I?” Shaun asked, waking up.

“Hey, there. I’m Dr. Browne. You’re in the Emergency department at San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital,” Claire said, “I’m going to ask you some questions.”

“I work here,” Shaun said. “Why am I in a bed? Am I in the on-call room? Did I fall asleep?”

“Well, that answers question... four,” Claire said slowly. “You don’t know why you’re in the hospital. You’re a patient, sir.”

“I am a patient,” Shaun repeated.

“Can you tell me your name?” Claire asked him.

“Dr. Shaun Murphy,” Shaun answered. “The year is 2019, and the current President of the United States is Donald Trump.”

“So that’s one, two and three on the list. Okay, Shaun, do you know how you ended up in hospital today? You were brought here by ambulance.”

“I... fell,” Shaun recalled, hesitantly, looking at Claire for confirmation.

“That’s right. Where were you when you fell, and what were you doing prior?”

“In... a bar... tequila shots... drunk,” Shaun mumbled. “Fell off my chair... hit the floor. Hit... my head...”

“Correct. How are you feeling now?”

“Bad. Head. Back. Hurts.”

“Yes, it hurts. And we’re going to take care of you, but you’re going to feel really terrible for a while. We don’t suspect alcohol poisoning, but the shots you took may also catch up with you. We’d like you to try and rest now. You don’t have to sleep, but please do not overexert yourself.”

Shaun nodded, then jerked in agony as he felt a force like the clapper of a bell ringing inside his head.

“Try not to move around too much, Shaun,” Claire said. “Also, there’s a woman here who says she knows you, and that you live together. Do you recognise her?”

Shaun looked over at Lea, not having noticed her in the room prior.

“That’s Lea,” he said, immediately. “I know her. And you’re Claire... right?”

“Yes, I am, Shaun. Okay, Dr. Lim wanted me to inform her when you woke, so I’m going to do that now.”

Claire left the trauma bay to call Dr. Lim.

“Shaun? Shaun!” Dr. Glassman’s shouts drifted down the corridor. He burst into Bay 3, almost out of breath.

“Hello, Dr. Glassman,” Shaun said quietly.

“Hello, Shaun. I came as soon as Lea called me – how are you feeling?”

“Head. Back. Hurts.”

“Yes, Lea said you hit your head on some tiles. That would have been painful. I’m going to requisition your imaging when it’s been done, and interpret it myself. I want to make sure you’re not going to wind up with complications.”

“Uh, Glassy, you’re on medical leave,” Lea spoke up. “Can you do that? Doesn’t Shaun have to give you, like, permission? Because you aren’t his doctor? That HIPPY thing?”

Dr. Glassman looked at Lea like she’d just said something exceedingly ignorant, and maybe she had.

“I’m going to make sure Shaun’s initial diagnosis is correct, and that there’s nothing that has been missed. CTs, EEGs, MRIs, the whole nine yards. Just like Shaun pushed me for when I was diagnosed with my tumour. He didn’t give up until he had answers. I’m not giving up on him, either. And you meant to say ‘HIPAA’.”

“I’ll go over them with you,” Shaun piped up. Lea and Dr. Glassman both laughed, baffling Shaun, who asked, “What’s so funny?”

“Lea, Dr. Glassman — ” Claire started, coming back into the bay.

“I’m on medical leave, Dr. Browne — ” he said, shooting a dirty look at Lea, “ — So, it’s ‘Aaron’, all right? Well, to all except Shaun, who insists on calling me ‘Dr. Glassman’ until the end of time. I’ve given up trying to change that.”

“Okay. Aaron, Lea – Dr. Lim is en route and she will want to examine Shaun, so you two need to clear out for a bit. I trust you’re familiar with our waiting room?” Claire said, motioning for them to leave.

Aaron nodded, and said, “You’ll be all right, Shaun. You’re a fighter. You’ll be fine,” and exited.

“Do you mind if I — ?” Lea asked Claire, “Just – three minutes?”

“Sure. But it really does need to be three minutes, okay?” Claire said, leaving Lea alone with Shaun, in the bay.

And suddenly, Lea had no idea what to say to him.

Scratch that.

Lea knew what she wanted to say, but she didn’t want it to be here, surrounded by beeping scary machines and Shaun in that bed, hurt and possibly still slightly drunk – this wasn’t special.

“That beeping is awful,” Lea said. “Is it – bad? Those numbers, they mean – I see that one is your heartbeat — ”

Instead of replying, Shaun laid his hand and wrist over the thin hospital blanket someone had laid over him, his palm facing up.

Then he looked up at her and said, “Here.”

Lea leaned forward and pressed two fingers into Shaun’s exposed wrist, feeling for his pulse. It quickened the longer she maintained contact. She looked at him, her eyes full of tears.

“Where else?” Shaun prompted.

Lea ran her fingers up his wrist, until she got to the crook of his elbow, and felt his pulse there, too. She was just about to touch his neck, when someone entered the bay, and she withdrew her fingers as though she’d burned them on a hot stove.

“Time’s up, kids,” Dr. Lim cut in.

With regret, Lea got up and turned to leave.

“Lea,” Shaun called, a little weakly.

She looked at him over her shoulder, and he asked: “Do you understand?”

Lea nodded, because she didn’t trust herself not to burst into sobs. Then she went to find the waiting room.