The Road Back Home
by Lynne Norris
© February 2001
It was late afternoon the next day when Alex was finally able to find a moment to walk over to Dr. Matthew's office. It was located on the opposite side of the medical center, the farthest point away from the emergency department. The small rectangular room was cramped, overflowing with files, medical textbooks and journals.
The tall, dark-haired doctor waited several minutes as the President of the Medical Staff finished with a telephone call. The man was in his late fifties, with thinning, white hair and his doughy, poorly toned physique spoke volumes about his sedentary lifestyle.
Her interactions with the doctor were limited to one brief meeting ten years ago when she originally applied for her staff privileges. Since then, she traveled a much different path, working on the front lines, day in and day out, falling in love with the chaos and frantic pace of the emergency department.
Her counterpart moved up the administrative ranks, moving in political circles she had little use for. His was a world where decisions were made based on bottom lines and had little to do with how their impact might affect patients that were in need of medical care.
"So, Alex what do you have for me?" The doctor pushed his round, steel-rimmed glasses farther up onto the bridge of his nose as he stared distractedly at the piles on his desk.
"A list of equipment we'll need to get the clinic up and running. Most of it is probably in storage in the warehouse next door."
"Aren't you getting a little ahead of yourself?" The doctor asked and then took a large swallow of coffee from the Styrofoam cup sitting on his desk.
Alex handed a thin file across to him, dropping onto his desk when he made no attempt to take it from her. "No. There are five medical directors who believe this is a good idea and will help them streamline each of their operations. I have a report from each of them summarizing the initial cost and the community benefits, which at this point I think far outweigh any of the risks involved with re-opening up the clinic."
"You really think this will make a difference for the hospital's reputation," he commented, without looking down at the folder.
"If we're sincere in our effort, yes. Anything less and the community will see it as nothing more than a transparent attempt to regain their trust."
The white-haired physician tapped his forefinger against his lips a bemused expression forming on his face while he listened to the exotic looking woman standing before him. "All right, you can work on this, for now on your own time. I don't want this taking away from anything going on at the hospital until I see that it's going to be something viable for us." He held her gaze confident that the fledgling idea would lose steam with any of the interested parties with the limitations he set. "So, if you're still interested in doing this, I suppose you can go ahead with it."
"If I didn't think it was a good idea, I wouldn't be here in the first place, Frank. I'll be sure to let you know if I need any more help from you." Alex smiled in spite of herself, knowing the sarcastic remark was not lost on the President. Without another word, the doctor turned and left the office.
Lost in thought, Alex hardly paid attention to her surroundings as she made her way back to the ER. She hadn't expected much support from Dr. Matthews, but unfortunately, projects of this magnitude required the approval of the administration. Well, at least he didn't nix it all together.
She walked into the emergency department and hesitated before she negotiated her way around two engineering carts and a dolly loaded with electrical wire. Directly in front of her, two engineers were perched precariously atop ladders, threading electrical wire through the dropped ceiling and Sandy, still dressed in a bloody isolation gown, holding several plastic sealed packages, was standing beneath them looking rather miffed.
"Can't you guys find a better time to do this? You're set up right in the middle of the hall," the nurse protested loudly and then turned to the technician standing behind the desk. "Thomas, bring these in to Dr. Ortiz."
"We've got to get this done before the end of our shift," one engineer called back as he yanked another length of wire up through the opening. The large wooden bolt the wire was coiled around rolled several feet and bumped into one of the code carts lining the corridor.
"You can't string that cable while we're this busy," Sandy insisted.
"Listen, I've got a job to do." One of the engineers poked his head out of the ceiling. "You're medical director signed the work order. Take it up with him."
Sandy turned to Alex. "You didn't, did you?"
The doctor folded her arms across her chest at this and then peered up at the two men half hidden from view in the ceiling. She caught Sandy's exasperated look and pursed her lips together, then walked over to the wooden bolt that held the wire, tipped it on its side and planted her foot on it.
