DISCLAIMER: Maca, Esther and the rest of the Hospital Central characters are the property of Telecinco. No infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SPOILERS: Season 9, up to ep 9.08.
Long Way Home
By Indigo Star
Chapter 7: Cessation of hostilities
"Hi Esther." Teresa's greeting was distracted.
"Hi Esther, have you heard about the industrial action?" Rusti was clearly agitated about something.
"Esther, you have to change my shifts, I won't be doing extra time this week," Begoña butted in.
"And maybe you could let me take my coat off before you all start on me?" Esther was exasperated already and she had only been in the building for a minute. "Rusti, did they vote in favour of the overtime ban?"
"Yeah," his downturned mouth showed what he thought of the result.
"Davila wants to see you as soon as you're ready," Teresa added.
"Great, guess I'll have to re-do the entire shift rota for the week," groaned Esther.
"Yes, you need to change mine," Begoña chimed in.
"Yes, you and everyone else's, Begoña, okay?" Esther had run out of patience with the blonde nurse. She hurried off to change before speaking to Davila.
An hour and a half later she was struggling to finish the rota. The coverage was dangerously short, and Davila had told her not to assume there would be any agency staff to meet the gaps, as management had still to release the funds.
"Esther!" The authoritative voice broke her concentration immediately. "I need some blood tests for a patient." It was an order, not a request.
"Can't you ask one of the others? I have to finish this."
"They're all busy. I think sick patients are more important than shift rotas, no?" Maca's cold tone left no room for disagreement.
"Okay, I'm coming."
Esther drew blood for testing while Maca distracted the four-year-old girl with a finger puppet. Stealing glances at the paediatrician, Esther couldn't help smiling at her antics which had the girl giggling. She thought Maca seemed less on edge, although she still looked pale and tired. Job done, they left the child with her parents. Outside the cubicle, Maca's cool professional mask slipped back in place immediately.
"Put these through urgently, and let me know as soon as the results come back."
Esther clenched her jaw. Maca was speaking to her as if she was a trainee, not the head nurse, but she was determined not to cause a scene in the corridor. Seething inside, Esther dispatched the sample and returned to the shift rota.
She had almost finished when Davila appeared with some good news.
"You'll have two full-time agency nurses starting tomorrow."
"Two? I thought they didn't want to pay for any!"
"Well you see, now all that money that was going on overtime has to be spent somehow " he smiled.
"Great, I'll add them to the rota."
Relieved, Esther made some adjustments before informing the nurses of the changes.
"Are those results back yet?" Maca caught up with Esther at the desk.
"I don't know, try checking the in-tray," Esther responded. Maca raised an eyebrow but made no further comment. It looked like Esther was making an effort to remain professional with her, which suited Maca fine. She didn't think she could have coped with any more hostility from Esther, she just wanted to stay focused on doing her job to the best of her ability. Maca knew that her cold professional tone would irritate Esther, but she didn't know how else to behave. The truth was, she had no idea how to handle Esther after everything that had happened between them. And the thought of having to see her every day without being able to get close to her was tearing Maca up inside.
Making a sudden decision, Maca went along to the nurses' station and quickly checked the rota, then pulled up the doctors' schedules on the computer. One phone call later, she had swapped the rest of her shifts for the week. She couldn't avoid Esther completely, but she could keep any contact to a minimum, at least until she felt more in control of her emotions.
Chapter 8: Newbie
Eight a.m. and only one of the agency nurses had turned up, on a morning that was shaping up to be one of the busiest ER had seen for a long time. The smell of smoke permeated the reception area. A fire at the train station had left scores of people suffering from smoke inhalation and broken limbs sustained in the panicked rush to escape. Esther was needed everywhere at once, so reluctantly assigned Begoña to show the new nurse around.
"But don't waste any time, Begoña, I need you both back here in ten minutes to help with the fire victims!"
Begoña rolled her eyes at Inez.
"Come on, we'll start at the pharmacy."
"Tough day, huh?" observed Inez.
"Pff, she's always like that," replied Begoña as she sauntered in the direction of the pharmacy. Inside with the door closed, she continued.
"Just a word of advice watch out for that one. She'll be on your back for the slightest thing. I've been here for months and she still treats me like I know nothing. If she doesn't like you, you'll never get peace from her."
"Great! So how do I get her to like me?"
"No idea! Ever since she split up with her girlfriend, she's been a nightmare with everyone, even the doctors are complaining about it."
"Yeah. And her ex is no better!"
"Her ex works here too?"
"Yes, she's a paediatrician, you'll probably see her today. She's the most stuck-up bitch in the whole hospital, she thinks she's so superior and she'll speak to you like you're nothing. Just because she's a Wilson "
"Wilson like the brandy?"
