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Slowing Down

Slowing Down

– Fierce Fiction by Andrew Hughes – March 24, 2019


Dr. Mica Monroe crossed the kitchen with four clicks of her six inch heels and opened the refrigerator door. Twenty one neatly stacked Tupperware containers stared back at her, seven breakfasts, seven lunches, seven dinners, identical except for their contents. She selected one from the rightmost stack, a breakfast box, and brought it to the kitchen table. Over the course of fifteen minutes she ate the Quiche Lorraine, savoring the flakiness of the egg and the tang of the gruyere. When she was done, she washed the container and left the house. She did not lock the door behind her. In a neighborhood that nice, there was no need. She started her BMW and eased out of her driveway towards the excruciating Monday morning traffic.

Mica had no patience for waiting. She downright hated it. If she could not plan out every particular detail of an action, she was not interested. At restaurants she made reservations, no matter the caliber of the eatery. She ordered her groceries online and always picked same day shipping. She showed up to her hair appointments ten minutes late to avoid the inevitable overlap of clients. Other doctors? She scoffed at the thought of visiting medical professionals. She was an orthopedic surgeon. While she didn’t have the qualification to say, diagnose someone with the flu or tell someone what a mole meant, she had taken the classes. Good lord had she taken the classes. At Yale she had spent countless hours sitting in the classroom, the never-ending tedium of listening to instructors talk about their weekends or national affairs. If she cared about that, she would read the paper or listen to NPR. No. They were getting paid to teach her how to perform surgery and dammit if she would tolerate a lollygager. Even her name, Michaela Samantha Monrovia had been far too lengthy. She’d shortened it by the seventh grade and she was quite curt about correcting people who got it wrong. No, it was not Michaela. It was certainly not Michelle, and MS, as some teachers used to joke when they discovered her particular tick; that was the name of a disabling disease of the central nervous system and she would not have any association. Rather, Mica Monroe worked for her. Short, punctual, memorable.

What did not work was the needless stop and go nature of Nashville’s morning commute. After fifteen minutes she’d negotiated her BMW onto Third Ave, but now she was halfway up Blowman with no end to the break lights. She still had to navigate through the Seventh Street slush pile and get onto West End that was doubtlessly a parking lot. When she first moved from New Haven ten years prior, traffic was never this bad. She’d bought a house right down the road in the nicest neighborhood where her neighbors were all lawyers, tech professionals, or other doctors and the homeless grovelers were kept out by the cast iron gate. However, she had not selected the neighborhood for its populace, but rather its proximity. Even with her action oriented, alpha female personality, the irony was not lost on her. Close enough to see the Lifeflight tower, still an hour drive to work. She was thinking about this, gritting her teeth and wanting to curse, when a fist rapped on her passenger window.

It was a woman stooped over and waving. Mica recognized her immediately. Hair a mess of tangled, rotting braids, face smudged with dirt, thick brown jacket full of cigarette holes, lips chapped and cracked down the center. Yes, she’d seen her many times, most frequently standing on the corner of Seventh and Blowman with a cardboard sign, sticking up her thumb. Mica had taken pity on her at first, giving her a couple dollars, but after she saw her talking on an iPhone? That was the end to her generosity. The woman’s face contorted in a painful tick as she knocked again and motioned for Mica to roll down the window, circling her hand as if she held an imaginary crank. Mica hesitated, bouncing between honking the horn or rolling it down. She glanced ahead and saw that traffic had not budged. She looked at the woman, seeing her eyes for the first time. They were brown and glassy, as if they might teem with tears at any moment. They pleaded with her, and finally, Mica pressed the button on her armrest.

The window lowered three inches.

“Can I help you?”

The woman leaned down and forced a pained smile with broken, blackened teeth. “Yes, yes, I need help. I needa lotta help. Can you-” she grimaced, and continued. “Your license plate is for St. Thomas. You a doctor, right? Only doctors have those.” She winced and clutched her stomach. “Can I get in please?”

“No,” said Mica, and instinctively she pressed the lock. Up ahead, the break lights were blinking off as the traffic began to inch forward.

“Please ma’am, I don’t feel too well.”

“I’m sorry about that, ma’am. I’m a surgeon, I don’t diagnose.”

“Okay, okay,” the woman said, nodding her head furtively. “Well let me ride with you to the hospital. I won’t be no bother.” The woman took hold of the handle.

“No, I can’t help you. Let go of my car.” Behind her, someone beeped and Mica saw the lane was clear and the light was green.

“Please ma’am, I won’t be no bother. I promise. I’m real good at sittin’ quiet.”

“No! Let go of my door right now. Call an ambulance.”

“They won’t take me no more.”

“Well I’m sorry, you’re just going to have to walk.”

