San Diego, California
Monday, April 12, 2004
2003 Hours (local)
Harm was still breathing. They had started the IVs again after a few hours. If he were going to continue breathing, they would continue to feed him. Frank, Trish, and Mac had not left Harm’s side in hours. The doctor had left hours earlier, but he was to be paged if there was any change in Harm’s condition. If Harm was still alive in the morning, they would take him for more EEGs, MRIs, and CAT scans. If he continued to survive after a few days, proper arrangements would be made.
Mac had fallen asleep, clutching Harm’s hand, her head resting on his bed. In her dream, she and Harm were living in a house along the ocean; the sky was always the same shade of gray as the seawater. Harm was exactly like he was now, still in bed, his features frozen forever, only continuing to breathe. Mac had grown older, dedicated her life to taking care of him. And it was like this that they would remain forever. Suddenly, Mac jerked awake, a scream of “No!” on her lips.
Sitting up, she looked around the room, glad to realize that it was only a dream. She didn’t want to lose Harm, but she didn’t want a life like that for him, for either of them. Didn’t they deserve to live their lives? Didn’t they deserve to be happy?
“You okay?” Trish asked, looking over the bed at Mac.
Mac nodded. “It was just a dream.”
“A bad one?”
Mac nodded again, blinking away a few tears that were threatening to fall. She stood up from the chair and stretched. The room suddenly seemed too confining, constricting, smothering the life out of her and she had to get out of there. Grabbing her purse, she said to Trish and Frank, “I’ll be back in a few minutes. I just need some fresh air.”
“Go,” Frank insisted. “We’ll find you if anything happens.”
Mac left the room quickly. It took all of her self-control to not run down the hallway. Fighting the tears that blurred her vision, she took the stairs instead of the elevator, moving faster with every step. Once outside the hospital doors, she took a few deep breaths. She wished she were anywhere but there. And she wished that she hadn’t answered the phone last Monday, that she had just gone peacefully about her life, ignorant of Harm’s situation. She wished he had never left for his TAD assignment, that she had done whatever she could have to stop him from climbing into that cab. She wished that she and Harm hadn’t ended things on such a bad note, that they hadn’t said some of what had been said. But mostly, she just wished that this had never happened at all.
Mac walked slowly away from the hospital, watching cars as they came and went, ambulances as they pulled up to the emergency room doors and deposited their charges. Mac watched a young man drive up in a car and pull a woman out. She was in labor and the man was probably her husband. Mac would have given anything to be that woman, Harm by her side.
Finally, Mac found a quiet spot on the far side of the hospital. Sinking down to the curb, ignoring the cigarette butts and dirt stains, Mac sat and just let the tears fall. When she was done, when her eyes were dry and there was nothing left inside, nothing left to feel, she just watched the world around her, passing her by. After a long while, she rose unsteadily to her feet and returned to Harm’s side.
San Diego, California
Friday, April 16, 2004
1646 Hours (local)
The doctors could not declare Harm to be brain dead. He did not clinically meet the definition. The EEG readings still showed some electrical activity, there was still blood flow to the brain, and even though there was no response to stimuli, Harm was continuing to breathe on his own. For the time being, Harm was considered to be in a coma, though it was unlikely he would ever regain consciousness.
Dr. Samson entered the room to check on Harm’s condition. He did all of the normal tests, checking for responses from Harm. It was when he was checking the dilation of Harm’s pupils that he said anything. Mac, Trish, and Frank had gotten used to the comings and goings of the hospital personnel and rarely paid attention to their presence. When they asked if anything had changed, the response they always got was, “Nothing.” They had finally quit asking.
Mac looked up from her book, her eyes alive with hope. “What is it?”
“His pupils. They are responding to the light.”
“That’s good, isn’t it?” Trish asked.
Dr. Samson nodded. “It is. It’s a very simple reflexive response, but it shows brain activity.” Dr. Samson looked down and made a few notes on the chart. “I’ll be back in a few minutes. I’d like to take him, run a few tests, see what’s going on inside that head of his.” He quickly left the room.
