"Harvey, Campo, Jennings," Dr. Daranda Star called out as she hurried across the coffee break room toward the trauma bay. "We've got incoming. Move it."
The three interns looked at each other before dropping their copies of The Fire Within, grabbing blank paper gowns and trotting after the chief resident.
"Was it an online train wreck, Dr. Star?" Lisa Harvey asked as she pulled on her gown and turned so Rafael Campo could knot it in place.
"No, thank God. After the last one we're still short of beds." Star snapped on her latex gloves and eyed the interns. "You three know what an MWI is?"
Terry Jennings raised his hand as if they were still in school, then flushed and dropped it. "Uh, doesn't it stand for Major Work Incident?"
"No, Jennings. Mass, not major, and writer, not work. Mass Writer Incident." Star pointed at the hospital's sign. "Remember, we're all about the writers."
"So is a Mass Writer Incident a situation where a bunch of writers are hurt at the same time?" Harvey asked.
"You've got it half-right," Star said. "We use MWI to refer to injuries sustained by two or more writers while gathered together in some way. Ulcerated egos at awards ceremonies once all the winners have been announced, exposure to unsafe levels of cheap perfume and lousy luncheon flatulence in the only elevator running at a con, cascading anxiety attacks on list-servs after learning a phony agent has swindled every hopeful on her list, that kind of thing."
"Dr. Star." Jennings gestured at four units rushing toward the trauma entrance. "Here they come."
"Get out your pens and take notes while you can," Star said, her expression bleak as she hurried to the first unit.
The back doors burst open and an AET jumped out to help unload the gurney, on which a pale-faced young man lay muttering. To Star, the AET said, "Epic fantasy writer, thirty-two years old, locked in a badly-ventilated garden shed with a laptop for three to four days. Regular wordcount but very low, about 10 per hour. His mother reports decreased appetite and general apathy. Patient is dehydrated and unresponsive."
Star leaned over the writer and checked his pupils with her pen light. "All right. Harvey, take this one to trauma room one and get him started on fluids."
The second unit delivered a young, groaning female in a cervical collar.
"Twenty-eight-year old female romance writer," the AET stated. "Reported to have fallen off her chair a few hours ago. No loss of consciousness, but the patient complains of neck pain and nausea."
"They absolutely refuse to move their butts from that chair." Star frowned. "Did you say romance writer?" The AET nodded. "What was she doing with dragon boy?"
"Can't say." The AET made a face. "But they were both logged on to the same writer chat room."
Star tilted her head back to better address heaven. "Baby Jesus, give me strength."
"Dr. Star?" Campo asked, his voice tentative. "Could it have been a word war that got out of hand?"
She straightened and glared at him. "That or fake cyber sex scene practice. Doesn't matter anyway. Take this one to two and get a chatroom history. I want all the numbers and positions." She jabbed a finger at him. "And no talking shop. I mean it."
Campo nodded and wheeled away the moaning female.
By that time the third patient, who had climbed off his gurney, had reached Star. He cradled his right arm against his chest as he demanded, "Why are you people pretending you don't know who I am? Have you any idea how many awards I've been nominated for? My current release was featured this month as Pick of the Day on FutureSFClassics.com. My God, do I have to carry around a book like Dan Brown?"
The AET with the empty gurney caught up to them and gave Star an apologetic look. "Forty-seven year old male, ah, science fiction writer--"
"I do not write science fiction!" the patient said through gritted teeth. "I am a prose stylist of future speculative reality-based singularity surrealism, you idiot."
"My mistake, sir." The AET lowered her voice as she said to Star, "Patient refuses to be examined and denies injury and pain as well as presence in the chatroom--"
"I told you, I wasn't in that stupid chatroom!" the patient shrieked. "My girlfriend forgot to log off before she went to work!"
The AET stepped closer to Star. "Visual assess negative for fractures, carpal tunnel, and the girlfriend. Positive for general weakness, ego overinflation, possibly . . . " she rolled her eyes up toward the fourth floor psych ward.
"Got it. Sir? Sir." When Star had the patient's attention, she poured on the sympathy. "I am so sorry about this. We just need to make sure that you're okay. For insurance reasons, you understand." She grabbed Jennings by the arm and dragged him forward. "This nice young man will take you up to the fourth floor for a complimentary podcast. It's our way of apologizing for intruding on your solitude and disrupting the important work you're doing."
"A podcast, huh? I don't usually bother with that kind of thing, but perhaps, just this once . . . ." The patient gave her a suspicious look. "Will it be broadcast on NPR, or just the internet?"
"Oh, on both, sir," she assured him.
The patient heaved a long sigh. "I suppose I could explain one or two of my theories about the effect of solar flares on the evolution of sentient squid." He sniffed. "If I'm offered a suitable honorarium, of course."
"That would be so generous of you." Star kept her sad face on until Jennings had led the patient in toward the elevators. "Jerk." She glanced down at the fourth unit. "Where's the last one?"
"We only transported the three logged onto the chatroom, Doctor," the AET said as she peered at the unit. "That looks like an information highway pickup. Why aren't they wheeling out the patient?"
"Oh, God. Because they can't." Star ran toward the unit.
Yanking open the back doors, Star looked in on three AETs, all of whom were still frantically working on the motionless, battered body inside. "What have you got?"
"Fifty-eight-year-old female series writer, exertional angina, recent anterior descending percutaneous coronary intervention," one of the AETs panted. "Unstable presentation requiring three sublingual nitro, possibly persistent right coronary artery ischemia. Attack occurred while she was reading hate-mail. Patient tried to refuse treatment but subsequently collapsed."
"What the hell happened to her?"
"Hatchet-job," another AET said. "Nasty one. Went viral on her. Doctor, she's not stabilizing."
Star climbed into the unit and straddled the gurney. As soon as she recognized the writer, she paled. "No, no, no." She leaned over. "You can't quit on us now, honey. You haven't finished writing the last book in your series."
The patient's eyes fluttered and tried to focus on Star. "No one . . . cares. Why . . . bother?"
"I care. I damn well care. And I am not living the rest of my life without knowing if Rex and Heather are ever going to stop fighting long enough to get married and have babies. And there are a hundred other working writer doctors at this hospital who feel just the way I do." As the writer's color improved, she nodded. "That's right, honey. You stay with me, and I'm going make sure you get through this." She turned to the AET. "We're going to take her right to the heart unit. Let's go."