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Code Blue - Prescription for Trouble Series #1
By Richard Mabry
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2010 The United Methodist Publishing House
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe black SUV barreled out of nowhere, its oversized tires straddling the centerline. Cathy jerked the steering wheel to the right and jammed the brake pedal to the floor. Her little Toyota rocked as though flicked by a giant hand before it spun off the narrow country road and hurtled toward the ditch and the peach orchard beyond it.
For a moment Cathy felt the fearful thrill of weightlessness. Then the world turned upside down, and everything went into freeze-frame slow motion.
The floating sensation ended with a jolt. The screech of ripping metal swallowed Cathy's scream. The deploying airbag struck her face like a fist. The pressure of the shoulder harness took her breath away. The lap belt pressed into her abdomen, and she tasted bile and acid. As her head cleared, she found herself hanging head-down, swaying slightly as the car rocked to a standstill. In the silence that followed, her pulse hammered in her ears like distant, rhythmic thunder.
Cathy realized she was holding her breath. She let out a shuddering sigh, inhaled, and immediately choked on the dust that hung thick in the air. She released her death grip on the steering wheel and tried to lift her arms. It hurt—it hurt a lot—but they seemed to work. She tilted her head and felt something warm trickle down her face. She tried to wipe it away, but not before a red haze clouded her vision.
She felt a burning sensation, first in her nostrils, then in the back of her throat. Gasoline! Cathy recalled all the crash victims she'd seen in the emergency room—victims who'd survived a car accident only to be engulfed in flames afterward. She had to get out of the car. Now. Her fingers probed for the seatbelt buckle. She found it and pressed the release button. Slowly. Be careful. Don't fall out of the seat and make matters worse. The belt gave way, and she eased her weight onto her shoulders. She bit her lip from the pain, rolled onto her side, and looked around.
How could she escape? She tried the front doors. Jammed—both of them. She'd been driving with her window partially open, enjoying the brisk autumn air and the parade of orange and yellow trees rolling by in the Texas landscape. There was no way she could wriggle through that small opening. Cathy drew back both feet and kicked hard at the exposed glass. Nothing. She kicked harder. On the third try, the window gave way.
Where was her purse? Never mind. No time. She had to get out. Cathy inched her way through the window, flinching as tiny shards of glass stung her palms and knees. Once free from the car, she lay back on the grass and looked around at what remained of the orchard, blessing the trees that had sacrificed themselves to cushion her car's landing.
She rose unsteadily to her feet. It seemed as though every bone in her body cried out at the effort. The moment she stood upright the world faded into a gray haze. She slumped to the ground and took a few deep breaths. Her head hurt, her eyes burned, her throat seemed to be closing up. The smell of gasoline cut through her lethargy. She had to get farther away from the car. How could she do that, when she couldn't even stand without passing out?
Cathy saw a peach sapling a few feet away, a tiny survivor amid the ruins. She crawled to the tree, grabbed it, and walked her hands up the trunk until she was almost upright. She clung there, drained by the exertion, until the world stopped spinning.
Something dripped into her eyes and the world turned red. Cathy risked turning loose with one hand and wiped it across her face. Her vision cleared a bit. She regarded the crimson stain on her palm. Good thing she was no stranger to the sight of blood.
Now she was upright, but could she walk? Maybe, if she could stand the pain. She wasn't sure she could make it more than a step or two, though. A stout limb lying in the debris at her feet caught her eye. It was about four feet long, two inches thick—just the right size. Cathy eased her way down to a crouch, using the sapling for support. She grabbed the limb and, holding it like a staff, managed to stand up. She rested for a moment, then inched her way along the bottom of the ditch, away from the car. When she could no longer smell gasoline and when her aching limbs would carry her no farther, she leaned on her improvised crutch to rest.
Cathy stared at the road above her. The embankment sloped upward in a gentle rise of about six feet. Ordinarily, climbing it would be child's play for her. But right now she felt like a baby—weak, uncoordinated, and fearful.
Maybe if she rested for a moment on that big rock. She hobbled to it and lowered herself, wincing with each movement. There was no way she could get comfortable—even breathing was painful—but she needed time to think.
Had the SUV really tried to run her off the road? She wanted to believe it was simply an accident, that someone had lost control of the vehicle. Just like she'd wanted to believe that the problems she'd had since she came back home were nothing more than a run of bad luck. Now she had to accept the possibility that someone was making an effort to drive her out of town.
She'd never thought much about the name of her hometown: Dainger,Texas. She vaguely recalled it was named for some settler, long ago forgotten. Now she was thinking the name seemed significant. Danger. Had the problems she'd left behind in Dallas followed her? Or did the roots lie here in Dainger? Possibly. After all, small towns have long memories. Of course, there could be another explanation.... No, she couldn't accept that. Not yet.
