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Snow was in the forecast as Sally strapped her 5 year old daughter, Lisa, and then her 2 year old son, Sean, into the car. The boy struggled to open his eyes after being taken from his warm bed only to be thrust into the cold plastic car seat. It was just before 6 am on a dark and blustery Saturday morning.
Little was said as the kids had become accustomed to these early morning adventures. Occasionally Sean would cry, but he was calm and quiet this morning as he had not been feeling well.
Lisa listened to her brother's teeth chatter in the frigid back seat. The car cranked and sputtered to life as Sally breathed a sigh of relief, Oh thank God. She couldn't be late again. Her foot pressed on the gas pedal repeatedly, trying to warm the stubborn engine. Starting down the road, she tinkered with the thermostat as the small Toyota pumped lukewarm air from the vents.
Deedee was waiting at the door as she pulled into the driveway. Sally often wondered how she would manage without the flexible babysitter.
“Thank you so much for this Deedee. I get paid Friday, I promise to get caught up on the payments.” Sarah said, holding Sean with one arm, while escorting Lisa with the other.
“It's fine sweetie, Deedee answered in her thick southern drawl “you can pay me when you're able. How's my little man? Is he feeling any better?"
"A little, he's still running a bit of fever." she said, still holding her son.
Deedee had a soft spot for Sally, recognizing the single mother of two small children worked long odd hours as a nurse at the hospital’s emergency room. Deedee could be reached at anytime, and was always willing to help out on a moment’s notice.
Sally pulled into the lot for the 7 to 3:30 shift. She had worked the 7am to 7pm the previous day, actually staying 14 hours at the hospital by the time she left. It pained her to have to be away from her children, but she wasn't paid to sit at home.
She parked the car and headed into the bustling hospital, the weather adding an extra element to an already hectic environment. As she looked at the massive hospital, she couldn't believe it had been two years already. Nursing school had trained her to deal with sickness and suffering, but there was so much more.
Over the course of the day, she would be a waitress, housekeeper, counselor, hostess,consultant, security guard, referee, and on most days, a witness to some very disturbing behavior. Everyday she witnessed pain and suffering. At times accidental, at times self inflicted, and at other times it was caused by another human being.
Sally badged in at the employee entrance on the side of the building, flakes of snow were beginning to fall from the sky.
She would have to make countless split second decisions with little room for error. She would have to do this with a smile on her face, and with little time to think about her sick child she had barely seen that week.
Sally was a few steps in the building before she was thrust into action by the scene in the hallway. Left unattended, a large, curled mass was doubled over on the floor, coughing up blood in the hallway. She hurried over, as the helpless patient had fallen out of his stretcher.
She struggled with the semi conscious man until Nurse Evans came over to assist. Carol Evans had been with the hospital for over 20 years, she often helped Sally avoid the pitfalls of health care bureaucracy, though at times, she couldn't resist a little gossip.
“Guess who called in again? She said without looking up.
“No, you're kidding? That's the 3rd time in two weeks!” Sally said, still wrestling with the weight of the larger patient.
It was understood that everyone got sick from time to time, but the nurses tried to look out for each other. When one abused the system, everyone paid for it.
“This place has been crazy this weekend; did you get some sleep last night?”
“Yeah, picked up the kids, we ate dinner, crashed around 10. Sean hasn't been feeling well.”
“Well, I hope he's okay, poor thing, did you hear the forecast? They're calling for almost a foot now. It's going to be a circus. I've got to run to triage, see ya hon.”
Sally looked down at her worn white sneakers, the polish was wearing off after yesterday's shift, and the shift before that, she was trying to think how long she'd owned the raggedy pair of shoes when she was jostled back to life by the commotion. A stretcher whizzed by carrying an unconscious elderly woman.
Her day began with the typical cases, sniffles and sickness, a broken arm, nothing out of the ordinary. The first wave of excitement began around 8 am as the paramedics wheeled in a stretcher carrying a teenager. The sheet was soaked in blood as the victim floated in and out of consciousness. Sarah began by starting the IV as the doctor began his assessment.
Taking in the vital signs, they noticed that both of his arms appear to be broken and the victim was having trouble breathing. With significant blood loss, the doctor ordered that blood be administered. The respiratory personnel entered and tubes were placed In the victim's throat as the patient was stabilized. Within twenty minutes, the teen was taken to radiology for x-rays and CT scans.
The snow had started in full and the hospital was now in full swing. At 10, Sarah called Deedee to get an update on Sean. Deedee assured Sarah that everything was fine, Sean was sleeping on the sofa while Lisa took turns between reading her favorite book and watching the falling snow. The call was brief but relieved Sarah, she grabbed a granola bar out of her locker and brunch was served.
The waiting room was now filled with the sick and the hurt, along with a combination of fathers and mothers or wives and husbands of the victims. There was the usual moaning and grunting while a larger man harassed the staff about the wait time. Others slept on the furniture, it was not a pretty sight.
The car accidents kept the department busy, living in a southern town; a few inches of snow had a crippling effect on traffic. A blizzard generated catastrophic effects for the inexperienced drivers.
As Sally walked back to her station from a patient's room, she ran into Zach, a paramedic from a nearby county.
“Hey stranger.” He said as he walked alongside of her.
“Hey Zach, I'm really busy.”
“Yeah, me too, how have you been?”
“Just busy, with work and the kids you know?”
Zach was a nice enough guy, Sally had made the mistake of joining him for drinks with coworkers a few months back. She sensed he wanted more than friendship. Between work and the kids, her free time was limited to baths and an occasional chapter of a novel before bed.
