I woke up during the night to the howl of the wind and the sound of rain beating against my window. I got up to go to the bathroom, and when I returned I turned out the light in my room and lifted the curtain to look outside. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness I could see that it was blowing hard; the trees were shaking and the rain was slanting down at about a forty-five degree angle. It was cold in my room, and when I got back into bed I pulled the comforter up around my neck, thinking as I often did of the many winter nights over the years when Kelly had come back to our bed and wrapped herself around me to get warm again. She had felt the cold far more than I did; it was a constant running joke between us that she had married a hot water bottle and I had married an ice pack.
I woke up again at around seven and got up shortly afterwards to go for a walk. The rain had stopped but the streets and pavements of the village were slick with ice and wet snow. I had to walk slowly to save myself from falling, and the few cars that passed me at that early hour of the morning were crawling along at a sluggish pace.
It was about nine o’clock by the time we sat down at the table in the kitchen to eat breakfast together. In answer to my query, my father told me that he had slept reasonably well and was feeling good, although I noticed that he ate his bacon and eggs very slowly. “How was the weather outside this morning?” he asked me.
“Cold and icy; the roads are pretty slick”.
“Is there much snow?”
“A little, but it’s mainly ice. I was awake at about two and I heard the rain coming down in sheets; it must have turned to sleet after that”.
“I hope everyone got home alright yesterday”.
“We would have heard by now if they hadn’t”, said Becca.
“Yes, I suppose so”. He glanced back at me; “Are you expecting some phone calls from Canada today?”
“I think Steve and Krista might call us a bit later on, but the person I’m actually expecting to hear from fairly soon is Owen”.
“He’d said they were coming out to see his dad and mum today, but with this weather I’m hoping they might change their minds and stay home”. I glanced at Becca; “Are you going home today?”
“I’m supposed to take over from Owen at noon”.
“Being on call, you mean?” Emma asked.
“You drive carefully now”, my mother said quietly.
“Don’t worry, Mum; I’ll be fine”.
Owen called me on my mobile phone just as we were finishing breakfast; I apologized, excused myself from the table, went out to the hallway and said “I hope you’re calling to tell me you’re staying home today”.
“Yes. The police aren’t advising travel, at least until mid-afternoon”.
“That’s good; you get a bit more time to enjoy your family”.
“Yes, and I might as well stay on call too. Tell Becca I can cover for her for the next twenty-four hour period”.
“Are you sure?”
“Okay. How was Christmas at your place?”
“Messy; very messy. How about you?”
“It was good; we had a pleasant family gathering and my brother even left his Blackberry at home”.
“Bit of an addict?”
“I’m afraid so. My dad’s brothers and their wives were here; I got to have a nice visit with my cousin Ann and her family”.
“You haven’t seen her for a while”.
“Not since we were here in ’97, even though she just lives in Oxford. We agreed that we’re going to try to get together again soon. She’s always kept in touch with me over the years; she’s the only one of my cousins that’s done that”.
“You’re going to miss seeing your family today”.
“Well, we see each other a lot so I’m not really worried. I think Fiona and Jeff are staying at Mum and Dad’s for the weekend; hopefully the weather will clear up tomorrow so we can get out”. I heard someone calling him in the background and he said, “Well, I’d better go; apparently there’s some sort of family snowballing thing going on outside!”
“You’ve got snow on the ground in town, then?”
“Yes; haven’t you?”
“Just a skiff”.
“We’ve got enough for snowballs here; the kids are pretty excited”.
“Give them my love, Owen; we’ll see you soon”.
“Bye for now, Tom”.
We spent our morning indoors; my father and Emma sat talking by the fireplace in the living room while Becca and I helped our mother finish the cleanup from the day before. At about eleven o’clock Becca made coffee, and we were just taking the tray into the living room when the phone rang in the hallway. My mother started to get up, but Emma, who was standing in the doorway, said “You stay where you are, Grandma – I’ll get it”.
