A/N: Have you ever seen an episode of something multiple times, yet it's not until several viewings later when a particular part of that episode pops out and makes you think? That happened to me the other day after catching "My Big Bird" from season five on TV, which inspired this little one-shot. That being said, I hope you guys like it!
Disclaimer: I own a very large nothing.
His Unseen Effort
When I first started working here, it upset me that I wasn't noticed – wasn't really paid attention too – like a lot of my peers were. Somehow, I thought that I would be welcomed among the other medical interns. I knew we were considered the geeks of the hospital, which is why I was so excited to be a part of that field. Besides being able to be useful, for once in my life, I was going to be surrounded by other people who were just as clumsy and awkward as I was. And, despite all of that, we were going to save lives together. We were going to show the world that our nerdom didn't matter; didn't hinder us from doing what it was we wanted to do.
Of course, I was expecting them to be just as nervous and unpracticed as I was. I wasn't expecting to be the only noble failure in the entirety of that group.
They were all so much better than me though; straight from the start. I'm not saying they didn't have their weaknesses – their flaws, their fears – but unlike me, each and every one of them seemed to push through it. Not only were they able to learn what it was they needed to learn, but retain it. Me? I don't think I'm a stupid person. No, I'm a lot of negative things, but I'm not stupid, that's for sure. It's just…I could never pull up what it was I needed to remember when the critical moment came and I actually had to apply what I'd been taught. Every time I tried, I felt like someone was always there watching. Someone, anyone, seemed to materialize out of nowhere; ready to watch on as my shaking, quivering hands fumbled with a needle or an IV bag. Ready to analyze every little thing that I did while their lips twitched and quirked; waiting – expecting – for me to mess up, just so they could remind me, yet again, that being a doctor was simply not my thing.
I tried to prove them wrong for three years in a row, and honestly, my plan was to keep on going until I showed them exactly who I knew I could be; a valued, competent doctor.
Until I found a new calling. One that I not only liked, but was good at. It was a job that would make me both valid and useful.
I don't know why it took me so long to realize I'd make a great pathologist either. I mean, I spent enough time not only dealing with death, but causing it. Besides knowing what it was I was dealing with and finally finding something I was skilled at, I think another reason I was so interested in taking that job right away was because of all the lives I had accidentally played a part in ending. The very, very last thing I wanted to do was be a part of someone else's earlier than anticipated departure. By the end of my three years working in the ICU, I'm sure everyone who ever had the misfortune of working with me thought I saw death as nothing but a mere causality. They must have, since I caused so much of it, but still came into work the next day, seemingly guilt free. Thing is, if I were to have let the deaths of all those patients weigh me down each and every time, you know what? I don't think I'd be here right now. In fact, I know I wouldn't be here right now, because take it from somebody who knows that they're, well…not always emotionally stable… I know I'm not made to carry a burden like that. My conscious is frail, I know it is, and I know if I were to have let all of those shortened lives beat my spirit until there was nothing left to beat, well, yeah…you can fill in the rest for yourselves…
So finding my place in the morgue was an unexpected but very welcomed turn of events.
One of the things I loved most about my job was that I could go about my work without anyone staring at me. For the most part, I got to stay by myself in a refreshingly cool room, doing what I was apparently born to do. No one stood there and waited for me to mess up. No one growled at me or told me that I wasn't cut out to do my job. The people I worked with, for the most part, were all dead; their eyes and their mouths remained closed, unable to tell me how much of a screw up I was. And yeah, I know that mental image would probably disturb some people, but to me, the morgue was the safest place in the world. Suddenly, I no longer cared that I wasn't being paid attention to or noticed. In fact, I preferred it that way.
Or at least I thought I did.