The woman let go and Mica pressed down the accelerator, barely clearing the light as it turned red. Probably wanted to get a couple blocks closer to the liquor store, she thought. Quickly she caught up to the line of traffic, but not before three cars slid over, successfully drawing curses from her lips. As she continued down the road, her strange interaction with the homeless woman of Seventh faded from her thoughts. Ten minutes later, she turned onto Main and the hospital appeared, looming and dark against the morning’s horizon like a sovereign citadel. She parked in her designated spot and entered through the employee elevator. A change into scrubs and seven floors later, Dr. Monroe was in business.

She walked at a brisk pace to the Orthopedic offices, nodding her head to the secretary, Mel, as she passed. She waved her badge and the door opened with an acknowledging beep. Ten more paces and she was at her office when the pager at her hip lit up with a high pitched chime. 47 year old, motor vehicle accident. Good, Mica thought. Something interesting.

“Good luck, Doctor Monroe,” said Mel, as she exited the offices.

She took the staff elevator down six floors, gritting her teeth every time it stopped. On four, a pair of gaggling nurses boarded. At two, a duo of EMTs with an empty stretcher peered in. Mica promptly held the door closed button, her head thrust high. Behind her, the nurses began to whisper.

On the first floor she exited, took a left, and then a right at the end of the hall, flashing her badge. The door swung open and Mica passed into the brightly lit bustle of the ER.

Ambulance“New patient arrival in room 17,” chimed an automated voice on the loudspeaker.

Mica turned right and stopped at the open doors. Two paramedics in Nashville Fire coats heaved the patient onto the hospital bed using a drawsheet.

“What happened?”

“We got the call about an hour ago but traffic threw a wrench in that,” said the lead paramedic. “Dude stalled out on 65 south, flipped about six times, landed upside down. Was driving this little green Subaru, things fucking totalled. I think-”

“Okay friend, let me explain something,” said Mica. “Pertinent details. What’s the injury?”

“I’d say a lower spinal fracture. Dude can’t feel shit.”

“Current set of vitals?”

The paramedic glanced at his paperwork. “BP’s 132/94, pulse 120, O2 87 at three liters.”

“Conscious?” Mica asked, pulling on gloves.

“ALOC times 3.”

“Good. Get out of my ER room.”

“Ma’am, I need a signature.”

“Good. Get it at the desk.”

The paramedic slowly receded with an aggravated look. Mica paid no attention. She shined a pen light on the patient’s eyes.

“Look straight ahead.”

“Yes, yes ma’am,” the patient stuttered. “Fuck. I can’t feel my legs. Why can’t I feel my legs?”

“Quiet,” said Mica, clicking the light off. She looked to the nurse who was detaching the blood pressure cuff from the patient’s arm. “Get him to radiology immediately.”

“Yeah, sure thing.” He began to punch the new set of vitals into the computer when Mica stomped her foot down on the bar at the front of the bed, releasing its locking mechanism.


They wheeled the patient down two halls to the radiology department. As they went, a pair of ER techs attached the patient to the mobile oxygen unit. With the patient inside, Mica paced impatiently until the doors opened again.

“Yeah, looks like a good old fashion C6, C7 fracture,” said the radiology tech. “If I had to guess-”

Mica snatched the black sheet from his hands.

“Sure, your highness.”

“Okay, yes. Yes. We need to operate immediately. Nurse.” She snapped her fingers.


“Page Dr. Strizand, tell him to clear operating room four.” She looked to the two ER techs. “You two bring the patient. What’s his name?”

“Clarke Manson.”

“Bring Manson upstairs.”

One of the techs glanced at the nurse. “Uhh, they need me on the floor,” he squinted at her name tag. “Dr. Mica.”

“It’s Dr. Monroe. And that’s fine, find me someone else who will do it and then go home. Your position will be filled by tomorrow.”

Without another word, she crossed the room and disappeared down the hall.

A half hour later, the anaesthesiologist, Edmund Strizand exited the operating room, sluffing off his gloves and pressing the hand-sanitizer dispenser attached to the wall. He rubbed his hands together rapidly, the bubbles disappearing as the lather spread across his palms.

“All right Mica, he’s all yours.”

“Thank you doctor.”

“You know you can call me Ed. Everybody does.”

“Thank you, I’ll consider that.”

Inside the operating room, a team of surgical assistants waited, gloves on and masks covering their faces. Mica adorned hers and took her place at the patient’s lower back. The exposed skin had been shaved clean and rubbed with anaesthetic, leaving a glossy finish that reminded Mica of a car ready to be brought off the lot.

“Okay, this is an anarthroscopy procedure. Speed is essential for future mobility,” she said. “Nurse, hand me the scalpel.”

