Dr. McNeil approached the side of the bed. “Are you in pain right now?” Josh nodded. “Can you rate it for me? On a scale of one to ten, from very mild to absolutely excruciating.”
“A five or six.”
“Where do you hurt? Anywhere in particular?”
“Kind of everywhere, but mostly my ribs and my head.”
“Well, looking at that black eye, I can see why your head hurts. Have you had any double vision, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, or fainting?”
“A little dizziness. None of the rest. Just a nasty headache. I had a concussion once before, and this doesn’t feel like that.”
“Good to know. How about your ribs? Any trouble breathing, shortness of breath, sharp burning pain, or coughing up blood?”
“No, none of that. On my right side, it’s a constant ache. Hurts to move. I can breathe, but it hurts to take a deep breath.”
“Okay. Sounds like you probably have a cracked rib or two. We’ll get some x-rays later to confirm.”
The doctor opened a cabinet in the corner to reveal a medication vault. “Are you allergic to any medications?” Josh shook his head no. “Great. First thing I’m going to do is get you some pain medicine. Nothing too strong; it won’t knock you out. You’ll still be awake and responsive. But it will reduce the pain, relax you, and make you more comfortable.”
“That sounds good.”
The doctor smiled. He drew up a dose of medication and reached for Josh’s right arm. “I see that Marie got an IV line placed for you. This goes straight into the IV. No needle sticks, no pain. Cold and weird feeling for a second, but nothing else. Here you go.” Josh tensed, then relaxed as he realized that the doctor was telling the truth. “Little cold… there. Done. That should kick in pretty quickly.”
Keller saw Josh’s body gradually relax, and some of the tension in his face eased. “Feeling better now?” Dr. McNeil asked.
“Yes. Still hurts a little, but much better. Thank you.”
“Good. That’s what we want.” The doctor went to the computer and quickly typed something into it, then returned to the bed. “I’m going to touch your head and face. Let me know if any of this hurts.” His fingers moved over Josh’s head and face, gently feeling and prodding. “You’ve got some nice bruising, but I don’t feel any obvious broken bones.” Josh flinched and pulled back slightly as the doctor’s fingers brushed against the cut above his eye. “Sorry. I won’t touch it again. This needs to be closed” – Panic flashed across Josh’s face – “but we can probably do it with DermaBond or butterfly strips instead of stitches,” the doctor quickly finished.
He pulled an otoscope from the wall, checked its light, and faced Josh again. “I’m going to take a look in your ears. Turn your head for me.” Josh obeyed, and Dr. McNeil poked the instrument into his left ear, then the right. “No issues there.” He removed the pointed tip from the scope and flashed the light into Josh’s good eye. “Follow my finger… there you go. Good. Now stick out your tongue and say ‘ahhh’.” As Josh opened his mouth, Dr. McNeil said, “Looks like you bit your lip pretty hard at some point.”
“Probably hit my head and chin when I fell. I don’t really remember. All of a sudden I was on the floor and everything hurt.”
The doctor replaced the otoscope on the wall and gently placed his hands on Josh’s neck. “Can you tilt your head back for me? I’m going to feel your throat and lymph nodes. Swallow for me.”
He reached for the ties on the hospital gown. “I’m going to untie this so I can get to your chest, okay?” Josh nodded. Dr. McNeil untied the strings and slipped the top of the gown off of his shoulders, letting it gather in his lap. Both Keller and the doctor winced in sympathy at the dark bruising on his right side. “Ow,” McNeil said sympathetically.
“Yeah, it hurts.”
“I bet.” The doctor unhooked his stethoscope from around his neck. “Can you sit up a little so I can reach your back?” Josh obeyed, moving cautiously, slowly, testing the pain. “Does it hurt to move?”
“Some. The medicine you gave me definitely helped.”
“Good.” McNeil warmed the metal disc of the stethoscope in his hand, and gently pressed it against Josh’s chest. “Take some deep breaths for me – as much as you can without hurting those ribs.” Josh obeyed as the stethoscope moved over several spots on his chest and back. “Lungs sound good and clear. Your heart’s beating a little fast, though.”
