First Place (current reader of Street Angel division) - Steve Mohundro:
Untrue Tales of Medical School: The Squid
It was late in my fourth year of medical school, and I was three days into my mandatory cephalopod rotation. As usual, I had drawn the short straw, so instead of working at the new hospital on the waterfront, I was stuck downtown at Captain Larry's Animal Hospital and Discount Seafood Shoppe.
There were two students on the rotation: Jesse and me. I hadn't seen her around much before, but she seemed to know her stuff. There was also one third-year resident and a variety of senior physicians.
Sitting in staff lounge drinking coffee, Jesse and I looked at each other and smiled. It was shaping up to be an easy day. We had discharged most of our patients yesterday, and only four remained in the entire hospital. Rounds would be quick, and we might actually have an afternoon off.
The morning started simply. We had sent the last cuttlefish home the day before, so there were no patients in the cuttlefish ward. We moved on to the octopus ward. There were two patients there. The first was an unfortunate fellow who had tried to impress his girlfriend by line-dancing, tripped, and managed to tie all of his eight legs into a series of knots. Working with a surgeon, we had managed to untie six of the legs so far. Later this morning, we were going to work on the last two. The surgeon was concerned as it was a complex knot consisting of a sheetbend, bowline, and taut line, with a little bit of clove hitch mixed in as well. We had to call in the local scoutmaster for assistance. The surgeon just kept walking around mumbling something about bowlines, and the rabbit going through the hole and around the tree then back down the hole. I'll never understand surgeons.
The second patient was a septopus. He was born with seven legs instead of the normal eight. He was here for the placement of an artificial leg, as well as some much needed counseling. He had a bad case of tentacle envy.
After the octopus ward, we moved on to the squid ward. The first patient there was sulking in his aquarium. He had been admitted for some scratches he had obtained in a bar fight. He claimed his name was Topo, and that he was a famous squid with famous friends. He kept telling us, “Just wait ‘til Aquaman gets here! He'll bust a cap in your ass!” The resident just smiled, nodded and upped his antipsychotic medications. I unwrapped his bandages and looked at his wounds. They were healing well with no signs of infection, so I expected we'd discharge him home (or to his so-called “Aquacave”) the next day.
The final patient was a new admission. The Coast Guard had brought him in the previous night. They claimed that he was SWI (Swimming While Intoxicated), or as they put it “marinated.” He was a big squid, with a mean look in his eyes. As soon as we walked in the room, he started gnashing his beak and thrashing his tentacles. The resident ignored his posturing, and grabbed the chart from the side of the aquarium. “Vitals are looking good, and labs look good, though his blood alcohol content is still off the charts. Nothing much to do but wait.” He turned to us, and handed the clipboard to Jesse. “He still needs his admission work-up, so why don't you two get started, then give me a call when you're done.”
Jesse handed me the clipboard, and stood back against the wall. She had this thing about squids. I moved up next to the aquarium. One of his saucer-shaped eyes glared at me as I began asking questions. He answered quickly, but tersely. There was clearly some underlying anger there.
I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye. There was a crashing sound behind me and I spun around to see two tentacles wrapped around Jesse. She had grabbed an IV stand and was bashing the tentacles.
“Hose it down with some IV fluid,” she yelled at me. I grabbed the nearest IV bag, ripped open the bag, and began spraying it on the tentacles.
“No you idiot!” she yelled at me. “That's saline, and squids like salt water – use fresh water!”
Frantically, I looked around the room as Jesse was being pulled closer and closer to the squid. She was fighting valiantly, lacerating the tentacles with a scalpel she had picked up.
I found some bottles of sterile water in one of the cabinets, opened them up, and began pouring it on the tentacles. Slowly, one of the tentacles let go of Jesse. Relieved, I didn't see another tentacle come up behind me until I was knocked sprawling across the room. Two more tentacles grabbed Jesse, and dragged her nearer and nearer to the tank.
As she was being dragged across the floor, Jesse managed to grab the defibrillator from the Code Blue cart and switch it on. A high-pitched whine could be heard as the paddles charged.
“Clear!” she yelled and pressed the paddles against a tentacle. A smell of ozone and burnt flesh filled the room as the squid yanked his still smoldering tentacle back into the tank.
“Clear!” she yelled again, and shocked a second tentacle. The squid pulled all his remaining tentacles back to the tank. He glared at Jesse, and then began to pull himself out of the tank toward her.
There was a sickening thud as a heavy oxygen canister landed firmly on the squid's head. Slowly, he settled back down into the tank. Standing behind him, with an irritated look on his face was Captain Larry, the owner of the hospital and seafood shop.
“If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times: don't piss off the squids,” he said, then stomped off to the front of his shop, his peg leg beating a staccato rhythm against the tile floor.
I never saw Jesse again after that day; I'm told she dropped out of school. For me, the rest of the rotation went smoothly, but I was certainly glad to return to a normal hospital. As for that giant squid, he never bothered us again. The sign on the front of the shop the next day said it all: Calamari, $1.99/pound.