A Time of Crisis

Friday nights are always busy, and tonight was no exception. Rachel had offered to take this particular weekend shift because Dan and Judy were out of town, visiting her niece down in Carbondale. She knew it was going to be a bad night when Damona Thomas brought her daughter in for the third time in a month.

"She gone an’ fell down the stairs again."

Rachel looked at the child as the orderly laid her on the examining table. KayLee was just about ten years old, but barely looked to be seven. Malnutrition will do that. And she didn’t believe for a minute that KayLee had fallen down the stairs.

"Thank you, Dennis," she said, nodding to the burly young man as she stepped to KayLee’s side. Glancing up at the girl’s mother, she said quietly, "Why don’t you wait outside, Ms. Thomas? I’ll take care of KayLee now." The other woman fidgeted for a moment before leaving the room to hover nervously at the secretary’s desk. Rachel’s gaze lingered on the department secretary.

Donna, call Freddie at Children’s Service…

The secretary turned toward the examination room, nodding slightly as her eyes followed KayLee’s apprehensive mother. Already on her way, Doc.

Inwardly, Rachel sighed. She still felt uncomfortable using her telepathy… actually speaking to other in their minds, but she had to admit it was a handy talent at times. She then focused on the little girl, smiling.

"Hey, KayLee sweetheart… what you doin’ in my emergency room?" Her practiced eyes took in the growing lump on the child’s forehead… the many bruises on her arms… the way she tried to roll into fetal position to protect her belly. Most especially she noted the tears KayLee tried to hold back and the soft mewling sounds she made.

"I sorry, Doctor Rae… fell down the stairs again, I guess." Her voice was very soft, very timid.

"Shhh, sweetie… not your fault." Gentle hands brushing black curly hair off a little girl’s forehead… fingers softly looking for other injuries hidden in that hair. Rachel picked up the medical tricorder, which confirmed that the only head injury was the knot on KayLee’s forehead; there was also no sign of concussion. Moving the tricorder along the girl’s body, finding no broken bones, she stopped and looked angrily at the tricorder when she viewed the information about the child’s abdominal injuries. She had expected readings consistent with being kicked perhaps. Not this.

She put the tricorder down on the table. "KayLee… we can’t play this game no more." Her hand covered the little girl’s hands as they clenched over the pain in her lower abdomen. "You got a really bad infection and it ain’t from fallin’ down no stairs."

KayLee’s teeth bit at her lower lip. She hurt so bad, but Mama said not to tell.

"KayLee? Was it your mama’s boyfriend done this to you?"

If Doctor Rae already knew, it wasn’t the same as telling, was it? She nodded slowly.

Rachel sighed. Anger would have to wait, if she could allow herself the luxury of it at all.

She tapped orders for penicillin and a mild painkiller, noting from KayLee’s previous admissions to the Emergency Department that she had no allergies to any of the currently popular antibiotics.

As Sue, the head nurse on duty, administered the medications to KayLee, she murmured to Rachel, "Freddie’s here," and she nodded toward the department entrance.

"KayLee, I want you to talk to my friend, Freddie," Rachel said to the girl as a tiny fifty year old Oriental woman walked into the examination room. "No games, okay? You tell Freddie the truth." She held KayLee’s hand for a moment as Freddie stepped to the girl’s other side and smiled brightly. Rachel patted the child’s shoulder as she spoke to the social worker. "Thanks for coming, Freddie. This is KayLee Thomas." She smiled, not exactly a pleasant smile, and continued, nodding to the computer terminal to indicate Freddie should read her diagnosis. "I’m gonna go talk to her mama." Turning back to KayLee, she said, "I think I’d like you to stay here at the hospital until your infection is gone. Think you can do that for me?"

KayLee nodded in response to Rachel’s question as she stared at the tiny woman holding her hand. "Okay, Dr. Rae."

In the waiting room, she found Damona staring sullenly at Donna, who studiously ignored her. "Ms. Thomas, I’d like to talk to you in my office."

To say that it was her office would be stretching the truth slightly as she shared it with the rest of the Emergency Department staff physicians. To say that it was an office at all was laughable. Barely bigger than the maintenance closets, it had only a desk, two chairs and a file cabinet, and these pieces of furniture crowded the room. On the desk was a computer terminal.

Rachel sat down in the chair behind the desk and pointed to the other chair, indicating that Damona should be seated.

Damona smiled nervously at Rachel. "She get clumsy sometimes…"

Rachel glared at the other woman and called up KayLee’s medical records on the terminal.

"Clumsy, Ms. Thomas?" She glanced at the information on the screen. "In the past year, KayLee has had six broken bones, three concussions, has needed a total of sixty three stitches, been treated for burns four times, and has had more bruises than anyone here in the Emergency Department has been able to count." She ticked off the next points on her fingers. "She’s fallen down the stairs, tripped while carrying a pot of boiling water, fallen off her cousin’s bike… and half a dozen other improbable stories."

Damona opened her mouth to speak, but Rachel interrupted her. "No. You shut your lip ‘til I’m through talkin’ to you." Her pent-up anger was making Damona more nervous.

"Until now, KayLee backed up each of your idiotic stories… insisting that she had, in fact, fallen down the stairs or whatever. But nobody, nobody, gets pelvic infections and gonorrhea from falling down the stairs, Ms. Thomas. Nobody. The only way for a little girl like KayLee to get it is if she’s habitually being raped by someone who had gonorrhea himself." Rachel continued to glare at Kaylee’s mother, disgusted that anyone would beat their own child, and even more disgusted that they would allow their child to be molested.

