1. the action of desolation 2a. grief, sadness 2b. loneliness 3. devastation, ruin 4. barren wasteland
- Merriam Webster Online
It was 5:00 AM when the alarm went off. Rene Ballinger moaned loudly and then cursed loudly and plaintively before she rolled over and hit the snooze button. She didn't even open her eyes.
5:08 AM: The snooze alarm went off. She thought about hitting it again and then knew she didn't dare; there was too much scheduled for today and she had no idea of what got added on overnight. She sat up, hit the off button with just enough force not to break the clock. She swung her legs over the side of her bed and sat very still for a few minutes in the darkness, elbows on knees and her face in her hands. She was contemplating going back to sleep.
After a few phlegmatic coughs, Rene turned on the nightstand lamp and squinted in its light. Another cough and she reached for her pack of Reds and her lighter. The lighter flared to life, she took a drag and picked up the phone. She hit the speed dial.
"House supervisor," she rasped hoarsely to the hospital operator as she slowly blew out her first drag.
After a minute or two the supervisor came on the line, "Judy."
"Jude, Rene, what's on for today?"
"Oh Rene," Judy rustled some papers for a moment, "they hit you guys hard last night. I have one, two, three...five new cases."
Rene took another drag and ran her cigarette hand through her dirty blond hair sweeping it back from her face. "Please tell me none of those are Phil's."
"Well, I could - but I'd be lying like a dog. You're three for five with Phil."
"Oh, Christ," Rene moaned loudly into the phone while blowing out the drag, "we'll be working all day."
"Certainly a possibility babe," Judy commiserated.
"Gee, thanks. Are you on tomorrow night?"
"Nope, let's see, Rosie's on tomorrow night. I've got two days off."
"Well, talk to you in a couple of days then; have a good one. Bye."
Rene Ballinger was a registered nurse and the youngest nurse manager on staff at Taylor General Hospital. She was the nurse manager of the Endoscopy Lab where doctors looked inside patients' stomachs, intestines and lungs with long, flexible fiber optic endoscopes.
Phil - one of the stomach doctors - was meticulous to a fault and had the personality of a depressed, paranoid robot in one of Douglas Adams' "Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy" books. This translated into Phil being unbearably slow. Coupled with Phil's humorless, soulless, depressive personality, it made doing a procedure with Phil seem like undergoing Chinese water torture.
A routine colon exam took most of the doctors in the lab about 20 to 25 minutes. Phil took 40 to 45.
Phil once took 20 minutes on an elderly woman before he realized he had the scope in the woman's vagina instead of her rectum. The nurse assisting him was looking at the video monitor and immediately recognized the landscape they were looking at was wrong. She called for Rene when it became apparent Phil still hadn't gotten his bearings and realized he was six inches up the wrong hole.
"Jesus H. Christ, Phil! You've got the scope in that poor woman's pussy," Rene practically yelled as she entered the procedure room and looked at the video monitor.
Even in the dim light it was evident that Phil blushed. Then he chastised Rene for her profanity and disrespect for a member of the medical staff. He had her written up too. In the ensuing disciplinary hearing, where Phil fully expected vindication with the firing of the insubordinate, profane nurse, the hospital chief of staff, the chief of internal medicine and the vice presidents for medical affairs and nursing couldn't stop laughing when shown the tape of the procedure. They laughed even harder when they heard on the tape Rene's disgusted voice chastise Phil. The case against Rene was dismissed and she became the darling of the power elite in the hospital. But Phil, embarrassed by Rene in the lab and a second time when the chief of internal medicine started to call Phil "Wrong Hole Phil" at staff meetings, took on the mission of making life miserable in the lab for Rene.
Rene enjoyed critical care nursing. What was turning Rene's life into a living hell professionally was management. It was one thing to do 12 hours in ICU; each day was a rush. It was an entirely different thing to keep surly doctors happy, put up with doctors like Phil, do all the paperwork, manage her staff, keep up policy and procedure manuals, keep her superiors happy and help with procedures in the lab. She felt a little bit more desperate and depressed with each passing day. But she needed the money that the management position brought.
She needed the money because her personal life was already on the higher circles of Hell and descending quickly.
Rene, with sparkling blue eyes, an athletically trim body and wild, long, dirty blond hair, attracted loser men and nightmare relationships like a halogen light attracts drunken, suicidal moths. She could never resist the losers and abusers until it was too late.