It was during my fifth year, when I became an attending pathologist, that I, despite my new title, managed to lose yet another corpse. Okay, so I still made the occasional mistake every now and then – misplacing bodies, forgetting to pick up corpses before rigor mortis set in, etc. – but who in a hospital didn't? Those mess-ups never stopped me from doing well at my job, though. Personally, I think it's a lot better to lose a body bag than it is to be the cause of why they're in that bag to begin with. At least in my opinion, it is. For that reason, it was easier for me to accept my flaws and roll with it. (I even had tricks for tracking my steps and finding whatever body I had lost).
But moving on…
I was walking by the nurses' station, unnoticed and content, when Dr. Cox strode up to where the only four people left in the hospital who actually didn't think too ill of me, besides my friends in the Brain Trust, sat talking.
While I didn't really see Dr. Cox that often since having taken my new job, my stomach still plunged to the pit of my stomach when I did see him; even if he was in a ten foot radius of where I stood. My forehead misted over as I made sure to hide myself inside the nearest patient's room, very thankful when he swept right past me and began whatever new tirade he was on with my sort-of-kind-of-would-like-to-think-I-could-refer-to-them-as-such-friends.
"Weeeell…if it isn't the four horsewomen of the apocalypse."
Uh-oh…that was never a good start to one of Dr. Cox's already frightening rants.
"There's a morbidity and mortality conference tomorrow morning to figure out who's responsible for Mr. Foster's death, and here's the exciting news!"
His voice lost all trace of mock excitement; his tone suddenly grave and disappointed as he continued on with his announcement. "I'm pretty sure it was one of you."
The mere memory of those conferences caused my throat to close up. It was yet another perk of being a pathologist. (Kind of hard to get blamed for a person's death when they're already dead, isn't it?) Still, I had attended my fair share as the doctor in question of killing during my first three years at the hospital, and my sympathy went out to the four people whose stomachs must've been twisting with nerves.
Something inside me sparked at the patient's name in question, though. "Mr. Foster?" I asked myself silently. He was new to the morgue (obviously) but I'd already gotten the chance to look him over a bit. I was still figuring out exactly what caused him to die in the first place, but nothing about his autopsy – at least so far – showed any signs of mistreatment or neglect. Nothing about it screamed, "A nurse wasn't doing her job! A surgeon wasn't doing his job! Those medical attendings weren't doing their jobs!" Something was off, yeah, and maybe it really had been a careless mistake on somebody's part, but from what I had found from Mr. Foster so far, the accusation being thrown at those four just felt…wrong.
I forgot about my missing corpse and headed back down to the morgue, my curiosity up and running.
"Crap, crap, crap!"
I knew I was seriously late, I knew it, but it took me a lot of exploring (both around the hospital and inside Mr. Foster himself) to realize what had caused him to die. I was so excited to be helping out my friends though. To be useful! I mean, I felt a lot more valid and competent since becoming a pathologist, but somehow, helping them felt different. I had not only succeeded in what I already knew I was skilled at, but I was helping out people who, for once, actually needed my help; people that I actually considered my friends.
It felt amazing!
Still, I knew it wasn't going to feel all too great if I didn't make it on time. Stupid keys. Stupid cadaver…
Fanny pack in place and files pressed securely against my side, I charged through the doors of the conference, running down the stairs as fast as my shaking legs could carry me. "Sorry I'm late!" I apologized as quickly as I could. "I got the keys to my Miata stuck in the cadaver."
"Cut to the chase there, pee-pants."
I swallowed, doing my best not to stutter the way that intimidating stare always used to make me. I knew I was right in my discovery though, so I pressed on, eager to help out the four that were sitting behind me. "Uh, Mr. Foster's death was the result of a pulmonary embolism, probably caused by the twenty-one hour flight he was on from India. That Doctor Flannary at the radiologist should have caught it on the scan."
I handed Dr. Kelso – who was probably the only person in the hospital who scared me more than Dr. Cox – my findings as confidently as I could. I couldn't help but feel nervous as I waited for his say on the matter, and I knew the four behind me were just as nervous too, if not more so. Finally, he spoke.
