What Will They Say About You?
by Carol Pahl
Raine Jackson looked at the wall clock, again, for the fifth time in the last ten minutes. This seemed like the longest day in her life. She eagerly volunteered to provide medical services at one of the many remote clinics funded by the State of Colorado. That was a long six weeks ago. Six weeks of gratifying medical work that physically drained her like none she'd ever done before. Rural hospitals received less reimbursement from Medicare and state funded health insurance followed federal programs. A provider needed to passionately love their profession because in the economically strapped community, paying doctor bills were low on their patients' budgets. The community struggled to recruit new staff and depended on medical students and volunteers for medical care at the small clinic.
It was also six long weeks separated from her husband and his 'band of brothers'. Each member of Team Seven was like a big brother, protective of each other and the few females allowed into their inner circle; Nettie Wells and her niece Casey; the owner of the Saloon, Inez; Chris' widowed neighbor, Gloria Potter and even Maude Standish-'Whatever-her-last-name-is- this-week'. Each one was special to one or more of the men and therefore special to all of them.
Her mind drifted to the situation in Denver. She should be with them, with her husband in their grieving over the loss of the youngest of the team. Her own heart ached for the death of JD Dunne. He held his own, arguing and debating with the six older men but he treated her with much respect, both as a physician and as a real friend. The ATF lost a true asset when the young man died so tragically. When the clinic closed in three hours, she would begin the drive back to Denver. She packed her car before work. The gas tank was full; her cell phone charged and nothing short of disaster would prevent her from joining Nathan before the sun rose tomorrow!
The summer days had been oppressively hot and she'd treated several cases of sunstroke during the past week. The heat caused people to be careless and a parade of patients needed stitches and tetanus shots. The clinic staff consisted of a receptionist, a team of registered nurses and a physician's assistant. Today, Raine shared duty with Marge Lotte, a nurse/midwife, the rest of the staff excused for the day. Raine enjoyed the woman's practical nature and experience in small-town medicine. She scolded the foolish one-minute but would ooze compassion for the unfortunate the next. Marge was a no-nonsense type but could coax the most reluctant infant into the world, with minimal suffering for both baby and mother. She would miss the older woman but not small town.
"Help. We need help!"
The shout broke Dr. Jackson's daydreaming and her professional demeanor took over.
"This girl's about to have a baby! HELP!"
Standing in the doorway was the largest woman Raine ever met. Cradled in her arms was a young woman, with long, black hair plastered to her flushed face. "Mary's going to have a baby, just like Christmas!"
Another woman, a smaller version of the larger one, pulled the pair into the clinic. "This is Maria. My sister found her, lost, near our home. She is going to have a baby. We are not responsible for any medical bills. We were happy to get her here. Where do you want her?"
"And you are?" Raine asked, filing away all details.
"I said, we are not responsible for her." The woman clutched her purse.
"I'm Alice. I like to find treasures. I found Maria. She's going to have a baby. Can I play with the baby?"
A scream from the soon-to-be mother stopped the introductions and Marge appeared from the treatment room. "Bring her in here. We'll get the rest sorted out after we assess the patient." Even though Dr. Jackson had the final say, she learned early on to step back and let Marge take the lead with maternity cases. She could only hope to have such a competent provider available in the future when she and Nathan began their family.
"Maria, you need to listen to me. Every thing is fine. You're going to have a baby and what you are feeling is normal." Marge coached the girl through the next contraction. It wouldn't be long before her baby would arrive but the girl was terrified.
"Deseo a Alice. Deseo a Alice!" she pleaded. (I want Alice)
"We need to do something. I'll go get the woman. You try to keep her calm." Raine left the room and was glad that the two women hadn't left the clinic. She explained the situation and both were gowned. Helen refused to leave her sister's side.
Alice took the small hand into hers and standing at Maria's head, she used the same litany she'd recited to Joey and to the many animals she'd nursed back to health. The young girl's blood pressure dropped immediately and the rest of the birth progressed smoothly.
"It's a girl, Maria!" Marge announced placing the squirming infant on the girl's middle.
"Helen, Maria had a girl. She can't have a girl. She's supposed to have a boy. In the story Mary and Joseph have a boy. OHHHH! Joey. We forgot about Joey. We left Joey in the car. He should be here!"
Both providers looked at Helen for an explanation.
"Alice found a young man, too. The way she talked he's the father but all he's done is sleep. He's in the car. Alice had to carry him to the car when we left and he was still sleeping when we got here. I forgot about him."
