Monday, May 30, 2011

Medical Monday: Scene safety part 1

A few years ago I critiqued a manuscript for a friend where one of the characters was shot, the perpetrator was still armed and in the area, but the ambulance crew ran up the hill to take care of the victim with the police anyway. I talked to her about safety protocol and how the scene would actually be handled.

Scene safety is one of the most important things that EMTs have to consider when they go on a call because if there’s a threat in the area, and they get hurt, they can’t take care of their patient. A few of the possible things EMTs have to be aware of include:

Domestic disputes—people ready to throw punches, pull out a knife or gun.

Dogs—Fido may be sweet to his owner, but may not be so thrilled about strangers coming into the house, so we prefer they are shut in another room.

Chemicals, which can include flammables in commercial settings, meth labs, spilled gas or other toxins on the roadside, and in my area, pesticides and other things farmers may spread on their fields.

Suicide attempts, which could be guns, carbon monoxide, or some toxic gas scenarios that have been growing in popularity. There is one method being used lately where the suicidal person gets into their car, seals of the windows so the fumes stay in their car, mixes chemicals, and die within minutes. If rescue personnel, such as a firefighter, breaks the window to get in, and catches a breath of the fumes, they can end up with serious permanent medical problems, and possibly death.

Road dangers including traffic zooming by an accident scene, or vehicles in the accident not being stable if they are left on an incline, or maybe landed on their sides or some other odd angle—more on that another time.

I’m sure I’ve missed something, but I’m going to focus on human dangers this time, and how the ambulance and law enforcement work together to ensure everyone’s safety.

If my department is being called out to a dangerous scene we are generally asked to ‘stage’ at an alternate, but nearby, location. This is usually out of sight, perhaps around a corner or even a few blocks away. Law enforcement (sheriff’s department in my area) secure the scene, and when they have decided it’s safe, they call us to come to the scene. This would be a common procedure in cases of domestic violence, a fist fight at a party or a bar (if we had any bars in my town), or if someone is threatening to commit suicide, and they have a weapon. This may also apply if there were a hostage situation. It’s possible that in a city where they have a full-time EMS staff that they may not have the ambulance stage nearby, especially if there are a lot of other medical emergencies going on right then, but in your story, it’s safe to anticipate having the ambulance on standby.

We can be called out if someone at the scene is hurt, and sometimes as backup in case law enforcement may become injured in the encounter.

On an only slightly related note, my ambulance department also gets called out to standby when we have a building fire to check the firefighters as they empty their SCBA’s (self-contained breathing apparatus)—the air packs they carry when they go into a burning building). In this case we stage nearer to the burning building so we’re convenient for the firefighters, but still far enough away not to be in danger ourselves. After every run into the building, the firefighters have to come to the ambulance and have their blood pressure and pulses checked, and to drink lots of fluids before being allowed back into the building for another go.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Writing Wdnesday "Blank Slate" Chapter 4-6

Every week I'm going to post a segment from one of my books here on my blog. You can read the first three chapters to this story here.

Chapter Four

d

Later that evening Adrianna woke from a nap to find Jake, quiet and looking tired, sitting beside her bed. He worked on a laptop, not seeming to notice her movements. She watched him for a minute and decided he wasn’t typing. She couldn’t see the screen, but from the way his fingers moved on the touch mouse, she thought he might be playing a game.

“Are you winning?” she asked, then touched her throat when soreness reminded her to take it easy.

He jumped slightly and looked a bit abashed as he closed the computer. “I thought I could work on some bids while you slept . . . and got distracted by Solitaire.”

She smiled. “Having trouble focusing on work?”

“Quite a lot of trouble, just lately. How do you feel?” He reached out and pushed the hair out of her eyes. “I have to say, you’ve looked better.”

“Gee, thanks. I’m all aflutter from your compliments.”

He laughed. “I can’t tell you how good it is to have you awake again. You had us all pretty worried for a while there.”

“I’m glad your concerns are all gone now,” she said as she turned and looked pointedly at the bank of monitors that were still attached to her. “Brock mentioned you were supposed to stop by tonight. He said you’ve been here a lot, actually. The staff mentioned it too. Thanks for that.”

“I couldn’t stay away.” He squeezed her hand. “How’re you feeling now? Do you need more pain killers, a drink, anything?”

“I could use a little water.”

She watched him fill the glass from a pitcher of water on the table beside her and hand it over. She took several sips and felt her throat soothed by it. When she put the glass down, he watched her anxiously.

“I think there was a woman here when I first woke. I’m kind of fuzzy. Dark hair, pixie cut, cute, reprimanded me for sleeping so long. Was that a dream, or do I have a fairy godmother?”

He laughed. “That’s my wife, Megan. She was here when you first woke, but we weren’t sure if you’d remember her. You were pretty out of it. I’ll tell her you asked. She’s been pretty busy finishing her degree and juggling things at home, but she’s been here part of every day since your accident.”

A long silence stretched between them, though Adrianna didn’t find it uncomfortable. When she spoke, she brought up the subject that had been foremost on her mind. “Can you tell me about the accident, about the others involved? The doctor didn’t say much and I wondered what you know. I just can’t stop thinking about the others and wondering what happened. I asked Brock, but he didn’t want to discuss it.”

“He was pretty upset. We all were, of course, but I think it made him a little crazy—he worships the ground you walk on.” He rubbed his chin. “It was really hard watching you lie there, not moving, knowing you might never wake up. I think that’s why he returned to Chicago after only a few days. It was too hard to watch. Now we’re just happy you’re recovering and don’t want to think about why you’re here.”

Adrianna wondered if that meant he wasn’t going to tell her about the accident, but he shifted in his seat and began talking again.

“Far as we can tell from reports, an SUV hydro-planed on the north-bound road, hit the edge of the pavement and began to roll. It hit the bus right where your seat was. The roads were slick and the driver tried to maneuver out of the way of the SUV, but it knocked over the bus, which slid down the road a few feet until friction brought it to a stop on the wet pavement. Your hair got caught under the frame just before it came to a stop. You were lucky; if it had traveled much farther you could have been crushed.” His voice broke and he paused for a moment to gather control again.

She reached out a comforting hand to him, seeing the emotion on his face. After a moment, however, she withdrew her hand, uncomfortable. She was relieved when he pulled himself back together.

“You got pummeled with baggage and other people as the bus rolled. It sounds like there was total chaos. The emergency people arrived and you were transported to the hospital here. I guess a couple of women sitting near you were killed in the accident, as well as the couple in the SUV. Most everyone ended up in an emergency room somewhere for a while at least. A few women had to stay in the hospital overnight, or for a few days, but I think you’re the only one who hasn’t been released. There were so many injuries that the women were sent to at least six different hospitals in the region.”

Adrianna thought about that, imagined the scene in her head, though she couldn’t remember even a hint of that night. “It must have been so terrible for everyone. What a shock.” She tried to remember it, but came up blank.

“It was. We’ve had lots of support, though, from friends and neighbors. And, of course, there’s been lots of extra press about your involvement because you’re such a big-shot musician—which means the phone has been ringing almost constantly from people you know from France and Germany and wherever else.” He bumped his fist against her arm and shot her a wry smile. “We left you the get-well cards, but had to take the flowers home since they don’t allow them in the ICU. We donated a bunch to nursing homes and women’s shelters, but the house is still like a flower shop. Oh, and the mail is stacking up. It’ll take you a while to dig through. Everyone’s so happy to have you back with us again.”

Adrianna studied him for a long moment. “And you’ve been hiding from the press, haven’t you?” She didn’t know why she thought that, but he didn’t seem comfortable with media attention—which made two of them.

“Reporters are your forte, not mine. Mom and Brock have both been handling that though, so Megan and I have referred everyone to them. I don’t care what the world thinks or wants to know, I’m just worried about you.”

Adrianna asked him about work, needing a change of subject. He’d given her plenty to think about when she was alone again.

d

The mid-point of October passed before Adrianna was released from the ICU into a regular hospital bed.

The woman who’d been in her room when she first awoke, her sister-in-law Megan, Adrianna reminded herself, popped into the room only an hour after the room change. “Hi, I hoped you’d be awake. There’s so much to talk about. I stopped in yesterday for a while, but you were sleeping.”