"I’m admitting KayLee to the Pediatric Ward. She’s got a raging infection that could easily kill her if we don’t get it cleared up quickly. I can’t say that the gonorrhea isn’t going to damage her reproductive system. Time will tell.

"Right now, Freddie Takanawa from the Department of Children’s Services is talking to her. We’ll be filing a police report and when KayLee is discharged from the hospital, she’ll be placed in a foster home. You, Ms. Thomas, will need to seek counseling and be able to prove to the State of Illinois that you are rehabilitated — that you are no longer a child abuser — before KayLee will be returned to your custody. Do you have any questions?"

Damona stuttered, "But… but she’s my baby. I didn’t mean to hurt her. You can’t take her away from me!"

Rachel stared at the woman for several long minutes, her anger showing as bright spots on her cheeks, as well as her scalp. When she spoke again, her voice was low and ominous.

"I can. And I will. I suggest you get your shit together, Ms. Thomas." Utter silence as Rachel turned off the computer terminal. "You disgust me. Get out of my office."

Rachel sat quietly in the office for quite a while after Damona left. KayLee would be safe, at least. She hadn’t lied to the child’s mother when she implied KayLee may never be able to have children. Even today with all the drugs available, you could never tell with gonorrhea. She shook her head.

Donna stuck her head in the door. "Hey, Doc… cop here to see you." The secretary smiled. "He’s kinda cute… you giving Tony up?"

Rachel laughed. "No such luck, Donna. Why don’t you send him in here?" She stood up and stretched as she waited for the police officer.

A moment later, a young state patrolman entered the room, his blond hair disheveled, hazel eyes somber. "Dr. D’Konis? I’m Officer Jenkins from the Illinois State Patrol." He hesitated. "I’m sorry, Doctor, but… well, you see, I… I’m here with some bad news for you."

Rachel’s eyebrows furrowed in puzzlement. "Bad news, Officer?"

"Uh, yes m’am… um, Doctor." Jenkins was decidedly uncomfortable. "We just got a call from Sheriff Anderson in Jackson County. Uh, there was an accident… and, well, you were listed as next of kin…"

Rachel gasped. "Dan and Judy? Are they all right?"

Jenkins shook his head. "No m’am, I’m sorry. They, um… they were both killed instantly… and… um…"

Rachel sank back down in the chair, dazed. Dan and Judy, dead? No. No, impossible!

"M’am? Are you ok?"

Rachel’s dark eyes were haunted, staring past Jenkins, ignoring him. He slipped out of the room and a moment later Donna returned.

"Doc?" she asked timidly when she saw the look on Rachel’s face. "Hey, Rae… you okay?" When Rachel did not respond, she shook the doctor’s shoulder — tentatively, for she had seen Rachel react in a flurry of incapacitating movements when patients became threatening. But Donna’s touch had a gentler effect on her. Rachel turned her head toward the secretary, and Donna could see tears forming in her eyes. "Doc! What’s wrong?"

Rachel squeezed her eyes closed, fighting for control. "Dan and Judy… they…" She let out a moan of pain. "They’re gone…"

When Rachel’s news registered, Donna looked out the door for any familiar face. "Kathy! C’mere…" As the nurse approached the door, Donna whispered, "Listen… stay here with Doctor Rae. I guess her folks…" She bit her lip. "I have to track down Dr. Fischer. Just stay with her, okay."

Kathy nodded. For twenty minutes, she kept Rachel company while the doctor cried quietly, arms folded on the desk and her head cushioned on them. Gently rubbing Rachel’s back and murmuring softly, Kathy made sure Rachel knew she was not alone. Finally, Tony Fischer arrived.

He was not very tall, being the same height as Rachel, nor was he handsome in a classic sense. But his curly, dusty brown hair, pale blue eyes and ready smile made his patients giggle and put their mothers at ease. His uniform of blue jeans and gym shoes was topped this evening by a Chicago Cubs t-shirt. As he came to the door, he nodded to Kathy and mouthed, "Thank you."

Kneeling beside Rachel, he turned her chair so that her head could rest on his shoulder. Wrapping his arms around her, he began massaging her neck. "I heard, hon…"

Finally, her well of sadness overflowed. "Oh, Tony!" she cried into his shoulder. "How can they be gone? What will I do?"

Speaking softly, he stroked her head with the backs of his gentle fingers. "You just go on, sweetheart. I know it’s hard." Fingers lifted her chin, and he looked into her deep brown eyes. "But I’m here with you, okay?" He stood up, and helped Rachel to her feet. "Shall I get Donna to call someone to cover for you this weekend?"

She shook her head, shuddering as she took a deep breath. "No. No, I think I’ll do better if I keep busy."

Tony nodded as he softly enveloped her in his arms. "I think I’ll just hang out here tonight, though, instead of going home. If you don’t mind…"

Again, Rachel shook her head. "No, I don’t mind. I think I’ll feel better if I know you’re here."

The next several weeks were hard for Rachel. Making arrangements for a funeral and burial was the most difficult thing she had ever had to do. Dan and Judy each had numerous relatives, most of whom Rachel had never actually met. She felt like they were all staring at the black, bald-headed freak. Her tattered nerves and high anxiety level made her think all of her surrogate parents’ relatives were pale with blond hair and blue eyes. It seemed that Tony never left her side, and each time her temper began to flare he calmed her down. She found solace in her work, and rarely spent less than twelve hours a day at the hospital.

Time heals all wounds, as the saying goes. While this may not be strictly true, time did make Rachel’s pain more bearable.

© Kelly Naylor