“We have a problem,” he clips out.
“What’s that?” I ask neutrally, not quite sure what I’ve done now.
“The Harlan family has filed a formal complaint about you to the ethics committee at the hospital.” His brown eyes, which are normally warm and friendly, seem to expel frost.
My mind races, trying to remember what, if anything, I did to deserve such a thing. These days, my brain and my mouth aren’t often connected in a good way. Sometimes, I say things I later regret.
“I can see you don’t remember, so let me refresh you,” he snarls, sitting forward in his seat. “After you scrubbed out of surgery, you met with the wife and two sons, who were obviously upset Mr. Harlan didn’t make it. And you told them his brain resembled scrambled eggs and there was only so much you could do to help, but perhaps had he not been drinking and driving, he’d be alive and well today.”
Yeah… totally remember saying that. It was the fucking truth, too, but I’m not stupid enough to think that would go without consequences. As doctors who hold human lives within our hands, we have to deal with families using a feather touch.
“Goddamn it, Benjamin,” Brandon mutters as he flings himself back into the seat with what seems like resignation. “You have got to get your head out of your ass. You cannot talk to our patients that way. You’re going to fucking ruin our medical practice, and I’m about out of patience.”
I’d say I’m sorry, but that would be a lie. Peter Harlan was a douche. He’d gotten drunk in a bar, thought he could drive home, then ran off the road and hit a concrete culvert. Without a seat belt on to protect himself, he flew through the windshield and cracked his head open on the drainpipe. His frontal lobe had been scrambled by the time I’d been called in to meet the helicopter that had transported the drunk to the hospital for emergency brain surgery. It was his fucking fault, not mine.
“It’s been over a year, Benjamin,” he says quietly, but the ice is gone. Now it’s just pity and some semblance of understanding. “You have got to move on.”
I glance at the clock on my phone. One year, one month, eleven days, six hours, and twenty-three minutes. But who’s counting?
He sighs when I refuse to acknowledge anything he’s said so far. This isn’t the first time we’ve had this conversation. Anything I might say to defend myself will fall on deaf ears.
Brandon scans my office. It’s clean and modern, decorated in black leather and chrome. I’m slightly OCD when it comes to neatness, and everything is pristine.
When he returns his gaze to me, he says, “You made a mistake taking their pictures down.”
My entire body jerks as if I’d been zapped by electricity. Although it’s been one year, one month, eleven days, six hours, and now twenty-four minutes, Brandon has never once criticized the way in which I’ve handled the death of my wife and five-year-old daughter.
I sense he’s reaching his limits of tolerance with the way I’m trying to cope with their deaths. But I’m not sure if he can understand.
More importantly, I don’t even want to try to explain it. Like with most things in my life, I only have so much bandwidth available. If I’m to maintain my status as a top-notch surgeon, I have to put my efforts there. Sure, my social skills with patients have taken a nosedive, but at least I’m still fucking amazing at what I do.
If I’m given a brain that hasn’t been scrambled, that is.
“Don’t you have anything to say?” Brandon demands angrily, noting I haven’t said a word since he walked in.
I just stare at him, marveling his ire doesn’t even touch me. I don’t feel attacked, threatened, or even guilty over his accusations.
Like always lately, I feel nothing.
“You’ve shut everyone out of your life since the accident,” he continues. “Me. Your parents. Your brother. How in the fuck can you live like that?”
While I can technically sit here and listen to him rant for hours, I have some hospital rounds to do. I rise silently from my desk, ignoring the ache in my left thigh, and grab the cane I can’t even muster up the strength to loathe, clutching onto the T-shaped handle. My mother bought it for me, and I didn’t question its need. My leg still hurts if I put full weight on it for prolonged periods, so I use it all the time.
I remember how hesitant she was to give it to me. She’d had it custom made from ebony wood so I wouldn’t have to suffer one of those gaudy aluminum ones with a rubber grip. Not that I’d care.
These days, I don’t care about much other than doing my job well. It’s all I have the energy to worry about.