The Road Back Home

Part 9

by Lynne Norris

May 2001


 

Chapter Nine




At the bottom of the hill, Alex pulled over to the curb and stopped the Jeep. The radio was playing Elton John's, Can You Feel the Love Tonight, softly in the background. For a moment, she listened to the words and unexpectedly felt a lump rise in her throat.

There's a time for everyone
If they only learn
That the twisting kaleidoscope
Moves us all in turn
There's a rhyme and reason
To the wild outdoors
When the heart of this star-crossed voyager
Beats in time with yours

Angrily, she switched it off, then, tilted her neck back, and rested her head on the headrest and closed her eyes. Go back, just go back and tell her. Tell her what? Tell her that you're sorry? How hard is that to do?

After a moment of battling her conscience, Alex shook her head and slammed her fist against the steering wheel in frustration. “Shit!”

The headlights of a car reflected brilliantly off her side view mirror and she glanced over, her breath catching for a second, half hoping it was Regina. It wasn't. Obviously annoyed at where she was parked, the driver veered sharply in front of her, turned onto the main road, and drove off into the darkness.

With a sigh, Alex put the vehicle in drive and pulled out onto the road, following the red taillights for a couple of miles before the car turned off on a side street. Several times, she almost turned around and drove back to Regina's but she couldn't seem to gather the courage she needed to do it. Instead, she decided to just go home.

She was in her driveway in less than twenty minutes. Dejectedly, the brunette slid out of the Jeep and trudged up the path to her home. Alex opened the front door, bypassed the living room, leaving it in darkness and walked into her kitchen. She pulled a bottle of water out of the refrigerator, twisted the cap off and nudged the door closed with her foot. Angrily, she flung her jacket onto the back of the couch.

Her footsteps carried her up the stairs and down the hallway into her bedroom where she unclipped her beeper and set it on the nightstand followed by her bottle of water. She stripped her clothes off, dumped them in a pile on the floor of the bathroom.

Reaching in she turned the shower on, and then, stepped in after the water warmed up. The stream of hot water soothed the dull ache she felt in her body as she let it pound on her back. Her skin was red by the time she was finished lathering and rinsing her body.

Tendrils of steam drifted and curled their way up to the ceiling after she shut the water off and stepped out of the shower. She wiped the steam off the mirror with a towel and studied her reflection. Alex frowned, running a fingertip down the length of the scar on her chest. She'd seen worse over the years but it still bothered her. Patricia was right, she let what happened to her begin to affect her confidence and how she felt about herself.

The brunette shook her head in disgust and turned away, the numbness she felt on the ride home was starting to fade only to be replaced with a feeling of emptiness deep inside her.

She pulled her robe from the hook on the back of the bathroom door, wrapped it around herself and walked over to her bed. With a sigh, she sat on the edge of the mattress and stared down at the floor. A glance at the answering machine told her she had no new messages. Did you really think she would call you after what you said to her? Coward, Alex berated herself angrily.

She reached over, picked up the phone and started to dial Regina's number. She stopped and then quietly set the phone back down. The silence in the room was deafening. She'd fought with Lana on several occasions but never experienced the awful, sinking feeling she was experiencing in her chest like she was now.

Alex returned to the living room, settled into the corner of the brown leather couch, pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them tightly. Her chest felt hollow, like someone had punched her in the gut and she couldn't catch her breath.

Turning her head, she rested her cheek on her knee and closed her eyes. She'd been doing this ever since she could remember, following the same modus operandi. It was safe to allow herself to fall in love, as long as the game was played by her rules. If she could control the level of intimacy and shield her heart and soul from being too vulnerable it was safe.

The injury had brutally torn away any semblance of safety, leaving her more exposed than she had ever been before. It was too much, so she lashed out like a cornered animal, the angry words pouring out of nowhere, and now it was too late to take them back. She remembered the look of confusion and hurt on Regina's face when she walked out, leaving the blonde standing at the door.

She needed to talk to her, now. Looking over at the glowing red light of the clock on the VCR she cursed silently. It was eleven o'clock and Regina was pulling a double shift tomorrow so she could get four days off to visit her parents the following weekend. It would be impossible to talk to her at work and frankly she wasn't sure Regina would even want to talk to her at all.

