The Road Back Home

by Lynne Norris

© February 2001


See Chapter 1 for disclaimers.

Chapter Four


Regina pulled the large, clear plastic clipboard across the chest high counter and studied the lab values for the patient in room ten. They guessed by his weight and body structure that he was approximately sixteen-years old. With no means of identifying him, he remained a John Doe and in the twenty-four hours since he was admitted to the hospital, there had been no frantic phone calls from parents looking for a missing child or family members to stand vigil at his bedside while his battered body hung tenuously in the balance between life and death.

His condition was critical and his prognosis guarded. Both would remain so until the

pressure from the swelling in his brain resolved. The neurosurgeons were successful in removing the large blood clot that formed on the outer sheath of his brain as a result of the blunt trauma to his head, but no one could predict what his neurological status was going to be until he woke up.

Since the boy was under seventeen he was assigned to the pediatric service and the doctors there would be responsible for coordinating his care and ultimate discharge from the hospital.

Regina stood outside the boy’s room in the intensive care unit, looking in at what she could see of him. A four-legged IV pole stood next to the bedside with three separate pumps stacked on top of each other continuously pushing a combination of electrolytes and antibiotics into his injured body. An intraventricular catheter was inserted through the boy’s skull into a lateral ventricle to monitor the pressure of the cerebrospinal fluid.

A decision was made that morning on rounds to begin weaning him off the drug called Norcuron that was being used to paralyze him. It was always a calculated risk to do this. The longer he stayed on the drug the more chance he had of permanent muscle and nerve damage, but if he was agitated and still confused when the drug wore off, all it would take was one frenzied attempt to free himself from the tubes and wires that would elevate his intracranial pressure and possibly cause more damage to his already traumatized brain.

The click and whir of the pumps was all but drowned out by the continuous whooshing and beeping of the ventilator. Quietly, Regina stepped into the boy’s room after donning an isolation gown, mask and gloves that would protect him from potential bacteria that his body was still vulnerable to.

As she ran through her standard series of neurological checks Regina talked softly to the boy. She had no sense of what he looked like yet, thick, white gauze was wrapped around his head hiding what would be left of his neatly shorn hair, his features were distorted by the facial swelling and mottle bruising to his skin from the injuries he sustained. She peered closer at his cheek, noting the sharp outline of horseshoe shaped bruise that ran up underneath the bandages.

"I don’t know your name my friend so I guess you’ll have to be John until you wake up and tell me what your real name is." She slipped her fingers into the palm of his hand. The skin was callused and felt clammy in her grasp. Regina leaned closer over the bed rail. "If you hear me squeeze my fingers."

Regina waited for a few seconds and got no response. "That’s ok, John. I know you’re in there. You just keep trying."

She moved to the foot of his bed and lifted the sheets covering his feet. The doctor ran the metal end of her reflex hammer over the sole of his foot. The toes curled down in response to the noxious stimulus and Regina allowed herself a small smile. It was one small victory. The neurological tracts that controlled the movements of his muscles were still intact.

The blonde stepped back away from the bedside, wondering if he had parents and if so, did they even know he was hurt. It was no secret that patients with a supportive family presence faired better in these situations. Sometimes a touch, a familiar voice or soft words of comfort were the only things that could break through the coma and offer the patient a path to follow back to their life that had been so viciously turned upside down.

A sudden overwhelming sense of sorrow gripped her as she thought of Alex. Not once during the last eight weeks had the doctor heard from her mother or brother. She wondered if Jon was ever able to get hold of them. He never said and with all that was going on in those first few anxiety filled days, she never thought to ask him afterwards.

Regina quickly backed out of the room, stripped out of her gown and gloves and tossed them into the dirty linen cart by the door, fighting back a totally unexpected surge of anger.

Out at the desk, Regina sat and quickly scribbled a note in the chart, ignoring the banter of the staff going on around her. It wasn’t until she noticed a shift in the light above her and inhaled a vaguely familiar cologne did she glance up from her work.

