A Midnight Conversation
By Sue James
Lieutenant-Commander William Jamieson scrawled his signature at the foot of the page and dropped his pen on the report in front of him. Leaning back in his chair he stretched to relieve the kinks in his aching neck and shoulders. Looking down at his own handwriting he found that his vision blurred suddenly and he lifted his head as an extensive yawn escaped from deep within his exhausted body. He glanced at the small clock on his desk…23.46 hours. Time you were in bed, Jamieson, he thought to himself and picking up his fountain pen he carefully replaced the lid and placed the pen back in its case. Then he picked up the freshly written medical report on the latest incident to befall the crew of the submarine on which he served as Chief Medical Officer and rising stiffly from his chair he took two steps across the small space of his office and opened the top drawer of the filing cabinet. Thumbing through the densely packed files he retrieved the one he was looking for, slipped the report inside and returned it to the drawer before quietly easing it shut and locking it.
Returning to his desk he reached across to switch off the lamp but paused with his arm outstretched as a muffled sound reached his ears. Curious he straightened up and moved to the side of his desk where he could view the sickbay beyond without being seen. A resigned smile formed on his lips as he recognised the tall figure who stood by the door glancing surreptitiously towards the doctor’s small office before crossing the deck on silent feet towards the only occupied bunk in the room. Unsurprised by the nocturnal visitor Jamie realized that the only astonishing thing about the man’s appearance was the lateness of the hour. He had been expecting him all evening and when he hadn’t arrived had half-hoped he’d taken the doctor’s advice to get some much needed rest but, in reality, Jamie knew he had probably been hard at work and now, when he should be in bed, he had come to check on his friend.
Knowing that to appear now and insist the younger man retire to his own bunk would only result in an unnecessary, unwanted argument Jamie remained where he was intending to give the visitor time alone with Sickbay’s only patient before he made his presence and his opinions known.
Completely unaware that he was being observed Lieutenant-Commander Chip Morton rested his left arm along the edge of the top bunk and gazed down at the sleeping figure of his best friend in the rack below. He was greatly relieved to note that Lee appeared to be sleeping peacefully and that his face, which had been a ghastly grey colour earlier that day, was now merely pale. The doctor had been confident earlier that evening that Lee would be fine after a good night’s sleep but still Chip had felt a strong need to check on his friend’s progress for himself.
He shuddered inwardly as he recalled the race to get the captain back aboard after he had been bitten by a poisonous spider while leading a landing party on a tropical island. If the men with him hadn’t reacted so quickly enabling the doctor to administer an antidote before time ran out Chip might well have found himself mourning his best friend. The very thought made him feel suddenly nauseous and he gritted his teeth as he glanced around for a chair. Seeing one nearby he reached out and lifted it with one hand, placing it down by his friend’s bunk before settling his weary body on its hard seat.
Noticing that a fine sheen of perspiration covered Lee’s pale face he reached into his right trouser pocket for his clean handkerchief and gently wiped the perspiration from his sleeping friend’s face before readjusting the sheet covering his body. Then he leant back on the chair intending to stay a while and watch his friend sleeping when he felt a hand on his right shoulder and a quiet voice behind him said, “You’d have made a good medic, Chip.”
Startled Chip Morton turned his blond head to look up at the lined and kindly face of Seaview’s doctor, Will Jamieson, “I don’t think so, Jamie,” he grinned. “I really hate the sight of blood.”
“You do?” Jamieson was surprised thinking of the times he had witnessed the younger man deal with a medical emergency with the same cool, calm efficiency he brought to all of his work as Seaview’s executive officer. “I’d never have guessed, Chip.”
“It’s called naval discipline,” the young exec smiled. “I’ve trained myself to deal with it but I don’t like it. I’m afraid I was one of those little kids who passed out if I fell and scraped a knee!”
“Really?” Jamieson looked slightly amused as he tried to reconcile the young man he knew with his surprising confession. “So there was never any chance of you entering the medical profession?”
“Absolutely none,” Chip asserted as he watched the doctor check his best friend’s vital signs. “Although I believe it was expected when I was born.”
“Was it?” Will Jamieson completed his checks with a smile of satisfaction and turned his full attention on the questioning face of the exec. “He’s doing well, Chip. Temperature is almost back to normal. I fully expect him to be demanding release from here by the morning.”