Mica took the small, thin blade, and drew it across the highest point of the exposed skin. When this was done, she swapped the scalpel for the fiberoptic tube, bringing it to the patient’s back and inserting it beneath the skin, using her fingertips to coerce the probe to an adequate depth. She glanced at the screen. Sure enough, the patient’s spinal chord was projected in black and white. Mica smirked.

The remainder of the surgery went quick. She made a second incision on the purpling sight of the wound, and with her tweezers, she removed the debris. When this was done and the wound was cleaned, she created a third incision for fluid to drain. The nurses watched silently, following her gestural requests, and when the operation was complete, and her gloves removed, the aura of tension subsided. When Mica left the room she heard the nurses begin to quiver with conversation.

The rest of her day passed swiftly. Her other operation was pushed back. Her advising appointments went well and when they were over, the sun had set. As Mica left her office, she entered the elevator. As it passed floor five, its descent came to a halt and the doors opened. An orderly pushed a woman in a wheelchair inside. The patient had a thick mess of dirty braids and wore hospital scrubs. A puffy brown jacket covered with cigarette burns rested on her lap. Her face was somber and the orderly was silent.

elevatorMica stood motionless in the corner of the elevator, willing herself into invisibility as the car descended, coming to a stop at four. The doors opened and the orderly pushed the woman out. As the doors slid shut, Mica heard the woman begin to sob.

She rode the elevator down to the parking garage, but made no move to get out. Mica couldn’t put a finger to what she was feeling, couldn’t describe it even after all her years reading the dictionary cover to cover. There was no logic to her actions and in the dull silence this fact drove her to the edge of fury as she raised her hand and pressed the button for the fourth floor. The car ascended and stopped, the doors opening with a hidden, mechanical grace. Mica walked down the hall to the nurses station where four young nurses stood talking. They drew silent and broke away as she approached.

“Doctor Monroe,” said one. “We didn’t know you’d be coming. How can I help you?”

“The homeless woman that orderly just brought. What room is she in?”

“She’s in 6014. Her name is Ella Chambers. She’s mine. I actually need to take vitals.”

Mica followed behind her to room 6014. The door was ajar.

“Hello Mrs. Chambers,” said the nurse.

“Hello,” the woman croaked wearily.

“I’m just here to check your vitals.” The nurse crossed the room and looked at the chart on the wall. “I brought a visitor with me too. This is Doctor Monroe.”

Mica stood in the doorway and stared silently.

“Hello,” said the woman, not looking up.

“Well all right Mrs. Chambers, I’ll get out of your hair for now. Remember, if you press that button, we’ll come runnin’.”

“Thank you.”

Outside, the nurse stopped at the computer station.

“What happened to her?”

“Well, they got her this morning. Apparently she walked all the way here from Eighth avenue.”

“Seventh,” Mica muttered.

“What’s that?”


“Okay. Well yeah, she walked all the way here and gave birth in the ER. Miscarriage. Baby didn’t make it.”


“Yeah, real sad story.”


“Well have a good night, Dr. Monroe.”

“Thank you.”

Mica rode the elevator to the parking garage and silently, she got behind the wheel. As she turned left off of third Avenue, she shifted lanes without using her blinker. She slowed down as she approached the turn into her neighborhood, but as the BMW sat motionlessly in the turning lane, Mica stared out into the depths of the still, southern night. A series of images flashed through her mind, snapshots of long ago moments, and she curled her fists trying to fight them back. Sitting on her mother’s bed the day her father left. Him standing in the doorway pointing a frail, boney finger at her and shouting, ‘you should have aborted the cunt when we had the chance!’ Something turbulent was raging in Mica’s chest and she didn’t like it. They were leaving, they were always leaving. Next came an image from six years ago, waking up in Monaco with blood covering the sheets, something puny and runny in the middle. Adam had refused to look at it, refused to look at her. Crying. Why had he kept crying? She took a deep, soothing breath, but the emotions surged around her, feelings she had not experienced in years. She thrust her forearm into her mouth and bit down hard as tears fell and her body quaked. A minute, three, five, ten. When the wave passed, she wiped her eyes and leaned her head back. As she breathed heavily, Mica turned on her right blinker and merged blindly back onto the road. She was not ready to go home. She would wait, just wait, and drive for a while.

Andrew HughesAbout the Author – Andrew Hughes

Originating from Portland Maine, Andrew now lives in Nashville Tennessee where he works as an EMT.  He has been writing for six years and has recently published two pieces in small magazines. Going forward, he plans to continue his publishing efforts and maybe move back up North… or to a shanty in Guatemala… or go to law school… really, he has no idea.

Did you like this story by Andrew Hughes? Read more fierce fiction, like: 

Pieces of You
Moon Window
The Librarian
Someone to Watch My Back

To check out all the fierce fiction available on Dreamers, visit our fierce fiction section!