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Annie entered the ER ready for her shift when Brad met her near the entrance. “Morning, Brad. How is it in here today?”

“Oh, pretty slow for the beginning of flu season,” Brad replied casually. “But, there is this one thing.....”

“What’s that?”

“There’s a patient in exam room 4 who says he knows you.”

“Really? Who?”

Brad crossed his arms and leaned against the wall. “Oh, just a certain sexy, blonde Backstreet Boy.”

Annie’s eyes widened in surprise. “Brian?”

“Nope. The other sexy blonde Backstreet Boy, and here I am in my frumpy olive green scrubs. This really needs to stop happening to me.”

“Nick? Nick’s here?” Annie paused. “Wait a minute! Did you say he was a patient? What’s wrong with him?” She started rushing towards exam room 4. “Is he okay?”

“I’m sure he’ll be fine. Sounds like he’s got a nasty case of food poisoning, though. He’s so dehydrated we’re having trouble getting an IV started. I was actually hoping you’d give it a try.”

Annie crinkled up her nose. “Oh, poor Nick. Sure, I’ll see what I can do, but.... why is he in Berea?”

Brad shrugged. “He seems pretty smitten, actually. Maybe he’s here for you?” Annie stared at him dubiously. “Actually, did you not notice the big, black tour bus in the parking lot? I honestly think he was just passing through and got sick. And by the way, why did you not tell me you met Nick while you were down in Atlanta, and that he apparently has a thing for you?”

“He does not have a ‘thing’ for me. Besides, I just figured you would be jealous.” Brad stuck his tongue out at her as Annie walked into Nick’s room and pulled open the curtain cautiously. “Hey,” she said softly, taking in the sight of him. He was pale and clammy, his hair matted down to his sweaty forehead, and his left arm was already noticeably bruised from the multiple needle sticks he’d endured as Brad and the nurses had tried to start an IV line in his dilapidated veins. Nick started to reply, but instead ended up leaning forward and retching violently into the plastic tub resting in his lap. “Well, it’s nice to see you, too,” Annie quipped jokingly as she crossed the room and picked up a wet washcloth, then placed it on the back of his neck as he finished heaving.

“Sorry,” Nick croaked. “That’s embarrassing.”

Annie took the emesis basin from him and rinsed it out before handing it back to him.

“I’ve seen much worse, let me assure you. I’d ask how you’re feeling, but I guess I can assume pretty crappy, huh?”

“That would be a pretty good assumption,” Nick replied weakly. “I’m feeling pretty puny here.......” He trailed off and watched her as she flipped through his chart. She was wearing purple scrubs, and sick or not, he couldn’t help but notice that even in scrubs, she looked great. “So, they tell me you’re pretty good at starting IVs.”

Annie grasped his right wrist and picked up his arm, studying it from all angles. “Usually, yes. Your veins are really flat right now. It won’t be easy, but I think that one might work.” She poked at a blue vein near his wrist and bit her lip in concentration, then ran her fingers along the top of his hand. Nick’s heart beat rapidly and erratically. He was sure that his being sick had something to do with it, but the feeling of Annie’s hand trailing over his skin didn’t help matters. Annie’s head jerked up to the heart monitor they’d attached him to after he fainted. “Your heart’s racing, Nick.”

“Um...yeah,” he stammered.

“That’s probably from the dehydration. We need to get you hooked up to some fluids,” she said with an air of professionalism as she pulled a pair of latex gloves out of the dispenser on the wall and started gathering her supplies. “You’re not allergic to latex, are you? Your chart doesn’t say anything about it, but it looks like you didn’t finish filling out your paperwork.”

“Yeah, I kind of...passed out I guess before I finished it.” He blushed a little, embarrassed again. “No, not allergic to latex, or anything else that I know of.”

“I’m sorry. At least you had a good reason to pass out. When Brian was in here with Baylee, I thought I was going to have to get out the smelling salts for him, and he wasn’t even the one who was hurt.”

