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His long awaited bride, p.15

His Long-Awaited Bride, page 15


His Long-Awaited Bride

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  On Monday, she greeted him on his rounds with a huge smile, and the rest of her shift passed on an upbeat note. When he stopped by that evening to check on Lucy, she waited for him to suggest an outing.

  He left without inviting her for so much as an ice-cream cone.

  Tuesday would be the day, she thought. However, it, too, came and went without mention of any evening activity whatsoever. Although to be fair, she only saw him for the ten minutes it took to make his rounds through the ICU.

  “Continue my orders on Lonnie,” he told her. “And call me if anything changes.”

  Before she could say, “Yes, Doctor,” he was gone.

  By Wednesday, she was becoming impatient. She invited him to join her as she took Toby to the park, but he declined without giving a reason.

  How could she ever accept a date if he never offered?

  And because he never offered, her insecurities sprouted like the weeds in Lucy’s garden. Had he changed his mind? Decided that he didn’t want to change the status quo? Or had they drifted so far into their easy relationship that he was taking her for granted? That a courtship really didn’t matter because she was like money in the bank?

  Stop worrying, she told herself. He was simply having a busy week, and she was fretting over nothing.

  She also had the added problem of Kristi, who’d noticed how she jumped whenever the phone rang and watched the clock when he was due to make rounds.

  She’d become truly pathetic.

  “You have to shake yourself out of your blue funk,” Kristi told her on Wednesday afternoon. “Travis Pendleton isn’t worth one minute of regret. You’re better off without him.”

  “You’re right,” Marissa agreed, not bothering to correct Kristi’s mistaken impression. Her situation with Justin was still too new and too tenuous for her to share with anyone, even her closest friend.

  At that moment she vowed to stop stewing over the situation. It was counterproductive. Besides, worry never changed anything.

  On Thursday, her personal life took a backseat to the crisis with the Newlands…

  “He’s having seizures every ten minutes now,” the night nurse explained during the shift report. “If he lasts twenty-four hours, I’ll be surprised.”

  “Have you called Dr. St. James?” Marissa asked.

  “At midnight. He visited with Mrs. Newland, but I don’t think he got anywhere.”

  Marissa didn’t need her colleague’s comment explained. Justin had been trying to prepare Abby for the inevitable ever since Lonnie’s seizure activity had increased in spite of the anticonvulsant cocktails he’d been receiving. In the last couple of days he’d developed a urinary tract infection and his pneumonia had returned with a vengeance. His entire body had become a breeding ground for bacteria and this time medicine wasn’t winning the battle.

  It was time to let him go.

  “You two are friends,” the night nurse continued. “Maybe you can convince her.”

  Yeah, right. As if convincing a woman to give up the love of her life was something Marissa wanted to do. Yet, realistically, Abby was only prolonging the pain because whether she wanted to admit it or not, she’d lost the essence of what had made Lonnie her husband months ago. Only his body had refused to leave at the same time.

  “I’ll talk to her,” Marissa agreed.

  As soon as the handover was complete, Marissa reluctantly entered Lonnie’s cubicle. To her experienced eye, his body seemed more frail than usual, as did Abby’s.

  “Aren’t you here a little early?” Marissa asked. “It’s only five a.m.”

  “Early, late.” Abby waved her hand carelessly. “Time doesn’t mean anything anymore. It all runs together.”

  Marissa busied herself with her patient’s monitors, noticing that his bottom lip was cracked and bleeding from the pressure of his endotracheal tube. She took time to smear ointment on it.

  “I understand that Dr. St. James told you Lonnie’s prognosis.”

  Abby grimaced. “He suggested removing his life support.”

  Marissa knew there were times to listen and times to speak. This seemed to be a time to listen.

  Abby sighed as she held Lonnie’s hand. “Eric thinks I should follow Dr. St. James’s advice.”

  “What do you want to do?” Marissa asked.

  She didn’t answer at first. “We both have living wills, you know.”

  Marissa did. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Justin silently slip into the cubicle. Although he looked as if he’d just showered and shaved, his small smile didn’t dispel the weariness in his eyes.

