Code Blues

By: Melissa Yi

Chapter 1

I pictured the city of Montreal as a woman with bleached blonde hair and a generous, lopsided bosom, who would draw me into her perfumed embrace and whisper, "Bienvenue." Instead, I found a skinny brunette with a cigarette jammed in the corner of her mouth who turned around and bitch-slapped me.

At least, that's what it felt like. Even before I got mixed up with murder.

Last night, it took me seven hours to drive here from London, Ontario. When I hit the Quebec border, I could hardly make out the blue and white sign declaring "Bonjour!" and the fleur-de-lis flag fluttering against in the dusky, grey-indigo June sky, but I noticed that my Ford Focus began bouncing over more frequent potholes. Although the maximum speed was still 100 kilometers per hour, there was also a minimum speed: 60. I decided that the roads were natural speed bumps. Everyone slowed down to about 110. Not me. I cranked up the On the Rocks’s cover of Lady Gaga, gave my cinnamon gum an extra-hard chew, and zipped by them—

—only to pull up at a dead stop at a red light, one of many in two little towns, Dorion and Île-Perrot. I thought these must be the suburbs of Montreal, but no. Some planning committee thought it was a good idea to run Highway 20 through the heart of little bergs advertising musculation and rénovation. I knew the second one, but the first was intriguing. I could use a guy with some musculation.

I crossed the bridge over to the island of Montreal. Strange to say, as a girl from nearby Ottawa, but I hadn't realized Montreal was an island. Or how big a city it was, with the billboards lining the Ville Marie expressway, advertising everything from "Cuba, si" to cell phones. Skyscrapers loomed above me, including one topped by a white searchlight that revolved around the city.

By the time I took a left up the steep hill of University Avenue, it was after 8 p.m. I felt very small and tired, but at least I'd arrived. I cashed in the last of my good karma by finding a parking space, avoiding the $10 parking lot at the top of the hill. It would all be strawberry daiquiris and whipped cream from here.

Except that the next morning, my alarm didn't go off. Like the white rabbit, I was very, very late.

I didn't panic. Being late was a habit of mine. Even though I was now a doctor, or at least a resident doctor, I often spared a moment to brush my teeth or dab on some lip gloss. Then, suddenly, there was no time, and I was hopping around, pulling up my socks after barely yanking on my underwear.

Today, I was late for my first day of orientation at St. Joseph's Hospital in Montreal. After four long, hard years of medical school, earning my M.D., I was in for two years of a residency in family medicine, mostly based at St. Joseph's.

I'd stayed the night at the Royal Victoria Hospital, in a cramped, pink call room with peeling paint, because it was free for visiting students.

Or not so free. When I ran down the hill, my keys clutched in sweaty fingers, my silver car was one of a chorus line sporting a $30 parking ticket under its windshield wiper.

After multiple red lights, one-way streets, and a guy flipping me the bird, I finally managed to drive up the right street, Péloquin.

I hit the brakes when a moving van shuddered to a halt in front of me. WTF? It reversed and angled left to obstruct all traffic on a diagonal.

The van's doors popped open. Two men leapt out. One pulled down the rear ramp while the other ran into the open door of a nearby apartment and began loading boxes into the van.

Heart hammering, I took a hard right into a parking spot. Even as I locked my doors, a city bus tried to nudge its way around the van, failed, and began honking. Two more cars joined the chorus.

The moving men continued loading the van. They were still smiling.

I did not understand this city.

However, I swiftly recognized St. Joseph's concrete block architecture, typical of hospitals and 19th century prisons. It looked like something my eight-year-old brother, Kevin, might build out of Legos. The only fancy bit was the limestone front entranceway declaring, CENTRE HOSPITALIER DE SAINT JOSEPH, and underneath it, in smaller letters, the English version. Taxis idled in the semicircular driveway with a widened lot for parking and drop-offs. A straggly-haired patient in a wheelchair, an IV still hooked up to her arm, took a drag off her cigarette.

I held my breath against the smoke and pushed open the glass door, ready for the Family Medicine Centre. Only the receptionist told me the FMC wasn't part of the hospital, it was in "the Annex." Great. Like Anne Frank's hiding place.

Finally inside the correct building, even I couldn't miss the orientation room immediately across from the Annex entrance. Its wooden doors were flung open to reveal a room full of people staring at me instead of the man saying, "... any time. I don't mind. That's why I get paid the big bucks."