I don't remember speaking more than five words to Tom on the trip to the hospital. He walked with me all the way to the Admitting Desk, and waited nearby as I checked in. A middle-aged lady wearing a name tag that read "Mrs. Benson, Admitting," hurried me into a glass-walled consultation room right away and closed the door. I took a seat across the desk from her. Tom sat in a chair out in the hall.
"How's Mike?" My insides trembled, afraid to hear the answer.
"He's still in the emergency room with the doctors." She didn't look at me, only kept shuffling through papers in a manila folder. "We've been trying to locate you all morning—calling all over Seattle, thinking you might be up there." She pulled a paper out of the folder and slapped it down on top. "I need to ask you some questions."
For the next half hour I rattled off names, birth dates, addresses, phone numbers, employers, whereabouts of next-of-kin and insurance information. Random thoughts raced through my mind: Mike must be alive or he wouldn't be in the emergency room. Doctors, she had said, that meant more than one. Must mean it's serious. Not too bad, I hoped. Good thing we updated our insurance before we left Seattle.
"Helen?" Mrs. Benson broke into my thoughts.
"Yes. Sorry, my mind wandered."
"I understand." She rose from her chair to open the door. Tom stood up as we walked out.
"I'll show you to the ICU waiting room." She led us swiftly down a long hall, occasionally peeking over her shoulder to make sure we were still following. At last, I thought, at long last, I get to see Mike.
We followed her, Tom and I—through lingering antiseptic odors from inpatient rooms with wide open doors and fabric dividers hanging from tracks fastened to the ceilings. Wheelchairs and gurneys lined the walls near a nurses' station. White-uniformed women darted back and forth across the hall, dodging both us and the muscled orderlies who maneuvered massive mobile x-ray equipment through it all.
"You can wait here," Mrs. Benson said as we turned a corner and entered a huge waiting room filled with oversized furniture. A large round table stood right in the middle, where a man and a woman sat working on a jigsaw puzzle. Across the room, an overly thin woman was slumped into the corner of a puffy leather sofa, sound asleep, head dropped back, mouth open wide.
"The doctors will look for you here, Helen. If you need anything—coffee, juice, a snack—just ask at the nurses' station." She motioned toward the far side of the waiting area and added, "the restroom is right around that corner."
"You're quite welcome," she replied. "Any questions?"
"Yes. When can I find out how Mike is?"
"The doctors will let you know as soon as they can. Hopefully not much longer." She disappeared into the hall full of people.
Tom looked at me. "Will you be all right now?"
"I think so, Tom. Thank you for driving me here."
"You're welcome. Anything I can get for you before I leave?"
"No. I'll just sit here and wait to see what the doctors have to say. I doubt I'll make it back to work today."
"I doubt it, too! Don't worry about it. I'm sure everything will turn out okay." He smiled, then walked away down the hall. I watched until he was out of sight.
I was alone now. And I felt it.
I took a seat in an overstuffed chair that faced the busy hallway and paged through a magazine. I couldn't find it interesting. I thought of calling my Mom and Dad, but didn't want to be inside the phone booth when the doctors came to find me. And what would I tell my folks? They didn't know Mike had diabetes. That would make Mom dislike him even more than she did. No, I'd better wait until I knew his condition before calling. I walked over to the end wall of windows and looked out at the sunshine on the green grass of the campus. A light breeze tickled the fronds of a palm tree. That was our dream—beautiful California.
Not wanting to think about what our future might hold now, I moved toward the couple studying the jigsaw puzzle and said hello. I learned from them that their eleven-year-old son, Freddie, had been hit by a car four days ago and was still unconscious. They'd been here since the day it happened, praying for his coma to break. I wished them well, then excused myself to visit the restroom before resuming my watch for the doctors in the chair that faced the corridor.
The chair was way too large for my short body. I wriggled around, trying to get comfortable in my pale-brown suit and matching high heels. If I'd known how long this was going to take, and how much walking would be involved, I could have changed clothes when I was at home. Especially my shoes. I had pictured finding Mike, getting him home, and getting myself back to work. But how? I'd not given a thought to where our car might be. Or if it was badly damaged. I'd have to wait until I saw Mike to find that out.
I shifted in the chair once more, tugging my skirt down to cover my knees. I glanced up at the corridor and saw them coming—unmistakably, the doctors. Three of them in white knee-length hospital coats over dress shirts and trousers. The fourth in green scrubs, complete with head cap and a face mask that dangled down on his chest. Their images reflected in the sparkling-clean corridor floor as they headed straight for me, clipboards in hand.
"Helen?" one of them asked as they neared my chair.
"Yes." I stood up to meet them.
Each of them towered over me by a good foot. They introduced themselves by name and specialty, and shook my hand. I didn't even try to remember their names, but I made a point to remember their fields of expertise—orthopedics, internal medicine, respiratory system, and neurosurgery.