“Thank you, my dear”.
Emma disappeared back into the hallway; Becca put the tray down on the coffee table and began to pour, and she was just handing the mugs around when I heard my daughter’s call: “Dad, could you come please?”
I was on my feet instantly, recognizing the note of urgency in her voice. Out in the hallway she was standing with the phone in her hand, her face pale.“What’s the matter?” I asked.
“It’s Auntie Alyson and she’s really upset – something about an accident involving Uncle Rick and Sarah”.
I took the phone from her hand, put it to my ear and said “Alyson, it’s Tom”.
“Oh Tom, thank God!” she sobbed; “I think it’s really bad! Rick was driving Sarah up to Woodstock to visit Brittany and he spun on the ice and got hit by a lorry and another car. They’ve been taken to the J.R. and the police say Sarah’s been badly injured!”
“Where are you calling from?” I asked as calmly as I could.
“A police car on the way to the J.R.”.
Becca appeared from the living room with a little frown on her face; I gave her a warning glance and then spoke into the phone again; “Can you tell me what you know?”
“A policeman came to our door a few minutes ago”, Alyson replied, struggling to hold back the tears. “He said…he said there’d been an accident on the Woodstock Road, a collision, and Rick and…and Sarah were both injured, and so was one of the other drivers. He said it sounded as if Sarah…as if Sarah had been very badly injured”.
“Where are Colin and Anna?”
“They’re at the house – I didn’t think I could look after them at the hospital as well as dealing with whatever happened there, so I…”
“Right”. I looked at Becca; “Rick and Sarah were in a car accident”, I whispered. “They’re both injured; the ambulance is taking them to the J.R. and Alyson’s on her way there right now in a police car”.
“They’ll go to the Trauma Unit”, she replied softly; “That’s where the ambulance will be going”.
I repeated this to Alyson, and then said, “Don’t worry; we’ll make sure Colin and Anna are okay and we’ll come and join you as quickly as we can”.
“Thank you, Tom: I – I’m going to need some help at the hospital”.
“We’re on our way; you hang in there”.
As I put the phone down my mother emerged from the living room; “Is everything all right?” she asked uneasily.
“I’m afraid not” I replied, and as my father appeared in the doorway behind her I repeated what Alyson had said to me. When I was finished we were all quiet for a moment, and then Becca said, “So we need to look after two things; someone needs to go to Eric and Anna to make sure they’re all right, and someone needs to go to the hospital right away to help Alyson”.
I glanced at Emma; “We’ll go to Eric and Anna”.
“Eric will want to go to the hospital”, said Emma.
“Then we should bring them both. Will you call Eric?”
She nodded, digging in her jeans pocket for her mobile as she turned away toward the back of the hall and went through the open door into the piano room. Becca looked at my parents and said, “I’d better go to the J.R.”.
“We’ll come with you”, my father replied.
Becca shook her head; “I don’t think that’s a good idea Dad”.
“If the injuries are serious they’ll take them through for surgery right away, and it will probably take a long time. We’re probably going to be sitting in waiting rooms until late tonight”.
“We’d like to be close, though”, my mother said.
“I know, Mum, and I understand, but believe me – it’s very unlikely that we’re going to get anywhere near them tonight; we’ll be with Alyson and the kids, not Rick and Sarah. And I think if we’re there for twelve or fourteen hours Dad’s going to be worn out”.
My father shook his head, and I saw the determination on his face. “This is my son and my granddaughter we’re talking about. I want to be there”.
My sister looked at him for a moment, and then nodded reluctantly; “Alright then. Let’s all remember that the roads are treacherous today so we can’t go fast. Tommy, I’ll go straight to the Trauma Unit with Mum and Dad; it’s on the north side of the J.R. and it’s got its own parking lot. I’ll probably get there before you, so when you arrive, wait for me in the reception area; I’ll come to you as soon as I can”.