She never saw it coming - ever. And while beginnings were always great, ending her relationships was always a crash and burn situation.
She'd been in her present job for six months. Rene threw herself into work despite the fact that she knew she was rapidly burning out.
Six months before Rene took the lab job Rene was dating a young lawyer who was violent and abusive, especially when she tried to end the relationship. The night she broke off the relationship the lawyer beat her until she was just conscious enough to scream while he raped her and then used the fat end of a baseball bat inside her, sending her to the hospital for a week.
As she lay in the hospital recovering from her injuries, she was served with papers. She was being sued by her attacker for pain and mental anguish - his pain and anguish. Incredibly, he won the lawsuit. Rene had to pay a small settlement that she couldn't afford.
The lawyer was the last of a string of nightmare personal relationships that cost her money and self esteem. She cheerfully rationalized it all by saying, "Hey, at least the sex was good."
But then family matters rudely intruded on her life and she had no way to say the sex was good. Shortly after the lawyer, her brother, dying of AIDS, out of health insurance and money moved from L.A. back home to live with and be cared for by his sister. Rene loved her brother but she made no bones about the fact that she didn't approve of his addictive drug use or his promiscuous homosexuality - both apparent contributors to his rapidly approaching demise. Rene tried to keep her judgments to herself in her brother's last days but something else came up: their father.
Rene's brother thought their father could walk on water. Rene knew better and to her everlasting regret, told her brother. Rene's father had used her from adolescence through high school. He used her for everything from a punching bag when he was drunk and pissed off to a whore when he was drunk and horny and his wife, Rene's mother, wouldn't "put out."
Her brother believed absolutely none of it. And so, in his last weeks of life, when he wasn't crying and pleading for relief from pain or fever or delirious on the drugs he was on, he goaded her constantly about her "terrible lies" about their father and called her a whore and worse. Regarding her former boyfriend, the lawyer, her brother said she deserved it and wanted it.
"You're such a pathetic, needy whore, Rennie, you wanted that guy to beat you."
"No!" Rene replied in horror. How can you say that Robby? For Christ's sake he fucked me with the fat end of a baseball bat until I had to be hospitalized!"
"Ah, yeah, the bat. You're such a fucking liar, big sister. Hell, you're so fucking depraved that you probably got to carried away with the humping the bat and hurt yourself."
Rene simply starred at her brother, her mouth open.
"What's next Rennie, dogs? You wanna be fucked by dogs?" He laughed luridly, "Be fucked by a whole pack of'em, eh? You cunt!"
"Robby! Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!" And she ran from the room, shrieking for him to shut up.
Sitting on the side of her bed, finally getting herself under control, she thought to herself, with bitter irony, her brother's abuse was the ultimate example of the pot calling the kettle black but when she heard him calling her, pleading for her to come to him because he hurt so badly, she swallowed her pride, wiped her eyes and went back to care for her brother. No one else would.
Rene's brother died two days later, leaving her with her credit cards maxed out and a second mortgage on her house to pay for his terminal care and then his funeral.
The proverbial straw that broke her back was her father. Shortly after her brother's funeral, her father showed up at her house just as she got home from a bad day at work. He was drunk and pissed off, which, Rene thought, seemed to be his normal state for as long as she could remember. She never knew what was pissing him off.
They argued in the street in front of her house. His parting words to her were this: "I hope my little filthy whore of a daughter appreciates my final gift to her, you ungrateful fucking cunt!"
With tears in her eyes and her lips quivering she tilted her head sideways and looked at her father, suddenly wondering if she were just in some sort of extended nightmare and she hadn't awoken yet. Her mouth was open to say "Why, daddy? Daddy, I forgive you, I love you."
She never got the chance to say it.
His mouth was open too: the double barrels of his 12 gauge sawed off shotgun were in his mouth. Before she could move, shout or do anything he pulled the triggers. The back of his head exploded into a cloud of bloody, misty gore and his dead body pitched forward into Rene's arms. She grabbed his body reflexively and wanted to hold him up. She wanted to cradle the back of his head and comfort him but the back of his head was gone. She violently pushed his body off her and fell to her knees in the street, screaming hysterically.
