Resignation

By Liz Martin

 

I finished the letter and put down my pen. It hadnít been easy to write but after the events of today I knew I had no choice. I am a doctor and I canít do my job if my patients have no respect for me or my advice. For the four months I had been on Seaview my relationship with the boatís Captain, Lee Crane, had run hot and cold. The Captain could be a very pleasant, easy going individual. But under the friendly exterior was a core of steel. In a crisis situation, and Seaview had been through quite a few of those, that strength of will had sometimes been the only thing to keep the boat going. From what I had experienced, life on Seaview was rarely going to be dull. I felt it was my duty to keep the man healthy.

I folded the letter I had been writing and looked up to notice my two PAís in sick bay surreptitiously eyeing me, they knew how angry I had been. I drew a deep breath to calm down and rose to walk in to sickbay and check on my patients. Pasting on a smile I asked, "Jerry, howís Benson doing?"

"Very well, Doc. Heís fast asleep."

"And Riley and Moore?" They were both sitting on bunks, Riley with an ankle taped, Moore getting treatment for some burns to his arm.

"I was going to suggest we send them back to their quarters when weíve finished the bandaging."

I was just about to agree with Jerryís assessment when the intercom in my office beeped. I took a couple of strides to the desk to pick it up. "Jamieson."

"Nelson here. Do you have a moment to spare Doc?"

"Of course, Admiral. I was going to contact you actually."

"Hmm. Iím in the lab, Doctor."

I picked up the folded paper and went back into sick bay proper. "Jerry, Iíll be with the Admiral, call me if you have any problems."

"Yes, sir."

I headed for the lab. I wasnít worried about leaving Jerry in charge. Bensonís broken leg was the worst injury and that had been a clean break, easily set. No, I corrected myself, that was the worst injury I was sure about. And that explained my anger and frustration.

I slowed my pace to take a little time to think about the last four months. I had been thrilled to get the job on Seaview; I knew there had been many applicants for the position, a couple of whom had been out for several missions. I had even spoken to one of them, Paul Alliston, but all he had been able to tell me was that I would see a lot of unbelievable things - and Paul had left soon after the death of Seaviewís first Captain, Commander Phillips. Paul wouldnít tell me why he had left. No one seemed to have been given the job on a permanent basis and I had been called out to Santa Barbara for meetings with Nelson.

 

The meetings had included a dinner with Seaviewís Captain Lee Crane, and her XO, Chip Morton. I had wondered about that dinner. I had expected to meet the senior officers in a much more formal setting. The dinner had gone well. Chip was particularly gregarious off duty (much different from the serious demeanor he presented to the crew when we were on the boat) and kept us all laughing. Chip and Lee had been roommates at the Academy and Chip seemed to have a never ending supply of stories of their various exploits. Despite the light hearted tone of the evening I had felt that Nelson was watching me and his officers very carefully. If Chip wasnít talking, Nelson himself would introduce a topic, but once the ball was rolling he seemed content to sit back with his glass of wine and watch us. At the time I hadnít been able to figure it out but looking back on it now I thought the Admiral had decided it was the best way to see how I got along with Seaviewís Captain.

I snorted to myself. Dinner had certainly gone a lot better than the past four months! When I saw the Captain in the wardroom he was friendly and open, happy to listen to my stories. If we were discussing the health of one of the crew he was interested and supportive of whatever I needed or wanted to do to keep his crew healthy. But never was Craneís will of steel more obvious than when he himself was the patient. Then, he was totally uncooperative. He would not answer questions - at least not honestly, he would not stay in sick bay long enough for a complete examination let alone long enough to heal. Somehow the man who seemed to respect my opinion at other times seemed to consider that nothing that I said should apply to him.

In the four months I had been aboard we had seen some strange things and had experiences that were immediately classified as Secret - things I couldnít tell anyone about. The nature of the danger Seaview found herself in often put both the boat and the Captain in peril and he had made several trips to sickbay. Each time had been an experience to remember. I kept telling myself it would get better as he grew to trust me but instead the situation had deteriorated and today had been the straw that broke the camelís back.