Her eyes widened and she fought the urge to push away from the desk. There, standing in front of her dressed in his black police uniform was Derrick. His face was thinner and his hair was cropped close to his scalp. He looked as frightening to her now as he did the night he showed up at Alex’s house on the Cape. The memory of what followed was still fresh in her mind and she strangled a frightened gasp in her throat.

"Hello, Regina," he drawled casually as if his presence should be no big deal to her.

Her mouth was suddenly dry and her heart was double-timing it in her chest as she struggled to form a coherent thought. "What are you doing here, Derrick?" She had no reason to believe he came here looking for her but she couldn’t help the defensiveness and fear that crept unbidden into her voice.

He must have sensed her discomfort because he crossed his arms and leaned on the desk, peering down at her through flat, emotionless eyes. "I’m looking for the John Doe that got brought in here last night."

Regina stood up irritated with herself for letting him sense her unease and flipped the chart closed, handing it to the unit clerk who was sitting a few feet away. "Why?"

"I need to get the kid’s clothes and ask a few questions for the investigation."

Was that a smirk she saw on his face? You bastard, Regina silently cursed, knowing Derrick was probably enjoying the irony of the situation. This was how their relationship started over a year ago. She turned to walk away. "Talk to the charge nurse, Derrick."

"I’d rather have you answer the questions. You do a better job of it, anyway."

The blonde turned and regarded him coolly. You have to be kidding me if you think flattery will get you anywhere, Derrick. "What do you need to know?"

"Was he awake when he was brought in?"

"Not enough to answer questions from what I heard." Regina walked around the desk and stood at the doorway to the boy’s room her arms crossed over her chest and her jaw set. She felt a need to be by the boy’s room with Derrick so close; it was almost a sense of protectiveness that brought her there.

Derrick stood several feet away from Regina and cautiously peered in at the boy. "Any idea what happened to him? A fall, someone hit him. We don’t have anything to go on, not even a name, Regina."

Regina frowned, hearing the uncharacteristic break in his voice. "Derrick, I think the head nurse can answer any questions you have."

He stepped closer to the room and looked at Regina, ignoring her request. "Did they do a toxicology screen on the kid to see if there were any drugs in his system?"

"Ask his nurse I’m not discussing this with you anymore."

"Hey, wait a minute." He lowered his voice when several nurses glanced up at the two of them. "Can’t we, um, talk for a minute?" Derrick fingered his cap as he stood before her, looking penitent.

Regina stared at him for a moment. Talking was the last thing you were ever interested in doing and you expect me to believe that’s what you want now. "No Derrick, we can’t just talk. There’s nothing to say." As she turned to walk away the monitor alarm sounded shrilly in the boy’s room, his heart rate suddenly spiking sharply.

A nurse darted around the desk and threw a gown over her shoulders, quickly joining Regina at the bedside. "I can give him another dose of Ativan. It’s not too soon." She glanced up at the blonde haired pediatrician.

"Do it," Regina ordered as she made a minor adjustment to the ventilator settings before she leaned over the bed and touched a gloved hand to the boy’s face. "John, can you hear me?"

The boy nodded his head ever so slightly.

"You hurt your head and you’re in the hospital," Regina continued, watching as the nurse injected the sedative directly into the IV line.

His eyelids fluttered slightly and a single tear rolled down the side of his face.

"It’s ok, sweetheart, everything is going to be all right."

"What’s wrong with him?" Derrick asked from just outside the door.

The boy grimaced and shook his head weakly side-to-side, straining against the restraints holding his arms down.

"Derrick, get out, now!" Regina ordered as she looked between her patient and her ex-boyfriend.

The nurse glared at the police officer over her shoulder and then whipped the curtain closed, blocking his view of the boy. Gradually, with the help of the drug and Regina’s soothing voice the boy ceased his struggles and his heart rate slowed its frantic pace.