Across the bed, Mac met Trish’s gaze. They were both infused with a sense of hope that had long since disappeared. Mac broke the gaze and looked down at Harm. “He’s in there,” she whispered.
Trish leaned low and spoke to Harm, “That’s it, son, keep it up. Come back to us.”
Frank had risen from his chair and approached Trish. He, too, had tears in his eyes, like Trish and Mac. “He’s fighting.”
Mac leaned over and kissed Harm’s forehead. “Come back to me, to us, Harm. We’re waiting.”
A few minutes later, Dr. Samson returned with a few nurses and they wheeled Harm away for a few tests. Mac stepped out of the hospital and called the Admiral on her cell phone.
“Colonel, has there been any news?” the Admiral immediately cut through any pretense.
“Yes, Sir,” Mac responded, happier now than she had been since Trish had called her almost two weeks earlier. “They are running more tests on him, EEGs and MRIs. He showed a response to the dilation test.”
The Admiral let out a huge sigh of relief. “So, he’s doing better?”
“It’s something. They may never get more out of him, but he’s fighting. He may…” Mac began. Pacing back and forth in front of the hospital, she hated to get her hopes up, but she couldn’t help herself, “he just may make some recovery.”
“That’s good to hear, Mac,” the Admiral said, at a loss for words. Mac was not able to see the tears in the older man’s eyes. “If anybody can do it, Harm can.”
“I know, Sir.”
“Colonel?” the Admiral asked. He hated to bring the topic up in the wake of the good news, but he was going to call Mac anyway.
“The SecNav called me today. He wanted to know where you were.”
“Am I in trouble, Admiral?”
“No. I’ve been taking this out of your leave time. The SecNav disapproved of my giving you the leave, even when he knew the situation. He demanded that I get you back here, immediately.”
“I won’t come, Sir,” Mac stated calmly without thinking.
“I told him you wouldn’t. I told him you had threatened to resign if I didn’t let you go.”
“Is he mad?”
“He is. I also told him that if I ordered you back, you would either refuse and face charges or resign. I’ve been told to order you home anyway.”
“Then I’ll type up my resignation and fax it to you. You’ll have it by the morning.”
“And I won’t accept it.”
“I’ll continue taking from your leave time. If that runs out, we’ll figure something out.”
“What about the SecNav, Sir? I don’t want you to-”
The Admiral cut her off. “I can’t afford to lose another good lawyer. We’ve been feeling Harm’s absence since he was assigned TAD. I refuse to let another good officer go.”
“Thank you, Sir,” Mac said, genuinely touched by the Admiral’s defense of her. “If it becomes a problem…” she trailed off.
“Don’t worry about it. You just take care of Harm. Bring him home, Colonel.”
“Yes, Sir,” Mac responded.
San Diego, California
Friday, April 16, 2004
1956 Hours (local)
Dr. Samson entered Harm’s hospital room with a stack of papers in his hands. “Good news,” he said quickly.
Instantly, three sets of eyes were on him, waiting expectantly.
“The EEG shows an increase in the electrical activity of his brain. It is nowhere near the pattern of a normally functioning brain, but at this point, an increase is a positive sign.”
Mac looked away and glanced to Harm, a small smile on her lips.
“We ran through the reflexive tests as we scanned his brain. His pupils continued to respond to light, he showed corneal reflexes with the cotton swab, and there was a response to the caloric testing in his ears. There were definite signs of activity in the brain with all of these tests. However, there was no gag or cough reflex, but the brain did respond. This is all a very positive sign.”
Trish spoke, her voice weak, but filled with hope, “So, there’s a chance he’ll regain consciousness?”
“He might. The more brain activity he shows, the more likely he is to regain consciousness. However, I can’t say for certain that he will.”
“But he might?” Mac repeated, also hopeful.