"Working from an inaccurate report, there was nothing any of you could have done to prevent Mr. Foster from passing."
A grin broke across my face as he talked. I turned around, ecstatic, to see my friends shake hands and embrace each other.
"Which I guess leads us to you…Dr. Flannary."
I felt a little guilty when he called him out like that. Honestly, I was just trying to help out my peers, but at that point, I'd been a pathologist long enough to feel confident – or at least as confident as I could be – in my work. I knew I was right this time, so I let the thrill of having saved my friends outweigh the guilt of putting Dr. Flanary on the spot.
When the rest of the conference was over, I practically skipped out with the four who I had just saved, excitement still coursing through every part of me. I thought we'd been walking and breathing sighs of relief together. It wasn't until they started to actually talk did I realize that I hadn't been walking with them, but behind them…
"Man, that was a close call!" JD finally said, his gaze focused on Turk, Elliot, and Carla.
"Tell me about it, V-Bear," Turk agreed instantly, looking only at his wife and his two best friends.
"Hey, want to go out for drinks to celebrate?" Elliot chimed in, expression all smiles as she gazed at the three people closest to her.
"Definitely," Carla weighed in at once, her arm slinking around her husband's middle while her brown eyes continued to stare at the two medical attendings.
And just like that, they were off. The four of them walked away with one another, side by side, while I stood there feeling a hurt that I was foolish enough to not see coming.
They hadn't noticed me; hadn't noticed me standing there, grinning like an idiot. Hadn't noticed me thinking that, for one reason or another, I would at least get a, "Hey, Doug, good work! Thanks for helping us out back there." I swear…I swear I would've been okay with that. More than okay. Honestly, I really would have. I didn't need to go out for drinks. I didn't need a party. All I had wanted was a simple thank you; a nod, a smile, some kind of acknowledgment…
All I had wanted was for someone to notice me.
I shouldn't have felt so surprised though, I knew I shouldn't have. Ever since I found my path in the morgue, whenever I resurfaced to the floors above, everyone – including those four – had always greeted me with a look of surprise; as if my very existence was a shock to them. Every time, before words were even spoken, I'd get an expression that clearly said, "Oh, right! Doug still works here, doesn't he? What's he doing here though?"
I thought I was okay with that. I thought I liked not being seen.
Turns out I was wrong, though why that shocked me too, I seriously don't know. It wasn't like me making a mistake was anything particularly new…
An hour or so after the incident passed, I went to the bar by myself, craving a quiet corner and an ice cold rum 'n coke. I had thought by leaving late, the four who I thought were my friends would be gone, or at least getting ready to leave. Instead, it looked like they had just gotten there themselves. It wasn't until I noticed that they were no longer in scrubs did I realize that they would've had to go home and change first.
Well, at least I didn't have to worry about being noticed…
Quietly, I found myself a small, comfortable table. I ordered my drink as quickly as possible. While I knew I didn't have to stress over being seen, I still wanted to get out of there as fast as I could. Seeing them together – talking amiably while waiting for their drinks – was hard to watch.
Okay, so being wrong twice in one day was usually an accomplishment for me, but the fact that I was not only noticed, but noticed by him, of all people!? Let's just say I didn't have enough time to prepare myself in terms of my slightly noticeable speech impediment. "H-Hi, Dr. C-Cox…"
I winced as he swiped at his nose and crossed his arms. I couldn't seem to wrap my head around the idea that, only hours ago, I had charged in late to a morbidity and mortality conference and confidently presented to both him and Dr. Kelso my work. Where was that guy?
Probably back at Sacred Heart, shuffling his feet and staring at his shoes where his "friends" had left him.
"Good to know you're just as articulate as ever."
More than anything, I wanted to run out of that bar. Away from one pair of judgmental eyes and four pairs that didn't even notice. I didn't get why Dr. Cox was bothering me anyway. What had I done?
