Disclaimer: I do not own the characters from Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman. The rights to those characters and to the show belong to the creators of the show, to CBS, The Sullivan Company and to A&E.
From a Distance
Written by, Ashley J.
Started July 18, 2005
Michaela Quinn would remember that date for the rest of her life. January 8, 1867, that is. It was a Tuesday, and the New York hospital was busier than usual. Several New York citizens had come down with the common cold that went around this time every year, and with the snow coming down in sheets, it was a wonder that more people weren't being brought in with hypothermia or other weather related illnesses. Needless to say, it was a very loud day at the hospital, and Michaela had seen her father only once or twice since they had arrived that morning. At least the epidemic was over.
Michaela looked up when Dr. Lancaster began shouting orders at a nurse at the other end of the children's ward, and she rushed over to see if she could be of any assistance. A young child was receiving an emergency tracheotomy. Michaela had performed several of these on children, while Dr. Lancaster usually never came to the children's ward unless it was a busy day such as this one. She hadn't known him long, but he didn't seem to be interested in children's medicine in the least. But, he did what he had to do, and that was all anyone expected of him.
"Dr. Lancaster, may I be of any help?" Michaela offered, moving to help him prepare.
"Yes, Miss Quinn. I'd like a hot cup of coffee," the older man said sternly. She wasn't surprised. Michaela looked at the child who was struggling to breathe, and she quickly held a damp cloth over her mouth to render her unconscious for the procedure.
"That's Dr. Quinn," Michaela said quickly. The older doctor waved off her remark. "I have a medical license, and I do know what I'm doing. I'm good for more than getting your coffee!" She started to reach for the instruments, but he glared up at her.
"I have this under control. You should remember to respect your elders, Dr. Quinn." Michaela felt like she'd been slapped in the face. She didn't receive any respect from virtually all of the doctors, though the nurses stood by her, thankful that a woman had been brave enough to stand up to those nasty-mannered physicians. Michaela knew that the only reason she was still working in that hospital was because of who her father was. If Josef Quinn hadn't been one of the best surgeons in Eastern America, she'd be out on the streets practicing medicine in terrible and disease-infested conditions.
Michaela realized that the doctor had everything under control, so she moved to sit with one of the sleeping patients. She realized she had been moving and keeping busy for the past sixteen hours. It was getting late, and she should have gone back to the hotel two hours ago.
"Dr. Quinn," a child whispered softly. Michaela looked down at the sweet-faced little boy that lay in the cot she was sitting on. He had been brought in with an unknown ailment, but he was feeling better now.
"What is it, Timothy?"
"Will you be here all night?"
"No, Timothy. I'm getting ready to leave, but I'll be here first thing in the morning before I go back home."
"Promise?" Michaela smiled.
"I promise. Rest now," she whispered. Michaela left the children's ward and went to retrieve her coat. As she was putting it on, Josef came rushing down the hall with a newborn infant in his arms.
"You're leaving, Mike?"
"I'll be a little late getting back to the hotel this evening. I'm on my way to another delivery." Michaela chuckled and kissed her father on the cheek. She glanced down at the squirming child in his arms. Any moment now, it would start crying.
"Where does this one belong?"
"In room four down the hall," Josef replied. Sure enough, the infant began to wail.
"I'll take him. You go on." Josef handed the infant to Michaela, and she started down the hall. She loved the way it felt to hold a newborn baby. They were so soft and little. This one was crying, however, and she knew she needed to get him to his mother right away. "Mrs. Andrews." She recognized the woman as soon as she moved into room four.
"Dr. Quinn!" the lady said with a grin. "You've brought my son?"
"Yes. My father would have brought him back to you, but another lady needed his assistance." She placed the baby in his mother's arms. "How are you feeling?"
"Better. Thank you for bringing my Nicholas."
"You're quite welcome. I'm on my way out of here, but I'll check on you in the morning. Congratulations."
