This story is by T.R. Tennyson and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Brian Hansen. Motor vehicle accident. Patient admitted with life-threatening injuries…” Dr. Walker Daily let the water drip from his hands as he held them at a right angle, palms to his face. His surgical mask moved ever so slightly as he repeated the important details of the procedure.
“Are you ready, Doctor?” asked a voice from the intercom. He recognized the voice of Dr. Carter, his anesthesiologist.
Walker closed his eyes for a brief moment and took a deep breath. It had been only three weeks since the accident. The one that left him without a wife and his daughter without a mother. The drunk who hit her had lived, walking away unscathed. Walker exited the scrubbing chamber behind the clear glass paneling and strode to the operating table. I am a surgeon. I should know how to deal with unexpected loss. Get over yourself! This man needs you.
Walker donned his sterile operating gown and took his place next to his senior surgical assistant, Brenda.
“Good to have you back, Dr. Daily,” she said. He could see her plump cheeks rise on either side of her mask. Walker wished he could smile too, but it did not come.
In a monotone voice with a clear hint of sorrow, he asked the room “Is everyone ready?” His question was met with silent nods.
“Scalpel,” he said holding out his right hand and he felt the cold metal through his glove.
The frigid touch of his beloved Emily’s corpse lingered as he held her right hand in his one last time. Walker wished his warmth would seep through to her and by some miracle she would live again. But he knew otherwise. Emily was dead. He had never been much of a crier, but this was a time that tears emerged as the coroner pushed in the tray which held his late wife and latched the door behind it.
Walker made the first incision. The patient’s heart rate monitor beeped as if in sync with a metronome. The sound of suction filled his ears. Old blood was removed and replaced with new. “Clamps,” he said as he reached out another hand. Brenda handed him the surgical tool. Each piece of equipment reeled Walker back to that horrid intersection.
Beep. Blood. Clamp.
Walker saw the ambulances, many of them; too many for it not to be in response to a fatal accident. They charged past the stagnant line of cars like a stampede. Sirens wailed. His daughter lay undisturbed amidst the noise, sleeping in her car seat. The traffic subsided, dispersing enough for him to continue through the intersection. Inevitably, he peered toward the accident.
Smoke rose from fresh skid marks, jarring his daughter awake. “I’m sorry, Princess,” he said with haste, “I’ll be right back. Don’t worry.” Walker ran to the scene and gagged. A laceration on Emily’s forehead left a significant portion of skin dangling from her face. Out of the driver’s window, broken fragments of her radius and ulna protruded from her left arm. Her hand was completely gone. He couldn’t stand to look at his wife like this. Emily was bleeding out, still in the driver’s seat.
The firemen struggled with the entanglement of the crash, unable to rip the metal driver’s side door free. But it was too late. Emily was still.
Amidst his mental angst, Walker worked seamlessly; his autopilot hands switched on. While his hands steered their way through the body of a storm, his soul struggled against a furious cyclone of corrosive hollowness. His team surrounded him, but the doctor was wholly alone.
“Masterful! Well done, Dr. Daily!” The voice came from above. Walker looked up to the observation deck and was met with the faces of fresh, new interns seated in awe next to a smiling Chief of Medicine, Dr. Howard Kachinsky. The Chief turned to the interns, “Now see, that’s how it’s done! I bet Mr. Everett will be more than happy to see his family.”
Confusion slashed across Walker’s face. “Wait. Sir, you said Everett. I was told this was a Mr. Brian Hansen?”
Dr. Kachinsky pressed the intercom button once more. “Oh no; minor mishap. Nothing serious. The EMTs just had their clipboards switched, but we were able to catch it. Congratulations are still in order! You just saved the life of Mr. Percy Everett.”
Walker’s stomach lurched, and in that sickening moment, his autopilot failed him. A thin, yet deadly slicing sound bit through into his consciousness. Percy Everett? he thought. The name rang in his head like a gong. His professional training kicked back in after less than a heartbeat, but the momentary lapse had already cost him.
“Dr. Daily! The patient’s vitals are dropping!” His surgical assistant exclaimed.
His head spun. He was never able to get his hands on his wife’s murderer. Until now. As much as he tried to investigate on his own, all he was able to gather was a name, one which he memorized.
“Dr. Daily!” Brenda yelled.
Walker began manually flying the aircraft that were his tools. I have him. I have him right here in my hands! What do I do? I could let him bleed out. He’s about to flat line. No one would think I didn’t try. I could paralyze him trying to fix my mistake. His life would be miserable like he’s made mine. No, this man doesn’t deserve to live. He’s taken too much already.
Walker pulled his hands away and stepped back. He wanted to experience the entire picture in its clarity. All vital monitors were sounding their alarms. He could see the artery which needed repair. Percy’s thoracic cavity was filling with the excess blood, too much for the suction. He would be dead in less than a minute.
I can’t. Walker exhaled in frustration. He stepped forward and took to repairing the patient’s artery. I can’t do it. My daughter needs me. She needs me to love and care for her, provide and protect her. If anyone discovered the connection between us, I could very well be prosecuted and lose everything, especially her. Damn it!
Walker stitched the artery, but the patient’s vitals did not improve. Walker scanned over the patient once more with surgical awareness. There’s nothing left. You should be fine!
Percy Everett’s heart flat lined.
“No!” he yelled. “You have to live!” In an exasperated voice Walker called for the defibrillator. “Charge to 120.” The machine gave off a sound that it was powered up. “Clear!” Percy’s body jerked and fell flat. The heart rate monitor still gave off a single, monotonous beep. “Charge to 200.” Again, the defibrillator became charged. “Clear!” Percy’s body lifted and fell. The monitor gave off a steady but weak pulse.
Walker returned to the abdomen and there it was. A miniscule puncture posterior to the artery. He set himself to stitching the previously hidden wound and Percy’s vitals improved by the minute. Walker let go of the breath he didn’t know he was holding and closed up the patient.
The surgery was over. Percy Everett would live.
“Chief, what happened to the other driver, Brian Hansen?” Walker asked.
Again, the intercom clicked. “I’m sorry, Dr. Daily, Mr. Hansen is in O.R. 2. He didn’t make it,” Dr. Kachinsky replied.
Walker’s lip quivered with sadness and rage. This drunk has now been in two accidents within three weeks and has taken two lives. Most people would change after being spared like he was, but no. This man would never change.
Walker screamed in a primal burst, picked up a surgical tray and threw it, shattering the glass partition which separated the scrubbing chamber. He sank to his knees and thought of the miracle he just performed and realized it would fall on deaf ears. What a waste.