“Crash cart!” a doctor yelled as he wheeled a young teenaged girl down the white-washed walls of the hospital.
“Monitor her blood pressure. Hook her up to the EKG,” another doctor commanded.
Nurses dropped what they were doing and swarmed the scene, each preparing the patient to be transferred to the ICU.
“Patient incurred serious trauma. BP isn’t decreasing. Heart rate is increasing; brain pressure increasing.”
“What do we do?” a young doctor asked.
“Induce a coma.”
“She’s a minor. What about parental consent?”
“Damn it! Forget protocol. Either you induce a coma, or this girl is going to die or turn into a vegetable.”
The young doctor searched his advisor’s face for any sign that it wasn’t as serious as he was suggesting. He paged the anesthesiologist and requested pentobarbital, a barbiturate to medically induce a coma.
The Jane Doe patient relaxed her brows as the barbiturate drip filled her bloodstream, and she drifted further into her subconscious.
Evelyn and Victor Caldwell were exploring the small town of Loveland, searching for something special to surprise Dorothy when Evelyn’s cell phone vibrated unnoticed in her purse for the third time. They stood in the checkout line of a boutique shop, holding several dresses Evelyn thought Dorothy would love to wear when the weather turned.
“Did you find everything you were looking for?” the checkout lady asked. Evelyn was taken aback by the resemblance she shared with her own daughter. They had to only be a few years apart.
“Yes, and a little more. Your store is lovely.”
“Well, thank you. So, your total for today is eighty-three dollars and seventy-five cents. Will that be cash or card?” She paused, and her brows furrowed. “Ma’am, I think your phone is ringing.”
“Oh, this silly thing. I just got it; I’m not used to carrying around a cell phone. Let’s see.” Evelyn removed the phone from her purse and flipped it open. “Four missed calls.”
As if on cue, the phone vibrated to life again, and Evelyn answered it.
“Evelyn Caldwell, who is this?”
“My name is Patricia Werner from the McKee Medical Center.”
“I think you have the wrong number. We are from Virginia.”
“Your daughter is Dorothy Caldwell?”
“Yes, is there a problem?”
“We have Dorothy here at the hospital. She was transported here, and she sustained some trauma. We have eye-witnesses who say she crashed into a tree while skiing –” she started.
“Where is the hospital? We’ll be right there,” Evelyn said, running out of the boutique abandoning her merchandise, her credit card, and her husband.
By time Evelyn had gotten to the car, she realized that not only had she ran out on autopilot, but she didn’t have the keys to the car. She wheeled around, ready to sprint back to the boutique, but Victor was close behind her.
“Hey,” he panted. “You left these in there.” He handed her her wallet and bag of clothes, and she wondered how she could have been concerned with something so superficial while her daughter’s life hanged in the balance a mere ten miles away without her knowing about it.
The drive seemed to take forever, and Evelyn was shaking the entire car ride. It seemed like they had the unfortunate luck to hit every red light and pedestrian crossing the street. A few times, she wanted to roll down her window to yell at them, but instead she dug her nails into her thighs. If she caused herself enough pain, maybe it would lessen Dorothy’s. Intellectually, she knew it was insane but she couldn’t help but to believe it, and she kept digging her nails in deeper and leaving dark red marks.
As soon as Victor parked the car in the lot, Evelyn burst from the car and ran in the emergency room. Disoriented, she grabbed a nurse by her scrubs.
“Where’s my daughter?”
“Ma’am, I don’t know who your daughter is, but you can check in on a patient at the desk over there across the room.” She stood up, straightening her scrubs and checking her clipboard.
Evelyn hardly let the woman finish the sentence before she was off running again, Victor hardly a passing thought in her mind. At the check in counter, Evelyn could hardly form a full sentence.
“Daughter. Trauma. Head injury. Skiing accident. Dorothy,” she panted, tears streaming down her face, marking her pain and searing her cheeks with bitterness.
“Dorothy Caldwell? Are you her mother?”
“Yes, where is she? I need to talk with her. I need to see her.”
The woman typed a few things on the computer, scrolled, and scanned the screen. Evelyn noticed the secretary changed to a slightly paler color.
“What? What is it? Tell me where my daughter is,” Evelyn all but screamed.
“Your daughter is in the intensive care unit. I’ll call a nurse to escort you down there, but ma’am, please, control your hysterics. There are patients in there who need their rest, like your daughter. If you can’t keep yourself under control, we are going to have to remove you. Are you alone, or do you have someone with you?”
“Husband, my Victor,” she blurted just when Victor joined her.
“I’m Victor, Dorothy’s father,” he said, more calmly that Evelyn expected he’d be. How he managed to keep a collected front was beyond her. She knew he must be panicking inside just as much as she was on the outside.