"Thank you, Dr. Quinn," Mrs. Andrews said with a smile. Michaela left the room and finally made it to the front doors of the hospital. As she buttoned up her coat, she closed her eyes and silently hoped that tomorrow wouldn't be so busy. She opened the door and nearly tripped on something as she walked outside.
"Oh!" She looked down at the form of a man lying on the concrete steps of the hospital. He was alive, but he was sweating and trembling in his ragged coat. She noticed that his pants were patched and his shoes were scuffed. "Sir?" Michaela knelt down beside him, and she placed her hand against his forehead. His hair was long, just a little past his shoulders, and he looked terrible. He was beautiful though, and she stunned herself by that very first thought. "Sir! Can you hear me?" She checked his vitals, while the snow poured down on them, and upstanding New York citizens passed in and out of the hospital's doors without giving a glance at the woman doctor kneeling next to a seemingly homeless patient.
The man moaned softly and tried to open his eyes, but when he lifted his head, he weakened again. Michaela breathed heavily and closed her eyes.
"Influenza," she whispered. "I'm not going to let you die out here." She looked around. "Help! Help me!" A couple of nurses came to her aid and helped her bring the unconscious man into the hospital. A few busy doctors looked up.
"You can't bring him in here!"
"He has influenza!" Michaela snapped. "I need to treat him."
"You can't bring street scum into this hospital! He won't be able to pay!"
"He won't be able to live if I don't treat him." One of the younger doctors saw the three ladies struggling to carry the man into the hospital, and he moved to help them.
"Thank you Dr. Richards." He led them into a tiny empty room at the end of the hall.
"I hope you know that bringing him in here put all of the other patients at risk," Dr. Richards remarked.
"You think I don't know that? I couldn't let him die out there," Michaela explained. "Thankfully he's in the last stages. I think he'll make it if he has proper nourishment and care."
"I'll find him something to change into," one of the nurses said quietly. "You should go home, Dr. Quinn."
"No. He's my patient. I'm staying with him." The nurses found hospital attire to accommodate him, and they left Michaela with her patient. She moved toward the bed and slowly took his coat off. It took a while, but it wasn't a difficult task. She suddenly felt nervous as she moved to remove his boots. She placed them at the foot of his bed and began to take his shirt off. It wasn't as if she hadn't seen a naked male patient before, but this man was different.
Michaela sat down at her patient's bedside and began to administer quinine to him. She moved to a water basin and brought it over to place on his bedside table.
"You're going to be alright." She brushed the light brown curls out of his hair. He certainly was handsome! She'd never seen anyone like him. He didn't look like he was from New York with his long hair and his slightly stubbled face. But, she also knew he wasn't wealthy, and she felt sorry for him. She had been visiting New York for a month with her father. They were visiting from Boston and had been stuck in New York during an Influenza epidemic a week ago. Obviously, there were some stragglers, because this man still had it.
She slowly unbuttoned his shirt and managed to slide it off of his arms and out from underneath him. She was surprised to notice how shapely and muscular his torso was. His skin was tanned, and she knew he probably worked outside a lot, probably down at the docks. Next, she worked at his pants and managed to slide those off of him. Soon, he was naked, and she tried not to glance at his lower region, though she couldn't help it when she reached over to grab a sponge out of the water basin. She quickly covered his lower half with a clean sheet and prepared herself to give him a mild sponge bath.
She brought the sponge to his chest and began to wipe him down. She had seen several people go through this horrible sickness in the past week, and she knew that this was one more she'd help to get through it. When the water touched his skin, he jerked his eyes open and coughed violently. His hand grabbed hers, but there was a gentleness about him. He blinked and studied her face for a moment. Was she some creature sent by God to take him to Heaven? All she could focus on was how beautiful his blue eyes were. He was incredible!
"I . . ."
"Don't worry," Michaela whispered. "I'm here. I'm Dr. Michaela Quinn. What's your name?" The man closed his eyes, relaxed by her soothing voice.
"Sully. Byron . . .Sully," he managed to speak before he went back to sleep.