“Where are you going to go?”
“As soon as I get there I’m going to try and find Alyson, and then I’m going to try to pull all the strings I can to find out what’s going on. But I’m only a GP, not one of the trauma surgeons, so I might not get very far”.
Emma slipped back into the hallway, putting her mobile back in her pocket. “Eric knows we’re coming”, she said to me; “He told me Anna’s really upset. He’s trying to reach his other grandparents in Edinburgh; his mom asked him to call them”.
“We’d better get going”, I replied.
Emma and I arrived at Rick’s house in Cumnor Hill just after noon. Eric and Anna were ready for us; by the time my car had come to a complete stop in the driveway they were already emerging from the front door, wrapped up warmly in winter coats and scarves. They climbed into the back of my car and Eric said, “Thanks for coming, Uncle Tom”.
“Have you heard anything else from your Mum?” I asked over my shoulder as I reversed the car out of the driveway.
“Were you able to get through to your Mackenzie grandparents?”
“Yes; they’re going to start out this afternoon some time”.
As we drove into Oxford I glanced at my rear view mirror and saw that Eric had his arm around his little sister; after a moment Emma reached back and took her hand as well. I kept my eyes on the road ahead; traffic was beginning to get busy despite the slippery conditions, and I guessed that the lure of Boxing Day sales was prompting people to brave the slick highways.
“I don’t know where we’re supposed to go when we get to the hospital”, Eric said.
“Becca told me to go to the Trauma Unit; that’s where they treat people who’ve had injuries in car accidents and things like that”.
“The policeman didn’t say anything about how bad their injuries are; he just said Sarah’s were more serious than Dad’s”.
I glanced at the two of them in my rear view mirror again; Eric had both his arms around Anna now. Emma squeezed her hand; “It’ll be okay”, she said softly. “They’re going to the best possible place; they’ve got some of the best doctors in the world there and they’ll look after them well”.
Anna didn’t reply, and after a moment Eric said “It was supposed to be Mum driving Sarah today”.
“What was happening?” I asked; “Was Sarah going to a party or something?”
“Not a party – just two or three friends getting together at Brittany Coleman’s in Woodstock”.
“She’s Sarah’s best friend”, Emma explained to me; “They’ve known each other since they were little kids”.
“Mum was going to drive her”, Eric continued, “But when she woke up this morning she had a bad headache – she gets them sometimes – and so Dad said he’d do it. He was really busy today; when I got up he was already working in his study”.
“He told me yesterday he had a big trial to get ready for”.
“Yes, I heard him tell Mum last night he was going to be working on it all day today”.
It took me a few minutes to find the car park for the Trauma Unit, and a few minutes more to find a parking spot; apparently the JR was a busy place on this Boxing Day. Once inside the main doors I looked around helplessly; people were walking here and there or sitting on chairs scattered about the reception area, and lines of people were waiting at the desks. Eric was still holding Anna’s hand; he looked at me and said “How are we going to find them?”
“Becca told us to wait here”.
“There’s Grandma and Grandpa”, said Emma, looking over to the far side of the room. I followed her eyes and saw my parents sitting at one end of a row of vinyl chairs with a plant pot beside them; my mother had just seen us, and as we made our way over to them she got to her feet and held out her arms to Anna. “It’s alright, darling” she said, drawing her close and holding her tight; “Auntie Becca’s gone to find them. She’ll be back in a few minutes to tell us what’s happening”.
“Are you okay, Dad?” I asked my father.
“I’m fine; Becca told us not to be worried if she was gone for some time”.
“Yeah, that’s what I was thinking”.
It was actually about twenty minutes later that my sister emerged from one of the elevators. She saw us immediately, came over and gave Anna a hug, and then put her hand on Eric’s shoulder. “You two come with me”, she said; “Your mum’s on one of the units and I’m going to take you to her”. She glanced up at the rest of us and said, “Sorry, they’ll only allow immediate family; I’ll come back as soon as I can and let you know what’s happening”.