The respiratory specialist was the first to speak. "Helen, your husband's condition is critical. He's in surgery right now for a head injury. Also, his left lung has been punctured three times and he's lost a lot of blood. We put drain tubes into the lung, to keep it from filling with fluid, but he needs a transfusion as soon as possible. Is that okay with you?"
"Yes. Of course."
"Good. If you'll sign this permission slip, I'll go order the transfusion started."
I signed the paper. There was no time to read all the fine print. He thanked me, turned the conversation over to the internist, and left.
"Your husband's blood sugar was so low when he was brought in that it wouldn't register a reading. We found an out-dated Diabetes Alert card in his wallet. I suspect he's still a Type I diabetic?"
"Yes, he is."
"Are you able to tell me what type of insulin he takes, how much, and what time of day?"
"Yes. Lilly, Lente, 35 units, in the evening."
"Thank you, that's helpful. He's on an IV with glucose and we're monitoring his levels. I'll touch base with you later." Before leaving, he nodded at the doctor next to him. The one in the green scrubs. The neurosurgeon.
"Mike's injuries are quite serious," he said. "We are not encouraged to believe he will survive them, but if he does, you can expect him to be here for at least six months."
My knees went weak. I sat back down in the chair. "You're saying you expect him to die?"
He and the other remaining doctor crouched down on the floor before me, matching their eye levels to mine. The neurosurgeon continued, his voice soft. "His prognosis is not good. He's suffered significant head trauma. I've been assisting our Chief of Neurosurgery for the last forty minutes, removing bits of gravel and glass from the exposed skull area. The biggest danger is swelling of the brain. We'll be x-raying every fifteen minutes to watch that. If it swells beyond an acceptable point, we'll need to remove a section of skull to allow for it. That opening would be covered with a metal plate after the swelling subsides." He rose to leave, giving a nod to the remaining doctor but saying to me, "I'm going back to assist with his surgery. I'll be out to see you when we're through."
"Thank you." My hands grew colder, my soul sad. I knew I mustn't falter. I had to stay strong, no matter what happened.
The orthopedic doctor, still crouched at my eye level, put his hand on the arm of my chair. "We know there is something wrong with his left shoulder, Helen. Right now we cannot x-ray to determine the problem until the x-rays of the brain are no longer necessary. There is no way to predict how long that will be. It also appears that his jaw is broken and misaligned in several places. We'll x-ray that as soon as we can, too. Someday, in the future, some medical person may criticize our not attending to his shoulder and jaw much sooner than we did. But, the human body can only take a limited amount of x-ray every fifteen minutes, and his brain is the priority now."
"Of course. I understand."
"Any questions?" The doctor stood up.
"When do I get to see him?"
"He'll be brought to a room here in the ICU after surgery. The neurosurgeon will come talk to you then, and you'll be able to see him as soon as the nurses have him settled in." The doctor put his hand on my shoulder. "You going to be okay?"
"I'll be okay." What choice did I have?
I watched this last doctor disappear into the crowded corridor as I sat, dumbfounded, trying to absorb everything I had just heard.
The urge to once again visit the restroom returned me to reality. That done, I stepped into a phone booth on the far wall of the waiting room and closed the door. I stuck my unsteady finger into the last hole in the rotary dial and pulled it around to the stop bar, then let go and watched it circle back into place.
"I'd like to make a collect call."
"What is the number, please?"
"Seattle, MAin 2-7399. Emil the Tailor." I could hear the telephone company background noises as this operator contacted another one in Seattle. Soon the phone in Dad's tailor shop was ringing.
"Hello?" The quiet, sweet voice of my father answered.
"I have a collect call from Helen in California. Will you accept the charges?"
"Oh, yes, I will! That's my daughter."
"Daddy?" My voice came out sounding like a frightened ten-year-old child's.
"Hi honey. Is everything okay?"
"No." My composure burst. Pent-up tears fell heavier than a soggy Seattle rain. "Mike had an accident. He's not expected to live," I blurted out between sobs. I had nothing to wipe away the water-works but the sleeve of my suit. The suit I made from scratch before we left Seattle. My Easter suit. "He's diabetic, Dad, that's why it happened."
"Oh, honey, no. I'm so sorry."
"I was thinking that, ah . . . well, I know you and Mom were going to drive Norm down to Camp Pendleton next week, and I thought maybe you could come a day or two early and stop by here?"
"Sure, we'll figure something out. I'll call Mommy right now and let her know."
"Thank you, Dad." I sobbed again, yet managed to tell him the name of the hospital where we were, and that I'd be there overnight. Maybe for a few days. I didn't know. We exchanged "love yous" and hung up. I stayed in the phone booth and wept.