He doesn't buy it, but what's he going to do?
"My ass started to hurt," he starts up, all resentful. "More and more for about two weeks. Finally I came to the emergency room."
"You came to the emergency room because your ass hurt? It must really hurt."
"It is fucking killing me."
"Even now?" I look at the guy's painkiller drip. That much Dilaudid, he should be able to skin his own hand with a carrot peeler.
"Even now. And no, I'm not some kind of drug addict. And now it's in my fucking shoulder, too."
He points to a spot about midway along his right collarbone. Not what I'd call the shoulder, but whatever.
Nothing's visible. "Does this hurt?" I say, poking the spot lightly. The man screams.
"Who's there!?" Duke Mosby demands from the other bed.
I pull the curtain aside so Mosby can see me. "Just me, sir."
"Don't call me sir - " he says. I let the curtain fall back.
I look down at Assman's vitals sheet. Temp 98.6, Blood Pressure 120/80, Respiratory Rate 18, Pulse 60. All totally normal. And all the same as on Mosby's chart, and on the vitals sheets of every other patient I've seen on the ward this morning. I feel Assman's forehead like I'm his mother. It's blazing.
"I'm ordering you some CT scans," I tell him. "Seen any nurses around here lately?"
"Not since last night," he says.
"Fuck," I say out loud.
Sure enough, a woman five doors down is flat-out dead, with a look of screaming horror on her face and a vitals sheet that reads "Temp 98.6, Blood Pressure 120/80, Respiratory Rate 18, Pulse 60." Even though her blood's so settled at the bottom of her body that it looks like she's been lying in a two-inch pool of blue ink.
To calm myself down I go start a fight with the two charge nurses. One's an obese Jamaican woman busy writing some checks. The other's an Irish crone cruising the Internet. I know and like both of them - the Jamaican one because she sometimes brings in food, and the Irish one because she has a full-on beard she keeps shaved into a goatee. If there's a better Fuck You to the world than that, I don't know what it is.
"Not our problem," the Irish one says, after I've run out of things to complain about. "And nothing to do about it. We had that pack of Latvian cuntheads on the overnight. Probably out selling the lady's cellphone by now."
"So fire them," I say.
It makes both nurses laugh. "There's a bit of a nursing shortage on," the Jamaican one says. "Case you haven't been noticing."
I have been noticing. Apparently we've used up every nurse in the Caribbean, the Philippines, and Southeast Asia, and now we're most of the way through Eastern Europe. When the white supremacist cult Nietzsche's sister's founded in Paraguay re-emerges from the jungle, at least its members will be able to find work.
"Well I'm not filling out the certificate," I say.
" Sterling. And fuck the Pakistani, eh?" the Irish one says. Her face is remarkably close to the computer screen.
"Akfal's Egyptian," I say. "And no, I'm not leaving it for him. I'm leaving it for your Latvian shitheels. Stat."
The Jamaican one shakes her head sadly. "Won't bring the lady back," she says. "You ask them to do the certificate, they're just going to call a code." 
 "Stat" is short, though not very, for statim. "Calling a code" is what you do when you want to pretend you don't know someone's already dead.
"I don't give a fuck."
"Párnela?" the Jamaican one says.
"I neither," the Irish one says. "Dim bitch," she adds, sort of under her breath.
You can tell by the way the Jamaican one reacts to this that she knows the Irish one is talking about me, not her.
Copyright © 2009 by Josh Bazell. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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