“Yeah, oh hey, what are you doing Friday? There's a great band playing at Suds.”
“You’re looking at it.”
“Okay, but you’re missing out!”
He ran off to catch up with the other paramedics, who had waited patiently to tease him about getting shot down yet again.
“Sally, this way”
Sally's next patient made her heart sink. A child, 3 years old with a temperature of 105. He had been vomiting due to a stomach virus and his condition had worsened over the past 24 hours. She tried to console the worried mother but she couldn't help but think of Sean back at Deedee's.
As 3 o'clock rolled around it had been snowing for the better part of 7 hours. The roads were atrocious and the usual warnings had been issued. Sally peeked out at the gray clouds as the snow seemed to be pouring from the sky.
Zach had offered to give her a ride in his four wheel drive when his shift was over, but she wanted to leave as soon as possible. She also didn't want to owe him any favors. She walked out into the parking lot. Although the plows were busy, the snow was winning the battle. She kept her head down as the winds whipped as she headed to her car.
She turned the key and the 12 year old Toyota grunted. She turned again and pumped the gas until the car rattled to a start. She buckled up and carefully steered the car onto snow covered road.
“Okay, nice and easy.” She said to herself out loud.
The radio played quietly, she listened to the alert...
“With up to 15 inches or more of snow expected, please stay off the roads unless it is absolutely necessary.”
“It is necessary!” she said out loud, to the radio.
She saw few other vehicles. Mostly trucks with plows connected to them. The snow was heavy, limiting visibility. She eased the car down the road, nice and slow.
The red light was her downfall, as she needed to pick up speed to carry the vehicle up the huge hill. She thought about running the light, but instinctively braked, sliding to a stop in the middle of the intersection. She gathered herself and then tried again, the front wheels slowly rolled and started to climb the steep hill before losing their grip. She pressed the gas pedal, hearing the tires spin before drifting back down the hill.
The snow made it difficult to gauge the street, on her way down, the car hopped the curb before coming to a stop off of the paved road. She was now thoroughly stuck and out of options.
The cell phone in her purse was of little use. The service had been cut off the previous day for failure to pay the bill. She had meant to settle the matter but had not had the time. She glanced at back seat. sighed, and then grabbed her fleece; it was time for a hike.
Starting up the hill the situation did not seem all that bad. She had only a few miles to go to get to Deedee's. She was in good shape from the rigors of nursing. She would figure out a plan once she got to her children. A few steps in and her toes were already freezing.
Reaching the top of the hill Sally looked back. She could barely make out the grill of the bogged down snow covered vehicle. She wasn't sure when the snow would stop or how she would excavate the car, but for now she had no choice but to go on.
She trudged along, trying to think about something pleasant. Sally thought about a trip she had taken to the beach a few years back with Lisa and her father, Michael. The warm sun and the sound of the ocean. It had been a great time as a happy family. Before the fighting, and the responsibility of being such young parents had set in.
The kids were now her priority, and it was her job to make sure they had everything they needed. She felt bad about the time spent at work, away from them, but she had little choice, she had to provide for their well being.
Her aged sneakers, now soaked and covered in snow, were of little use. Her feet were numb as she figured she had nearly a mile to go. Her legs burned as each step was a test of endurance in the deep snow. A plow passed, scraping loudly and piling the snow high on the other side of the street. She shivered and tightened up her fleece before continuing on.
Under the street light, she could see the large, chunky snow fakes pouring down from the sky. Almost there, she told herself. She tugged at her collar, there was ice in her hair and her legs shook with each labored step. On the verge of collapse, she kept on.
Sean was on the couch with Deedee, he had been in and out of sleep. Lisa was at the window when she saw the stumbling figure walking towards the house. She jumped up and ran to the door.
“Mom's here, she's walking!”
Deedee rose, mumbling a prayer as she opened the door.
“Oh for heaven’s sake, are you okay sweetie?”
Near collapse, Sally was soaking wet, shaking from the cold and adrenaline.
“Yes, I'm fine, and then to Sean, are you okay baby?”
Lisa was frightened by her mother’s appearance. Her hair was covered with ice, combined with her dark lips and almost blue complexion. She watched her mother fall to one knee, exhausted, but smiling for her daughter's benefit.
“I’ll put some coffee on dear.” Deedee said, hurrying into the kitchen.
In the warm house, Sally thought about the hospital. She was scheduled to work a double shift the next day. Her car was stuck on the side of the road and there was over a foot of snow on the ground.
Sean eased off of the couch and came to his mother’s side. Lisa started removing her mother’s cold wet shoes. She sat on the floor, against the couch, looking at her two small children. Sean was huddled next to her, not wanting to leave her side, while Lisa, ever the caretaker, worked feverishly at her shoes.
Deedee, with a towel in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other, stopped at the doorway, giving the small family a moment. Her heart ached as she watched the young nurse hug her son and then pull her daughter close. With all of the uncertainty in her world at that moment, she was determined to focus on the single thing that was constant in her life. Tomorrow’s troubles could wait.
*This story is dedicated to my mother Sue, an ER nurse for nearly 35 years, and a nurse to me all of my life.
Copyright 2012 Pete Fanning
Other Short Stories by Weestro:
- Earnest Gibbons
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- The Healing Process
Dr. Prabu's encounter at the grocery store has a lasting effect on him.
- Criminally Cliche
A short story packed with some of the worst cliches you will find.
- The Spectator
Richard left town years ago, leaving his baggage behind. Now he's come back to see how things turned out.
- The Ridgeway Curse
A dark tale of a man unable to let go after a tragic accident.