Megan carried a large binder under one arm and a clear plastic container of cookies. “Jake said you asked who I am,” she continued without pausing for a response, her dark, pixie-cut hair flaring around her face. “I wasn’t sure if you remembered waking up with me in the room, so I’m glad you did. You seemed a bit out of it.”

“I remember, vaguely. You got after me for making everyone worry.” It was kind of funny—it wasn’t as if she’d had any control over the coma.

“Yes, well, you always did like to make an entrance.” Megan pulled a chair next to the bed and settled the photo album on the rolling cart the nurses set meals on. “I imagine you’ll want to look at some pictures of before—you know, they might jog your memory. And even if they don’t, it doesn’t hurt to learn more about yourself, does it?” She popped open the container of cookies—chocolate chip. Adrianna watched as Megan picked out a cookie, then gestured to the container, as though to say she should help herself.

“You’re lucky to have a private room. When my mom had her hysterectomy a few years back, she got stuck with a crazy lady who made a fuss around the clock and had to be restrained.” She took a dainty bite. “As for our friendship, I haven’t exactly known you forever, but we’ve spent quite a bit of time together. I mean, I’d always wanted a sister, and you’ve lived with us for over a year now. Thankfully we bypassed that awkward teenage angst most sisters endure, so we’ve gotten along well enough.”

“Why am I living with you and Jake?” That didn’t seem like something she would do. She felt a little too independent for that.

“You moved in shortly after I had Aiden. He’s our little boy and a bundle of crazy energy. I was still in school—am still in school—studying interior design and you moved in to help us out. I admit I wasn’t sure how it would work out at first, two cooks in the kitchen and all that. We settled in real nice though, found a rhythm right off. And can I say how much I appreciated having you around to help out? Seriously, you’re a life saver.”

Megan took another bite of cookie and closed her eyes as she chewed, ecstasy filling her face. “These are so good! I’m definitely keeping this recipe,” she used a hand to cover her mouth since it was full. “Anyway, your parents were here for several days after the accident, but they couldn’t run the business from Kansas, so they went home last week. Your dad practically had to pry your mom away with a crow bar. I spoke to them yesterday and they said they’ll be back tomorrow to visit for a few days. They were frantic when they heard about the accident. You’re mom’s a serious fuss pot.”

In all of Adrianna’s discussions with people, no one had made more than a fleeting reference to her parents. Even Jake had avoided the subject. “Where do they live now? Where did I grow up?”

“They’ve lived in Alliance, Nebraska for several years, but you grew up in Kansas City. Alliance is in the northwest corner, so it’s a good ten-hour drive. We all went up for a visit just a couple months ago so your parents could see Aiden.” Megan bit her lip, as if undecided about something, then nodded. “Things have been somewhat strained between you and your mom since you moved in with us. They’re kind of distant with us, too.” She studied her cookie for a moment before taking a bite. “She never approved of me.”

“Why not? Do you have a criminal record? Do you have a not-so-secret life as a cocktail waitress?”

Megan’s laugh exploded with surprise and she choked on her cookie. “No, give me a break!” She coughed a few times, trying to clear her throat.

“Trying to keep you secrets quiet?” There was little chance the demure Megan ever did anything half so wild, but her reaction had been priceless.

“Okay, seriously.” Megan helped herself to some of the water from the pitcher at the side of the bed, sipped. “I’m not sure what it is. On the one hand, I think she blames me for not making a name for myself professionally before starting my family, like she thinks Jake deserves someone with more ambition. On the flip side, she seems to think I’m a terrible, neglectful mother because I send Aiden to the sitter while I’m in school. Oh, and she thinks you’re not touring right now because you moved in with us because I’m too incapable to take proper care of her son and grandbaby, so you’re wasting your potential.” The words held more than a tinge of bitterness.

Megan tapped a finger on the photo album for a moment, then lifted her gaze back to Adrianna’s. “I know our visit this summer helped smooth out the rough edges some, so I wouldn’t be concerned about it if I were you.”

She opened the binder and pointed to a picture of a blonde woman in a 50’s costume. “Your sister, Natasha, lives in New York City, where she’s trying to break into Broadway. This picture was of her in Bye, Bye Birdie. She has your singing talent, and acts and dances too, though I don’t think she can play the piano worth spit compared to you.” She sighed. “Unfortunately, your mom agrees and always made a big issue about your skill, and didn’t give Natasha enough credit. She’s quite talented, just not as impressive as you in that one area.”

She looked a bit wistful as she broke her cookie in two pieces. “I wish I’d gotten some of those skills—we could use more people to play the music in church. Brother Lawrence does a reasonably decent job with the five hymns he knows, but no one compares to you. It’s been interesting the past few weekends with you in here.”

“I’m sure you have plenty of your own talents.”

With a tip of the head and a frown, Megan nodded. “Such as they are. Jake seems to love me in any case.” She turned to the photo album. “Now, here are pictures of everyone from your engagement party—Brock insisted on making it a major event and all of the musicians attended, along with the best patrons of the arts and community leaders.” Dismissing the previous subject, she told Adrianna about everyone.


Chapter Five

d

Adrianna looked up from the scrapbook later that afternoon when Brock came in carrying a white paper bag and two Styrofoam cups.

“I come bringing something decent to drink. I’m sure you’re more than ready.” He set the offerings on the side table and kissed her on the now unwrapped bit of skin at her temple. Her bandages had been reduced the previous day as her skin continued to heal. He handed her a cup bearing the name of a trendy coffee shop he’d mentioned the previous day.

“I added extra milk to your hot cocoa and a shot of amaretto just the way you like it, and,” he dug into the bag and pulled out two cupcakes. “Orange-cardamom with cream cheese frosting. Your favorite.” He set the confection on a napkin in front of her. Then he reached into his pocket and pulled out a pink MP3 player with matching ear buds. “And music to go along with it.

“Actually,” he said as he took the chair beside her and scooted it closer to the bed, not giving her time to respond, “the music is for you to listen to later. I wanted your take on the lineup I’m considering for next April’s concert. We’re going with all Baroque composers. It’ll be fantastic. I’m just not sure which Scarlatti cantata to feature, but you’re always brilliant and I’d like to hear what you think.”

A bit bemused, Adrianna took a sip of the cocoa and wanted to moan with appreciation. The man obviously knew what she liked. “I’ll be happy to listen, but I’m sure you’ll make the right decision.” Interested in the cupcake he had brought, she unwrapped one side and took a large bite with plenty of frosting. It was good. Not nearly as good as the cocoa, and, in fact, she eyed his German chocolate cupcake enviously, but didn’t complain as she finished off the one he had brought her.

“Do you remember going to the bakery with me?” he asked her after she took a second bite. “I know they’re your favorite.”

She shrugged, not a glimmer of memory coming to her.

“Don’t worry, I’ll help you.” He ran a hand down her arm. “I know everything about you, babe.”

Adrianna smiled as well as she could around the mouthful of cupcake and nodded, listening closely as he changed the subject to music.

d

When she was allowed out of bed that evening to visit the bathroom—finally not being forced to rely on a tube and bag—Adrianna spent several minutes in front of the mirror comparing her features to the ones in the pictures—what she could see of it around the bandages that still swathed her nose and cheeks.

Her face was puffy and red and still crossed with rows of stitches, even though it had been two weeks since the accident. She wondered how everyone must have felt watching her, unsure if she would wake from the coma, seeing her battered body slowly healing.

It scared her to look at the unrecognizable face in the mirror even now when the swelling had gone down so much. The stitched areas of her face were slightly puckered in a couple of spots. It was terrifying and disheartening. She was ugly. Would it get much better?

Beyond that, how could she look at herself and not know her own face? She had viewed smiling pictures of growing up and at a party, hand in hand with Brock, kissing him, holding Aiden on the day he was blessed, but none of them were familiar. There wasn’t the faintest memory from her past. She was so discouraged by the lack of memories, and looking like this didn’t help her feel better about it all.

Tears welled in her eyes and she prayed it really would get better, that the plastic surgeon would be able to make her look a whole lot less scary.

