By: Ginger Hudson
Dr. Kelly Brackett concentrated as he ran the needle through the ruptured artery and made the final stitches on his current patient. He could feel the sweat on his brow and tried to wipe it off with the shoulder of his surgeon’s shirt. A nurse assisted him by mopping his forehead with a sponge. It had been a long couple of days dealing with the victims that had resulted from the recent earthquake. It hadn’t affected too many people in the area, but what had started out as a nice quiet evening had erupted into a tremendously busy night as injured patients showed up demanding the skills of the staff of Rampart General Hospital. Thankfully most of the injuries were mild; just scrapes, bruises and a few broken bones, but there had been a small assortment of more serious injuries that had required stitches, surgery and a variety of other medical procedures. Brackett knotted the final stitch and let out a sigh of relief,
“That ought to do it.” He stated, “Mr. Harper ought to be as good as new in no time.”
The nurse smiled at him as she cut the string, “Nice work, doctor.”
Dr. Brackett returned the smile and turning walked out of the operating room to clean up. He peeled off his gloves and skullcap and moved to the sink to splash some water on his face. It felt cool and refreshing and as he let it run down his face he paused to stare at his reflection in the mirror. He let out a long breath than wet his hand and ran it through his raven hair. His eyes had dark circles under them and as he stood up he rubbed them with the palms of his hands. He balled his hands into fists and pressing them into the small of his back he let out a groan of satisfaction. His body felt old today. Kel grabbed a towel, finished wiping his face, and made his way towards the doctor’s lounge to get a much-needed cup of coffee. He was surprised the stuff even did anything for him anymore considering how many cups he’d drank in the last two days.
Pushing open the door to the lounge he made his way to the hot pot of coffee that was sitting on the burner. Reaching up he pulled a cup from the rows that were hanging on the lounge wall. As he was filling it Dixie McCall, head nurse of the ER nursing staff at Rampart, entered. Her eyes brightened when she saw the freshly poured cup of coffee in his hand,
“Why thank you Dr. Brackett.” She said taking the cup from him, “How ever did you know?” Taking a sip she smiled at his stunned expression which melted into a grimace.
“How do you like that? That’s the thanks I get for working myself to the bone for the last 48 hours.” He commented as he poured himself another cup.
Dixie sat down at the table in the middle of the room and waited for Kel to join her. He was pouring a packet of sugar in his cup as he turned and looked towards her, “So, what’s been happening in the rest of
Rampart Emergency, huh Dix?”
She pulled the cup from her lips and set it on the table, “Well, I guess not too much. Just scheduling, handling emergency calls, and trying to keep sense and order around this place,” she grinned at him, “the usual.”
“That’s what I thought.” He joked as he sat down across from her, “I’m bushed.” He said with a yawn, “I’m glad these couple of days are over so I can go home and get some rest. I’m going to sleep like a rock.”
“Oh you’re not done yet, doctor.” She stated seriously as she sat up straight.
“What do you mean?” he asked slightly perturbed.
“We have that earthquake preparedness course today. Did you forget?” she questioned.
He shook his head, “You can’t be serious. We just had an earthquake, no sense teaching them now.” He answered sarcastically as he sat back in his chair and took a sip of coffee.
“Why Dr. Brackett, what a cold hearted thing to say. Have you forgotten about after shocks? They can be even worse.” She answered, “Besides, it’s high school kids,” she smiled as she ran her finger along the edge of the cup, “and you just love they way they dote on you.”
He furrowed his brow and let out a low groan, “But I’m so tired, Dix. Can’t you get someone else to handle it?” Kel asked, “Maybe take Joe or Mike with you. Or better yet call Johnny or Roy at the fire station.”
Dixie shook her head, “Nope. It’s your turn, Kel. You’re not getting out of this that easy.”
Kel wrinkled his brow and let out a low growl, “I can’t believe you’re making me do this.” He shook his head, “This better be worth it.”
She cocked her head to one side, “If we save one life it will have been worth it.” She raised the cup to her lips and pausing smiled before finishing her coffee.
Kel let out a grumble and smiled back, holding his cup up in a cheers.
Thankfully the drive to JFK high school wasn’t a long one. Kel and Dixie sped along the busy interstate headed for the west part of Los Angeles. When they arrived at the school they parked and made their way to the school’s front office. The administration had been expecting the medical professionals and as they entered the office they were informed that Janice Arnold had already been paged to come and escort them to her class. They hadn’t waited long before a woman with stringy black hair entered the office. She was young, probably in her late 20’s, and was wearing a rainbow colored top, long jean skirt and sandals on her feet. She smiled widely as she approached them with an outstretched hand.
“Nurse McCall! Dr. Brackett! How nice of you to both come! We are so pleased that you’re here and willing to teach us first hand the importance of earthquake preparedness! The students have been so nervous since we had that one a couple of days ago.” She turned and opened the door. “If you’ll just follow me I’ll take you there.”
Kel looked at Dixie and shook his head. She just smiled and followed after the teacher.
There were only twenty students in the class. Kel stood leaning against a filing cabinet that was against the wall. He watched as Dixie stood at the head of the class and discussed the importance of being prepared for an earthquake,
“Always make sure to have extra water and food available,” she stated as she wrote it on the blackboard, “Canned goods are the kind of thing you can always keep on hand, but be sure to have a manual can opener.” She turned around and faced the class, “Because there’s a good chance you aren’t going to have any electricity.” Several students laughed. “Also, if you take any sort of medication be sure to have extra on hand. And most importantly, take a course in CPR and First Aid. Become certified so that if you are in a crisis situation you’ll know what to do.”
