“Okay,” Debra muttered. “Okay, okay, you got this. Just smile.”
Her face looked back at her, unsmiling in her locker mirror. “Smile, dang it.”
And with a deep exhale, she listened, smiling into the mirror.
She wore her best scrubs, blue to bring out her eyes. “Yeah, that’s about as good as it’s going to get,” she said, resigning herself to the formlessness that was her outfit.
Then with one last sigh, she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and walked out of the locker room.
“Deb, you’re looking way too good for the night shift,” Katie said, handing Debra a stack of clipboards.
Debra flashed her most winning smile, ever-so-slightly tilting her head. “Oh, it’s only the beginning of the shift. It’ll be a different story in twelve hours, believe me.”
“Please,” Katie said, rolling her eyes. “Five nights a week, and I’ve never seen your hair out of place.”
Debra’s heart fluttered with satisfaction, immediately followed by guilt. Say something nice! She thought, her smile becoming strained. Make her feel good, dang it!
“I love your… hair,” she said, hoping the compliment sounded more genuine than it felt. “I love the curls,” she continued more convincingly.
“Oh, thanks, girl,” Katie said, stroking her hair with genuine pleasure. “It’s a pain, but what are you gonna do?”
“Right?” Debra said, re-applying her smile to match Katie’s. “So we have any winners tonight?”
“Some tough ones actually,” Katie said, her smile fading. “But I gave you the easiest.”
Because she thinks I’m lazy? No, she just implied I wasn’t. Right?
“Actually, I’ll take the harder ones if you don’t mind.” She said. “I have a lot of energy tonight.” And… lie number one of the night.
“Oh,” Katie said, her eye widening appreciatively as she switched out Debra’s clipboards. “Alright then. Good luck.”
“Thanks, Kate,” she said, spinning lightly on her heel for good measure.
Her first patient was at the end of the hall. Debra stopped just outside the door, pretending to check the chart as she composed herself.
“I’m fine!” Someone yelled through the door.
Debra nearly dropped her clipboards, startled. “Excuse me?” She said meekly, poking her head through the door.
“I said I’m fine,” the patient yelled again, though slightly softer. “Just get me out of here.”
Debra removed her head, taking a moment to suppress her anger.
“Hey!” The lady yelled again, her voice carrying down the hall. “Get back here and get me out!”
Debra reappeared with a smile on her face, holding the clipboard in front of her as a safety net. “I’m right here, Miss…,” she said checking her records.
“Pam,” the patient said impatiently. “And I’m doing quite alright if you wouldn’t mind releasing me…”
“It says here your name is Miss Ricks,” Debra said, careful to keep her voice pleasant.
“And Miss Ricks says her name is Pam,” Pam replied, her voice dripping with condescension. “I would know, wouldn’t I? Straight from the horse’s mouth, so-to-speak.”
“I suppose so,” Debra said. “I’ve never spoken to one before.”
Pam cocked her head, squinting up at Debra. “Did you just imply I was a horse?”
Whoops. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to…” Lie number two.
“Yes you did,” Pam said, chuckling. “But I’ll take sass over shy any day. More likely to get things done. So what do you say, am I released?”
At least she likes me. “No, not yet, Miss… Pam.”
“No? Then I’ll take a different nurse,” Pam said, arching an eyebrow.
Debra’s heart began to race. “Why don’t you tell me what happened?” She asked, deciding to ignore the comment.
“It’s on the chart,” Pam said, gesturing to my clipboard.
“It’s helpful to hear it from the horse,” Debra said with a smile, holding her breath.
Pam didn’t smile. Too far, she thought. Definitely too far.
“So… can you tell me what happened?” Debra continued, nervous sweat dripping down her back.
“I fell,” Pam said, staring back at Debra defiantly.
“How?” Debra asked. Smile, she reminded herself. She’ll warm up.
“The hell you mean, how?” Pam asked. “I tripped. Does that amuse you?”
Debra immediately wiped the smile from her face. “No, of course not. I was just trying to be friendly.”
“You have many friends?” Pam asked, smiling maliciously.
Debra bit her tongue before reapplying her smile. “Must have been a pretty big fall. That’s a lot of bruises.”
Pam didn’t reply.
“It’s rare to see bruises on a face from a fall,” Debra said, inspecting the wounds. “Especially ones so deep. Were your hands full at the time?”
Pam looked down at her hands as she quietly fidgeted with her wedding ring. “No, just didn’t react fast enough is all.”
“To catch yourself?” Debra clarified.
Pam looked up, her breathing slightly ragged. “Yes, obviously.”
Debra held Pam’s gaze, locked in a battle of wills.
“Can I go now?” She asked, raising her chin in defiance.
Debra hesitated. “No.”
“No?” Pam said incredulously. “Why the hell not?
“Because… tests,” Debra said, backing away. “We have to run some tests.”