The doctor nodded. “I don’t want you to get your hopes up. He may not come back. It could still go either way. And the longer he is unconscious, the less likely it is that he will regain consciousness,” he warned.
“Thank you,” Frank said.
“We’ll continue to monitor him and look for changes. All we can really do at this point is hope and pray,” Dr. Samson concluded as he turned to go.
“Believe me, we are,” Frank said as the doctor left.
Mac reached up from her chair and clutched Harm’s hand, fresh tears falling freely. Kissing the back of his hand, she said to him, “I know you’re there. And I know you can do this, you just have to try. You’re doing good so far, but you know it isn’t enough, Harm. Come back to us.”
San Diego, California
Tuesday, April 20, 2004
1527 Hours (local)
Mac was reading a romance novel while she sat by Harm’s bed. Having picked it up from the hospital’s limited selection at the gift shop, it helped to pass the hours. She wasn’t really into the book, as everything seemed too coincidental and everything worked out in ways that wouldn’t happen in real life, at least not in her life. Even the sex scenes seemed too far-fetched to be realistic. Mac had never experienced anything quite like the book described. Then again, Mac realized, maybe the escape from reality was the appeal of such books.
“He was in D.C. over Christmas,” Trish said suddenly.
Startled, Mac shifted position in her chair as she looked in Trish’s direction, her eyes passing over Harm as her gaze moved. “I’m sorry?”
“He called a few days before Christmas, said he was in the area but had to go home for Christmas, although he’d be back before New Year’s,” Trish stated simply.
Puzzled, Mac asked, “You didn’t speak to him until Christmas?”
“No,” Trish responded, shaking her head. “He left town on the twenty-third and flew home the day after Christmas. He spent New Year’s with us.”
Glancing down at her lap, Mac said sadly, “I didn’t know.” Looking back up at Trish, she said, “He must have gone to the Wall.”
“That’s what I figured.”
Mac watched the older woman for a moment, wondering what was going through her head. The investigator in her could not help asking, “What brought this on?”
“Just thinking,” Trish sighed. “Remembering all the good things about him. He’s a lot like his father.”
“How’s that?” Mac queried. She had only ever heard about Harm Senior from Harm and was curious to hear another perspective.
Gazing down at her son, a weak smile on her face, Trish answered, “Besides their obvious love of flying and their dedication to our country, they are both determined and strong-willed. If they see something they want, neither one has ever been afraid to go after it.”
Mac snorted at this. In most cases, Mac was inclined to agree with Trish, but when it came down to his feelings for her, he never said a word, not until the end.
For an instant, Trish’s grin widened, knowing what Mac was thinking. “The word stubborn could describe both of them, as well. Harm and his father both care deeply for people close to them and will do anything to protect them, no matter what the cost. But getting that close is a battle that is not easily won. To truly get close, to gain the heart of either of them, is a genuine success.”
Looking at Harm, Mac knew exactly what Trish was saying. Mac knew that she didn’t know everything about Harm, she hadn’t scaled all of his walls, but she was closer to him than anybody else. Knowing that Trish knew just how hard it was for her son to let anyone in, was enough to make Mac feel blessed. In some way, Mac felt honored because she had, at one time, been so close to Harm and he had allowed her into his heart.
Following Mac’s gaze, Trish also looked at Harm. “He missed you. He never said it, but I know that he did. He just wasn’t the same without you in his life.”
“I missed him,” Mac said softly. “He was right to leave, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t miss him.”
Trish’s voice was just as soft as Mac’s had been as she said, “I think he knows that.”
“I hope so,” Mac whispered.
Long minutes passed and the only sounds in the room were the constant beeping of Harm’s heart monitor and the ticking of the clock. In time, Trish turned back to her magazine and Mac turned back to her book, losing herself in the romance of two characters brought to life by one person’s imagination.
