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Authors: Mark Campbell

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BOOK: Fracked
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Chapter 6

 

Rebecca felt her phone vibrate in her pocket. She was wearing simple blue nursing scrubs yet somehow managed to look attractive even in such drab attire. Her dirty blonde hair was pulled back in a ponytail and her complexion looked radiant even under the harsh, unforgiving glare of the fluorescent lights overhead.

She pulled her phone out of her pocket and quickly read the message.

“Did you check on room six yet?” a woman asked as she stepped out of the nurses station at the end of the hall.

Rebecca shoved the phone back in her pocket and turned to face the woman.

She was a heavyset black woman with a droopy facial expression and a perpetual scowl. She had her hands on her hips and was glaring at Rebecca, waiting for a response.

“No, why?” Rebecca asked.

The nurse made a ‘tsk’ and rolled her eyes.

“Well I already asked Robin to do it but it looks like she’s off hiding somewhere again,” the nurse said, shaking her head. “That girl… I swear. Anyway, do you mind taking his vitals for me? Room six. I have to get this report finished before the end of the day.”

“Sure, no problem,” Rebecca said with a smile.

“Thanks sugar,” the nurse said. She turned and disappeared back inside the nurses’ station.

Rebecca walked along the cold corridor towards room six.

Despite management’s deep pockets, the hospital was pretty barebones when it came to aesthetics. The walls were made out of textured wallboard paneling and the floor was mostly polished cement. Exposed pipes and electrical conduits ran the expanse of the ceiling and fluorescent fixtures hung down from steel support cables. There wasn’t any décor aside from some framed Triburton posters.

It looked more like a foreign triage center than it did a hospital.

The room doors were thin, cheap, and unvarnished. Each door had a number placard and a hook for the clipboard holding the patient’s medical chart. Unlike the big city hospitals, the ragtag operation that Triburton established in Tres Rios still used the old paper charts instead of the standard electronic system.

Rebecca pulled the chart off of room six’s door and glanced through it.

Martin Santoyo, a Mexican national who was working in the United States under a work visa, worked as a class III wielder for Triburton’s rigging crew. According to the chart, he was admitted after he couldn’t catch his breath at work and coughing up blood. He was diagnosed with bronchitis, placed on a ventilator for a few days, and given some antibiotics.

Considering the fact that he was coughing up blood, the diagnosis certainly felt strange to her, but she didn’t dare question the company’s doctor.

Questioning the doctor meant risking her job in a town where non-oilfield careers were in short supply.

Rebecca knocked on the door, praying that she’d pronounce his name correctly.

“Mr. Santoyo?” she asked as she stepped into the room.

His room, like all of the other patient rooms, was bland, unremarkable, and surprisingly small. There were no windows and no closets. A single restroom stood in the corner of the room next to two hard plastic chairs reserved for visitors. The beds were the older iron models and had a thin mattress with a thin sheet. A television was mounted on the wall in front of the bed. A small table lined with dusty glass jars full of swabs, wooden tongue depressors, and cotton balls sat next to the bed. The table’s drawers were stuffed with medical equipment and latex gloves.

A poster of a smiling doctor was hung next to the television. It had the Triburton logo in the corner and the caption read ‘Taking Care of our Most Valuable Asset: YOU’.

Martin was lying on the hospital bed and staring up at the Corpus newscast playing on the television. His right arm had an IV line feeding antibiotics into his system. He looked away from the television as soon as Rebecca walked into the room.

“Good evening,” Martin said hoarsely with a thin little smile.

“Good evening Mr. Santoyo,” Rebecca said, smiling back. “If you don’t mind I’m just going to take some vitals. How are you feeling?”

“Good to go! I’m feeling a lot better than before and I’m ready to head back to work,” Martin said proudly.

Rebecca laughed as she walked towards the table and sat the clipboard down. She slid a pair of gloves on, pulled the small electronic blood pressure machine out of the top drawer and walked to his bedside.

“I think you have a little way to go before you start worrying about work again,” she said as she took the cuff and wrapped it around his arm. “Just worry about getting better for now.”

