Today's Reading

Chapter 1

The first thought I had after I died was: How will my dog cope with this?
The second thought: I hope we can still go with open casket.
Third thought: I have nothing to wear to my funeral.
Fourth: I'll never meet Daniel Radcliffe now.
Fifth: Did Bobby just break up with me?

* * *

Let me back up in an hour or so.

It was a quiet night at Boston City Hospital—for me. It usually was. While I worked at New England's biggest and busiest hospital, I was a gastroenterologist. Most of our patients were diagnosed in the office before things got too critical—everyone freaks out if they can't eat or poop, after all. So aside from the occasional emergencies— hemorrhages or burst gallbladders—it's a pretty mellow field.

It's also a field with a low mortality rate.

I had just checked the four patients my practice had on the unit— two elderly women, both impacted, sent in by their nursing homes for enemas, basically; one small bowel obstruction, resolving nicely on a clear-liquid diet; and one case of ulcerative colitis which my colleague would operate on tomorrow.

"So more fiber, Mrs. DeStefano, okay? Lay off the pasta and add some greens," I said to one of the impacted patients.

"Honey, I'm Italian. Lay off the pasta, please. I'd rather die."

"Well, eat more greens and a little less pasta." She was ninety- six, after all. "You don't want to get all bound up again, do you? Hospitals are no fun."

"Are you married?" she asked.

"Not yet." My face felt weird, as it always did when I fake-smiled. "But I have a very nice boyfriend."

"Is he Italian?"

"Irish American."

"Can't win them all," she said. "Come to my house. You're too skinny. I'll cook you pasta fagioli that will make you cry, it's so good."

"Sounds like heaven." I didn't point out that she no longer lived in a house. And that no matter how sweet the little old lady might be, I didn't visit strangers, even strangers who thought I was skinny, bless their hearts. "Get some rest tonight," I said. "I'll check on you tomorrow, okay?"

I left the room, my heels tapping on the shiny tile floors... I always dressed for work, having come to my love of clothes later than most. I adjusted my white doctor's coat, which still gave me a thrill—Nora Stuart, MD, Department of Gastroenterology stitched over my heart.

I could do computer work, I supposed. The nurses would love me for it. My rounds were finished, and I was just killing time, hoping that for once, Bobby would be ready to leave at the end of his shift. He worked in the ER, so the answer was usually no.

But I really didn't want to go home alone, even if Boomer, our giant Bernese mountain dog mutt, would be there. Boomer, the bright spot in my increasingly gray life.

No. My life was fine. It was great. Best not to navel-gaze right now. Maybe I'd call Roseline, my best friend here in Boston, an obstetrician. Even better, maybe she'd be on call, and I could help deliver a baby. I texted her, but she immediately responded that she was at her in-laws' for dinner and contemplating homicide.

Too bad. Roseline understood the grayness. Then again, maybe I'd been leaning on her too much. I wrote back suggesting various ways to dispose of the bodies, then stuck my phone in my pocket.

I ambled over to the nurses' station. Ah, lovely. Del, one of my favorite CNAs, was sitting there, lollipop in his mouth, going through a pile of papers. "Hey, buddy," I said.

"Dr. Nora! How's it going?"

"Great! How are you? How'd the date go the other night?"

He leaned back in his chair, a huge smile coming over his face. "She's the one," he said smugly. "I knew it the second she smiled at me."



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