Twenty hellish minutes later, the helicopter lands on the rooftop of Vail Valley Medical Centre. James has his seatbelt off before the pilot even cuts the engine. The helicopter doors open. A group of people in scrubs stand there with gurneys and looks of quiet determination.
“What have we got?”
The paramedic helps them take Alexander’s gurney out of the helicopter, talking quickly.
“Boy, nine years old. When we arrived his heart had stopped. Brought him back with the defib and intubated in the field. Temp has been fluctuating between one-oh-three and one-oh-four. His right arm is broken and unset, and he has a petechial rash contained to the right side. That, coupled with the lung involvement, makes me think—”
“Fat embolism,” a tall doctor says, nodding. He takes the balloon from the paramedic and squeezes it in the same rhythm. “I got this. Debrief the team about the others.”
The paramedic nods and the doctor starts to wheel Alexander away.
“Wait,” James says, attempting to hurl himself out of the helicopter. “Wait!”
“Sir!” Several pairs of hands reach out to stop him. “Sir, you need to let us examine you! Is that your son?”
“Where are they taking him?!”
“Is he your son?”
James makes himself look at the person speaking, but he can’t focus on their face. He can’t focus on anything.
“Where are they taking him?? Let me go with him! He needs me with him! I need to be with him! I need…I need…Alexander! ALEXANDER!!”
The doctor and two interns disappear inside the building, taking Alexander with them.
“That is his son,” Michael says as a couple of the remaining doctors and interns help him out of the helicopter and onto a gurney. He grips his leg. His face is a mask of agony.
“And who are you?” a nurse asks, helping Michael onto a gurney.
“I’m his brother,” Michael says through clenched teeth. “You won’t get much sense out of him. If you have questions, talk to me.” He looks over at James, who is fighting against the people trying to put him on a gurney. “James!” he says, sitting up. “They’re helping him! You have to let them help him, okay?”
“Michael.” James turns to him. His face is full of fear. “I can’t be away from him. I can’t…I can’t lose…” The rest of his sentence gets lost in his sobs. He sinks onto the ground and covers his face with his hand.
“You aren’t going to lose him! We didn’t fight so hard only to lose him now. I refuse to believe that. He’s in the hospital. This is where he needs to be. This is where you were fighting so hard to get him. Now let the doctors do their job, J. Let them take care of Alexander and let them take care of you.”
James sobs harder but allows himself to be placed onto the gurney. Michael looks up at the people surrounding him. “He has a dislocated shoulder. I think he might have a concussion, too. He hit his head pretty hard this morning and he hasn’t been thinking clearly. There’s a nasty lump and cut under that gauze.”
“Alright,” one of the remaining doctors says, adjusting her scrub cap. “Let’s get him inside.” A stand of long blonde hair has escaped her bun. She blows it out of her face and starts to wheel James away.
“Wait,” James says, wiping his face. “You have to help Michael too! His…His leg…His leg…His leg…” He can’t find the words to finish the sentence. Michael gives him a small smile.
“I’ll be fine, brother. You just worry about getting yourself better so you can go see Alexander.”
James wants to say something more but his brain refuses to co-operate and he is wheeled away. He can hear the doctors asking Michael questions about who they are and what happened, but he can’t focus on the words. The blonde doctor’s face swims before his eyes as she cuts away his jacket and sweater, revealing his shoulder.
“You need an MRI,” she says, prodding his shoulder as two interns wheel him inside the building. “Looks like there’s quite a bit of tissue damage, probably some internal bleeding…” She looks up at the intern closest to her.
“Call radiology and tell them we’re coming up with an Anterior Shoulder Dislocation. If he tries to tell you we need to wait, remind him that he owes me a favour. And book an OR. If my suspicions are correct, we need to get this fixed sooner rather than later.”
The intern pulls out his pager and jogs off in the opposite direction as they enter an elevator. The doctor returns her focus to James.
“Chances are you will be going into surgery tonight. If this is what I think it is, we don’t have time to wait as waiting increases the risk of permanent damage.”
James finds his voice. “Alexander. Please, I have to know where he is. I have to know he’s okay.”
The doctor looks up at the remaining intern. “Page Dr Williams and find out what is happening with the boy.” She turns back to James. “I’ll try to find out for you.”
Fresh tears cloud James’ vision. “I need to know what’s happening. I need to know that he is okay. That they both are okay.”
The doctor looks over at the intern again. “Page Dr Phillips as well. Find out about the brother.” The elevator dings and the doors open. The blonde doctor starts to wheel James out. “Meet me in radiology!” she calls over her shoulder.
“Dr Anderson,” a nurse says as they go past the nurses’ station. “You can go straight through. Dr Hadley is waiting for you.”
“Thank you,” Dr Anderson says, wheeling James down a corridor. They enter a large room with an MRI machine in the middle. A young man is standing by the machine.
“We’re even now,” he says as Dr Anderson wheels James over.
Dr Anderson smiles. “Maybe. We’ll see. You ready for him?”
Dr Hadley nods and glances at the intern Dr Anderson sent ahead. “We need some help getting him on the table,” he says. The intern comes over and together, the three of them transfer James to the MRI table. The interns cuts away the remainder of James’ jacket and sweater and removes his pants and shoes before covering him with a papery gown.