Dr. Brackett scanned the room and was pleased to see that most of the students were paying attention to her and nodding, some were even taking notes. A hand shot up in the air,
“Nurse McCall?” a young girl with blonde hair asked.
“Yes?” Dixie responded.
“Where does a person go to get certified in CPR and First Aid?” she asked.
“That’s a very good question…” she replied.
As Dixie finished answering the question Kel looked around the room at the students. He spied a young girl sitting by the window nervously fidgeting and half heartedly taking notes. Seeing that Dixie had things under control he walked over and knelt down beside the uncomfortable girl, “Is everything okay?” he asked tenderly.
The young girl with brunette hair raised her frightened green eyes towards the kind doctor. She glanced around the room to see if anyone was looking, pulled the freshly chewed fingernail from her mouth and looked at Dr. Brackett, “I’m just really scared.” She whispered out.
He gave her a warm smile and placed his hand on her forearm, “There’s nothing to be scared of.” He replied confidently, “What’s your name?” he asked.
“Tammy.” She replied quietly.
“Well, Tammy, we’re just preparing you for the worst. It may never happen,” he smiled at her, “but it certainly doesn’t hurt to be prepared.”
She smiled back at him, “I guess you’re right.” She laughed lightly and looked down at her notes, “Maybe I should be paying better attention.” she raised her gaze back to him, “Just in case.”
Dr. Brackett patted her arm, “That’s a girl.” He was standing up when he felt the floor begin to shake. Exchanging glances with Dixie the realization of what was happening gripped them. A few of the girls started screaming. Their first priority was going to be to keep the classroom calm.
“What is it, Dr. Brackett?” Tammy cried out grabbing the edge of his coat, “What’s happening?”
Dr. Brackett tossed her a glance and moving closer placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder, “Now everyone just stay calm.” He announced to the class, “This shouldn’t last long. I want everyone to climb under their desk and be sure to stay away from bookcases or shelves that have anything on them.” He watched as Dixie assisted the frightened students.
“Do as they say!” the teacher shrieked out, “And be quick about it!”
Dr. Brackett leaned down towards Tammy, “That goes for you too, honey,” he spoke to her softly, “I need you to get over there under that desk, there’s a chance this window could break.”
“But I can’t!” she whined, “I need help!”
“It’s going to be okay,” he reassured her as he started to take her hand and help her.
Caught up in assisting the young girl he didn’t see the branch split from the tree trunk and fall towards the window behind him.
“Kel, look out!” Dixie shouted, but it was too late. The large limb came crashing through the window just as Dr. Brackett turned around. He held up his hands to protect his face but a large piece of the windowpane caught his hand deeply penetrating his palm. He recoiled his hand with a cry of agony, cradling the bloody hand against his chest.
“Dr. Brackett!” the girl screamed through her tears. She was clutching the moving desk trying to keep from falling.
For the sake of the girl he tried to stay calm, but as he was about to respond Tammy let out another frightened cry and pointed behind him indicating a bookcase that was leaning towards them. Dr. Brackett managed to brace himself as it landed hard against his back, knocking the wind out of him. He used his good hand to grasp the edge of the desk in order to support the heavy weight against him. The force was unbearable and he could feel his wrist giving way. He was inches from trapping the girl below him, “Somebody… get her… out!” he groaned through clenched teeth.
Two of the male students ran over, grabbed Tammy, and dragged her to where they were all crouched under desks. As soon as he saw she was safe he heard a crack and his wrist gave way causing him to collapse. The last thing he remembered was a sharp pain and then everything went black.
His eyes felt like they were glued shut. An awful pain shot through his head as he raised his forehead trying to open his eyes. He felt a reassuring hand on his shoulder,
“Kel?” it was the voice of Dr. Joe Early one of his closest friends at the hospital. Kel tried to sit up, but was gently pressed back down, a low moan escaping his lips. His arms felt heavy as he tried to lift them to rub his eyes.
“Kel, it’s me Joe. Can you hear me?” his friend said to him.
Kel nodded his head slowly and licked his dry lips. He finally managed to peel his eyes open, the light blinding him. He opened them to a fuzzy image above him, pausing while it shifted into focus.
“Joe?” he croaked out, “What happened?”
“You and Dixie were involved in an aftershock at JFK High School.” he responded.
“Dixie.” Kel started to sit up, but the ache in his head caused him to grimace and abandon the idea.
“She’s fine, Kel.” He responded with a smile, “She just left a short time ago, she’ll be back.”
“Joe, my head is killing me,” Kel moaned as he tried to move his hands to his head. They felt heavy. He looked down and saw his left hand with a cast and his right one with heavy bandages.
“You have a pretty bad bump on your forehead, but no concussion. Do you remember what happened?” Joe asked him.
Kel closed his eyes and concentrated deeply for a moment, “The windowpane cut me. I remember that. And then the bookcase…was that girl okay?” he asked with deep concern.
Joe smiled, “Tammy’s fine. Dixie told me what you did, you probably saved her life.”
“Yeah,” Kel growled out, “But at what price?” he held up his hands and studied them, “How serious is the damage, Joe? And be honest.”
“Well, Kel, I won’t kid you you’ve got quite a few months of recovery ahead of you. You severed the tendons in your right hand, but I was able to stitch them back up, but it’s going to require some time to heal. The same goes for your fractured wrist. You won’t be using either of them for some time.”
