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They came down to the emergency ward at noon and sat on the bench just behind the swinging doors that led in from the ambulance parking slot. Ellis, the senior man, was tense, preoccupied, distant. The younger man, Morris, was eating a candy bar. He crumpled the wrapper into the pocket of his white jacket.
From where they sat, they could look at the sunlight outside, falling across the big sign that said EMERGENCY WARD and the smaller sign that said NO PARKING AMBULANCES ONLY. In the distance they heard sirens.
"Is that him?" Ellis asked.
Morris checked his watch. "I doubt it. It's too early."
They sat on the bench and listened to the sirens come closer. Ellis removed his glasses and wiped them with his tie. One of the emergency ward nurses, a girl Morris did not know by name, came over and said brightly, "Is this the welcoming committee?"
Ellis squinted at her. Morris said, "We'll be taking him straight through. Do you have his chart down here?"
The nurse said, "Yes, I think so, Doctor," and walked off looking irritated.
Ellis sighed. He replaced his glasses and frowned at the nurse. "I suppose the whole damned hospital knows."
"It's a pretty big secret to keep."
The sirens were very close now; through the windows they saw an ambulance back into the slot. Two orderlies opened the door and pulled out the stretcher. A frail elderly woman lay on the stretcher, gasping for breath, making wet gurgling sounds. Severe pulmonary edema, Morris thought as he watched her taken into one of the treatment rooms.
"I hope he's in good shape," Ellis said.
"Why shouldn't he be?"
"They might have roughed him up." Ellis stared morosely out the windows. He really is in a bad mood, Morris thought. He knew that meant Ellis was excited; he had scrubbed in on enough cases with Ellis to recognize the pattern. Irascibility under pressure while he waited -- and then total, almost lazy calm when the operation began. "Where the hell is he?" Ellis said, looking at his watch again.
To change the subject, Morris said, "Are we all set for three-thirty?" At 3:30 that afternoon, Benson would be presented to the hospital staff at a special Neurosurgical Rounds.
"As far as I know," Ellis said. "Ross is making the presentation. I just hope Benson's in good shape."
Over the loudspeaker, a soft voice said, "Dr. Ellis, Dr. John Ellis, two-two-three-four. Dr. Ellis, two-two-three-four."
Ellis got up to answer the page. "Hell," he said.
Morris knew that two-two-three-four was the extension for the animal laboratories. The call probably meant something had gone wrong with the monkeys. Ellis had been doing three monkeys a week for the past month, just to keep himself and his staff ready.
He watched as Ellis crossed the room and answered from a wall phone. Ellis walked with a slight limp, the result of a childhood injury that had cut the common peroneal nerve in his right leg. Morris always wondered if the injury had had something to do with Ellis's later decision to become a neurosurgeon. Certainly Ellis had the attitude of a man determined to correct defects, to fix things up. That was what he always said to his patients: "We can fix you up." And he seemed to have more than his share of defects himself -- the limp, the premature near-baldness, the weak eyes, and the heavy thick glasses. It produced a vulnerability about him that made his irascibility more tolerable.
Morris stared out the window at the sunlight and the parking lot. Afternoon visiting hours were beginning; relatives were driving into the parking lot, getting out of their cars, glancing up at the high buildings of the hospital. The apprehension was clear in their faces; the hospital was a place people feared.
Morris noticed how many of them had sun tans. It had been a warm, sunny spring in Los Angeles, yet he was still as pale as the white jacket and trousers he wore every day. He had to get outside more often, he told himself. He should start eating lunch outside. He played tennis, of course, but that was usually in the evenings.
Ellis came back, shaking his head. "It's Ethel. She tore out her sutures."
"How did it happen?" Ethel was a juvenile rhesus monkey who had undergone brain surgery the day before. The operation had proceeded flawlessly. And Ethel was unusually docile, as rhesus monkeys went.
"I don't know," Ellis said. "Apparently she worked an arm loose from her restraints. Anyway, she's shrieking and the bone's exposed on one side."
"Did she tear out her wires?"
"I don't know. But I've got to go down and resew her now. Can you handle this?"
"I think so."
"Are you all right with the police?" Ellis said. "I don't think they'll give you any trouble."
"No, I don't think so."
"Just get Benson up to seven as fast as you can," Ellis said. "Then call Ross. I'll be up as soon as possible." He checked his watch. "It'll probably take forty minutes to resew Ethel, if she behaves herself."
"Good luck with her," Morris said.
Ellis looked sour and walked away.
After he had gone, the emergency ward nurse came back.
"What's the matter with him?" she asked.
"Just edgy," Morris said.
"He sure is," the nurse said. She paused and looked out the window, lingering.
Morris watched her with a kind of bemused detachment. He'd spent enough years in the hospital to recognize the subtle signs of status. He had begun as an intern, with no status at all. Most of the nurses knew more medicine than he did, and if they were tired they didn't bother to conceal it. ("I don't think you want to do that, Doctor.") As the years went by, he became a surgical resident, and the nurses became more deferential.Terminal Man. Copyright © by Michael Crichton. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Excerpted from The Terminal Man by Michael Crichton
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