"Just relax, Mr. Sully. I'm going to take care of you now." She gently placed the sponge against his skin, and he moaned softly and shut his eyes. She watched him as he fell into a deep sleep, and as she continued sponging off his chest, she wondered just what kind of a man was named Byron Sully. Michaela Quinn was intrigued.
It was close to midnight when the door to Sully's room opened, and Josef Quinn stepped in. Michaela was leaning back in a chair and sleeping. Josef smiled a little and moved to check on his daughter's patient. Josef knew his daughter was doing a fine job with this young man. He had always had faith in her. She'd always been very smart and had an excellent bedside manner.
He started to leave, but Michaela opened her eyes.
"Mike, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to wake you."
"It's all right," she whispered. Josef slowly moved across the room toward her.
"We should get back to the hotel if we're going to leave in the morning." Michaela looked at her patient and back up at her father.
"Oh. Father, shouldn't we stay a few more days? I know Dr. Lancaster would appreciate the help." Josef chuckled.
"Dr. Lancaster doesn't appreciate anything, my dear." Michaela sighed.
"I'd really like to stay on for a few more days before we go back to Boston." Josef finally nodded and glanced at the young man.
"I'll send a telegram to your mother and let her know we'll be staying for a few more days."
"Thank you," Michaela said with a smile. She watched her father leave and placed her hand upon Sully's forehead. Sure, she did want to stay and help those who needed her, but something about this man made her want to stay longer. She wanted to get to know him. "Just rest now." She didn't feel tired enough to sleep now. She was fully awake, and she needed to do something to pass the time. So, she scooted her chair closer to Sully's bed. "I had the Influenza once when I was a child. My mother and father were so worried about me, but I promised them I would make it, and I did. My mother blamed my father for exposing me to it, and he blamed himself, but I never blamed anyone. I wanted to be a doctor, and I knew that being exposed to these kinds of things was part of being a doctor. I didn't mind. If my getting sick was going to help people in the future, I knew that I could handle it. I made it, obviously, and you're going to make it too, Mr. Sully." Sully's eyes fluttered open.
"I . . ."
"It's alright. Don't try to speak. Just rest now."
"I need to get home," he insisted. "My parents . . ." He began to tremble again, and Michaela held a cup up to his lips.
"Drink this. It'll make you feel better." He reluctantly drank down some of the quinine mixture and coughed at the bitter taste.
"I appreciate this," he whispered.
"You have influenza," she whispered.
"The Grippe." Michaela nodded. "I know." Michaela looked at him skeptically.
"You know?" He nodded. "That's why I came. I . . ." He began to cough again, and Michaela smoothed back his hair and gave him another sip of the brew.
"Shh," she whispered. He suddenly looked up at her.
"I can't pay for this . . . I mean, I can pay, but I ain't got the . . ."
"Don't worry about it," she said quietly.
"No. No, I don't want your charity."
"It's not charity. Many people come in who can't pay."
"But most of 'em are turned away," he pointed out weakly.
"Well, not while I'm here."
"You're not from New York?" he wondered. She nodded.
"I'm from Boston. I'm leaving as soon as you're well."
"Don't do me any favors."
"I'm not. I'm being your doctor. And, as your doctor, I'd like for you to try to get some rest." She ran the sponge over his forehead, and he closed his eyes, giving into exhaustion and temporarily forgetting something very important that he needed to tell her.
It was late the next morning when Sully woke. Michaela was sleeping in a chair at his bedside, and when he opened his eyes, the beautiful sight of her sleeping figure greeted him. He felt a hundred percent better than he had the day before. He sat up and stretched his sore muscles. Michaela heard him stir and opened her eyes.
"Mr. Sully. You're awake!" Sully realized that he was wearing absolutely no clothes, so he pulled the sheet tightly around himself.
"It's just Sully," he said quietly. She put her hand to his forehead.
"Well Mr. . . Sully, your fever has broken." She smiled a little.
