“You can work out front tonight, Jade,” I say, giving her my brightest smile and handing over a pack of camel lights. “Mike called in sick again, I’m alone until six.”
“Oh honey, there are stings in this neighborhood all the time. No way am I working here.” She gives me a wink and saunters out the door.
You would think a big guy like me wouldn’t be so terrified of the night shift, but there were six shootings last month, two of them fatal. Can you blame me?
The bell rings and I find myself eye to eye with a tall man. He looks to be about thirty with dark brown hair. I’ve trained myself to remember minor details about each customer. The cops ask a lot of questions in this neighborhood.
He reaches down and pulls a pistol at me. Figures it would be tonight.
“Give me all your money.” The man’s eyes dart back and forth, and this is clearly his first robbery.
“Dude, I have like 40 bucks in the register. You sure you want to do this?”
I sound confident, but my stomach is weak. My hand closes over my Smith and Wesson, and my body relaxes while I hum Stayin’ Alive. Raising the gun, I point it at the man. He looks terrified.
The barrel is still trained on him, as he turns to leave. It’s funny how things can change in the blink of an eye. Outside, a car backfires, and I shoot.
The police were already surrounding the 7-Eleven on the corner of 8th and Pine when we pull in. Another shooting victim. Thankfully, this time, it wasn’t the clerk. The officer on duty waves us in and turns back to directing other cars away from the scene.
He has wispy brown hair and is around thirty. Not the face you expect at a convenience store hold-up. Blood was already pooling on the ground where he lay, and it looks to be coming from his leg.
Emily was on top of things, having staunched the flow and already working on a tourniquet.
“Let me help,” I say, tying it off as she holds a towel over the wound.
There are tears in the man’s eyes, and he just keeps repeating, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” then fading in and out of consciousness.
“I think he is going to be all right.” Emily exhales, and I do the same, not realizing that I have been holding my breath. We both laugh and she continues, “that’s enough excitement for tonight, okay?”
The man’s face pales, and his body tenses for a moment. “Sir, can you hear me?” I ask.
It’s funny how things can change in an instant. “Em, I think he is having a heart attack!”
We lay him down and perform CPR. My chest compressions take on the rhythm of Stayin’ alive, 27, 28, 29, 30… Emily places the face shield over the man’s mouth, gives two quick breaths, and I begin again.
Dr. Ethan Reid
Everything can change in the blink of an eye. Was this the last night your daughter crawled into bed with you because she was scared? She is growing up, you know. And before you finish that thought, she is off to college.
Closing my locker, I slip on a pair of gray scrubs and run a hand through my hair before washing my hands. The constant beeping keeps time with the lyrics to Stayin’ Alive in my head. Someone is wailing in the distance. I take a quick glance at the chart, a 30-year-old male.
“Myocardial Infarction. He needs a PCI, let’s get him to the cath lab. Annie, please place the IV.”
Working the night shift is strange. You never know who you will see. My first patient could be a homeless man with schizophrenia, while the next is the CEO of some multi-million dollar corporation.
Another nurse keeps pressure on the leg where the gunshot wound was. I give her a quick nod and turn my attention to the man.
His pupils dilate, and I place a hand on his shoulder. “It’s going to be alright. We are going to take care of you.”
Fear flashes in his eyes. “Am I going to die?”
That is one of the worst questions I get. Of course, you're going to die I want to tell him, I just don't know if it'll be tonight or not.
“We will take care of you,” I repeat as they wheel him into surgery.
It is a slow night, thank goodness, as it’s my first solo shift. The bodies had never really creeped me out when my supervisor was around, but tonight I am alone. Well, mostly alone.
“Don’t worry, I’m just next door,” I say to one container. Thankfully, it doesn’t answer back. My voice echos, and I shiver involuntarily. After the double doors click shut, I note the recent addition on the chart outside and head to the side office.
Once comfortable, I turn a small knob on the radio until I find a station. Music fills the room, and I lean back as the Bee Gees play softly.
“Whether you’re a brother or whether you’re a mother You’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive” I trill and laugh at the irony. No one, aside from myself, is alive down here. The phone lighting up interrupts my rendition of the song.
“Morgue, this is Dan,” I answer, failing at my attempt to sound professional.
My voice cracks from the nerves, but I don’t think the nurse notices. Grabbing the gurney, I head to the fourth floor to collect the body.
Back in the morgue, I check the blue tag. A John Doe, age 30.
“Don’t worry, we will find your people.”
My voice is comforting as I push the corpse into the door labeled unclaimed. A familiar feeling washes over me. It’s odd how working around the dead has taught me to live, because everything can change in the blink of an eye.