Rene screamed until the ambulance arrived and the ER doctor told the paramedics to sedate her and bring her in. She spent the next six weeks in the psych unit, half of the time in the locked ward on suicide watch. Her needed stay in the hospital left her under still more debt.
Not only did her father leave her with years of nightmare memories of painful sexual encounters and physical and psychological abuse that she didn't want and hadn't asked for but he left his suicide indelibly burned into her brain. Plus, all his estate expenses.
At age 26, after three successive major mental traumas that drained her bank account, Rene was financially ruined. She declared bankruptcy and that let her out of most of her debt but there was still some she was obligated to pay. That debt, hanging over her head like the sword of Damocles, made her work feverishly, taking on extra shifts and part timing in doctors' offices; anything she could do to get cash.
Money was her security and to some extent, her self esteem. Without cash, credit cards or the ability to get a loan, the thirst for cash, the thirst for security, self esteem and a certain normality in her life, was rapidly becoming a driving, all consuming obsession.
She left the position she loved as a staff ICU nurse and took the job managing the endoscopy lab. It meant a big raise and more prestige.
Rene took the last drag off her second cigarette, blew it out and threw the butt in the toilet. She brushed her teeth, rinsed and then filled a glass and took two capsules of Dexedrine to get her going and stepped into the shower. She let the hot water flow over her head and down her back for a while and then she slumped with her back against wall of the shower and let the water hit her breasts and belly. She pulled her long hair back from her face, spread her legs slightly and casually started to pee.
She really wanted another cigarette right then. But in place of a cigarette she thought she'd masturbate. She slid a finger between her labia and stroked and pulled at her clit with her thumb and forefinger. The amphetamines kicked in just as she came and she smiled, her mouth open as she blew a long, soft breath out, while her orgasm radiated with intense pleasure out from her sex while the skin of her belly and breasts tingled nicely under the softly stinging spray of the shower.
After the shower, feeling nicely buzzed and able to conquer the world, she decided she'd dress "old school" for work. Instead of scrubs she'd wear what one of nursing instructors regularly wore: a one-piece white uniform dress with white hose, white shoes and a blue sweater. She then pulled her hair back into a French twist and clipped it tightly.
A cup of coffee, another cigarette and she was off to work. Despite the heavy schedule and having to deal with Phil, the first few hours had gone by quickly and smoothly. Then however, her buzz started to wear off.
Phil railed against the incompetence of the nurse assigned to assist him on a routine colon exam and demanded Rene assist. The routine exam found polyps, small growths coming up from the walls of the colon, and Phil was obliged to remove them, adding another 45 minutes to the procedure.
Rene was starting to feel panicky; her hands were shaking imperceptibly and even though the procedure rooms were kept cold, a fine sheen of sweat broke out on her face. When the procedure was finished and she finished labeling the specimens harvested and her other paperwork she all but ran from the room.
Rene sat in her office, back to the door, and tried to catch her breath when the phone rang. It was a creditor. They argued. Rene slammed down the phone, tears in her eyes and in full panic and depression. She reached into her desk drawer and came out with two tabs of Valium that she gulped down without water.
Dr. Anne Woods, one of the few internists to do her own endoscopies, stood at Rene's office door and watched. Rene startled when she looked up.
"Uh, Dr. Woods, uh, how long...?"
"Since 'Go fuck yourself you fucking bastard and leave me the fuck alone.'"
Dr. Woods waved her hand dismissively, came into the office with a sympathetic smile and stood beside Rene's chair. The doctor bent and put her arm around Rene's shoulders and hugged her. "It's okay Rene. Money problems I take it?"
Rene looked up at the doctor. She wanted to throw her arms around the doctor and cry on her shoulder but she managed to hold herself together. "Uh, yeah," Rene sniffed, reaching for a tissue to wipe her eyes.
Dr. Woods walked back around to the front of Rene's desk, closed the door and sat in Rene's office chair in front of the desk. "Uh, listen...I have a way that might..."
When Dr. Woods stopped talking and looked down at the floor, Rene sensed that maybe the doctor was offering some financial help. Suddenly Rene was very excited. "Uh, might what, doctor?"
Dr. Woods blushed and looked away, nervously running her hand up and down her throat a couple of times, "Well, oh Rene, uh, I'm sorry...I have a way maybe that would get you some good money without a whole lot of effort. But..." the doctor looked pained and embarrassed, "it's so improper of me to even ask." The doctor looked even more embarrassed.