No, I couldnít continue to work that way. Better I hand in my resignation and either accept something shore based or go back to the navy.

Reaching the lab I knocked on the door and entered at Nelsonís quiet Ďcomeí.

"Admiral," I did my best to stand at attention. "I needed to talk to you, sir. I wanted to give you this." I handed Nelson the letter. Before the Admiral could open it I added, "Itís my resignation, sir. Much as I have enjoyed working with you and the crew, I donít feel I am the right man for the job. You need someone who can work with the Captain and that doesnít seem to be me."

The Admiral hadnít opened the letter, he was just turning it around in his hands, watching me. When I finished my little speech he pointed at the stool on the other side of the lab table. "Sit down, Will, and tell me what happened."

Feeling somewhat deflated at Nelsonís casual comment I sat. But as soon as I started to tell the story I felt the anger rising again. "When that panel blew down in the engine room the Skipper was hurt." I glanced at Nelson. "You must know all this sir,"

Nelson nodded. "Iím sure Iíve heard most of it, I want to hear it from your point of view."

I didnít seem to have much choice, I nodded and continued. "We got the call that there were injuries in the engine room. Jerry and I headed down there. Benson had a leg injury, Jerry started to splint that; the Skipper was dazed but not unconscious. He was bleeding quite badly from an injury to his abdomen, something sharp had caught him and sliced open a fair sized gash, and I suspected rib damage - that was my quick assessment. We had both men put on stretchers and taken to sick bay. Benson was no problem, I took a fast look at him of course but he was awake and aware. It looked like a simple break so I left him to Jerry for x-ray and getting him ready to be put in a cast. The Captain, as usual, was another matter all together! He wasnít so dazed any more. First I checked him for a concussion."

"Did he have one?"

"No but he was badly bruised. I put a pressure bandage on the cut to control bleeding until I stitched it and he was very pale, probably some shock. I could see by the way he was moving that his ribs were causing discomfort. Of course as soon as heíd arrived heíd started trying to get up but I told him I wanted to take x-rays, not an unreasonable request. He wanted to talk to Chip first to get a status report. I said he could do that after the x-rays and I might have got them but at that moment we hit that sea mount. Once that happened it was game over." I threw my arms up in the air and started pacing about the lab. Nelson looked on calmly.

"I let him call the control room and as soon as he heard there were problems with a couple of the compartments taking on water he tried to get up! He didnít wait to see if they needed his help, he didnít ask Chip if he had it all in hand, he didnít wait to see if I thought he had any life threatening injuries." I realized I was practically yelling and tried to calm myself down with a few deep breaths. "Admiral, he had a bad slash in his side, there was a good chance it was dirty, he was bleeding, and by that time I was convinced that his ribs were broken, I just hoped his lungs were okay. He was pale and shaky with shock and needed treatment but no, he wants to leave. When I objected he ordered me out of the way, when I said I was the CMO he didnít even let me finish my sentence, he just pushed me out of the way and he was gone."

"Were there any other injuries from the flooded compartments? Chip told me everyone got out of course but was anyone hurt?"

I waved off the question. "Oh, some bumps and bruises; Moore has some burns and Riley sprained his ankle. Nothing serious." I leaned on the lab table and faced Nelson again. "Admiral, I canít work with him. He could have been killed leaving sick bay today and he didnít listen to a word I said. Itís my job to keep him healthy, a job I take very seriously, but he makes it impossible. If it were anyone else on board with that attitude it wouldnít matter so much, but heís the Captain, I need to keep him alive. He obviously has no respect for me, no trust in me; itís best I leave."

Now that Iíd had my say I felt quite tired. I sat back on the stool and shook my head. "Iím very sorry it hasnít worked out, Admiral, I really liked the job. I feel like Iíve let you down."