“Good,” Chip’s smile was full of heartfelt relief. “He had me worried for a while.”
“He had us all worried; spider bites are no joke!” Jamieson smiled back at the younger man. “But he’ll be fine, Chip so why don’t you go and get some rest; I’ll sit with him for a while.”
“No, thanks,” Chip shook his head. “Don’t look at me like that, Jamie,” he frowned at the disapproving look that had crossed the doctor’s face. “I’m too wired up to sleep and I can relax here just as easily as I could in my cabin.”
Jamieson’s frown increased. It was on the tip of his tongue to point out that the exec’s six foot frame would be a lot more comfortable sleeping properly in his bunk than dozing in a chair that would undoubtedly leave him with aches and pains in his back, neck and shoulders but before he could speak Chip said challengingly, “You look all in yourself, Jamie so why don’t you go and get some sleep and I’ll stay here.”
“It’s my job to take care of my patients,” Jamie frowned.
“You still need to rest,” Chip countered, “or you won’t be able to take care of them properly.”
“And you need to rest if you’re going to command this boat properly.”
“It’s not midnight yet,” Chip frowned back. “I’ll leave when I’m ready to sleep.”
“I could give you something….”
“Jamie!” Chip held his right hand up in protest, his voice rising above the whisper he had been using.
“Okay, okay,” the doctor conceded unwillingly as he glared at the frowning man in front of him. “You can stay a while if you don’t mind me keeping you company,” he pulled up another chair and sat down, “I may be tired but I wouldn’t sleep either at the moment. I told Frank not to come back until 01.00.”
“Okay,” Chip hid his own surprise behind his official executive face as he wondered why the doctor hadn’t given him a harder argument about looking after his own health and getting enough sleep. It crossed his mind that by staying here Jamie was watching him as well as Lee and he suspected that if he let down his guard and allowed his shoulders to slump or his eyelids to droop he would find himself being sent off to bed like a five year old. Determined that wasn’t going to happen Chip Morton sat up straight in his chair and fixed his blue eyes on his friend’s sleeping form. If Will Jamieson thought he was going to catch him out he was very much mistaken!
Seeing the flash of determination in the exec’s tired blue eyes Jamieson smiled gently to himself. If Morton suspected that the doctor’s purpose in sitting here was to keep an eye on him as well as on the sleeping captain then he wasn’t far wrong. Jamieson was well aware that the younger man had worked an eighteen hour day with no real break while having to cope with a near disaster and hiding his own anxiety at knowing his best friend could possibly die if they didn’t get him back aboard quickly enough. Chip had managed the whole situation expertly with his usual stoic professionalism but Jamie suspected that part of the exec’s determination to keep vigil in sickbay now was to avoid facing up to his own emotions and memories of the incident when he tried to sleep.
It was obvious that the younger man was completely exhausted. His uniform shirt was badly creased, the top buttons undone and his tie hanging loosely from his neck. His blond hair was dishevelled as if he had been running his long fingers through it and his fair complexion had darkened beneath a growth of stubble on his lower face. It was a complete contrast to his usual immaculate appearance and a clear indicator that he was too tired to care.
Anxious to see the young officer relax the doctor shifted slightly in his chair and said casually, his voice low, “So what did you mean by saying you believe you were expected to enter the medical profession when you were born?”
“Huh?” Chip looked at the doctor in surprise. Had he really said that? He must be tired; it really wasn’t like him to start talking about his private life and especially his past. “I…nothing…” he shrugged his broad shoulders. “It was just family tradition, that’s all.”
“Family tradition?” Jamieson questioned. “I know all about that. I come from a long line of doctors, my brother is a doctor too but not in the navy. He says he’d get seasick in my position.”
Chip laughed softly, “So where does he work?”
“At the moment he’s in
“And your father?” Chip asked curiously. “Was he army or navy?”
“Neither. My father, my uncles, my grandfather and my great-grandfather were all small town family doctors,” Jamie explained. “I think our father was surprised when Rich and I opted to join the services.”
“He didn’t mind?” Chip sounded interested.
“I don’t think so,” Jamie shook his head, “so long as we kept up the medical tradition they were happy and to be honest it never entered my head to do anything else.”