“Nice job, Alex. You really fucked this one up.” The best thing that's happened to you in years and you manage to throw it away.

It seemed as if everything that happened over the past year came crashing down on her all at once. There were so many things she wished she could do over, not the least of which was the senseless argument she had with Regina earlier in the evening. With that last thought, the tears she'd been struggling to hold back finally overflowed.

******

Alex stepped out of the trauma room, walked over to the sink and stepped on the floor pedal. It was Monday and she was just starting her ten-hour shift. She held her hands under the stream of lukewarm water and soaped them, while she mentally calculated the amount of medication that needed to be titrated based on her patient's body weight.

After she dried her hands off, she walked over to the nurse's station and found her patient's chart amid the pile of other recent admissions that morning. Stifling a yawn, she rechecked her calculation using a calculator and nodded, satisfied that with her original decision.

Her beeper vibrated on her waistband and she checked it, half hoping it might be Regina but knowing it probably wasn't. She paged Regina on her beeper once on Sunday and got no answer. She didn't try again, figuring the younger woman was more than justifiably angry with her and just wanted to be left alone.

A grimace crossed her face and she reluctantly reached over the desk and dialed the number. She barely slept Saturday night and ended up dozing on and off most of Sunday.

“It's Dr. Margulies. Someone paged me,” she said, doing little to hide the irritation in her voice.

“Doctor, I'm Doug Marsh's assistant, the attorney doing your deposition.”

“I know who he is.” She flipped the binder open and rested her head on her hand as she leaned over and wrote the order in the chart, while she listened.

“We have a slight problem. The charts are missing from medical records.”

“What do you mean they're missing? All of them are missing?” Alex closed her eyes and shook her head, incredulous at what she was hearing.

“They're not there and there's no record of them being signed out.”

“Talk to medical records about it.”

“Well, unfortunately the Office of Investigations is sending someone down to review the records and the billing that was done. So we need to find those charts as soon as possible.”

She didn't think it was possible, but the day had already gone from bad to worse with a single phone call. “Fine, I'll see what I can do.”

“Thank you, Dr. Margulies. Doug will be calling you to set up another meeting when the time comes.”

Alex hung up the phone, listening to the overhead intercom as the hospital operator paged one of the surgical teams. Finished with her orders she pulled up the order tab and handed the chart across the desk to the unit clerk. She noticed Sandy coming out of the fracture room down the hallway; her blue scrubs splattered with wet, white globs of plaster used to make casts.

“Nice fashion statement there, Sandy,” Alex remarked sarcastically as the nurse walked up to her.

“Ha, ha. What's up with you today?” The nurse regarded the medical director critically, the haggard looking expression not lost on the blonde.

“Nothing,” Alex answered curtly and slipped her pen back into her scrub pocket. She walked over to the board with all the patients listed on it and erased two names, then, studied the remaining list to see which doctors were assigned to the rest of the patients. Still holding the eraser in her hand, her vision blurred slightly and she let out a breath, wishing her shift was over and she could try to repair some of the damage she had done.

“How long are you going to stand there and read that list?” Sandy stepped up beside the taller woman.

Alex arched an eyebrow and glared down at Sandy. “Is something wrong that I don't know about?”

“I think I should be asking you that. Is everything ok? You look like you lost your best friend today.”

Fumbling, she dropped the eraser she was holding and bent to pick it up. “I'm fine, Sandy. I'm just pre-occupied with some things.” The words were a thin-veiled excuse and she knew it.

Disgusted with herself, Alex set it on the tray and walked into the medication room where she keyed in her identification number and removed two ibuprofen tablets. The headache she had since Saturday had taken hold and stubbornly refused to let go. She glanced up as Sandy entered the room after her and stood just inside the doorway watching her. “What?”

The nurse glanced behind her as one of the technicians cleared his throat from out in the hallway. “I need to get something.”

“Go ahead.” Sandy waved him into the room, watching as he rummaged through several bins until he found the right tubing he needed. He glanced nervously between the nurse and the steely eyed medical director before he scurried out of the room to safer territory.

Sandy shut the door and stared at Alex as she popped the two pills and swallowed them. “You're in a fine mood today.”

“Do you have something you need to say to me, Sandy?” Alex leaned an elbow on a shelf and regarded the nurse coolly.