A loud curse erupted from inside the ceiling when one of the men tried to tug more wire up and felt the resistance from below. Alex tilted her head and flashed him a toothy smile at the man as he clambered down the ladder and turned to face her.
"W...what do you think you're doing?" he blustered.
"I will not have you doing this during the middle of the day. We're too crowded and someone is going to get hurt," Alex advised him quietly.
"But, my boss told me to get this done. Dr. Jameson signed off on this two months ago." The engineer walked toward the large, wooden bolt.
Alex shook her head and held her hand out to stop him. "Two months ago and you're just getting to it now? That's nice." She observed with a slight raise of an eyebrow.
"Here look here's the work order." He pulled a wrinkled, grease-stained paper from his pocket and handed it to the doctor.
"I don't care. You're not doing it now so clear this stuff out of here! Oh, and for you're information, Dr. Jameson doesn't work here anymore."
After the engineers cleared up their equipment and finally left, Alex pulled a pile of patient's charts who they recently discharged and needed to call back regarding various test results that required follow-up to make sure nothing more sinister was going on.
"Hey, Alex. Sorry, about that."
"It's not a big deal, Sandy." The doctor picked up the charts aware of the nurse's appraising, dark, green eyes studying her from across the desk.
"How did the meeting go with Dr. Matthews?"
Alex shrugged and glanced over at the board, counting the number of patients on the unit as a momentary distraction before she answered. "Ok."
"Well, what did he say?" Samantha leaned closer, lowering her voice as one of the residents walked by them.
"To go ahead with it but do it on your own damn time," Alex replied matter of fact.
The nurse was quiet as she watched her friend studying the charts she was carrying in her arm. "So, I guess you're going to need some help then."
Alex raised an eyebrow. "If people want to volunteer, sure. Dr. Matthews isn't going to approve any overtime for this, not yet anyway."
"So what needs to be done?"
"Everything. The clinic looks like a bomb hit it and all the equipment we need is in storage at the warehouse next door."
"I must be missing something." Sandy grimaced scratched her head. "How does he expect the hospital to open a clinic if he's not going to pay anyone to work there?"
"That's just it. I really don't think he wants this clinic to re-open at all."
"Why? I thought the whole reason for doing this was to try and make this whole mess better."
"Your guess is as good as mine, Sandy." Alex straightened up. "I'm going to go there Saturday and see what I can accomplish."
"Hm, Tina and I were going to go away but Labor and Delivery had two of its nurses resign last month so she got called in to work an extra shift this weekend. Maybe I'll join you." Sandy grinned at Alex's surprised expression, then, tapped the desk in front of her with her hand. "Hey, before I forget, call Regina she was down here looking for you earlier."
Regina felt the vibration of the pager that was hooked on her belt and glanced down at the narrow LCD screen as she walked through the hallway. It was the pediatric intensive care unit and she only had one patient there that was on the service right now. John Doe. She only hoped it was good news as she picked up the beige wall phone by the bank of elevators.
"This is Dr. Kingston. Someone paged me," the blonde replied.
She waited on hold several seconds before another voice came over the line. "It's JD, Dr. Kingston. He's awake."
"About ten minutes ago when I checked his vitals. Everything's stable but he's agitated and trying to pull out his lines. I gave him ten milligrams of Ativan, but I need your ok to put restraints on him."
"No," Regina ordered sharply, then lowered her voice when she caught sight of several people stepping off the elevator. "I'd rather not put him in restraints if we don't have to. The kid has been through enough already."
There was an audible sigh on the other end of the phone. "I don't have enough nurses on staff tonight to have someone sit with him."
Regina shifted the phone and glanced down at her pager as it went off again. "Don't do anything until I get down there. I'll be right there."
She hung up and dialed the ER, hoping it wasn't another admission. The blonde smiled when she heard the deep voice come through the phone line. "Hi. I stopped by earlier but you weren't around."
"Sandy said you were looking for me," Alex answered softly.