"So I can go?" he wondered.
"Not quite yet. You're still very weak."
"But I need to . . ."
"The first thing you need to do is get dressed. I'll give you some privacy." She pointed to the hospital clothes that were folded neatly at the foot of the bed. Sully nodded, and waited until Michaela left before he got up to get dressed. He opened the door a few minutes later, and Michaela smiled at him. "Get back into bed, and I'll have a nurse bring you some hot soup."
"I'm not hungry. I need to get home. My family needs me," Sully said quietly.
"Your family? Your wife? Children?"
"I'm not married. My parents. They were real sick, and I came to get help for us." He started toward the door.
"I'm not supposed to be working today, so I can go out and check in on them."
"I'll go with you," Sully insisted. Michaela put her hand on his arm and pointed him to the bed.
"Mr. Sully," she breathed.
"It's just Sully."
"Why don't you go by Byron?"
"Does it matter? I need to get to my parents! I should have gone back for them last night."
'You were in no condition to go anywhere. If you'll tell me where they live, I'll go find them." Sully knew he could trust her, so he nodded.
"It's at the end of Market Street." Michaela nodded and received further directions from him. As they conversed, Sully couldn't help but feel a connection. This woman had nursed him back to health. If she hadn't brought him in, he probably would have frozen to death out on the steps of the hospital. She was truly an angel. His angel. She was the woman who saved his life.
Michaela finally had all of the information she needed. She felt guilty about leaving him here when he wasn't exactly wanted at the hospital, but she knew that the sooner she got to his parents, the better.
"I'll be back as soon as I can," she promised. With that, she was gone, making a mental note to visit young Timothy and Mrs. Andrews before she left.
Michaela pulled her coat tightly around her body as she walked down Market Street. The snow was beginning to fall more heavily, and carriage drivers were taking their horses to the stables to wait out the snowstorm. Michaela was familiar with this area of New York, so she knew which streets were welcoming and which weren't. She was wary, however, because she was getting looks from men who were dressed down in patched clothing. Here she was, a wealthy young woman walking around in fancy clothes. They had to have wondered what she was doing there.
She came to a very small home at the end of the street. It was a humble little shack, and a small garden had been cut out in the front yard or at least what tiny part of a yard they had. Icicles were hanging from the broken roof, and one of the front windows was smashed in. How could anyone live in such a place?
She entered through the creaky rusted gate and moved toward the door. She knocked but received no answer.
"Mr. Sully? Mrs. Sully?" She knocked louder but still received no answer. She pushed the door open with great ease, and she immediately felt awful for Sully. How could he live like this? How could he and his parents have been so poverty-stricken that they'd been reduced to living in a shack with minimal protection from the elements?
She gasped when she stepped inside and saw two middle-aged people lying side-by-side in a tiny corner bed, bundled up in thin, patched clothing. She noticed that the ashes in the hearth were covered up in snow that had fallen through the chimney. She moved toward the bed and opened up her medical bag. She glanced at the older man, and she knew this was the right house. He looked a lot like his son, only this man had whiting hair and a distinct scar on his forehead.
She knelt down on the cold floor and pulled out her stethoscope. She didn't need it, however, because when she touched Mrs. Sully, she was ice cold.
"No," she whispered, tears coming to her eyes. She didn't even know these people, but she knew their son. He seemed to be a good man who didn't deserve any of this. She was too late. His parents were dead. How was she supposed to tell him?
She stood and started toward the door, and she saw a pay ticket on the kitchen table. She saw that it was addressed to Byron Sully, and it was in the amount of three dollars. Three dollars? She noticed that Sully had been working for a shipping company, loading and unloading crates onto ships and into warehouses. That was a rather laborious job to be paid only three dollars a week.
A tapping came to the door, and Michaela moved to answer it. She was surprised to see an older man in a top hat and fancy coat standing there. In one hand was a piece of paper, and his other hand held a hammer and nail.
"Who are you?" he asked.