Kel let out a deep sigh of frustration, “What you’re saying is I’m disabled.”
“Just for a short time. Physical therapy is going to be your key to recovery. I do good work,” Joe bragged, “Lucky for you.” He smiled.
Kel turned his head towards his friend, “I’m glad it was you, Joe. Thanks.”
“I’m glad it was me too.” He replied as he stood up, “I have to get back to my rounds, but I’ll be sure to check in on you later. Can I get you anything before I go?”
“Yeah, how about a cup of water and some walking papers.” Kel grumbled out, “I hate hospitals.”
Joe turned and poured his friend a glass of water. He placed it on the hospital table and moved it in front of him, “Here’s the water. I’ll be back later.”
Kel watched as the gray-headed doctor left the room. He let out a frustrated breath and looked again at his immobile hands. Severed tendons didn’t heal quickly and he’d seen the rigorous exercises a person had to go through before their hands were usable again. Rarely were they ever as good as new. He didn’t like being here in the hospital. All the sounds and smells made him feel claustrophobic. Working here was one thing, but being a patient was something he was definitely not good at. He laid back and let the pain medication relax him. Maybe if he slept this nightmare would be over that much quicker.
It’d been three days since the accident at the school. Kel had been driving the entire staff crazy with his constant requests to be released. Finally, the day had come. Dixie nominated herself to be the one to take him to his apartment. On the drive home he was quiet and just stared out the window. She had made one stop to pick up his prescription and when she came back out he didn’t even turn and look at her.
They finally arrived at his apartment, “There’s a key under the mat, Dix.” He said.
She knelt down, pulled the bronze key out and unlocked his door. It was dark and she felt around the wall for the light switch. The front hallway brightened and she pulled the jacket that was draped around his shoulders off and hung it on the coat rack.
“Home sweet home.” He commented as he crossed through his apartment and into his bedroom.
Dixie placed his mail on the dining room table and clicked on a few more lights. She noticed his plants were wilting. She pulled a glass from the cupboard and filled it with water. As she was busying herself watering his plants he came back out to the living room.
“Dix?” he asked sheepishly, “Could I ask a favor?”
She looked up and saw him standing there in his dress shirt, “Sure Kel, what is it?” she put the empty glass on the end table.
He held up his two hands and let out a sigh, “Could you help me out of this shirt?”
She smiled, “Sure thing!” she replied.
Kel stood waiting for her to walk to him,, “This is really humiliating, you know?”
She unbuttoned his shirt, “More like humbling.” She responded as she finished with the buttons and helped him gingerly pull it off over his injured hands.
He stood patiently as she went into his bedroom and returned with a clean t-shirt. She put it over his head and then stepped back to watch him slowly push his hands through the sleeves.
“I think I like the casual look on you, Kel.” She stated.
“Well, get use to it,” he responded gruffly, “I won’t be buttoning any shirts for awhile.”
“Aw, it’ll be before you know it.” She answered, “You want me to stay for a bit and keep you company?”
“No.” he replied as he looked around the apartment, “I need to catch up on my mail and then I’m going to take some medicine and get some rest. I’m kind of tired.”
“Alright. How about I come back tonight and fix you some dinner.” She responded with a smile, “A home cooked meal would sure beat that hospital food.”
He returned her smile, “That’s not necessary. You’ve already done too much.”
“I don’t mind, Kel,” she replied, “You’d do the same for me, wouldn’t you?”
He dropped his head and let out a sigh, “Yeah, I would.” He turned and moved to the easy chair in front of the TV, “I’ll see you later.”
She moved to him and kissed him on the cheek, “You get some rest so you won’t be grumpy during dinner.” she kidded him.
“Grumpy?” he growled out, “I’m not grumpy.”
She smiled at him, “I’ll put your key back under the mat.” She grabbed her purse and the key, “Bye, Kel!” she called out and left.
Kel listened to the door shut and then the room became silent. It was the first time he’d been alone since…he wasn’t even sure what to call it. His Injury. Accident. Misfortune? Looking around the apartment he rested his head on the back of the chair and let out a deep breath. He dropped his hands into his lap. Looking down at them he thought about how long it was going to take them to heal. He looked up and saw his mail sitting on the edge of the table. Propelling himself forward he stood up and walked over to it. He reached down with his right hand and tried to pick one of the letters up. It was too painful when he tried to clamp his fingers around it. Not willing to give up he tried brushing it forward with the assistance of the cast on his left hand and managed to trap it between his two hands. It was a small accomplishment but it gave him a much needed feeling of independence until he realized he wasn’t going to be able to tear open the envelope. Frustrated he dropped it back on the table, I’ll get Dixie to open it later, he thought to himself. Moving to the kitchen he picked up the bag containing his medicine between his forearms and shook it until the bottle fell onto the counter. He lifted them up to his mouth and tried to pry the top off with his teeth. He wasn’t getting any results, they had child proof caps on them. He dropped it onto the counter and stared at it. He hated this feeling of helplessness. He tried again to open the pill bottle, but the results were the same. Angry he batted it off the counter and onto the kitchen floor. As he stood there he scanned his apartment until his eyes fell on his fully stocked wet bar. He moved himself out of the kitchen and over to the collection of liquor bottles. Glancing at all the choices his eyes finally settled on a bottle of Jim Beam. He picked it up with his forearms and moved it in front of him. The counter was too high for him to get his fingers around the cap so he re-picked it up and moved to the chair placing the liquor bottle between his legs.
