Rand stepped out of the house on his way to the hospital; he was in a bit of a hurry. He’d had quite a row with his fiancé last evening and had spent the night alone; he hadn’t slept well. By the time he had fallen asleep, the morning was already close and he’d overslept. To make up a little of the lost time, he had skipped breakfast, but he was still going to be late starting his rounds. He knew that his mother would come to see him sometime today. She always did after he and Brenda argued. She liked to play mediator between them.
He was running late, but he stepped onto the lawn to retrieve the newspaper anyway. He was going to toss it up onto the porch, but when he reached it, what was lying at his feet was no newspaper.
His senses were assailed by the sight, sound, and smell of death and destruction the like of which he had never imagined nor wanted to. All around him, men and horses were screaming in pain and moaning in death and he could see that there were many more that were far beyond that ability. Even as an emergency room doctor, he had never been faced with such a display. The worst highway pile-up imaginable would have been a quiet garden party compared to this. It wasn’t until a hand grasped his ankle that he saw that he stood directly over one such display.
“One person at a time,” he said to himself. “You can’t help them all at once, but you can help them one person at a time.” He knelt down beside the man at his feet, blocking out the cries from the others around him.
The man was dressed in full metal armor and he had a sword protruding out of his chest. His visor was closed but that didn’t stop him from hearing the wet cough and then the hand went limp. He pushed the visor up and saw the closed eyes and the trickle of blood on the man’s lips.
He began to pull away the armor as fast as he could work the buckles. He carefully slid the chest plate out from under the hilt of the sword, amazed at the force that had been required to slice the blade down so far through the armor and into the man inside.
Leaving the man cradled in his back plate, he began to remove the rest of the armor and discovered that his left leg was broken in two places, one above and one below the knee. The one above the knee was a compound fracture and the bone had lacerated the skin; the pant leg was drenched with blood.
He shook his head, “Why are you still alive?” he asked softly not expecting an answer.
He returned his attention to the sword. Moving it would likely kill the man, but if he left it, there was no way he could move him. He could see that a good deal of the blade was embedded in the ground beneath the man so drawing it straight out was out of the question. The only choice he had was to pull the man away from the sword just as he had done with his chest plate. It would do less additional damage, leaving up through the shoulder, the way it came.
He grabbed the lower edges of the back plate and gave a sharp pull down.
The inarticulate cry of pain wrung from the man’s lips reminded Rand of the other cries that echoed across the field, but he continued to work quickly. With nothing close at hand that was suitable, Rand ripped his shirt off and wrapped it around the man’s upper arm and under his other arm tying it tightly then with a brief thought to the broken leg, he began to pick the man up.
The movement woke the man further, but he didn’t thrash about. He did what he could to help despite the pain. The man used what strength he had in his good arm to help Rand support his upper body. He grabbed Rand’s shoulder and hung on. The pain of moving caused him to curl and forced a groan from his lips, but that was all he was allowing himself.
Rand was a strong man, but the man he was lifting was no stripling. He had been trained on how to lift without hurting himself so he succeeded – barely.
Standing, he had a moment to despair as he looked across the field of destruction with no place to go in sight. He turned and took a step and a fresh breeze brushed his face. The smell of blood was suddenly gone. The yard was suddenly so silent. The sidewalk was a step away and his car was in front of him parked innocently in the street.
The man in his arms let out another wet cough and Rand was reminded of what he carried. He hurried to the car and punched his code into the passenger side door. He was very thankful he hadn’t had to dig the keys out of his pocket. He pulled the door open, placed the man inside, and pushed the seat to lay back. The man was now quite limp again.
He jumped in behind the wheel and started the car then he punched the number for the emergency room into his car phone on the dash.
“Gladys, it’s me Rand. I’m bringing in an injured man. It’s an emergency. I need several liters of whole blood and I’ll need to take him into surgery immediately.”
“Yes doctor, what type of injury?” asked the calm voice of Gladys.
“He had a compound fracture of his left leg and a … a really bad stab wound involving his left shoulder and chest. His lung is compromised.”
“Understood doctor, we’ll be ready for you.”
“I’m about three minutes away now.” He hung up and concentrated on driving. The morning rush hadn’t started yet and he had the streets mostly to himself. He glanced over at the man beside him. He had slid against the door and blood was already pooling in the seat. He reached over and touched his neck. There was still a light throb there.
They were met at the emergency room door by a crash team. Before they moved him an inch, IVs of clear liquids chocked full of standard antibiotics and basic sugars were set in his arm and opened full. Then the man was rushed into a room where his clothes were cut away. His blood was matched quickly and more IVs were set then he was rushed into the operating room. By the time he reached the operating table, Rand was ready for him.
Three hours of reconstructive surgery and six liters of blood later, the man was taken to ICU and hooked up to innumerable machines that monitored everything from his blood pressure to his brain waves. He had lost a lot of blood and that was never good. He also put him under a physical watch; he wanted to be informed the instant the man so much as twitched.
The twitching started to happen that evening so Rand took up the watch himself. He was on duty anyway and the events of the morning still haunted whenever he thought about it. He had told no one; no one would have believed him.
According to the EEG, the man was having a dream or perhaps it was a nightmare. His head moved as if he were watching his surroundings and his right hand was constantly gripping at the blankets beneath his fingers.
Rand’s mother found him then. He had been expecting her all day. “Rand, how long are you going to leave Brenda hanging?” she asked softly so as not to disturb the patient.
