Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Five
She spent the next hour following the kitten around the apartment. When he climbed into the litter tray he let out a high-pitched meow to let her know that a little privacy was in order. She was learning about cats.
In the kitchen she set up his food and water. She loved his matching blue plastic bowls. With the supplies that Dennis had given her, J.P. was taken care of for at least a week.
Marlee was happy to have something to take care of, to help her exercise her nurturing side.
“Luco,” she said out loud. “I’ve got to tell him about this and that Dennis and I have worked things out.”
Better than nothing at all, she took a “bird bath”: a quick washing of strategic, sweaty pits. Another shower would have been best after her cello workout and the frenzy with Dennis and the new cat, but she was anxious to see Luco.
From the moment she walked through the door of the People’s Cafe, Marlee could see that something was wrong. Luco was not behind the counter. Instead, the strawberry blonde, looking angry and exhausted was there pulling Lattes. She had worked until closing last night and here she was early the next morning.
The owner, Pete, was busy spreading cream cheese, too much of it, on a sesame bagel. He rarely came into the cafe before noon.
“Good morning, Pete. I didn’t expect to see you here this early in the day. Where’s Luco?”
Pete looked up from his chore. There were tears in his eyes. Marlee’s heart stopped.
“Pete? Where’s Luco?”
“Miss,” he said in his lightly accented English that hinted at his Middle Eastern roots. “Luco is in the hospital.”
“Oh, dear God, what happened? Is he sick? Has he been hurt?”
“He was run over by a car last night, a hit and run.”
Marlee grabbed the edge of the counter to steady herself. She felt her legs turning to rubber. Her hands were ice cold. “No, not again” raced through her brain.
Pete had stopped working on the bagel. “He is like my own boy. According to the newspaper, it was very bad.”
“Where is he? I’ve got to go to him.”
In the moments following his discovery by the Paramedics, Luco was deemed the most seriously injured survivor. He was in shock and broken ribs had collapsed a lung. That much they could diagnose there on the sidewalk, in the dark, amid the crying and moaning of the other victims.
A second and then a third Emergency unit arrived. St Mary’s Hospital was notified that multiple casualties were 5 minutes out.
Luco was the first person transported to the nearby hospital on Stanyan Street, on the far side of the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park. He had numerous cuts and abrasions, but the life-threatening injuries were internal. The broken ribvoices had done more than just puncture his lung. It had nicked the pulmonary artery and he was in danger of drowning in his own blood.
While the medical team worked to save Luco’s life, a clerical aide went through Luco’s wallet searching for identification and contact information. If things went badly, decisions would have to be made.
The bored aide looked at everything and sorted it all into small piles. There was a driver’s license, a plastic library card, an ATM card from Wells Fargo Bank and a Blue Cross card. In another neat stack he put fourteen dollars in cash. Tucked away in the center section of the wallet, he dug out two more items: a dog-eared business card for a band called “Besame” and a color photograph of a pretty young woman in a nurse’s uniform.
Behind the glass doors down the hall seven people in green scrubs hovered over the unmoving form of a man with jet-black hair and the muscular body of a fighter.
The noise level in the room went down noticeably when the medical team stabilized Luco’s vital signs. They then passed him onto the OR people who would deal with the internal bleeding and broken bones.
From the moment Luco was wheeled through the ER’s automatic doors until he rolled into surgery was only seven minutes. The paper traces of his life were left behind and overlooked in the mayhem.
At the Nurse’s station, amid the usual furor of a Friday night, a man’s life sat in untidy piles. People hurried by, intent on one task or another. An intern set her coffee cup down on top of a picture of the pretty young nurse. No one noticed.
On the fourth floor the surgical team, led by a doctor from Malaysia who looked fourteen, but who had more time in an operating theater than anyone on staff, smiled and told someone to turn up the music. Tonight he wanted John Coltrane to assist.