“What is happening right now, Becs?” I asked.
“They’re both being prepped for surgery. I don’t know Rick’s surgeon but I heard someone say that Sarah’s surgeon is John Fellows; he’s an old friend of Owen’s from medical school days. He and I know each other a bit”.
“Right; I guess we’ll wait here then”.
“It could be a while, Tommy”.
Becca led Eric and Anna across to the elevator, and Emma and I sat down with my parents. “Shall I try to find a coffee machine?” she asked.
“That’s all right; I think I’ve had enough”.
And so we waited there for the next three or four hours, flipping absent-mindedly through magazines, talking quietly to each other, and getting up occasionally to stretch our legs. New people were coming in all the time; some were able to move on quickly but most, like us, sat down to wait, not knowing how long they would be waiting for. I tried to stop myself from continually checking my watch; the numbers seemed to be changing with excruciating slowness. At one point my father shook his head impatiently; “What the devil is taking so long!” he exclaimed.
“They said the injuries were serious, Dad”, I replied quietly.
“But why can’t Becca come and tell us something?”
“It’s possible that she’s the calming voice in there right now, with Alyson and the kids”.
He looked at me for a moment, and then he nodded and said, “You’re right, of course. I’m sorry – I just hate waiting, that’s all. And I hate this place”.
At about four o’clock in the afternoon Emma got up and went outside for a few minutes; she was finding the atmosphere stuffy, she said, and she needed a breath of fresh air. She had just returned and taken her seat again when I looked up and saw Becca coming across the room toward us. I immediately stood up; “Any news?” I asked.
“Sit down and I’ll fill you in”.
We took our seats, and Becca covered my mother’s hand with her own. “Rick’s got a broken arm and a broken leg, along with three broken ribs. He seems to have a mild concussion but the team doesn’t seem overly worried about that. They’re still working on him and he’s under general anaesthetic right now, but he was conscious when they brought him in”.
“What about Sarah?” Emma asked.
Becca shook her head; “Things are a lot more serious with her. Both her femurs are broken and one of them is an open compound fracture; the bone’s broken in three places. She’s also got several broken ribs, a broken wrist and a broken collarbone. Also both her lungs are collapsed, and she’s in a coma”.
“Yes. That’s probably the result of a severe blow to the head”.
Emma stared at Becca, her face pale. “Is she going to be okay?”
“They’re working on her right now to stabilize her. I think they’ll probably try to address the situation with the lungs and the compound fracture first, but I wasn’t in the operating room so I don’t know for certain”.
“So she’ll come out of the coma then?”
“We can’t know that, but the best thing for them to do is to assume she will, and to start to address her other injuries”.
My father took my mother’s other hand. “Becca, is her life in danger?” he asked softly.
“She’s in critical condition right now, Dad. I’ll feel a lot better if and when she comes out of the coma but it’s impossible to say when that might happen”.
“What do we know about the accident?”
“It happened on the A44 just south of Begbroke. As far as we can tell Rick lost control of his car on black ice and was struck by a lorry and also by a smaller car. He hit the meridian and flipped; his car was upright when it came to rest but the roof was badly damaged, so it must have gone all the way over, 360 degrees. I’m assuming that’s when Sarah sustained the blow to her head. Several other vehicles were involved in the accident and one of the other drivers was killed. The police aren’t releasing any names yet, for obvious reasons”.
“How are Alyson and the kids doing?” asked Emma.
“Alyson and Anna are really upset. Eric is too, but he’s doing his best to be there for his mum and his sister. Speaking of which – I should probably go back and give him a hand”.
I looked at Emma; she smiled at me as bravely as she could but I could see in her eyes that she was shaken by the news. I reached over and took her hand; “Are you going to be okay?”
She nodded; “Can we go and see them?” she asked Becca.
“Not yet – as I said, they’re both still in surgery”.
