Samantha cut off the motor and sat in the sudden stillness, hands clenched on the steering wheel. A faint breeze stirred through the open window, teasing strands of ash blond hair that had escaped her tight chignon.
She blinked and took a deep breath. The scent of blooming azaleas filled her nostrils. For a moment, she wondered if she should restart the car in order to close the window. But a brief glance around had her dismissing the thought. Eleven in the morning, and not a soul in sight.
If not for the sign out front that read Oakridge Urgent Care, she might have thought she’d come to the wrong place. Like nearly everything she’d seen since rolling into town, the clinic looked deserted. Horizontal blinds shuttered across the windows. A handful of envelopes and advertising circulars peeked from the top of the mailbox beside the front door.
It was the middle of the week, when ordinarily Samantha would have been rushing from one exam room to the next in her primary care practice in Philadelphia, swamped with appointments, charts, and calls from patients, hospitals, nursing homes, and pharmacies. Or at least that’s what she would have been doing prior to ten days ago, when the ever-capable, efficient, resilient Dr. Samantha Winters had fallen apart.
“This will give you some breathing room,” her best friend Jane had told her, when she’d first floated the idea over the weekend.
“I thought that’s what I’m getting by taking time off,” Sam said.
“No, you’re wallowing. Sinking into depression. Isolating yourself. When was the last time you wore something besides sweats?”
Sam glanced down at the faded T-shirt and cut-off sweatpants, with the barely legible “Bryn Mawr College” logo. “I’m not depressed,” she said.
“Well, maybe not clinically,” Jane conceded. “But if you don’t do something to shake off this funk, you’re certainly headed that way.”
“Is that your professional opinion, doc?”
“You betcha. So do me a favor, okay? At least check it out. Ross says it’s a cushy position, small town, nice people.”
“If it’s so appealing, why hasn’t someone snapped up the job already?”
Jane’s sigh sounded long and clear despite the spotty wireless connection. “You need me to tell you about the medical malpractice crisis in Pennsylvania? The mass exodus of physicians to neighboring states? The fact that coastal cities are super-saturated while rural America is facing its biggest primary care shortage ever?”
As one of the physicians who’d been lucky enough to nab a plum position straight out of residency in an affluent center-city private practice, Sam didn’t need her nose rubbed in the facts. Nor did she need reminding about the litigious state of American medicine—she’d had enough first-hand experience of that to last a life-time, thank you very much.
Still, six months out in the boondocks?
The closest she’d ever been to rural America was a class trip to Lancaster County in the fifth grade. They’d visited an Amish farmer’s market and gotten to pet some goats. She still remembered the smell of manure and the nauseating sweetness of freshly fried funnel cake.
So what was she doing, parked beside a quaint Victorian on a dead-end street in the middle of rural York County, Pennsylvania? Already the lack of city noise was making her nervous. And she hadn’t passed a single Starbucks on Main Street. How was she supposed to survive without her daily infusion of Skinny Lattes?
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