I've got another new doctor -- the latest resident on our floor -- one of the effects of a long-term stay when you get three or four different physicians as they rotate through their various residencies. He's young. Clean cut. Short brown hair, always well-shaven. We'll call him Dr. Doug. He's friendly and jovial, and I'm sure that he knows there's not much left to do before I get to be shown out the door.
He does the standing at the foot of the bed thing as well as anyone. He's got the clipboard that may or may not have anything about me written on it. His arms are folded. The clipboard is pressed against his chest, held there by the folded arms. He dips his chin toward one of his exposed hands, kind of brushing at his lips with his thumb.
"Well, you see," he says.
He's young. Working on his bedside manner. It will get better, I'm sure, but I can already tell from his body language that it's bad news -- he's practically staring at his feet, shuffling them back and forth, aw shucks, too shy to ask the pretty girl next to the punch bowl, the one in the short summer dress, too shy to ask her to dance.
"We know how much you're looking forward to going home, Robert," he says.
"Next week," I tell him. "Next Monday. That's the plan."
"Yes, yes. Umm... well... about that."
Dr. Doug continues. "Your counts have made a wonderful, remarkable comeback, Robert. We're very excited for you. All your numbers are good. Umm... I mean... except for one."
"Which one?" I ask.
The clipboard is freed from the confines of his arms. He holds one end of it close to his stomach, tilting the top outward, as if he's holding playing cards and doesn't want me to see his hand.
"Potassium," he says.
"Yes. It's coming up, just not as quickly as the others. It's still very low."
"Potassium," I say again.
I never even knew we were tracking my potassium counts, and even if we were, they wouldn't matter nearly as much as all of my others. I'm not going to bleed to death with low potassium. I'm not more succeptible to infection. It feels like they're picking nits, now, trying to come up with reasons to keep me in the hospital longer than necessary.
"So who cares about potassium, anyway?" I ask.
Dr. Doug has folded his arms over the clipboard again. His feet are solid. There's eye contact this time. Good, solid, eye contact. He's not smiling.
"You're not seriously gonna keep me here just because of that, are you?"
"I'm really, really sorry..."