It was near the end of my shift, and I was hoping to head out soon and grab some dinner. Kerry Weaver's voice ringing out dashed that hope quickly.
"Hey, Carter? Can you see the guy in Curtain 3?"
"What's his problem?"
Kerry gave me a genuine smile - something she does very rarely these days. "His chief _medical_ complaint is a persistent cough. His biggest _problem_ seems to be the guy in with him."
OK, I was intrigued. I grabbed the chart from Kerry and headed toward Curtain 3.
From the moment I entered the main curtain area, I could hear them.
"Josh, lie down, dammit. Haven't we been through this often enough by now?"
"Sam, you worry too much."
"If I don't, who will make sure you take care of yourself?"
"I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself."
"Yeah, right. Want me to get a couple of dissenting testimonies?"
I walked into Curtain 3 to meet my new patient. Sitting on the gurney was a man who appeared to be in his late 30s or early 40s, and by his bed was another guy, who looked to be in his mid- to late 30s. The guy on the bed - my patient, I assumed - was hooked up to oxygen, but didn't seem to be having any trouble breathing. In fact, he looked ready to start a new argument with his companion.
"Hi," I said. "I'm Dr. Carter." I took a quick look at the chart. "Mr. ... Lyman?"
"That would be him," the younger guy said, pointing to the one on the bed.
"Sam...I _can_ speak for myself. I'm Josh Lyman, Dr. Carter. And I'm fine. Some people," my new patient said, gesturing at his friend, "worry too much."
"J, do you want me to go and get _her_? 'Cause she's just a phone call away, you know. And you know what'll happen if _she_ comes here," the one apparently named Sam said.
My patient cringed and lay down. "OK, Sam, I'll behave. Just _don't_ tell her, please. I've seen enough of her for a while...and she's seen more than enough of me."
I decided I'd lost control of this conversation and decided to re-establish control of the whole process. These guys were very different from most of my patients - most people I see are either too sick to try to dominate the encounter or too in awe of the medical profession to second-guess anything I say. But with these guys, I hadn't even been given the opportunity to open my mouth more than to introduce myself.
"Uh, Mr. Lyman? Can you describe your symptoms to me?" I was attempting to reassert control, but I wasn't sure these strong-willed men were going to let me.
"Sam, he was asking me." Mr. Lyman smiled. "You must forgive Sam. He seems to feel that I am incapable of looking after my own health. Actually, this is all a big fuss over nothing. I had a brief coughing fit, and suddenly everyone seemed to feel that I was dying."
"Josh," Sam said, "don't even joke about that. I've told you..."
"Oops. Anyway. Ignore that last part, please, Doctor. But, Sam, it's not like it's a big secret..."
I began to think I'd never had control of this conversation to begin with. "Mr. Lyman," I started again, "could we get back to your health situation?"
A strange expression flitted across Lyman's face. "You...you don't recognize us, do you?" he asked.
I took a good look at the two men. They looked somewhat familiar, but I couldn't place why I might know them. From what I'd figured out from their conversation, they were more than friends - Lyman calling Sam "love" was kind of a tip-off. And the air around the two of them sizzled every time they looked at each other. But I couldn't figure out why I would know them.
"I'm sorry...should I know you?" I asked.
My patient smiled. "I'm Josh Lyman, the White House Deputy Chief of Staff, and this is Sam Seaborn, the White House Deputy Communications Director. And please, call us Josh and Sam." He raised his eyebrows at his coworker, who smiled back in assent.
Suddenly I remembered. Mr. Lyman - Josh - was one of the President's closest advisors, and he had been shot last summer in the attempt on the life of the President's personal assistant. I then remembered something else I had read about these two men - they'd come out as lovers to the American public just a couple of weeks before the shooting. But I was unable to remember the extent of Josh's injuries.
I decided to ignore the fact that these were famous, powerful people and approach this as I would any other case. "OK, Josh, could you take off your shirt for me?" As he sat up and started to unbutton his shirt, I turned to Sam. "You can go sit in Chairs while I examine him," I said.
"No," Sam responded.
"Sam..." Josh said, "I'll be fine. I'm in good hands. Don't worry about me."
"No, J. I'm not leaving you alone. Either I stay, or I go get her."
"No. I mean it. You've scared me enough for one day. I thought we were past this. What with all you've been through recently, I'm _not_ leaving you alone." Sam was adamant. "And you know what will happen once she gets involved."
