Katie heard the page, sighed deeply and re-wrapped her granola bar before running to the ambulance receiving bay. She waited just a few seconds before the doors flew open and the cot with the injured patient was wheeled out of the truck. The EMT gave her an update as they rolled down the hallway to critical injury bay. She loved the adventure of being the intake ER doctor here; if anyone had even an ounce less passion that she, they would easily become discouraged with the constant interruptions and momentary change in patient status.
As with many other Emergency Rooms across the country, it was always understaffed and hectic, but they did the best they could with the things they had, and lives were saved daily at Mercy Hospital.
The ER had been a calling of hers since she was eight years old, since the day of the awful storm that took innocent life, lives of people near and dear to her. Lives of people she couldn’t live without. She took a deep breath, stifled the acid that burning her stomach, and focused on her patient. A 30 year old male of good health prior to the motorcycle accident. He had laid his bike flat at sixty miles per hour and had the injuries to prove it.
She started with the ABCs of critical care. Airway, thankfully patent. Breathing, thankfully no cyanosis or lateralization of the trachea, but it was labored and stressed. She was concerned about tension pneumothorax and ordered a chest tube and the pulse oximeter. While the nurses worked on that, she continued down the alphabet.
Circulation. Sweating and decreased level of consciousness indicated decreased perfusion, so she ordered electrocardiography and saline into the intravenous access, perfectly placed by the very talented EMTs in the field. She knew his Disability level was only reaction to pain, and there were no clear signs of Exposure. Now to deal with the lacerations and get him to x-ray and begin the long night of tests.
She first went to the face, and as she rinsed the blood and dirt from his forehead and cheeks, his face slowly came into recognition. She recognized those eyes and that chin, but she couldn’t immediately place from where. She would check his chart soon enough…
Lane could barely open his eyes. Every inch of his body ached, screaming for relief. His head throbbed viciously, his shoulders ached, his left hand was in a cast, and he could feel the raw skin patched under the thin sheet.
But, he tried to remind himself, he was alive. He survived a wreck most people wouldn’t have, and he needed to be thankful for everyone and everything good in his life right now. He brought his hand to his face to relieve an itch, but it just caused a fresh wave of pain to emanate throughout his body.
He took a deep breath, thankful to be breathing on his own. He looked around the room and realized with keen intensity that he was alone. No wife, no kids, no friends, nobody. Well, in truth he didn’t have the first two to even miss, and he knew his parents would be frantic the moment they heard he was in a hospital, but he still felt a loneliness he hadn’t known before.
He heard the door open and felt the slight brush of air push the sheet against his skin. It felt cool and relaxed him for a moment, but all too soon it was over. He forced his eyes open long enough to see the doctor enter the room.
That’s when he realized the pain medication must be making him hallucinate. It was his first love, his childhood best friend, the one who accidentally stole his heart twenty years ago, except in a much, much more mature body. Oh, she was delectable, and he wanted to force his eyes to stay open so he could memorize every curve of her body before she disappeared and the hallucination would be over. Try as he might, his eyes burned and his vision went back to black.
Katie had checked the chart all right, and she read and reread the name three times before her heart finally believed it. Lane Goodall, the boy next door, well at least next door in country terms, and the boy who saved her life twenty years ago was here in the flesh and blood. Well, that didn’t quite do him justice in this particular building, but she could only imagine his fantastic body perfectly healed and doing manly, grown up things.
The fact of the matter was that he had saved her life in the tornado that awful afternoon twenty years ago, and she owed him her life. When his eyes fluttered back asleep, she allowed herself to go back in time, a time she forced out of her memory.
She could remember playing out in the field with Lane. They were chasing and playing in the ten acre hay field that separated her farmhouse from his. She picked flowers, and he blew dandelion seeds in her face. She hid around a hay bale, and he found a snake and chased her until she climbed the bale. She called him the nastiest name her eight year old brain could conjure up, and he let the snake go, climbed woefully up the bale beside her and apologized.
“Lane Goodall”, she chided, “you are the darned worst boy I ever seen!” He looked so sorry as he crested the top of the round bale that she felt bad for shouting. She resorted to, “It’s such a good thing I love you so,” a line her mother had told her whenever Katie really messed up but knew it, an instant loving forgiveness.
“Katie,” he said in that all boyish accent of his, his voice both sweet and serious, “I will always love you.”.
She had already forgiven her best friend, and they laid over the top of that hay bale all afternoon, making shapes out of the increasingly fluffy clouds. The clouds had stiffened and started to turn grey, and they decided to part ways. The wind picked up suddenly, out of the blue as they say, and it started to rain, hard.
