9.30am at Brokenwood Regional Hospital. It’s not the biggest of places, but it’s got a reputation for the cleverest puns, the steamiest situations, and a whole host of miracle cures.
People come from miles around to be cured of their ailments, and for the most part, Diagnostician Mike Shepherd and his team solve their case in a matter of days. It’s truly newsworthy.
But you’re not here to listen to the sciencey stuff. You’re here for the drama. The excitement! The perfectly M-rated raunchiness that can only be shown on TV at 8pm. That kind of thing.
Like I said, it’s 9.30am, and shiz is already going down .
Immunologist Jared Morehu strolls out of one of the cleaning cupboards, clothes only slightly dishevelled, with another doctor in tow. He winks at the camera. It’s pretty obvious what’s been going on.
The other doctor - who probably should have a name or something, so we’ll call him Doctor Smith - backs him into a wall, staring him down intensely. The music swells, and we pull into a close up on their faces.
Doctor Smith, with much drama, “Will I ever see you again?”
“I don’t know, e te tau.” Jared says, with a very dramatic sigh, because he might be played by a Maori actor, but he certainly talks like he was written by an all-Pakeha writing team with no cultural consultant. “Taku kuru pounamu. I’ll see you.”
“Ohhh.” Doctor Smith sighs, and glides off dramatically down the hallway away from him, doctor’s coat swept up behind him as he goes. “I’ll never forget you, Jared.”
“Thank you!” Jared calls, but he’s secretly forgotten the other doctor’s name already.
(It’s Doctor Smith).
10am brings our intrepid team together for the first time of the day. There’s a new case. Neurosurgeon Kristen Sims has a mug of coffee she brewed at the office’s kitchenette. The pot is also on the table, but no-one else wants one (because she’s truly terrible at brewing it. Truly. )
Infectious Disease Specialist Sam Breen has his own cup of coffee, which he purchased at the coffee cart down the road, because he might be generally afraid of germs and what tiny little infections can be found floating invisibly through the air, but he’s more afraid of Kristen’s coffee.
Mike’s there, also. He’s got his head stuck in a report, because he might be the lead character on a hospital soap, but he’s also the only one who actually does work.
They’re all just waiting for Jared. But, they all know Jared, and this is a sexy, sexy hospital that occasionally solves medical mysteries. He’ll turn up.
10.05am. Breen and Kristen aren’t even pretending to work now. Mike is still reading his report. Jared is nowhere to be seen.
Breen clears his throat. “Mike-”
At that very moment, Jared runs in, his clothes, once again, heavily dishevelled. (To no-one’s surprise.)
“Sorry.” Jared gasps, out of breath. “Weather- y’know, bro?”
Everyone knows that’s a lie. But, they don’t mention it. It’s commonplace in this workplace. Hardly an issue.
“Of course.” Mike says, and puts down his report. He holds the tension, just a little. “...Did you know we’ve got a case of smallpox in this hospital?”
“Smallpox?” Breen echoes.
Kristen gets it. This is a worry for him. Not just because of the pandemic risk, but also because overtime this week means he’ll probably have to miss his anniversary dinner for the third year in a row.
At this rate, no-one will actually think he has a girlfriend.
Kristen honestly isn’t so sure.
“Yes.” Mike replies, and passes copies of the case file out to them all. “Presenting with a rash, fever, vomiting, vertigo and sores in the mouth. The Ministry of Health is on-route.”
“Shouldn’t it be left to them, then?” Kristen asks. “Stave off a pandemic, and all.”
“Yes…” Mike says, slowly. “But I don’t think it’s smallpox.”
Cue a rip-off of the Shortland St Theme!
12pm puts Kristen and Sam in the lunchroom. A grey-haired man with a cane sits at a table opposite, deep in conversation with a brunet. It's American. Sarcastic. Oddly reminiscent of something else...
Anyway. Kristen has a salad. It looks delightful. Sprouts, feta, kale, sunflower seeds - healthy stuff for healthy people.
Breen has a milkshake. It is… less so. Think of a McDonalds milkshake, then add a whole lot more angst and ice cream. It’s very unhealthy.
“Smallpox?” Kristen asks, eating her salad. It’s all very healthy and beautiful and stuff, and shines with a beautiful healthy glow.
(This writer has solely eaten bread today and is pining for vegetables. Don't judge.)
Breen nods, pensively. “Smallpox.” He sips at his milkshake in a way that is very, very annoying.
The two Americans get up from the other table, with the grey-haired one shooting Breen an irritated look. There's no argument though, and the Americans leave. It's probably for the best.
"Well, you definitely drove them away." Kristen says.
"I did not." Breen stops drinking his milkshake. "It's not like this place needs to be silent, though. Do you know them?"
"Not really." Kristen muses, fork halfway through a kale leaf. "The brunette works in oncology. I think the man with the cane is trying to get Mike's job."
"Well, he won't give that up easily."
