Oscar and Steve were in flight heading home from Steve’s last assignment to retrieve a small atomic prototype that had been lost on a Japanese Island. Oscar sat back with relief that all had gone well and he could relax until the next crisis reared its ugly head. He watched Steve sitting across the aisle as he removed the gauze bandage that was around his head.
“Shouldn’t you leave that on?” He asked.
Steve shot his boss a lopsided grin and replied, “Don’t worry; the doctor closed the cut with ten stitches. I don’t think it needs all this.” He dropped the wadded bandage into the nearby trashcan then rested his head against the seat back. The concussion caused him to be nauseated on the ground and being bounced around in the air was making it much worse. He knew keeping his lunch in his stomach would be a chore. Steve fell into a light sleep hoping the hours would pass quickly on the leisurely flight home.
Two hours into their trip the operative was awakened by Oscar’s ringing phone. He watched as the director answered it in his usual manner and saw the concern on his face grow with each passing second. Steve noticed he didn’t respond to the caller except to state, “I’ll let him know.” just before terminating the call.
Oscar just looked at Steve trying to find the right words. “Something wrong Oscar?” Steve asked with unease over the silence filling the passenger cabin.
“Steve that was Rudy. Kayce and Kyle were in a car accident.”
Steve’s eyes widened with fear and he quickly interrupted with rapid questions, “Where are they? Are they okay?”
Oscar held up a flat hand and explained what he knew, “They are both alive and at the OSI Medical Center. Rudy is taking care of them. He said he couldn’t talk long because he wanted to get on with their treatment.”
Steve was immediately out of his seat and headed for the cockpit until Oscar’s firm hand on his forearm stopped him. “Where are you going?”
Steve face paled as the news began sinking in, “To tell the pilot to get clearance for a higher cruising altitude so we can get home faster.” Oscar nodded and Steve went to speak with the flight crew.
Dr. Wells met the two men at the nurse’s station when they arrived. His eyes immediately went to the bruise and sutures on Steve’s temple. “Are you alright Steve?”
“Yeah Rudy. Where’s Kayce and Kyle? Are they okay?”
Rudy informed the two men that both of his patients were listed in serious condition before taking Steve to his wife’s bedside. The concerned husband called out his wife’s name softly as he gently turned her relaxed face towards him. The wetness filled his eyes at the swelling and bruising on the left side of her face. Rudy explained her injuries, “She has a concussion, some broken ribs and a fractured pelvis. I have her under heavy sedation.”
“Why?” Steve asked as his eyes instantly jumped from Kayce’s face to the face of his longtime friend. “Because she regained consciousness, got herself out of bed and using the IV pole to steady herself she tried to leave the room. When I came in she was almost to the door. I caught her as she collapsed from the pain. I had new x-rays done to make sure the walking didn’t turn her pelvic fracture into a clean break. Fortunately it didn’t.”
“Why was she leaving the room?”
“She was trying to find Kyle.” Steve nodded knowing he would have done the same.
“How is Kyle?” Steve asked hoping he was better off than his mother.
“Come with me.” Rudy requested. He placed a friendly arm across Steve’s shoulders and led him to a room just down the hall.
Steve froze two steps into the dimly lit private room. A lump formed in his throat at the sight of the small three-year-old lying motionless, dwarfed by the large bed and pillow. The light over the headboard illuminated Kyle’s peaceful face. Steve swallowed hard and held his breath as he tentatively stepped closer to the bedside. His mind was unwilling to accept that this still form was his energetic little boy.
Rudy filled Steve in on his condition, “He has a serious head injury that is causing some brain swelling. We are aggressively treating it with medication to avoid surgery. His left wrist is broken as is his right ankle. I called in a pediatric neurologist by the name of Philip McCaffery. I’m told he’s one of the best in the state.” Steve just nodded with his focus on Kyle’s face and remained silent as he took a seat. Rudy informed his friend he would contact Dr. McCaffery so Steve could speak with him directly then left the father alone with his injured son.
Steve, sitting on the right side of the bed, took his little boy’s limp hand in his large one. His mind suddenly recalled his son’s first days home after his birth. The new father sat by his son’s crib, just as he was doing now, and watched the slow rise and fall of his diminutive chest to reassure him his child was breathing.
The newborn had thin strands of sandy blonde hair beginning to grow on the top of his head, the head that was now covered by a stark white bandage. Steve would watch his innocent face as he slept in his crib, thinking of all the things they would do together. Now he gazed at the bruised cheek and angry abrasion along his right jaw line thinking of all the things they might miss doing together.