"I was, but I can't talk right now. I've got to go check on a patient in ICU. Can I call you back when I'm done?" Regina twisted the phone cord around her index finger, wishing she could just go to Alex right now. She wanted nothing more than to just shut the door on the world and lose herself in the security of her lover's arms.
"Sure, I'll be up in the office."
The blonde hung up the phone, trotted down the stairs to the first floor and followed the stark white corridor into the intensive care unit. A red-haired nurse she didn't recognize was sitting in a rolling chair with a tray table in front of her just outside the boy's room.
"I'm Dr. Kinston. How is he?" Regina slipped on a yellow isolation gown, pulled a cap over her hair and slipped a mask over her face. She glanced down at the nursing flow sheets and quickly scanned over his last set of vitals.
"Better, for the moment. The neurosurgeon was in about an hour ago and he discharged the intracranial catheter."
Brown eyes focused on Regina and followed her warily as she entered the small room and walked up to the bed. It struck her then, as she glanced around her how different this room was from all the rest. There were no cards with get-well wishes pinned up to the corkboard or balloons floating in the corner. The wall-mounted television wasn't even on; the only noise was the beeping of the ventilator and the motors whirring in the intravenous pumps.
"Hello there," Regina said, watching as the boy broke his silent observation of her and turned his head, staring out the window sullenly.
"How are his oxygen sats?"
"He's been at ninety-eight percent all day, his blood gases are good and we've been able to decrease the setting on the vent without any problem." the nurse replied as she slipped into a gown and stepped inside the room.
"So, what do you think about getting that tube out of your throat today?" Regina asked. A cold, stony silence greeted her in return as the boy continued to pointedly ignore her. She turned to the nurse. "What's your name?"
"June," the woman replied, as she pulled on a pair of gloves.
Regina looked back at the boy and tilted her head. "If I give you a pen and paper, will you write your name out for me?"
The boy continued to stare out the window.
"Well then, I guess we'll have to forgo any formal introductions until after we take the tube out. I'm going to unhook this from the ventilator first."
Regina started to reach over to unhook the tube but a hand reached up and blocked her. "What?"
The boy shook his head and motioned with his hand. "You want to write your name out?"
He nodded his head and looked away again. Regina took a clipboard and pen the nurse handed to her and set it on the boy's lap. His hand trembled slightly as he picked up the pen and then dropped it on the mattress. The blonde handed it back to him and supported his hand as he scrawled two barely legible letters on the blank paper.
"BJ," Regina said as she read the scrawled handwriting. The boy blinked and wrote another word out.
"I know, BJ." Regina deflated the balloon that held the endotracheal tube in place in the boy's throat. "BJ, I need you to take a deep breath and cough real hard for me, now."
In a matter of seconds it was over and the boy stopped coughing and squeezed his eyes shut as he swallowed the first few times. "Good job, BJ. Regina laid a hand on his shoulder and squeezed him. "You can talk but just a little today. It'll take a day for the soreness to go away."
I...want to go...home," the boy rasped in a weak voice.
Regina chewed on her bottom lip and considered what to say to him. It had been three days since he was admitted and they had heard nothing about the boy's family. "BJ, can you tell me where you live?"
With that question the fleeting moment of open vulnerability vanished from the boy's face and was replaced with a toughness that caught Regina by surprise. "BJ, there has to be somebody we can call."
"I want...my clothes."
"BJ, you can't leave yet," Regina reminded him gently.
"You can't make me stay," he protested and started to sit up from the bed.
Regina struggled to hold him down and was quickly reminded of the strength a sixteen-year old boy could possess. "BJ...stop. You're going to hurt yourself. You're in no condition to leave the hospital yet."
"Let...me...go." He tried to shove her away but a second set of arms pinned him to the mattress as the nurse held him down.
"BJ, if you don't stop we're going to have to give you something to calm down." Regina pressed both hands firmly on his shoulders, holding him in place. "I don't want to have to do that, but I will if you don't stop."
