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Fanfiction - A Lifetime of Her (Part VII)

Part VII – “You bleed just to know you’re alive”

Twenty-eight

Why do sirens cry in blue and red?

Are they calling for help, for the crushing urgency, the need to rob time of time itself? Or are they warning us to look away, to prepare ourselves because tragedy is upon us – we might as well be next?

Even after many years, I’d recall their grieving sound. The way my hands pressed upon Claire’s belly, blocking the exit of her life with my palms. The screams around me, senseless, enhancing my growing despair. How her eyes never left mine – daring me to stay with her, to keep death at bay.

The paramedics came. They could have taken from seconds to a lifetime to reach us – I wouldn’t be able to say. Time skipped and jumped, a leaf on the fury of wind, fragile at the thought of flying.

“I need you to step aside, sir.” A small man told me with assertiveness, trying to dislodge me from my position, kneeled next to Claire on the ground. His gloved hands were already evaluating her pulse, placing an oxygen mask on her face.

“I will not leave her side!” I growled, ferocious. He gave me a serious look, but didn’t make any further attempts to take me away from her, certain I would strike and maim any man foolish enough to try. He was right.

They quickly bandaged her abdomen with a pile of snow white compresses, held tight against her body by a bandage skilfully applied. Claire tried not to moan, but I could see her pain in every ragged breath, in the sweat that dripped from her brow.

The ambulance flew across the roads of Edinburgh, transporting us to the closest trauma centre. The driver had opened his mouth – about to object my presence – but was shortly discouraged by my menacing glance and a shook of head from the short paramedic.

“Hold on.” I repeated to Claire, like a mantra, holding her band – being almost thrown to the opposite side of the ambulance as the vehicle raced to the hospital, jumping on speed bumps and sliding on the curves like a car in hot pursuit. “Dinna die on me, mo nighean donn. I won’t let ye, do ye hear me?”

“I’m… not… too keen…. on the idea… either.” She puffed haltingly, making a weak attempt of a smile, which almost broke my heart.

“Woman of thirty, victim of an armed robbery, gunshot wound to the upper right quadrant with no exit wound – she’s losing blood fast.” The paramedic announced, as they erupted through the emergency doors, a team standing by to receive them. “Glasgow fifteen, she has been responsive during transport. Her blood pressure kept dropping, the saline is wide open but ineffective fluid challenge.” He informed to a man with brown hair and olive eyes, who nodded in acquiescence, leading the gurney carrying Claire to a trauma room as I followed closely.

“Denzel.” Claire whispered to the young surgeon, as he started to unpack her abdomen to access her injuries. “Is that you?” He looked at her face, surprised at hearing his name, and his eyes opened in shock.

“Claire!” He touched her face in greeting, as nurses hurried around, preparing trays and drugs that might be necessary. “Dear God! What happened?”

“Do ye know her?” I asked, grabbing her hand in spite of a nurse’s protest, prepared to shoo me away from the secluded room.

“Of course.” He looked at me with concern in his calm eyes, as he started to palpate her belly. Claire hissed in pain and he pursed his worried lips. “I met Claire during medical school in Boston and was very pleased when she decided to return to Scotland and be a resident here, as I am. You really shouldn’t be here, sir.”

“Please…” Claire pleaded, closing her eyes for a second and licking her chapped lips. “Let Jamie stay…just a while longer.”

“Alright.” Denzel Hunter patted her hand in reassurance. “As long as he doesn’t faint on me.”

“How… bad… is it, Denny?” She asked, her eyes more unfocused and glassy. “I’m…fairly…sure…it went through…my liver.”

“And I’m sure you’re right - brilliant even in this situation, my dear. I’ll ask Doctor Myers to come in to operate.” Denny smiled, skilfully inserting a catheter on her jugular vein.

“I’ll be dead…before…he gets here.” Claire said sheepishly, raising her brow. Her face was hazardously pale, her whiskey eyes shining even brighter, her orbs dilated from pain and blood loss. “It has…to be you. I trust…you.”

Denny nodded, solemn, checking her pupils with a small flashlight, as she suddenly became unconscious – the monitors around them going crazy with alarms. “She’s bleeding out! Let’s move people, hang that saline wide open and two units of blood on the rapid infuser!” He commanded, concentrated in the wound’s trajectory. “Do you know her blood type, by any chance?”