"Will, you know I donít want to lose you. Youíre the best man for the job..."

"Why?"

The Admiral looked startled. "Why?"

"Yes, why did you choose me? Iím not looking for compliments here, Admiral, Iím genuinely interested. What set me apart?"

"Okay, itís not a difficult question to answer. You had all the medical training I wanted to see, you had experience in trauma both on land assignments and at sea, you have always shown an interest in research and I felt that would be valuable with the kind of work we do, you had some sub experience in your younger years and you seemed to get along with Lee and Chip."

 

"Ah yes, that dinner. What happened to the other applicants, did they strangle him before dessert?"

Nelson smiled. "No, but you must realize Lee isnít always very relaxed in social situations. I thought if he was comfortable around you it would be just one more sign that you were going to mesh well with the crew and it would start you and Lee out on the right foot. You were the only one I tried the dinner idea with. And the couple of Doctors we had on board before your arrival just werenít able to cope with our missions. Not everyone can handle injuries inflicted by aliens who have weapons we donít even understand, or deal with crewmen who have seen some of the things our men see."

It was my turn to smile. "Yes, itís a unique boat all right." Then I frowned. "You arenít telling me they didnít have any trouble with our Captain."

"No, no. He aggravated them as well, although I donít think they let it get to them as much as you do."

That hurt. "Iím sorry, Admiral, if trying to do my job well is...was...the cause of extra stress for everyone," I said stiffly.

"But thatís why I donít want you to leave, Will. You do the job better than anyone else. You care ... a lot." The Admiral now started pacing the lab. I sat silently watching him, thinking about his words.

"Will, I want you to talk to Lee, I want you to listen to him. See what he has to say, see how he saw the events of today. Please, Will. You know you have to see him anyway. He is hurt and youíre still our Doctor."

"Iíve been wondering about that. I assume once everything calmed down Chip stowed him away somewhere safe. If he was badly hurt either I would have had a call to say he had collapsed somewhere or Chip would have dragged him in kicking and screaming."

Nelson checked his watch. "Actually, Chip gave me a deadline for getting you to go see Lee and itís just about up. Heís in his cabin. Go and talk to him and then come back and see me. Okay? Iíll be in my cabin, Iíll have the scotch waiting. But first I have to go to the control room and re-assure Mr. Morton."

"I guess I donít have much choice. And I do want to make sure heís all right. Thatís part of what makes this so frustrating, I like him. Heís the best Captain Iíve worked under, fair, dedicated, cares about his me. Heís just totally unreasonable and irresponsible when it comes his own health!"

**************

I knocked quietly on Leeís cabin door. When I didnít hear anything I opened the door. Expecting to find the Captain either at his desk or on his bunk I was startled when both were empty. The door to the small head was ajar and I cautiously pushed it open. Lee was sitting on the floor, knees drawn up, leaning back against the wall, his eyes closed, his hand over the bandage on his side. A wave of guilt washed through me, I should have followed up on Lee much sooner.

"Captain." I said it quietly.

Lee jerked awake and looked up at me. "Oh, hi, Jamie. Sorry, didnít hear you come in."

Jamie! The first week I had been at NIMR, while Lee was in my office going over some reports on crew injuries from their previous mission, an old friend of mine had dropped by to wish me luck and heíd always called me Jamie as did many of my family and friends. Lee, for some reason, had really liked the name and asked if he too could call me Jamie. I had been only too happy to agree, I felt it was just one more indication of how well the two of us were getting along. Of course that had been before he was one of my patients!

I moved into the small room and crouched down beside him. "What are you doing in here?" I asked even as I checked Leeís pulse, eyes and then put a hand on his forehead to check his temperature.

Lee attempted a small shrug. "Felt a bit sick."

"No wonder. Youíre white as a sheet. Think you can make it back to your bunk?"