I had to know. "OK, who is 'she'? And why is Josh afraid of her?" I asked Sam.
He grinned, and I felt...something. I'd have to evaluate that feeling later.
"'She' is Dr. Abbey Bartlet, also known as the First Lady of the United States. And Josh is afraid of her because he's a very smart man," Sam answered, smoothing Josh's hair. "She's a formidable lady, and she was in charge of Josh's health during the time of his recovery. Heck, everyone's afraid of her, even..." he stopped at Josh's squeak. "Never mind. Anyway," he said, turning back to Josh, "you've got a choice - her or me."
Josh turned to me. "Is it OK if he stays? He won't make a sound, I promise." Another significant look passed between the two men. I could feel the temperature in the room go up 10 degrees just because of these two men.
I did my best to ignore the overtones in the room, but it wasn't easy. "Sure," I said. I took my stethoscope from around my neck and put the ear pieces in my ears. "I'd like to get a listen at your lungs." I approached the bed, and once up close to Josh, I could see the scarring on his chest.
Sam was hovering by Josh's bedside, occasionally looking toward me as if for reassurance that his lover would be fine. I didn't think there was anything too wrong with Josh, but I would give him a thorough once-over to be sure.
"What injuries did you experience from the shooting?" I asked, trying to get a full idea of this man's medical history.
"Well, I had a bullet wound to the chest, a collapsed lung...and then I had other complications," Josh said.
I put my stethoscope against his chest. "Take a deep breath and hold it, OK?"
"I know the drill...believe me. I went through daily vitals checks during my recovery period."
I listened to Josh's lungs and his heartbeat, and I didn't notice anything anomalous. I also checked his temperature and his blood pressure, both of which were within the normal ranges. "You seem to be fine, Josh. It was probably just a random cough," I said. "You can lie back now."
"See, Sam?" Josh said, "I told you I was fine. You just worry too much."
Sam turned toward me. "Can I speak to you a sec, Doctor?" he asked.
"Sure," I said. We walked away from Josh's bedside, and Sam leaned towards me. I could smell his aftershave; the scent elicited the same feelings that I had felt earlier when he'd grinned at me. I still wasn't sure what to make of my reaction.
"Dr. Carter," Sam said, "can you convince Josh to slow down? I mean, he's been through a lot recently, and he's overexerting himself."
"Sam, I'm sorry," I said. "Since there's nothing medically wrong with Josh, I can't make him stay. I can't admit him, and other than telling him, I have no way to make him stop pushing himself."
"There are other factors - non-medical factors - that make me worry about him," Sam said. "I sometimes worry..." He took a deep breath.
"Never mind - it's not your problem. Thank you, Dr. Carter, for your help." And then he turned and walked back to Curtain 3.
Josh was still lying there with his shirt off. "So, love, you gonna let them spring me, or are you gonna call in the National Guard?" he asked Sam.
"Can you do that?" I asked, unsure of how much power these men wielded.
"No, he can't," Josh said. "I just like yanking his chain." He said it with a smile, though, so it didn't have as much punch as it might have otherwise.
"OK," Sam said. "If Dr. Carter says you're fine to go, I won't fight him on it, but I'm gonna take you out for a nice dinner, and then we're going back to the hotel and going to bed."
"Works for me," Josh said with a leer.
"That's _not_ what I meant, and you know it, Josh. I'm serious. I can't go through it all again. Remember what Stanley told you? Let your friends help you. That includes me, you know."
"I know, love, I know."
Josh sat back up and started putting his shirt on. "Sorry to have bothered you, Dr. Carter."
"No bother at all," I replied. Quickly looking at the clock, I said, "You were my last patient of the day; I'm glad to have ended on a relatively easy case."
"Glad to be of service," Josh said with a grin - showing absolutely beautiful dimples - and then the two men gathered their belongings and left the hospital.
A few minutes later, I was clocking out, gathering my own belongings and heading out as well. I wasn't quite sure where I was headed, but I felt like treating myself - I'd gone a whole day without a major crisis, personal or professional, and I deserved a night out. And having no one to share it with wasn't going to stop me.
Not far from the hospital was a little bistro I had become quite fond of. I decided to start there and then perhaps go off to one of the local jazz clubs. No matter what I'd said jokingly to Benton, you really could go to a jazz club in Chicago and not get laid later in the evening. And maybe I'd get lucky and find someone at the club that I could take home afterwards.
