Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Four: Silent Night
03:59am Christmas Morning.
Callie walked the lonely corridors, her clipboard tucked under her hand and a latte laced with a gingerbread kick in the other. The Christmas lights in the ward twinkled brightly in the dimmed lights and over the beeps and whirrs of machines, the gentle hum of John Lennon's 'So this is Christmas' was floating from the nurse's station. Four more hours, four more blessed hours and she was free to walk outta here. Since her husband's conjugal visit, she'd received text messages from him and a few picture messages as he prepared the house for Christmas. The one of their children burrowed asleep deep in their bed hit the spot though, it had been the only way that Jon had got them to agree to some form of sleep. God, three more hours and fifty eight minutes seemed endless.
She'd just had the one surgery over-night, an emergency appendicitis. Cassidy's condition hadn't been all that great. She'd been holding with fluctuations in blood pressure and her heart rate had been declining. All of those things were normal after a massive surgery but Callie was being extra cautious in monitoring her. Cassidy's parents had stayed overnight and Callie had made sure the nurses kept them warm and fed as what a crappy way to spend Christmas. She checked her watch and as she was due for a break she slipped into the patients lounge nearby and sank into one of the arm chairs. The marrow in her bones throbbed from a long long week, hell a long year.
She was ready to trade in her stethoscope and thermometer for sand and surf. That was after she'd pulled off one of the biggest Christmas dinners in quite awhile. She'd had some of it prepared early between shifts. The rest of it was being catered and would arrive Christmas morning but she refused to hire any help to serve it. They deserved to be with their families on the day.
She flipped the lid off her latte and licked off the foam on the inside. Thank you god for a Starbucks on hospital premises and she was one of their most loyal customers. She snapped off her beeper as her hip vibrated and hauled herself out of the chair and down the corridor to ICU. Hospitals weren't for running but she took a safe bet at four am in the morning she wouldn't collide into anyone. She busted through the doors of ICU and into Cassidy's room where nurses bustled around while her heart monitor screamed.
She tugged her stethoscope from her neck and plugged it into her ears. Her heart rate had taken a serious hike and her blood pressure was dropping faster than survivors on the titanic.
"She was fine, then she jolted and her readings went out the window."
Callie frowned as she quickly felt around her tiny abdomen. "Dammit, I think she's bleeding. Prep the OR and call Donovan in for me. We've got no time to lose."
The doors to her room swung open and Cassidy's parents stood, their faces white as sheets.
Callie gave her a quick injection to steady her heart and headed to the parents. "Mr and Mrs Philips, I'm going to need you to wait in the waiting area. I'm taking her back into the Operating room. I'm a hundred per cent certain she's bleeding in her upper abdomen so I'm going to need to go back in."
"But-she was ok just a minute ago...I don't-god!"
Callie took her hands in hers. "I know, she was but believe me the best thing you can do right now is to let us do our very best for your daughter. I promise you I will." She squeezed them and Mrs Philips managed a small smile beneath teary eyes.
"I know. Thank you Dr Richards. We'll wait."
"It's ok. Nurse, can you make sure they have coffee and a quiet place to wait?" Callie waved her to take care of them while they prepped Cassidy for surgery quickly. Callie needed to scrub up as soon as possible so she slipped out to the OR. To her relief Donovan was already in there scrubbing.
"Oh thank god. She's bleeding, I'm hoping it's not coming from her liver or we are in serious trouble if it's all the way up in her abdomen. Callie snapped on a hat and mask and cranked the water on.
"Got you. You did some repair in there right? What's the plan?"
"We cut from up down, I don't want to rupture the bleed going the other way. It'll be carnage otherwise." She blew out her breath as she centred herself. Right now all that mattered, all that was in her head was that little girl's body and how the hell she was going to fix it. She'd done it before and she'd do it again. She was fitted with her overhead light and glasses and went for her scalpel immediately. She made an incision and her worst fears were confirmed when her water blue surgical gown bloomed with red splotches.
An hour later Callie stood soaked in blood and the piercing sound of death was the only sound in the room.