It was around 7pm when Dixie returned to Kel’s apartment. She had finished up her errands, run by work to check in and then hit the grocery store for the things she would need for dinner. While shopping she purchased some magazines and books that she knew Kel had been wanting to read. She tried the door and found that it was locked. Shifting the bag of groceries onto her left hip she knocked on the door, “Kel?” She called out. She waited a few moments for any sound of movement. When she didn’t hear anything she knocked again, “Kel? It’s me, Dixie!”
Figuring he was still asleep she knelt down to retrieve the spare key. Pulling it from under the mat she let herself in. Upon entering the apartment she saw him sitting across the room staring at the TV. It wasn’t even on. She moved into the kitchen and placed the bag of groceries on the counter top, “Didn’t you hear me knock?” Kel didn’t even acknowledge her presence. She looked at him slumped in his easy chair with a bottle of Vodka resting against his inner arm. She moved towards him and noticed the empty bottle of whiskey on the floor beside the chair. As she moved up beside him she knelt down and picked it up, “What’s this?” she questioned.
“Heya Dix.” Kel slurred out, “You wanna drink?” He held up the half empty bottle of Vodka between his two forearms. Hearing no response from her he took another long gulp and continued to look at the TV.
“What are you doing?” Dixie asked as she tried to take the bottle from him, “You know you aren’t supposed to be mixing alcohol with your medication.”
“I’m not.” He replied as he pulled the bottle back from her.
“What about the medication I got you earlier. Didn’t you take that?” she asked.
“I couldn’t get it open.” He mumbled out.
“What?” she questioned softly as she knelt down beside him.
Kel turned and looked at her with glazed eyes, “I couldn’t get the damn bottle of pills open, Dix.” He jerked his head towards the window on his right, “I couldn’t get my mail open, can’t brush my teeth, can’t get a glass of water. I’ve been sitting here thinking about all the things I’m not going to be able to do.” He turned and looked at her, “But, I could open a bottle of whiskey!”
Dixie stood back up and walked towards the kitchen, slowing to look at the unopened mail still sitting on his table. She entered the kitchen and saw the bottle of pills on the floor and picking them up she realized what the problem had been. She let out a breath and walked back over to him, “Oh Kel, I’m so sorry. I forgot.” She set the bottle of pills down beside him.
“It’s okay.” He seethed, “If I wasn’t so helpless I’d a done it for myself.”
Dixie knew he’d had too much to drink. Combining that with his declining attitude she needed to do something to get his mind off of his current predicament. She pulled the bottle from him, “Tonight I think you’ve had enough of this painkiller.” His arms raised with the bottle and then he let go. She screwed the cap on and placed it back on the bar next to the rest of the liquor bottles. She questioned herself as to whether or not it was a good idea to leave all this here. Kel had never been a big drinker, but she knew that being by himself for the afternoon had apparently afforded him the time to dwell on his condition. Turning back around she brightened up, “How about I cook you some dinner.”
“I’m not hungry.” He responded gruffly.
Dixie wasn’t going to let his mood get her down as she walked towards the kitchen, “Oh you will be once you smell my famous Linguine a la Dixie!” she called out happily.
“I said I wasn’t hungry!” Kel barked out as he sprung up from the chair and moved to the window, “Didn’t you hear me?” he rubbed his forehead with his arm.
Dixie stopped what she was doing and walked over behind him. She placed her hands on his back trying to comfort him, “Kel, this isn’t forever,” she said softly, “Your hands are going to heal.”
He continued to stare out the window, “What am I going to do if they don’t.” he lowered his head, “All I’ve ever wanted to be was a doctor. To help people, make them better, stronger. Save their lives and improve their way of life.” He raised his hands and looked at them, “Now, I’m useless. Without my hands what kind of a doctor can I possibly be!”
“You’re not useless, Kel, you’re healing!” she yelled at him.
“Then what.” He responded. He turned and looked at her, “Dix, I’m scared. You know as well as I that the tendon injury on my hand isn’t guaranteed to ever be one hundred percent.” He held up his right hand and shook it at her, tears glistening in his eyes, “ I need my hands!”
Dixie looked down at his hand and took it in hers, “You WILL get better and you WILL be that surgeon again. But you have to give it time, Kel.”
“Time!” he snorted as he pulled his hand back, “You know
patience isn’t my strong suit.” He walked around her, his steps unsteady, and
headed for his bar. He grabbed the
bottle of Vodka. Raising it he turned
towards her, “You put the damn cap back on!” He yelled as he threw it at the
wall shattering it, “It took me twenty minutes to get that off!” he steadied
himself against the bar than pushed himself forward as he stormed off towards
the back of the apartment. He paused in the doorway to his room, “Go home,
Dix.” He said softly, “Please go home and leave me alone.”
“But Kel…” she responded moving towards him.
“I said go home and leave me alone!” he shouted and slammed the door behind him.
Dixie debated on whether to clean up the mess on the floor. Her heart ached for what her dear friend was going through. She decided to put up the groceries she had bought. As she put them in the refrigerator the emotions of what she had just observed overwhelmed her. She brushed the tears from her face, turned and left the apartment. Maybe he’ll be feeling better tomorrow, she thought to herself.