I had a pleasant - if a little lonely - dinner, and then went to a little jazz club nearby. I got myself a club soda from the bar - something about all those AA meetings I've been to has convinced me that drinking is just a way to cover up all the issues I've wanted to ignore, and even though I'm not an alcohol addict, I figure it's safer this way. I then took a quick look around the room to see whether there was an unoccupied - or only partially-occupied - table for me to sit at.
To my surprise, I saw the two guys from earlier, the White House guys. They seemed to notice me at the same time, 'cause they gestured for me to come join them.
I walked over to their table and stood by one of the empty chairs.
"Hi, Dr. Carter," the younger one - Sam? - said.
"Good evening," I responded. "Are you enjoying yourselves?" Now that was a stupid question. But I was feeling awkward - I wanted a pleasant night and maybe a pleasant woman, and here I was spending the evening with two guys...two gay guys...in a committed relationship. What the Hell was gonna be in it for me?
"Sit down and join us," Josh - I remembered him, 'cause he'd been my patient - said.
"Sure," I said, and sat.
"So, Dr. Carter," Sam said.
I interrupted. "Please, call me John. Or Carter. I'll answer to either."
"OK," Sam said. "So, John, what're you drinking? Do you want a refill?"
"It's just club soda, and thanks, but I'm fine for now." Conversation around the table stopped, but it wasn't unbearable due to the music coming from the stage.
"Guy's pretty good," I said of the saxophonist currently performing.
"Yeah," Josh responded noncommittally.
"Don't mind Josh," Sam said. "He's...rediscovering music."
"Sam..." Josh said in a warning tone. He turned to me. "I'm learning to enjoy music and relaxation. We work in a high-stress environment, and everyone's been trying to get me to slow down ever since I got back to work after the shooting. I tell them they worry too much, but I appreciate the concern."
"Yeah, right," Sam mumbled under his breath.
But I could totally relate, and I felt the need to share the information with these guys. I wasn't quite sure why, but I felt more comfortable with them than I had felt around most people - with a couple of notable exceptions - for what seemed like a long time.
"I think I know what you mean, Josh," I said. "I was...injured on the job last February, and ever since I returned to work, people have been watching my every move." I wasn't quite ready to explain to these almost-strangers about my recovery from the stabbing, my drug addiction, and my on-going trip back from the edge.
"What did you do to convince them?" Josh asked me.
I thought about that one for a bit. "I'm not positive I _have_ convinced them. My boss is still watching me like a hawk, and other coworkers sometimes seem to second-guess my decisions."
"I've been there," Josh said.
"Hey," Sam said indignantly. "We don't second-guess you!" He paused. "Well, except when you deserve it...like that 'let's set a fire in the fireplace' incident."
"If I remember correctly," Josh said, "you had a hand in that as well."
"OK, I'll give you that one," Sam said with an indulgent smile.
Silence descended on the table again, and we sat and listened to the music a bit more.
After about 20 minutes, though, Josh seemed to become quite restless, almost agitated.
Sam picked up on this right away. "Too much, J?"
"Just a bit. Sorry, love. I know you were enjoying it."
"No," Sam said, "it's OK." He looked at me. "John? I'm sorry; we're gonna go."
I turned to Josh. "You OK?" I felt toward my feet for my bag, in case he was having some sort of medical emergency.
"Physically, yes, but thanks for your concern, John." Despite his words, Josh didn't look right. I pressed on, despite the look I was getting from Sam.
"Josh, seriously. As a doctor - your doctor, in this case - I need you to tell me if there's something wrong."
Josh looked me straight in the eye. "I'm fine. Trust me."
Sam seemed to understand the dilemma the two of us were facing. "John, come along with us. We're just gonna go back to our hotel and get coffee and sit in the coffee shop." He turned to Josh. "I don't anticipate anything more than elevator music there," he said, and Josh gave a weak smile. "C'mon," Sam continued. "Let's get out of here."
I followed them out to an SUV that was parked at the corner. "I've got my own car; where are you staying? I'll meet you there." After getting the name of their hotel, I headed back to my car and watched as they pulled out of the parking lot.
Not quite sure of where this would lead, but intrigued enough to find out, I followed close behind them.