"Dr. Patel, Dr Rajesh Patel to ICU. Dr. Rajesh Patel: Please report to surgical ICU immediately."
The blare of the busy hospital's overhead paging system had become a familiar, albeit annoying, sound of life for the young man. But this was different. The noise became distorted in his head: in the operator's nasal twang, he heard a car engine beginning to backfire, then felt a splitting pain that cleaved his brain into symmetrical halves. Was the audio in the hospital worsening or was he in for a bad migraine? Either was possible.
The young man stirred from his internal distress at the prodding of a plump nurse with luminous ebony skin. Her grey hair was drawn back into a ponytail. She tapped Raj on his left shoulder. "Raj, they want you in ICU. It's important."
"Thanks, Mabel, I'll be right there," Raj replied.
Rajesh Patel cut a striking figure as he rose from the coffee-stained, 70's vintage brown cloth armchair. He stood six feet tall with broad, muscular shoulders and mocha-colored skin. His chiseled jaw complemented a svelte, sinewy torso. With his striking appearance, he did not meet the visual expectation of a frumpy, overworked urban physician.
The fluorescent lighting shone off his shaven, bald scalp. But it was his eyes that defined Patel’s face. Dark brown and expressive, they possessed an intense energy that threatened to bore holes in an iron wall. On special occasions those eyes exploded into a bacchanal of joy, laughing and dancing with a life of their own.
Raj loped down the corridor. His brow furrowed as he considered why ICU would be calling him. He had just graduated from med school a week ago. He didn’t even officially work here yet. And he was a pediatrics intern for God’s sake. Just did his orientation to the outpatient clinic this morning. Really odd. What the hell did they want with him in surgical ICU? Why there, and why now?
Clad in a white oxford shirt, a golden yellow tie and blue pleated trousers, Dr. Patel proceeded down the hall through the automatically opening double doors.
When he arrived, a flood of familiar faces stood before him. Foremost among them was Dr. Leonard MacIntosh. "Dr Mac" as he was known, seemed as old as the venerable teaching hospital itself. He was a pale, rotund man. With tufts of gray hair emerging from the perimeter of his skull, he bore an uncanny facial resemblance to a koala bear. Now in his late 60s, MacIntosh was a name loved by patients and feared by medical students. Raj remembered all too well the mornings of standing in front of the anesthesiology treatment team, answering questions of increasing medical sophistication until he got one wrong, at which point the crusty old doctor would shout "Patel, I thought you were one of the smart ones? What is wrong with you? You better read if you ever want to be a doctor, Patel!"
Next Raj turned his attention toward the bedside, where the trauma surgery team stood masked, with heads bowed, slowly walking away from the bed. The senior surgeon, Dr. Marcus Thompson, lowered his mask, and beckoned Raj to come with him.
"Marc", as he was known to his peers, was a burly man in his early fifties. He ascended the surgical ranks quickly after emigrating from Haiti and was known for his unparalleled work ethic and unfailingly cordial demeanor. Marc was also known in hospital circles as the doctor usually chosen to bear bad tidings in sensitive cases. Those with more morbid senses of humor referred to him as “Dr Gooddeath”, a term Raj always found distasteful.
Raj looked around and noticed the sad faces of the nurses as they watched Marc walk away with him. A tide of fear swept through his chest.