Nick chuckled lightly. “B-Rok doesn’t do well with hospitals. That’s for sure.”

Annie nodded as she donned her gloves and pulled up a rolling stool beside Nick’s bed, laying her IV supplies out on the tray table next to it. “Anything else I need to know about your medical history?”

“Well, there’s the cardiomyopathy thing, but the last time I saw my cardiologist, everything checked out great.”

“Oh yeah. Hmm....” Annie frowned in concentration and looked up at the heart monitor screen.

“I don’t think I like that ‘hmmm’.” Despite the fact that he felt terrible, Nick had been thinking of the whole situation as a minor inconvenience that coincidentally (and as a pleasant surprise) let him spend a little time with his new friend. Now, however, he was starting to get a little scared.

“You probably don’t have anything to worry about, but I’m glad they put you on a heart monitor. We’ll watch it pretty closely for a few hours, okay?”

“How many hours is a few?” He asked. “I have a concert tomorrow night in Toronto.”

“So you were on the bus going to Canada for your solo tour, right?”

“Yes. I honestly had no idea we were stopping here. My driver made the decision that I needed to see a doctor, he just followed the first blue hospital sign he saw.” He gave her a little grin. “It’s a nice surprise, though.”

She became all business again. “Okay, Nick. I’m going to try getting that IV started. Once I get access into your vein, I’m going to draw some blood for labs before I hook up the IV line. As far as how long you’re going to be here, I don’t know. Let’s get some fluids in you and take a look at your labs. Plus, I’d like to see you keep something down before I let you leave.”

Nick’s stomach churned at the thought. “I may be here forever, then.”

Annie gave him a sympathetic smile. “When did this start?”

“Yesterday afternoon sometime. We weren’t far outside of Tampa.”

“What did you eat?”

“You think this because of something I ate? I just figured it was a stomach bug.”

“Well,” Annie paused to slip the needle carefully into his vein and draw some blood. “The way it came on so suddenly and severely sounds more like food poisoning.”

“I see.” He gestured to the top of his wrist, where she was hooking up an IV line. “You did that good.”

“I already knew which veins not to pick, so I probably wouldn’t have had as easy a time if I had been the first one to try.”

“She’s just being modest,” Brad interrupted as he entered the room with a nurse.

“She’s like that,” Nick agreed. He racked his brain thinking about what he’d eaten in the past day or two. Then, it hit him. He’d gone into an upscale Tampa grocery store to buy snacks to keep on the bus and he hadn’t been able to resist the sushi on display in the deli.
“Oh no,” he groaned.

“What, Nick? Are you going to be sick again?” Annie lunged for the emesis basin on the edge of the bed.

“Probably soon, yeah. But no, I just realized what most likely did this to me. Sushi. It’s one of my vices. Aw, man...I really love sushi, too.”

“Believe it or not, this small town Kentucky girl loves sushi, too. If it’s prepared and stored correctly, it’s just a safe as anything else,” she replied quickly.

“It was from a grocery store.” Annie crinkled up her nose. He thought she was cute when she did that.

“Then, yeah. That’s probably the culprit,” Brad cut in. “You okay here, Ann? It’s pretty slow at the moment, and Anthony’s shift starts at noon, so he’ll be here to help you get through the afternoon rush. I think I’ll head out soon. Oh, and get me an autograph? Make sure he writes something scandalous.” He winked at her.

“I’ll see what I can do, and we’re good here. Take off.” She glanced over at Nick, who had his eyes clenched shut and was taking deep breaths in an attempt to quell another wave of intense nausea. She turned to the nurse, who was on the way out the door with two vials of Nick’s blood, headed for the lab. “Margo, can you get Nick 25 mg of IV Phenergan?” She turned to Nick, who was once again hunched over the emesis basin heaving. “I usually go with Zofran because it doesn’t cause drowsiness, but he looks like he could use a nap.” She rubbed circles on his back and wiped at his forehead with a cold washcloth, then handed him another so he could wipe his mouth once he was finished.

“Thanks,” he said softly, collapsing back onto the pillows behind him.