She pressed the button and waited as the cuff inflated.

Martin frowned.

“I don’t understand… The doctor told me that I’m getting discharged in the morning,” Martin said.

Rebecca stared at him, perplexed.

“What…? I… didn’t know. It’s just– Well… I don’t think you’re ready yet,” she said carefully. “Acute bronchitis usually takes around three weeks to get better.”

“Oh chinga,” Martin said, chuckling. “I’m fine, really.”

The blood pressure cuff beeped and deflated.

The display read: 158 mm Hg / 99 mm Hg / 104 BPM

Rebecca looked at the high numbers and frowned. She took the cuff off and notated the numbers.

“Everything is good, right?” Martin asked with a big grin. “I’m good to go?”

“Well… I can’t really say,” she evasively answered as she stared down at his chart. “I’m just an assistant. Your doctor will go over everything with you.”

“He already did,” Martin said. “He gave me a clean bill of health!”

Rebecca smiled politely as she put the cuff away and brought out the digital ear thermometer.

“Let’s check that temperature,” she said as she slid a fresh probe cover on the tip. She slid the thermometer into his ear and pressed the button.

The readout said: 101.2 F

Frowning, she ejected the probe cover into the waste basket and put the thermometer away.

“All good?” Martin asked.

Rebecca said nothing as she annotated the temperature and stared down at the chart…

Something just didn’t feel right.

She flipped through the chart and tried to find a copy of his x-rays, but couldn’t find them.

In fact, she didn’t see any even ordered.

Confused, she shook her head.

“Mr. Santoyo, did they ever take an x-ray of your chest?” she asked.

Martin shook his head.

“He said that I didn’t need one,” Martin said, unconcerned.

“I see…” Rebecca said as she tucked his chart under her arm with a frown. “Well I’m going to talk to your nurse about this. Have a good night, Mr. Santoyo.”

“Gracias,” Martin said with a smile. He turned his attention back towards the television, coughing.

Rebecca exited the room and walked towards the nurse’s station.

She knocked once on the door and stepped inside.

The heavyset nurse was typing on the keyboard while staring at the computer and talking on the phone.

The other nurse, an elderly white woman, was slouched in the chair in the corner of the room reading a book.

The nurse on the phone glanced over at Rebecca and flashed a smile.

“Thanks sugar, just sit those down on the desk,” the nurse whispered before returning her attention back to the screen.

Rebecca stared at the screen with disbelief.

“Seriously? Is that what this is all about?” Rebecca asked as she sat the clipboard down on the table. “Are you working on his discharge papers?”

The nurse held up a fat finger and continued to yammer into the phone without taking her eyes off of the screen.

Rebecca started to protest, but the nurse in the corner of the room spoke up.

“We don’t write the orders. If you have a problem with it, take it up with the doctor,” the old woman said without looking up from her book.

Miffed, Rebecca closed the door. She started to walk towards the elevator, clock out, and just end her shift without causing a scene.

Unfortunately her conscience wouldn’t allow her to simply turn a blind eye.

She turned away from the elevator and hurried down the hallway towards the doctor’s office.

The office door had a glass window that was covered by blinds.

She knocked on the door hard enough to rattle the glass.

“Come in,” a voice said from the other side.

Rebecca opened the door and stepped inside the office.

The lights were off and the doctor was slouched in his plush leather chair, playing around on Facebook. He yawned, turned off the computer monitor, and glanced at Rebecca through his thick glasses.

“Is… there something I can help you with?” the doctor asked.

“Well, I was just wondering about the status of a patient named Martin Santoyo,” Rebecca said.

“Who?” the doctor asked.

“Martin Santoyo,” she repeated. “He’s the patient from room six who has bronchitis.”

“I vaguely know whom you’re referring to. What about him?” the doctor asked, clearly annoyed.

Rebecca frowned.

“Sir, I just took his vitals and they’re not good… One of the morning doctors gave him the all clear to go back to work… He’s getting discharged tomorrow with no restrictions.”