It’d been a couple of days since Dixie had been by to see Kel. It had been difficult seeing him in such a depressed state and as much as she cared about him it pained her to see her strong, confident friend wallowing in self pity. She sat with her chin cradled in her palms as she gazed at the white hospital wall across from her, her thoughts wandering to more brighter moments in their friendship. She was deep in her reflections when Joe walked up to the nurses station. He crossed in front of her and returned a chart to the rack on the end of the counter. Turning back towards her he noticed the far off expression on her face, “Dix, you okay?” he asked her. When she didn’t respond he walked in front of her and waved his hand, “Dix?”
She broke from her stare, not even realizing how entranced she had become, and focused on the older doctor, “Oh hey Joe!” she said, “I didn’t even see you.” she gave him a half hearted smile, looked down at her hospital paperwork and made a few notes.
“I said, are you okay?” he asked again with concern.
“Huh?” she asked looking up at him her chin still resting in her hand, “Oh yeah. Just a little tired that’s all.”
The older doctor leaned up against the desk and crossed his arms, “Yeah, I’m worried about Kel, too.”
Dixie didn’t respond to his statement. She drew a doodle then looked back up at him, “You, uh, been by to see him lately?” she asked.
“I checked in on him yesterday…” Joe started.
“How was he?” she questioned.
“You got time for a cup of coffee?” he asked her.
Laying her pen down she stood up, “Absolutely.”
Joe handed her a cup of coffee as he sat down across from her. Dixie grasped it and took a long, satisfying drink. She slowly set the mug on the table and ran her fingers along its sides.
“You want to tell me about it?” Joe asked her.
She shook her head. Joe sipped his coffee and placed it on the table. He looked at Dixie trying to decide on the right words to express what he was feeling, “He’s a fighter, Dix. He’s going to get through this.”
“Yeah Joe. But at what price?” she asked.
“I know what you mean.” Joe responded, “He was pretty depressed when I saw him yesterday. Wouldn’t even let me bring up about when his therapy sessions were going to begin.”
“I think it really hit him when he got home.” She replied, “I think being alone is bad for him.”
“Dix, he’s got to find his own way.” Joe answered as he placed a comforting hand on her arm, “This may be something he has to deal with for the rest of his life, it’s best he learns to deal with it now.”
“But Joe, the exercises, the therapy, it can make a difference though, right?” she asked.
“Of course. But I can’t make him do it. Neither can you.” Joe replied.
Dixie hammered her fist on the table, “It all just makes me so mad. I wish there was something we could do!”
“There is.” Joe stated, “Keep being his friends and not take what he says personally.”
“I know.” Dixie responded, “It’s just hard when he’s yelling at you.”
Joe stood up, “I thought you were used to THAT by now, Dix.” He laughed, “He’s been doing that since you first started working here.”
After the conversation with Joe Dixie had decided to be more empathetic towards Kel and try one more time to visit him at his apartment. She tried calling him, but there hadn’t been an answer so she decided that maybe she’d just stop by. She knocked on the door and was surprised to hear Kel’s voice actually inviting her in.
Dixie slowly turned the knob. It’d been almost 5 days since she’d been to see him and she wondered what she was walking into. As she pushed open the door she walked into a dim apartment, “Kel?” she asked, “Are you in here?” she moved forward looking for a light switch.
“Don’t turn the light on.” Came a raspy voice in the dark.
Dixie wrinkled her brow and shook her head in disgust. “This is ridiculous.” she said out loud as she felt her way towards one of the lamps next to the couch.
“I said, DON’T turn the light on.” He repeated more gruffly.
“Kel, you can’t sit here in the dark and waste away to nothing.” She found the lamp near him and clicked it on .
She had just pulled her hand back when he brushed by her, “I said leave it off!” Kel yelled and knocked the lamp off the end table sending it crashing to the floor.
“What is WRONG with you?” she cried out in surprise, “Kel let me turn the light on!”
“NO!” he barked back, “Why are you here? Why can’t you all just leave me alone?”
“Because we CARE about you!” she screamed at him.
There was a long pause of silence. Dixie finally let out a long, frustrated sigh, “What are you afraid of anyway, huh Kel?”
“I’m NOT afraid…I’m not…” his anguished growl turned into a soft sobbing.
“I’m turning on the…” Dixie clicked the kitchen light on.
“Don’t…” he pleaded.
“…light.” But it was too late as the room lit up. Dixie turned back and looked at Kel. She drew in a sharp breath when she saw him. His hair was a disheveled mess and his face was dark with a couple days of beard growth. He was wearing sweat pants and an oversized shirt that hung loosely on him. He looked awful.
“Are you happy?” He stated hoarsely giving her a steely stare.
Her heart tightened. She’d known this man for a very long time, been through a lot of different situations with him, but nothing had prepared her for this. Keep being his friend and not take what he says personally, the words of Joe rung in her head. Kel was hurting, that was obvious, and she cared very deeply for him, “Kel, what’s with all this foolishness?” she quizzed him, “You look terrible.” She stated.
“Thanks Dix.” He mumbled out, “You come all the way over here to tell me that?”
“No.” she answered, “I came over here to check on you. How come you’re not answering your phone?”
“Because there isn’t anyone I want to talk to.” He responded, “Anyway, it’s not like I can answer it.” He held up his hands to her. “Is this a personal or professional visit?”
Dixie shook her head, “Kel, you’re acting like a child. When are you going to stop acting this way?” Her tone changed to concern, “I’m worried about you. We all are.”
“I’m fine.” He stated, “Just fine. Your conscience is clear. You can go back and report that Dr. Brackett is just fine so everyone can stop concerning themselves with HOW I’m doing.”
Dixie walked past him and into his bathroom. He was acting ridiculous and it had to stop. She returned holding a brush, mirror, razor and a can of shaving cream.