  “When he first had the accident,” Abby said quietly, “the doctors gave us hope. I was pregnant, so I insisted on doing everything possible for him.” She hesitated. “Then things changed. I was the only one who still believed he would improve enough for us to have a life together.”

  She pressed on her stomach and inhaled deeply. “If we take him off the ventilator, how long will he have?”

  Justin answered. “It’s hard to say. It might be minutes. It might be hours. Truly though, considering what’s going on inside his brain, I don’t think a ventilator will make much of a difference.”

  Suddenly Abby doubled over, clutching her abdomen. Marissa exchanged a glance with Justin before she placed her hands on Abby’s shoulders. “The baby’s coming, isn’t it?”

  Abby finally straightened, then nodded. “I’ve had contractions since ten o’clock last night. I was hoping they’d stop, but…”

  “You should be home in bed.”

  She shook her head. “I had to be here with Lonnie. Even if he hadn’t taken a turn for the worse, this seemed the best place to be. If the contractions didn’t stop, I wouldn’t have far to go to have the baby.”

  “How far apart are they?” Justin asked.

  “Not long. Five minutes.”

  Five minutes. If they didn’t do something soon, she might be helping Justin deliver a baby.

  “You’re going to OB,” Marissa said firmly. “Now.”

  “Okay.” A sheen of perspiration dotted Abby’s brow. “But you both have to promise me something first.”

  Marissa already suspected the request. “If it’s possible.”

  “Don’t let him go until after I get back.”

  Once again, Marissa exchanged glances with Justin. They couldn’t predict how long Lonnie would stay with them and it was questionable if Abby’s own obstetrician would agree to her running around the hospital so soon after giving birth. Provided she had an uncomplicated delivery in the first place.

  “That may not be possible,” he began.

  Abby gripped Marissa’s hand so tightly that her bones ached. “Promise.”

  “We promise,” Marissa said, silently challenging Justin to contradict her.

  “We’ll do our best,” he said, although clearly he had serious doubts about his ability to honor her request.

  “I have another favor to ask.” Another contraction gripped Abby and she panted until it passed. “Stay with him, please? I don’t want him to be alone if, if…if he goes before I get back. I’m not complaining about the other nurses, but I can tell how they’ve distanced themselves from him. You’re the only one who hasn’t.”

  Marissa knew it was a common phenomenon. Nurses were people, too, and some patients pulled at their heartstrings more than others. Distancing oneself was a coping mechanism so they could do their job without falling apart.

  “I won’t be more than a few steps away,” Marissa promised.

  “Thank you.”

  As soon as Abby released Marissa’s hand, Marissa squeezed her shoulders. “I’ll get a wheelchair so you can go and have that baby!”

  A few minutes after Marissa had called, a nurse from Labor and Delivery had come to wheel Abby to her ward. Eric had been summoned as well, and was on his way to act as Abby’s labor coach.

  “Do you think Lonnie will hang on long enough for Abby to deliver?” she asked Justin in the nurses’ sta

  “For Abby’s sake, let’s hope so.”

  “What if we increase his seizure meds?”

  “He’s already at the maximum dosage. If I give him any more, he’ll become toxic and we’ll do more harm than good. The idea is to help him hang on, not hurry the end along.”

  “Then what can we do?”

  “Nothing, except wait and hope Abby’s labor doesn’t take hours. He doesn’t have many left.”

  Marissa glanced in Lonnie’s direction. “Then it’ll happen today.”

  “His heart rate is already slowing.” He traced the blip on the nurses’ screen. “It’s only a matter of time.”

  Deep down, Justin’s prediction resonated in her heart. “It’s strange how fate brings one person into the world while it takes another.”

  “‘To everything there is a season,’” he quoted.

  “Yeah, it’s just a shame that both seasons have to happen on the same day in the same family.”

  “One of the great mysteries of life.” He passed the latest lab report to her. “You know how to reach me.”

  She took the piece of paper, then gasped as she saw the cuts and scrapes on his hands. “Justin!” she exclaimed. “What have you done to yourself?”

