Dr. Waldt seats himself in the chair he’s placed in his foyer for just this purpose. He is already dressed in his winter overcoat and stocking cap, with a pair of fur lined, leather gloves sticking out from his overcoat pocket. He pauses for a moment and places his open hands, one on each thigh, takes a deep breath in through his nose, and slowly exhales through his mouth. Now do this, he says thinks to himself. He leans over and picks up a small basket that sits on the floor beside him. He digs through a pile of rubber straps, metal chains, cleats, titanium spikes, thick elastic ropes, and bladed metal until he finds a matching pair of ice crampons. The ones he chooses are made of inch wide rubber with sharp aluminum spikes at the bottom. He pulls the rubber of the crampon first over the toe of his hiking boot; then he tugs and stretches the simple contraption until it snaps on over the heel. He repeats the struggle for his other boot. He rises, pulls on his gloves, picks up his briefcase and heads out into the snow storm.
It’s still dark and the yard light reflects off the slow-floating flakes, exaggerating their size and number. He shuffles through the additional six inches of snow that has accumulated on his front steps and walkway since he shoveled last evening. He makes note of the snow, It’s light and airy. An easy shovel, he thinks to himself. He brushes the snow off the Jeep handle, then slides into the vehicle and starts it. He adjusts the heat and window defrosters. If I had a remote starter like every other sensible person my age . . . . But that’s not how I choose to live. He gets out of the Jeep and grabs an old broom that is stuck into the four foot high, hand shoveled, snow bank. He sweeps the snow off the top and hood and then stabs the broom handle back into the snow bank. He opens the driver’s door again, leans in, and takes the long handled ice scraper from the passenger’s floor. He scrapes every inch of every window. Fresh snow falls and melts onto the windows as he works. When he’s finished, still holding his scraper, he turns slowly, looking into the surrounding woods, thickened and muffled by snow, When I get home I’ll go for a ski, he says to himself.
Once seated, he checks his mirrors. Checks his four-wheel drive setting. Checks his seat belt. Checks his phone by patting his left breast pocket. Then he steps into the clutch and slips the standard transmission into first and slowly slugs through the six inches of unshoveled snow in his downhill driveway. He takes his time tuning into the 12 inches of unplowed snow on his street. He’s still driving downhill, when he comes to the intersection. He makes a right turn. He shifts to second while turning and before he presses on through a 16 inch berm of heavy snow covered by hard packed clumps the size of bricks. The Jeep, high-set on studded tires, slices through the berm and onto the freshly plowed road. Clear sailing now until I get to the highway, he says to himself.
For fifty years he has made the drive from his cabin on the side of a mountain and down into the Anchorage bowl for his work. As he crosses the highway overpass he slows, turns his head and checks oncoming traffic for merging advice. Either there are no incoming headlights, or the snowfall is heavy enough to hide traffic. He notes that the outside lane into town has been plowed. The single streetlight at the overpass picks up the reflective sheen of ice on the highway. Opaque white ice has collected along the lane edges. More worrisome is the unnatural black sheen where vehicle wheels have smoothed and buffed ice into, around, and on top of the asphalt. He feathers his breaks—touch down, lift up. And again— touch down, lift up. Then he downshifts into second. Another touch to the breaks. Another release. As he turns onto the offramp he accelerates ever so slightly and holds the acceleration. His rearview and sideview mirrors look into depths of snowfall. He continues acceleration until he is fully merged into his lane. Gradually he gives the Jeep more gas until he can shift into third gear. Once in third, he slowly builds again. “Thirty-five to forty-five,” he says out loud, marking the parameters of his goal speed. He accelerates to forty, but before shifting, he removes his foot from the gas pedal and taps down on the breaks. The Jeep’s rear end fishtails to the right, then pendulum swings to the left, then again to the right. The vehicle straightens when he gives her more gas.Waldt smiles and lifts his chin, “Okay, then. Good to know. Thirty-five in third all the way into town,” he says out loud to mark his decision. He smiles into the oncoming whiteout.
Officer Strat walks into the ED. He appears thinner and perhaps not quite as tall as when he left the ED six hours ago. Both he and his uniform seem a bit rumpled. But maybe that’s because it is only natural to compare him to the woman who is walking in with him. He is old enough to be her father. She is dressed in pristine navy blue slacks and matching blazer. Her white blouse is stuffed snugly into her slacks. Even her lace-up flats look freshly buffed. Her dark hair is pulled tightly back into a bun at the nape of her neck. Her lines are tight and smooth, broken only by the gun-bulge under her jacket. A practiced eye will notice that the bulge is at the left side of her waist, and that both the number and design of the belt tabs on her slacks have been modified to support her wide leather holster belt.