“Really?” Chip’s quiet voice was almost disbelieving. “Not even when you were small?”
“No,” the doctor smiled reminiscently. “I guess I was just born to be a doctor.”
“Lucky for us,” Chip grinned.
“Mmm,” Jamie grinned back before asking curiously, “So do I take it you were also expected to follow family tradition?”
“Not exactly,” Chip sighed heavily and his eyes left the doctor’s kindly face to focus back on his sleeping friend. When he continued speaking it was as if he was talking to himself and Jamie noted that the younger man’s blue eyes had taken on a faraway, rather pensive expression as if he was no longer in the same room. “But my father was a doctor, a surgeon. He seemed to think it was the most natural thing in the world to cut into other human beings.”
“And you don’t share that view?” Jamie guessed as he kept a curious eye on the exec’s face.
“It’s not that I disagree with it exactly,” Chip turned his gaze back to the doctor. “I mean surgeons do very important work and I have good reason to be grateful to one or two but you wouldn’t catch me with a scalpel in my hands. I guess I just wasn’t cut out to follow the family tradition.” He grinned slightly, “My family was like yours, Jamie, generations of doctors and then I came along and said “No, thank you!”
“Does that bother you?” Jamie asked quietly. “That you weren’t cut out for it?”
Chip started to shake his head, but then he paused and took a deep breath, ”Not now, it doesn’t, but when I was younger…” he hesitated for a long moment, “…it used to bother me that I may have been a disappointment to my father.”
“I should think that your father would be very proud of how well you’ve done in your chosen career,” Jamie offered quietly, anxious to banish the flicker of pain he’d glimpsed in the exec’s eyes.
“That’s what my sister says,” Chip smiled
briefly before his expression returned to one of intense seriousness, “but
sometimes I think she only says it to make me feel better.” He paused again as
if debating whether or not to continue and the doctor waited patiently,
fascinated by this unusual revelation of personal history from the intensely
private young man in front of him. Although, as his doctor, he knew from his
records a fair amount about the exec’s past Jamie had
never heard him talk about it before except in reference to events he had
shared with the captain when they were room-mates at
Chip leant back in his chair and flexed his shoulders, stifling a yawn as he did so. He was aware of the doctor watching him, waiting to see if he would talk further about his personal history and he kept his eyes on his sleeping friend as he considered his options. Eventually, just as Jamie accepted that his companion wasn’t going to say any more Chip leant forward in his chair, a challenging look on his face, as he said quietly, “You know that my parents died when I was very young?”
“Yes, it’s in your records,” Jamieson nodded.
“I thought so,” Chip responded in a resigned tone. “Well, the fact that they died meant I never came under any pressure to follow the family tradition. I was free to do whatever I wanted within reason,” he paused and a smile spread across his weary face before he continued, “My sister wasn’t exactly overjoyed when I announced I wanted to join the navy but she’s always supported me one hundred per cent. She knows how much I hate all things medical and she says that my parents would have understood that, that they would only have wanted me to be happy.”
“But you’re not convinced about that?” Jamie guessed.
“No,” Chip made a face. “I think my mom would have been okay but my dad
would have wanted me to follow in his footsteps. He loved his work and he wanted his sons to share his passion.”
“I guess that’s only natural,” Jamie spoke gently, anxious to banish the haunted look that had come into the other man’s eyes, “but you can’t be sure that he wouldn’t have accepted your decision to follow a different path. What about your brother? Was he interested in your father’s work?”
“Oh, yes,” Chip nodded with a sad smile. “Tim was fascinated by dad’s work and he always said he wanted to be a surgeon too but I knew that I didn’t.”
“Your father must have realized that.”
““I think he did,” Chip agreed, “Even before my parents and Tim were killed I was aware that my father wasn’t entirely happy with me. He used to get very angry over my fear of blood, telling me I would have to get over it before I went to med school.”
“Did you ever tell him that you didn’t want to go to med school?”
“No, I was only a kid and I guess I thought that I would change my mind when I grew up and maybe I would have done if I had come under enough pressure,” Chip shrugged his broad shoulders before stretching his arms above his head in a bid to relieve the discomfit caused by sitting too long on the hard chair which wasn’t really tall enough to support his back. “I’ll never know now.”