She started running, but she heard Lane’s voice, “Katie! No! This way!” he ran up and grabbed her hand, hauling her to his family’s crude storm cellar. It was filled with spider webs and skinks, and she shrieked as he wiped the webs away and pulled her deeper down. His parents had met them at the entrance and tightened the hatch once they were all safe, and he held her hand the entire time as she shivered and wiped the tears with the back of her hand.
When the winds eased up, they made their way to the old, creaky wooden stairs and Lane’s father had opened the hatch. The sun shone brightly, as if nothing had ever happened, but when they reached the top step, the devastation was total.
She could feel her breathing hitch just thinking about it, and she decided that was enough of memory lane today. She checked his vitals, charted, and left the room.
Lane woke next to his parents whispering nervously beside his bed. He knew they had somehow been alerted though he never having given the hospital their contact information. He was relieved nonetheless. He tried his best to open his eyes and conceal the pain that made everything feel so heavy and his thinking so foggy.
His mom instantly took his hand, and he tried his best not to wince. “Oh dear!” she worried over him, “I’m so sorry, Laney. How are you? Don’t answer that. I can’t believe I asked it. Oh Laney we love you so much and are so thankful that Katie was here to put you back together. You gave us such a scare!”
His brain tried to process the information. He was so happy to not wake alone, but the name Katie brought a warmth to his heart he couldn’t quite put a name to. Katie made his heart feel whole, and he liked that. He let the dark wash over him with a smile in his heart, it being too painful to attempt on his face just yet….
Katie had done her part. She had taken his case straight off the ambulance, kept him alive and stitched him back together. He had been stable enough to leave the critical care floor and was being wheeled down a floor to complete his care. She should feel satisfaction, but instead she felt a loneliness she hadn’t felt before. Moving back to her home town, taking a job at this rinky dink hospital despite her nearly 4.0 GPA was all for a reason. She was going to give her community the medical care they deserved, so mamas lived to spend another day with their daughters, the way it should be.
The past few days, however, she had seen that her medical care had given not only a mother but also a father their son back. He was alive because of the skilled EMTs, the fantastic nurses, and her stealthy hands. She was so glad that she could finally give Lane his life back, after he had saved hers all those years ago.
But why did it feel so empty? so shallow?
She had checked on him daily while he was in her care, but he had passed all the tests, had recovered from his head injury, and he was now free to go.
She wanted to see him, there was no denying that. She had called his parents personally after the crisis was cleared and she had a few spare minutes. They were so thankful and they made it to the hospital in record time. They had invited her back down to check on him, even though he wasn’t on her floor any longer, and she decided to take them up on that offer.
Her shift ended an hour ago, and she was finally caught up on the paperwork that was such a necessary evil in this line of work. She showered, tossed her jeans and t-shirt on, and strode downstairs. He was all settled in, and his parents had welcomed her with open arms. She gladly hugged them back, sincerely happy to see them. They led her to his bed, and he was definitely awake. His eyes had an awareness in them that said he definitely remembered her. She felt an uncharacteristic shyness spread over her, and she made her way to him.
He whispered out so painfully hoarsely she wanted to tell him to stop, but if Lane was anything like he was as a child, he wouldn’t listen anyways. “Hi, Katie. Remember me?”
Her heart nearly exploded. Of course she remembered him!
She felt tears sting her eyes, another completely new concept for her. She hadn’t cried more than a few times since that awful time in her life. She decided crying couldn’t bring her mother back, couldn’t bring their farm back, and couldn’t bring her back. She wrote off crying and controlled it as if it meant life or death to her.
It didn’t take long after her mother’s death for her father to sell the farm and they both moved in with his parents. Her grandparents were fantastic people, but they lived hours away and they never returned home again. Her father was fairly disabled from his own injuries that night, neither of his parents suspecting a storm let alone a tornado that awful day, and he was never the same again either. It was almost as if she had lost both parents that day.
“Yes, Laney, I most certainly remember you,” she felt her voice crack, and she hated herself for being so weak, but she was determined to have this conversation. “I could never forget you as long as I live.”
He smiled, his swollen split lip attempting to curl up until he winced. “Mom says you saved my life,” he went on.
Ugh, her heart tugged again. “The EMTs were amazing, my nurses are fantastic, and I just get to take the credit” she said with a crooked smile.
He shook his head, holding her responsible and respecting her vulnerability at the same time. “Thank you,” he said. “Can you stay a bit?”
She wanted to, she really, really, really wanted to stay and learn everything about him since the moment she had left, but she was scared. She was scared of the feelings that seemed to multiply around him, and she was scared to lose herself in the memories. She tried to come up with some sort of excuse, but he interrupted her thoughts.
