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"A heart transplant? My baby's only two years old." Hannah Quinn stared at Dr. Scott McIntyre, the cardiothoracic surgeon who sat across the conference room table from her. His familiar Mediterranean-Sea eyes were sympathetic, but his face remained somber.
The shock of seeing Scott again was only surpassed by the pain of his words. Her son was dying.
When had she slipped down the rabbit hole to this horror at Children's General Hospital? As if that weren't torment enough, she now faced a mother's worst nightmare, and the news was being delivered by Atlanta, Georgia's supposedly best cardiothoracic surgeon, a man who had hurt her badly years before.
In the movies this would have been called a twist of fate, horrible irony. But this wasn't some screenplay, this was her life. Her child, who always had a smile, her little boy, who giggled when she kissed him behind his ear, was in serious danger.
"He was doing fine. I was taking him for a scheduled check-up. Next thing I know his pediatrician has ordered an ambulance to bring us here." Hannah covered her mouth, damming the primal screams that threatened to escape. Moisture pooled in her eyes, blurring her vision of Scott now Jake's doctor. "You have to be wrong."
He glanced at Andrea, the heart-transplant coordinator, sitting beside him, before he reached across the table as if to take Hannah's hand.
"Don't." She straightened. He withdrew.
That night eight years ago had started with a simple brush of his hand. She couldn't go there, wouldn't go there again, or she'd fall apart. She had to hold it together until her world righted itself. And it would, it had to. "I knew that a valve replacement might be in his future sooner than I had hoped, but a heart transplant? Your diagnosis can't be correct."
Scott ran a hand through his wavy hair. The soft, silky locks had gone from light to golden blond with age. His fingers threaded through his hair again, a mannerism Hannah remembered from when they'd been friends, good friends. They'd shared warm banter when he'd come to work on the step-down floor. The banter between them had developed into a friendship she'd valued, and had thought he had too.
Leaning forward, he brought her attention back to why they were sitting in this tiny, barren room, acting as if they'd never known each other intimately.
"I'm sorry, Hannah," he murmured with compassion. His voice strengthened with the words, "But the diagnosis is correct. The condition is called cardiomyopathy."
"Isn't that when the heart has become enlarged?" Hannah asked.
"Yes, it is. In Jake's case, he must have contracted a virus that went undetected. It settled on the valve he has had from birththe one that wasn't working correctly. His heart is inflamed and is no longer pumping efficiently."
"He's had nothing more than a little runny nose. I assure you that if it had been more, I would've taken him to see a doctor."
"I'm not questioning your care for your son. The virus may have looked like something as simple as a cold, but it attacked his heart, damaging it. Sometimes it takes weeks to manifest itself and sometimes, like in Jake's case, only days or hours. There is no way to know how or when it will happen. But you would know that, being a nurse."
"Most of my work experience has been on an adult orthopedic floor and, anyway, I'm not nursing at present."
His head canted questioningly, but he said, "Still, you should understand the only thing we can do for your son"
"His name is Jake." The words came out frosted. She wouldn't allow Jake to become a hospital number, just another patient in a bed.
Scott's gaze met hers. "Jake needs a new heart." His voice softened. "He needs to be listed right away."
Could she melt into the floor? Disappear? Maybe run so fast reality couldn't catch her?
"There has to be another way. Isn't there medication you can give him? I want a second opinion."
The skin around Scott lips tightened. He shook his head slightly, forestalling any further argument. "Hannah, you're welcome to get a second opinion. But we can't waste any time. Jake will die without the transplant. He might only have a few more weeks. The first thing we'll do is see that he is put on the United Network for Organ Sharing list."
She wiped away the dampness on her cheek. The framed pictures of the smiling children lining the walls of the tiny room mocked her. Her child should be one of them. Instead, he lay in a bed in the cardiac ICU, fighting for his life.
"I've examined Jake. He's stable for now. We're giving him anti-clotting drugs to prevent blood clots, which are common with cardiomyopathy, and watching for any arrhythmia."