"Yep. Listen, if you just stick with me I'll show you how to get by in here, you just have to know how to deal with them all, and the most important thing is to look after yourself. Now, painkillers are here, the blood pressure meds are in this cabinet "
By 3 pm, calm had returned to ER. Inez stood at reception chatting to Teresa and Esther about a recent vacation she had spent in Cuba. Despite Begoña's dire warnings, Inez had found the head nurse to be fair and efficient, even if she lacked patience and rarely smiled.
"And the mojitos by the pool, man, they were lethal "
Her voice tailed off as she noticed Esther's expression freeze. Anticipating another accident victim, Inez turned to look at the entrance, where instead of a stretcher she saw a slender, elegant woman with legs that seemed impossibly long, strolling towards the desk with a motorcycle helmet under one arm. It was only when the woman stopped at the desk to take her clipboard and regarded her with a slightly raised eyebrow that Inez realised she was staring. But hopefully not actually drooling. Looking at Esther, the penny dropped. This had to be Maca Fernandez, paediatrician.
Tension crackled in the air like electricity before a storm. It was only when the glamorous doctor headed off to change that Inez let out the breath she had been holding. And one look at Esther told her that the head nurse had seen exactly how she had reacted to her ex-girlfriend. Esther's face was a hostile mask as she turned abruptly and left for the nurses' station. Inez sighed. So much for getting on with her new boss. She looked at Teresa, whose large eyes had not missed a thing. She opened her mouth to say something, but her brain failed to provide any coherent words. She had just seen the most gorgeous woman in existence. Who just happened to be her boss's ex. And she was going to get a date with her, whatever it took.
In the doctors' office, Maca was dismayed to notice that her hands were still trembling. No matter how much she tried to prepare herself for a chance encounter with Esther, the effect was always the same. She could not erase her feelings for the nurse, however hard she threw herself into work, exercise, or endless tours in and out of the city on her bike. She was torn between longing to try once more to put things right between them, and fear of another crushing rejection.
A knock at the door brought her out of her reverie.
A tall, slim nurse stood in the doorway. Maca recognised her from reception, presumably one of the new agency nurses.
"There's a boy down in cubicle four, acute abdominal pain, can you come and have a look?"
Inez followed the silent doctor downstairs.
"Er, I'm Inez, by the way. From the agency."
"Hi Inez. I'm Maca. Cubicle four?"
"Yes." Inez sighed. This doctor was going to be hard work. But worth it.
It had been a long week, Maca reflected. Although she had worked the same hours as usual, for some reason the back shift seemed to last twice as long as the early shift. She wasn't sure if it was because there were fewer patients and therefore more time to do paperwork, or if it was simply the fact that she knew there was no possibility of bumping into Esther. However uncomfortable their meetings were, Maca still found herself loitering near the nurses' station whenever she knew that her shift overlapped with Esther's. So much for swapping shifts to make life easier. Next week she would return to the dayshift, and at some point she would find the courage to speak to Esther about something other than work. If only Esther would stay still long enough for her to try.
Inez had as usual managed to position herself at the front desk just as Maca was due to arrive. Teresa was fed up with the sight of the attractive young nurse drooling over Maca every morning. Teresa's only consolation was that Maca seemed completely oblivious to the girl, but she wondered how long that would last, the way things were between Maca and Esther. It pained Teresa to see her friend suffering. It was clear to her that Esther still had strong feelings for Maca, and as for Maca, well, Teresa could see right through that arrogant front she put up. The paediatrician spent more time at the nurses' station than she did in the doctors' office. Still Teresa worried. If one of them didn't do something soon, it could be too late. Just then, Esther appeared, looking flustered. Esther knew Maca's shift times as well as Inez, but usually managed to be anywhere other than the front desk when Maca was expected.
"Inez! I told you to take the tests along to the lab then go to theatre to assist Cruz, what are you doing here?"
The agency nurse turned slowly to face Esther.
"Yeah, well, Cruz isn't ready yet," she drawled insolently.
"And all you could find to do was stand around like a spare part at the front desk? In case you hadn't noticed, we've already got a receptionist! Go and help Aime, he needs some blood samples from the patient in cubicle two, and next time try and make yourself useful. We've got plenty of work to do!"
Esther watched, exasperated, as Inez sauntered off to the cubicles, turning round to look at the front door every couple of steps.
"Honestly," sighed the head nurse. "As if it wasn't enough that we have Begoña already, the agency have to send us her twin!"
Teresa couldn't help laughing out loud.
"Twins? The mother must have been surprised!" It was true that the two nurses could not have looked more different. Where Begoña was blonde and plump, Inez was tall, slim and dark.
Teresa's laughter was infectious and Esther started to giggle.
"Good morning, girls." The suave voice sounded amused.
Esther turned to face Maca, still giggling.