San Diego, California
Saturday, April 24, 2004
1835 Hours (local)
For the time being, Mac was alone with Harm. Trish and Frank had departed for the cafeteria some time ago, allowing Mac a few private moments. She had a flight back to D.C. in the morning and Mac didn’t want to go, but her leave time was up and the Admiral ordered her home. He had apologized even as he gave the order, and Mac knew he was sorry, but she also knew she had to go. She would be back as soon as she could manage it.
She hated to leave Harm. He had come so far since she had arrived three weeks earlier. Mac didn’t know how so much time had passed, how it had slipped away from her, as the days both crawled and flew by, and her internal clock had failed her completely. Trust Harm to be the one to make her lose track of time. In the last week, Harm’s internal organs began working. Because his kidneys and liver had remained shut down for so long, he had sustained some damage, but for the moment, the doctors weren’t concerned. Shortly after his liver and kidneys resumed functioning, his stomach began working again as well. And on the previous afternoon, there had been a reflexive muscle twitch in response to touch in his feet.
The doctor had explained it to them that sometimes when the body went through a very traumatic event, the result was a coma, in which the body just shut down in order to recover. This appeared to be the case with Harm.
Mac had been willing to face charges or resign her commission, but the Admiral refused. He had convinced her to come home, if only for a few days. If she wanted to return, he would see what he could do. Mac had reluctantly agreed.
So now Mac was alone with Harm, his mom and Frank having given her a chance to say goodbye. Not knowing what to say to him, she began to babble. “You remember that night a few months ago when you came by my apartment? We said a lot of hurtful things to each other. Well, I think you said more than I did, but I can’t blame you. I deserved it. But that night, I think there were things you wanted to know and I couldn’t tell you. I don’t know why. Fear, I guess. Pride, maybe. And you kept asking me questions, looking for the answers. But you didn’t ask the right questions.
“You asked me if I would have cheated on Mic. I said that I wouldn’t have, and I meant it. I would not have betrayed my vows. But had you asked me to, I would have left him. I would have come to you, all you had to do was say something. But I get it now, why you couldn’t ask me that, and I had no right to try and force you. I had no right to use Mic to make you jealous, to try and force you to open your eyes. I just wanted to apologize for that.” Mac squeezed his hand with one of hers while she wiped tears away from her eyes with the other.
“And do you remember the last time we were on the Admiral’s porch, at his engagement party? I really enjoyed that, just spending time with you, talking to you, getting to know you again. I did learn something new about you that night. I honestly didn’t know that you…” pausing, she blushed, even though nobody was around to see her, “I didn’t know that you basically fantasized about me. At least that one time.” Mac smiled softly to herself, “It was good for the ego,” she admitted. “I did, too, fantasized about you. Still do.”
Mac was silent again, squeezing Harm’s hand. “I’d like to try, Harm, try for us. I’m ready now. I’m ready to listen to you, ready to work through everything that is behind us and lies between us still, and work toward everything that could be in our future. I’d give anything to have that opportunity. But it isn’t up to me, it’s up to you, but I’m here, waiting for you.”
Mac sighed heavily before she went on. “I don’t want to leave you, you know that, right? But it isn’t up to me. The Admiral ordered me to come home. The SecNav is about to have his head served to him on a silver platter for breakfast. But I’ll come back as soon as I can. When you come back, I’ll come. I’ll come for you. Your mom is still here, and Frank. They’re good people. I know you haven’t always been close to them, but you’re lucky to have them, and they’re lucky to have you. They’ve been great to me while I’ve been here. I wanted you to know that.
“I’m leaving in the morning, going back to D.C. I’ll be calling to check on you. Your mom has promised to keep me updated. And I’ll be thinking about you all the time. I probably won’t get much work done. The SecNav will be pleading with the Admiral to send me back.
“You have to come back to us. We all miss you. We’re all missing you and praying for you. You can do it. I have faith in you. I love you, Harm,” Mac finished, her final words no more than a whisper. And she sat, her hand clutching his, their fingers entwined.