Sandy stepped closer and looked up at the doctor. She had wanted to ease into this conversation but the doctor's mood was making it impossible. “Alex, are you sure you're ready to be back here?”

Alex's eyes darkened as she stared at the nurse. Ah, this is the last thing I need today. “Are you questioning my ability to do my job, Sandy?”

“No, I'm questioning whether you're ready to be back here. I saw how upset you were when you walked out of the trauma room the other day.”

Alex folded her arms over her chest and shifted her weight on her legs. “I don't need you're opinion, Sandy.”

Sandy sighed when she heard the knock on the door. “What do you want?” She opened it and waited for the medical student to tell her what she needed. “Trauma room five has extra catheters. Get them there.” She turned back around after she firmly shut the door. “Alex, don't give me your pompous doctor act.”

“You know, I don't need to hear this crap.” Alex started to walk toward the door but Sandy stood her ground, blocking the taller woman's path.

“Move.” Alex tried to step around the smaller woman.

“No.” Sandy held her hand up. “Maybe you don't want to hear it, but you're going to listen to me anyway. You're trying to act like this hasn't affected you, but it has. It affected every single person here on this unit, and you're walking around trying to act like nothing happened.”

Alex stepped back, her pupils dilating as her anger built. “What do you want me to do? I'm the Medical Director, it's my job to run this department.”

“Alex, haven't you figured out after all this time that you're no good to anybody else unless you're able to take care of yourself first?”

“Back off, Sandy. My life is none of your damn business,” Alex growled, feeling like she was being hammered from all directions.

“Your wrong. It is my business, because you're my friend and so is Regina.” The nurse gestured angrily.

“That's it. This conversation is over!” Alex pushed past Sandy and stormed to the door.

“Whether you're willing to admit it or not Alex, you need your friends and you're shutting all of us out.” Sandy blurted out the words as the doctor yanked the door open.

She watched as the broad shoulders shuddered and for a moment, she thought Alex was going to breakdown, but then the doctor seemed to gather herself and walked out of the room without looking back.

******

Terry sat in her bed glumly flicking through the channels on the television that was suspended up on the wall across the room from her bed. She was bored out of her mind and scared – very scared. Her blood tests came back positive for some weird kind of bacteria that was in her blood and she had been admitted so she could get intravenous antibiotics. That was two days ago and she still had a fever that seemed to get worse at night and left her feeling drained and empty during the day.

The bed closest to the window was raised up as high as it would go and neatly made with fresh linens. Her roommate was discharged and until another one arrived she would have the room to herself. With a sigh Terry scooted to the edge of the bed, stood up holding onto to the metal IV pole and gingerly walked over to the window. She rested her hand on the sill and peered outside.

“What a view,” she muttered to no one in particular.

The hospital room window looked out onto the roof of the floor below and if she craned her neck enough, she could see into the patients room that were off to the right and several floors down. She looked up at the clock on the wall and made a face. It was eleven o'clock in the morning and her parents wouldn't be able to visit with her until late in the afternoon.

Her mother was working two jobs now to cover the rent and their other expenses while her father spent his days going on interviews in the hopes of landing another job. The whole situation sucked.

Her parents were arguing more and most nights Terry just ate dinner, then, escaped to her room and turned on the radio to drown out the angry, frustrated voices shouting at each other down the hall.

A noise in the hallway caught her attention and she turned around catching a fleeting glimpse of something dark blue speed by her room. Curious, she walked to the door, rolling her IV pole along with her and peered out into the hallway in time to see a boy pop a wheelie in a wheelchair and spin around on two wheels.

“BJ, you can't whip up and down the hallway in a wheelchair! You'll hit someone,” one of the aides yelled from the nurse's station.

Terry watched as the boy whipped the wheelchair around, bringing it to an abrupt halt in front of her. An ugly purplish bruise was beginning to fade into yellow and green streaks underneath his left eye and his head was shaved bald revealing a half moon scar running from front to back over his left ear.

“Hi.” Terry smiled down at him in amusement as a surprised expression came over his face followed by a faint flush over his fair features.

“H…hi,” he stammered and wheeled back away from her unexpectedly bumping into the dirty linen cart behind him.

Terry stifled a giggle as she watched him fumble with the wheels. She thought he looked small and vulnerable sitting in the wheelchair with nothing but a blue hospital gown and faded green scrubs that were too long and pooled around his bare feet as he sat in the chair.