Regina reached up to the head of the bed and checked the readout for his intracranial pressure. "We’re still ok with his pressure, but call the neurosurgeon and see if they want to keep him on the medication for another day." Satisfied that her patient was in no immediate danger, Regina left the nurse at the boy’s bedside.

She was more than disappointed to see Derrick still lingering on the unit, obviously waiting for her. Dammit, just go away, Derrick, she pleaded silently. Reluctantly, she left the sanctuary of the nurse’s station and headed for the door leading to the hallway.

"Regina." He reached out with his arm and blocked the door as she tried to walk by him.

The blonde held her hand up. "Back off, Derrick. You might be here for police business, but I still have a restraining order against you. Nothing’s changed. Don’t forget it."

His eyes narrowed and he stepped forward. "Forget? No, I won’t. How can I?" Derrick growled.

"Derrick, back off, please." Regina carefully skirted past him quickly and made her way down the hallway barely avoiding a stretcher as a transporter shoved it out of the elevator. Regina glanced inside the open door and recognized the young girl sitting slumped in the wheelchair. She looked over her shoulder warily then, ducked through the open door relieved to find that Derrick hadn’t followed her.

"Terry?" Regina touched the girl’s hand then, looked up at the orderly who was standing behind the wheelchair, looking incredibly bored at the moment.

The girl lifted her head and blinked several times as she looked up at the blonde haired woman standing in front of her. "H…hi." She cleared her throat, grimacing at the foul taste the medicine she took for the test left in her throat.

"Where are they taking you?" Regina leaned against the rail with her hands tucked in her lab coat pockets and watched in relief as the doors slid closed.

"Uh, radiology, I think." Terry shivered beneath the blanket and glanced up at the woman standing beside her.

"Do you want some company?"

Fearful brown eyes looked up at her and the young girl nodded her head eagerly, grateful for the offer since her mother was working and her father was looking for a job. "They have to put me in this machine to do a test and I hate closed spaces."

"Oh, they’re doing an MRI."

"Whatever." Terry stared down at her hands and twirled the blue wristband around her wrist nervously.

The elevator stopped its descent and the doors opened. Regina followed the young man out and walked beside the wheelchair down the narrow hall that led into the radiology department. A large fish tank with several large angelfish floating in the blue tinted water sat next to the far wall.

A technician walked out and took the chart from the pocket in back of the wheelchair, then glanced down at the girl’s wristband. "Terry, we’ll all set for you. We can go right back and get started."

"Great, the only time this place is ever on time is when I get to go into a dark tunnel."

Regina walked with them to the door and squeezed Terry’s shoulder before the woman pushed the wheelchair into the testing area. "I’ll be here when you’re done, Terry," the doctor reassured the young girl.

Terry stood up from the wheelchair and self-consciously pulled the faded blue hospital gown around her slender frame. The room was cool, and there was nothing but white walls in the expansive room. In the center stood the machine that would take pictures of her body to see if the cancer was anywhere else but the bone in her leg. The young girl swallowed hard and glanced nervously at the narrow bed she had to lie on that slid into the small tunnel like opening.

"I…I don’t want to do this," Terry stammered softly, fighting back the urge to cry.

"I know you don’t, Terry, but your doctor ordered the test so we have to do it." The red-haired woman pulled a blanket out of a wall cabinet and laid it over the hard mattress. "Now hop up here and lay down for me."

Reluctantly, Terry climbed up onto the hard mattress pad and lay on her back. The table jerked as the technician unlocked the mechanism holding it in place. "You can close your eyes Terry. You might feel better if you can’t see the tunnel walls around you."

The girl nodded her head and closed her eyes tightly just before the table started to slide into the machine. Already she was starting to breath faster and she squeezed her eyes shut tightly afraid that if she opened them she’d find the ceiling of the tube inches from her face.

Over the speaker that was in the tube she heard the woman’s voice. "This is going to take about forty minutes, Terry. I’ll let you know what we’re doing as we go along."

There was silence followed by a loud, hollow knocking that went on and on. Oh God, please just get me out of here. I can’t do this. Her tears started to flow in earnest now as the loud knocking continued.

