By the time the ambulance was halfway to the hospital, Bryant could see Margo was bleeding too much. The EMTs were working on her like she was a mannequin, furiously shoving handfuls of gauze sponges onto her chest and watching them fill with blood in seconds. She was unconscious, with a plastic oxygen mask over her nose and an IV bag dropping fluids into her system.
Bryant sat beside Margo holding her frail hand, her fingers drooping around his palm.
“Stay with me,” Bryant whispered. “Please.”
One of the EMTs glanced up at Bryant nervously. They were losing the fight and his presence forced them to keep trying even though everyone in the speeding truck knew it was futile. Bryant’s vision blurred as he fought back tears. They were rushing down side streets at unsafe speeds because it was their job. That’s all. For some reason the entire scene felt strangely comfortable to him, as if this was how he should have seen his family go. A speeding vehicle jostling over potholes and swerving around stationary vehicles. This was how people prepared for the inevitable. Even if the trip took just ten minutes, it gave a person time to prepare. Not a sudden phone call announcing the end of your family in the time it took to sit down in your office chair and clutch your hand over your mouth.
“Hey,” one of the EMTs called to him and gestured toward Margo. Her eyes flickered open. Bryant crouched over her, sensing she was searching for him.
“Right here,” Bryant said. He felt her fingers gently squeeze his hand as her eyes tried to focus.
He used every facial muscle to force a smile. “Hey,” he said as she finally met his gaze. “You’re okay,” he lied.
Margo let go of his grip and reached for her shorts pocket. She feebly attempted to retrieve something, but struggled to make it into the tight fit.
“What is it?” he asked.
She kept groping, but her strength was fading. Bryant reached into her pocket and felt a small, round pellet. He tugged on the pellet and realized it was a chain of pellets. As he pulled the chain from her pocket, he saw what they were. White rosary beads. The beads were smooth and linked together with a lightweight metal. A silver cross hung from the bottom of the chain.
Bryant held the rosary beads up in front of her. “This?”
Her eyes were weakening. She nodded.
“Here,” he said, placing the beads in her hand.
Margo shook her head and lifted them up for him to take back. Her lips quivered as she strained to form words beneath the plastic oxygen mask. Bryant tugged up on the mask while the EMTs worked around him.
“Keep you safe,” she rasped.
Bryant choked up. As Margo’s eyes closed, he stared at the rosary beads, then gripped them with an intense anger. She deserved better. She deserved more than just the blind faith her trauma had prompted.
The ambulance jerked to a stop in front of the ER reception door and the EMTs whisked Margo away. Bryant followed as they rushed her into the lobby and down a hallway toward the Trauma Room. Two ER doctors were already scrubbed and masked. The techs slid Margo onto the OR table and hooked the IV bag to a waiting IV pole.
The team of doctors and nurses swarmed around Margo and began a precisely choreographed game of Stop the Bleeding. Find the damaged artery. It’s the first thing an ER doctor looks for, because it’s the first thing that will kill a patient.
Bryant couldn’t see anything but Margo’s bare feet. A nurse grabbed him by his arm and said, “This way.”
Bryant shook her off. “I’m a doctor.”
“We have plenty of those here,” she said.
Bryant hesitated. The nurse took a step out into the hallway and waved to someone. A moment later a large security guard with a Marine crew cut stood in front of Bryant, obscuring his view.
“Sir,” the man said.
“Look,” Bryant said, controlling his temper, “I’m a medical doctor. I’m just going to stand here and watch.”
“Sir,” the man said, “you must leave.”
“But I’m all she has,” Bryant reasoned.
“Now,” the man said, as if he hadn’t heard a word.
Bryant was about to cause a scene and he could tell by the glances from the OR table that he was already a distraction. Margo needed their undivided attention if she had even a glimmer of a chance.
“Sir,” the security guard stepped closer.
“Okay,” Bryant held up his hands. “I’m leaving.”
The steel doors closed behind him with a whoosh, and the beeping from the vital sign monitors were replaced by the hum of the row of vending machines in the stark hallway. Bryant clenched his right hand into a fist and stopped an inch from pounding it on the door. He wanted to scream to Margo, “Please, hold on.”
Then something occurred to him. He stood tall, facing the trauma room, looked each way and saw no one. He shut his eyes and thought clear and hard, “Margo, if you can hear me. Please. Please. Fight this. You can make it. You have to make it.”
Bryant felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned to see Father Joe.
“How is she?” the priest asked.
Bryant shook his head. “Not good.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Me too.”
Father Joe led Bryant to the waiting room and they sat down. The room was uncommonly empty but for a receptionist and a stranded wheelchair.
Bryant was thinking about the man who shot Margo. About his expression as he
pointed to the clouds.
“She’s one of them,” Bryant said.
“That’s what the man said after he shot her.”
“That man was mentally disturbed,” Father Joe said.
“It was more than that. He drove all the way from Alaska. There was a lot of
“What are you suggesting?” the priest said.
“I’m suggesting there’s a lot going on and nobody seems to know anything. The
Police, the FBI, the Pope, nobody.”
“Why do you always have to go dragging the Pope into things?” Father Joe said
with a wave of his hand.
Bryant kept looking over at the doors leading to the Trauma Room expecting to see a physician with a glum expression heading in their direction. The sooner those doors opened, the worse the news.
The stress caused him to shut his eyes and rest his head. In his mind, he kept a constant transmission of thoughts heading toward Margo, begging her to stay alive.
Father Joe nudged him and said, “Are those yours?”
Bryant realized the priest was asking about the rosary beads he was gripping in his closed hand.
“Margo gave them to me,” he said, looking at the gift with a pang of shame. The thought of Margo in there by herself, with no family by her side, slithered like a snake at the pit of his stomach.
“I see,” Father Joe said.
Bryant turned to the priest. “Listen, there’s something you need to know,” he said, looking around at the absence of an audience. “She’s suffering from PTSD. Her strong belief in God is a by-product of her condition. She believes she survived her accident because the Lord wanted her to survive. Her brain has manufactured a rationalization for her survival. It prevents her from feeling the full brunt of the guilt she’d otherwise endure. It’s the only way she can cope with the death of her family.”
“And that’s your professional opinion?”
“It’s Frank’s opinion also. He’s the one who counseled her.”
“And that’s where the idea was born?”
“Are you getting at something?”
The door to the Trauma Room opened and a doctor peeked into the room wearing blue scrubs and a paper surgical mask hanging down around his neck. His face more anxious than somber. He spotted Bryant and nodded.
Bryant got up and glanced at Father Joe. “I’ll be right back.”
“Let me come with y—”
“No,” Bryant said, holding out his palm. “I need to do this alone.”
Father Joe moved to the edge of his seat, but stayed there. “Okay.”