She touched the lines of stitches on her forehead and wondered if she’d ever remember her life.

d

When Adrianna returned to her room, Jake sat in the chair beside her bed. “You’re up and out of bed. It’s good to see you looking so well.” He walked over and touched her arm.

Adrianna thought she looked awful, but she wasn’t about to correct him. “Finish with work for the day?” She lowered herself carefully onto the bed. Her whole body was exhausted from the effort of walking to the bathroom. Her previous forays had all been with a nurse at her side. It was amazing how much harder it was by herself. Megan’s vivacity had been tiring as well, though Adrianna thought her sister-in-law would be a lot of fun when her energy level was back to normal.

“Yeah, Gavin’s still covering for me. He’s been shouldering most of the load lately.” He grimaced a bit at that as he sat in the chair beside her bed. “Tomorrow I’m going to bring Aiden to see you—or Mom and Dad will if they get here early enough. He’s over his cold, so the doctor said it’s safe.”

He looked so excited at the prospect of bringing his child to see her, she didn’t want to disappoint him, but she thought of the toddler reacting to what she’d just seen in the mirror. “I’m not sure if that’s a good idea. I mean, look at me.” She gestured to her face. “I’ll probably scare him.” She tried to make a joke of the comment, but couldn’t quite manage it.

Jake reached out and squeezed her shoulder. “No you won’t. We told him you were hurt, and he’ll know you. He’s missed you so much. He’s been asking about you every day—you’re his favorite aunt.”

“I’m the only aunt he sees regularly,” she reminded him. Despite her words, she smiled and thought of holding the sweet-faced toddler she’d seen in so many pictures over the past few days. “I can’t wait to meet him.” She paused when she saw a pained look cross his face. “I mean, I know I’ve spent plenty of time with him before, but it’s like meeting him all over again. You know?”

Jake smiled weakly. “I suppose it must be. Hey, I brought this back. They said you were clutching it when they found you at the crash site. I thought you might like to have the pictures with you, and your ID in case you forget who you are again.” He said this last with a half-hearted laugh. He handed over a brown leather wallet with her identification and several family pictures in it. She turned it over in her hands. It seemed vaguely familiar. Then again, it was her wallet.

“Thanks, I’ve worried about that.” She rolled her eyes at him. “It seems to be habit for me to forget myself lately.” She flipped through the wallet and saw snapshots of several people she didn’t recognize, then one of Brock and herself in front of a waterfall. One of Jake’s family was filed beside it. She had a memory flash—she had seen these pictures before, she was sure of it. That fact relieved her immensely. “Oh, look, there are pictures of everyone in here. We should mark them with names so if I forget you again, I can flip through and see you’re my brother.”

They shared weak smiles before he changed the subject. “Megan said she’d bring the photo album after her classes today. Did she make it?”

“Yes, we spent a couple hours talking while she told me every embarrassing story she knew about you.” At his mortified expression, she laughed. “I’ve wondered if she embellished them a bit. Seriously, how could you think fishing and prom dresses were a good mix?”

“I can’t believe she told you.” He ran a hand over his tired face. “It’s bad enough to be teased about things by one woman without bringing another into the mix. If you have to lose memories, that would be one of the things I’d prefer stayed forgotten. By everyone.”

She laughed, low and throaty. “Don’t worry about it, Jake. It was good for me to see you aren’t this infallible man of steel. I’ve heard so many times about how often you’ve been here, what a devoted brother you’ve been. It’s almost intimidating. How’s a sister supposed to keep up?”

Taking her hand in his, he gave it a squeeze. “How could I possibly do less? You’ve been there for us through so much.” Love shone in his eyes, making Adrianna wish she had any memory of him at all—even an embarrassing one of herself. She saw him glance around the room. “So, where’s Brock?”

“He was here this morning, but he had errands to run, orchestra things to do, people to talk to. I get the feeling he’ll be convincing a lot of musicians to keep me company when he’s gone again. It’ll be a parade of strangers filing through here—and if he has his way, they’ll all bring their instruments.” She was trying not to be bothered by this idea, but she’d rather not be constantly surrounded by new people. It was hard enough dealing with the handful she’d met.

Adrianna picked up the tiny MP3 player Brock had given her. “He brought me some recordings of songs he wants to do in the spring. He asked me to listen and give my opinion on them when he calls tomorrow.” She pulled a face. Brock had spent quite a bit of time with her over the past couple of days, but needed to return to Chicago to direct a big performance.

“What’s the problem? So you’ll help him pick some classical songs, probably play a solo. You’ve always been incredible on the piano—it’s not like it’ll be anything new. The doctor’s hopeful you’ll have your memory back by then. It’s a long while off yet.”

“Brock said we were doing Baroque composers, not classical ones. Apparently there’s a difference. I recognize a few of the songs, as in, I think I probably heard them somewhere once before, but I’m not ready to discuss composers or the relative merit of one song over another.”

She shook her head and semi-reclined on the bed. Perhaps she shouldn’t have been so irritated with Brock, she thought, but it was disorienting to have people tell you that you should know something and not to remember anything about it.

“How’re things going with Brock, anyway?”

She shrugged. “He’s very charming and friendly, but nothing he says sparks a memory.” When Jake nodded, but didn’t comment, she tipped her head in question. “What do you think of him?”

Jake shoved his hands in his front pockets. “He’s a nice guy. He’s always been good to you.” He didn’t meet her eyes.

“And?” She sensed there was more and wanted him to spit it out.

“It’s not like you won’t remember my feelings on the subject eventually.” He pressed his lips together for a moment. “He’s kind of arrogant, and talks down to the rest of us as if we were peons. I swear I heard him call us musical Philistines once when he had to educate us about some composer.” He met her gaze now. “You’ve teased us now and then, but you were never a snob about it. Except sometimes when you’re with him, you spend so much time trying to impress him, you seem to forget yourself.”

Adrianna bit her lip as she took that in, pain filling her chest as she considered his words. She didn’t want to be a snob, not to her family or anyone else. “I’m sorry. I’ll try not to let that happen anymore.”

“I can’t ask for more than that.” He gave her hand a squeeze.

She smile back at him, but wondered what kind of person she was. Did she really treat her family badly when Brock was around?

d

The next morning Adrianna sat in bed, wishing there was something besides talk shows on at ten in the morning, when a salt-and-pepper-haired woman came to the door. A vaguely familiar woman. When she grinned and entered with a giant of a man—also gray haired—and a toddler boy, Adrianna realized it was her parents and Aiden. The child, at least, was unmistakable.

“There’s an improvement, now. It’s good to see you, sweetie.” Her mother hurried over and wrapped her in a hug. She pressed a kiss to Adrianna’s temple.

Adrianna fought the urge to pull away, unsure what her response would normally be. She sure didn’t feel very friendly at the moment. She blamed it on the drugs that made her feel out of sorts and the stress she was under and tried not to take it out on her parents. “Hello, Mom, Dad. And this little bundle of energy,” she said, holding out her hands to the toddler who was crying and trying to reach her. “You must be Aiden. It’s good to see you, Aiden.” She tried not to act as befuddled as she felt.

Aiden clung to her, burying his tear-filled face in her neck, and something deep inside her felt an instant bond. She’d begun to worry when everything seemed so foreign to her—what if it was all some mistake, some cosmic joke? She cuddled him close, ignoring the discomfort she felt as her muscles protested. If all these people recognized her, she must be the person they said she was. She just wanted to slide into her old life and have something feel comfortable again.

“You do remember us, then?” her mother asked, her face full of hope.

With a shake of her head, Adrianna disillusioned her parents. “No, I knew you from the photo album Megan brought me yesterday.” She motioned to the table beside her bed. She’d looked through it again that morning. “She said you’d be in town today. You’re earlier than I expected. It’s a long trip from Nebraska.”

“We drove most of the way yesterday,” her mother said.

Her father sat uneasily in one of the visitor chairs. Her mother pulled another over by the bedside and began to fuss. “Are you comfortable? Maybe you shouldn’t have him on your lap—he might pull out a tube or something. Do you want something to drink? Juice, water, a soda?”

Already feeling weary, Adrianna shook her head. “No, thank you. I’m fine. Aiden’s fine too.”

