Liza’s breath stopped as she flipped open the tabbed folder. Her heart fluttered like a bird’s wing once it remembered how to beat.
No wonder Rachel had given her that look.
With a steadying exhale she closed the folder. Her knuckles tapped a quick knock on the taupe door and then turned the knob.
He was already shifting in the padded chair in order to toss an awkward and anxious glance over his shoulder. The movement rattled the folding stand that hovered at the plump arm rest next to the reclined seat.
Liza hoped her smile did not stretch beyond what was professional as she met his eyes. They were dark and deep as always, but today she could see a rim of nervousness quaking around the edges.
“Good morning Mr. Jenkins,” she said.
“Eli, please,” he said with a small grin.
She stepped over to the counter that lined the wall and laid down the file carefully. The movement wafted up a sanitized and slightly minty scent. She hoped her coloring cheeks were hidden behind her back and the high collar of her white lab coat. Her twitching fingers fumbled on a pair of gloves and gathered up the tray of picks and crooked instruments.
“How are you feeling today?” she asked as she laid the tray on the swiveling stand. Across the way she noted the quick beats of his heart on the monitor.
“Well…kind of nervous I guess,” he admitted slowly.
“Don’t worry. Doctor Adams has done this same operation countless times.” She stared down at her hand that had somehow landed on his stiff upper arm. Thankfully, he didn’t seem to notice.
Instead his hands rubbed at one another and his gaze seemed to flutter around the small room. They dabbled in the light streaming through the tinted windows, bounced off the computer monitors that already showed x-rays of his mouth and swept across the travel posters that coated the ceiling around the adjustable light that hung over head.
Liza withdrew her hand quickly and turned back to the counter.
“I know,” he said. “I’ve just never gone under before.”
Opening one drawer she shook out a blue bib and the accompanying cord that ended in two metal clips.
He shook his head and he shrugged as if embarrassed as she turned back to the reclined chair.
“I sound like a big baby.”
“Not at all,” said Liza. She laid the bib gently on his chest and he tipped his head forward so she could clip it in place. A few steps had her on his other side of the seat. She wheeled over the rolling stool with a rattle of the casters and perched herself on its edge.
“This is the first experience most of our patients have with anesthesia. It’s perfectly normal to be a little nervous.”
“If you say so…” he said with a growing grin. Hers broadened as he took a deep breath and his tense shoulders seemed to relax.
“It’s just going to take a few minutes and then you’ll wake up and it’ll be all over.”
“That’ll be too bad,” he said with another spread in his smile and a nervous knead of his hands.
She tried to hide her blush by turning to the towering stand by the beeping monitor and its wobbling case of clear fluid that dangled from the top arm. She pulled out the needle and attached it to the long tube that would drain the anesthetic into his veins. Swiveling back she adjusted the arm rest at his side.
“Just lay your arm here.” She indicated with a gloved motion. He rested his arm on the pad, palm and veins facing the Hawaiian beach over head.
“It’ll be strange not having to come in every few weeks…” he began, his words tumbling in a quick ramble. “I mean…it’s been like a second job trying to get all of this taken care of.”
She swabbed his inner elbow and nodded as she wrapped around the plastic tourniquet just beneath his bicep.
“You take away the throbbing pain and medication and it’s been a pretty nice time…”
Liza focused on the needle’s edge, drawing it to the surface of his skin where his blue vein bulged. Her breath stilled in her chest as her training took over the next few moments of motion.
“I know I’ll miss…” he winced as she slid in the needle. “Miss seeing all your faces,” he finished in a rush.
She stretched some tape over the insertion point. Her hand rested lightly again on his bicep. She swallowed deeply as her training gave way to more girlish thoughts.
“I know we’ll miss you here in the office. You’ve been a really great…patient.” She held his gaze for a moment and then shook herself free. There was a time table to adhere to. She gave his arm a squeeze and snapped back onto her feet. The wheels on the chair creaked as they rolled on the tile. With precision, she turned to the drip that had already begun to steadily drop from the bag and down the tube. She adjusted the flow with a practiced eye. The routine and methodical steps helped to ease her quaking nerves.
Then, in the window’s reflection she caught his slowly drooping gaze watching her face. She smiled and dropped her chin before swooping back around to the counter. She flipped open the folder and made a few quick notes.
“That feels kinda funny…” he said, his words slurring a bit already.
Liza turned back to him and hovered above his chair. His head lolled slightly on the padded head rest and his cheeks were already slacking. The monitor beeped in a steady rhythm along with the drips.
“Just try to relax.”
“Are you going to stay?”
“Yes. I’ll be here through the whole operation.” She patted his drooping shoulder.
“Good…that’s good…” he said. His dazed eyes wandered around where she suspected her face had become fuzzy. After a brief fight with his own lids, Eli’s eyes slid closed.
Liza let out a long exhale and lingered on his sleep induced face. It would probably be the last time she’d get the chance. Soon Doctor Adams would have his mouth gaping open with gauze and supports and there would be blood and tugging tongs working to finally remove those erupted molars. Then all of Eli Jenkin’s dental work would be done and he would vanish until his six month appointment.
Not that she was likely to see him for a routine cleaning.
Just do it, she heard Rachel and the other receptionist prod as if advertising for Nike rather than trying to get her a date.
She glanced once more at his slack jaws and the sway of bangs crossing his forehead. The slight dimple that remained at the side of his mouth helped make up her mind.
Gathering her nerve, she turned back to the counter and slipped out one of her business cards from the tidy rack along the wall. Flipping it over she covered the blank face in a crisp set of nine digits.
She glanced over to ensure her anesthetic was doing its job as she stepped over to his jacket dangling from the coat rack in the corner.
It wasn’t quite the same as leaving a quarter under his pillow in exchange for a lost baby tooth, but she hoped the modified card would be one of the better surprises to be left by a tooth fairy. She tucked it into the side pocket that gaped expectantly.
Another knock on the door had her swiveling back to the opened file.
“Morning, Liza,” said Doctor Adams as he strode into the room.
“Good morning Doctor.”
“Is Mr. Jenkins all set?”
“Yes.” She handed over the file as the Doctor slid into the rolling chair by the tray of tools. “He was a bit nervous.”