"Course he's sleeping. I gave him the drink that makes the animals get better."
A loud shrill interrupted the conversation and Dr. Jackson left the new mother and baby in Marge's capable hands to answer the phone call.
She returned in a short time and ordered. "That was the sheriff. We're under a tornado warning. We need to get everyone to the basement. One's been sighted and it's heading this way.
"What about the boy? The father's in my car." Helen asked.
Not wanting any of the women to be placed in danger she ordered them to move to the basement. "I'll go get him because he isn't safe in the car."
The black clouds swirled ominously overhead and the air was heavy. Her heart raced in her chest as she ran to the black sedan in the parking lot. The birds were silent and images of the movie 'Twister' raced through her head. She didn't want to go flying with any cows but she couldn't abandon the new father either. Raine grabbed the door handle and grabbed the man's overalls, yanking him unceremoniously from the vehicle. He stumbled and she feared she'd have to drag him back into the clinic but he gradually realized she was propelling him towards the building. The approaching storm roared in her ears as they entered the main hallway.
As she pulled him down the hallway to the basement she heard "No, 'aine" and suddenly found herself shoved into the men's restroom and face down on the floor under the sink. He laid on top of her just as the building exploded around them. The cement block of the small room held but the roof disappeared and rain drenched both of them. The noise was deafening and suddenly a sharp pain like she'd been stabbed raced through her thigh. Too scared to move she cowered under the stranger, and the darkness surrounded them.
What seemed like a lifetime but yet only minutes passed before the tornado ended its destructive path and retreated back into the sky. The storm front continued its journey east leaving the county in disaster.
Gradually daylight poured into the shell of the building and Raine calmed enough to speak. "It's over. You can get up. Get off of me. I've got to see to patients. GET OFF OF ME!"
The body didn't move and she couldn't lift him. He'd pinned her against the block wall so the only way out was to have him move. As she tried to dislodge him, pain shot up her legs and she realized that something held her literally to the floor.
"Can't move, 'aine. Sorry." He groaned in pain. His head was ready to explode and his broken arm was trapped between him and the floor. Some huge object trapped them both.
"Hi Raine. Didn't expect to hear from you till." Nathan looked at the time on the phone. "Till five. You get off early?"
"Excuse me. Is this Nathan Jackson?" The deep male voice surprised the agent.
"Yes, this is Special Agent Jackson, ATF. What are you doing with my wife's phone? Let me speak to Raine, NOW," he demanded.
"Agent Jackson, this is Thomas Schroeder, Deputy Sheriff, Prowers County. A tornado destroyed Watsonville this afternoon, including the medical clinic."
"Raine?" Nathan interrupted, "My wife, is she alright?"
"Dr. Jackson was injured and has been air-lifted to the area hospital in Lamar. We found the ICE entry on your wife's phone, with your phone number."
"How bad is she hurt?" Nathan asked, unaware that the rest of the office stopped talking and listened to the one sided conversation.
"I'm not an EMT, sir. We appreciate that your wife's phone had the ICE entry. You'll have to contact the hospital in Lamar for any status report. I can tell you she was conscious when she was removed from the rubble. I wish you both well. Good bye."
Nathan stared at the receiver, the reality of the telephone call sinking in. Raine, his wonderful wife was injured. Raine was hurt! He had to go to her now!
Larabee sighed. It was time to meet with the grief counselor and the whole team had been ordered by Director Travis to attend the session. This was the worst part of his job as team leader, and something he'd prayed he'd never have to do. Maybe he was being selfish. He knew the risks as did every agent in the service. But why the kid? JD had his entire life ahead of him. Marriage, children. He sighed and laughed sadly to himself. At least he didn't have to comfort a grieving wife or parents. Just a team that was closer than most families. He looked at the clock. 4:00. The sooner the meeting started the sooner, the sooner it'd be over. He hated this!
"Conference room now!" Larabee ordered, walking from his office to the break room. He needed another cup of coffee to steel himself and ignored the tension in the outer office.
"Chris. Nathan's gotta leave." Vin's long stride quickly brought the sharpshooter to the team lead's side.
Larabee shook his head negatively. "Can't put this off any longer. Been a week. Travis ordered and I promised we'd all be there. Time to get this over."
Vin grabbed Chris' arm. "Raine's been hurt. She in a hospital down south..."
