Authors: Tracey Garvis Graves
Tracey Garvis Graves
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Copyright © Tracey Garvis Graves, 2014
Cover Design by Sarah Hansen at Okay Creations
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to real persons, either living or dead, businesses, companies, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
For my twin sister Trish, who knows a thing or two about recovering from a traumatic brain injury.
“After you have wept and grieved for your physical losses, cherish the functions and the life you have left.” ~ Morrie Schwartz
I’m sitting on the couch reading a magazine when the buzzer to my apartment sounds, signaling that I have a guest. I don’t receive many visitors because if you close yourself off from people long enough, they’ll eventually stop coming around. Deciding someone must have pushed the button by mistake, I ignore it. But then it buzzes again, and whoever it is seems to be holding the button down as if to convey urgency.
I cross the room and speak into the intercom. “Yes?”
“Good evening. This is Officer Eric Spinner. I’m looking for Mrs. Jessica Rush.”
Eric Spinner. The name sounds familiar. I think it’s one of the officers Daniel worked with occasionally who must not be aware of our divorce.
Why would he be at my apartment?
“This is Jessica Rush.” I may no longer be Mrs. Rush, but I’m still Jessica Rush. I never got around to changing my name after the divorce. There was no reason to keep Daniel’s last name, the way I might have if we’d had other children. I even went so far as to inquire about the steps I’d need to take back my maiden name, but I’d never actually followed through.
“I need to speak to you, ma’am. Can you please buzz me in?”
“Sure,” I say, still not quite sure what’s going on. It’s only after I buzz him into the building, hear the footsteps outside my door, and open it wide that I realize there are two of them.
Two uniformed police officers wearing somber yet anxious expressions.
Every woman who is married to a police officer fears this scenario, and the fact that Daniel and I are no longer married only marginally lessens the impact. Something has happened to Daniel that is serious enough to warrant this visit. I have no idea why they’ve chosen me to be the recipient of such devastating news, but for a split second I’m glad it’s me and not Daniel’s parents who will hear it. I know what it’s like to outlive your child.
Time stands still, but before I can choke out a sound, one of them begins to speak. “I’m Officer Spinner, and this is Officer Shaw. Your husband has been injured in the line of duty and has been taken into surgery. We’re here to transport you to the hospital.” His words sound hurried but also rehearsed, as if he’s following some sort of protocol.
My relief is profound but short-lived because Officer Shaw says, “We need you to come with us right away.”
I gather my purse as memories of Daniel flash before me in brilliant blues and screaming pinks. My heart pounds, and I’m thankful I don’t have to drive myself because I’m not sure I would be capable.
“Where is he?” I ask.
“University of Kansas.”
I lock the door and follow the officers down the hallway and out the front entrance. They’re moving very quickly, and I have to walk fast in order to keep up.
The cool night air smells of fresh-cut grass, and there are hints of the approaching summer everywhere: people gathering on the building’s small balconies in groups of two or three, the sizzle of meat on a charcoal grill, the strumming of a guitar coming from someone’s classic-rock station. Will these be the sounds and smells I’ll recall later when I think back to this night?
They hustle me into the squad car, turn on the lights, and sail through the intersections, sirens blaring. The chatter on the radio, loud and punctuated with static, prohibits conversation.
When we pull up in front of the hospital, Officer Spinner accompanies me inside and identifies us, speaking in hushed tones to the woman sitting behind the desk just inside the door.
Her eyes open wide in recognition, and she picks up the phone. “Please have a seat,” she says, gesturing to a row of plastic chairs. “I’ll let them know you’re here.”
My stomach churns in nervous apprehension. “Do his parents know?” I ask after we sit down.
“You’re the only one we called,” he says. “You were listed as his emergency contact, but it took us a while to find you. The address wasn’t current.”
Of course. Daniel probably forgot to designate a new contact after the divorce. Because he never updated the information, they must have gone to our old house.
“Should I call them?” I ask.
“You’re welcome to call whoever you’d like,” he says, giving me a gentle smile.
With shaking hands, I dig my phone out of my purse and call Mimi and Jerry. I used to speak to Daniel’s parents almost as much as I speak to my own, but it’s been over a year and a half since I’ve heard either of their voices. The phone rings and rings, and I wait for the answering machine to pick up, expecting Mimi to ask me to leave a message. But the answering machine never clicks on, and after ten rings I give up. I call their cell phone next, the one they share because they are rarely apart, but the call goes straight to voice mail.
“It’s Jessie,” I say. “Please call my cell as soon as possible.” I rattle off the number in case she’s forgotten.
It suddenly dawns on me that if Mimi had answered, I don’t know what I would have said to her. “What happened?” I ask. “Why is he in surgery?”
Daniel has been injured before when a man stabbed him in the stomach. But that time he called me from the hospital himself while they were stitching him up.
Officer Spinner takes a deep breath. “He was shot during a routine traffic stop.”
My brain processes the information clumsily.
The somber expressions.