Steve bowed his head and wiped a tear that escaped his tired eyes. Looking at his son’s hand in his he let a weak smile cross his face remembering how much his infant’s hands amazed him. The tiny fist that wrapped around his father’s finger displayed miniature fingers with the tiniest fingernails. The same held true for his newborn’s chubby little feet. Steve’s eyes traveled along his son’s battered body and lingered on the plaster casted forearm and lower leg, both probably weighing more than his child’s whole body.
The weary father looked back at the familiar face that was as pale as the sheet below it. The same face he loved to see light up when he came through the front door, the same face that broke into a huge smile when the infectious giggle could no longer be contained in his small body that was being tickled by his father, the face the exuded pride whenever he mastered a new task. The face that now remained motionless in front of him. A father’s heart cried out at the unfairness of life.
Steve took a deep breath trying to subdue the pain filling his paternal chest. He wished his son would open his eyes, the eyes that were so much like his own, the eyes that at one moment could sparkle with mischief and another moment display defiant stubbornness. These were the same eyes that could melt his father’s heart at one glance and radiate the intelligence behind them that was just beginning to be revealed. Steve smiled proudly at his son, his living progeny, as his heart ached mercilessly.
The exhausted man’s attention was drawn to the hallway by a knock on the open door. Steve met the two white-coated physicians in the corridor. After the introduction was made by Rudy Dr. McCaffery explained Kyle’s circumstances. With the brain swelling and lack of consciousness the child’s prognosis was not good. Steve closed his eyes a moment fighting the feeling of helplessness that threatened to crush his heart. The throbbing in his head increased and he wavered slightly but politely brushed off Rudy’s steadying hand.
Steve went right to the bottom line, “Is he going to die?”
“I don’t know. The longer he remains unresponsive the longer the odds are that he will recover.” The pediatrician saw the darkness fall behind Steve’s eyes, “Colonel Austin we are not giving up on your son and you can’t either. He’s a healthy three-year-old and he’s fighting hard. I can assure you we are doing everything in our power to get him through this.” Steve said his thanks before heading to Kayce’s room. Rudy followed close behind hoping to offer support.
Steve’s head was spinning with the mind numbing situation as he settled in the bedside chair. He saw Kayce stir but she didn’t waken. Rudy glanced at his watch knowing he needed to add more of the sedative to her IV soon.
“Stop the sedation Rudy.” Steve said firmly without preamble.
“What? Steve she needs the rest.”
“She needs to be with her son Rudy. Stop the sedation now or I will pull that I.V out of her arm myself.” He stated in a tone that informed the doctor there was no room for discussion.
Rudy saw that Steve was barely maintaining control, “But why Steve?”
Steve glared at the physician. “Her son may die soon. She needs to be with him or she will never get over it.” Rudy nodded he would comply with Steve’s wishes, hoping it would not worsen her condition.
An hour later as the sedative wore off Kayce awoke to her husband handsome face. She cried as she described the terrifying accident and how she was pinned in the wreckage unable to get to Kyle in the backseat. She thought he was dead when he didn’t make any sound.
Steve soothed his wife with his words and loving touch, promising to take her to their son. Lifting her gingerly into a wheelchair she held onto the IV pole with a white-knuckled grip as Steve transported her to her son’s bedside. The pain flowing through her body from the broken bones was almost unbearable.
Both parents shed tears while holding each other’s hand, their thoughts with their son. Kayce tired quickly and Steve noticed her face becoming more and more pale. He reluctantly took her back to her room, never fully explaining Kyle’s life-threatening situation. She was asleep as he tenderly laid her on the bed. After covering her with the blankets he kissed her forehead and returned to his boy.
After checking Kayce over Rudy found Steve talking softly to Kyle. He informed Steve that his wife was getting stronger and Steve just nodded his understanding. Knowing it would be a sensitive subject Rudy gently urged Steve to get some rest, concerned over the concussion he had.
Steve gave Rudy a crooked grin and replied, “No offense Rudy but I just spent 24 hours running through a booby-trapped jungle in 90 degree heat. I think I’ll survive quietly sitting here with my son.” Looking back at his little boy Steve noticed the eyes moving below the lids. The paternal face broke into a hopeful grin as he softly called his son’s name. Rudy stepped closer to see the child fight the darkness and reach his father. The glassy blue eyes slowly opened and met those of his father, providing an instant feeling of security.
Steve swallowed hard fighting to keep the tears at bay. “Hi Daddy.” whispered the little voice from the bed causing Steve’s tears to fall like raindrops. “Hi son.” Steve said softly as the child fell into a healing sleep.
Sitting back Steve wiped his eyes with both hands and let out a long exhale. His mind already thinking of all the things him and his son would do together. His heart brimming with relief, gratitude and love