Prowers County Hospital
"Nathan. I'm so glad to see you. I have never been so scared in my life. Please. Please take me home."
Nathan and Raine embraced, her tears soaking his shirt. "It's alright baby; it's alright. You're ok. You're safe." He repeated the litany, gently rubbing slow circles on her back. "We'll head back to Denver just as soon as the doctor in charge releases you."
A large bandage covered the entrance and exit wound on her thigh. Though curious of what happened he didn't demand the story, knowing the love of his life would share the details when she was ready.
Nathan stood, stretching his arms to the ceiling, hoping the popping of his back didn't wake his wife. He stepped into the hallway, wanting to visit with his wife's nurse. The hallway seemed vacant though he could hear the weekend news cast on someone's television. Where was the nurses' station? Where were the nurses, aids and clerks?
He walked toward the elevators, listening for any voices that might belong to a hospital employee. The quiet bell dinged on the elevator and two ladies in colorful smocks exited it, their faces sad and worry lines creasing their foreheads.
"Excuse me. Are you the staff on this floor?" he asked, sensing that something wasn't quite right.
Both women nodded and one replied, "I'll take this Betty. You go start the paperwork. How may I help you?"
"My wife, Dr Raine Jackson, Room 227. I was wondering when the doctor made rounds on the weekend. I'd really like to take her back to Denver, to home, to recuperate." Nathan explained.
"Sounds like a good plan, Mr. Jackson. Her doctors aren't making rounds this morning. We are in an emergency situation and all patients without life threatening conditions are being released. There was a multi-vehicle accident last night plus the tornado victims have overloaded our emergency department. One of the vehicles was a bus full of teenagers. I'll be in to check on your wife shortly and hopefully we can get you on road before noon. Is she awake?"
"Thank you. She wasn't up yet but knowing her she's probably awake now."
Nathan walked back to his wife's hospital room, his step a little lighter than it was a few minutes earlier. He never wanted to go through the gut wrenching feeling of loosing someone so close. Mentally he chastised himself; he'd all but forgotten about JD. With Raine home, healing could begin for both of them.
"There you are. Did you stay here all night? You look like you slept in those clothes." Raine smiled at her husband.
"How are you feeling, darling? Ready to head north, go home? Your nurse will be in soon, to check on you, so we can head home this morning."
Her bright smile filled the small room. "Come here." They shared a kiss and she spoke. "Will you do me a favor?"
"Sure, anything Baby."
"Find the man that was injured with me. I want to thank him, for saving my life. He covered me with his body just before the storm hit. Plus, the antenna that hurt me impaled him first. We shared. I need to make sure he's not infected." Raine frowned. "At least see if you can find out his name. Hopefully we can contact him later."
Nathan searched the crowded hallway for someone who might answer a question about the mystery man but the emergency department of the small facility was overwhelmed with patients and families seeking treatment or their own answers about injured or missing relatives. What did the staff in this hospital wear to separate themselves from the patients? Colorful smocks? Scrubs? Or had they been paged to attend to the massive influx and were still wearing street clothes?
Crying and scared children filled the small waiting area and several adults sat in the hallway waiting to be seen by the doctor. In another time and place the licensed EMT would gladly offer his own medical service in assistance but laws, regulations and politics prevented emergency technicians from performing any medical assistance once passing the ER doors. He knew that his wife, even though she was injured, would readily pitch in to help if he brought her to this area of the hospital.
Nathan continued his search. He'd already tried the main reception area but was unsuccessful. Without a name he wouldn't be given a room or status of any patient. He understood the HIPAA requirements but at times the rules tied the hands of those most able to help.
Glancing at his watch, Nathan knew the floor should have received Raine's discharge paperwork by now. He wanted to take his wife home and leave this nightmare but from a medical standpoint he could understand her desire to visit with the other man. Nathan wasn't as eager to meet the person who'd put the love of his life in mortal danger. If the man had been with his own wife or at least in the hospital, precious minutes wouldn't have been lost, minutes that would have given both of them the chance to take cover in the basement with the new mother. He'd even tried to see if the baby and mother were also brought to this hospital after the tornado destroyed the outlying facility but that too was a dead-end.
A man stepped out of an exam room and rolled his neck, trying to relieve the stiffness. Was he the doctor?
"Excuse me. Excuse me. I know you are extremely busy but I have a quick question," Nathan asked.
The man shook his head wearily. "Don't have time to talk to the press. How'd you get past security?"