Alex finished writing an order to transfer two patients up to one of the surgical floors for observation. She rubbed a hand over her eyes and blinked as she looked up at the clock on the wall. The numbers blurred momentarily before her eyes adjusted to the distance and everything came clearly into focus. It was five o’clock and she knew Regina would be finishing up with her patients soon.

She drummed her fingers on the counter as she considered whether to page Regina or not. Since they had been back they had fallen easily into the routine of paging each other once throughout the day. Alex carried the charts over to the unit clerk and then headed into the staff lounge.

The tall, dark-haired doctor lifted the pot and sniffed cautiously at the bitter brew, then thought better about drinking the day old coffee. As she poured the stale coffee down the sink and pulled out a fresh bag of coffee grinds to brew, Alex shook her head mentally chastising herself for her foolish insecurities. Oh, who are you trying to kid? You know you want to talk to her, just get over it and call her already.

She picked up the phone on the wall and dialed the hospital beeper system, punched in Regina’s beeper number and the extension for her to call. Moments later as she was filling the now clean pot with cold water the wall phone rang.

"Hi," Alex answered absently.

"You were mighty confident it was me calling you back," Regina teased her on the other end of the phone.

"I knew it was you."

"How?" Regina challenged, a smile playing on her lips as she looked through the window into the testing area.

"You have a distinct ring," Alex answered dryly.

"Haha. What’s up?"

"I just wanted to say hi and see when you might be ready to go home," Alex answered.

"Actually, I ran into a patient I admitted earlier this week. She’s down in radiology right now for a test and I offered to wait until she’s through."


The blonde brought her hand up to her face. "I’m sorry, Alex. I didn’t even think to look at the time," Regina lowered her voice as the technician reentered the room and spoke to Terry over the intercom.

"Hey, no it’s ok," the medical director answered quickly, pouring the fresh grinds into the coffee machine. "What test are they doing?"

"They’re doing an MRI." Regina glanced through the window into the testing area. She heard muffled cries coming from over the speaker that was in the tube. "Hang on, Alex."

Alex stared across the empty staff lounge, thinking about Regina and knowing that she was probably very worried about the girl if she had taken the time to go with her to the test. In the background she heard a voice and then Regina came back on the line.


"What’s wrong?" Alex leaned against the wall and rubbed the back of her neck, working out a knot caused from the stress of the day.

"The kid is claustrophobic and the doctor didn’t order any sedatives for her. Listen, I’m going to go. Maybe if I talk to her over the intercom she’ll get through this better."

The tall, dark haired doctor closed her eyes as a trickle of fear and anger swirled in her guts. She hated closed spaces and the mere thought of them made her break out in a cold sweat. "I’ll be here. Just call me when you’re done there."

"You bet."

Alex set the phone back in the cradle and sighed. A distant memory nagged her conscious thought and she grimaced trying to force it away while she walked back out into the department.

"Dad, stop. You’re hurting him." She felt the rush of air as the black leather belt sung through the air and whipped against her brother’s bare backside.

"You stay out of this Alexandra or you’ll be next. You hear me?" her father snarled at her, then turned back to her brother. "Teach you to lie to me about what you did with my liquor,"

Michael grimaced, refusing to cry out as the belt bit into his flesh again. It wasn’t the first time he took a beating so his mother didn’t have to, but this time his father had found out about him pouring his vodka down the drain and now they would all pay. Lord knew his mother already had. "Alex, be…ugh…quiet."

The tall, lanky girl stood outside the bedroom door with tears running down her face. "You bastard, stop it!" She could hear her mother crying in the bedroom, helpless to do anything after he beat her moments before.

Alex felt the anger boiling up inside her as her father continued to hold her brother down as he whipped him again.

"I’m warning you girl. Keep your damn mouth shut!" A rush of air escaped his lips as a solid form slammed into him sending him tumbling to the floor. As he scrambled to his feet he saw his daughter pulling Michael from the room.