“I'm Terry,” she offered, leaning against the doorframe as she secretly studied the bruising on his face.

“B…J,” he spoke his name softly, working hard to get the syllables out.

Terry took a breath, suddenly feeling her energy plummet as if someone had just sucked it out of her. “I need to sit down. You can come in if you want.” She turned and walked back to the bed and flopped down onto the mattress, her limbs feeling like rubber once again.

A moment later BJ wheeled slowly into the room and peered cautiously around the curtain at her. “What's wrong…with you?”

Terry lifted her head and regarded him with a serious expression before she answered. Usually she would have been defensive and angry if someone asked her that but for some reason his question didn't bother her. “I have cancer. It's in my leg.”

“Does it hurt?” BJ rolled closer and turned the wheelchair so he was sitting parallel to the bed.

Terry shrugged. “Not in my leg. Sometimes I'm just really tired, like now.”

“Oh.” He seemed to consider this before he spoke again. “Do you want me …to leave so you can go to sleep?”

“No, it's ok.” Terry pulled her legs underneath her, suddenly self-conscious that she was only wearing a hospital gown and quickly pulled the sheets up around her waist. “What happened to you?” She brushed her hair back behind her ears and glanced over at him again.

BJ blinked and he raised his left hand absently running his fingers over the scar that marred the surface of his head. He could feel the soft down of hair that was just starting to grow back on his scalp. “The doctors said I…I hurt my head.” He glanced up at the wall and frowned, wrinkling the skin on his forehead. “I don't…remember much.”

“BJ?” A woman's voice called out from just beyond the door to the room.

He slumped down in the wheelchair and stared morosely at his hands. “Yeah.”

Regina walked into the room followed by a slim, blonde-haired doctor dressed in an impeccably tailored black pantsuit. “Hi, Terry.” She forced a friendly smile at the teenage girl, then introduced the psychologist to her other patient. “BJ, this is Dr. Burke.”

“I know one of the…nurses told me a…a shrink was looking for me,” he spoke hesitantly, but the anger and resentment were in his voice.

“Hi, BJ. I've been looking for you,” Dr. Burke told him.

“Great, well…you found me.”

“I'd like to speak with you for a few minutes.”

The boy curled his lip up and frowned. “Fine.” He jerked back on the wheels, sending the wheelchair flying backwards and then wheeled himself quickly out of the room.

Regina met Dr. Burke's gaze for a moment and exchanged a knowing glance with her before the psychologist followed her patient out of the room.

Regina turned back to the girl. “How are you feeling?”

The girl shrugged her shoulders and glanced down at the bed linens gathered up around her hips. “Ok,” she whispered.

Regina sat down in the bedside chair and tilted her head so she could look at Terry's face. “Scared?”

Terry shook her head once and then her lower lip started to quiver slightly before tears started to roll down her cheeks. She pressed a hand to her mouth, squeezed her eyes shut fighting to maintain her composure because she desperately didn't want to cry in front of the doctor.

“Oh, Terry.” Regina leaned forward and wrapped an arm around the girl's shoulders. “It's ok to be scared. I would be to.”

“I…I think my parents are…” she hiccupped through her crying, “mad at me because I got sick.”

“What makes you say that?” Regina pulled some tissues from the box sitting on the hospital table next to the bed and handed them to girl.

“I heard them arguing last week and my…my Dad said this couldn't have happened at a worse time.”

Regina pressed her lips together; remembering how many times she heard her parents argue when she was a kid and how sometimes she thought it was her fault they were arguing. Knowing that Terry was carrying this around with her made her along with all her fears made Regina chafe with anger. “Terry, I'm sure your parents aren't mad at you. They love you very much.”

The young girl laid her head on Regina's shoulder and sniffled, wiping her eyes after she eventually cried herself out. “I'm sorry, Dr. Kingston. I didn't mean to cry.”

“It's all right. Sometimes it makes you feel better.” The words sounded hollow to her. Regina shed plenty of tears over the weekend and couldn't say that she felt much better for it. She squeezed the girl's shoulder and stood up. “Time for me to go and finish up some things. Stay out of trouble.”

Terry nodded and gave the young doctor a wan smile.