Cathy turned to survey the wreckage of her poor little car. She saw wheels silhouetted against the sky, heard the ticking of the cooling motor. Then she picked up new sounds: the roar of a car's engine, followed by the screech of tires and the chatter of gravel. It could be someone stopping to help. On the other hand, it could be the driver of the SUV coming back to finish the job. She thought of hiding. But where? How?
She watched a white pickup skid to a stop on the shoulder of the road above the wreckage. A car door slammed. A man's voice called, "Is anyone down there? Are you hurt?"
No chance to get away now. She'd have to take her chances and pray that he was really here to help. Pray? That was a laugh. Cathy had prayed before, prayed hard, all without effect. Why should she expect anything different this time?
"Is someone there? Are you hurt?"
How should she react? Answer or stay quiet? Neither choice seemed good. She tried to clear the dust from her throat, but when she opened her mouth to yell, she could only manage a strangled whisper. "Yes."
Footsteps crunched on the gravel shoulder above her, and an urgent voice shouted, "Is someone down there? Do you need help?"
"Yes," she croaked a bit stronger.
"I'm coming down," he said. "Hang on."
A head peered over the edge of the embankment, but pulled back before she could get more than a glimpse of him.
In a few seconds, he scrambled down the embankment, skidding in the red clay before he could dig in the heels of his cowboy boots. At the bottom he looked around until he spotted her. He half-ran the last few feet to where she stood swaying on her makeshift crutch.
"Here, let me help you. Can you walk?"
Blood trickled into her eyes again, and even after she wiped it away, it was like looking through crimson gauze. Cathy could make out the man's outline but not his features. He sounded harmless enough. But she supposed even mass murderers could sound harmless.
She gripped her makeshift staff harder; it might work as a weapon. "I don't think anything's broken." Her voice cracked, and she coughed. "I'm just stunned. If you help me, I think I can move okay."
He leaned down, and Cathy put her left arm on his shoulder. He encircled her waist with his right arm, supporting her so her feet barely touched the ground as they shuffled toward the slope. At the bottom, he turned and swept her into his arms. The move took her by surprise, and she gasped. She felt him stagger a bit on the climb, but in a moment they made it to the top.
Her rescuer freed one hand and thumbed the latch on the passenger side door of his pickup. He turned to bump the door open with his hip, then deposited her gently onto the seat. "Rest there. I'll call 911."
Cathy leaned back and tried to calm down. His voice sounded familiar. Was he one of her patients? She swiped the back of her hand across her eyes, but the image remained cloudy.
The man pulled a flip-phone from his pocket and punched in three digits. "There's been a one-car accident."
She listened as he described the accident location in detail—a mile south of the Freeman farm, just before the Sandy Creek Bridge. This wasn't some passerby. He knew the area.
"I need an ambulance, a fire truck, and someone from the sheriff's office. Oh, and send a flatbed wrecker. The car looks like it's totaled."
"I don't need an ambulance," Cathy protested.
He held up a hand and shushed her, something she hadn't encountered since third grade. "Yes, she seems okay, but I still think they need to hurry."
Cathy heard a few answering squawks from the phone before the man spoke again. "It's Will Kennedy. Yes, thanks."
Will Kennedy? If she hadn't been sitting down, Cathy might have fallen over. She scrubbed at her eyes and squinted. Will? Yes, it was Will. Now even the shape of his body looked familiar: lean and muscular, just the way he'd been— No. Don't go there.
Will ended his call and leaned in through the open pickup door. "They'll be here in a minute. Hang on."
He took a clean handkerchief from the hip pocket of his pressed jeans and gently cleaned her face. The white cotton rapidly turned red, and Cathy realized that the blood had not only clouded her vision. It had masked her features.
"Will, don't you recognize me?"
He stopped, looked at her, and frowned. "Cathy?"
"Yes." There were so many things to say. She drew in a ragged breath. "Thanks. I appreciate your stopping."
He gave her the wry grin she remembered so well, and her heart did a flip-flop. "I'd heard you were back in town, and I wondered when you'd get around to talking to me. I just didn't know it would be like this." He paused. "And forget about telling me not to have them send an ambulance. I don't care if you are a doctor now, Cathy Sewell. I won't turn you loose until another medic checks you."
Cathy opened her mouth to speak, but Will's cell phone rang. He answered it and walked away as he talked, while she sat and wondered what would have happened if they'd never turned each other loose in the first place.
* * *
As the ambulance sped toward Summers County General Hospital, Cathy wondered what kind of reception she would get there. Who would be on duty? Would they acknowledge her as a colleague, even though she hadn't been given privileges yet? When her thoughts turned to recent events, she forced herself to shut down the synapses and put her mind into neutral.