"Hi Maca," she replied, trying to suppress a grin at Teresa's continued mirth. She was rewarded with a dazzling smile from the paediatrician. It was the first time in weeks that Maca had seen the cute nurse's natural good humour shine through, and she had to resist a sudden impulse to hug her. She contented herself with the briefest of touches on Esther's arm.
"Excuse me," she said softly, and went off to change.
Esther stood there for a moment, frowning slightly as she watched Maca walk away. Teresa raised her eyebrows. Something was going to happen soon, she could feel it. And if she was lucky, Esther and Maca would sort things out themselves without any help from the Teresa and Rusti matchmaking service.
"Esther! Esther! I need you in cubicle three now!"
"Six-year-old boy, vomiting and seizures, some muscle paralysis. I need you to take some blood, and we'll need to look at liver and kidney function, then I want a head MRI scan."
"What's his name?"
"Tomas. His parents are in there with him, Mariluisa and Antonio."
Tomas lay limply on the bed as his parents looked on anxiously. Esther spoke softly to him as she prepared to take a blood sample, but he gave no sign of understanding. Maca began questioning Tomas' parents about his recent medical history.
"Is this the first time he's had a seizure?"
"Is he taking any medication?"
"Any recent illness?"
"Well yes, he had a cold last week, a cough and a bit of a fever, but I gave him some Adiro and he seemed to be fine after that."
"Adiro? You gave him aspirin."
"Yes, I always give him child aspirin if he has a temperature he's allergic to paracetamol, so the doctor said child aspirin would be okay for him "
"Okay. Has he ever had muscle paralysis before?"
"And has he ever had episodes of confusion, not knowing where he is, or sudden unexplained mood changes?"
"Well, no, not confusion mood changes I don't think so Antonio?"
"Like any kid, I guess, if I tell him to turn off the TV and go to bed then yes, his mood changes, but not for no reason, doctor."
"Okay, the nurse is going to finish the blood sample, then we'll take Tomas for some more tests."
"Please doctor, what's wrong with him? Is he going to be okay?"
Maca's expression was grave as she looked at the two anguished faces in front of her. "We'll know more once we have the results of the tests. I'll let you know as soon as we get them."
"My baby " Mariluisa sobbed.
Esther put a lid on the second sample and stood up. "Okay, we can take him up for the other tests now."
"Good, thanks Esther." Turning back to the parents, Maca spoke gently to them. "Why don't you have a seat in the waiting room? These tests will take about half an hour."
"Can't we come with him?" pleaded Mariluisa.
"No, I'm afraid not. But don't worry, he's got the best nurse in the entire hospital looking after him."
Esther felt herself blushing at the unexpected compliment from Maca, and left to find an auxiliary to help take Tomas upstairs to the scanner.
Maca rejoined Esther after escorting the parents to the waiting room.
"What do you think it is, Maca? Epilepsy?"
"Well, he's not presenting with classic epilepsy symptoms, and given his recent history "
Her diagnosis was interrupted as Tomas went into another seizure, his arms and legs held straight and his toes pointing downward. It only lasted moments, but Tomas lost consciousness.
"Right, let's get him scanned as quick as we can."
As Tomas went into the machine, Esther repeated her earlier question.
"Did you notice the unusual posture during the last seizure? That's typical of Reye's syndrome. It's often associated with the use of aspirin for chicken pox or upper respiratory tract infection in children."
"Oh god, the poor parents. What's the outlook?"
"We need to confirm the diagnosis with the test results first. If it's Reye's, we'll start him with intravenous fluids and glucose and give him steroids to reduce inflammation of the brain. If he doesn't go into a coma, there's a chance that he will make a full recovery."
"And if he does?"
"Impossible to say. There's a 40% death rate once the patient is in a coma."
"Oh Maca " Esther sighed, and put a hand on the paediatrician's shoulder. Her concern for Tomas was mixed with fear for how Maca would cope with the loss of another patient.
"We're giving him the best treatment we can, Esther. That's all we can do."
Surprised at this calm reply, Esther turned to face her. Maca's expression was grave and determined, but there was no trace of the panic that had marked her face during Jaime's final hours. She met Esther's concerned gaze, then looked away again. Esther could see her make a decision.
"I, uh, I've been seeing a counsellor you know, to, ah, to talk about what happened with Jaime. And it's well it's really helped me." She met Esther's eyes again, to see her smiling warmly.
"That's great, Maca, I'm really glad. Because, you know, you're really good at what you do. It was horrible seeing you lose faith in yourself." Impulsively, she took Maca's hand and squeezed it. Maca smiled in reply.
"Esther, do you I mean, once we finish with Tomas, and, well, if you don't have too much to do then maybe we could, erm, we could have a coffee together?"
Esther grinned at Maca's uncharacteristic rambling.