Aiden patted her on the cheek in response, perhaps a little harder than necessary—even without the damage to her face. “Anna.” He yanked at the top of the bandage and she decided to redirect his attention. Her eyes watered from the pain, but she gritted her teeth and said nothing. She handed him her plastic water cup and he started crinkling it in his fingers. “Anna!”

He was delightful. “You sweet boy. Aren’t you just the cutest?”

“Down!” Aiden demanded, pointing to the ground.

“Want a cookie?” his grandmother asked when he struggled.

That perked him up. “Tookie, tookie, tookie!” He reached out with his chubby little hands to grasp the mini chocolate chip cookie.

“When do they take off the bandages?” her mother asked.

Adrianna wet her lips and smiled, though it took a great deal of determination to do so and she doubted it looked sincere. “The doctor said they plan more plastic surgery soon, now that I’m doing so well. They may not be able to put me back together again quite like I was, but it should be fine.”

She sent up a prayer every time she thought about it. She’d seen pictures of herself before and while she wasn’t movie-star gorgeous, she’d been pretty enough. She didn’t want to believe she was so vain she couldn’t live with scars. It would be a reminder she’d survived something horrible—an accident that took four lives. There must be a reason she’d lived when others had died.

Still, she prayed often that minor scarring was all she would have when it was over and done. Not wanting to dwell on that subject anymore, she turned to her father. “So, how’re things going at the store? I imagine it’s slowed somewhat, with the tourist season ending.”

Apparently, that had been the right question. The man who had yet to say one word began rhapsodizing over the items in their store, the way the season went, projections for the next year, and much more.

By the time he wound down, lunch was delivered and Aiden slept in her arms, clinging to the last gooey cookie with a plump fist. After she told her mother repeatedly that Aiden was fine, wasn’t hurting anything, and she could leave the child be, Adrianna finally allowed her mother to take him back.

“I know he’s been a trial for you, no matter how you dote on him, spoiling him rotten, but children always are a trial at this age. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: it’s good you’re marrying Brock and getting away. In Chicago you won’t be a constant babysitter for her instead of using the talents you worked so hard to develop, especially after we paid so much money for your lessons.” Her face was disapproving, but Adrianna didn’t have the strength to ask why. “We got a hotel room in town, so we’ll see you this evening. Jake said his wife would stop by after class.”

Her mother’s apparent animosity for Megan—who had been nothing but sweet to Adrianna—didn’t make any sense. Her mom was a bundle of nervous, flighty energy, constantly trying to plump pillows or go for something, yet she didn’t like a woman who obviously loved and cared for her son. Not in the mood to figure it all out, Adrianna looked forward to a quiet lunch and then a long nap.


Chapter Six

d

Gavin didn’t mind carrying the extra load at work for a few weeks. Jake hadn’t complained once about taking over both their duties last spring when Gavin’s last living grandparent had lay dying in the hospital. And it had been busier then.

Of course, things weren’t exactly slow right now, but Gavin could endure this a little longer. Still, it would have been much easier if Tara had stuck around a few more weeks. He was grateful when Jake started picking up more of the slack, but knew it would take ages to get through all of the paperwork that was piling up.

What he couldn’t put up with was having Adrianna’s pompous fiancé dropping by the office to send faxes and use the Internet. Brock seemed to care for Adrianna, and had a lot in common with her, both in musical skill and temperament. It was obvious he worried about her. However, that didn’t mean Gavin wanted to deal with him on a regular basis. He was relieved when Brock returned to Chicago to plot the symphony’s course of greatness.

“Hey, you’re headed into Kansas City to file that paperwork, aren’t you?” Jake asked, poking his head into Gavin’s office around eleven.

“Yeah, it should’ve been mailed in over a week ago. It was stuck in the wrong pile when Tara deserted.” This last was little more than a mumble as he sorted through a stack of papers on his desk. A lot of things had been left in disarray when Tara quit.

“Could you do me a favor? The sitter backed out on us and my parents said they’d watch Aiden this afternoon. Would you take him in to them at the hospital? I’d really appreciate it.”

“No problem.” So long as his exposure to Jake’s parents was minimal, he could deal with it.

Mrs. Mueller had never forgiven Gavin for suggesting her son work with him at his uncle’s construction company when they were fifteen. Jake had fallen instantly in love with the trade—much to his mother’s disgust. Gavin felt the mother’s disdain every time they met. Not that Gavin cared what she thought, but it did make their occasional encounters uncomfortable.

d

After two days and several long visits from her parents, Adrianna sat quietly in her room, grateful for the break from the chatter while her mother and father went out for lunch. She had completed her meal and wished she could be released from the hospital and return home. Not that she remembered her home, but it would make a nice change. At least then she wouldn’t have nurses waking her up at all hours of the night with the flimsiest excuses. She thought anyone going into nursing must have a sadistic streak.

In addition, there had been several visits by some old colleagues of hers from the symphony—people she didn’t recognize, of course. They’d held stilted discussions on topics she had remembered little to nothing about. It had been a wearing couple of days.

Adrianna clicked off the television, wondering if she had time for a short nap before her parents returned—if she feigned sleep when they arrived, would they leave again or sit quietly so she could rest?

She appreciated that they loved her and wanted to make her comfortable, but the constant questions from her mother about whether she needed something—water, snacks, a new book to read, a movie to break the monotony—was more than she could bear. She held her tongue, knowing her mother was just happy to have her alive and healing, but she needed a little room to breathe.

“Good, you’re up. We weren’t sure if you would be,” a male voice said from the doorway.

Adrianna looked up and saw a tall, sandy-haired man standing in the hall outside her door with Aiden in his arms. “Unless you’ve had some major plastic surgery and a hair color change overnight, you couldn’t be my brother. How’d you come across his boy there?” She smiled as Aiden turned to look at her.

“Anna, Gavgav.” Aiden clapped his hands.

“Gavgav?” Adrianna asked, recognizing him from the photo album, which still sat on a nearby table. She had studied it several times now. “As in, the amazing Gavin who’s picked up the slack at work?” His picture hadn’t done him justice, she thought as she took in the breadth of his shoulders, the raw-boned structure of his face which looked like it hadn’t seen a razor in a couple of days, and the hugeness of his hands as they gently cradled the toddler. She noticed his hands were not soft or manicured, then felt guilty and wondered why she cared. There was nothing wrong with a man being meticulous about his appearance.

“I’m not doing anything he wouldn’t have done in return. Or hasn’t done for me when I needed it.” The man tickled the little boy, then set him on the side of the bed. Aiden wrapped his arms around Adrianna in a hug.

“I appreciate it all the same.” She noticed a bag covered in ducks slung over one of Gavin’s shoulders. “Diaper bag?” she asked. She couldn’t help but be amused by the sight of this very virile male carrying a bag covered in cartoon birds.

“Oh, yeah.” He didn’t seem the least embarrassed to be toting around something so cutesy. She couldn’t see Brock doing that. Then again, she hardly knew Brock, maybe she was wrong. Her eyes returned to Gavin’s face when he spoke again. “Your parents were supposed to be here all afternoon. The babysitter had a family emergency, and I needed to run to town for the business, so I agreed to bring him along. Your mother said it wouldn’t be a problem.”

She watched Gavin, noticed how he seemed uncertain about her reaction. “It’s fine. I appreciate your willingness to bring Aiden. I don’t imagine you get a lot of practice pacifying a child on a car ride.”

“Uh, no. But he’s no trouble at all. I, uh, thought you might be getting sick of television, and I know you can’t play the piano here,” he chuckled lightly. “So I brought you a book. It’s in the side pocket.”

Taking her eyes from his face, she found the pocket and unzipped it, discovering a thin, ragged volume of Agatha Christie. She looked back at him, a little confused.

“I know books aren’t usually your thing, but she’s brilliant. I think you’ll be surprised.” He flushed, and that tinge of embarrassment only made him more appealing.

Adrianna looked at the book in her hands. She turned the pages and felt the old pages between her fingers. “Thank you.” She looked up and met his eyes.

Still, he seemed uncertain. He nodded. “There are several stories in there, they should keep you interested. Hercule Poirot is a great character.”