“Not a fan of doctors,” Josh answered grimly.
“Understandable. Fair enough.” The doctor smiled at him.
“Here, let’s get that gown back on.” He pulled the top back into place over Josh’s chest and shoulders, and re-tied it. “Now I’m going to examine your abdomen. Can you lie back for me?” Josh obeyed, carefully adjusting the bottom of the gown to keep from exposing himself. “I’m going to lift that up to your chest,” McNeil told him. “Here.” He draped a sheet over Josh’s legs and hips, covering his pelvis, then lifted the gown to expose his abdomen. “You’ll feel me pressing, but you shouldn’t feel discomfort or pain. If something hurts, let me know.”
Josh held as still as possible, breathing shallowly. Dr. McNeil’s hands moved slowly and carefully over the quadrants of his abdomen, palpating and prodding. He followed that by using his stethoscope to listen. “Did any of that hurt?” he asked, replacing the stethoscope around his neck again.
“Felt kind of weird, and not super comfortable, but no pain.”
“Good. Your bowel sounds are normal, and it all feels normal. No tenderness or any other evidence of internal injuries, trauma, or bleeding.”
There was a tap on the door. “Come in,” the doctor called out. The door swung open and Marcus stepped into the room again. This time, he was carrying a covered tray. He nudged the door closed with his foot and set the tray on the counter.
Dr. McNeil held Josh’s gaze. “Okay, Josh. The next things that I have to do are going to get pretty personal,” he said gently.
Keller moved towards the door. “I’ll step out until you’re finished.”
“Wait.” Josh stared at the doctor. “What do you mean? What are you going to do?”
“I need to make sure that you don’t have any problems down there, so I’m going to do a genital exam and an internal exam,” McNeil explained.
The young man inhaled sharply. He didn’t like the sound of that at all.
His gaze snapped to Keller. He wildly considered begging the officer to whisk him out of here, away from this.
Keller saw the expression on Josh’s face. “Do you want me to stay?” he asked gently.
The doctor smiled. “There’s no scary secret here. I’m not going to do anything super horrible to you after he leaves,” he soothed. “I promise.”
Josh was blushing furiously. “I’m not a baby,” he said. “But I…”
His mind raced. The two officers had been nice. They hadn’t hurt him. So far, the staff here had stuck him with needles and wanted to poke and prod him. Keller was basically a stranger, and this was awkward and embarrassing, but the man was friendly and safe. This was so awkward… and Josh really didn’t want him to see whatever was about to happen… but he didn’t want to be alone with poking and prodding either.
“You’ve been through a major ordeal,” Keller said. “And even now that that’s all over, this isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time either. There’s nothing wrong with being nervous.” Josh bit his lip. “It’s up to you. I can leave if this is too awkward, or I can stay if you don’t want to be alone.”
“But I don’t want you to see, either.”
McNeil pointed to the chair in the corner. “How about there? Still in the room, but not with an up-close-and-personal view. And you’ve got the sheet for cover, too.”
“Fine with me,” Keller said. He looked at Josh. “Up to you.” The young man nodded wordlessly. “Okay.” Keller positioned the chair so he was facing towards Josh’s upper body, and mostly away from McNeil and Marcus and what was happening down there.
“Okay. We’ll do this with you lying down.” McNeil reached under the end of the bed and extended the metal stirrups, locking them in place. Josh felt his heart skip a beat. He stared at them like they might bite him. This isn’t happening... He’d never had an exam like this before, and he never wanted to.
“Have you had an exam like this before?” the doctor asked, as though he’d read Josh’s mind. He shook his head wordlessly. “I’ll talk you through it and explain as I go. Everybody goes through most of these things at some point – all three of us in here have. I promise I’m not going to hurt you. I’ll be as gentle and quick as I can.”
That was hardly comforting, Josh thought. He swallowed hard. Hurry up. I just want this to be over.