If Lee was surprised that I wasnít insisting he go to sickbay he didnít mention it. He started to get up, ignoring my outstretched hand, but a wave of dizziness hit him and it was only my arm quickly wrapped around his middle that stopped him from falling. Allowing the help, he made it back to his bunk and lay there quietly while I did a quick examination.

"Did Chip put the bandage on?"

"Yeah."

I nodded. I knew Chip would have cleaned the wound but it had to be stitched, Lee probably needed an IV and I still wanted an x-ray of his ribs at the very least. "Captain, much as I truly hate to say this, you do need to make a trip to sick bay but..." I held up my hand, I could see the frown darkening Leeís brow, "I think we can take a bit of time now to have a talk. If thatís all right with you?"

"A talk about what?" I could see the wary look in his eyes.

"I just gave the Admiral my resignation." I shrugged. "He insists I talk to you about today."

Lee closed his eyes and seemed to be considering a response. I turned to put my instruments back in my bag, then settled against Leeís desk watching him. Why was it so hard to get this man to spend time in sick bay when it was so obviously necessary? It had almost amused me to notice that when the Captain did one of his tours of the boat - sometimes in the early hours of the morning - he rarely included sick bay on his tour. The only exceptions had been when there had been a crew member in sick bay. Then, he would drop by to see how the crewman was doing. More than once I had arrived in the morning to find Lee sitting chatting with my patient.

"I donít want you to leave Jamie. Youíre the best doctor weíve had, the crew likes you and you care about them."

I nodded. "Thank you. I agree, I am good at the job and I agree, the crew respects me. But the Captain doesnít, and Lee, your not respecting me, your refusal to listen to my opinion, could cost you your life one day and I donít want to be responsible for that. You seem to think itís fine to just ignore me and walk out if you think you have work to do. I canít do my job when your attitude is just to say ĎIím fineí and try to leave. If I canít get you to see the importance of proper medical treatment...".

"But, Jamie, I do understand where youíre coming from. I know youíre trying to treat my injuries, but sometimes my job means I need you to ignore my injuries, at least temporarily, because I have responsibilities that far outweigh my personal health issues. You and I are at cross purposes at those times."

"Oh, so I should let you leave sick bay untreated, even if I think it might cost you your life, so you can go back to work."

I said it with a smile on my face and was totally taken aback when he said very seriously, "Yes, thatís exactly what I need you to do."

I stared at him. "Lee, Iím a doctor, itís my job to keep you alive, itís what doctors do, we take care of the sick and injured." I couldnít believe he was serious.

"Jamie, I am responsible for the lives of my crew, if it costs me my life to keep them alive then so be it. Itís my job, they are all my responsibility."

"You have an extremely well trained crew, the best XO in or out of the navy, and we even have a three star Admiral aboard, surely you can trust them to handle things when youíre seriously injured, at least temporarily."

Lee shook his head. "That might work on some vessels, Jamie, but not on a sub, and certainly not on one that takes on the missions we see on Seaview."

I still couldnít believe he was serious, but I also knew he wasnít a man for empty gestures. He was twisting on his bunk trying to keep eye contact so I moved over and rearranged his pillows to make him more comfortable, then I grabbed the folded blanket from the foot of his bunk and shook it out and placed it over him. As I worked I thought about what he had said. He was looking at me intently. "Lee, are you sure this isnít something youíre worrying about unnecessarily." I was curious as to just what made him so willing to disregard his health. Granted my experience as a CMO had been gained on surface vessels but it wasnít a trait Iíd seen on any of them.

For a few moments he closed his eyes, when he opened them I could see a pain there which I knew had nothing to do with his injuries. "It was when I was an ensign on the Wenatchee. We had run into some trouble. I was one of many knocked off my feet and I woke up to find myself in sick bay, too sedated to move. My lower leg had been broken, clean break, they were splinting it when I woke up. The Captain had also been brought in, Ted Buckner. He was hurt but he was conscious and he wanted to go assess the damage. But the doctor wouldnít let him, he wanted to get x-rays and treat his other injuries." He gave me a pointed stare. "Captain Buckner was furious, he knew the boat was in trouble, he wanted to go check things out, but the Doc didnít want to hear it and before he could get his point across the Doc had slid in a needle and knocked him out." Lee was silent for a moment. "It cost three men their lives."