“What are you doing?” he asked her.
“I’m making you presentable.” She answered. She started pulling the brush through his rumpled, thick black hair.
“Stop it Dix, I’m fine!” he called back to her.
“Oh yeah?” she cried, “Well, take a look at this and see how fine you look!” She held a hand mirror up to his face and forced him to look at his unkempt appearance.
Kel took the mirror between his two arms and stared at the reflection. He didn’t even recognize the person he saw staring back at him. His temperament shifted and he dropped the mirror on the floor.
“I don’t care,” he stated angrily, “I just don’t…” he couldn’t prevent the flood of emotions that overtook him as he held his left hand to his face and started to cry.
Dixie’s heart softened and she leaned down and held his head to her chest.
“Every day I try to be strong, try to figure out why this happened to me.” He choked out. Pushing himself away from her he tried to gather himself together, “I’m sorry.” He said as he stood up and moved himself to the window.
“Kel, it’s okay.” She said as she followed him, “Joe and me, we’re you’re friends. We want to help you!”
“Help me what?” he said quietly, “Deal with my handicap?”
“If that’s what you need.” She replied.
“Dix, I sit here everyday and wish I was dead!” he exclaimed, “Let me end it here and now and leave this world with some dignity not as some invalid who USED to be a great doctor.” He laughed bitterly, “I can just see my tombstone now; here lies Dr. Kelly Brackett, he was a great doctor… once.”
“Kel, you’re talking crazy.” Dixie tried to reason with him.
“I feel like I’m going crazy, Dix!” he replied as he turned towards her, “I don’t want to learn how to live with this,” he said holding his hands up, “I can’t and I won’t.”
“You CAN and you WILL.” She stated firmly to him.
“How can you say that!” he cried out, “You DON’T know what I’m going through!”
“You’re right, Kel. I don’t know what you’re going through, but I DO know the strength of your character and you CAN get through this.” she said to him.
He dropped himself into the easy chair, “You’re wrong, Dix. I’m not the man you think I am. This should’ve never happened to me.”
“That’s right, it shouldn’t have.” She responded kneeling down beside him, “But it did and now you have to learn to live with it.” She reached over and stroked his bearded face.
“I need to be alone, Dix.” He said quietly, “I need time to work this out.”
She stood up, “I don’t have to worry about you doing anything stupid, do I?” she questioned him.
He shook his head, “Not tonight anyway.” He leaned back in the chair.
She picked her purse up off the couch and made her way towards the door. Pausing she turned back towards him, “You know, Kel, you may not be able to control WHAT happens to you, but you ALWAYS have the power to control what happens AFTER.”
“Thanks, Dix.” He responded gruffly, “I’ll remember that.”
Dixie heard the page to the nurses station just as she was finishing up with their latest patient.
“You better get that, Dix.” Dr. Early commented, “I’ve got it from here.”
She smiled, “Thanks Joe.” She exited the examining room and saw a young girl in a wheelchair along with her mother beside the counter. Slipping her hands in the pockets of her nurses smock she walked up to them, “Can I help you?”
The mother spun the wheelchair around to face Dixie. She was taken aback as she recognized the young girl as Tammy from JFK High School.
“Hello Nurse McCall. I’m not sure if you remember me…” the girl started.
Dixie smiled, “Of course, I remember you. How have you been?”
“Well, I’ve been just fine.” She smiled, “I’ve been meaning to stop by and thank Dr. Brackett for saving me. I was a little freaked out by the earthquake and well…” She looked down at the floor and began to play with her hands, “I heard he hurt his hands real bad.” She looked back up at Dixie, “How is he?”
Dixie, not wanting to trouble the girl, smiled as she stroked her hair, “He’s fine, honey. Getting better everyday.”
“That’s great.” She answered, “Well, I made something for him.” She answered excitedly, “Kind of a thank you gift!” she started looking in the pack attached to the back of her wheelchair, “Where is it mom?”
“I don’t know, did you leave it in the car?” her mother asked.
“No,” she responded snapping her fingers, “I left it in the waiting room, I’ll go get it!” she said happily as she turned and quickly wheeled herself down the hall.
Dixie crossed her arms and stepped towards the mother as they watched the girl, “Has she always been in a wheelchair?”
“No. Just the last couple of years.” The mother answered quietly, “It hasn’t been easy for her, giving up on a dream.”
Dixie turned towards her, “What do you mean?”
“She was going to be an Olympic gymnast.” The mom responded proudly, “Probably was going to win the gold. Her coach said she was the best he’d ever seen.”
Dixie turned back towards the direction of the girl, “Your last name is Cameron, isn’t it?”
“Yes it is.” Her mother replied, “She’s an amazing girl, my daughter. You know, she believes that it was divine intervention that saved her that day at the school.” She turned and smiled at Dixie, “Dr. Brackett. He is doing okay, isn’t he?” the mother asked.
Dixie dropped her chin and looked at the hospital floor. This woman knew Dixie wasn’t telling her the truth, “No. He’s been having a lot of difficulty… adjusting.” She said somberly. Suddenly her expression brightened. Raising her head she looked towards Mrs. Cameron, “Do you…?” she put her index finger to her lips, “Do you think that your daughter might go over and talk to him? Make him see that he did make a difference.” She pleaded.
Mrs. Cameron smiled, “Well, that’s up to her,” Her expression changed to one of quiet concern, “I saw what my daughter went through after the accident. Do you think he’ll see us?”