The damage from the broken ribs was not as bad as it first looked in the initial X-rays. There was bleeding and there were tears in the lung tissue, but it would heal after some needlework from the surgeon. The dislocated hip was an orthopedic matter. The “bone people” fixed that in short order and two hours after entering St. Mary’s, Luco was in Post-Op, alive and sleeping the dark, dreamless sleep of anesthesia.
Marlee ran, not sped, not flew, not raced, but ran toward St. Mary’s Hospital. She ran, filled with fear of what she might find when she got there.
Her heart pounded as she crossed the Panhandle. It would have been pounding just as hard even if she had hailed a taxi. The few blocks to the hospital were a congested area, always filled with traffic. Tourists, local residents, hospital visitors and students from the nearby University of San Francisco combined to create a nonstop gridlock in the area. Marlee would get to the hospital quicker on foot and it let her burn off some of the undertow of emotion that was threatening to pull her down.
The morning fog was still hanging in the trees. It looked like it might be one of those San Francisco days when it never completely burned off. The red lettering on the hospital signs were blurred at the edges. The letters were almost illegible in the mixture of fog, tears and sweat that burned in Marlee’s eyes.
The automatic doors opened and Marlee, out of breath and in a near panic, paused a bare moment to collect her thoughts, then walked into the whirlwind of the Emergency Room. There were people moving in every direction. Injured men and women walked around, in too much pain to just sit and wait quietly. The staff, dressed in various colored coats and uniforms moved around in an educated frenzy.
Looking around for someone, anyone who could tell her what had happened, who could take her to Luco, Marlee walked up to the receiving desk.
She tried to ask a tired looking doctor, but he turned and walked away, not even hearing her. A rumpled young resident did the same. He had been on duty for eighteen hours. She moved down the counter to a man who was sorting through some papers. Frustrated, she reached over the counter top and put her hand on his papers.
“Sir, sir, please help me.” He looked up at her. His eyes said that it had been a difficult shift.
“What can I do for you, Miss?”
“I’m trying to locate Luco Reyes. He was brought in here last night. He was hit by a car.”
“Reyes? Are you family?”
“No. I’m a friend. Please where is he? How is he? Can I see him?”
“I’m very sorry.” Her heart froze. “I’m sorry, but unless you’re family, I can’t give out any information on patients.” He looked down again at his papers, hoping that she would just go away and bother someone else.
“Please don’t do this,” she begged. The clerk refused to look up. In her frustration and rage Marlee reached out and swept his papers off the painted veneer and onto the floor. He looked up.
“Don’t ignore me. Please, where is Luco Reyes?” He glared up at her, silently cursing her for complicating the last few minutes of his workday.
Marlee felt as if she was going to explode. Her head was throbbing. Not knowing what else to do, she stepped back from the receiving desk, looked around, closed her eyes and let loose a blood-curdling scream. Even the people who were along the far wall sleeping off last night’s drugs opened their eyes and looked at her. Security guards came running. Two doctors poked their heads out from behind drawn curtains, expecting another trauma. They got one.
“Luco Reyes,” Marlee yelled to the whole room. “Please, all I need to know is…is he alive. Someone, anyone, tell me that much or I’m going to die right here.” She believed that it was true.
A middle-aged nurse walked up to the counter and picked up a black binder that was sitting next to the clerk who had been sorting papers. She turned several pages, paused to read a moment, and then looked up into Marlee’s fearful face.
“He was admitted. Go to the Lobby desk and they can help you see him and, Honey, tell them that you’re his wife.”
“Oh, God. Thank you. Thank you for telling me. The Lobby desk? How do I get there?”
Pointing over Marlee’s quivering shoulders, the nurse said, “Take that elevator to the Main floor and follow the green stripe on the floor.” Marlee turned and rushed across the crowded room to the elevator.
The nurse bent over to pick up the papers that Marlee had knocked to the floor.
“You know,” said the clerk, “That was a violation of hospital policy. I should report this.”
The exhausted nurse looked at the small picture of the pretty young woman in a nurse’s uniform. She dropped it on the desktop.
“Marty?” she said with the night’s weariness in her voice.