The doctor eyed him compassionately. He was sorry to have stirred up painful memories by his casual remark about Chip making a good medic and his admittedly curious questions about the younger man’s past but he was gratified that the exec had responded honestly to him on a subject that was obviously emotionally painful. In the year and a half that he had known Chip Morton Will Jamieson had never had such a personal conversation with him before. He remembered the first time he had met the young exec and how he had been stunned by his youth. Even though it turned out that he was older than he looked he had still seemed very young for the responsibilities entrusted to him but Jamieson had soon come to realize that Chip Morton possessed a level headed maturity beyond his years and was more than capable of carrying out his duties and responsibilities. He had also been struck by the young man’s quiet reserve and he had suspected that there were many aspects to the exec’s personality and that he might take some time to get to know him properly.
He had slowly come to learn that the serious, no nonsense attitude Chip adopted while on duty hid a wicked sense of humour and an intense loyalty to his friends, colleagues and family but the closest he had come to a personal conversation before now had been when he was required to treat the young officer for a serious ear infection. It was then he realized that while Lee Crane was difficult to treat his best friend was almost impossible.
Despite the fact that he couldn’t stand up because the infection had affected his balance and that he had a seriously high temperature Chip had insisted loudly and repeatedly that he had no need for sickbay or for the medication that Jamie wanted to administer. His struggle for freedom had necessitated a strong sedative and when he had woken feeling weak and groggy he had declared miserably that he hated hospitals, medicine, doctors and especially Jamie himself. At the time Jamieson had been more amused than offended and had wondered ruefully what he had done to have two such difficult patients under his care. But now, as he considered what he had just learnt about the exec he wondered if there was some deeper reason for his hatred of the medical world.
Despite an unwillingness to pry his curiosity was aroused and keen to continue the conversation he tentatively enquired, “So how did you come to join the Navy?”
He was relieved when Chip grinned at him, “That’s simple. I always loved the water and I loved boats. I don’t know why; so far as I know there is no family history in the navy. I just know that the idea of sailing appealed to me from a very young age but it wasn’t until my parents were killed and I moved to the east coast to live with my sister and brother-in-law that my interest was encouraged. All of Chris’s family loved sailing and I spent a great deal of my spare time messing about on boats.”
“I didn’t realize that your brother-in-law was in the navy?” Jamie frowned slightly sure he would have known such a simple fact.
Chip laughed softly, ”Chris
isn’t. He’s a teacher but his dad is a retired admiral and he encouraged my
interest from the beginning. Ironically, none of his three sons were interested
in joining the navy which I think was a big disappointment to him so he loved
having me around. It was Tom’s idea that I apply to
“Even though your sister wasn’t keen?”
“Helen’s not exactly anti-navy,” Chip grinned, “but I think she thought I could have chosen a safer career.” He paused, a thoughtful expression on his face. “Helen tends to worry about me and she wants to keep me safe which I can understand because I was terribly accident prone when I was younger and I must have caused her and Chris a great deal of anxiety over the years that I lived with them.”
“Really?” Jamieson’s eyebrows rose. He was aware from the younger man’s medical records that he had had more than his fair share of accidents and a few serious illnesses but this was the first time he had heard him refer to his mishaps.
“Yes, really,” Chip smiled tiredly at the expression on Jamieson’s face. “I saw more than my fair share of emergency rooms and well-meaning doctors who always seemed determined to inflict more pain under the guise of making things better!”
“Is that why you have such a dislike of doctors and medical facilities?”
“I don’t dislike you, Jamie,” Chip assured the older man earnestly. “And I do have a huge amount of respect for what you do. I know it can’t be easy having to deal with me or Lee when we’re in need of your services.”
“It’s not,” Jamieson agreed, “but I enjoy the challenge and I can understand why you react the way you do if you had bad experiences when you were younger. Emergency rooms are very scary places for anyone especially children and if you were afraid of blood it must have been particularly hard.”
“It was,” Chip admitted, his voice low, “but it wasn’t the accidents that made me anti-doctors and hospitals.”
“Not exactly,” Chip frowned suddenly and turned his attention back to his sleeping friend. “He seems to be sleeping very peacefully,” he commented thoughtfully.