“Give Alyson and the kids hugs for me”.
“I will”. She glanced at my father; “Are you alright, Dad?”
“Don’t worry about me; we’ve got far more important things to think about!”
“Are you getting tired, though?”
“A bit, but I’ll be alright for a little while yet”.
“Will you two stay in my spare room tonight?”
My parents glanced at each other, and my mother said, “Let’s see how the evening goes, shall we? We can always take a taxi home if we need to”.
“Why don’t you find the cafeteria and have a bite to eat? I’ll ring Tommy’s mobile if anything important happens”.
“That sounds like a good idea”, I replied; “How long do you think, Becs?”
“I’ve really got no idea; it could be several hours yet”.
We stayed at the hospital until after ten o’clock. Rick was out of surgery by then, and Alyson and the children went in to see him briefly, but his nurse said he needed rest more than anything else, and after a few minutes she asked them to leave so that he could get some sleep. Sarah was in intensive care with a nurse monitoring her around the clock; Alyson was allowed in to her room briefly, but the rest of us were limited to looking at her through the window.
The next day was a Saturday. Shortly after one in the afternoon I stuck my head around the door of my brother’s room in the Trauma Unit. His right leg had a sort of pulley and weight contraption attached to it; his right arm was in a cast, and his chest was heavily bandaged. He was staring vacantly into space, and although he turned and looked at me when I entered the room, he seemed at first to be having difficulty focusing on my face.
“Does it feel as bad as it looks?” I asked.
He shrugged; “Not too bad at the moment, but then they’ve got me on a fairly heavy dose of pain killers. They’re making me a bit drowsy though, so you’ll have to forgive me if I nod off”.
“Do you mind if I come in?”
“Be my guest. Are you here by yourself?”
“Emma came with me but she’s gone down to Sarah’s room. Is there anyone else around yet?”
“Alyson was here for a while but she went to see how Sarah was doing. Mum and Dad are with her. Becca’s doing a Saturday morning clinic, I hear”.
I nodded. “I talked to her earlier on; she’ll be here soon”.
We lapsed into silence for a moment; he reached for a glass from the bedside table, sipped cold water through a straw, and then put it down again.
“Do you remember anything?” I asked gently.
“About the accident, you mean?”
He looked away. “I lost control of the car”, he said quietly. “I must have hit a patch of black ice; that’s what the police think. After that it’s all a bit hazy. Something big struck us on the passenger side; the police say it was a lorry. I’ve got a vague memory of colliding with another vehicle on the rebound, and then we hit the barrier – it’s a dual carriageway up there – and I must have been knocked out. When I came to, the car was upright but my head was touching the roof. Sarah was unconscious beside me, and she was covered in blood”. He glanced at me, and I saw the horror in his eyes. “God, Tom, I thought she was dead; she looked awful”.
“Have you heard anything about her this morning?”
“Apparently they put a chest tube in last night to drain the air from around the collapsed lungs”.
“The collapse would have been caused by punctures from the broken ribs?”
“Yes; she’s got five of them. I’ve got no idea why her injuries were so much worse than mine”. He shook his head; “I’d have been glad for it to be the other way around”.
“She’s still in a coma?”
“Yes”. He looked down; “They don’t seem to know how long that’ll go on for”.
He was quiet for a moment, looking down. I waited, not wanting to inadvertently say anything that might interfere with the raw honesty of our conversation.
“One of the other drivers was killed”, he said, his eyes still down.
“That’s what I heard”.
“Apparently she was a single mum”.
“I didn’t know that”.
“She had a two-year old boy at home”. He shook his head slowly; “Imagine being two years old and losing your mum”.
“Is Emma all right?”.
“She was a little shaken last night but I think she was doing okay this morning. What about your other two?”
“Alyson left them at home with her parents today; they got in from Edinburgh around eleven last night”. He glanced at me; “I heard you were the one who brought Eric and Anna in yesterday”.