When he moved to draw away, she reached out and grabbed his wrist, then met his brown eyes. “Gavin, did we get along okay? Was it awkward like this before?” She wasn’t sure where she was getting the courage to ask him point blank. Something drew her to him, though. They must have been friends. She felt . . . something around him she didn’t notice with anyone else.

“No, it was fine.” He shrugged and averted his eyes.

“So why are you acting like you think I might bite?”

He smiled and visibly relaxed. “I know I’m a stranger to you now. I’m not sure where your boundaries are and don’t want to make you uncomfortable. You’ve been like a sister to me for years.”

Finally someone who doesn’t assume I’ll remember them when I didn’t remember anyone else. That fact alone made her more comfortable with him. “Then for heaven’s sake, please don’t treat me like I’m about to break. I have a mother for that.” She rolled her eyes and muttered, “And she does go on.”

He grinned and only took half a step back when she released his wrist. “Yes, she has for as long as I’ve known her. I ought to go as soon as your parents return, but Aiden has eaten plenty. Not that chicken nuggets and fries is exactly a healthy meal.”

“Better than M&Ms. If my parents don’t go home soon, I think my mom’ll have him converted strictly to chocolate and cookies.” She spoke low, almost conspiratorially.

It was lucky she had lowered her voice, she thought, as her parents rounded the corner into the room just then. “Oh, you’re here already. You can’t count on good child care anywhere these days, I swear. And heaven forbid, she miss one of her precious classes.” Her mother settled her hand on her hip as she spoke. “Gavin, see if you can cut Jake loose a little more often, would you? He has family responsibilities to see to.” She turned to Aiden. “And there’s my baby. Grandma has candy.” She pulled a package of M&Ms from her pocket and waved them in front of him.

Adrianna glanced at Gavin, who covered a smile with the wipe of his hand. “It was good seeing you again, Mrs. Mueller, Mr. Mueller. I better get going. Adrianna, I hope you continue to improve.” He waved and left.

Adrianna smiled as he left the room, then turned to her mother, half-wishing she could escape with Gavin and take the over-sugared toddler along.

The next three chapters of this story can be found here.

This book is available in ebook format on Smashwords, Kindle, and Nook, (for only $1.99) and will be available in paper copies on Amazon.com next week. If this segment interests you, come back for more next week!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Medical Monday: What your character can expect when they dial 911 in a heart attack. Also, CPR

Last week I talked about what happens on the EMT side of things when we get called out to a heart attack, so this week I’m going to approach it from the other direction. I think most people are aware of the usual signs: pain in the jaw radiating down the left arm (or sometimes both arms), chest pain (ranging from mild to excruciating), back pain, shortness of breath, and nausea—these are all typical symptoms for men, who may experience some or all of them.

But did you know women often don’t show any of the classic symptoms? Sometimes they do show them, but often when women talk to us, they say they’ve felt sick, or maybe they’ve just felt ‘off’ for a while, when what they’ve been feeling is heart attack symptoms. Because of this, when we respond to a woman with odd complaints, a lot of times we’ll put on the heart monitor just to see if there’s anything going on there.

People who have previously had heart problems often have a prescription for nitroglycerin, which is a TINY pill that the patient puts below their tongue and allows to dissolve there. They might also have been directed to take four of the low-dose aspirin. These used to be referred to as baby aspirin. These are the 82 mg aspirin. And yes, people, baby aspirin is still aspirin, if you’re allergic to one, you’re allergic to both. (Yes, this is a common misconception.) The best way to administer aspirin is to chew it up, then either stick it under the tongue, or hold it in your mouth against the cheek. This is because it will absorb into the blood stream faster in these places than from the stomach.

Now, if your viewpoint character is a bystander, rather than the patient, they’re going to call 911. Every dispatch department has slightly different dialogues they run, but our local department answers the call: “911, what’s the address of the emergency?”

Hopefully your character knows where he or she is because sometimes the addresses that come up on the computer the dispatcher sees aren’t accurate, and if your character is calling from a cell phone, the cell tower triangulation system isn’t always right, even in big cities, though it’s getting better all the time. If you aren’t sure if the 911 system has your address right, you can call your local dispatch center and arrange to check (they’ll have you call 911, but calling the dispatch line first is a good idea in case they’re busy with a REAL emergency right then.).

Once the dispatcher knows where the emergency is, he or she will ask what the emergency is, this is so they know what kind of assistance they need to send out and so the ambulance (since one is going to be needed in this scenario) knows what to prepare for before they reach the emergency. Where you live may determine what resources are dispatched as much as what the actual emergency is. In a city with a department that runs both ambulance and fire trucks the dispatcher will sometimes send an ambulance and a fire truck for things like heart problems. It possible they could dispatch an officer as well, but usually only if there’s reason to believe one might be needed.

In my small town we don’t usually have a fire truck dispatched to medical emergencies unless we need extra muscles (our EMTs are mostly women), but I’d say 95% of all calls that the ambulance goes out on, we get at least one sheriff’s deputy on scene, sometimes two. Usually, they arrive before we do (which we love!). I know of other small towns that routinely call out a fire truck to assist on every medical call even though they are separate departments, so you can run it either way.

Okay, your character has called 911, given out the address, and explained the symptoms. If the patient is unconscious, the Emergency Medical Dispatcher (EMD) will then give directions to the bystander for doing CPR if they’re willing and calm enough to do compressions. Again, in a small town the deputy or police officer may arrive first. They don’t do CPR, but can check for heart rate and breaths and relay that information to the EMTs so when the ambulance arrives, they have better information than the bystander might have given dispatch. Also, our state troopers all carry oxygen and masks in their cars, though I don’t think the deputies do, so sometimes the patient already has oxygen when we arrive.

Then the EMTs and maybe firefighters arrive. Look at last week’s post for specifics on what they will do.

Okay, now for CPR. The American Heart Association puts out new CPR guidelines every few years as they continue to do more research. The latest protocol for the average person who sees someone go into cardiac arrest is just to do compressions. No breaths.

They found that first: there’s ten minutes worth of oxygen in the blood when someone experiences the heart attack, so breathing isn’t nearly as important as it was once believed to be. Second, when you do compressions right, it actually forces some air in and out of the lungs, so you are oxygenating the blood a little. Third: whenever you stop doing compressions to give breaths, the blood pressure in the brain goes down quickly, and keeping oxygen going to the brain is very important for the patient’s recovery.

And fourth: a lot of people weren’t doing CPR because they didn’t want to do mouth-to-mouth on people they didn’t know--and I don’t blame them. Sometimes the nicest, cleanest cut people out there can end up having really bad illnesses you don’t want to catch. As I mentioned last week, a large percentage of CPR patients end up vomiting, and no one wants to have that happens while they’re doing rescue breathing. Unless you’re in a very out-of-the-way area, chances are the ambulance will arrive within ten minutes, so compressions are the key. On the other hand if you find someone who is already down and you don't know how long they've been out, then rescue breaths are a good idea (if you know the person).

A few tips (and really, go take a CPR class, lots of times they’re offered in your communities, and if you contact fire/ambulance departments, you can often get them to come teach a class for free to your church group, club, or other organization.). If you just need a refresher, here's a Youtube video with great directions. When we teach or practice compressions, we do one for every beat in the Bee Gees song “Stayin’ Alive.” If you haven’t heard it recently, you can find it here, and yes, that’s a pretty fast.

Also, an interesting thing you should note: doing chest compressions properly almost always results in broken ribs on adults. For me as the person doing CPR, that means I’m going to feel popping under my hands during the first few compressions. For your character (assuming they live), that means weeks of chest pain as the ribs heal.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Writing Wednesday: Blank Slate

Every week I'm going to post a segment from one of my books here on my blog. Today I'm posting the first three chapters of Blank Slate, which is available in ebook format on Smashwords, Kindle, and Nook, (for only $1.99) and should be available in paper copies on Amazon.com shortly (like next week--I'm crossing my fingers!) If this segment interests you, come back for more next week!

Chapter One

d

Laura looked out the bus window at the rain, which grew worse every minute, and said yet another silent prayer that all would be well. She finished the text message to her sister on her cell phone. She listened to the hum of women chatting nearby, and more specifically, to the two women talking in the seats in front of her.

“And here’s one with my brother’s family—isn’t his son cute? I just adore him—and the one next to it is me and my fiancé.”

