Male. 40 years old. Intestinal ischemia due to a car accident. Cardiac arrest 2 hours after a failed surgery was the cause of death.
And obviously, Claire was the one in charge to notify the family, precisely the wife – now a widow- and the two-year-old son.
She took a deep breath and went straight to the waiting room, where they were expecting the news. She tried to ignore the excruciating scream the woman let out once she heard the classic “we did everything we could but unfortunately he didn’t survive’’ line, followed by a little explanation of how intestinal ischemia works. And about this last part, Claire knew a lot more than she ever wanted to, more than she ever should.
Just like she knew that she did everything she could, but it wasn’t enough, once again.
Just like she knew the pain in her chest in that moment was similar to the one she felt months ago. This time, maybe it was a little bit more intense.
After parting some useless words of comfort, she went to his office, now empty, finding Lim in the hallway, which strangely made her heart beat faster and increased her chest pain.
“Browne, are you okay?’’
For some reason, she just couldn’t say yes, even though she had gotten used to telling this lie in the last few months.
And that’s when everything turned black, and she lost her consciousness.
The ER lights were blinding her eyes, alerting her that something was off.
Wires were connected to her body, and whilst she was regaining consciousness, she heard the annoying beep coming from the cardiac monitor.
“Doctor Browne, it’s okay. You are safe now.’’ - She heard the known fellow cardiologist say.
“What happened?’’ She said, trying to get up and was stopped by the older doctor, who was apparently in charge of her case.
“You passed out. You are being monitored now. Since you’re awake, can I ask you some questions, in order to confirm your diagnosis?’’
“Sure.’’ Claire said, feeling uncomfortable, but trying to be helpful. After an amount of questions about her physiological conditions, he finally asked her the one question she really didn't want to answer.
‘’Dr. Browne, did you experience any emotional trauma recently?’’ The doctor asked, already knowing the answer. The entire hospital knew it.
“Yes,” she chose not to give any details whilst looking away trying to hold back the tears.
“Well, considering your answers and your ECG” - he pointed out the results, and he didn’t even have to explain to her the cause since she immediately saw the irregularities - “Apparently, you have Broken Heart Syndrome.’’
Of course she had it, she thought to herself. If anyone could develop Broken Heart Syndrome, aka Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy, it was Claire Browne.
“This disease causes some dysfunctions on your heart rate, it affects…”
“Your ventricles. Yeah. I know..’’ She finished the sentence for him, feeling almost impatient.
“Exactly. It usually appears after traumatic experiences,’’ the doctor added. ‘’The good news is, it is highly treatable and is completely curable. You won’t even need medication, just a few weeks off. Starting today.’’
Claire thought about contesting it. Taking a few weeks off wasn’t exactly good for her residency, but she knew that it wouldn’t be a problem, considering how much she worked overtime in the past months. So, she just nodded, accepting the doctor’s conditions.
As soon as the doctor finished talking to Claire, Lim got close to her bed.
“Tell me you didn’t call anyone,’’ Claire just hated bothering people with her problems.
“Nice to see you are awake. No, I didn’t call anyone, I mean, let’s not worry until we actually have something to worry about right? You can handle this part yourself.’’
Claire sighed, feeling relieved, trying not to think about what it would be like coming home after this while removing the wires attached to her body.
She thanked the doctor after he gave her some final instructions and grabbed her things to leave, since Lim approved her license effectively and immediately, without a problem, in fact, she encouraged Claire.
“Come on. I’ll give you a ride home,’’ her boss offered and Claire felt a little bit anxious about it.
‘’Are you serious?’’
“Of course I am. You passed out less than an hour ago.’’
Claire accepted. She was too tired to fight back.
Lim took her home, remaining in silence the entire time. She refused to come in, saying that maybe it wasn’t the best time. Claire thanked her and said goodbye, walking to the apartment.
For a second, she really thought about running away instead of dealing with whatever she was going to deal with that night. But she knew it would only make everything worse, so she just grabbed her keys and got inside.
“Baby?’’ he called from the kitchen, the smell indicating he was making dinner.
She didn’t answer it, she just went to the kitchen and stared, whilst he was concentrating at the task in front of him.
Neil Melendez was the most handsome man alive for her, even considering he still was recovering from the earthquake that almost took his life.
And now, she was about to overwhelm him, when he still needed her so much.
She really didn’t like that situation, especially now that they finally found their way to each other after some time apart, due to the complicated situation they were after the accident.
“Hi,’’ he said, turning around smiling. He noticed something was off in the minute he laid eyes on her, and frowned..
“Hi,’’ she answered, echoing his weak smile.
He got closed to her, leaving a small kiss on her forehead.
“What is it Claire?’’ he said, holding her face and looking deep into his future wife's eyes – at least, that’s what he expected.
“We need to talk.’’
He stopped making dinner and went to sit with her on the couch. Claire had removed her shoes and her coat, trying to be as comfortable as possible in order to talk to him, putting her legs on his lap at the same time he gently held her hands, waiting for her to speak.
“I’m on leave. Just for a few days.’’
“Ok,” he knew her too well to know it wasn’t her decision, but he waited for her to finish.
“Something happened at work today.’’ She said, avoiding eye contact. ’’I...I did an ECG.’’
“Ok, but that’s not unusual.’’
“Not like that Neil. I...I was the patient.’’