I wasnít sure how to respond, but I had to ask. "How did that cost lives?"

"We were taking on water in one of the compartments. The Exec was too busy in the control room to get back to the compartments himself, we were in bad shape. A man was trapped in there, three other men were trying to get him out. The breach opened and water suddenly poured in and they couldnít get out. We could have lost the whole boat. By the time the DCO got there and ordered the hatch closed, we had lost four men."

I must have been looking puzzled because Lee gave an exasperated sigh, "Captain Buckner should have been there, he would have assessed the situation, and painful though it may have been, he would have ordered the hatch closed on the one man. Thatís the most difficult order to give, Jamie and, understandably, none of the others were able to give it. They delayed, and three more men died, men who wouldnít have died if the Captain had been able to do his job. I donít want that to happen on my boat."

"So, if you come in to sick bay with an injury that I think is life threatening, I am supposed to let you leave if you think youíre needed by the boat."

"Jamie, you havenít worked on a sub before. Well, you have but thatís when you were an assistant physician. Subs are different. Itís not like being on a destroyer where you have plenty of officers. On a sub you can lose the whole boat only too quickly, a small problem can grow into a very big problem before you know it. I cannot afford to be in sick bay when we have a problem, not until Iím sure the situation is well in hand. If it were to cost me my life, Jamie, then so be it. Itís a price Iíd willingly pay to save my boat."

I didnít know what to say, he looked so earnest. I knew he was serious.

In the silence that settled on us both I gently took his wrist to check his pulse, then put a hand on his brow again to check his temperature - no sign of fever, if anything he was a little cool. I moved my hand up to settle on his head, hoping he would feel it as a reassuring gesture. "Lee, I do need you to go to sickbay. Weíre not in any danger right now are we?"

He gave me a half hearted smile. "No, Chipís being thoroughly efficient. Weíre heading home."

I really would have liked to call for a stretcher but decided that if we were going to make this work I had to try to do things his way. Now that I understood him, it was a bit easier. "Think you can make it down there on your own two feet if I help you?"

I could see the surprise in his eyes as he looked up at me, and then the understanding - and gratitude. He nodded. "Thanks, Jamie. Yeah, I can do it."

I helped him sit up and then handed him his shoes. "Dizziness gone?" I asked. I knew that just sitting up had to have made him dizzy again.

He nodded and eased himself off the bunk. I made no move to help but stayed nearby. We were about half way to sickbay when he stopped and put out an arm. "Jamie.."

I quickly took the arm on his uninjured side and draped it over my shoulder. "Lean on me, weíll go slowly."

I wasnít sure if I was making a mistake by not just calling for a stretcher but his quiet, "Thanks, Jamie." made me glad Iíd resisted my instincts. By the time we reached sick bay I was carrying most of his weight. Jerry was still on duty and rushed over to help me. Almost five hours after the injuries happened I finally had Lee Crane in sick bay!

*****

It was very late but I could see the light from under Nelsonís door so I knocked and wasnít surprised to hear his call to enter. As promised, the bottle of scotch was on his desk along with two glasses. He pointed at one of his guest chairs as he poured us each a drink.

"So, how is he?"

"Heíll be all right. Heís asleep, Iíve got him on a much needed IV. Cleaned the cut, although Chip had done a good job, still, it took over 20 stitches. Two broken ribs. Heís actually agreed to stay in sick bay for tomorrow,." Will looked at his watch, "well, today."

"And the conversation?"

I couldnít help smiling, "I suppose you know what his argument was?"

"The needs of the many?"

I nodded. "That, along with the necessity for the Captain of a sub like Seaview to throw his life on the line every few weeks."