It was several minutes later when she felt it. At first, she thought it must have been her imagination. It had to be. Her eyes wide with hope and disbelief, she looked at Harm. “Harm?” she asked. Of course, there was no response. Looking down at their entwined hands, Mac smiled grimly. “I know, it was just my imagination. Just my mind trying to keep my hopes up. It’s tough, Harm, but I’m trying, so you had better be trying, too.”
And there it was again, and this time, Mac was sure it wasn’t her imagination. She felt it and saw it. Harm squeezed her hand.
“Harm?” Mac asked, daring to hope. “Can you hear me?” It was silly, she knew, there was no way he could hear her, but she wanted to believe that he knew she was there. “Harm?” she repeated.
And for a long moment, there was nothing. But then, he squeezed again, this time holding it. Using her free hand, Mac hit the nurse-call button. She hit the button repeatedly, urging the nurse to hurry, even though she knew it wouldn’t do any good.
A moment later, the nurse strolled lazily in. “Yeah?” she asked, not meeting Mac’s eye.
“Get Dr. Samson in here, now!” she ordered.
The nurse, Shelly, looked over the monitors and said, “Why? Everything looks normal.”
“He squeezed my hand!” Mac said firmly.
“You sure?” she asked doubtfully. She knew recoveries from this type of situation were rare. She had been in and out of the room numerous times over the weeks since Harm had been admitted, and she couldn’t understand why these people held out such hope.
“Yes!” Mac yelled. “Go get Dr. Samson!”
Shelly turned and walked off, every bit as slowly as she had entered.
“Now!” Mac screamed after her. She looked back down at Harm. His grip had relaxed while Mac had been trying to get Shelly to understand the situation. Mac squeezed his hand and said to him in a calmer tone of voice, “The doctor is coming, Harm. I know you’re in there.” She leaned over and kissed the back of his hand. “Just keep trying.”
A minute later, the muscles in his hand squeezed Mac’s fingers together once more.
Mac heard the page calling Dr. Samson to the room. Two minutes later, Trish and Frank came bolting into the room, Trish immediately asking, “Is he okay? What’s wrong?” Trish stopped short when she saw the smile on Mac’s face.
“He squeezed my hand.”
“You sure?” Frank asked from behind Trish.
“He did it several times.”
Dr. Samson rushed into the room just after Mac finished speaking. “What seems to be the problem?”
“He squeezed my hand. Several times,” Mac repeated.
Dr. Samson walked over to Harm and ran the series of reflexive tests, checking the movement of his feet, the dilation of his eyes, and this time, Harm exhibited the gag reflex. Grinning broadly and for the first time feeling genuine hope for his patient, he turned to the three of them, “He is definitely showing signs of improvement. When he squeezed your hand, had you been speaking to him?” he asked Mac.
“I had been, but then I stopped. A few minutes later, I felt it the first time. Then I started speaking to him and he seemed to respond by squeezing my hand.”
The doctor nodded as Mac spoke. “Talk to him again.”
Mac did as he instructed, Dr. Samson keeping a close eye on his hand where it met with Mac’s as she spoke. “Harm? Can you do it again, squeeze my hand? The doctor wants to see it. And I’d like to feel it again. I know you’re probably tired, but please, just one more time, Harm.”
Four pairs of eyes watched for any sign of movement and after a moment, they were rewarded. Harm squeezed Mac’s hand.
Trish squealed and practically threw herself into Frank’s arms. He could only hug her close, his own heart nearly bursting with joy. Mac cried tears of happiness as she squeezed Harm’s hand back.
The doctor spoke, “This is a very positive sign. He may never do much more than this, I must warn you, but he keeps making great strides forward. We’ll watch him through the night and run some more tests in the morning.”
After the doctor left, Trish took a seat next to her son, holding his other hand, Frank in a chair nearby, his hand on his wife’s knee. And the three of them kept a hopeful vigil by Harm’s bedside throughout the night.