"I'm not the press. I'm Dr. Raine Jackson's husband. I need to talk to the man who was also injured with my wife. I haven't been able to locate him here. She said he was brought here too."
The doctor nodded and reached out to shake Nathan's hand. "Sorry man. It's been a night from hell around here. We're understaffed. The two volunteer physicians who were replacing Dr. Jackson were part of the pile-up. Staff is stretched so thin, I'm surprised we haven't all exploded by now. Blood and guts everywhere." The exhausted man shook his head. "I'm sorry. I don't normally sound so morbid. I haven't gotten to that fellow yet. He's in the last room at the end of the hall. We've been monitoring him and he's stable but there's so much wrong. He needs a surgeon; we don't have one on staff except on Thursday's. What's today? Saturday? Sunday? I don't remember. That young man," the doctor pointed to the end of the hallway, "He should have been flown to Denver, to a trauma center, not be brought here. I ordered another helicopter but who knows when they'll get here." He sighed. "I gotta get back to work. Take good care of Dr. Jackson and don't let her try to assist. She's a good doctor but she needs to recover from her injury first."
Nathan watched the weary man shuffle off to the next treatment room. Knowing that cell phones weren't allowed in the emergency area, he resisted pulling his from its holster in sight of any of the other patients. Walking like he knew where he was supposed to be, the agent slipped into the last treatment room. The overhead lights were dimmed and a lump on the gurney meant someone was in the room. He pulled the phone open and hit the down arrow four times.
"Brother Nate! How's Raine?"
"She's fine. We should be heading back later today. Listen, I need you to do a favor..." After explaining to the older man his request, and ending the call, Nathan took his first good look at the lump on the gurney. He suddenly felt sorry for all the mean thoughts he had about this stranger. One end of the gruesome steel rod rested on a rolled, blood stained blanket; the other disappeared into the man's thigh. Someone had removed most of the man's clothing. Blood soaked patches of gauze decorated the exposed skin. Had he also been struck by flying glass and other debris? Long, greasy black hair covered most of the man's and a huge, multi-colored bruised adorned half of his face. Why was his arm strapped to his body? Was it broken before the tornado? The urge to morph into the healer mode swelled and he gently pushed the stringy locks away from the sweaty face. Even without a thermometer, he could tell the man's temperature was too high. The staff should have started an IV to begin the battle against infection and dehydration!
He took a closer look at the man's face. After seeing the straight black hair and Raine's description of the new mother, he assumed the man was Hispanic but now he could tell that this man had light skin, very light skin. Something seemed familiar about the man's smaller nose. JD had a nose like this young man. Another life tragically changed. His eyes watched the shallow rise and fall of the other man's chest. Should he wait until someone came to help this friendless man? Was Raine waiting for him? He grabbed the wall phone and dialed her room.
"I found him. He's in bad shape."
"Take me to him. I need to talk to him."
"He's not awake. They don't have a surgeon; the rod is still in his leg."
"What? Are they keeping him sedated?"
"I don't think so. It is so busy down here, I think they've forgotten about him." Nathan added sadly. "I'll make sure we get results of a blood test, before it's too late. See you soon. Love you."
"Ayy? He'p me," a voice despairingly said.
Nathan hung up the receiver and looked into the two small slits that were once portals to the man's soul. "I'll try. Do you hurt?"
The injured man's eyes fluttered as he fought to remain conscious. "'ater, I 'irsty."
A cellophane wrapped plastic cup sat on one of the shelves. Nathan quickly unwrapped the glass and filled it under the tap. He found a straw and added it to the glass, guiding the small straw toward the scab covered lips. "Not too much now." He let the man pull a couple of sips of water into his mouth before removing the cup.
"Danks, Afen. Raine OK?"
Had he just heard what he thought he'd heard? Nathan looked at the man's face carefully, really seeing the battered and bruised features. The cup slipped from his fingers and splashed unceremoniously to the floor.
"JD? JD? Oh, my! JD. We thought, we thought." He couldn't finish the sentence. It was JD. He was alive! But he needed help and he needed it now!
Grabbing his cell phone he hit the redial button. He didn't give the older man a chance to speak before he started shouting orders.
"Josiah. Order a medical evac helicopter from Mercy. We need to transport a patient immediately. This is a Priority One. Get Ezra on it or on another chopper but get him here. You are not going to believe what I just found!"
Chapter 2 | Chapter 4