“I expect him to sleep through until morning,” Jamie nodded aware that his companion had deliberately changed the subject and wondering why.
“Then maybe I should go and get some sleep,” Chip said tiredly although he made no attempt to move from his position.
“That would be a good idea,” Jamie agreed almost reluctantly irrationally disappointed that the exec seemed unwilling to elaborate on why he hated hospitals and aware that if he was volunteering to leave his self-imposed vigil to get some sleep it was because he didn’t want to talk about it. He knew that he was privileged to have been entrusted with the personal details that the very private young man had already shared that evening but he would have liked to have heard the whole story.
Eyeing the doctor’s face through partially closed eyes Chip Morton knew that the older man was curious to hear the rest of the story behind his hatred of all things medical and he debated whether or not he should tell him the truth. He was surprised that he had already been so garrulous as they watched over Lee; he wasn’t usually so forthcoming and he rarely spoke about his private history. He suspected that it was the lateness of the hour, his own exhaustion and the feeling of comfort and security created by the soft lighting and the undemanding company that had made it easier for him to talk about matters he usually kept firmly buried in his subconscious.
Now looking at Jamie’s calm, gentle countenance he wondered whether he should risk telling him the truth behind his dislike of any kind of medical facility. Not that it would be a risk exactly, he knew that he could trust Jamie to keep the information to himself but he had never, ever spoken of his fears to anyone else not even his sister. Admittedly Helen had shown in all sorts of little ways that she knew and understood his fears but she had always respected his reluctance to speak about them which had suited him fine. He had never wanted to talk about those frightening times preferring to bury the memories and concentrate on the present and the future. It was a strategy that had served him well throughout his teenage years, his time at Annapolis and his subsequent life in the Navy and yet he had to admit that those memories were still there hovering menacingly just waiting for a moment of weakness when they could surge to the forefront of his mind as clear as if the events had happened yesterday.
And those weak moments always occurred when he was sick or injured and forced to endure some kind of medical intervention. At those times his defences were low and the distinctive medical smells and the sight of those torturous instruments encouraged his memories to flood his consciousness with such intensity that to his shame he often reacted as if he was still a child traumatised by the sting of a needle or the sight of his own blood pouring from a wound.
The last time it had happened, here in this very sickbay, Chip had sworn to himself that he would never allow his memories to control his reactions like that again but he knew, deep down, that should he ever be unfortunate enough to sustain an injury on board or even suffer a flu bug his behaviour would probably regress to that of a ten year old as if he had no control at all over his own mind. He felt bad that he should behave like that when Jamie was only trying to help him and he wondered now, if it might help both him and the doctor if he were to try and explain the reasons behind his behaviour.
Through his half closed eyes Seaview’s exec was aware that the doctor was watching him thoughtfully but the older man’s attention swung to the sleeping captain as Chip sat up straight and opened his eyes.
“He’s in a deep, healing sleep,” Jamie said softly without looking at the man sitting opposite him. “So are you going to bed or not?”
“Soon,” Chip took a deep breath. “Have you ever had an operation, Jamie?” His voice was low, almost a whisper but it got the doctor’s attention and he turned to grin at his companion.
“You mean have I ever been on the receiving end of a scalpel?”
Chip nodded a slight smile on his lips.
“I know you’ll think it isn’t fair but no, I haven’t,” Jamie shrugged slightly. “Broke my arm once, back in high school, but it was a clean break…no need for surgery. I’ve been fortunate to have led a fairly healthy life so far!” He hesitated, his eyes thoughtful. “Why’d you ask?”
“Just wondered,” Chip shrugged. “It’s not a lot of fun, you know.”
“I’ve never thought it would be,” Jamie frowned aware that the young officer in front of him had endured his first operation at the tender age of ten. “I imagine that it’s a very frightening and painful experience especially for a child.”
Chip’s blue eyes widened in surprise and he frowned heavily.
“You know, don’t you?” His tone was accusing and he glanced guiltily at his sleeping friend as his voice rose unintentionally.
“I know that you had your appendix removed when you were ten years old and that you suffered an allergic reaction to the anaesthetic and a subsequent infection,” Jamie’s voice was quiet, his tone factual but his eyes were full of sympathetic understanding. “If it hadn’t been for some very skilled surgeons we wouldn’t be having this conversation now.”
