As she drives towards it, St. Peter's hospital appears to grow out of the surrounding city, its eight stories rise up above the nearest buildings - stores, schools, and offices. The small green park behind the hospital is immaculately kept, with flowers and paved paths for wheelchair mobility, though it is hardly ever used for patients, and more often it is hospital staff who will have their lunch outside on a warm day.
It is nearly noon and the sun beats down on the pavement in the crowded parking lot. Margaret's daughter - Terry - finds a spot a ways from the hospital and absently puts the parking ticket in her pocket, all the while imagining various scenarios of her future - each one bleaker than the last. Terry has always avoided hospitals and doctors - plenty of people do - but the day has come where she must enter those automatic sliding doors, and she feels sick to her stomach as the faint smells of cleaning products and alcohol-based hand-rub tickle her nose.
The entrance is large, to one side is a seating area with a coffee-shop, to the other side is a maze of hallways and elevators and stairwells. She sees a sign labeled 'Emergency' and follows the direction of the arrow, weaving between people in scrubs and everyday clothes carrying coffee, or wheeling chairs. The coffee smells delicious, but does not quite mask the scent of stale recycled hospital air. Terry enters a hallway and follows a few more signs, then enters the emergency room - a large, open room with about 14 smaller rooms around the main nursing desk. She approaches the desk and mentions her mother's name. A young female clerk wearing a pink sweater says her mother is in room six and points her in the general direction. Terry thanks her, and, as if in a trance, walks toward room six, trying not to picture what she will find.
The first thing she sees is her mother on a bed, her hair very messy, and her face pale. Her eyes are closed, and she isn't moving. A nurse is taking her vital signs, the numbers on a small machine beside the bed - the numbers meaningless to Terry. Tubes are in her mother's nose, another taped to her hand. Still another hangs on the side of the bed, draining yellow liquid into a bag.
The nurse looks up and sees her. "Are you Mrs. King's daughter?" she asks, kindly.
Terry nods. She notices her hands and feet feel numb. Her mouth is very dry. "Is she okay?"
The nurse takes the stethoscope from around her neck and listens to Margaret's chest. "We will need to run some tests, but it looks like your mother had a stroke. If we caught it early enough, treatments can be very effective, but only time will tell if there has been significant brain damage. Was she on any blood pressure medications? Blood thinners?"
"Um, yes, she was on two different blood pressure pills. I can't remember the names."
"We will need a list of the medications she was on, we are just trying to contact her family doctor now. Her blood pressure is okay at the moment, it was a little high so the ER doctor ordered medication to lower it so that if she is still bleeding in the brain, it will slow down. We have fluids going from this bag straight into her bloodstream, a low rate of oxygen in her nose, and a tube in her bladder to collect her urine. We will need to send her for a CT scan of her brain to confirm the diagnosis and decide how to treat it. Would you prefer to wait in the waiting room?"
Sitting sounds like a good idea, as Terry feels a headache coming on. "Yes, thank-you. What's your name?"
The nurse looked up from writing on a clipboard. "Oh, sorry. My name is Heather."
Their eyes meet, and Terry realizes she trusts Heather already, despite knowing nothing about her besides her name and profession. "Thank-you, Heather. Take good care of my mom."
"Your mom's in good hands. She looks like a fighter."
Terry smiled. "She is."