“Thanks for that”.
“Not at all; it was the least we could do. Emma and your kids have been getting pretty close”.
“Emma’s special. She’s old for her age, isn’t she? I sometimes have to remind myself she’s only eighteen. Still, I suppose she’s had to do a lot of growing up in the last few years”.
He looked at me for a moment without speaking, and then he said, “You never know what life’s going to send your way, do you?”
“No, you don’t”.
He picked up the water glass for a moment, took another sip and stared away into space. “I wish I could see Sarah”, he whispered, “but I doubt if I’ll be able to get out of this room for a while”.
“Are they saying anything about how long you’ll be here?”
He gestured toward his broken leg. “They say it could take three months to heal properly. I’m not sure how soon I’ll be able to go home, but they’ve told me I’ll need to be very patient with myself. I’ll be off work for a while, I think – or at least, I won’t be going in to the office”.
“Someone else is going to have to cover that trial for you”.
“Yes; funny how completely unimportant that seems now”.
“I think I can understand”.
He nodded slowly; “Yes – I think you probably can”.
“How was Alyson this morning? She seemed pretty shaken yesterday”.
“Still the same, I think. She can be a bit fragile”.
“There’s not really much she cares about more than the children. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course, and with me working so much…”
“It’s the nature of the job, so I understand”.
He gave me a wry grin; “Dad and I have given you that lecture a few times, haven’t we?”
“I wonder how Dad feels about it right now”, he said softly, looking away toward the window.
“Have you asked him?”
“Me? Good heavens, no! The old man and I don’t talk on that level”. He frowned thoughtfully at me; “Have you?”
“You plan to, though?”
“If I can”.
As he opened his mouth to reply there was a gentle knock on the door. We both turned to look as my mother and Becca appeared in the doorway.
“Did you just get here?” I asked Becca.
“I’ve been here for a few minutes. Mum called and asked if I could come over a little earlier, so I gave away some appointments and came right away”.
“Is there a problem?” asked Rick.
My mother shook her head; “Not a problem – I just wanted her to be involved in a conversation we were having with Sarah’s doctor. He wants to do a procedure on her today”.
“What sort of procedure?”
“They want to insert a titanium rod into her left leg”.
Rick frowned; “That sounds rather drastic”.
“It’s standard procedure in situations like this”, Becca replied; “They might do the same thing for you in a few days. Sarah’s bone’s broken in three places and they need to fix it in position so it can knit together properly. The titanium rod is called an intramedullary nail; they’ll insert it into the marrow canal of the femur either at the hip or the knee and it’ll be screwed to the bone at both ends. It’ll keep it in proper position so it can heal”.
“How long will it be in place?”
“It’ll be permanent”.
“Permanent”. He looked away, shaking his head slowly. “This is going to affect her for the rest of her life, isn’t it?” he said quietly.
“She’ll be all right, Rick”, Becca replied softly; “Lots of people are walking around with these rods in their legs”.
“They’re just doing it on the one leg?”
“Yes; the other one isn’t so badly injured; it’s just a transverse fracture. They’re going to put it in traction and wait for a few days before they do anything”. She sat down on the other side of the bed from me. “This is just the first of several surgeries Sarah’s going to have, Rick”, she said. “It’s going to take a long time for her to come back from this. But she’s alive and she’s in good hands. I know you’re going to worry; that’s only natural. But the people here know what they’re doing; you can trust them”.
“Is she still in the coma?”
“Yes. There are no indictions at the moment as to when she’ll come out of it”.
“Or if she’ll come out of it”.
He was quiet for a moment, his eyebrows creased into a frown, and then he looked at Becca again; “So do they need my consent for this procedure?”
“They asked Alyson, but she said we should ask you too”.
“You think it’s a good idea?”
“As I said, it’s absolutely standard procedure”.
He nodded; “Right then – let’s do it”.
Becca got to her feet; “I’ll go and tell them”, she said.