“And?” the doctor asked, shrugging. “Bronchitis isn’t a death sentence. He’ll be fine if he takes the prescribed antibiotics. They need him more on the field than we need him in here.”

“That’s just it though… I’m not sure it is bronchitis. There were no x-rays taken and he’s coughing up blood.”

The doctor held up his hand, cutting her off. He shook his head and frowned, frustrated.

“Look, stop, I know that your heart is in the right place, but you have no right to question anything. If the man is clear to return to work, then the man is clear to return to work. End of story. I hate to be so frank, but if you have concerns, valid or not, then I suggest that you pass them along to the nurses. You’re an aide, not a nurse. Just because you’re wearing scrubs doesn’t mean you’re qualified to construct your own medical diagnosis and come into my office questioning another professional’s opinion. Do I make myself clear?”

Rebecca’s face reddened but she held her tongue. She glared at him with her fists balled at her side and nodded.

“Good, have a nice rest of the day and close the door on your way out,” the doctor said as he waved her away and turned the computer monitor back on.

Rebecca stormed out of the office and let the door slam shut behind her. She walked to the elevator and pressed the call button repeatedly.

Even though the hospital only had four floors and a basement; the elevator seemed to take forever.

After several minutes, the elevator arrived and the silver doors slid open.

She stepped inside and pushed the button for the lobby.

Rebecca rushed through the mostly vacant lobby, signed out of the digital time clock behind the lobby’s front desk, ignored the flirty security guard, and hurried outside into the blazing heat.

As hard as she tried, she couldn’t get the man in room six off of her mind.

She felt guilty.

If the system was broken and the company was corrupt, then she was a willing accomplice.

After all, it wasn’t the first time that she stumbled across the company’s malpractice.

Maybe that was the problem…

Even with the knowledge that the system was broken, she knew that she’d still return to work the next day.

That simple fact gnawed at her as she got inside her car.

Chapter 7

 

John looked like a new man after a shower and a shave. He was wearing a plain white t-shirt, jeans, and an old weathered pair of boots. He sat on the chair on the patio with his feet kicked up on the wooden banister and watched the sunset with a cold beer in his hand.

Lucy was curled up next to him, sleeping.

He stared at the oilrig across the street as he took another swig.

The well was still operational and had a weathered American flag and a faded Triburton flag hoisted at the top of it. The rig looked old and rusty, but it was still doing its job and still poisoning the ground.

Truthfully, it made him a little sick to his stomach to think about everything that damn well took from him.

He sat the beer down and pulled out his crushed pack of cigarettes from his back pocket.

He was down to the last one.

Better make it count.

He slid it between his lips and lit it using his old Bic lighter.

John took a deep drag and blew the smoke towards the well, narrowing his eyes. He slouched lower in his chair, thinking.

He heard a car approaching down the road and started to panic as soon as he recognized it.

“Shit,” he muttered as he took a few last desperate puffs and then quickly extinguished the cigarette inside his beer can. He waved his hand in front of his face and tried to make the smell dissipate.

A white Taurus pulled into the driveway and created a plume of dust in its wake as it slowly made its way to the carport.

He pulled an open pack of Wrigley's Doublemint out of his pocket, hastily shoved a few sticks of it into his mouth, threw the foil wrappers aside, and chewed like a madman.

The Taurus stopped behind John’s car and Rebecca stepped out.

She looked exhausted.

Lucy woke up and started barking as she paced by the patio’s screen door.

“Hey darlin,” John said with a southern drawl as Rebecca walked up the steps and opened the screen door. He gave her an innocent smile.

“Hey,” Rebecca said as she smiled back at him. “How was your day?”

Lucy barked and looked up at her excitedly.

“Oh you know… The usual,” John said with a shrug. “They still didn’t crack the shale. Something was wrong with one of the pumps.”

“Well… good,” Rebecca said as she leaned down to pet Lucy. “Maybe they’ll quit putting those eyesores up.”

Lucy jumped up and down and licked at her face.

“Settle down, silly,” Rebecca said as she kissed the top of Lucy’s fury head.

