In Need of a Heart in Texas
Rachel sat in the hospital chapel, grateful for the inexhaustible supply of tissues. The cross and adjacent Star of David were burned into her retinas, so long had she stared at them. For weeks she had wrestled with her prayers. “Please, God, save my son” really meant, “Please, God, kill someone else’s son, but slowly enough that Blake can have his heart.” Not a prayer she said out loud, but one she felt with the deepest conviction of her increasingly damaged soul.
Her phone vibrated and she snatched it up. From the Transplant Coordinator, a possible match. “Thank you, God,” she said aloud. A couple in the back-most pew gave an encouraging nod as she rushed from the chapel, back to the ICU, to Blake’s bedside. She squeezed his hand and his eyes opened.
Delivery of a Nightmare
The call came in the middle of her son’s funeral. One minute Beth was sprinkling dirt on her son’s tiny casket, her husband, the only other mourner, standing apart. The next she was speeding alone through driving rain and streaming tears. A week ago, her sister-in-law would have said, “We each mourn in our own way. He’ll come around.” A week ago, she would have been there for Beth. A week ago, the world was a very different place.
Soccer Is Life
At the soccer field, every one of my teammates hid behind a copy of the newspaper’s sports section. My own face stared back at me twenty times over. Ugh! “Whatcha reading?” I said. “The good article’s on the front.” I should know; Dad wrote it. “Oakmont High Boys’ Soccer Favorite in State Semi-finals Tonight.” He included a team photo and several action shots from the season, but the only full-face image was of the team captain, which happened to be me. “Tyler McLoud” appeared in bold under the photo. My best friend and teammate, Carter, thinks Dad’s job is a perk for the team, I beg to differ.
“Alligator attack at Kimball Botanical Gardens. Animal control and EMS are on their way.” I hit the lights and siren, and accelerated down Tower Road toward the park. My partner said nothing as the blood drained from his face, both of us hoping for a false alarm. At the gardens we bumped through a mine-field of rocks and axle-threatening holes disguised as an innocent field of coarse green grass. We stopped near a small group huddled around a figure on the ground. The victim lay on his back, eyes closed, face glowing white in the early morning sunshine. A woman hovered, caressing his cheek. His right arm lay across his abdomen, his left at his side, wrapped in a red towel. No, not a red towel, a bloodied white towel. The arm was too short, much too short, with a belt cinched mid-biceps.
An Unseen Border
“Please let me have the chest pain in 3,” I said. “I can’t take any more whiny kids today.” Clare raised an eyebrow. “You can have the next trauma.” “Two traumas,” she said. “I can’t stand any more whiny parents.” “Deal.” She wrote my initials by Room 3. “Remind me why we chose Emergency Medicine?” My sentiments exactly. One month into internship and boredom exceeded thrill by a large margin. We wanted to learn about emergencies but so far had been relegated to the easiest cases.
A Life through Trees
Christmas Near Miss: Santa-Fairy and the Tooth Claus
The Choices We Make
When I returned from a long walk with Pep, the house smelled of Grandma’s too-flowery perfume, Grandpa’s not-at-all-flowery socks, and Sunday afternoon pasta. Happily, the last dominated as I approached the kitchen. “That smells great.” I lifted the lid on a simmering pot of sauce, glanced at Grandma, then tore a piece from her fresh-baked Italian loaf, dipped it in the sauce and slipped it into my mouth before she turned. Unfortunately, spaghetti sauce simmers fairly hot, and my yelp did not go unnoticed. “Jack.” If not for my burning mouth, I would have smiled at her tone of reprimand, so effective during my childhood summers, now not so much. I winced as I swallowed. “Serves you right,” she said. “Dinner’s in half an hour. Go get cleaned up.”
“Why do we have to rotate on Labor and Delivery?” I say. “It has nothing to do with neurosurgery.” “Oh for God’s sake,” Sheila says. “Maybe you’ll get lucky and some poor pregnant woman will have a brain tumor, just for you.” But I don’t think she means it. Probably. I have zero interest in gynecology, even less in obstetrics, but neurosurgery residency is competitive, so I have to get A’s, which means studying it all, and feigning interest each rotation. I honed my skills on pediatrics — such annoying people… and then there were the kids. A few were semi-cute, one played peek-a-boo from his mother’s lap, another grabbed my stethoscope and put it on his head. Maybe he realized I’m a neurosurgeon-in-training. Once the vaccinations appeared though, the cuteness dissolved into a red-faced shriek. Kids are, at their core, unpredictable. The one thing I can’t handle.
For Want Of A Grade
Blake Rhodes breathed in the crisp March air. The air was different on the outside, even if the outside was still Baltimore. Ten years. He had a lot of catching up to do, beginning with his daughter. Erica wouldn’t bring her to the prison. He could understand that, most of the time. At least she’d allowed his mama to be a part of Jessica’s life, and Mama brought pictures. He’d kept them all. His daughter’s life from birth to seven years old. She was nearly ten now, but the photos stopped coming when Mama died. Those photos, and a few official documents, were all he took from the prison, his only possessions of worth.
Physiology, pharmacology, toxicology…kill-me-now-logy. First year of medical school finally over, Emily left Boston with a full brain, empty pockets, and a desperate need for salt air and decompression. Her parents still in Europe, she had the house in Bar Harbor to herself. Next week she would start work at Mount Desert Island Hospital, as a scribe in the ER, for the experience, and the money. But this week was for reconnecting, with her friends, her dog, herself. Jillian came squealing from next door before Emily could pop the trunk. Just like old times. “You’re here. I’m so glad you’re here.” The embrace felt like old times, too. Best friends since childhood, no one had filled Jillian’s warm and comfortable shoes.