Pas Seul

Luke had been up for more than twenty-four hours on his second day of work, and was starting to hallucinate. Or maybe, he thought, this was how the hospital really was at night. Possibly the hospital was like this during the day, too, but he had been too crazy busy to notice the walls gently pulsating, close to 60 bpm, his normal heart rate when he wasn’t Red Bulled to his eyeballs. He was nearing the end of his first call shift as an intern. His ears rang a little.

He sat on an empty patient bed in the temporary bed storage room, swinging his long legs, pointing his feet. The emergency room was quiet, unusual on a holiday night. No bites from dogs made frantic by illegal fireworks, no eye injuries from unsupervised children playing with illegal fireworks, no burns from idiots setting fire to their parched back yards with illegal fireworks.

Quite different from his first experience of patient care two years ago as a third year medical student. His group of students had spent a great deal of time fantasizing about their first “real” patient, one who was in a hospital bed, not sitting in a chair in a clinic. His was going to look just like a prince he had seen in a pas seul as a child. Longish light blonde hair, almost palomino-colored, fine straight nose, light blue eyes with long lids. Mobile mouth, against the company look for the New York City Ballet, which frowned on individualism. Dancing with an invisible princess, the “alone” in the pas seul, a solo but with a partner who does not exist. The prince had made his ghost princess startlingly real, fascinating Luke by how he conjured her up, leaning very slightly off vertical to kiss the air or supporting her as she turned. The princess was definitely shorter than the prince, and somewhat hesitant. Luke had sworn he could see the princess kiss the prince back. He had started dancing because of it, although eventually he left ballet behind for the practical career of medicine, and now surgery, in the real world. Like his father.

At times during medical school, he had been reprimanded for daydreaming, choreographing while standing in turnout, eyes not tracking on the professor, but otherwise he was all medical now. The only legacy he recognized from his ballet days was physical endurance, which came in very handy during the long shifts demanded by his medical training. He often won the medical school contest for record time holding a retractor without a break. His record was nine hours during a surgery to separate conjoined twins.

Medicine had not quite lived up to his fantasies. His real first patient had been a demented old woman, not a prince at all, small but strong as hell with scraggly grey hair (the witch, he thought, still in fairy tale ballet world), who had pooped in a wastebasket while he had his back turned for a second.

At the time, he felt like Cinderella. Medicine is very Disney, he thought now. One more reason if he needed one to be a surgeon, not an internist. A surgeon could make something from nothing, like a choreographer using meat and vessels and bones instead of dancers. And the surgeon is the choreographer and the prince; what could be better? He smiled. Cutting was good, and he would be doing some in the next few hours, he hoped.  His first time as a real doctor, not just a medical student. Some surgeons let interns do a lot, but some were mingy and slow to trust them. Us.

Although exhausted, he was too excited to sleep. His first surgical patient would be a beautiful young man, with longish light blonde hair, almost palomino-colored, a fine straight nose, light blue eyes with long lids. A mobile mouth, even intubated for anesthesia.

Now, in the dusty low light of the bed storage room, Luke hung up his white coat and rewrote the story of his once and future patient. He brought his bed front and center into the empty space in front of the stored beds.  He took the right high handle at the head of Bed and bowed. The silent bed audience looked back at him. He returned the look and began to dance with his Bed. First toward Bed, boureeing in but careful not to come so close that he might see his first surgical patient, who was under the blankets but turned away from him.  It was too early. Backing away, around to the head of the bed, pushing Bed now, helping Bed turn in wide circles from the fulcrum of the handles. Bed drove like a grocery cart, clunky and graceless and rear wheel drive. He decided not to help Bed jump. He waggled Bed across the space, neatly quartering his stage. At intervals, he came close, grabbing Bed’s handles as though he were going to do an upside down lift, with himself rather than the ballerina being lifted, and by Bed, not the princess.

But he was a coy Luke, and as the pas seul gained momentum, a struggle emerged between himself and Bed. He wanted to see his first patient, and Bed wanted to conceal, protect. Finally, Luke made it around to Bed’s left side by vaulting over the headboard. He could almost feel the tension slack as Bed gave up and let him look.

Still coy, he danced away to perform his own 32 fouettes, just like the ones in Swan Lake, sweat flying off him like a carnival spin painting. Before Bed could swing away on its own, he ducked his head under his curved, upraised arm and moved it a little so he could see his first patient. Longish light blonde hair, almost palomino-colored, fine straight nose, light blue eyes with pale irises and long lids. Mobile mouth.

Luke gripped the bed’s handles and pushed himself up to a handstand, then pulled his right leg into an attitude, his foot and leg making a right angle to the middle of his back. He arched his back more to adjust his balance, then leaned in and kissed his first patient on the lips, over the top of the headboard, his patient, his sleeping prince. The boy in the bed shimmered, then faded. Luke rolled care- fully down to the floor, a light sheen of sweat on his forehead, ribs showing sweat through his scrub top, breathing hard. He dug his phone out of his white coat. Now he could sleep. If he was lucky he could grab a half hour nap in the storage room. He set his phone for thirty minutes, and added notes to his list: reheat lunch ramen, come out to faculty/staff/residents, check lytes on 269. Two six nine had looked a little dessicated when he had last seen her. He pulled back the covers, got into Bed, set his phone on the mattress by his ear and went off to sleep.


Anne Vinsel spent 16 years at the University of Utah Hospital doing medical writing and surgical photography. She holds a MS in psychology and an MFA in painting. She loves reading and writing fiction and playing with her friends, including her adorable and wiggly pit bull/great Dane/basset rescue dog, Dr. Miranda Bailey.

Rubor Participation:
2019: Poems, "Waiting: 10 Poems Begun at a Bus Stop," web edition
2019 Prose, "In Time of Famine, the Devil Dines on Fries," web edition
2019 Poem, "Lemon Drops," web edition
2019 Poem, "Triplets"
2015 Essay, "Pas Seul"
2014 Photograph, "Irrigation"
2014 Photograph, "Ghost Surgeon"
2014 Essay, "Listen, meine Kinder"
2014 Oil Painting, "Chemo Pond"