“I’m not going to give him any choice.” Dixie responded firmly.
“I’ve got it!” Tammy called out as she came up the hall. She held up some flowers and a little doll of an angel, “I made this for him. Do you think he’ll like it?” she asked eagerly.
Dixie smiled at the girl’s mom then back towards the girl, “How about you go by to see him and find out for yourself.” She responded.
“Can we, mom?” she asked anxiously.
The mother shrugged her shoulders, “I don’t see why not.”
Kel hit the mute button on the TV when he heard the knock on the apartment door. Dixie had called and warned him that Tammy and her mother were on their way to see him. He had tried to stop it, but he was too late they were already on their way. He wasn’t feeling up to guests but Dixie had insisted that he see them. Thankfully the apartment had been cleaned that morning.
Pulling open the door he was surprised to see the young girl sitting in a wheel chair. He had had no idea the day he helped her that she wasn’t able to walk. Realization hit him as he reflected back on the day of the earthquake. That was why she had insisted on his help. No wonder she’d been so scared.
“Dr. Brackett?” the girl asked timidly.
He smiled, “Tammy?”
“This is my mom.” She introduced.
Kel nodded to her with a small smile and then he looked back to the girl sitting in the hallway, “Oh, I’m sorry, my manners.” He said stepping from the doorway, “Would you two like to come in?”
Tammy’s mother wheeled her in and followed Dr. Brackett into the living room. As they sat down there was an awkward silence.
“You look good.” He started.
“Thanks.” She blushed. She turned around and pulled the flowers and angel from her pack and held them to him, “I wanted to give you these to thank you for what you did.”
Kel shot her mother a glance than smiled, “That was very nice, thank you.” He responded, “Could you put them on the table,” he indicated with his head, “my fingers still aren’t working too well.”
Tammy laughed uncomfortably and shot her mother a sidewise glance.
“I’m sorry I can’t offer you anything to drink. The grocery delivery comes later this afternoon.” He said apologetically.
Mrs. Cameron stood up, “That’s okay. I’ve got some soft drinks downstairs. We were on our way to a picnic. Let me go grab them.” She leaned towards her daughter, “I’ll be right back, honey.”
“Okay mom.” She responded as she watched her mother leave. Turning back towards Dr. Brackett she saw that he had his head bowed,
“I’m sorry, Tammy.” He said softly, “I didn’t know.”
Tammy wrinkled her brow with confusion, then realized he was talking about her being in the wheelchair. She couldn’t help but laugh, “How could you have!”
“When?” he asked awkwardly, “How did it happen?”
“It happened a couple of years ago. I was hit by a drunk driver.” She said, “You know, I’d had my driver’s license for only one week, can you believe that? Then out of nowhere that jerk hits me, I’m paralyzed and all my dreams of being an Olympic gymnast were gone.” She snapped her fingers, “Just like that.”
Kel raised his head, a questioning look crossing his face, “Are you Tammy…Cameron?”
“Yes sir,” she stated, “the US’s top hopeful for the next Olympics.” She laughed out loud then started playing with her hands, “You know, when it happened I wished I’d been killed.” She looked up at him, “Isn’t that crazy?”
Kel leaned back in his chair. Those same thoughts had occupied his brain for many a day since the accident.
“I didn’t leave my house for over a year,” she continued, “I didn’t want to see family or friends. I didn’t want to see anybody… just secretly hoped that I’d waste away and die.”
Dr. Brackett sat listening to the young eighteen year old girl, absorbing her words. Trying to figure out how listening to her was going to make his situation seem any brighter. Should he be glad he could still use his legs? Should he be thankful that he’d have at least a partial career doing something he loved so much?
“The day you risked your life for me…” Tammy continued, “You never even gave it any thought, you just did it!” she exclaimed, “How come?”
Kel looked down at his hands, his eyes searching for an answer, “I don’t know, I just did.” He said quietly.
“It’s because you cared!” she announced, “You cared more about protecting me at that moment then you did about your own safety!” her eyes were wide with admiration, “You made me see that by doing for others is what makes a person special.”
“But I can’t do that anymore!” he barked at her without thinking.
She was taken aback by his heightened tone, “I…I’m sorry Dr. Brackett. I was just trying to help. Make you see that you’ve made a difference.”
“And I want to KEEP making a difference!” he said with frustration, “Don’t you see that without these I’m nothing.” He was shaking his hands at her, “Don’t you understand? My whole life was about helping people.” He held them up higher, “With these!”
“You don’t think my whole life was about being a gymnast? 10 hour days practicing, competitions every waking moment of every weekend. It was all I had dreamed about since I was five years old!” Tammy yelled back.
“But you’ve adapted, you’ve learned to live with it.” He responded somberly, “I’m not sure I can ever do that.”
Her tone became irritable, “You think I LIKE being in this wheelchair and having to depend on others to help me all the time? I hate it so every day I take steps to change that!”
Kel raised his head and looked into the eyes of the young, anguished girl. He had been so wrapped up in his own self-pity that he didn’t even stop to think about her situation, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…”
“Don’t be sorry. For me or for yourself. Promise me you’ll DO something about it.” She said.
Kel absorbed the words she threw at him, letting them sink into his brain.
“Dr. Brackett,” she said wheeling herself closer to him, “If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that life doesn’t always give us what we want, but it doesn’t mean that we let it destroy us. If you do your exercises you can beat this thing. You can get your life back. Take that same dedication and drive that made you a doctor and use it to get your hands well again.”