Regina kept up her professional demeanor all the way to the staff bathroom by the cafeteria. The last forty-eight hours had been hell. Hurt, confused and angry after her argument with Alex, she avoided thinking about it and delved completely into her work.

Now with a few minutes to herself she stared into the mirror, wondering how they had been so blind to what was happening over the past few weeks. Turning on the faucet, she let the cold water run, cupped her hands underneath the stream and splashed her face with it.

Regina wiped the excess water off with some paper towels, then, leaned on the sink and ducked her head. “All right, Dr. Kingston, let's get some food before you pass out.”

******

Alex entered the cafeteria and quickly weaved her way through the growing crowd of staff and family members. Rarely, did the doctor bother with the cafeteria, usually bringing some nuts and fruit from home to snack on during her shifts. Today she just couldn't be bothered and found herself ravenous by noontime. Just get in and get out.

At the yogurt machine, she filled a Styrofoam cup with a large helping of vanilla and topped it with chocolate syrup and nuts. She paid for her food at the register and procured a spoon at the island where all the utensils and condiments were stored.

Behind her, she heard a familiar outburst of infectious laughter and froze for an instant. Regina. Damn, I would know that laugh anywhere. Alex turned and glanced in the direction of the sound and sure enough there in the cashier line behind her was the young doctor, talking with one of her colleagues.

She must have felt someone looking at her because the blonde head turned and Alex felt herself riveted to the spot when the green eyes met hers. She could almost feel the blood drain from her face as she stood there. Stay? Go? She could hardly breathe let alone find the motor control to move her feet.

Regina made the decision for her and stepped out of the line, leaving her food and walked over, standing a few awkward steps away, looking up at the taller woman. The brunette's hair was pulled back into a loose braid that hung down to her shoulders. The younger woman realized as she studied the taller doctor that Alex looked like she had lost weight again and most likely hadn't eaten since she last saw her on Saturday.

Alex pressed her lips together, broke eye contact first and stared down at the floor. When she met Regina's gaze again, the pain she saw in them was enough to make her legs feel like they would suddenly no longer hold the weight of her body. Please, don't tell me I'm losing her. “I…I, can…” she stepped out of the way, letting two doctors who were deep in conversation pass by them. “Can I talk to you…later, please?”

She was sure if Regina said no she would have begged on her knees if she needed to. Don't walk away, Regina.

Clear, green eyes stared back at her and for a moment she thought she was going to have to hit her knees. Her beeper blared loudly and she jumped, forgetting she'd taken it off the vibrate setting that was beginning to annoy the hell out of her. An overhead page followed it, and she heard her name announced with a stat call to the Emergency Department.

Shit! “Regina,” she pleaded, needing to hear an answer before she left.
The blonde nodded once, stepping toward her hesitantly, then stopped, suddenly self-conscious of the growing crowd of people in the cafeteria. “Go on. They need you.”

Alex ducked her head and shoved a hand into her lab coat pocket. “I'll call you after I'm done?”

“I'll be home after my shift,” Regina responded quietly then turned and walked back to the cashier to pay for her food.

Alex blew out a breath and closed her eyes for a second trying to find some kind of calmness to the emotional storm that was brewing inside her. Her appetite gone, she took a step back and chucked her yogurt into the wastebasket behind her.

Their stilted conversation did little to ease the vise like pressure she felt growing around her heart all day, but at the moment she had little to choice as to her immediate course of action. She walked quickly out of the cafeteria, breaking into a run when she reached the hallway.

When she entered the Emergency Department she headed straight to the desk, where Sandy was bending listening to the radio dispatch calling in. She leaned over the desk and caught the last couple of sentences crackling over the static.

“We've got a four year old with severe hypothermia. He's unresponsive, blood pressure is ninety over sixty, can't get a pulse. Core temperature is eighty-five degrees.”

Sandy keyed the microphone. “Xavier to Medivac one we're cleared for both patients.”

The nurse straightened up and looked over at Alex. Her earlier conversation with the doctor echoed in her mind and she sorely wished that it had been less confrontational. “We've got two boys that fell through the ice walking across a lake. The firemen aren't sure how long they were in the water before they got to them. The first helicopter is five minutes out.”

“What were they doing out on a frozen lake?” Alex rubbed her forehead in frustration. “We're going to need heated blankets and fluids on standby for the first one. Where's Jon?”