That comment drew Laura’s attention and she craned her neck to see the picture Adrianna, the woman she had met just that morning, held up for the silver-haired woman seated beside her. She felt a yearning in her chest as she saw the happiness on their faces, then scolded herself. Of course the picture was happy—no one carried around photos of people scowling. “He’s beautiful,” Laura said.

Adrianna looked back and smiled at her.

The comment could have applied equally well to any of those pictured—but it was the baby boy who charmed Laura. While her sister Sandra and best girl friends had all married early and started families, Laura seemed no closer to the goal at twenty-seven than she had been at nineteen. She felt a twinge of jealousy every time Sandra, announced another pregnancy—and she just had child number four. A lot of the people Laura worked with were still single and happy with their freedom, but she couldn’t help wishing for something more.

“What are you doing back there?” Adrianna asked, peering over the seat.

Laura closed the message and passed up her phone. “It’s my electronic brain. I swear I’d never be able to keep track of things without it. Between church meetings and the fall school booster club schedule I’m always a bit distracted.”

Adrianna looked at it and shook her head. “My brother has something similar but I’ve never been able to run the thing. I’m strictly a day planner woman. I have a cell phone, but I’m not really great at remembering to charge it.” She scrolled through the menu, but looked lost. “Do you have Solitaire on here?”

“Of course.” Grinning, Laura set up a game for Adrianna. “Mind if I take a closer look at your pictures? Where were they taken?”

“My parents have this waterfall and pond in their yard. It’s the perfect backdrop.” Adrianna handed back her wallet and flipped to the next photo, which showed her with her fiancé. “When Brock and I got engaged last spring, we and my brother’s family went out for a visit. It was really nice. After decades of living in the city, my parents packed it all up a few years back and moved to Nebraska. Though their store keeps them plenty busy, Mom says she likes the slower pace there. After all the years she spent getting me into the symphony circuit, she claimed she needed a change. Their house already had the stream; they just shifted things around to make the waterfall.”

“It’s beautiful. They must really enjoy it.” Laura glanced up as the bus swerved slightly and again she hoped everything would be all right. There were an unusually large number of cars on the road tonight, a fact she couldn’t miss as the driver sat directly in front of Adrianna’s seat. Laura returned to studying the picture. She knew from asking earlier in the trip that Adrianna was two years younger than herself and was getting married in a little over a month to a symphonic conductor. Studying the picture only emphasized how much she and Laura looked alike.

It wasn’t just in their dark hair and eyes, height and build, but they could be sisters—maybe even twins. They both had oval faces with high cheekbones and rounded noses, though Adrianna’s was slightly thinner. Their eyes were dark brown, and both wore their hair long, but Laura’s was down to her waist—several inches longer than Adrianna’s. It was no wonder they’d been mistaken for each other throughout the women’s retreat to St. Louis.

The only noticeable feature that differed for them was the scar that ran along the underside of Laura’s right jaw—a remnant of a Little League softball game. No doubt Adrianna’s life on the symphony circuit meant she also lacked the numerous other minor scars scattered around Laura’s body—reminders of her many trips to the ER as a kid and some visits that were not so distant.

Laura looked up when the woman seated next to Adrianna flipped the light off over them. Her gaze was drawn out the window when something large and dark flipped in front of a pair of headlights. She felt her fingers grasp tightly on the wallet in her hand as the bus driver called out for everyone to brace themselves.

She clenched her eyes as a large white vehicle that had been heading north-bound on the other side of the freeway slammed into the charter bus. As Laura was thrown from her seat, she heard the sounds of metal ripping, windows exploding, and screaming women before everything went blank.

d

Gavin worked on a permit for a new home he and his partner, Jake, had just contracted to build—an event that was becoming more regular in their growing business. Though he could handle office work and the endless stream of forms contracting required, he’d much rather have been on the job hanging sheetrock or installing windows. He rubbed his eyes and double-checked the numbers. He couldn’t afford any mistakes on this form. If they were going to get the client into his new home on time, this plan had to be approved in the city planning meeting the next day.

Holding back a groan as he shifted in his seat, he tried not to think of the football game he would have to watch by DVR or of his grumbling stomach. If he focused on the paperwork for another thirty minutes, he would still be able to enjoy his leftover pizza and game tonight. He pulled out his cell phone and dialed his partner to clarify a detail on the contract. “Hey, Jake,” he said when his partner answered. “I had a couple of questions.”

“Adrianna’s been in an accident,” Jake’s voice said in a rush, jarring Gavin from his work. “Now’s not a good time.”

Gavin immediately hit save and stood from his computer. “Where is she? What happened?” He was fond of Jake’s little sister, and worried for his friend.

“I got a call from St. Joseph Medical Center in Kansas City. Her bus crashed.”

“I’ll meet you there.” Gavin pulled his keys from his pocket as he hurried out.

d

Hours passed while Gavin sat with Jake and his wife, Megan, in the waiting room. He flipped through ancient muscle car magazines and listened to the clipped footsteps of hospital staff hurrying past the door. Jake turned on a local news station for a while but other than the forty-five seconds the reporters spent on the accident, no one listened to the television.

The doctors hadn’t let them see Jake’s sister yet because she was in surgery. It sounded like she’d been banged up almost past the point of recognition. Since they’d grown up down the street from each other, Adrianna had always been part of Gavin’s world, if only on the fringes. Her life as a well-known piano soloist was light years away from his world of cement and 2x4s.

Jake, on the other hand, had been Gavin’s closest friend for over two decades. When there was trouble, they were always there for each other, so he waited. Midnight came and went, and still there was no word.

The clock ticked and the cushions on the seats seemed to thin by the moment. Other patients’ families came and went while the three of them continued to count the ticks of the clock. Though Gavin tried to get Jake and Megan to eat something, neither had seemed interested. When he grabbed food for them anyway, Jake finished his almost absentmindedly. Megan mostly picked at hers while she verbally reviewed good memories with her sister-in-law, interspersing her chatter with worries and fears.

Jake took turns sharing memories with his wife and talking with Gavin about the construction jobs they were handling. He cracked his knuckles every ten minutes, a nervous habit he’d had for as long as Gavin had known him. Finally, they all dropped into silence and waited while the clock hands slowly rotated around its face.

When sleep dragged at Gavin and he wondered if he’d be able to pull himself out of bed when the alarm went off in four hours, a woman in a white lab jacket entered the room. “Jacob Mueller?”

Jake and Megan jumped to their feet. Gavin rose more slowly, stiff from sitting so long.

“I’m Jake. Do you have news about Adrianna?”

“We’ve just finished the first round of surgeries.”

“The first round?” Jake looked stunned. When Megan reached out and rubbed a comforting hand over her husband’s back, Gavin shoved his fists in his pockets. He felt supremely useless. He saw the mixed relief and worry on Jake’s face and wished there were something he could do to help.

“There will be more if she recovers, but she needs to get stronger before we finish the basic plastic surgery. She was really beaten up. It’s a miracle she lived at all with the amount of damage the accident caused. They had to restart her heart several times before we got her to the operating table.”

Jake turned ashen at the news. “If she recovers?”

The brunette removed a pair of glasses and slid them into the front pocket of her lab coat. “She has an amazing will to live or she wouldn’t have made it this far. I have to warn you though; it might be a while before she wakes. She was unconscious when she came in, and she may remain in a coma for some time. The surgery went well but it’ll be touch and go for a while yet.”

“For how long?”

Gavin wondered if Jake would be able to stay upright and stepped closer, taking his friend by an elbow. Jake leaned against him.

“There’s no way to know.” The doctor looked solemn. “I think her chances of recovery are at least fifty-fifty, but it’s a waiting game for now. Come with me.”

A few minutes later, the three of them arrived at the room where Adrianna lay. She would be moved to the ICU in a while.

Gavin had never seen her looking so vulnerable before—not since she was in elementary school. No, he told himself, not even then. Weak was not a word one generally used to describe Adrianna Mueller. Her face was swathed in bandages, her hair had been cut short, nearly to the nape of her neck in some places, and she was deathly still despite the beeping noises and flashing lights of the machines all around her. A lump filled his throat as he wondered if he’d ever see her laughing brown eyes again.