Strat leads out across the waiting area, with the woman at his side and a step behind. He approaches the admissions window and nods to the triage nurse.
“Hey, Joe, how’s it going,“ Strat asks.
“Quiet right now,” the nurse says, rising from his chair and beckoning Strat to come in. “Come on back.”
Strat steps to the side and the woman steps up to the window. Strat says, “Joe, I’d like you to meet Detective Jessica Rabinowitz.”
“Hi Joe, you can call me JR,” she says.
“Hey JR, I’m Joe. Both of you can come on back. If all hell breaks out, you can clear the area though, okay?”
“Absolutely,” JR says.
Strat and JR enter into the EMPLOYEES ONLY door, turn the corner and enter into Triage Nurse Joe’s space. All three remain standing in the small room.
“JR is on loan to us from Seattle. She is helping us sort out this mess of drug problems we find ourselves in,” Strat says.
“Drugs are your bag then?” Joe chuckles.
“Yes, you might say drugs are my calling,” she responds, smiling.
“You are not alone. There are a whole lot of us with callings of various sorts. Otherwise we would not all be here in the wee hours of a Sunday morning.”
“Speaking of drugs, how are our patients doing this morning?” Strat asks.
“The one you brought in, Anna is headed up to the psych unit as we speak. We sent the young kid home with his parents. He was stable. He’ll be okay. The third one is in four-points. That’s him you can hear yelling from back in Room Three.”
“Lab work back on them yet?” JR asks.
“Yep. It looks like the kid was a simple cannabis OD. Got into his parents’ gummies. First time. Pretty typical. When he did not get high on a couple, he kept taking more. Until, whoops! But no seizures that we know of. After an hour of vomiting and four more hours of IV fluids, he was good to go. The hardest part was handling the parents,” Joe says.
“Did they cause any trouble here?” Strat asks.
“Actually it was not them so much as Doc Sanchez. He laid into them for having the shit in the house in the first place,” Joe is shaking his head as he speaks. “He kinda couldn’t get hold of himself. Just had it up to here,” Joe swipes the flat of his hand over the top of his head. “Just had it up to here.”
JR chimes in. “Actually we know all about that. When Doc was finished with the parents, he called the station and asked us to make a safety check on them. We were waiting for them when they got home.”
“I think seeing their kid be so sick, having their neighbors witness the patrol car parked outside their house in the middle of the night, and then add to that—a good stiff dose of Doc Sanchez—well they probably understand the error of their ways,” Strat says.
"We need more like Sanchez," Strat says. "Now there's a man with a calling."
"Sure that," Joe says.
“How about the guy in four points?” JR asks. "What's his lab work say?"
“We just got the first results back. So far, looks like straight up, old fashioned Angel Dust,” Joe says as he turns and pulls up the computer screen to show the 17-drug assay. The three of them arrange themselves so that they can all see the screen.
“You sent a sample to our Seattle lab, right?” JR asks.
“You bet. Nothing back from them yet. Anything in particular you looking for?”
“Metabolites of Xylazine. It’s a muscle relaxant for horses. We’ve been using it as a marker. Lately it’s a fair bet that if Xylazine is present, it’ll be a dirty soup of drugs,” JR says.
“That makes sense. Doc says Room Three will probably make it through, but he won’t be bringing his liver along with him.”
“Hmm,” JR says. “That means, in a few weeks, you can look for some of his friends showing up with liver damage.”
“We can be proactive.” Strat says, “Let’s get ahold of his friends, or anyone who might have used with him, see if maybe we can get them to get their livers checked. Did anyone come in with him?”
“Apparently a couple of guys dropped him off and took off before anyone could talk to them. No identifying information. We don’t even know his name.”
“I bet we can take a look at parking lot footage and snag the license number of the vehicle that dropped him off. Maybe run some John Doe fingerprints. It would be a start.” JR says.
“Okay, yes we can do that.” Strat says.
“Meanwhile, here’s Anna’s labs.” The three of them reposition around the computer to see the screen.
“Zolpidem, MDMA, LSD and Ketamine,” JR says.
“That serious?” Strat asks.
“That’s serious,” JR says. "They threw the book at her brain."
“I wonder, can we talk to the House-Shrink?” Strat asks.
“Bassett is in Room Three, trying to come up with chemical restraints,” Joe says. “When she’s done there, she will probably grab some breakfast and head up to Psych for rounds.”
“Joe!” A woman’s voice shouts his name. Once. Staccato. A glance out Joe’s window and all three are in motion. Strat and JR step back against the wall on either side of the door as Joe bolts through and into the waiting room. Strat and JR follow but stand back and out of the way.