“I know,” he whispered. “I feel the same way. Please stay just a bit.” It was like they had never parted. He read her like a book, and he had been the only one who ever had in her entire life. No counselor or teacher or friend could ever get her the way he “got” her.
She looked over at his parents for permission, and they excused themselves to the dining room. She pulled up a chair and prepared herself for the flood that was sure to unleash.
Lane was so glad that she had come down and checked in on him. She looked tired, despite the noonday sun, and he wondered how many hours she had spent keeping people’s heart beating that day. She had always put others before herself, and her eyes seemed to show that it was still the case today.
He had purposely declined the pain medication all day, hoping to clear his mind enough to push through the fog. He wanted to see her without filters, just as she was. He wanted to read her eyes, to watch her breath, to feel the pulse on her wrist. He reached out with his good hand, and she easily took it. He could feel her pulse, and he knew this couldn’t be a dream. The love of his life, the only true love he had ever had, was back in his life. He didn’t want to let her go, ever.
He wasn’t prepared for her tears. He knew they were coming, he could see them glistening, but he wasn’t prepared for his heart to lurch out of his chest. He was in such a vulnerable spot. He couldn’t hold her the way he wanted to, or whisper all the right things or take her pain. He could only bear it with her.
He tried to sit up, but she stopped him. “I’m so sorry,” she said, “I don’t know where these are all coming from, but they just won’t stop!” She tried to laugh it off, but he knew the reason. He represented more than a childhood friend to her. He represented the worst day of her life, and he was suddenly aware that she maybe would never see him as anything other. His heart broke, and he was determined to take advantage of whatever time she would give him.
“I, ah,” she tried to start, hoping that getting the heavy off her chest would stop the tears. “I never said thank you. Thank you so much for saving me that day.”
His brows wrenched together, and he seemed surprised by that, so she went on. “I never would have made it home, and they never saw it coming to prepare. If you hadn’t taken my hand that day, I wouldn’t be here today. I thank God every day for you.”
He squeezed her hand in response, and he looked as though he were trying to put together a sentence. She knew his brain was probably foggy from the pain killers, so she gave him the extra time to express himself before she dumped her mental self on him completely. Maybe he wasn’t ready to hear it just yet?
She waited, and eventually he put a sentence together. “Ditto.”
He explained, “You were the best friend I ever had.”
“I was the only friend you had. There was no one else around for miles!” she teased.
“I didn’t want anybody else. You were the best.”
She felt her cheeks turn pink, another first for her. She thought things over in her head, and Lane went on, “Remember the last thing you told me that day, before things got bad?”
“Put down that snake!” she mimicked her childhood self. He seemed hurt by that. He must still remember, too.
She got serious again, “I said I love you.” He nodded his head, a sad smile playing across her lips. “And you said, ‘Katie, I will always love you.'”
“I still do, Katie. I missed you everyday.”
He continued, “If wiping out on my bike was all it took to get back to you, I would have done it a long time ago,” he said as if he meant it.
“Lane Goodall! You will do no such a thing! Now that you know where to find me, I expect flowers and love letters and grown up kisses, not blood and stretchers and sirens,” she teased, only his eyes grew serious.
“If you would take flowers from this wreck of a body, I would always bring flowers. Are dandelions still your favorite?” he said, his seriousness fading to the easy banter that came back after all this time.
“I’ve grown up a bit since then,” she teased, “But dandelions from you would mean more than a room full of roses from anyone else.”
Lane was so thankful that she faced the tough subject head on. There were no questions, no guessing, no wondering or worrying. She cut to the chase, and he was so incredibly thankful.
Over the next few days, she made her way down as often as she could. She would sometimes be sleeping on the guest couch when he woke at odd hours, and other times she would sneak him some real food, and other times she would just say hi. He cherished those moments, and he was glad that something so phenomenally good could grow from such a seriously bad accident. Triumph amid trials, his dad would always say. This was a triumph of epic proportions.
He was due to be released that afternoon, and he was so thankful. He would, however, miss seeing her beautiful face. She still bit her lip when nervous and twirled her hair around her fingers, but everything was so much better. Her hands were strong enough to save lives daily, but so soft and precious when engulfed in his. Her eyes were still the steel blue of her childhood, but they revealed much more adult like thoughts. He couldn’t wait for his lip to heal and his body to get back to new so he could kiss her good and proper. He wanted to hug her close, and feel her curves and lines intimately.
In the mean time, she was perfect, and she still loved him, and he couldn’t wait to figure out the rest of their lives, together.