The first thing James notices is how quiet the ICU is compared to downstairs. The nurses are all working at the stations, moving around soundlessly and gracefully. Everyone speaks in a whisper.
“I’ll take it from here,” a nurse says, coming over to them. James reads her name badge. Violet.
The nurse who brought him up gives him a reassuring pat on the shoulder and goes back into the elevator. Violet turns to James.
“Mr Axton,” she says softly. “I’ll take you to see Dr Williams. He’ll want to talk to you before you see your son.”
“Is he okay?” James’ voice is even softer than hers. Violet gives him a sad smile.
“Dr Williams will be able to answer your questions.”
She starts to wheel him down a corridor. James can hear every rapid beat of his heart. The beats seems to echo in the silence.
“Please,” he whispers. “I need to know. Is he okay?”
Violet stops and comes around to the front of the chair. She crouches down in front of him.
“You need to be prepared for when you see him. It can be quite confronting. He’s connected to several machines and there are a number of tubes coming out of him. You just...You need to be prepared.”
James stares at her. The question plays on his lips but he is too afraid to ask. She pats his hand and straightens up, resuming pushing the wheelchair. James sees the tall doctor at the end of the corridor. He’s standing beside a closed door and looking at the clipboard in his hand.
“Dr Williams,” Violet says as the approach him. “This is Mr Axton.”
“Nice to officially meet you,” Dr Williams says, handing the clipboard to a nurse standing beside him and extending his hand. “I’m Dr Williams; your son’s primary surgeon.”
James stares at his hand but doesn’t shake it. “Is my son okay?”
Dr Williams drops his hand. “He’s stable, for now.” He glances at Violet. She leaves. “He’s stable, but he’s in a critical condition. He had something called a fat embolism. It’s when fat tissue passes through the bloodstream and gets lodged in within blood vessels. In this case, the fat tissue came from the bone marrow that was leaking from your son’s broken arm.”
“So what does that mean?” James whispers. He can hardly speak.
Dr Williams sighs and takes off his scrub cap, running his hand over his tight, black curls. “It means…The free fat tissue spread throughout your son’s body. Most of it ended up in harmless places and will passed or reabsorbed by the body on its own. But some of it…Some of it got into his lungs. We have set his arm to prevent more marrow from entering his bloodstream, but the damage has already been done.”
“The damage? What damage? Is he going to be okay?”
Dr Williams looks at him sympathetically. “The fat tissue damaged his lungs. We have him on a ventilator, but it’s…It’s too soon to tell if he’ll be able to breathe on his own again. That, coupled with being without oxygen for a period of time before the paramedics arrived back at the cabin, and having his heart stop…It’s…It’s unclear if he will wake up.”
Some small part of James is grateful that he is in the wheelchair. He would have collapsed without it. “Wake up?” He feels like his heart has been ripped clean out of his chest. He struggles to catch his breath. Everything hurts.
Dr William nods. “He’s in a coma.”
“A coma?” James repeats. The word sounds ludicrous. He almost wants to laugh.
This can’t be real.
This cannot be real.
This cannot be happening.
Dr Williams nods again. “Yes. I’m sorry. We’ve done what we can and will continue to do so, but for now, we just have to wait and see.” He runs his hand over his hair again. “Do you have any questions before you see him?”
How do I wake up from this nightmare?
James shakes his head. He is too numb to form a coherent thought, let alone a question. Dr Williams turns towards the door behind him.
“Has someone told you what to expect?”
“Tubes,” James manages to say. “Machines.”
Dr Williams opens the door and wheels James inside.
All the oxygen leaves the room.
Dr Williams pushes James to the end of Alexander’s bed.
“First visits are ten minutes long,” he says quietly. “I’ll give you some space.” He leaves.
James stares at Alexander, unable to process what he is seeing. There are several tubes and wires attached to him, but the only one James can focus on is the one is his mouth. It’s connected to a machine displaying a series of numbers and an image of a pair of lungs.
Breathing for him.
“Alexander,” James whispers, unsteadily rising to his feet. The drip rips out of his hand. He doesn’t feel it. “Alexander,” he repeats, moving closer. “Please.”
His legs can’t carry the weight of his grief but he shuffles forward anyway until he is beside Alexander’s bed. He holds onto the railing on the side of the bed to keep himself standing.
“Alexander,” he says again. “Buddy. Please.”
He can’t say anything else.
His hand hovers over Alexander’s tiny frame. He wants to touch him, oh God he wants to touch him, but he’s too afraid of hurting him.
“I’m sorry.” His hand trembles. “Oh God, I’m so sorry.”
His eyes trail over his body. He notices for the first time that Alexander has a black eye. The image of Alexander convulsing on the floor beside the fallen chair flashes in his mind. He must have hit his eye then.
Violet is back.
“The ten minutes are up, sir.”
James grips the railing of the bed.
“Sir? If you sit down in the wheelchair I will take you back downstairs.”
James tightens his hold.
“Sir?” Violet comes over. He can feel her behind him. “Mr Axton?”
James intends to tell her he’s not leaving, intends to say that there’s nothing that will make him leave Alexander’s side ever again, but he can only form one word.
Violet puts her hand on his back. He wants to jerk away from her, but he doesn’t.
“You can come back in a few hours,” Violet says softly. “It’s hospital policy. You will be able to stay longer the next time.”
James shakes his head. He feels close to losing it. “Please,” he whispers again. “Don’t…Don’t make me…Don’t take me…” He can’t finish the sentence.
“Violet?” It’s a voice he hasn’t heard before. He doesn’t turn around, but he hears Violet walk over to the door. “He’s not doing any harm,” the voice whispers. “And he’s a patient here too. He can stay a little longer.”
The voice drops, but James can still clearly hear the next sentence in the deathly silent room.
“They may not have much time left together.”