“Okay, Mr. and Mrs. Caldwell, please sit in the lobby and a nurse will be out to get you shortly.”
Evelyn scanned the emergency room and watched the people milling about. There were people of all ages and illnesses. It seemed that some weren’t sick at all, and she wondered how Dorothy was doing and in what condition she was. She noticed that people weren’t in a hurry to get checked out, and a lot of them looked like they were just hanging out. It felt like hours went by, but when she looked at her watch, only a few minutes had passed.
“Mr. and Mrs. Caldwell?” a young male nurse asked. “Come with me please. I’m sure you know by now that your daughter is in the ICU – er – in the intensive care unit.”
“They’ve said that already. How is she?” Evelyn asked.
The man reddened. “I’m not certain of her condition. I am not qualified to discuss that with you. The doctor will meet you as soon as he can.”
“You’re not qualified?” Evelyn asked. Who the hell did they hire around here, anyway, and did he have anything to do with her daughter?
“I am an intern, and it is not in my duties to discuss medical procedures or conditions with the patients’ families. I’m sorry,” he apologized, but it seemed to Evelyn he should apologize for being incompetent.
“Just show me where my daughter is,” she said and followed the useless nurse silently, Victor trailing behind her.
When Evelyn first caught sight of Dorothy, she ran to her bedside. There were tubes sticking out of her entire body, and the room seemed to be alive with its own pulse, even though it seemed like her daughter wasn’t producing her own. She let out a sharp gasp and ran to Dorothy’s side.
“My little girl,” she whispered and gingerly held her hand and stroked the palm.
Victor joined her side. “It’ll be okay,” he whispered and repeated it like a mantra, as if he were praying to anything who happened to be listening.
Evelyn burrowed her head in her husband’s chest. His once-familiar scent of pine seemed foreign, and she backed away from him.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
She looked at him with incredulity. “What’s wrong? Do you see her? Does that look right to you?”
“I meant with you, Evie.”
She winced and turned from him. “Please don’t call me that right now.”
“Hey,” he approached her and reached out to stroke her hair. “I didn’t mean –,” he started but was cut short when a tall man with a white coat walked through the door.
“You must be the doctor,” Evelyn said, walking toward him.
“You must be Dorothy’s mother.”
“Doctor Roy Harper. I’m your daughter’s primary doctor.”
“What exactly is going on? What happened? Why is she hooked up to all these…machines? And what the hell is that loud noise?”
“From what we’ve gathered from eye-witness accounts, your daughter –,” he started.
“Dorothy,” Evelyn interjected.
“Yes, Dorothy, crashed into a tree while skiing on the slope over in Loveland Valley. She was first seen on the bunny slopes, but she had crashed on the larger one. She was rushed to the hospital, where we determined that she had sustained some brain injury. Due to the extreme nature of brain injuries, we decided, even though we did not have parental consent, to medically induce a coma.”
Evelyn exhaled the breath she didn’t know she was holding. “She’s in a coma?”
“A medically induced one, yes. Basically, we put people in comas when there is a fear of brain damage. It decreases the pressure on the brain, which allows oxygen to get to all the parts of the brain. It protects the brain and decreases the likelihood of permanent damage.”
“And what’s that loud noise?”
“She’s hooked up to a ventilator. It’s a fancy word for a breathing machine. Because she’s in a coma, she can’t breathe on her own, so we have a machine breathing for her.”
“How long -?”
“We won’t know until we do more tests. Right now, we are observing her and her progress. We’re constantly monitoring her brain waves, and we are securing the equipment to do brain scans. Best case scenario is a few days; worst case, a few weeks, but we won’t know until later. My suggestion is to go home, get some rest, and eat some dinner. Come back in the morning if you want, but she doesn’t know if you’re here or not.”
“Thank you, but no thank you,” Evelyn said through tight lips.
“It’s up to you, but we will update you hopefully tomorrow afternoon. I look forward to working with you and your family. I have tests I need to run. Do you have any more questions?”
“I don’t think so,” Evelyn said.
“Just one,” Victor said, and Evelyn jumped, forgetting that he was still even in the same room much less that he still existed. “What’s the worst case scenario for this whole thing?”
The doctor fidgeted. “We don’t like to look at things like that, but we really won’t know until we do more tests. The best case scenario would be minor brain damage that could soon correct itself with brain training.”
“What’s the likelihood she would walk away with zero damage?” Victor asked.
“In my professional opinion, it’s impossible to say for sure, Mr. Caldwell.”
“What about your personal opinion?”
Dr. Harper inhaled deeply and looked at Dorothy. “It’d take a miracle.”