“I’m not leaving her hanging, mom. I’m working. I’m on duty; I can’t be hanging on the phone all night trying to explain what I do. I’m an emergency room doctor. You know what that means. Why don’t you try and explain it to her, she doesn’t believe me.”
His mother’s response was abruptly interrupted when the patient suddenly twisted throwing his arm up and pulling his one working knee up. There were likely other things he had tried to move but the bandages and casts had prevented it; that didn’t mean that the attempt hadn’t fired off every pain center in his body. He started shaking and gasping; uttering sound was beyond him.
Both Rand and his mother were at his side instantly. She was a highly skilled nurse and between the two of them, they managed to keep the man from hurting himself any further.
He was awake now, wakened by the end of the nightmare that reminded him of his injuries. He clenched his jaws in an effort not to scream like his body so wanted to. He clutched at the arm under his hand and tried to concentrate on the voice that was so close to his ear.
“Give him another one, mom,” said Rand and his mother punched the button that lay on the blankets under her son’s elbow.
As the painkiller took affect, the man began to uncoil and Rand helped him to lay straight again. His mother was testing the pulse that throbbed so frantically in the man’s neck, waiting for it to calm down then she got a clear look at the man’s face for the first time. As a nurse, and as a doctor, especially in the emergency, they learned not to pay much attention to the faces, they couldn’t afford to.
Rand saw his mother go suddenly pale, but before he could say anything, the man on the bed spoke, his unfocused and wandering eyes found her face and he said, “Mother, I didn’t know you were here.” He closed his eyes then and sighed.
Rand quickly lifted an eyelid.
“He’s alright,” said his mother. “I think he just fainted.”
The shaky voice she used caused Rand to look up at her again. “Mom, are you alright?”
The woman sank weakly into a chair. “God, he looks so much like your father,” she said breathlessly.
Rand looked from his mother’s pale face to the equally pale face of the man on the bed in front of him. “Mom, dad’s been dead for five years now.”
“Oh I know that. I don’t mean that he looks like him now.” She opened her purse and pulled out her wallet. She opened up her picture folder and handed it to him open at one particular picture. It was his father when he had been in the navy. He was smiling and showing off a tattoo he had gotten on his shoulder. Rand looked back at the man on the table. God, they could have been twins.
He took his mother out into the hall, nodding at a passing nurse to take over the watch for a few minutes. “Go home, mom. Talk to Brenda; try to tell her… Just talk to her. I’ll be home sometime tomorrow.”
She nodded and left. She was shaken by what had just happened.
While Rand was outside talking to his mother, the patient woke again. His eyes roved around the room vaguely wondering at the many things he couldn’t identify and locking on the fact that the torches on the wall didn’t smoke.
A cool hand on his wrist brought his eyes to their owner. She was a lovely woman with short curly black hair and gentle eyes. “Now I know I’m in heaven,” he whispered. “First I see my mother.” He gasped carefully for more air. “Now I have an angel holding my hand.”
The nurse smiled. “You’re not in heaven, you’re in a hospital, and I’m just a nurse.” She picked up the clipboard that rested on one of the instruments. “Can you tell me your name…for the record?”
He looked at her for a moment longer just enjoying the view while he struggled with her words. It wasn’t that he couldn’t understand her, her words were perfectly clear; it’s just that his brain was working rather slowly just now. “My name…my name…Owen, my name is Owen,” he managed.
“And your last name, Owen?” asked the nurse with an encouraging smile as she wrote down what he had already given her.
“Hawthorn,” he supplied more readily though he was fading. He closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep. Not even the sight of an angel could keep him awake any longer.
Rand came to see the nurse standing over the patient with the clipboard in her hand, pen held poised, but she had the most confused expression on her face.
“Is everything alright?” he asked.
“Yes doctor. He woke up for a minute, and I was able to get his name…well, at least I think I did.”
“What did he say?”
“He said that his name was Owen Hawthorne, but that can’t be right. Can it? You don’t think that he picked your name up somewhere along the way and…”
“You said he gave you ‘Owen’ as his first name?”
“Yes doctor,” said the nurse.
“Maybe he’ll give us another name when he a little more coherent.”
“Yes doctor,” said the nurse as she closed the cover on the clipboard and replaced it on top of the heart monitor. She then left to continue her rounds.
Rand went to the bed again and looked closer at the man lying there. “Owen,” he whispered. His brother had died of liver failure at the age of eight. He remembered it clearly; he had been only six at the time. He had been allergic to everything. His father had said that he should have invested in the calamine market since he was always breaking out after having touched something.
Owen’s hand was resting near his heavily bandaged shoulder and he saw the fingers twitch again. Incongruous and impossible pieces of a puzzle dropped into place. Owen was allergic to a lot of things. Rand lifted the edge of the bandage and cursed. The skin underneath was red and blistering like it had been touch by poison ivy.
He rang for the nurses. To the first one that appeared he said, “We need to change his bandages, he’s breaking out from these. Find something without any synthetic fibers in it and send in some calamine lotion.
“Yes doctor,” said the woman and she was off on her mission. The next nurse to come in was equipped with scissors, cream, and calamine. They started to cut away the bandages and remove the sling.
Just as he was preparing to lift the man so that the nurse could slide the bandages out from under him, he woke again and studied the face that was close to his just then. “Rand,” he whispered, “You’re here too?” and then he had to gasp and clutch at him as he was moved even that tiny bit. He fainted again when they rolled him on his side so that they could spread the calamine across his back where the bandage had rested.