"I'm Dr. Michaela Quinn. Who are you?"
"Thaddeus Welling," he replied. "I own this building."
"I'm very sorry."
"Your tenants," she mentioned. "Mr. and Mrs. Sully are dead."
"Kate and John? No, that's too bad." He shook his head. "Let me know if there's anything I can do."
"You can take their bodies down to the hospital where their son can say goodbye." Thaddeus looked surprised, but he nodded.
"It's the least I can do . . . considering."
"Considering what?" Michaela wondered.
"The city ordered me to evict them. They're condemning this old place. I should have fixed this place up better for them. They froze to death, didn't they?"
"I believe they died from Influenza." Thaddeus backed up.
"There was an epidemic, and their son arrived at the hospital in the late stages of it." Thaddeus shook his head.
"They were good people."
Michaela arrived at the hospital at a quarter past the next hour, and she found Sully sleeping comfortably in his room. She didn't want to wake him, and she didn't want to break his heart. So, she sat beside him and watched him sleep; watched the never-ending rise and fall of his chest as he breathed air into his lungs that he might not have been breathing had she not found him.
She studied his face and the way that his mouth was set in a thin smile. She wanted to reach out and touch the sharp stubble on his chin and caress his cheek, but she knew better. She only wanted to comfort him and spare him from having a broken heart.
A knock came to the door, and Josef motioned for Michaela to come out into the hallway. She obliged and stood against the wall as she spoke with her father.
"What is it?" she asked.
"You found his parents?" Michaela nodded sadly.
"I was too late. Their bodies are being brought to the hospital."
"I'll make sure they're given a proper burial. You haven't told your patient yet?" She shook her head.
"I just got back. I don't know how to tell him, father."
"You've done this dozens of times."
"I know. It's different this time," she whispered. It was different. She felt close to this handsome stranger. She shook her head. "Now his home is being condemned. I don't see how he survived this long." She looked up into her father's kind eyes. "Did you find out anything about him?" Josef nodded.
"He's twenty three years old, he's been living with his parents ever since his mother became ill."
"He hadn't lived there?"
"No, no. He lived in his own home, and he was planning a trip West to study nature and possibly get settled."
"With no money?"
"He had money saved up," Josef replied solemnly. "When his mother grew ill, he moved out of his home and came to help care for his parents. You see, his mother took care of his father after he was injured in an accident. They had to sell the farm they owned and move into the city. Mr. Sully, well, your patient, began looking for work, and he took a job with a shipping company. All of their savings and the money they received for their farm was put into medical bills for Mrs. Sully, and they were reduced to living in poverty." Michaela shook her head and swallowed her tears.
"That's terrible. He told you this?"
"No. One of the nurses looked in on the family from time to time."
"He has no place to go," Michaela whispered, looking through the door and in at the handsome patient.
"Do you have any suggestions?" Michaela looked at her father curiously.
"He's your patient, my dear." Josef smiled at his daughter. Michaela thought for a moment.
"Perhaps we could bring him back to Boston with us." Josef raised an eyebrow. "Hear me out. He's just lost everything; his home and his parents. The job he has is barely paying him enough to stay alive. If we were to bring him back to Boston, we could give him a place to stay, and he could find a decent job."
"Are you listening to yourself, Mike? You don't even know this man."
"I know. But, you're the one who has always told me not to judge people."
"But, you don't know if he's dangerous," Josef pointed out.
"Look at him, father. Even if he was dangerous, he's too weak to hurt a fly. Father, if he stays, he'll surely die of something worse than Influenza. I want him to have a chance to make a better life for himself." Josef contemplated this for a moment, knew his wife would throw a fit, and he nodded.
"I'll arrange for another ticket just in case he has no other choice." Michaela smiled.
"Thank you, father." She moved back into her patient's room, feeling awkward. She didn't feel like herself. Never would she have done this for such a stranger before. But, this stranger was different. Something about him spoke directly into her heart, and she knew deep inside that he was going to change her life forever.