“No problem.” She gave him a little smile and patted him on the shoulder. She gestured to the nurse who returned from the med room with a syringe in her hand. “That should help. It’s going to knock you out for a few hours, but like I said, I think you need it. I take it you didn’t get any sleep last night?”

“No, not much.”

“I’ll be back to check on you later, okay?” He licked his dry lips and nodded, watching as the nurse injected the anti-nausea medicine into his IV line. Soon after he watched Annie walk out, he was asleep.

While Nick slept, Annie got slammed with an influx of patients. “Anthony Engle, I’ve never been so glad to see you in my life!” She declared as her colleague walked into the ER three hours later.

The older man, a medical school classmate of her father’s, placed a stethoscope around his neck and tucked an ink pen into the pocket of his white coat, then looked at her over the top of his bifocals. “I see flu season is in full swing.”

“Yes. Very much so. It was slow when I came in, but picked up as soon as Brad left.” Annie handed him a chart. “This one just came in. Sixty- five year old with high fever and shortness of breath. I haven’t had a chance to see her yet, but looks like it could be pneumonia.”

“Could be. Let’s see if we can get this place cleared out, hmm?” He sauntered towards an exam room.

“So, how’s Nick doing?” She asked Margo.

“Still sleeping the last time I checked. I gave him a 1.5 liter normal saline bolus, then started D5 normal saline with 20 milliequivalents of potassium at 100 milliliters per hour just like you ordered. Here are his labs.” She handed Annie a small stack of papers.

“No abnormal rhythms on the telemetry monitor?”

“No, Doctor Morgan. A little tachycardia before the fluid bolus, but nothing since then.”

“Good deal. Do you care to insert a foley in trauma 2 while I go peek in on him?”

“No problem.”

Annie studied Nick’s labs while she walked towards his room. He was startled awake as she slid the curtain open. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you,” she apologized.

“Oh, you definitely don’t need to apologize,” he assured her. “How long was I out?”

“About three hours. How are you feeling?”

Nick thought about it for a minute. “Better, actually. Not great, obviously, but that medicine you gave me was pretty awesome. When can I get out of here?”

“Well....” She sat down on the edge of the bed near his feet. “Your white blood cell count and serum creatinine are elevated and your potassium is low.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means you’re sick and dehydrated.”

“Well I knew that.” He gave her a little laugh. “So....”

“When was the last time you peed?”


“The last time you peed, Nick. I know it’s kind of a personal question, but I need to know.”

“Um....I don’t know. Yesterday sometime?”


Nick started to panic. “Is that bad?”

“I’ll be honest. I’m a little worried about your kidneys.”

“My kidneys?!”

“Our kidneys always take a little bit of a hit when we get dehydrated. You were extremely dehydrated, which is why they had such a hard time getting your IV started, and why you fainted in the waiting room. At the moment, I’m not sure if you’re going to make it to your concert tomorrow. If you weren’t on any type of schedule, I’d admit you and watch you for a couple of days.”

“But I am on a schedule, Annie. This is my first solo tour in years, and all the Canada dates are sold out. The fans would be so disappointed if I had to cancel a show.”

“I know this is important to you, Nick, but right now, I’m more concerned about your health than your fans. Let’s watch you for a couple more hours and draw some more labs and see how they look. I’d like you to try to eat some ice chips or something, too, okay?”

Nick sighed. “Okay. I trust you.”

“Good. Now, try to get some more rest. I’ve got a lot of patients right now, or I’d stay and visit longer.”

“It’s fine. See you later, Doctor Morgan.” In a way, Annie liked it when he called her Doctor Morgan. It was kind of tongue in cheek. Definitely not professional sounding, but not like he was being facetious, either. More like a pet name.

“Doctor Morgan! 911 dispatch just called. There’s been a bad car accident out on 25. Three ambulances are on the way, and two of them are critical,” Margo announced just as she left Nick’s room.

Annie took in a deep breath and let it out. “Clear trauma one and get the code team mobilized.”