Before the pair can say anything resembling anything remotely intelligent, an alarm goes off. The normal bright white lunchroom lights switch to red. Steel shutters slam down over the exit doors and across the window locks.
It is all very dramatic, and certainly far too ridiculous for a middle of the road hospital in rural New Zealand. However, that’s what happens.
“Quarantine?” Breen asks, putting his milkshake down.
“Quarantine.” Kristen affirms, and looks over to him.
A look passes between them. As to what that look is, no-one knows! It’ll be revealed in about three hundred words’ time.
Down in the morgue, Gina blinks at the shutters for a moment, then turns back to the corpse she’s examining. Things like this don’t phase her, it’s not like she’s under Russian quarantine.
Now we’ve gotten that scene out of the way, we jump to Mike and Jared, who are also trapped together. However, they’re actually doing science, and not just eating their lunch, because they’re actually good doctors, though potentially very foolish ones.
The patient is in front of them. Outside in the corridor, MoH people wearing significant PPE are milling about, generally quite pissed at them. However, they can’t do anything about it, because Mike and Jared have willingly exposed themselves to the virus by locking themselves in the room.
“I really hope you’re sure about this, bro.” Jared says, looking over at his boss a little nervously. “‘Cause if you’re not, you’re putting a lot of faith into our immune systems.”
“If we were going to catch it, we’ve caught it already.” Mike says, and fiddles with a piece of medical equipment. “Now, look at this.”
Great! That wasn’t a pointless scene at all. Now, back to Kristen and Sam.
They’re arm wrestling. Kristen, unsurprisingly, is winning. She pushes Breen’s arm right down towards the table, and yeah, it’s real tense.
Then, with one final push, she slams his arm right down against the tabletop. “I win!” She declares, though there’s really nothing to win.
Sam winces and shakes the pain out of his arm. “Not fair. I’m not left handed.”
“Neither am I.” Kristen replies, and grins over at him, only a smidge toothily.
With an odd look in his eyes, he smirks, reaches out and-
Jared is examining something under a microscope. “What do you think, Mike?”
Mike leans in, takes his place. “You’ve got it-”
Back to Kristen and Sam.
“I can’t believe- You have a girlfriend!”
“Had. Had a girlfriend. And that doesn’t mean anything anyway these days. Just let me-”
Kristen exhales heavily, and trembles a little. “Sam. Please.”
Jared and Mike appear to have hit on something.
“If you look at the historical journals of where the patient was diving - there’s an inconsistency.” Mike says, pointing at a specific paragraph of said journal.
“You’re not kidding, bro.” Jared says, squinting out towards the MoH officials. “Do you think any of them speak Spanish?”
Kristen wanders away from the table, clothes a smidge dishevelled, and looks out the window. They’ve been in lockdown together for a full three hours and honestly, she’s sick of it.
Breen is eating her salad, looking sweaty. Through a mouthful of leaves, he says, “Do you think they’ve forgotten about us?”
She shoots him a withering look. “Doubtful.”
“Mhmm.” He stands up, wanders over to the window as well. He squints out into the sunlight. “Do you see Helen out there? She’s the best cat. 68 years old in cat years or something like that. Very not racist. Last time she let me pat her I almost felt honored.”
“Mhmm.” Kristen replies. Then, after a moment, it hits her. “Breen. The journals. The cat in those journals.”
“The cat?” He blinks, takes a second. His eyes widen. “Rickettsialpox.”
Kristen’s already got her phone out of her pocket, and she’s dialing Mike.
“I can’t believe we were stuck in here for three hours for nothing.” Breen sniffs, looking out at Helen. “She’s a lucky cat, y’know.”
In the end, it’s all wrapped up very simply. It’s not smallpox, but rickettsialpox, something that can easily be treated with antibiotics and a good night’s sleep. The MoH disappear as soon as they came, and Kristen and Sam are let out of the lunchroom.
Another day well spent, the team all sits down around the office table with fish and chips.
“What were you two doing while we were working?” Mike asks, curious despite himself.
“Arm wrestling.” Kristen says.
Breen shrugs. “I was mostly looking at cats.”
“Breen has a boyfriend. ” Kristen exclaims. “Never even said. All this time I thought he was with Roxy.”
Breen shrugs, again. “People change.”
“ Bro. ” Jared says, looking interested, “You’re a hit with the tāne too?”
Breen shrugs, for a third time. “What can I say - who wouldn’t want this?”
Kristen snorts. Prolongedly. “Sorry, I just-”
“What, so you two never-” Jared glances between them, and the implication is obvious.
Mike, obviously not in the mood for gossip, rolls his eyes, takes his fish and chips, and leaves the table.
“What?” Sam yelps.
“ Never. ” Kristen says, looking horrified. “No. Never.”
“Never in a million trillion years.” Sam finishes, looking over at Kristen. “Never. Ew.”
“Defensive.” Jared raises his hands in mock surrender. “I wasn’t implying anything.”
But the thing is, he’ll never actually know the truth, and neither will you.