The Admiral snorted with laughter. "I was pretty sure thatís what he would try to explain to you, yes."

"And do you agree with him?"

A serious expression ..... and the Admiral leaned back in his chair, staring into his drink. It was several minutes before he looked up at me. "Letís put it this way, Iím glad he feels that way, even though I pray it never comes to the point where he has to forgo life saving treatment to keep the boat going."

I understood what he meant, I knew that Nelson considered Lee Crane to be one of his best friends.

I swirled the amber fluid in my glass around a few times before I commented, "I told Lee I didnít know any other officers who would do what he wants to do but of course I have seen it before. In the war. More than once I had commanders in my sickbay who just wanted me to patch them up so they could get back to help their men. And I guess he has a point about the situation on a sub being different than on other vessels."

"If it makes you feel any better, Will, I can tell you that both Chip and I know what heís like and we will always get him to sick bay when itís feasible. If heís worrying about something we do have under control weíll make sure he heads for sickbay. But thatís the best we can do. Can you live with that now you know why he acts the way he does?"

"Even if the boat is safe I donít think heís going to willingly walk into sick bay."

"Maybe not, but some of that is because the entire crew relies on him. A sub is such a tight community. If the Captain is in command, looking relaxed, they are all relaxed. Surely youíve noticed that. They have every confidence in Chip and I hope in me, but even if itís on a subconscious level, they feel more at ease when Lee is in control. And he knows that. So even if heís not feeling his best, heíll hide that and make sure they see him going about his job as though all were well."

I couldnít argue with that, earlier in sick bay my staff had obviously been affected by my mood.

"I do understand, Admiral, and Iíll keep it in mind and do my best to help out. But when the boat is safe, as it is now, Iím going to expect you to support me in keeping him in sick bay."

"In other words I should show up tomorrow morning to read him the riot act."

"He lost a lot of blood, and heís got almost two dozen stitches in that side so yes, a quiet day in sick bay is in order."

"Then Iíll be there by 0700 to stand behind you when you tell him that. Donít worry, heíll listen."

I wasnít so sure but I knew Lee wasnít going to disobey any order of the Admiralís. "Thank you sir, and thank you for the drink." I put the empty glass back on his desk. "And if youíd be so good as to tear up that letter Iíd appreciate it."

"Thanks, Will, you wonít regret it, we need you here."

I laughed, "Sometimes I wish I was needed a little less, Admiral. Good night, sir."

Before heading back to my cabin I decided to make one more stop in sick bay. Leeís temperature had been normal and the corpsman on duty would call me if there was a problem but I wanted to check on him one more time before turning in. Rick, the night corpsman, was at my desk writing notes on a chart. "Everything okay, Rick?"

He smiled up at me. "Fine, Doc. No problems."

I nodded, "Okay, Iíll be turning in now. Holler if you need me for anything."

I walked over to Leeís bunk. He was lying on his uninjured side and I reached down to ensure he didnít have the IV line tangled. He had his arm curled into a fist under his chin. Asleep, with no lines of pain on his face, he looked very young. I patted his shoulder gently and muttered good night to him even though I knew he couldnít hear. With a wave to Rick I headed for my cabin.

I knew I had learned a lot about the man today and hopefully it would help me in the future when it came to treating his injuries. At least I felt I understood him. I also knew that both the Admiral and Chip really would do their best to help me out when necessary. One of the things I had come to realize very quickly once I joined NIMR was that there was a very close bond between the three men who ran Seaview. This had been a difficult day, but it had been a turning point. I suddenly realized I was very much looking forward to the future, and that was a feeling I hadnít had in a long time! I smiled as I realized I really should buy the Admiral a bottle of scotch to thank him for not just accepting that letter of resignation, and Iíd have to get a huge tin of chocolate cookies for Chip. His temporary first aid treatments had been designed to give me time to calm down. Working with men like Nelson, Crane and Morton I knew my life was never going to be dull, and I felt like Iíd found three new friends.