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Monday, April 2, 9:37 a.m.

I speed the entire way to Harborview Hospital just south of downtown Seattle. Sprawling, linked to innumerable clinics, and equipped with myriad high tech medical marvels, it’s the place the paramedics take you when something very bad has happened to you. It’s not far from the headquarters of my second career, circa my mid-20s. The war refugee mothers to whom I played social worker used to bring their U.S. born babies to Harborview’s emergency room every time they had so much as a cold. They told me they’d seen too many babies (their own, mainly) die in the refugee camps from simple diarrhea or a cough that turned deadly. They had no problem with medical overkill for a case of the sniffles. But it annoyed the nurses no end.

I ask after Jack O’Lies at the front desk. I’m directed to another desk. Then another. HIPAA privacy laws are invoked, then Jack’s records are consulted via computer. For some reason, I’m on his emergency contact list. I’m directed to the intensive care unit.

Oh God…

I find Jack in a hospital bed. He’s in a paper gown. He’s got an oxygen tube in his nose. He looks terrible.

I crumble before I reach his bedside.

“Oh God, Jack…” I say, as I halt a good six feet from his bed. “What happened to you? Are you okay? No, obviously not…but…what happened?”

His eyes open slowly. They drift to me. They widen slightly…brighten slightly.

Now would be the perfect time to breach the barrier. I should step up to his bed and place my hand on his chalk-white brow. Or take his blue hand lying limply on the thin hospital coverlet and hold it tight in mine.

Instead, I awkwardly grab a spindly chair situated near his thrumming heart monitor. I scrape it loudly across the linoleum and sit not too close to his bed. The truth is, I’m repulsed and scared as hell to see him reduced to this medical specimen. He looks like his Alzheimer’s addled mother. He makes the marrow ache deep in my bones.

“Can you breathe okay?” I say. “I had one of those things in my nose when I was in labor. It was awful. It doesn’t do anything. The nurses said I was hyperventilating, so they put oxygen up my nose. Then they said I was still hyperventilating, so they made me put a paper bag over my face. Seriously! Pure oxygen, then oxygen deprivation. Nurses are sadistic, I swear. Jack? Are you…can you answer me? Oh God, what happened to you?”

Jack does not reach for my hand as he lies in his hospital bed. But his eyes reach for mine. He coughs the rheumy cough I knew so well when I smoked, then he tries to talk to me.

“Katherine?” he says. His voice is so ragged I can barely hear him.

“Yes,” I say. “I’m here. Do you want to tell me what happened?”

Jack coughs again. He inhales hard, his chest hitching under the paper gown.

“They tried to kill Lucy,” he says. “But I saved her. She’s okay. I…”

He coughs again. I want to pull the oxygen tube out of his nose. I know it’s making things worse.

“Talk to me,” I say. “Please, Jack. I don’t know what to ask you.”

“You can’t record this, Katherine,” Jack says.

He pauses to draw a breath. He’s as pale as the moon.

“You can’t take notes,” he says.

He coughs for a solid sixty seconds, making his heart monitor pick up to a gallop. He lies very still in the hospital bed, gasping shallowly as the monitor gradually slows.

At last, he says, “Just listen.”

 

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