A boy is pushing an old woman in a wheel chair. No longer sitting upright, she has drifted over to the side. Her wide, frightened eyes indicate she is conscious. The boy emits a bray, using his deep man’s voice, he shouts, then within the same breath his voice slips to a high child’s begging voice. The man wails. “Ahhhh.” The child begs. “Please, please, please.”
“Stroke protocol.” Joe’s voice has wings and rises above the boy’s lamentations and carries straight back into the ED. Joe having reached the woman, straightens her into an upright position. The right side of her face sags and saliva runs down her chin. Her right arm has fallen from her lap and hangs helplessly over the side of the wheelchair. Joe squats in front of the wheelchair and using a small flashlight checks her pupils. Two women and a man run out from the ED and into the waiting room. The man is bulldozer size, the width of his chest and shoulders nearly matching his height. He gets down on one knee in front of the old woman, and cradles her face in his two hands. “I’m Dr. Sanchez,” he says, looking directly into her eyes. “You’re going to be all right.” He rises grabs the right arm of the wheelchair and begins to pull it forward. One of the nurses circles to the back of the moving wheelchair and attempts to take the handles. But she can’t get a hold because the boy won’t let go. He’s stopped braying and breaths heavily as he pushes the chair.
“Dr. Sanchez,” the nurse is calm, providing additional information. “The boy won’t let go. He’s coming along.”
Sanchez stops, turns and for the first time looks closely at the boy. “Son, you need to stay here,” Sanchez says. We’re going to take her back and look after her. You stay here.” He nods at one of the nurse, “Angela will stay with you.”
“No I have to stay with her,” his voice is rasping, barely above a whisper.
“We’re going to take care of her,” the nurse says. She uses both of her hands to try to pry one of his hand-grips loose. His hands are iron-clamped onto the wheelchair. Now in a soothing voice she asks, “What is her name? Can you tell us her name?”
“Grandma Margaret. Her name is Grandma Margaret.”
“And what’s your name?”
“Jacob. I’m Jacob.”
“Okay Jacob, you need to let go of the chair so we can take her back to take care of her.”
Jacob first takes a deep breath, then roars. “I stay with Grandma!” Everyone stops. Stone cold. Someone has pushed the automatic button and the double sliding doors that lead into the ED stand open. The wheelchair is stopped immediately in front of the doorway along with Jacob, Dr. Sanchez, Joe and the two nurses. Meanwhile others begin to drift toward the group in impasse, some with silent offers to help, others out of curiosity.
Sanchez is the first to move. “We need to get that IV in,” he says motioning the IV nurse over. Without saying a word, she quietly rolls her IV cart over and sets to work on Margaret’s left arm.
“I won’t leave Grandma. I stay with Grandma. I promised.”
A woman in her fifties, wearing a brown corduroy jacket, blue jeans and dark circles under her eyes exits the ED. Joe is the first to see her as she approaches. He puts his hands behind his ears pantomiming listening. She raises her two clasped hands above her head in victory. “Yes, all is quiet in Room Three,” Dr. Bassett says. Then spreads her open hands to include everyone in the stymied group. “Now can I help quiet all this down?”
“I stay with Grandma,” Jacob is the first to speak. His voice is as strong and sure as the floor they all stand on.
“Well of course you do,” Bassett says.
She turns toward Sanchez. “How about he goes back with Grandma, but stays right outside the room and watches through the glass wall.” She looks toward Jacob. “Will that be okay?”
Jacob nods. Sanchez nods, then adds, “Yes, but he needs a trustworthy adult with him.”
“Perhaps I can be of assistance?” A gentleman in a calf length, formal overcoat and carrying a leather briefcase steps forward.
“This is Dr. Thomas Waldt,” Bassett says. “I vouch for him.”
Sanchez walks around behind the wheelchair and firmly takes Jacob’s shoulders in hands the size of baseball mitts. He bends down to meet Jacob’s eyes. “For the next few hours this man is your honorary grandfather and you will honor and obey him. Do you understand?” Jacob nods his head. “Because if you do not obey him.” Sanchez gestures his head toward Strat. “This policeman will remove you from the ED. Got it?”
“Got it,” Jacob says.
Sanchez goes back around the wheelchair just as the IV nurse is taping the splint into place. He grasps the arm of the wheelchair and begins to pull it into the ED. Jacob lets go of the handles and turns toward Waldt who is now standing beside him. Jacob, not yet having achieved his man-height, and Dr Waldt having given up several inches of his man-height, stand eye to eye. “You can call me Thomas,” Waldt says.
“I go by Jake” and he reaches for Waldt’s hand. They follow Grandma Margaret as she is being wheeled into the ED. Hand in hand.