Chapter Two

d

Machines beeped around her and light speared through the slits in her eyelids as she tried to open them. Her whole body ached, her hands felt heavy, and there was something on her face making a hissing noise. She moved a shoulder and moaned as a jolt of pain shot through her.

“Adrianna, come on honey, wake up. We’ve been waiting for you to finish your beauty sleep for ages.” The woman’s voice was young and gave off the impression she was teasing, despite the emotion that filled it. Her grip was tight and she gave the invalid’s arm a slight shake.

Blinking and trying to adjust to the light, Adrianna—that must be her name, as the woman seemed to be speaking to her—peered around the room. Her eyes were gritty, but though she couldn’t remember how she got there, or why, she could tell it was a hospital room.

She tried wetting her lips but her mouth was dry. Turning, she focused on the brunette hovering near her as she reached to touch something at the top of the bed. A voice came from a speaker above Adrianna’s head, startling her. “Can we help you?”

“She’s awake. You said to let you know,” the woman said.

“Yes, thank you. We’ll send someone right in.”

The woman looked back at her, tears in her eyes and a smile on her face. “Jake’s going to be so disappointed he wasn’t in the room when you finally woke. We’ve all been taking turns sitting with you as much as possible. Brock was here for days before he had to return to Chicago for practices. He’s been on the phone every few hours asking for updates. Your dad finally dragged your mom back to Nebraska only yesterday. She’s going to be so ticked that you waited until she left before you woke up.”

Searching her fuzzy memory, Adrianna couldn’t remember anyone by the name of Jake or Brock. A nurse walked in and started poking and prodding, asking her to move her fingers and feet, to squeeze the nurse’s hands. Then she gave Adrianna something for the increasing pain.

Before Adrianna had time to ask questions, she slipped back to sleep.

d

Gavin walked into the construction office and saw Jake headed toward him. For the first time in nearly two weeks, Jake wore a genuine smile. He stopped to pound Gavin on the back. “Adie’s awake! I was starting to wonder if it would ever happen.” He rushed out.

The door closed on the sound of Jake’s truck gunning out of the parking lot. A grin covered Gavin’s face until he looked at Tara, who was emptying her personal belongings from the desk. Her mouth was set, and she avoided his gaze as she shoved papers into a bag.

“What’s going on?” he asked.

She flashed green eyes up at him. “I’m wasting my life here. I’m an excellent office manager, but I’ve always known my future was on the big screen.”

He’d seen the way her eyes glowed over the past couple of weeks whenever she talked about acting—ever since she’d gotten a nice write up for her performance as Ado Annie in the community theater’s production of Oklahoma! Still, this was a shock. “Hold on. What?”

“I’d planned to give my notice a couple of weeks ago, but with Jake’s sister in the hospital I couldn’t do it to you. Now she’s awake and I’m not waiting another day. I’m sorry to leave you in the lurch like this.” She grabbed the bags and slung her purse over her shoulder. “I’m heading to LA in the morning.”

“Whoa, hold on! You can’t be serious?” Tara ought to give him at least a week’s notice, considering how many times he’d let her flex her work hours around musical practices. “Please, just give me another week. I need time to find a replacement.” He wasn’t above begging.

She shot him a smug grin. “Good luck with that.” She sailed past him and out the door with a “Ciao” called out behind her.

Gavin felt a headache coming on.

d

When Adrianna woke again, there was a man by her side. Tall, dark, and handsome, she thought, but completely unfamiliar despite the fact he held her hand. She felt a little stronger this time, though she still couldn’t remember what had happened. She moved to pull her hand from the stranger’s grip, but the movement called his attention to her.

“Hey, Adie, how’re you feeling?”

It took two tries to make her vocal chords work at all, and when she did speak, they ached and her voice sounded like sandpaper. “Awful. Water?”

“Of course, I’ll see if I can give you some. Just a minute.” He feathered his fingers down her arm, as if afraid he might hurt her, then gave her wrist a gentle squeeze. “I’ll be right back.”

A nurse bustled in with him when he returned. She asked Adrianna questions, poked and prodded, and adjusted her IV drip. She allowed her patient some ice chips, but nothing more. “Can you tell me what happened to you?”

Adrianna tried to think back, but couldn’t. She shook her head, instantly regretting it. “No. I don’t remember anything.” Her throat ached, and she didn’t think it was only because it was dry or because she hadn’t spoken lately.

“Do you remember your name?”

What had that woman called her before? It was all fuzzy. She shook her head again. “I don’t know.” Her voice was still scratchy and it hurt to talk. Instead of continuing to speak, she chose to shrug—which sent pain shooting through her shoulder. She sucked in a breath, feeling helpless.

The man squeezed her hand. “You’re Adrianna.” His voice was filled with emotion.

When she looked back at him, she saw tears in his eyes. “Adrianna?” The name sounded foreign, but she liked it. It was a pretty name.

“Can you tell me what month it is?” The nurse brought the attention back to herself.

Adrianna looked out the window to see a few yellow leaves on the tree outside. “October?” It was a reasonable guess.

The nurse smiled. “What about the president of the United States?”

That one she thought she remembered, and judging from the relieved look on the man’s face, she must have been right. Several more questions followed, most of which she couldn’t answer, but she did know money was green and she lived in Kansas. However, she didn’t think those were noteworthy accomplishments.

By the time the nurse left, Adrianna felt drained and ready for another nap, but the man began talking to her.

“Everyone’s been asking for you. We were all sick with worry, not knowing if or when you’d wake up and how it would affect you.” He held her hand in his and ran his thumb over her palm, as if he couldn’t stop reassuring himself she was really there and awake.

“How long have I been asleep?”

“More than ten days.”

Ten days? When a search of her all-too blank mind turned up no identity for her companion, she looked up at the tanned face, which was tired and full of worry lines, despite the fact he couldn’t be more than late twenties, if that. “I’m sorry,” she paused to clear her throat, and immediately regretted it. “I don’t know who you are.”

His hands stilled on hers and he let out a low breath. When he spoke, his words were halting, as if it hurt to speak them. “They warned me there might be temporary memory loss, but that it’s not common. I hoped . . . well, I’m Jake. Your brother.” His voice broke and he swallowed, his eyes glistening with tears that didn’t fall. He closed his eyes and his lips pressed together for a long moment before he spoke again. “It’s okay, we’ll help you remember.”

Adrianna felt powerless in the face of his pain. What was she supposed to do or say? ‘I’m sorry’ seemed terribly inadequate. She frantically tried to find any reference to the man in her memory. She wished she could take away the pain she saw on his face. How long would this last, and would anything feel right again? She closed her eyes and sank back into darkness.


Chapter Three

d

When Adrianna became conscious again, she learned it had been a day and a half since she first woke. A woman who introduced herself as Dr. Fines, entered shortly after Adrianna finished lunch.

“How are we today?” the doctor asked as she looked over the chart.

“I’m okay,” Adrianna said, her voice still raspy. “If you forget about the fact that I ache all over, it hurts to talk, I seem to have lost most of my hair, and don’t remember anything.” She tried for a wry smile, but wasn’t sure she succeeded. Just semi sitting up long enough to eat had taken a lot out of her—even though the head of the bed had been raised to support her. She shifted the air tube taped to her face so it was more comfortable in her nose.

“How bad is the pain on a scale of one to ten, with ten being the worst you’ve ever felt?”

“I don’t remember feeling pain before,” she joked.

The doctor chuckled. “All right, let’s try the worst you can imagine then.”

“About a three when I move around, less when I’m still. I don’t want to try going without the painkillers yet, even though they make me loopy. I don’t think I’m really a fan of pain. My ribs are incredibly sore.”

Dr. Fines smiled. “You let me know if the aching grows worse, and we’ll up your dosage, but you’re probably at a good level now considering how hurt you were. You had some internal damage that’s healing nicely, including many broken ribs—both from the accident and the CPR—and head trauma, including a lot of damage to your face. The sore throat was caused by the accident and the tube they put in your throat to keep your airway open.”

“Then I guess I should thank someone for making my throat hurt,” Adrianna joked. She touched the bandages covering most of her face. She didn’t want to scare young children. “Will I have bad scars?”