  He stretched out his fingers as if seeing them for the first time. “Oh, this? It’s nothing.”

  “Nothing?” she all but screeched.

  He immediately thrust his hands in his pockets. “I’ve been working in my garage,” he said.

  Something in his statement didn’t ring true. She couldn’t imagine what he might be doing that would cause his hands to become so battered. “You haven’t taken up boxing, have you?”

  He stared at her as if she’d sprouted an extra eye. “Boxing? I don’t think so.”

  “Then what—?”

  “If you must know, I’ve been clumsy,” he said, plainly irritated by his admission. “Can we stop the inquisition now?”

  “If you insist. I hope you disinfected those cuts.”

  “I’m a doctor, remember?”

  “And I’m a nurse. I know doctors are horrible patients from firsthand experience.”

  “Well, I’m fine. If you want to worry about someone, worry about Abby. Call if you need me.”

  As it happened, Justin phoned her throughout the day for updates, instead of waiting for her to call him.

  “No baby yet,” she informed him at noon after she’d given her hourly report to Eric, who in turn passed it along to Abby. “Lonnie’s heart rate has dropped again, so I hope Abby’s baby hurries.”

  At five p.m., just as Marissa was about to go off duty, Eric phoned. “Abby had a little boy,” he said, sounding tired yet happy. “He’s on the scrawny side at five and a half pounds, but he’ll grow.”

  “Healthy?” she asked.

  “His Apgar scores were eight, then ten,” he reported, “whatever that means. I guess it’s good.”

  It was. Ten was the optimal number and indicated that the baby’s heart rate, breathing, color, response to stimuli and muscle tone were normal.

  “And Abby?”

  “She’s tired, but okay. She wants to come back to ICU right away, but her doctor says she has to wait a few hours. How’s Lonnie?”

  “Holding on,” she said simply. Which was all she could say. Lonnie’s seizures had continued and she’d spent most of her time tending to the necessities of keeping his airway open and his flailing extremities from harm. His heart rate had dropped into the twenties, but how fast it would continue its descent was anyone’s guess.

  “I don’t know how much resting Abby will manage, but call if you think he’s only got minutes. Abby will be there, no matter what her doctor says.”

  Marissa crossed her fingers, hoping it wouldn’t come to that.

  She handed over her responsibilities to the next shift’s nursing staff, clocked herself out, then returned to Lonnie’s bedside where Justin found her at six.

  “You’re still here,” he said.

  “I couldn’t leave. I promised Abby.”

  “When will Jennings let her visit?”

  Marissa glanced at the clock. “An hour, give or take.”

  “Hungry?” he asked. “I can grab something from the cafeteria.”

  “I’ll pass. I don’t feel like eating.”

  He snaked his arm around her waist. “How are you holding up?”

  “I’m all right.” For the most part, she performed her duties by rote and with objectivity. However, if she put herself in a situation like Abby’s, imagining Justin wasting away like a living corpse, the tears flowed.

  “How about some coffee?” As she shook her head, he pushed her toward the door. “Take a break. You need one.”

  “I can’t leave.”

  “Yes, you can. I’ll stay with him. You haven’t stepped foot outside all day and a bit of fresh air will do you good. Doctor’s orders.”

  Maybe the feel of the sun against her face would banish the coldness that had settled in her heart. “Okay, but I’m only taking five minutes.”

  In the end, she was gone for ten. She’d hardly returned when Eric wheeled Abby and her baby into the cubicle. For a few minutes, the excitement of the new life in the new mother’s arms overshadowed all else.

  “Isn’t he handsome?” Marissa exclaimed at the baby’s wrinkled face as he slept.

  “He is.” Abby smiled down at him as she stroked his downy cheek. “His name is Nathaniel. Nathaniel Alonzo Newland. Lonnie was short for Alonzo.”

  “What a wonderful legacy. He would be pleased.”

  “I think so, too.”