“He's in trauma four finishing with another patient.”

“Ok.” Alex glanced at the board. “Sandy, you're with me on the first kid. Tell Jon he's got the second one.” She started walking down the hallway and quickly ducked into the locker room to retrieve her coat. On her way past one the supply carts, she grabbed an isolation gown, which she hurriedly pulled on, followed by her leather jacket.

The doctor stopped one of the technicians as he ran out of an exam room. “Thomas, we're going to need heated blankets and IV fluids on standby.”

“I've got to get something for Dr. Washington,” Thomas replied, stepping around her.

“Fine, you've got five minutes to get it here.” Alex snapped in irritation, then, walked down the hallway and climbed the stairs to the helicopter pad.

She opened the door, walked out onto the rooftop and stood in the corner of the building, waiting for the sounds of the first in bound chopper. The sky was crystal blue, with cold winds ushering the white cumulus clouds along overhead. Shivering, she cupped her hands together and blew into them to keep them warm.

A moment later, she heard the doors of the adjacent elevator slide open and Sandy joined her carrying a portable cardiac monitor. “Damn, it's cold out here.”

“Where's your coat?” Alex frowned at her colleague.

“I didn't think I had time to get it.” Sandy shrugged and turned her back against the cold wind that cut through the cotton scrubs and isolation gown she was dressed in.

Alex glanced up at the empty sky, impatiently waiting for the helicopter to appear. The sound of chattering teeth drew her attention. “Here.” She shrugged out of her jacket and draped unceremoniously it over Sandy's shoulders despite the nurse's feeble protests.

“Alex, no. Keep it.”

Blue eyes narrowed and glared back at the nurse, silencing her. Alex turned away, hearing the rhythmic sound of the helicopter blades and the whine of the engine as the aircraft came into view over the tree tops several hundred yards away. Minutes later the helicopter was circling and coming in for a landing.

The doctor's gown whipped around her legs and she turned away from the windstorm as the helicopter started its descent. After it settled down over the large, painted, white cross on the rooftop, the blades slowly ceased their revolutions, then, both women ran toward the chopper.

The doors opened and a flight nurse stepped out pulling the stretcher toward her. Alex grabbed the other side of the stretcher, helping to gently lower it to the ground. While she listened as the woman shouted the vitals to her over the roar of the engine, Sandy quickly hooked the EKG leads to the portable monitor.

“We intubated him at the scene. His blood pressure is ninety over fifty and he's had one run of ventricular fibrillation, which we controlled with Bretyllium. His core temperature is eighty-five and he's still unresponsive. He's got one unit of warm crystalloid fluid going in.”

“Ok, we got him.” Alex jogged alongside the stretcher, pulling it toward the elevator that stood next to the door leading to the stairwell. Sandy squeezed the ambu bag, rhythmically filling the boy's lungs with oxygen.

She saw doors slide open and Jon standing inside, holding the elevator for them. “The next one's on its way.” She motioned with her hand overhead, indicating the next helicopter.

“Ok!” He shouted as the chopper started to lift off and bank away. “Thomas has a room all set for you.”

Alex nodded her understanding and hit the button to close the doors after Jon stepped out. “Slow it down, Sandy. I don't want this kid hyperventilated, we'll trigger another run of ventricular fibrillation.”

The nurse nodded, adjusting how fast she was ventilating the patient's lungs. On the ride down to the Emergency Department, Alex listened to his heartbeat with her stethoscope while keeping a watchful eye on the cardiac monitor.

When the elevator stopped and the doors slid open, they pushed the stretcher out into the hallway, narrowly missing a man walking beside his wife. Maggie, another nurse, joined them and helped rush the stretcher sown the hall.

The cardiac monitor shrilled loudly as another run of abnormal heartbeats was picked up on the monitor. “Alex, he's in V-fib again.”

“Start compressions,” she ordered, boosting Sandy up on the stretcher, while Maggie took over ventilating the boy.

Glancing back at the monitor Alex pulled harder on the stretcher, steering it through the hallway, neatly avoiding patients and staff members that were walking in the corridor. “Thomas, what room?”

Hearing his name the technician looked up from what he was doing and pointed directly in front of him. Together, Maggie and Alex wheeled the boy into the trauma room. Inside Thomas and a medical student quickly joined them.