He glared back at her defiantly still not ready to back down yet. "I've got ten of Ativan, Dr. Kinston," June interjected.
Regina glanced over at the nurse and then looked back down at her patient. "Can I trust you or are you going to give the nurses a hard time all night?"
His lip curled up in anger and he shoved against her one more time. "Fine, give it to him, June." Regina stared into his angry brown eyes and waited as the nurse uncapped the syringe and injected the medication into the intravenous line.
"I hate you," he hissed at the doctor.
Regina stepped back and pulled her gloves and mask off. "I'll write an order in the chart for the Aitvan as needed, June." It wasn't what she wanted to do, but BJ had given her no reason to trust that he wouldn't try to leave if given half the chance and she couldn't allow that to happen.
The blonde finished writing in her patient's chart and then walked off the unit. She stifled a yawn as a couple of residents walked past her in the hallway. All in all it hadn't been a bad day but still she was feeling out of sorts mostly because of what happened last night and the conversation she had with Alex.
It was early evening and the hallways were quiet as she walked toward the medical offices that were housed on the first floor of the East Wing. The door to Alex's office was shut and she knocked on the door before she opened it and peered inside.
Alex looked up from the papers she was reading and blinked, her eyes taking a second to focus on the slightly disheveled halo of blonde hair framing the youthful face. "Hi." She smiled and leaned back in her chair and stretched, feeling several vertebrae pop back into place. "How's your patient?"
Regina shut the door behind her, walked over and sat on the corner of the desk, facing the beautiful blue-eyed doctor. "He's awake, angry and combative." She toyed with one of the pens lying on the desk. "There's still no word about any family. I'm beginning to wonder if this kid ran away or something." She glanced over at Alex and sighed. "What are you reading?"
The taller woman edged her chair closer to Regina and shook her head. "Nothing earth shattering. I'm just going over the budget that the administration approved for the year." She could sense the conflict the young woman was trying hard to disguise. Alex leaned forward and let her arms rest on her thighs, thinking and then looked up into her lover's face. "Listen Regina, about last night-"
The blonde bowed her head and sighed. "No Alex, I hardly slept at all last night and I thought about this all day. I owe you an explanation."
A wistful smile crept over Alex's face and she shook her head. "You too, huh?" She laid a hand on Regina's thigh and glanced over at the door. It's late and screw the rest of the world, she thought. They needed desperately to reconnect and being back at work was leaving them little time and energy left to do so. "No wonder you have circles under your eyes."
Regina chewed on her lower lip as she gazed back at Alex. "This is hard to say and I fought with myself all day about whether I should even tell you or not, because you probably don't need this with everything you're dealing with." She rushed on when she saw the alarmed expression on her lover's face. "Its just...there are times when I see what happened that day so clearly. I think about how close we came to losing..." her voice faded away and she took a breath, trying to calm her racing heart. "I...I know it's crazy but I get this feeling like if I close my eyes and open them again...you won't be there."
She swallowed the lump forming in her throat and held her breath against the need to cry. How many nights had she woken up with a start and reached out to wrap an arm around Alex's body to reassure herself she was still alive?
A warm hand caressed the blonde's cheek and slid around her neck, gently massaging the base of it. Regina felt the brush of air against her and then the solid bulk of the taller woman as she stood up and pulled her into a bear hug.
Alex pressed her face against the top of Regina's head, rocked the smaller woman in her arms and brushed her hand over the soft blonde hair, whispering quiet reassurances to her. She remembered so little of what happened after she was shot. Most of it was a blur in her mind; odd bits of conversation, the excruciating pain she felt after surgery and the drugs that made her feel like she was on a bad trip.
All that, coupled with her driving need to put the experience behind her made it difficult for her to understand what her partner had gone through in those first few days. She'd seen the scenario played out day in and day out at work, but somehow her mind had, for the time being, neatly hidden those emotions away. "Regina, I'm here and I always will be. I promise."
The smaller woman sniffled and nodded her head against Alex's shoulder. "I know, I know. But I almost..."