I didn’t know her blood type – never had the chance to ask her, that information amongst a million other precious details of her that I knew nothing about. I didn’t know her birthday, even though I knew the position she slept in. I didn’t know her favourite dish – even if I was aware she preferred sneakers than high heels. I almost choked at the realization of the lifetime of things I could be robbed of, so devastatingly – left wondering, forever, because the time we had been offered hadn’t been enough. Knowing how much I loved her – and yet knowing so little of the one I loved.

“I dinna ken.” I admitted, gripping my fists, fighting the urge to curl into a ball and weep on the floor, stained with her blood.

“That’s alright.” Denzel assured me, throwing away compresses soaked in blood. “Let’s go with O-negative! I need a blood gas test as soon as possible and someone call the OR, let them know we’re coming! I want to be doing the first cut in less than five minutes!”

“Is she going to be alright?” I fearfully asked him, reluctantly letting go of her hand as a nurse took blood from her wrist with a fine syringe.

“She’s going into shock from the blood loss.” He explained in a steady voice. “I need to repair the damage right away, before she’s too unstable to endure the procedure. We’ll take her away now.”

I approached her, feeling numb as if my own blood had been turned to ice in my veins. I kissed her forehead, my lips hot against her perspired skin.

“Don’t leave me, Claire. This time I’ll beg.” I whispered in a broken voice. “Don’t leave me.”

****

I roamed the strikingly white corridors, incapable of sitting any longer in the waiting room outside the OR, where other husbands, daughters and mothers gathered, hope and fear lurking inside their eyes.

I came upon the small chapel, whispering of shelter and tranquillity in the half-light. I sat on the wooden bench, my hands entwined in prayer – I was ready to surrender to His will well enough, but was intent on offering a bargain.

“Lord, ye gave her to me.” I whispered, my eyes fixed on the cross where he had been martyr, symbol of the most loyal of loves. “I canna make sense of it in any other way. When my need was greatest ye set her upon my path so she could heal my soul. All along I was meant for her.” A warm tear streamed down my check, too raw to be contained. “And I intend to love her well the rest of my days – to care for her and make a home of her heart. I shall repay the gifts bestowed upon me by loving her to the best of my abilities. So I ask ye now – dinna take her away.”

I clenched my teeth, fighting against the sobs that threaten to wreck my body. “For if ye ever loved, ye know this – there’s this place inside me that only exists as long as she walks the earth. Once she’s gone, the part of me that lived in her light – the best, the one that makes me myself and no one else - will die with her.” My voice was unhinged, resounding in the naked walls, pulsing as the chambers of His heart. “I’m none so brave as I was before, ken?” I added very softly. “Not brave enough to live without her anymore.”

I heard footsteps approaching the door – I didn’t bother to clean away the tear tracks on my cheeks. I didn’t turn either – I knew who had come to bring me news.

“Does she live?” I asked aloud – the hint of pain, of shaped glass an inch away from shattering, creeped into my voice.

“She lives.” Denzel Hunter sat next to me, sighing in tiredness as his bones found comfort in transient rest. “It was touch and go for a while, but I was able to retrieve the bullet and repair the vessels – she lost a bit of her liver, but it will regenerate itself with time.” His outline was sharp, softness mixed with edges, akin to a bust of an angel descending from grace to speak of hope to the lost crowd. “It will be a slow recovery – but she lives.”

“Thank ye.” I closed my eyes and bent my head, my body shaking from supressed grief, as I let go of the leash I had been using to keep myself together. “Thank ye.” I repeated. I didn’t know if I was thanking Denzel Hunter or God – but to me, in that moment, they were one and the same.

He squeezed my shoulder in silent acknowledgment and left me alone – to cry for joy and gratitude, for my heart had been saved.

****

I sat by her side as soon as she went to a room in recovery. I jumped each time a monitor bleeped, startled to the point of panic – but she slept peacefully, her lips still hauntingly pale.

I knew sleep wouldn’t touch me – my task was to watch over her. To guard her. To will her back to me.

I marvelled with each heartbeat – found terror in the infinitesimal space between each and every one of them. I talked to her in the Gaidhlig, the language of my dreams, in which I could best tell her all my heart. I brushed her hand with inquiring fingers, learning the lines of her to make sure they were still the same. I kissed her lips softly, remembering the promise of her laugh.

And as the moon rose outside, I watched the circuit of air inside her lungs, the tiny movements of flesh and bone, adjusting to the challenging rhythms of life. I watched her breathe again and again, until she opened her eyes to look at me – and I discovered that I too could breathe again.