“What else do you know?” Chip swallowed hard, irrationally annoyed that the man in front of him seemed to know so much detail.
“Nothing…about that particular incident,” Jamie continued in the same quiet tone. ”But I do know your entire medical history, Chip…and Lee’s and the Admiral’s and every man aboard. I admit I might have to look at the records for a lot of the crew whereas yours and Lee’s are more in my own personal memory but I need to know it if I’m going to do my job properly. I thought you knew that.”
“Yes, I did,” Chip continued to frown. “I just didn’t realize you knew so much detail. I guess I thought it would just say “1954…appendix removed. Period!”
“That wouldn’t really tell me every thing I need to know about your medical history, would it?” Jamie asked gently.
“I guess not,” Chip conceded reluctantly before returning his gaze to his sleeping friend. For a short while silence reigned before he said almost inaudibly, “Is that it, then?”
“What do you mean?” Jamie regarded him quizzically, unsure of where the conversation was going.
“Is that all my records say about my appendix operation?”
“It is…” Jamie hesitated, hating to probe and yet sure that the young man in front of him was close to verbalizing a long buried memory possibly talking about some part of his past that it may do him good to share. Then again….maybe it wouldn’t. Jamie closed his mouth again. If Chip wanted to talk it had to come willingly from him and not because his doctor was pressurising him.
“It doesn’t tell you everything then,” again Chip’s voice was barely audible and Jamie had to lean close towards him to catch his words clearly.
“No…” Chip shook his blond head. “It doesn’t explain why I hate hospitals and doctors and medical procedures.”
“I thought it was because you had such a rough time,” Jamie’s face creased in puzzlement. “Which is perfectly understandable; you were only ten and you were very sick.”
“I know,” Chip smiled slightly, “but like you say I was only ten; it should be a long forgotten occurrence by now.”
“Not necessarily,” Jamie’s puzzlement increased along with his frown lines. A thought came to him, unbidden but as clear as if somebody had just whispered in his ear and he suddenly saw with sparkling clarity where Chip was coming from. Unsure of what to say, not wanting to be the one who spoke first he waited, his eyes scanning the exec’s tired face as if he was looking for indicators of illness. But when Chip finally spoke it was only to apologise.
“I’m sorry, Jamie,” the blond haired officer smiled ruefully. “I got it into my head sitting here in the semi-darkness and the silence that I wanted to share with you the reasons why I hate all things medical. I thought it might be helpful to you if you knew why I react the way I do but I can’t do it. I think you have a fair idea anyway but even though it’s all there in my head as clear as if it was yesterday I can’t speak about it.”
He shrugged a dejected expression on his tired face.
“That’s fair enough,” Jamie hid his disappointment well. “Its okay, Chip; it’s been very interesting to chat with you tonight and you know I’m always ready to listen if you should ever want to expand on things?”
“Yea, I know and I’m sorry,” Chip said again. “It’s just….best left in the past, I think.” He stood up carefully and stretched. “I think I’ll turn in now.”
“Sure,” Jamie smiled. “I think I’ll do the same soon as Frank comes on duty. Thanks for your company, Chip. Sleep well.”
“You too,” Chip bestowed one of his rare warm smiles on the watching doctor and disappeared closing the door carefully behind him.
From his chair by the captain’s bunk Will Jamieson watched the departing back of the exec with a mixture of relief…that he was going to get some sleep…and disappointment…that he hadn’t been able to speak about the ghosts in his past. For a moment it had seemed that he was going to open up and although his desire to keep his past a secret hadn’t held him back in any way Jamie still felt that it would be beneficial for him to talk about it at some point.
On a positive note he had shared more than Jamie would ever have expected before tonight and it was still early days in their acquaintance; there was still time for him to satisfy his admittedly curious mind as to how Seaview’s executive officer really felt about the tragedies in his childhood.
With a sigh he checked over the sleeping captain one more time before
glancing at the clock. 00.52. Eight minutes until he could go to his own cabin and sleep. Closing his eyes he allowed his own thoughts to drift tiredly as the Captain’s breathing echoed rhythmically in his ear.
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