“Okay,” Dr Anderson says, smiling at James. “This won’t take too long. It’s important for you to stay still, but if you need something, you only need to say it out loud. We will be able to hear you.”
“I need…” James clears his throat. His voice is strained. “I need to know if Alexander is okay. Please. I need to see him.”
Dr Anderson nods. “I know. I understand. I have my intern on it. By the time we’re finished this scan, we should know something.” She reaches up to press the button that will take James into the machine. He reaches up with his good arm, grabbing her wrist.
“Please.” His eyes are wild. “I need to know.”
She frees her wrist and meets his intense gaze. “Your son is in good hands,” she says gently. “As soon as I know something, I will tell you. But right now there’s nothing you or I can do. Right now the most important thing for us to do is take care of you. I need to scan your shoulder so I can decide how to proceed. If I delay that and you do in fact require surgery as I suspect, you run the risk of nerve damage. You could lose function of your shoulder.”
She looks over at Dr Hadley, who is watching them with a look of impatience. She turns back to James. “Let me help,” she says, putting her finger back on the button. “Let me fix your shoulder so you can go be with your son. You won’t be able to help him if you are crippled by pain. Nerve death is extremely painful.”
James stares at her, internally debating whether or not he should argue and insist that she let him tear through the hospital himself in search of Alexander. “You’ll tell me when you know something?” he asks eventually.
She nods. “I will.”
He holds her gaze for another moment before resting his head back on the table. She breathes out softly and presses the button, sending him into the machine.
“I’ll be right outside,” she says, watching him go. “If you need something, just say it out loud. But try not to move because if you do, we have to start again.”
James hears her footsteps as she leaves. He closes his eyes, shutting out the whirring of the machine and focusing on only one thing:
“All done,” Dr Anderson says fifteen minutes later. James opens his eyes. Her face comes into view.
“Alexander,” he murmurs. His voice is hoarse.
Dr Anderson, Dr Hadley and the intern lift him back onto the gurney.
“I haven’t heard back from my intern yet,” Dr Anderson says. “I will page him and find out what’s taking so long. But we need to get to surgery. That’s quite a nasty dislocation you’ve got there. You’ve shredded through all the surrounding muscle. I’m surprised you’re even still conscious with the amount of pain you must be in. Does it hurt?”
“Yes.” He isn’t talking about his shoulder.
Dr Anderson nods and wheels him back into the elevator. “You’ll be out soon. We’re headed straight to the OR.”
A minute later the elevator dings and the doors open. A pair of nurses are waiting for them.
“Dr Anderson,” one says, taking the gurney from her.
“Are they ready for me?” she asks, tucking the stray strand of hair back into her scrub cap.
The nurse nods. “Room Four.”
“Good. I’m going to scrub in. Have him prepped and ready.”
Fear takes over James’ brain as the nurses wheel him into the OR. He closes his eyes, trying to summon the image of Alexander’s face.
You have to be okay, he thinks, feeling himself being transferred onto the operating table. You have to be. You have to be. You have to be.
“Alright,” Dr Anderson says, coming into the room. A nurse dries her hands and puts on her gloves. She looks over at the anaesthesiologist. “Let’s get started.”
“No!” James yells as the anaesthesiologist tries to put a mask over his face. He sits up, upsetting the table of surgical instruments by his side. They clatter to the floor. “NO! I need to know if Alexander and Michael are okay! I need to know!!”
A nurse rushes over to pick up the instruments. Dr Anderson looks at him sympathetically.
“We spoke about this. You need this surgery. Delaying it could cause irreparable damage.”
“I don’t CARE,” James says, jerking away from a nurse who tries to touch him. “I DON’T CARE! I need to know what’s happening to my family! You said you would find out!”
“I said I would try,” Dr Anderson says. “You brother and your son are in good hands. They are being taken care of. Now if you would just let me take care of you…”
“Not until I know,” James says. His voice wavers. “Not until I know they are okay.”
“I –” Dr Anderson is cut off by an intern bursting into the room. He’s holding a surgical mask over his face.
“Both of them are being prepped for surgery. They’re in rooms two and five. The boy is already under. The brother is being put under now.”
“Surgery,” James repeats. Terror grips his heart. “Surgery why, what, how…”
“We can answer all those questions after we get your arm back where it should be,” Dr Anderson says. “Come on.” Her voice is still gentle. Kind. Patient. “Let me do my job. Let me help you so you can go be with your son. With your brother.”
James stares at her, wanting to refuse, wanting to throw himself off the table and burst into Alexander’s operating room, but a small voice in the back of his head tells him that wouldn’t help either of them. He takes a steadying breath in.
“Okay,” he says, trying not to let his voice tremble. “Okay.” He lies down.
“Ready?” the anaesthesiologist asks, holding the mask slightly above James face. James closes his eyes. He sifts through his mind for his favourite memory of Alexander. He settles on one from just a few days ago. Staring at the setting sun in awe. Watching as the snow on the mountains became tinged in the same orange as the sky. Catching snowflakes on his tongue. Happy. Carefree. Healthy.
“Yes,” James whispers. “I’m ready.”
“Okay,” the anaesthesiologist says, putting the mask over his face. “I need you to count backwards from ten.
“Ten…” he begins.
It’s really snowing!
With real snowflakes!!
I love you, James.
Darkness creeps over him.
The world fades away.