Rene was more excited, "No, really Dr. Woods..."
"Oh Rene, we're in private, call me Annie, please," the doctor interrupted with a smile, "all my close friends and girlfriends do."
Alarm bells should have been going off in Rene's head at the sudden friendliness of one of the hospital's most well known "cold and remote" doctors on staff but they weren't. With Rene, the alarms never went off until it was too late. Rene was looking at her potential savior. All that mattered was whatever help the doctor was offering and her hopes were rising quickly.
"Well, Rene - uh, this stays between us?" The doctor looked quickly behind her to make sure the door was shut, though she knew quite well it was.
"Well," the doctor lowered her voice, "Rene you know I'm a lesbian?"
Rene was hesitant. Yes, she knew the doctor's sexual preferences but she never gave it much thought. "Uh, well, I'd heard. But that's okay with me; I'm not really judgmental."
The doctor paused and then smiled rather seductively, "Why Rene, uh, are you on my 'team'? You're very attractive, you know. I bet you're very good in bed."
Rene blushed, then laughed nervously. "Uh, gee, doctor, uh, thanks but uh...well..." Rene felt very awkward and sounded it too.
The doctor took note of Rene's reactions, including the flush rising on Rene's chest. The doctor was certain Rene's red sheen was from from arousal and not embarrassment. Then she let Rene off the hook: "Oh, Rene," laughed Dr. Woods, "sorry. I just got a little carried away."
They both shared a nervous laugh and then the doctor continued quietly and, to an objective observer, seductively.
"I'm very involved in a medical society. We're having our national meeting in two weeks in Los Angeles. I'm also running for president of the society. It's a very important position - and it comes with some hefty financial perks; salary, speaking fees, expense account; the works. You know me well enough you should know that I've very ambitious and I want it; all of it." The doctor stated her ambitions with something close to fierceness, her eyes wide and shining.
"I need to do a little lobbying. There's one person who can either block me or help me get the presidency. He's a gastroenterologist from St. Louis."
The doctor stopped and looked at the floor; she crossed her legs and started flipping her foot nervously - but not too nervously. Rene sat silently; eager for the doctor to continue, the previous embarrassment past.
Presently the doctor looked up, a serious, determined look on her face, "Because of my sexuality I am ill equipped to suitably, um, impress this man, if you understand what I'm saying. He'll be in town tomorrow. Tomorrow night we're going to dinner. Would, uh, you come with me; make this guy feel, well, comfortable? I'll give you $500 dollars for the evening plus your dinner; we're going to Maxwell's."
Rene's face was blank. Finally the doctor's words registered, "Uh, $500 dollars to have dinner with you and this other doctor?"
"Well, Rene, I need him to feel good, have some fun. That's your task. And he's very good looking too. The $500 should tell you just how important this man - and position - is to me.
"When we have our meeting in L.A., I'll pay your plane fare, a five star hotel, meals, and drinks - whatever - plus say, oh, $2500 for three days and three nights."
"You're kidding!" Rene was stunned.
"No. In L.A. there's going to be lots of jockeying. I need you to be, uh, well, my escort; I need you on my arm. I'll need you to do anything I ask by way of lobbying - if you know what I mean."
Rene hesitated for a moment, "You want us to look like a couple; older doctor and younger nurse lover, right?" Rene asked hesitantly.
"An older, powerful doctor with a beautiful younger lover; you understand. Of course, we both know you're straight but...we'll need to look legit." The doctor let her voice trail off; her smile was gone and her eyes were locked on Rene's.
Rene felt the stare and the doctor's obvious desire. Finally she averted her eyes, laughed nervously then looked back, "So, um, why me?"
"Rene you must know there are several lesbians in the hospital; doctors and nurses. But none are as beautiful or as smart as you, at least in my opinion. There may be a lot of shoptalk, you know? I don't want to have a pretty but empty-headed red head on my arm. (Rene immediately thought of Suzy Clausen, the O.R. Chief.) I want you to participate in any little bull sessions my friends and I get into. There'll be other endoscopy nurses there; you won't be alone. And well, two doctors together..." Again her voice trailed off and then with a hard look the doctor said flatly, "I couldn't very well whore out a colleague, Rene. What do you say? Are you game to be my bitch? A walk on the wild side, eh?"