A Father’s Love
By Royce Sears
The ambulance arrived at 03:14, according to the note I had scribbled in my pocket. I had pulled it out, along with the pens, random Post-It notes, markers, scissors, and various other accoutrements that might end up in the pockets of my scrubs by the end of a twelve hour shift. I stared at it for a long moment, remembering the blaring sirens, as the ambulance skidded to a stop on the icy parking lot of the triage area.
I remember thinking, was it all a dream? Or did it really happen the way I remember it? Maybe it’s time to move to a new department, they say we start to crack after a few years in the ER.
We had been waiting for about ten minutes, me and two other trauma nurses, at 03:10 in the gusting winds and blustery cold of a January morning in northern Illinois. The lake-effect snow, combined with what the weathermen called an Arctic Blast had effectively frozen our little town into a standstill. Schools were closed, the city had shut down, and many businesses had closed, but not all; it takes more than snow and ice to shut down the money making machine of American capitalism. Rather than risk losing their jobs, many bundled themselves in their warmest clothing, scraped the ice and snow from their cars, and risked their lives on frozen roads to make sure someone could buy a loaf of bread, or a big-screen television.
Getting out of my blood splattered scrubs at the door to my apartment; I tossed them in the direction of the washing machine. They would get washed at some point soon, right now there was a steaming, hot shower waiting for me. Waiting for the water to warm up, my thoughts circled back to the events of the early morning.
The EMT’s and paramedics had called ahead, after arriving on the scene of a multicar accident, to inform us of two critical patients en-route to our facility. When the ambulance arrived, we got them into the Emergency Room to assess their injuries, it didn’t look good. I shudder to think about the damage that can be done to a human body, especially in a head-on collision. The tenacity of human life and the will to continue living, despite massive internal injuries, can be truly astounding to witness, even when you see it on a nightly basis.
Patient one, identified by the driver’s license in his wallet, as one Thomas Neville Watson, thirty-one years old, with no next of kin listed. Thomas had received the worst of the accident. The airbag in his car had malfunctioned, and when the front-end compacted, the driver’s console came rushing to meet his head. The end result was extensive cranial trauma and hemorrhaging. He was bleeding profusely, blood pressure dropping rapidly, and his pulse rising steadily. It’s eerie to watch another person’s life ebbing away right before your eyes.
I climbed into the shower, just as hot and steamy as I had hoped. After lathering my long hair, attempting to rid myself of the remnants of Mr. Watson’s bodily fluids, I washed my face to scrub what little make-up I wear away. I had to wash my hair again, I could still feel clumps of clotted blood when I ran my fingers though it again to rinse. Even as these few remains, pieces of a life, another human being, washed away and circled into a mini-maelstrom as they fell into the drain, so too did the life of Mr. Thomas Neville Watson. He lived on now, only in the memories of those who watched him slip away, as they worked furiously to save his life, and the memories of his family. His family, I thought about his family, should I tell them?
The code was called by Dr. Michaels at 04:56, we all stopped what we were doing, taking a step back from the operating table. I lowered my head, but watched him lie there. I’m not religious, but this is a moment to recognize the loss of human life, a moment to remember that this was someone’s loved one, he was loved, and returned the love of those who knew him. It’s a moment to honor the person that he is, and was, and to honor the fact that we did all we could to save him.
In that silence I watched him rise, stepping away from his body. He looked different somehow, though I can’t describe how. Confusion settled across his face as he stared at his broken body for a long moment before the realization of what was happening dawned in a mask of horror and dismay. He stood at the head of the operating table, beside Dr. Michaels, staring fixedly at his mangled body. He shook his head, and howled in disbelief, “Noooooooo!” he cried, “Noooooooo!”
I kept my calm, refusing to admit to myself what I was seeing. I glanced across the table to Bethany, my friend and fellow nurse. Her eyes were open, and she glanced at me as well, then looked to where he stood screaming at his lifeless and disfigured body. I nodded, she nodded back in agreement, and we knew that we both were witnessing this.
I got dressed in my warmest clothes, and grabbed my car keys, determined to discover for myself, if what he said were true, or if I were truly going mad. I thought about those words, as I put my winter boots on.
He had noticed our furtive glances across the table, even in his manic rage. “You, you can see me! I know you can see me! You have to go to Tommy, Go to Tommy, 2235 Oakvale Road. I don’t know how much longer I can hold on.” It was true, I could see him starting to fade, and his voice was drifting into an echo, as if it too were fading away. “I can feel myself slipping away. YOU HAVE TO GO TO TOMMY, 2235 OAKVALE ROAD, remember that! Go to Tommy. He’s alone and he’ll be scared, he won’t understand. GO TO TOMMY!” The apparition before me, I don’t know what else to call it, faded away, as his voice became a whisper in my ear.
I typed the address, 2235 Oakvale Road, into my GPS nervously. I didn’t know what I would find there, but I was going anyway. I knew I had to. Who was Tommy? Why was he alone? Was he even real, or just a figment of my vivid imagination? These questions burned in my mind for the rest of my shift.
I parked my car on the street in front of the house, and my hands were shaking as I walked to the door and nervously ring the bell. You answered the door, cautiously keeping the glass door between us locked. Your Father had taught you well. When I asked for Tommy, you said you were Tommy, and politely asked who I was. I explained that your Father had been in an accident, and had asked me to check on you. You let me in; little did you know that as you were letting me into your door, I was letting you into my heart. I asked your age, and you proudly told me you were eleven, and would be turning twelve in two weeks. When I asked about your mother, you explained that she had died last year, after losing a battle with cancer. You described her as a brave, proud warrior, but the fight had been too much for her. I asked about your family, your grandparents and any other family. I think you knew something was wrong then, but too proud to admit your fear. You told me your Father had described them as deadbeats, alcoholics, and worse, and that you and him were better off without them.
I told you the truth about what had happened to your Father, leaving out the part about how I knew to come to you, telling you instead, that he told me before he died. You have become a part of my heart, and you have been since you opened that door. I’ve raised you as my own since that day, even before the courts gave me custody. I leave this for you today, on your sixteenth birthday, as a gift of the heart, so that you know just how much your Father loved you. He fought to his dying breath, and beyond, to protect you. He loved you with every fiber of his being, and you deserve to know how much you meant to him. Happy Birthday Tommy, I love you just as much as he does.