Kel looked at the young girl then down at his hands. He knew she was right. There wasn’t much that kept him from succeeding and he’d be damned if this was going to be one of those things.
“You saved my life that day and you’ll always be a hero to me.” She picked up the angel off of the coffee table and placed it in his lap, “Never forget that you have friends who want to help you, you just have to be willing to ask.” He nodded his head and she smiled, “If there’s anything that I can do please let me know.”
Dr. Brackett looked at the cloth angel she had made and smiled, “I think you already have.”
It was a bright new morning as Dixie entered the room of young Sally Myers. The young girl was starting physical therapy today and was feeling apprehensive about attending alone, “Good morning, Miss Sally.” She called out to the young girl as she entered her room, “Are you ready to go see the nice folks who are going to help you get better?”
Sally looked up from the activity book she was working in and smiled brightly, “Oh yes, Ms. McCall!” she replied as she closed her booklet and climbed out of bed, “I want to get better as soon as I can!”
Dixie smiled. Her heart tightened as she wished that Kel had the same enthusiasm for his recovery. She managed to repress the emotions that were trying to force their way forward. Today was about Sally and seeing that she got on her road to recovery with a good, positive attitude.
Dixie wrapped the pink bathrobe around the girl and escorted her to the elevator. When the door shut Sally looked up at Dixie, “I’m still kind of scared, Ms. McCall.” The small girl said quietly.
Dixie knelt down in front of her, smiled and pulled the bathrobe around her tighter, “You’re going to do great, Sally,” she reassured her, “There’s going to be lots of nice folks down here to help you, just you wait and see.”
The doors opened and the pair stepped out into the hallway. Turning right they headed to where the physical therapy session was taking place. Upon entering the room Dixie saw several different people standing around waiting patiently for their group session to begin. Spotting the nurse who would be heading the meeting Dixie lead young Sally over to her.
“This is Sally,” she introduced, “She’s a little nervous about her first day.” She finished in a hushed tone.
The nurse knelt down and rubbed the young girl’s arm, “It’s okay honey,” she replied sweetly, “I have another person starting today and he’s a little nervous too. Maybe if I introduce you to him it would make you feel better?”
Sally turned her head and looked up at Dixie who gave her a nod. The young girl looked back at the nurse, “Okay.”
“Dr. Brackett!” the nurse called out.
Dixie’s breath caught in her throat as Kel turned around and walked towards the trio. He smiled at the sight of her.
“Heya Dix.” The husky voice said to her.
She felt a lump form in her throat, “Hey Kel.” She responded.
“Dr. Brackett this is Sally,” the nurse introduced, “she’s a little nervous about today too.”
Kel smiled down at her, “Hello Sally, maybe we can help each other.”
“Okay.” Sally responded with a smile.
The nurse led the child over to the group leaving the two friends together.
“You do have a way with the women.” She teased him.
“Yeah.” Kel laughed dropping his head. He nervously began biting his lower lip, “Listen, about the other day…”
“Forget it.” She stated firmly with a smile.
“Well, I just wanted to say I was sorry.” He finished.
She nodded, “I’m just glad you’re here.” She said.
“Well, I know you were just trying to help and I shouldn’t have treated you that way. I’m sorry.”
“I said forget it.” She answered, “What changed your mind?” she questioned.
“I think you know.” He laughed lightly, “Tammy’s pretty smart for someone so young.” He smiled as he looked up into Dixie’s eyes, “She reminded me that I’m lucky to have such good friends.”
Dixie smiled back and pointed her index finger at him, “And don’t you forget it.” She replied sternly.
He smiled back more widely, “Well,” he turned and looked towards the group of patients waiting for him, “I better get to work.”
“Hey Kel!” she called out to him.
He paused and turned back towards her.
“I’ll see you in the operating room,” she smiled, “Dr. Brackett!”
He shot her a wink and a smile and returned to the group.
Kel was wrapping up some paperwork when he heard the knock on the door, “Come in!” he called out.
The door opened and Dixie peeked her head inside his office, “Hey, Kel. You got a minute?”
Kel placed his pen down and leaned back in the large, leather chair, “For you? I got more than a minute. Come on in!”
Dixie smiled and closing the door crossed his office and sat down in the chair opposite his desk, “I just got off the phone with Tammy’s mom.”
“Oh yeah?” he said leaning forward and placing his elbows on his desk, “Did Tammy get that job?”
Dixie smiled wider, “She sure did. She starts tomorrow.”
“That’s great news, Dix!” Kel responded enthusiastically, “She’s going to be the best assistant coach for that gymnastics squad, they’re lucky to have her.”
Dixie nodded, “They said to be sure to send you their love and invited us over for a little celebration on Thursday, you want to go?”
Kel nodded, “I wouldn’t miss it.” He lowered his head and picked up the pen on his desk, “Can you believe it’s been a year?”
“I knew you could do it.” She replied.
Kel held up his hand and flexed his fingers, “They’re practically good as new. A few more months of therapy and they will be.” He relaxed back into his chair, sliding his hands behind his head, “It’s so good to be back.”
“It’s great having you back, Kel.” Dixie answered, “The place wasn’t the same without you.”
He smiled, “Thanks Dix.” Leaning forward he looked down at his paperwork, “I better get back to work.” He looked up at her, “You want to grab some dinner later?”
She stood up, “Sounds good.”
Kel watched as she left. He leaned back in his chair, a wide smile crossing his face, “Yeah, it sure is good to be back.”