Sandy scrambled off the stretcher and pointed at the medical student. “See if you can get some information on who the parents are.”

“On my count people,” Alex directed, and on her count four pairs of hands easily lifted the boy onto the treatment table. She reached over Sandy, who started pumping on the boy's chest again and grabbed a syringe from a box along with an ampule of the Bretylium.

Quickly, she drew up the medication into the syringe and injected the dosage she needed into the IV line while she barked orders out. “Make sure he's on warm, humidified oxygen. Get a set of labs and a trauma panel, now.”

As Alex was doing this, Sandy quickly hooked the EKG leads up to the wall monitor, while the technician turned on the ventilator and hooked up the endotracheal tube. Maggie stepped around Alex and pulled the crash cart over with the defribillator on it.

“Here.” She flipped the switch, charging the machine.

The doctor stepped back and reached for the defribillator. “Set it for 2 joules.” Alex leaned over the boy, waiting as the technician unbundled him. “Clear.” She brought the paddles down and depressed the buttons watching the small body convulse briefly as the current shot through it.

“It worked, you've got a normal rhythm Alex,” Sandy observed excitedly.

“He's not out of the woods yet. Someone get me two left-sided, thirty-eight French chest tubes. I need normal saline in three liter bags heated to forty-one degrees celsius.” Alex ordered, as she quickly tied a fluid shield mask behind her head and then pulled on a pair of gloves.

Sandy quickly shrugged out of Alex's jacket and pulled on a mask and gloves. She grabbed the requested kit from inside a cabinet, tore off the packaging, and draped a sterile towel over the boy's stomach before she set the kit down on the field she prepared.

Alex looked over at the medical student who had returned to the room and was standing at the foot of the stretcher. “What year are you?”

“Fourth,” the young man replied.

“Good. Get over here and get a catheter in him.” She glanced over at Thomas who was setting up another IV line. “Thomas, where's the heated solution?”

“Right here.” He hung the IV bags on the pole.

Sandy, I need the thoracic lavage to exchange two liters of fluid every ten minutes until his rectal temperature is up to thirty-five degrees Celsius.” Alex glanced up, hearing the wheels of another stretcher rattle by the room. She caught sight of Jon and his team wheeling the other boy into the room next door. “Okay, roll him onto his right side.”

While Thomas rolled the patient over, Maggie squirted betadine on the boy's chest and then draped sterile towels over him. Alex reached into the kit, retrieved a syringe and quickly filled it with Lidocaine. She anesthetized the area below the third rib in the intercostals space, then, did the same to the skin.

Sandy handed Alex a surgical blade, which she used to make a quarter inch incision through the skin. “Give me a Mayo clamp.” Alex switched instruments with Sandy and with steady pressure created an opening down into the chest wall. Discarding the instrument, Alex reached out and grabbed the tube that Sandy was already holding out to her.

Carefully, the doctor inserted the chest tube with gentle pressure through the lining of the chest wall. Satisfied with the position of the tube she began suturing it in place. She repeated the same process, inserting a second catheter below the first one that would suction the fluid back into the collection bottle. When she was done, she looked over at the monitor and then spoke to Sandy. “Go ahead and hook it up to the suction.”

Alex stepped back and looked up at the monitor, watching the boy's heart rate. Now it was a game of waiting and watching. The warm fluid that was being circulated would bathe his heart and lung gradually bringing his core temperature up to normal. She'd done all she could for now. The rest was up to the boy.

“All right, call the pediatric intensive care unit and tell them that we're sending up this patient.” She peeled her gloves off and dropped them into the medical waste container. “Does anyone know if the parents have been notified yet?”

“I'll find out,” Sandy walked out of the room.

While she waited, Alex wrote her admitting note and orders for her patient. She looked up as Dr. Torres walked into the room. “You're here early,” she commented.

The doctor shrugged and glanced over at the patient lying on the table. “Nah, got paperwork to catch up on. Sandy said to tell you the parents are on the way.” Dr. Torres set his hands on his narrow hips and tapped his foot on the floor. “Why don't you head out? I'll talk to them when they get here.”