John chuckled as he watched them. He almost took a drink from his beer, but then he remembered the cigarette. He slowly sat the can down on the deck.

“We got another new guy in the van today,” John said. “He seems alright, but he’s just a kid. They keep hiring these ambitious young bucks and then get surprised when they quit.”

“Oh? Do you think this one will stay?” she asked.

John shrugged.

“I can’t call it yet, but I think he might,” John said. “How was your day?”

Rebecca sighed and walked towards chair next to John.

John lowered his feet so she could pass.

Lucy followed her, wagging her tail.

“Pretty slow,” Rebecca simply said as she plopped down in the chair, frowning. She stared off into the distance.

John studied her face and knew something was wrong.

“What happened?” he asked.

She shook her head.

“The place is just getting to me… The way they do things, I mean.”

John reached over and squeezed her hand.

“Just hang in there a little while longer. It’ll be okay,” he said with a smile. “By this time next year I should have enough saved up for the big move. Pretty soon we’ll be out of this place and start our new life in Austin. You’ll get to finish college… live near your family… become a nurse… and this will all be a bad memory.”

Rebecca smiled at the notion and then looked over at him.

“I know my parents would love for me to be closer, but it’s you I worry about,” she said. “What will you do up there?”

John thought about it a moment and shrugged as he stared off towards the horizon. Truthfully he didn’t give it much consideration.

“I’m not sure yet… I’ve been thinking about getting a CDL and driving trucks for a living,” he said.

Rebecca frowned.

He looked over at her and quickly shook his head.

“Just local routes, nothing national,” he assured. “Texas routes where I’ll be home every weekend. The hours would be tough but I reckon the wage will be decent.”

She looked relieved and nodded.

“Driving would be a good fit for you I think,” she said. She looked down and frowned, thinking. “I worry though… Will it be tough for you… to leave here? Leaving home is never easy…”

John narrowed his eyes as he looked towards the oil well in the distance.

“It sure doesn’t feel like home anymore,” he grumbled.

Rebecca glanced down with a concerned expression.

“Still… home is home,” she said. “When it comes to Austin, well, sometimes I worry that I’m making you do things you don’t want to do… Go places you don’t want to go. I don’t want you to rip up your roots all on account of me.”

John looked over at her and squeezed her hand reassuringly, smiling.

“Listen… Home is where your loved ones are. As long as I’m with you, I don’t care where I hang my hat. I know that there’s a better life waiting for us up north and I sure as hell can’t wait to discover it,” John said with a warm smile.

Rebecca smiled back, eyes a little misty.

“I feel gross. I’m going to take a shower and go throw dinner in the oven,” Rebecca said.

She leaned close and gently pressed her lips against his.

Slowly, she pulled back and cocked an eyebrow.

“Have you been smoking again, John Oliver?” she asked.

“Of course not,” he said as he gave her a sheepish smile.

Rebecca stood up, placed her hands on her hips, and stared down into his eyes.

John flustered and looked away.

“John! You remember what the doctor said! I swear, you’re such a bad liar,” she said as she shook her head. “So you’re lucky that you’re a good kisser. That’s the only reason I keep you around.”

“So does that mean I’m off the hook?” he asked as he looked back up at her.

She looked down at him and wagged her index finger in the air.

“Nope, it means that you’re doing the dishes tonight,” she said.

John sighed and nodded.

“Fair enough,” he said. “What gave me away? The kiss?”

“That and the fact I smelled the smoke all in Lucy’s fur…”

John looked away, embarrassed.

“If you don’t shape up and take better care of your health like you promised, Lucy and I will be going to Austin alone,” she threatened as she flicked his nose with her finger.

“Aw come on, Becky. Don’t play like that,” John said.

Rebecca sauntered away, opened the front door, and retreated into the house.

“Come on…. Sit out here and watch the sunset with me for a spell,” John said.

The door slammed shut.

Lucy looked up at him with her ears perked up, whimpering.

John looked down at her and narrowed his eyes.

“Snitch,” he said with a grin.

BOOK: Fracked
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