“They’re just bruises!” Pam yelled as Debra opened the door. “I don’t need any tests! I want a new nurse. Immediately.”
“I’ll get right on that,” Debra said as she closed the door. Lie number three.
As soon as she stepped into the hallway, Katie rushed over. “What was that?”
Debra took a moment to compose herself before responding. “She didn’t get those bruises from falling.”
Katie squinted at her incredulously. “Okay… and she’s yelling across the entire hospital because… you told her that?”
Debra let out a frustrated sigh. “Pretty much.”
“Look, I’m re-assigning her,” Katie said, snatching Pam’s clipboard.
“I think her husband is abusing her,” Debra whispered, the words falling out of her mouth. “I can’t let her go home like this.”
“Her husband is dead,” Katie said, slapping the clipboard. “Read the chart, girl.”
“Well then someone else is abusing her.” Debra stuttered. “Who does she live with?”
“No one,” Katie said, shaking her head. “She lives alone, Deb. She fell. That’s all there is to it.”
Debra cast her eyes around the hallway, trying to giver herself time to think. She trusted her gut, and her gut said Pam’s wounds were anything but innocent, but there was no way to prove it.
“Keep me on her,” Debra pleaded, “I need to make sure she’s okay.”
“What you need to do is help all of these other people on your list,” Katie said. “Miss Ricks will be fine without you.”
“Pam,” Debra said, accepting defeat. “She goes by Pam.” And with that left to check on the rest of her patients.
They were nothing remarkable. Just deteriorating bodies making messes for her to clean. She hated cleaning bedpans and vomit, but it was in those moments that she felt most worth-while.
They were usually so thankful, as if she was some sort of angel for doing her job. It’s why she became a nurse in the first place. To help people. She had made it her identity. So much so that helping people was all she had time for.
“She’s getting discharged,” Katie told her eventually, clearly watching her for a reaction.
Debra smiled disinterestedly. “Okay,” was all she said as she moved to her next patient.
“Dr. Quin checked, there weren’t any signs of foul play.”
“Okay,” Debra said again, “thank you.”
Katie eyed her suspiciously. “You’re not convinced are you?”
“I trust you, Katie,” Debra said, laying a hand on her shoulder. Lie number four.
Katie’s face softened. “Good. I know you’re aware… but it’s easy to project our own pasts onto our patients.”
“I know,” Debra snapped, pulling her hand away. “I wasn’t projecting.”
Katie nodded. “Okay, well thank you for trusting me.”
Debra forced a smile, not trusting herself to speak as she brushed past Katie toward her next patient. But with every step, her heart beat faster, pulling her toward Pam.
“Deb?” Katie called as Debra picked up her pace, passing her patient’s door.
Debra ignored her as she rushed to Pam’s room and threw the door open. “Tell me what really happened,” she demanded.
Debra nearly toppled Pam, who was standing just inside the door. She might have fallen all over again if she hadn’t managed to catch herself on the bed frame.
“What the?” Pam said incredulously. “You nearly injured me!”
“I don’t believe you,” Debra said, her heart racing. “You didn’t get those wounds from a fall.”
“Deb,” Katie said, arriving behind me. “Leave the poor woman alone.”
“I fell, Miss Sass. And now I’m going home.” Pam said, pushing her way past Debra.
“You didn’t fall just now,” Debra insisted. “You were startled and injured and you still caught yourself. Just tell me what happened!”
Pam stopped at the door, silent. Katie looked on, looking unsure as to how to proceed.
When no one said anything, Debra pressed on. “I know what it’s like to be abused. To feel scared not only of the person you love, but of losing them. To feel like there’s nothing you can possibly do to please them. No way to end the suffering… but you can end the suffering right now. Tell me who’s abusing you.”
Pam looked back, a tear in her eye. “I’m sorry, I don’t know what you’re talking about.” And then she walked away.
Katie didn’t say a word, frozen in the hallway as she searched for the right thing to say.
“On to the next patient,” Debra said eventually, her voice cracking under the strain of emotion. And with that, she shrugged her way into the next room. In it was a guy hovering over a girl.
“I’m fine, Chris,” the girl said, rolling her eyes. “I’ve felt fine since we were in the car.”
“No offense, Beth, but you’re fine when the doctor tells me you’re fine,” Chris said, looking up at Debra appreciatively. “Or a nurse. A nurse works too.”
Helpers. They love helping others, so much so that they often neglect themselves, which makes for good internal conflict.
Too many stories rely primarily on external conflict, neglecting the actual character. Story should always be about the character, done by making sure external conflict is the direct result of internal conflict. That’s what I’m striving to do here.
The story continues across the other Enneagrams! I hope you enjoy them!
Disclaimer: The enneagram doesn’t determine who a person is, nor what they’ll do. It is merely a tool that can help you better understand yourself and other people. (Which makes it pretty darn neat to apply to fake people, but dangerous if taken too far in real life)