Alex set her hands on her lap and stretched her neck. A week ago she would have bristled at the offer, considered it a sign of weakness to leave and go home like this. Today, she just didn't have the energy or the resolve to dispute the offer. “I think I will, thanks.”

The brunette stood up, handed the notes to the doctor, and walked out of the room. For a moment, she stood in the brightly lit corridor, watching and listening to the hectic activity around her. Two paramedics walked past, rolling a stretcher between them, a technician ducked into the supply room farther down the hallway. The voices around her, the sound of the phones ringing and the overhead page system all seemed a cacophony of noise.

She looked over her shoulder as Jon walked out of a trauma room. “How did it go?”

“That's one lucky kid in there. How's the kid you worked on doing?”

“We're raising his temperature with warm fluid.” She shrugged and stared down at her bloody scrubs. “It's up to his body now.”

Jon tilted his head, studying the medical director. “Alex are you ok?”

“Yeah, I think these ten hour days are taking more out of me than I expected. “Listen.” She stepped closer to him and lowered her voice a bit. “I need you to cover for me at the end of the week. I need a couple of days to take care of some personal things. I was planning to spend those days down at the clinic so there won't be any extra work to cover here – just put out any fires that might start.”

Jon nodded his head. “Alex, take whatever time you need.”

“I'll be back the following Tuesday and you have my long distance pager if you need to get a hold of me.”

He waved her off. “Don't worry about it.”

With an odd feeling of detachment she walked into the locker room and sat down on the bench. She took her time changing, giving herself time to think about what she wanted and needed to say to Regina.

Alex closed her locker, rested her elbows on her thighs and sighed. She used her cell phone to dial Regina's number and waited. After two rings, she answered.

“Hi, it's Alex.” She tugged the elastic from around the end of her braid and ran her fingers through her hair. “You ok?”

“I don't know, Alex. You tell me” Regina replied, her voice sounding tired and resigned.

The doctor splayed her fingers out over her forehead and winced inwardly. She'd run out of Regina's house the other night like a coward, not wanting to deal with what was standing between them.

She heard the blonde's voice on the other end of the phone sounding hesitant and a little scared. “Alex, I'm sorry. I didn't want to tell you anything,” she paused, muffling a sniffle.

The sound echoed in Alex's head as she realized that Regina was beating herself up over the fight they had. She turned around and looked over her shoulder when she heard the door open. Sandy was standing in the doorway holding her leather jacket.

Regina's voice came through the line again. “Alex, are you still there?”

She held her hand out and reached for the jacket as Sandy walked over to her. “I'm still here, Regina.”

A worried look crossed Sandy's face as she handed the coat to the doctor. She stepped back, retreating to the door and slipped out of the locker room aware that she had walked in on a private conversation.

“The whole time I kept thinking about what you said and why I didn't tell…” Regina's voice cracked.

Alex pinched the bridge of her nose. Her palms were moist and her stomach churned bile as she listened. “Can I come over so we can talk?”

“I…I wasn't sure you'd want to after what you said the other day.”

Touché.

“I do.” Alex slipped an arm into the sleeve of her jacket and stood up, switching the phone to the other hand. “Regina?” She pulled it on the rest of the way, struggling to get her other arm in.

“Come over.”

“Ok, I'll see you in a few minutes.” Alex clipped her phone back onto her belt and walked out of the locker room.

She saw Sandy standing behind the desk. The nurse walked toward Alex and fell into step alongside her. “Sorry, I didn't mean to walk in on anything.”

The taller woman shot her an annoyed look. “How do you know you did?”

Sandy shrugged. “Instinct. Experience. Whatever, it doesn't matter. Alex, about what I said earlier, I don't want you to think…”

The doctor shook her head, stopped walking and faced the nurse. “No, Sandy. You were right and you're the only one here with the balls enough to tell me to my face.”

Sandy raised her eyebrows and blushed slightly. “I meant what I said about you and Regina being friends. You are.”

Alex ducked her head and let a half grin creep up the side of her face. “Thanks. I've got to go.”

“Oh and Alex?” The nurse put her hand on Alex's arm, stopping her.

“What?” The taller woman stiffened at the unwelcome touch.

“Roses always help.”

The doctor arched an eyebrow and looked away blinking back tears that unexpectedly brimmed in her eyes. “Sandy, go back to work,” she spoke hoarsely.


Chapter Ten

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