"Go! Get momma and go, now," Alex hissed.

"You stupid bitch. This time you’re going to pay for what you just did."

Alex stepped back and ducked under an errant swing of his meaty fist. She waited another second hoping her brother had enough time to get out of the house before she turned and sprinted down the stairs. Behind her, she could hear her father bellow her name. She bolted out the back door and ran around the back of the house away from the lights of the car in the driveway.

She needed to keep him away from them just long enough so they could get away. Her feet pounded across the wet grass and she skidded as she rounded the corner, losing her balance for an instant. As she stumbled, a blur of motion caught her attention and she realized as she closed her eyes and braced for the impact of the bat that she had unwittingly run right into her father.

It was hours later when she finally woke. Alone, hurting and scared she blinked her eyes trying to make out objects in the darkness around her. Tentatively she reached her hands out and inches from her face she felt dry, splintered wood. Frantically, she kicked her legs out and heard the echo of her shoes on the side of the wall.

Desperately she tried to calm her breathing and not panic. She felt around her, trying to figure out where he put her and realized as her hands ran over the sharp edges of wood that her father had locked her in the crawl space underneath the stairs.

By the time her brother snuck back home later that night, her fists were raw and bleeding from pounding on the walls and her voice was hoarse from shouting. As she lay huddled in Michael’s arms after he pulled her out of the crawl space she vowed she would never let her father beat any of them again.

She wasn’t out at the desk for a minute before the abruptly lights went out and she was bathed in darkness. Anxious cries from patients and families alike erupted from around the department.

Alex cursed softly and waited for her eyes to adjust before the emergency lights came on. She heard several of the staff around her as they moved awkwardly, finding their way through the maze of equipment and rooms in the darkness.

When nothing happened seconds later, Alex ran her hands along the back of the desk and found the flashlight they kept there for emergencies. Just as she turned it on the lights flickered and came back on.

"Figures," Sandy muttered as she stepped up beside the doctor, holding another flashlight.

"I thought they fixed the emergency generator." Alex turned to the nurse.

"Oh, they did. Can’t you tell?" Sandy remarked snidely and set the flashlight down on the desk.

Overhead the operator announced a code ten in radiology. "And that’s probably the new MRI unit that just crapped out again. Every time there’s a power surge it blows a fuse."

"You’re kidding, right?" Alex turned and stared at the nurse.

"No, I’m not kidding, Alex," Sandy replied.

An eyebrow arched up under dark bangs and Alex grabbed the phone quickly dialing radiology’s number.

A frazzled clerk picked up the phone. "What?"

"Is Dr. Kingston there?" Alex demanded.

"Yeah, but she’s busy. We got a broken unit and a patient is stuck in it."

She didn’t even remember sprinting down the hallway or taking the stairs two at a time and bursting into the observation room. Inside she saw a technician and Regina desperately trying to pull the narrow table out of the tube. Two engineers and one of the biomedical technicians were already working on a panel at the other end of the unit.

"What happened?" Alex panted as she knelt beside Regina and looked at what she was trying to do.

Regina answered over the panicked cries of the girl, pleading to get her out of the machine. "The motor malfunctioned after the power surge. We…can’t," she grunted as she pulled on the end of the narrow bed, "get it to release."

"Let me see." Alex crouched beside her and tugged experimentally on the end of it. It didn’t budge.

"Get me out of here," Terry sobbed desperately from inside.

Regina stood up and leaned into the tube, touching the frightened girl’s ankle. "Terry, listen to me. We’re going to get you out. I promise."

"Get me out, please! I…I can’t breathe."

Alex sat back on her heels and tugged on the stretcher again. She glanced up at Regina and shook her head. "It’s jammed," she whispered. "You think you can get her calmed down enough so that we can pull her out."

"You can’t do that. You’ll damage it," the technician protested loudly.