"That was pretty impressive work today there, Skeech. Riding in on your white horse like that; ready and raring to save the day. Never thought I'd see that kind of performance out of you."
I sunk further into my seat, waiting for the sarcastic follow up. Surprisingly, there was none.
A sudden bout of laughter caused both of our gazes to shift over to the table I had been trying to avoid since getting there. What came out of Dr. Cox's mouth next was something I will never forget. It was a question, one not even aimed at me; a rhetorical query that was muttered in the chaos of the bar, but I heard it as clearly as a person could, my shock over what he asked having successfully made my eyes pop.
"What're they doing here?"
No way! Dr. Cox noticed me before them!? B-but, but…!
I watched as he took a quick swig from his beer before turning back to me. I could practically see the wheels in his head turning; trying to fill in whatever missing pieces there was left to fill. I honestly hadn't realized what it was he was getting ready to ask until he asked it.
"Why aren't you over there with your gal pals?"
I was relieved that the bar was poorly lit, because I definitely didn't want Dr. Cox to catch me turning red in embarrassment. "I-I wasn't, I mean… I don't think they r-realized I was b-behind them. It, um… I think they're, um…celebrating the r-results…"
The attending's eyes narrowed in suspicion. Oh crap, I knew I had said something wrong. But what?
"Celebrating," he repeated matter-of-factly. "Celebrating what, exactly?"
My throat tightened automatically. Oh, God, I hated being put on the spot. I absolutely hated it. My mouth opened and closed, trying it's best to answer, but luckily, I never actually had to.
A clang of drinks reverberated throughout the bar, as well as JD's boisterous proclamation. "To bad radiologists!"
It was those words that set off a sudden spark of undeniable anger in the older man's eyes, and while that gaze had never failed to leave me shaking, I realized that, for the first time ever, I was a mere two feet away from an angry Dr. Cox, yet his irritation wasn't directed at me.
I opened my mouth to say something, though I don't think I had any idea what, but he was off before I could even begin to form words.
Through the voices and the music and the usual sounds that came with your every day bar, I wasn't able to hear a lot of what he had said to them, but I knew it wasn't good. Even if I hadn't seen his expression before marching over there, I could tell that whatever he was saying must've stung, since their raised glasses slowly made their way back down to their coasters; since their celebratory smiles were suddenly wiped clean.
I never considered myself a vengeful person. I still don't. But I don't consider myself a liar either, which I would be if I said I felt bad for them that night.
Dr. Cox finally turned away from their table, heading for the door, but he didn't leave before shooting me a look. My breath hitched in my throat when I noticed the lack of venom there. The exchange was so quick, so fleeting, but it was a moment I'll never forget, because it was that small, silent communication that led me to a thought I'd never had before; one that managed to change me yet again.
I realized that I always either wanted to be noticed by everybody or not noticed at all. The truth is, I don't think I work that way. I don't think anybody does, really. I know it varies from person to person; I know that some like a lot of attention while some like close to none. Me? I realized that I liked my job in the morgue; I liked my work and the usual privacy that it came with. But I also liked, every now and again, that quiet nod of acknowledgment; just a little something, whether it be a small nod at the hospital or a comment in the back of a bar.
And, you know, sometimes…sometimes when you're not noticed by many, you end up being noticed by the one person you least expected it from; the one person you never would have imagined helping you out. But it's because it's so unexpected that I think it allows you to appreciate it even more.
I decided to forgo my drink order, because I had work in the morning – in a place that I loved – and instead zipped open my fanny pack, plucked out a cherry lollipop, and popped the sucker into my mouth.
Smiling, I stood up from my small little table and headed out into the parking lot.
Unnoticed and content.
A/N: I really liked writing from Doug's perspective. I've never attempted to write him before, so I'm fairly unpracticed, but it was pretty fun to do, all the same. Anyway, guys, hope you liked it, and until next time!