Her eyes widened. "Blood clots! Arrhythmia!" She leaned toward him, hands gripping the edge of the table. "I want Jake listed now."
"Before we can do that, you'll need to have a psychological exam."
Her dazed look met his. "You have to be kidding. Jake is dying and you want me to have a psychological test? There's nothing wrong with me. It's your job to get Jake a heart, not see if my head's on straight."
Scott shifted in his chair, one of his long green scrubs-covered legs bumping against the table support. Despite being terrified by what he was telling her, Hannah couldn't help but compare the man in front of her with the one she had once known. A tall man years ago, his shoulders had broadened since she'd last seen him. Cute, in an all-American way then, now he was handsome as a man with power. Maturity and responsibility had added fine lines to his face, which she bet only made him more appealing to the nurses.
Scott still possessed the air of confidence that had made him the shining star of his medical class and the desire of the female personnel in the hospital. She, fortunately, had managed to remain immune to his playboy-to-the-core charm for a while, but not long enough.
"You need to calm down. Take a couple of deep breaths."
"Don't patronize me, Scott."
"Look, the visit to the psychologist is protocol. You'll be asked questions to make sure you understand what's involved with a transplant. The care afterwards is as important as the transplant itself. We need to know you can handle it."
She pushed back in her chair and crossed her arms over her chest. "I assure you I can take care of my son, both as a mother and as a nurse."
Propping his elbows on the table, Scott clasped his hands and used his index fingers to punctuate his words. "Hannah, I don't doubt it and I understand your frustration, but there are procedures."
At least he sounded as if he cared how she felt, unlike how he had acted years ago. Known for his excellent bedside manner then, in more ways than one, she'd never dreamed she'd ever be on the receiving end of his professional conduct.
"I have no interest in your procedures. I'm only interested in Jake getting well."
"If you really want that, you're going to have to work with me to see that it happens." His words had a razor-sharp edge, leaving her no room to argue.
"Okay then, I'm ready to do the interview."
Hannah looked him directly in the eyes. "How much is all of this going to cost?"
He returned the same unwavering look. "Let's not worry about that. Keeping Jake healthy enough for the surgery is my primary concern."
Scott addressed Andrea. "Can you see that everything is set up for Hanuh Mrs. Quinn's psychological?"
"I'll take care of it," Andrea responded.
Pushing the metal chair back, Scott stood. "I'll speak to you again soon. I'm sorry this is happening to your son." He hesitated as if he wanted to say something further but thought better of it.
Wishing this situation would just go away, she gave Scott a tight smile.
"Andrea also has some forms that need to be filled out, so I'll leave you with her."
With that, Scott made a swift exit. She shouldn't be surprised he'd showed no more emotion. He'd done much the same thing the next morning after she'd made the mistake of succumbing to his charms. Their friendship had died, and so had her faith in him. Hannah let her brain shut down, and answered Andrea's questions by rote. When Andrea had finished, Hannah asked, "How good a surgeon is Scott, I mean Dr. McIntyre?"
"He's the best," Andrea stated, her voice full of assurance.
Was she just another woman who had fallen under Scott's spell and could sing nothing but his praises? "I can't let Jake die."
"Mrs. Quinn." Andrea placed her hand on Hannah's arm. "Dr. McIntyre is a brilliant surgeon. He'll take excellent care of your son. You can trust him."
Andrea guided Hannah to the waiting room and to an area away from the other parents. Hannah sank onto a blue vinyl sofa and put her head in her hands, letting pent-up tears flow. She understood what she'd been told, but she wasn't entirely convinced. Hannah couldn't afford to be blindly accepting where her son's care was concerned. He was all she had.
Hannah studied the blue square pattern of the carpet. She had no idea that Andrea had sat down beside her until she laid a comforting hand on Hannah's shoulder.
Andrea said, "You'll get through this. Why don't you go back and see Jake? Visiting hours will be over soon."