Amanda clung to the warm sheet the paramedics had placed over her in the ambulance. Her head and neck had been stabilized with a contraption akin to a strait jacket. An IV drip worked to rehydrate her system and a fiberglass boot held her ankle firm. The whole experience whirled around in her brain making her a little dizzy. How long had she lain on that patch of earth below the highway? It was still daylight so it couldn’t have been all that long. The greatest physical sensation she had at the time of her rescue was thirst; her throat burned and her lips were parched.
The people who found her allowed her only a few sips of water until the emergency team arrived. She wanted to thank them, but they drifted out of her line of sight and then she was being loaded into the ambulance. Her agitation mushroomed as Amanda realized she hadn’t treated them very well when they found her and now she’d lost the opportunity. Unable to move, Amanda began to wail.
Somehow the fact that she hadn’t said “thank you” to the Bells overlapped her concern about what had happened to Lily. Her lungs and vocal cords worked amazingly well considering the restrictions the rest of her body endured. The paramedic, a woman named Josie, reassured her that the Bells were following them into the hospital but she didn’t know about Lily. They would find out at the hospital, if that was where she’d been transported. With those words she quieted for the rough ride into Clyde, North Carolina.
“Looks like the Weigh Station is open, Ray.”
“Figures! Just what we need, one more delay!” He thumped the stirring wheel with his fist and winced. Blood trickled down his arm. He slung it across the cab splattering everything in sight including Dave.
“Watch it! That looks nasty. Maybe you should…”
“What? See a doctor? Just get the First Aid Kit out of the back, squirt some of that antiseptic stuff on it and bandage it. I should have bashed her head in.”
“Don’t say that.”
Ray guided the truck into line on the long ramp to the scales. Scales always slowed transportation, but these guys must be training new help, he reasoned as he edged the rig along. Maybe they are running only one scale. He craned his head out the window aware that traffic behind him was piling up and he couldn’t really see what was going on up front.
Dave finished bandaging the injured arm, so he jerked it away and turned up the CB radio. In a few minutes he had the scoop from the front. State Police and the Feds were checking every truck looking for that missing teenager. A slide of his eyes right told him Dave’s color resembled a dingy sheet.
“Just don’t mess your jeans, Davey. You see any teenage girls in here? Keep your mouth shut.” The cockiness in Ray’s voice contradicted the worms crawling in his gut.
The afternoon in the emergency lobby passed with stretches of boredom and moments of frenzy. The Carnes family had arrived at the hospital in Asheville a good two hours ahead of the patient. Sophia had managed to get Max’s neurologist in Clyde connected to the family to explain Max’s current status and the surgical plan once he arrived in Asheville. Sophia eavesdropped on the conversation with not the slightest hint of guilt and she talked to Millie later after the neurosurgeon waiting for Max’s arrival located the family at St. Joseph’s.
Max currently was being kept in a drug induced coma to prevent any further swelling on his brain. The surgery would be relatively simple and presented few complications. It involved burring holes in his head or something like that. Sophia wondered if the surgeon would think having holes drilled in his skull was minor. The family would be able to see Max before the surgery, but he would not be conscious. Afterwards he would be in Intensive Care for at least 24 to 36 hours.
Lily lay curled like a cat on one of the lobby couches, sleeping. Amanda’s arrival by ambulance managed to topple several emotional apple carts, leaving Sophia feeling like a damp rag that had been sparred over by two Jack Russell terriers. It took all the self-restraint Sophia could muster to keep from swooping down on the gurney when the EMS team rolled Amanda in looking like a fiberglass igloo. Lily, unshackled from mere protocol had shown no such restraint.
Sophia had noticed Lily’s approach on the arm of a nurse immediately after the automatic doors sprang open to allow the paramedics to enter with Amanda, but was as surprised as the others at her reaction to the scene. There was no mistaking the look of terror on Lily’s face at the sight, but nothing prepared her for either the speed with which Lily reached the gurney or the strength or accuracy with which she shoved the attendant’s hand from the rails.
Sitting on the couch now, Sophia eyed the frail woman. Where did that burst of energy come from? Surely the shot of adrenaline alone could have killed her, but instead it shoved her into overdrive. More than anything, Sophia wished she could crawl inside Lily’s brain so she could follow better the divergent paths her cognition took. Sophia couldn’t help but chuckle quietly remembering the stunned expression of the young woman as Lily took charge.
“Greta, oh Greta,” Lily patted Amanda’s hand before staring down the paramedic and demanding, “Did she get caught in the rubble or was she hit by a bomb? Is she ok?”
Ignoring the young paramedic’s silence and gaping mouth Lily turned back to Amanda, who was grasping for her with her free hand.
“Greta, I’ve come to take you home, you and Olivia. Max sent me. I don’t know how, but we are going home away from Hitler and his Nazi thugs. I’m here, Greta.”
“Oh, Lily, I thought you were hurt or dead,” Amanda sobbed, unable to wipe the tears of relief from her face.
It was Lily’s turn to look baffled, “Dead, hurt, why would you think that?”
“The ambulance, the Buick. . .Who was in. . .?” Sophia moved within Amanda’s line of vision. Understanding and the darkness of realization descended in Amanda’s eyes as she locked on Sophia’s face and saw her mouth the word, “Max.”
The exchange between Sophia and Amanda was lost on Lily who still stood firmly fixed in a time long past and addressed the medical team who now moved in to regain the territory Lily had invaded. Lily patted Amanda’s arm and whispered loudly to the paramedic.
“Poor Greta, it must be shell shock. She’s completely out of her head.”
God Bless her. Sophia thought recalling the remark with clarity as she sat watching Lily sleep. It takes one to know one.
Telling Amanda about Max fell directly on Sophia’s shoulders. The hospital staff had contacted Amanda’s father in Oklahoma and the delicate business of providing necessary medical care to his minor daughter didn’t present as an issue Sophia had to tackle. The immediate problem wasn’t tied to permission to treat. Amanda refused any treatment until she had some information about Max. She wanted, no demanded to see Sophia. Typical behavior, Sophia thought.
Marcy stepped in again to watch after Lily, promising to stay right with her. Sophia watched as Marcy pulled a chair up to her desk, helping Lily to sit, just like a teacher with a difficult student. Sophia barely had time to meet the Bells, Dean and Shannon, but the officer in charge wanted a few words with them anyway. Nothing stood in the way of her speaking to Amanda, except her own trepidation. Steadying her insides, Sophia walked toward the ER treatment room Marcy indicated, determined to let Amanda set the tone of the conversation.
In a matter of a few hours too much had happened to allow setting the whole mess upright in one conversation. She knew that the team had arrived to transport Max to Asheville, but the outcome of his condition dangled without a predictable conclusion. The troopers had not revealed much information about what had happened to Amanda after she entered the cab of that truck nor had they shared how she ended up on a ledge off the interstate. She did know they were looking for two men for questioning. A sick feeling at the possibilities halted her steps for a moment. With the professionalism of an experienced Chaplain, she realized she had no time for this. The gremlins playing havoc with her insides would have to step aside. She knocked on the door and entered.