“We’ll arrange for a plastic surgeon to take care of that when you’re a little stronger. He’s seen you once to take care of the worst parts, but you’ll need another surgery. With today’s advances, there should be minimal scarring after everything heals. That will, however, take quite a bit of time.”

Time, she could live with. Adrianna smiled in relief and touched the shorn ends of her hair, cut almost to the top of her neck where it was uneven. Moving her arm to that position was like trying to move it through molasses. She figured the latest dosage of pain medication must be working. “My hair?”

“Did it used to be long?”

She felt her brow furrow. “I don’t remember much, but I think so. It feels wrong so short. It doesn’t feel like a salon cut either.” She tried for a note of levity. The ragged ends felt more like the type of cutting job you’d expect from a four-year-old.

“I think I remember something in the report about it being stuck under the bus frame. The ambulance crew probably cut it on scene to extricate. It’ll grow back, and that handsome man in the waiting room doesn’t seem to mind.” Dr. Fines flashed Adrianna a grin. She checked one of the machines positioned at the top of the bed. “You’re doing really well. I expect we’ll move you out of the ICU tomorrow, then all your adoring fans will be able to visit.”

Adrianna looked at the abundance of get-well cards stacked beside her. “I seem to have a lot of friends. Too bad I don’t remember any of them.” She flashed the doctor a weak smile, trying not to let the reality unnerve her. She wasn’t sure if the doctor could tell she was smiling, what with most of her face still being covered in bandages. “Who’s in the waiting room? My brother?”

“No, your fiancé. He’s anxious to talk to you, but we kicked him out for a few minutes. I’m sure he’ll be back soon.”

“I have a fiancé?” She searched her memory. Surely if she was marrying the man she should remember him. The thought gave her hope until she realized if she was going to remember anyone, wouldn’t it have been the brother she’d grown up with? Yet there had been no hint of recollection when she’d met Jake.

The doctor laid a hand on Adrianna’s shoulder and looked her in the eye. “Give it time. In nearly all cases like yours, the memory returns after a while. Your family will help you along. You’re very lucky to have so many people who care about you. And honestly, you shouldn’t have survived that wreck.”

Not completely sure she wanted the answer, Adrianna decided she had to know. “Someone mentioned it was a bus accident. Was anyone else badly hurt?”

Dr. Fines set the clipboard on the table, then turned and looked Adrianna in the eye. “The couple in the SUV that hit you didn’t make it, and I understand two women in the bus died as well. Many others were hospitalized, but most have been released. I don’t have any more specific information than that. Your family may know more.”

Adrianna nodded, but asked no more questions as the doctor completed her visit.

d

“Adrianna, I’ve been so worried about you!”

She looked up to see a tall, blond man enter the room wearing a black pinstripe suit she instinctively knew didn’t come off the rack. He settled on the chair next to her and took her hands—his were soft, unlike Jake’s. Did he have them manicured? Her curiosity overcame her desire to remove her hands from this stranger’s grasp and she looked at them more closely. Hmmm, they were.

Without pausing to introduce himself, he began to make excuses. “I can hardly believe you’re awake. I’d have come the moment you woke up, but I had a practice this morning I couldn’t get out of—not with Lockwood making time in his schedule to play with us. Chandler will take care of practice tomorrow so I can be here with you.” He leaned over her. “I’ve missed you so much.”

Adrianna wished she remembered anything about this man. She’d been uncomfortable when he took her hands, but when he moved in to kiss her, she tried to shift away. He didn’t seem to notice, closing in on her. She turned her head and he ended up brushing his lips against the bandages on her cheek.

When he backed up enough that she could get a closer look, she studied him for a moment. He appeared to be the type who was active, but not rigorously so. His face was probably what one would refer to as heart-shaped, but was marred by dark smudges under his eyes, making it clear he hadn’t been getting much sleep lately. His brown eyes watched her, as though he needed reassurance she wasn’t going anywhere and his brow was furrowed. Apparently he didn’t understand why she’d turned away from his kiss.

“Um, I’m sorry. Who are you?” She didn’t care if he was the fiancé the doctor had mentioned—she didn’t know him, and she wasn’t comfortable with his touching.

He sat back in his seat in consternation. His lips moved for a moment before any words came out. When he spoke, he sounded baffled. “They told me you had some memory loss. I thought surely, I mean, we’re getting married in a few weeks—or we were supposed to. Everything’s on hold now, of course, but . . .” His hands released hers and returned to his lap. “I’m Brock.”

“I’m sorry, Brock. I’m sure this is as awkward for you as it is for me.” Adrianna tried to soothe him as she searched her mind for something—anything—about this man that felt familiar. Nothing. It made her head ache, or rather, made it ache more, wondering when she’d remember these people who obviously cared for her. “Could you tell me how we met?”

He wet his lips and stared at her. “You play the piano for the Kansas City Symphony. I’m a conductor. I worked in town here for several years before being offered the job in Chicago—which is where we’re moving after we’re married. Actually, I moved there a few months ago. You’re coming after the wedding. You’ve already made promises to appear with a few groups. I’ve put a hold on all of your appearances for now, but we can reschedule them as soon as you’re up to it.” His voice dropped off at the end.

She bit her lip and twisted her fingers on top of the blankets. “You must be quite good at what you do, to be a conductor when you’re so young.” I play classical music on the piano? I do appearances in other cities? In front of large crowds? What am I, a masochist?

“Yeah, well, I started young. Like you. Our love for music is one of the things that drew us together.” He reached for her hand again, this time more tentatively.

“Tell me about us.” Adrianna flexed her hands. She didn’t move away from his touch, though she considered doing so. He was still a stranger to her, but she didn’t want to offend him—she wanted to know about her life. He told her of their first meeting.

“You had just gotten back from your European tour—”

“I toured Europe?” Adrianna interrupted, shocked and pleased at the thought. It sounded exciting and scary all at once.

“Yes, well, it was your second time over there, but you didn’t have as much recognition the first trip, so you managed to get into more and better concert halls this time. You came back flush with success. I’d been living in Kansas City for about a month when you returned, working with the normal conductor. Henry had done nothing but sing your praises since my arrival and I was starting to think no one could be as incredible as he claimed you were. I’d heard your tapes and enjoyed your performances, but hadn’t expected you to be so down to earth or fun to be around.”

Adrianna understood that. She didn’t feel all that incredible, after all. Down to earth seemed much more likely. “So how did we meet?” She noticed he didn’t really meet her gaze most of the time, keeping his eyes averted as if her appearance was difficult for him to handle. She hadn’t seen a mirror yet and wondered how horrible she looked.

“We had our opening night for the Messiah performances with a local choir and held the annual opening night party—which you came to, of course. Henry pulled you over to meet me about an hour after your arrival, but I’d had my eyes on you all night. You were gorgeous with that long fall of dark curls down your back.” He reached out and touched the uneven chunks of hair at her cheek, looking wistful. “Your eyes shone and your smile charmed.” His lips curved as he looked in her eyes. “You charmed everyone in the room. That was when you had a business manager, before I took over a few months back. He was always bringing important people over for you to meet and ensuring the right donors had a chance to make your acquaintance.”

He took her hand in his and pressed a kiss to the back, his lips no more than a light brush across her skin. Adrianna thought she ought to have felt a thrill at his touch, but she only felt a heightened curiosity. When he looked back at her bandaged face, she saw pain in his eyes and he looked away again.

“Finally, when I thought I might have to walk to you myself, extract you from James Fletcher’s grasp, Henry called me over for introductions. I took your hand in mine,” he squeezed her hand again, “looked you in the eye and knew you were the one for me. I asked you out that night, and the rest is history.”

Adrianna thought it sounded sweet and romantic, practically love at first sight—or at least a strong attraction, according to his version of the story. She wondered what she had thought and felt that first night. Had she written it down? She hoped so. She asked him more questions about their relationship, and he was happy to fill in all the details.

He stayed for two hours, talking about the past. It sounded nice, comfortable—except for the bits where she played solos in front of large audiences and mingled with the elite. That sounded terrifying, but she felt Brock was a good man who loved her. Her life seemed so foreign. She hoped she remembered it soon—for both their sakes.