"Sure. I'd like that." Her reply was simple, but Maca could see the gleam of genuine pleasure in her eyes.
"Okay," she beamed in return.
The test results were conclusive: Tomas was suffering from Reye's syndrome and was placed in the children's ward for treatment. So far he had not fallen into a coma, and Maca hoped that the steroids would prevent this happening. It would give him a far better chance of making a full recovery. Relieved, she went in search of Esther, but the nurse was working flat out to deal with a sudden influx of patients and keep an eye on Begoña and Inez at the same time. Maca resigned herself to a long wait. She was determined that she would have a coffee with Esther that day, even if she had to wait to the end of their shifts to do so.
The look in Esther's eyes and her body language as they waited for the scanner had given Maca hope that they would be able to rebuild their relationship, and she was going to do everything she could to make that happen. In her most despairing moments, the best she had hoped for was that her feelings for the fiery brunette would eventually diminish. But weeks had passed and the ache in her heart was as strong as ever. She needed the passionate young woman to be part of her life again. If that didn't happen, she would have no choice but to leave Madrid and start afresh somewhere else. She shook her head to dismiss these negative thoughts. She and Esther would get back together, she just needed to be patient. Maca smiled as she remembered the warmth in Esther's eyes during their earlier conversation. Her mood lightened. It was all going to work out.
Inez was pleasantly surprised to find Maca in a good mood when she asked her to complete a form. Usually the paediatrician's manner was distant and professional, but this time she had responded to Inez's request with a smile. The nurse was quick to capitalize.
"Any plans for the weekend?"
"I don't know," replied Maca, smiling again as she entertained the possibility of spending the weekend in Esther's company.
Inez grinned in reply. Could it be that at last she had got through to the doctor? She was sure she sensed an invitation in Maca's smile.
"Well, you know, some of us are going out for a drink tomorrow night, want to come?"
"Maybe." Maca's response was noncommittal. She would have to find out if Esther was going. Although she would much prefer to take Esther out for a drink alone.
"Cool, well, just let me know, yeah?" Inez touched her lightly on the arm. "Thanks for the form," she smiled and left.
Unseen by Maca or Inez, Esther stood at the other end of the corridor. She had been hoping that Maca was free for a coffee, but as she observed the exchange, her heart froze within her chest. The smiles, the touch; both women seemed at ease with each other. Esther suddenly understood the reason for Maca's earlier good mood, and why she had been so hesitant in asking her to go for a coffee. Maca was happy because she had a beautiful new girlfriend, and she was nervous about breaking the news to Esther.
Turning on her heel, Esther hurried away before she was seen. She walked aimlessly along the corridor, humiliation burning inside her. She had dared to believe for a while that Maca might still have feelings for her. What a fool she had been. It struck her that she was probably the last person in the hospital to know about Maca and Inez. She couldn't face any of her colleagues. The pharmacy would be empty, she could take a few moments there to collect herself.
But when she got there, the door was ajar, and she could hear voices inside. She slowed her pace, uncertain where to go next, and couldn't help overhearing the conversation. She recognised the voices straight away: Begoña and Inez. A masochistic impulse forced Esther to eavesdrop so she could confirm her suspicions.
"So, how's it going with your 'girlfriend'?" Begoña's tone was mocking. "She give you a ride on her bike yet?"
"Soon," replied Inez, smugly.
"Yeah, soon in your dreams."
"You think? Actually, I've got a date with her tomorrow night."
Esther stifled a sob and ran to the ladies rest room, locked herself in a cubicle and wept silently.
After a while, she became dimly aware of people coming in and out, and struggled to regain a semblance of composure. Exiting the cubicle, she washed her face in cold water before looking in the mirror. Her eyes were red and her makeup was smeared. Washing her face again with soap, she removed the ruined makeup. Underneath, her face was white and her eyes glittered feverishly. Esther knew she would have to leave the rest room sometime, but there was no way she could finish her shift. She would have to say she was sick and leave straight away. As she left to make her excuses to Vilches, she felt a wave of nausea. At least her reason for leaving would be convincing.
"Esther?" Teresa was surprised to see Esther changed out of her uniform before the end of her shift.
"I'm going home, Teresa, I don't feel well."
"You want me to call you a taxi?"
"No, it's okay," Esther turned to leave.
"Esther? What's up?" It was the last voice Esther wanted to hear. A sudden fury choked her.
"She's sick, but she won't take a taxi home," Teresa answered. Maca frowned. It was true that Esther looked ill, but there was also a familiar spark of anger in her eyes.
"Esther?" Maca's voice was soft and low.
"Just leave me alone," Esther spat through gritted teeth, and headed for the door.
Maca stood motionless and watched her leave. Just when they seemed to be getting closer, Esther had put the barricades up again.
To Be Continued
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