Excerpt, “The Usual Mistakes”

The hospital where I work is actually a hotel–a renovated Best Western, just south of Omaha. The doctors kept much of the original decor, making only minor structural changes: the exercise room was expanded to include a pharmacy, the dank bar renovated into a chapel, although I don’t think anyone’s ever been there to pray. Check-ins sit on the same red and beige floral sofas vacationers would rest on while waiting for their sheets to be changed, in town for an Omaha Royals game or a trip to the Henry Doorly Zoo. Cora, the receptionist, stands behind the large, oak desk greeting patients and ringing the bell when their rooms are ready. The chandelier in the main lobby still glitters and tinkles when a breeze blows in, as if announcing the possibility of a wonderful time.

I worked for four years as night manager of this Best Western. When the hotel closed, I forged my credentials, created a pre-med degree from Creighton University with a 3.96 grade point, and voila, I’m a medical assistant. I’m no more licensed to assist in medical procedures than I am to fly a plane, but I’ve been here almost eight months, and no one seems to notice.

Many of the patients look as if they’re here for vacations, wearing what can only be described as cruise-wear: shiny fuchsia jogging suits with gold braided trim, khaki pants and pale golf shirts, an occasional visor. It’s a private hospital specializing in reconstructive surgeries and prosthetics. We do plastic surgery, although I’m not allowed to call it that. Our patients like that the rooms are still decorated as hotel rooms. They say it makes them feel less like they’re staying at a hospital and more at home, ignoring that, other than the car wrecks and burn victims, they don’t need to be here at all. In truth, the linens and beds and curtains were thrown in at such a ridiculous low rate when the hotel foreclosed, that the hospital would have been foolish to pass on them.

I work banker’s hours, nine to five.

– originally published in Colorado Review