  Marissa and Justin moved to the end of the bed to allow Abby access to her husband. Eric wheeled her closer and helped her place young Nathaniel on the bed next to his father. This would be the closest he would ever be to the man who’d given him life.

  “Here’s your son, Lonnie,” Abby told her husband softly. “He looks just like you.”

  So touched by the scene, Marissa struggled to swallow the emotional knot in her throat before she slipped out of the room.

  As if Justin had sensed her tenuous hold on her control, he followed her into the empty nurses’ station and tugged her against him. For a few long seconds, she drew comfort from his presence.

  “I’m okay,” she finally said. “For a minute, it got to me.”

  “Yeah, I know.”

  “It felt like we were intruding to watch Abby introduce her son to her husband. I couldn’t stay.”

  “I understand.”

  Marissa glanced back at the small family and watched them through the glass. “I’m surprised Lonnie hasn’t had another seizure by now.”

  “I am, too. But look at his heart rate.”

  The white line showed only an occasional blip.

  Eric appeared at the counter, strain evident on his face. “Abby wants you.”

  Inside the cubicle, Abby had one question. “Can you take out his breathing tube?” she asked.

  At this stage, the tube’s presence wouldn’t matter in the final outcome.

  “If you’ll step outside, Marissa and I will remove it,” Justin said. “It will only take a few minutes.”

  By the time they’d finished unhooking Lonnie from everything except an IV and his status monitors and had returned to the nurses’ station, a staff nurse from the newborn nursery arrived with a bassinet for the baby.

  “If he starts to fuss, call us and we’ll take him back,” she told Marissa. “I’m not sure how healthy it is for him to be up here, exposed to all the germs, but under the circumstances, how could we say no?”

  The hours dragged by. Marissa kept her vigil outside the cubicle. Although she was officially off duty, she performed Lonnie’s nursing duties anyway. Having another person, a relative stranger to Abby, in the middle of the situation didn’t seem right.

  “You can go home,” she told Justin. “All that’s left is the waiting.”

  “If you’re staying, I will, too,” he insis
ted. “I can watch television here as easily as I can at home.”

  At eight o’clock, Nathaniel needed a bottle and a diaper change, which the nursery staff happily provided. As soon as he was comfortable, he fell asleep in his bassinet once again, completely unaware of the drama taking place.

  By eleven-thirty, Lonnie’s heart rate had slowed to ten. Determined to give Abby privacy for these final moments, Marissa drew the curtains and left the room.

  The two nurses on duty quietly went about their business, leaving Justin and Marissa alone for the most part. The monitor provided the only information about what was going on in Lonnie’s cubicle. Marissa watched the number on the screen drop to five and in the next heartbeat the line went flat.

  Marissa glanced at the clock. “Three minutes to midnight. What a shame he couldn’t have lasted a bit longer. Nathaniel shouldn’t celebrate his birthday on the same day his father died.”

  “He won’t.” Justin glanced at his wrist. “According to my watch, it’s twelve-oh-two. Tomorrow.”

  She eyed the wall clock. Its hands had not reached the midnight hour. “You can’t falsify a death certificate.”

  “Who said we’re falsifying anything? We found him at twelve-oh-two. No one will quibble over a few minutes.”

  His thoughtfulness brought tears to her eyes. He was definitely a man worth loving.

  “Thank you,” she said. “For them.”

  At twelve-oh-two, Justin walked into the cubicle to do his duty. At twelve-oh-seven, young master Nathaniel wailed and demanded attention, which he promptly received.

  Ready or not, life went on.

  “You’re terribly quiet today,” Lucy remarked several days later.

  Marissa turned away from the window overlooking Lucy’s garden. “I am? I don’t mean to be.”

  “I’m sure it’s hard to lose a patient.”

  She stared at Lucy, incredulous. “How did you know?”

  “I read the newspaper. From what I could tell, though, as sad as it is, I’d say the poor man’s passing was a blessing.”

  “It was.”

  “So why the long face?”

  She couldn’t keep her frustration from bubbling over. “Justin is driving me crazy! He tells me that I can’t see any other man but him, yet I’ve hardly seen him all week!”

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