The officers’ sense of urgency.
I wait for him to tell me not to worry, that everything will be okay. But he doesn’t. Wrapping my arms around myself does nothing to alleviate my trembling.
“Can I get you anything?” he asks. “I’d be happy to track down some coffee.”
“No thank you,” I say, wishing desperately that Mimi or Jerry would call me back. I clasp my hands together and lean forward, resting my forehead on my knuckles.
Please, Daniel, please don’t die.
Time passes slowly. The last time I waited at this hospital it was for our son to arrive. After thirty hours of labor, the doctors took him by C-section. Gabriel seemed reluctant to come into this world and, for reasons I’ll never understand, was not destined to stay for long.
I get up and pace. Aware that the woman behind the desk is watching me and not wanting her to confuse my anxiety with rude impatience, I make myself sit back down. Several police officers, including Officer Shaw, are now keeping vigil nearby, which sends a fresh ripple of uneasiness over me.
Finally, a half hour later, a woman wearing blue scrubs walks briskly toward me, and I stand because I can tell by her stride and her worried expression that she’s come for me. “Mrs. Rush?”
I’m so desperate for information that I don’t correct her. “Yes. Is he okay?”
“The doctor will see you now.”
“Would you like me to come with you?” Officer Spinner asks, but I’m already shaking my head and saying no thank you as I take off after the woman.
I follow her down several hallways, into an elevator, and finally to a small, empty room with nicer chairs that have wooden armrests and upholstered cushions.
“Please have a seat. It will be just a moment.”
My heart starts to pound. What if the doctor is coming to tell me Daniel didn’t make it? Maybe that’s why I’m in this empty room. Maybe I should have let Officer Spinner accompany me so I wouldn’t have to bear this alone.
The door opens, and a man wearing scrubs enters. I hold my breath, and he reaches his hand toward me and gives mine a quick shake. “I’m Doctor Seering. Your husband suffered a gunshot wound to the head but has made it through the surgery, Mrs. Rush.”
I lose it then, sobbing, gasping, trying to remember how to breathe, how to speak. Whether it’s the shock of finding out the location of Daniel’s injury or the relief that he’s successfully cleared this momentous hurdle, I can’t say. All I know is that I’ve been laid flat by the wave of emotion that’s been building behind me since the officers showed up at my door.
“He’s alive,” I say, tears pouring down my cheeks.
But Dr. Seering’s expression is somber, and before I can rejoice that Daniel is still with us, he proceeds to tell me just how bad it is.
I try to get myself under control so I can give Dr. Seering my full attention as he explains the findings of Daniel’s CT scan and his score on the Glasgow Coma Scale, neither of which were as promising as they’d like. There’s a box of tissues I hadn’t noticed before, and I pluck several of them out and dab my eyes and wipe my nose.
“I was able to stop the bleeding and perform a decompressive hemicraniotomy, which will relieve the pressure that’s building inside your husband’s skull. Monitoring this pressure will be our biggest concern, and how he fares during the next twelve to twenty-four hours will be crucial to his survival. His condition is grave, Mrs. Rush. If there are any family members who need to be notified, I suggest you contact them as soon as possible.”
“I’m trying to get ahold of his parents.”
Dr. Seering nods. “Tell them to hurry.”
I call Mimi and Jerry again, but no one answers at either number, which surprises me. I’m half-tempted to get in my car and drive to their house, but Dr. Seering told me I’ll be able to see Daniel as soon as he’s out of recovery, and I don’t want them to wonder where I’ve gone. I think about calling my mom or my sister, but I don’t. I sit there, silent and teary-eyed and shivering, and I wait.
An hour and ten minutes later, a nurse pokes her head into the room and says, “Mrs. Rush? Please come with me.”
I follow her with trepidation because I’m scared to see the condition Daniel is in.
We walk into a large, brightly lit space, which has rooms lining three walls of the perimeter. There are no doors, which I assume makes it easy for the medical personnel to enter quickly. Daniel’s in the third one down, and my breath catches when I see him.
I don’t know this Daniel, the one who is breathing with the aid of a ventilator, with tubes and IV lines running in and out of him and a bandage wrapped around the top of his shorn head. One of the machines makes a horrifying sound, which is clearly an alarm of some sort because two people—a man and a woman both wearing scrubs—walk briskly into the room and begin pressing buttons on one of the machines next to the bed. Once they quiet the alarm, I ask the nurse what happened.
“ICP monitor,” she says. Noticing my blank look, she clarifies. “Intracranial pressure. It’s okay. It was a false alarm.”
Pressure. Right. That’s the thing the doctor said was the biggest concern.
“I know it’s unsettling to see him like this, but we’re doing everything we can,” the nurse says as she pats my hand and gives me a kind smile.
“He’ll be fine,” I say.
Daniel appears lifeless on the bed and about as far from fine as a person can be. She probably thinks I’m in denial, that I just don’t want to face the facts. But that’s not why I said it.
I said it because the Daniel I know is invincible.