In that moment he felt like he needed an ECG himself, because his heart skipped a beat once he absorbed her words. An ECG definitely wasn’t a routine exam. The only reason why he didn’t freak out completely was her presence, just like many times before.
“Why?” he asked her.
“Because I passed out.’’ she said shortly, scaring him.
“Claire, what do you mean...’’
“I passed out due to emotional shock. At least that’s what my labs and my medical history indicate.’’ - she sighed - “Apparently, I have Broken Heart Syndrome’’
Neil felt a wave of shock himself looking at an emotional Claire. He sighed, still not processing this new information, thinking about a way to comfort her.
And that’s when she started to cry.
“Come here baby,’’ he said, pulling her onto his lap. She hid her face in the curve of his neck, crying and seeking comfort.
After some time, once she was feeling a better, Neil asked:
“How did you find out?’’
So, she told him everything, about the patient with intestinal ischemia – in this moment, he swallowed nervously, silently feeling grateful to be alive – about her passing out and the following consultation with the cardiologist.
Once she was finished, he nodded, finally understanding what was really happening and how serious the situation was. She gave him some space so he could process it.
Neil sighed, running his finger through his hair.
“It’s my fau...’’
‘’No.’’ She stopped him before he could even finish his sentence.
“Claire, you are just being stubborn.’’
“It’s not stubbornness Neil. It’s the truth, this situation is not your fault. You are the victim here, and that just shows how selfish I am.’’
“Claire Browne and selfish don’t belong in the same sentence.’’
She started to sob again, which made him feel guilty once more. A few tears fell from his own eyes..
“Claire you've got nothing to apologize for.’’
‘’Neither do you.’’ she said, calming down a little. He still felt incredibly guilty and she knew it.
“Neil,’’ Claire said, climbing back into his lap and to hold his face, looking into his eyes. She wasn’t crying now. “I need you to know that you have nothing to feel guilty about, or to apologize for. No matter what happens or what will happen, I will always choose you. Over and over again. If I needed to go through it all over again, just to end up here, in this exact moment, I would do it. Broken heart and all. Today, everything went wrong, but I’m still grateful that I love you.’’
He gave her a melancholic smile, remembering when he said something similar to her sometime in the past. He took her hand and laid a sweet kiss on it.
“How is it that you are the one comforting me in the end? You need to know that too, you know?’’ Now she was trying to look away, because just like him, she was struggling with the guilt. ‘’Babe, think about everything you went through! And yes, you are amazing and I love you more than anything”
“I love you too.’’ She interrupted him because since the earthquake, this was something they did all the time, say “I love you’’ back, after all, they knew how short life was to not do that.
“But you are also human.’’ he kept going. “The most beautiful human being, I have to say, but still a human. Of course, I hate this situation and I hate to be the trigger here.’’ She wanted to stop him at that moment but he rushed to finish his explanation. This was about her, not him. ’’But just like we survived things in the past, we will survive this. I mean, we survived a damn earthquake.’’
Now she was smiling and wiping her own tears, and Neil decided to drop the guilty thoughts to focus on helping her instead.
“I really hate this situation. I really hate to bring more problems into our life.’’ Claire said, sounding frustrated.
“It’s not your fault.’’
She pretended not to listen.
He held her face, looking into her eyes.
“Claire, it is not your fault. Really. You need to know that. The only thing you are guilty of is saving me. More times than I can count.’’
“You saved me first.’’ she said, dropping one last tear.
“So, let me return the favor now, ok? I really want to.’’
“Ok”, she said and he knew Claire really trusted him to do that, and having Claire Browne’s trust was the thing Neil Melendez valued the most.
Now that she was definitely calmer, he took his phone.
“Obviously, I will be here every step of the day. But first, I need an opinion from the best cardiothoracic surgeon I know on this case’’ he said, texting Lim, first asking for a copy of her exams and then finishing the text not so amicably, asking her why she didn’t tell him about what happened before. He could never be actually mad at Claire, that rule didn’t apply to others though.
Claire rolled her eyes - way more comfortable now, and no longer feeling chest pain – of course he wanted to check her ECG results.
“I don’t need your medical opinion, and I don’t give you permission, as my boyfriend, to see my ECG. You are on medical leave, also this violates doctor-patient confidentiality, as you know Doctor Melendez.’’ she said with arms crossed, pretending to be serious about it.
“Well, as your boss, I demand to see it.’’ He said, playful.
“You really gonna play the boss card now?’’ Claire said, swerving his kisses.
“You didn’t complain when I did it last night.’’ Neil said winking, which drove her crazy and made her melt at the same time
“Ok then.’’ She pretended to be mad until he finished his text, pulling her close.
“I’m all yours now.’’
“Now I’m your private doctor. That’s news. Unless if you count that other night...’’
She glanced at him, holding herself not to laugh, which made him giggle.
“Seriously, how could you, THE doctor Melendez, break my heart like that?’’
“I guess it was only possible because you stole mine first.’’
“I don’t really care you know?’’ she said. “My heart is yours anyway.’’
“Well, that’s great then. Because I intend to spend every possible minute giving it a reason to beat. For starters, reason number one: I love you.’’
“I love you too.’’ She said it back, staring at him, both serious now.
Neil kissed her, gently and slowly. And Claire could swear her heart started to beat differently.
This time, in a good way.