Friday, December 23, 2016

The Wrong Cheesecake

Editor's note: Dear Husband and Frau Doktor Doctor have been reading and watching Sherlock Holmes stories together for the last two years. The opening of this piece is an homage to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. While FDD may be recording an incident a la Dr. Watson, alas there is no real mystery for DH/Holmes to solve.

If you thought God had a sense
of humor when God created beetles,
wait til you get to the succulent room
Looking back over my notes, one episode from my intern year strikes me as a singular experience of teamwork tinged with humor and sticky fingers, what I think of as the saga of the wrong cheesecake. It was back in December of '16, when I was assigned to my third straight month of adult in-patient medicine. By then I was used to the rhythm of near-daily discharges and admissions, with a cap time that was the same as sign-out time. (For the uninitiated, that means that the day team had to admit any new patient who arrived on the floor before the hallowed hour of six o'clock in the evening.) Having discharged a patient in the afternoon on the first Friday of that rotation, we waited anxiously for the next one to arrive. Indeed, the senior resident had already received sign-out over the phone on a patient from the Emergency Department, but the minutes after five o'clock ticked by with no page from the floor clerk alerting us of his or her presence. The next intern with an open bed, I in particular was anxious, as I had planned an excursion with Dear Husband for that evening: dinner at the Phipps Botanical Garden and then a perambulation through their winter flower and lights show. Alas, the senior resident discovered from the ED board that the patient was being transported to the floor just in time! So he dashed to the nurses' station and pleaded with the clerk to hold the fateful page until after six, so that the night team would be the ones to admit the patient. She agreed but requested a favor in return--she wanted cheesecake. "Make sure you get her cheesecake!" my resident admonished. I gratefully agreed, signed out my patients to the night team, and went on my date. Inside the conservatory was crowded, and outside the temperature was frigid, but DH and I enjoyed the rare chance to spend two hours together doing something, anything.

The next morning I arose early, showered, and drove to the grocery store to fulfill the bargain with a four-piece sampler of cheesecake. I bought breakfast for the weekend team while I was at it. Once in the teamroom, I made a label for the gift out of red marker and scrap paper, "To the BEST clerk in the hospital." I even cut around the heart to make it extra fancy. I left it at the clerk's computer station. She came and found me during pre-rounds, introduced herself, and thanked me profusely. I considered the whole thing a success...

...until two weeks later, when my senior resident accosted me one afternoon: "You got cheesecake for the wrong clerk!"

"I'm sorry, what?"

It turned out there were two clerks on the floor, and they alternated Friday and Saturday shifts. I had thanked the wrong clerk. Abashed, I asked after the right clerk's schedule and vowed to make amends the coming Saturday. But that week DH and I had a full social calendar, and I had no time in the evening to go out of my way to the store. Friday evening I asked if DH could do our grocery shopping after I had gone to bed, so that I could bring the desired gift with me the next morning. He agreed, and I reminded him several times that I wanted "the one with four kinds of cheesecake," remembering the package in the cooler that had had four pieces of plain cheesecake. 

I quickly fell asleep, awoke the next morning--and found an entire, sixteen-piece "cheesecake" in the refrigerator. There were indeed four kinds of cheesecake, each represented with four slices. DH had done exactly what I had asked him, had he not? How had I forgotten to specify that I wanted the four-piece "sampler"? There was no way I could give the clerk that much cheesecake. It was too expensive and obviously out of proportion to her gesture of holding the admission page back for us. There was nothing to do but attempt to exchange it for a more modest offering.

Frantically, I threw together a quick breakfast, grabbed some tupperware as a back-up plan, and headed out the back door--right into freezing rain. The walkway behind our townhouse was a lake, just as our neighbors had promised it always was after heavy precipitation. I struggled up the sloping, icy street to my car, tucked the plastic bag with the cheesecake round by the back wheel, and set about breaking through the ice.

Dear Husband had mentioned earlier in the week his plan to keep his ice scraper in the house for just such an occasion, and I cursed my carelessness while using my key as a pick in the seal between the body of the car and the doors. I could not open the driver's door, but I was finally able to wrench the rear door open, crawl in far enough to grab the scraper, turn on the defrosters, and hit the button for the seat warmer. I also put the cheesecake in the back seat to dry off while I turned my attention to the windows and windshields.

When I remembered that the passenger-side windshield wiper had come off, I tugged on the door to retrieve the wiper from the floor for reassembly. It didn't budge. I went round and tried all the doors, but they were not stuck with ice, they were locked. When I had turned the key in the ignition, the car had automatically locked all the doors, with my keys, bookbag, and that damned cheesecake inside. I called DH from my cell phone, mercifully stuffed into my coat pocket. No answer. Twice.

Back down the icy street to the house I went, hopping on our neighbors' porches to avoid the puddle. I banged on the kitchen door--which he opened with some annoyance. I explained about locking my keys in the running car, so he fetched his own. Back up the street through the wintry mix, I left the wiper blade on the floor and drove slowly down the slope to our house, where I jammed on the parking brake, evaded the standing water twice more to return his keys to DH, and finally got in the driver's seat to drive to work. 

There was no question of being able to return the cheesecake now. I would have to make do with Plan B. Once in the workroom, I broke into the cheesecake and managed with insufficient grace to transfer three of the better looking pieces into the tupperware I had brought from home. I wrote another label--this time with the clerk's name on it--and ferried the gift down the hall to the nurses' station, where I presented it in person to the abashed but grateful clerk.

That left me with thirteen pieces of cheesecake, a dessert for which I have no particular fondness but will eat on occasion. I planned to fob some of it off on my teammates, but it was a Saturday, and the medical students were dismissed early. About four o'clock I went searching through my lunchbag for my daily apple, only to discover I had forgotten it in the hustle of the morning.

"I don't have my apple," I announced to my attending, who was working with us that quiet afternoon. "Do you know what this calls for?"

"Ice cream?" she asked.

"Cheesecake!" I replied.

"I like the way you think," she said, as I excused myself to the pantry, where I had stored what was left of the enormous round. 

After some awkward attempts with a napkin, I finally gave up, perched the entire plastic tray in front of my computer, and used a plastic fork to eat a piece of turtle cheesecake. 

"You weren't kidding!" the attending said, when she looked up. I agreed that I was not and offered her a piece, but she declined. The scene was similarly amusing to my co-intern, when he returned after seeing a patient, but he declined as well. 

So I ended up bringing twelve pieces of cheesecake home with me again. My last-minute attempts to invite friends and neighbors over for caroling (and cheesecake) were singularly unsuccessful, so the whole thing will be schlepped again to my in-laws, where I will offer it as Christmas dinner dessert.

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