"You gonna call it?" Donovan asked.
She nodded and looked at the overhead clock, the one she always dreaded to look at. "Time of death. 5.15am." She tore off her gown, stormed into the scrub room and sucked the air out of her lungs. There was just so much blood, so much irreversible damage. It was a wonder that she survived as long as she did, but hell. Parents had just lost their little girl on Christmas morning. It was how the cards fell sometimes and she'd been in this industry long enough to know that. You win some, you lose some.
And sometimes when you lost them, once and awhile one would sneak up and bite you on the ass. She thanked all her team with a small smile that resembled the ones her husband gave when he was doing interviews. Wished them all a merry Christmas and instead of escaping to go and fall apart she had to do the worst part of this job next. Tell the parents.
"You did the best Callie. Sorry we couldn't save her." Donovan patted her shoulder and gave it a squeeze.
She managed a small smile. "I know, it's just really bad timing. No surgeon in the world could have fixed that girl. God she was a mess-" Her stomach rolled and a flash of her own six year old daughter swinging in her arms wavered her for just a second.
She held up her hand. "I'm ok--just overtired."
He chuckled. "I know and now we get to go home. Did you want me to come and see the parents with you?"
"No. I'll be fine. I need to do it."
Donovan nodded, "call me if you need me. Merry Christmas Callie." He kissed her on the cheek as he shook his hands and reached for the towels.
"You too, have a lovely day with your family." She waited until she heard the swish of the exit door and she was alone. The silence was sobering. No machines pulsed, no nurses hustled and bustled scurrying around after doctor's orders. Nothing.
The truth was she was overtired so it was bleeding into her emotions that she always locked away when she lost a patient. It's what she was taught to do, to be strong but empathetic not attach herself. She gripped the edge of the scrubbing tub and closed her eyes. God, she was six years old. What would she do if someone told that her and Jon's little girl was gone? She tried to stop her arms from shaking but the nausea rolled right through her. Goodbye Ma Bongiovi's soup.
She splashed some water on her face and pulled herself together. She needed to tell the family, they'd suffered long enough. She checked herself over and waltzed out into the corridor and down to the waiting area. Mr and Mrs Philips sat huddled in the corner of the waiting room. Alone. She briefly smiled as they stood with all the hope and expectation in their eyes shining brighter than the lights on the Christmas tree in the foyer.
"Dr Richards? Please tell us everything is ok."
Tears pinched at her eyes but she held her ground. She couldn't lose it for them; they'd lost so much more than she had. She shook her head. "I'm so sorry. We did everything we could."
Those words, so often spoken within these walls were never enough. Nothing ever was.
Mrs Philips shrieked and her husband bundled her in closer, his face stained with loss.
She proceeded to tell them the watered down medical reasons their daughter died, even though Callie knew whatever she was would be just white noise to them.
"Is there anything I can do?"
"God, my baby. She was only just a baby..." The sobs echoed through the morning that was about to break, about to give so many people a sense of happiness, hope and family. But not for Mr and Mrs Phillips.
Callie clasped her hands as they hugged, cried and ripped her own heart out. Life wasn't fair and this was one of these rare moments she wished she was anywhere else but standing here in this hospital.
Mrs Philips briefly moved from her husband and nodded, wiping her cheeks. "There is something."
Callie's wall of steel crumbled as the lady wrapped her arms around her neck and hugged her tight. Tears tracked down her cheeks as she hugged her back. It wasn't protocol in any instance but she took it. "I'm so sorry. I truly am," she whispered into her ear.
They stood back and Mrs Philips rubbed her arms. "You've been amazing Dr Richards. Thank you so much. Can we see our daughter?"
Callie nodded recomposing herself. "Of course, if you don't mind waiting just a little longer she'll be ready in a few moments."
Callie explained what to do next and who to talk to once they figured out the funeral details and dismissed herself. Her heart was heavy and her head was pounding. She closed the door behind herself in her call room and sank down on the bed for a moment. It burned inside her like it had never burned before. She needed to go home, she needed her family, she needed to hold her baby girl and never ever let her go.
She needed Jon.