The ambulance rocked to a halt outside the emergency room doors. Despite Cathy's protestations, the emergency medical technicians kept her strapped securely on the stretcher while they offloaded it. Inside the ER, Cathy finally convinced her guardians to let her transfer to a wheelchair held by a waiting orderly.
"Thanks so much, guys. I'll be fine. Really."
At the admitting desk, the clerk looked up from her computer and frowned.
"Cathy?" She flushed. "I ... I mean, Dr. Sewell?"
"It's okay, Judy. I was Cathy through twelve years of school. No reason to change." Cathy looked around. "Who's the ER doctor on duty?"
"Dr. Patel. He just called in Dr. Bell to see a patient. Dr. Patel thought it might be a possible appendix." She lowered her voice. "Dr. Bell took one look and made the diagnosis of stomach flu. I couldn't see the need to call in another doctor for a consultation, but Dr. Patel is so afraid he'll make a wrong diagnosis." She pursed her lips as she realized her mistake of complaining about one doctor to another.
"Just be sure Dr. Patel doesn't hear you say that." Cathy tried to take the sting out of the words with a wink, but the blood dried around her eyes made it impossible. "Can you call him? I've been threatened with dire punishment if I don't get checked out."
Judy reached for the phone.
"Don't bother, Judy. I'll take care of Dr. Sewell myself."
Cathy eased her head around to see Marcus Bell standing behind her. He wore khakis and a chocolate-brown golf shirt, covered by an immaculate white coat with his name embroidered over the pocket.
This was a trade Cathy would gladly make—finicky Dr. Patel for superdoc Marcus Bell. In the three years he'd been here, Marcus had built a reputation as an excellent clinician. He was also undoubtedly the best-looking doctor in town.
"Let's get you into Treatment Room One." Marcus steered Cathy's wheelchair away from the desk. "Judy, you can bring me the paperwork when you have it ready. Please ask Marianne to step in and help me for a minute. And page Jerry for me, would you? Thanks."
Cathy had been in treatment rooms like this many times in several hospitals. Now she noticed how different everything looked when viewed from this perspective. As if the accident and the adrenaline rush that followed hadn't made her shaky enough, sitting there in a wheelchair emphasized her feeling of helplessness. "I feel so silly," she said. "Usually I'm on the other end of all this."
"Well, today you're not." Marcus gestured toward the nurse who stood in the doorway. "Let's get you into a gown. Then we'll check the extent of the damages."
Marcus stepped discreetly from the room.
"I'm Marianne," the nurse said. Then, as though reading Cathy's mind, she added, "I know it's hard for a doctor to be a patient. But try to relax. We'll take good care of you."
Marianne helped Cathy out of her clothes and into a hospital gown. If Cathy had felt vulnerable before this, the added factor of being in a garment that had so many openings closed only by drawstrings tripled the feeling. The nurse eased Cathy onto the examining table, covered her with a clean sheet, and called Marcus back into the room.
"Now, Cathy, the first thing I want to do is have a closer look at that cut on your head." Marcus slipped on a pair of latex gloves and probed the wound.
Cathy flinched. "How does it look?"
"Not too bad. One laceration about three or four centimeters long in the frontal area. Not too deep. The bleeding's almost stopped now. We'll get some skull films, then I'll suture it." He wound a soft gauze bandage around her head and taped it.
Marcus flipped off his gloves and picked up the clipboard that Cathy knew held the beginnings of her chart. "Why don't you tell me what happened?"
At first, Cathy laid out the details of the accident and her injuries in terse clinical language, as though presenting a case to an attending physician at Grand Rounds. She did fine until she realized how close she'd come to being killed, apparently by someone who meant to do just that. There were a couple of strangled hiccups, then a few muffled sobs before the calm physician turned into a blubbering girl. "I'm ... I'm sorry." She reached for a tissue from the box Marcus held out.
"No problem. If you weren't upset by all that, you wouldn't be normal." Marcus took an ophthalmoscope from the wall rack and shined its light into her eyes. "How's your vision?"
"Still a little fuzzy—some halos around lights. I figured it was from the blood running into my eyes."
He put down the instrument and rummaged in the drug cabinet. "Let's wash out your eyes. I don't want you to get a chemical keratitis from the powder on the air bag. I'll give you some eye drops, but if your vision gets worse or doesn't clear in a day or so, I want you to see an ophthalmologist."
"Oh, right." The fact that she hadn't thought of that underscored to Cathy how shaken she still was.
Excerpted from Code Blue - Prescription for Trouble Series #1 by Richard Mabry Copyright © 2010 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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