"News flash, it already is." Alex glared at the woman and stood up, stepping past her and muttering angrily. "One million dollars they spend on this state of the art technology and a power surge does it in." She walked over to the engineers and peered at what they were doing. "Any idea what’s wrong with this hunk of metal?

One of the engineers scratched his head and blew out a frustrated breath. "Yeah, it blew another fuse and short circuited the wires."

"How long does it take to fix that?"

"We have to replace the wires and the fuse. It could be a couple of hours."

"Is there a manual override for the bed so we can get this kid out now?"

"Not that I can see on the schematics," the biomedical technician muttered angrily.

Alex moved back to the opening and placed a hand on Regina’s back as she leaned in next to her. She inhaled sharply as she peered into the tube. Oh God, that’s small in there. "Terry."


"I need you to lie very still. We’re going to pull you out, ok?"

"If you break this machine it’s on your head, not mine," the technician spluttered from behind the two doctors.

Regina glanced up at Alex with a surprised look on her face. "Can we do that?"

"You take one ankle and I’ll get the other." Alex closed her eyes and leaned into the small tunnel, reaching for the girl’s leg. "Terry, I want you to scoot toward the opening when we start to pull. Ok?"

"Ok," her voice trembled and Alex could hear her sniffling.

"Here we go."

It took them another ten minutes before Alex and Regina could finally extricate the girl from the machine. She clung to both of them as they lowered her carefully to the floor. Alex ducked her head and unwrapped the girl’s death grip from around her neck. She knelt beside her and draped a blanket that the technician handed to her over the traumatized girl’s shoulders.

She watched as Terry buried her head against Regina’s shoulder, holding on for dear life as her sobs quieted down to soft whimpers. The pediatrician rubbed her hand over the young girl’s back and raised her head, rewarding Alex with a heartwarming smile and mouthed the word, thank you, to the dark-haired doctor.

The medical director smiled back and helped Regina pull Terry to her feet. "Well, I think we’re done here for the day. How about we get our young friend here back to her room and give her parents a call? I don’t think they’re going to want to hear about this tomorrow morning."

The dark-haired doctor waited outside the Terry’s room while Regina did her best to reassure the girl and her worried parents that what happened with the machine was a fluke.

"Thanks for waiting, Alex," Regina offered when she walked out of the room some time later.

"No problem. Is she ok?" The medical director started down the hallway with the blonde walking beside her.

"She’s better now." Regina glanced curiously up at her taller companion as Alex held the door open to the stairwell. "How come you came down to radiology? It wasn’t a medical emergency they announced."

Alex avoided the green eyes peering up at her. "Sandy told me the problems they’ve been having with the new unit and when I called down the clerk told me what happened."

Regina raised her eyebrows and tilted her head up at Alex. "Uh huh. That still doesn’t explain why you came down."

Alex lowered her eyes and sighed. "It’s a long story and it doesn’t really matter. I just wanted to help," Alex finished sheepishly and started down the stairs.

Regina recognized the defensive tone in Alex’s voice and sighed inwardly, knowing further discussion was off limits about the subject for now. The blonde decided on a different tactic and glanced quickly above to make sure no one was coming down the stairs, then reached out from the step above and grabbed the collar of the taller woman’s lab coat, halting Alex and pulling the taller woman back against her. "Even if you won’t tell me why, thank you, anyway," she whispered in the taller woman’s ear and smiled when she saw the faint flush of pink against her tan skin. "When the electricity went off and the machine failed, I hoped you might come down."

Alex tried not to let the smile break over her face but it was futile as her senses were momentarily overwhelmed in this sterile environment with the physical closeness of her lover and the warm clean scent of her body mingled with a hint of her perfume. She swallowed trying to control the sudden racing of her heart. "Regina," she growled, drawing the woman’s name out.

"Problem?" the blonde asked innocently.

"You’re not playing fair," Alex groaned when she felt Regina lean against her.

"Who said anything about playing fair?" Regina laughed and bolted down the stairs ahead of her.


Continued in Chapter 5

Comments and feedback welcome -

original fiction index <> homepage