"Almost what?" Alex leaned back and furrowed her brow, looking into the troubled green eyes. What aren't you still telling me, Reg?
Regina lifted her hand, brushed the dark bangs back off of Alex's face and let them fall back as she trailed her fingers down the angular cheek. "Nothing...I...can we just go home?"
Alex ducked her head, hiding the hurt in her eyes and whispered into the blonde's ear. "Sure."
Across town Derrick escorted his prisoner out of the courtroom and down the long narrow corridor that led to the back of the courthouse. From behind it was hard to tell if it was a man or a woman. The bright orange standard issue uniform with large blue numbers stenciled across the back hung loosely over the thin body and hid any defining contours. Ed stood up as Derrick approached and fell into step on the other side of the woman they were escorting back to the jail.
"The judge was way behind today," Derrick complained as he opened the door and walked down the stairs holding tightly to the woman's arm.
"Pretty typical for Judge Sorenson. I've never gotten out of his courtroom earlier than six o'clock."
"What's wrong Derrick? Are you missing a hot date with your lover?" Dana purred seductively in his ear as he bent to open the door to the cruiser.
"Shut your mouth."
"Oops, that's right I forgot. She left you for a woman." Dana cackled despite the pain in her ribs that was still lingering from where she hit the steering wheel in the car accident.
Dana smiled up at him and blew him a kiss before she ducked her head and flopped into the back seat. It was her first appearance in court since she was discharged from the hospital four weeks ago. So much for a speedy trial, she thought as she glanced down at the handcuffs that were locked around her wrists.
She scooted over to the passenger side so she was sitting behind him when he got into the car. Her lawyer seemed like he had half a brain and was able to capitalize on the fact that the boy driving the car she hit was just over the limit for driving while intoxicated. It wasn't much but it shed some doubt onto whether she was completely at fault or not.
Ed glanced over at the woman as he settled himself behind the wheel. He studied her reflection for a second in the rearview mirror and shook his head at the uneven, bleached blonde, spiky hair that gave the woman a slightly crazed appearance. "Christ, I hope you didn't pay anybody for that haircut," he remarked as he turned the key in the ignition.
"At least I have hair to cut," she quipped and settled back in her seat staring at the back of Derrick's head.
The older cop ignored her and pulled out into the street. "I've got to stop at the Quick Check for a gallon of milk. It won't take a minute," Ed told Derrick, as he turned left at the next intersection.
"Ah, man every week your wife has you running errands for her."
Ed laughed at Derrick as he pulled into the parking lot and turned the car off. "Hey, it's not so bad. They're plenty of perks that go along with it. You want anything while I'm in there?"
Derrick waved him off and turned his head to stare out the window instead. He caught the reflection of Dana's face peering back at him and he shifted in his seat. "What are you staring at?"
"His wife has him wrapped around her little finger," she laughed and tilted her head, regarding Derrick with interest. "Did Regina have you wrapped around her finger too, Derrick?"
"Ooh a little defensive about that, huh? I guess it must sting a little to know that it's Alex keeping her bed warm at night and not you."
Derrick looked at Dana through the cage and snorted. "I wouldn't talk, Dana. Who keeps you warm at night, Blondie?"
She edged forward in her seat and ran her fingers down the grate, staring at him with a look of raw, sexual hunger. "Oh honey, whoever I want." She ran her tongue over her lips and flashed a toothy grin. "Tell me something, Derrick. Are you really content to just let Regina go?"
He blinked and stared back at her.
"I mean after all she made you look like a fool."
"The only fool I see is the one sitting across from me, Dana."
Dana rocked back and let out a high-pitched cackling laugh. "Oh that's sweet, but not as sweet as the revenge I know you desire."
As the door opened, Derrick gave Dana one last look before he turned around to see Ed sliding back into the driver's seat. The older officer glanced between the two of them. "Everything all right in here?"
"Just ducky," Dana replied saucily from her seat.
Continued in Chapter 7