AUTHOR'S NOTE: This flash fiction was written for Three Word Wednesday and for Alice Audrey's Serialists. Although it is concurrent with the novel Steal Tomorrow, it contains no spoilers. Be sure to drop by Three Word Wednesday and The Serialists for more fun.
Rochelle stood in the former ballroom, gazing at her patient. Since the pandemic had wiped out the adults, this room had become a clinic for the band of young survivors sheltering at the once-elegant hotel. The boy in front of her wiped a dirty hand across his mouth and coughed.
"What do you think?" the teenage doctor asked.
Rochelle wasn't sure, but an answer of some kind was expected. "Bronchitis?"
"Maybe." Doc handed her the stethoscope.
She put the earpieces into her ears, annoyed at how uncomfortable they were. The stethoscope had been designed for a grownup, not a twelve year-old girl. She listened to the boy's chest and frowned at the sound of mucus rattling in his lungs.
"What's your diagnosis?"
Rochelle was doing the best she could, but in spite of Doc's patient instruction, many things still baffled her. Unlike him, she hadn't been raised by parents who were in the medical field. His knowledge was almost uncanny at times, while she struggled for every bit of ground she gained.
What did a wet cough mean? She tried to recall what she had read. It could mean so many things, and with no diagnostic tests or equipment, how was she to know pneumonia from bronchitis from tuberculosis? In some ways it hardly mattered, since medicine was so hard to find. She considered what few medications they had on hand. "How about we give him some guaifenesin and see how he does?"
Doc nodded his approval and took the stethoscope back.
"Since he doesn't have a fever, he probably doesn't need antibiotics," Rochelle added.
"Right. This is most likely a viral infection and we'd just be wasting our only z-pack." He hung the stethoscope around his neck, then took off his glasses and wiped them on his lab coat. "You learn quick."
Rochelle blushed with pleasure. Doc didn't give compliments readily, not because he was unkind but because it rarely occurred to him. While he went to get the bottle of decongestant, she moved to the next patient, a little girl with a cut that wasn't healing as it should. "Have you been keeping it clean?" she asked, although she already knew the answer. The wound was puffy and discolored with faint beginnings of red streaks. Whatever she had been getting up to, it had negated all Doc and Rochelle's previous efforts with alcohol and antibiotic cream.
"Maybe we should give her the z-pack," she told Doc when he returned from the other room.
Doc disagreed. "Not all antibiotics are good for the same thing. She needs amoxicillin, but we haven't got any."
Although she pretended to understand, Rochelle felt a pang of frustration. There was so much to learn. How did Doc keep it all straight?
Since they had no amoxicillin, she rebandaged the girl's injury using strips of clean sheets taken from the hotel's vast supply room.
She was returning her supplies to the cabinet when she noticed Doc had stopped making rounds and was standing at the window, staring out at nothing. She approached but didn't speak and instead gazed at the clean lines of his profile, the flash of sunlight on his glasses and the way his cowlick stood up after a frustrated and inept trim with a pair of shears two nights ago. His white lab coat, a relic of his deceased father, flapped awkwardly around his thin frame, making him look younger than his fifteen years.
"I don't know how I'm supposed to do all this," Doc said without looking at her.
Rochelle frowned in confusion. "Maybe the forage team will find--"
Doc shook his head slightly. "It doesn't matter. I'm no doctor. Who do I think I'm fooling?"
"You're the closest thing," Rochelle offered, and immediately wished she hadn't said it. He did his best and knew far more than anyone else. No one expected miracles, except Doc himself.
She approached him hesitantly and slipped her hand into his. She couldn't make him see himself through her eyes, but she could do this much for him.
In a voice barely above a whisper she said, "I believe in you."
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