The screams of her baby awakened her from a dead sleep. She was in the next room before she even realized she'd moved. She reached down and snatched up the now silent baby and hugged her to her chest. She was quiet now, much too quiet.
Fear spread like wildfire through Stacy's body. It was a feeling that only a mother could experience. She was desperately trying to shake the heaviness of sleep from her brain even as a feeling of dread spread through her. By the time she looked into her beloved child's face she was already turning blue! She wasn't breathing!
Panic set in so fast that Stacy's heart beat upon her ribcage like a thousand wild horses galloping across the ground. Feet that felt wooden and glued to the floor were already running out the door and down the steps of her house. "Somebody please help me!" She screamed in such torment that anyone listening would've felt chills run down their spine. "My baby isn't breathing, help me!" She repeated in agony as those same wooden feet ran down the middle of the street in front of her little cottage home. Her long brown hair flew out behind her in a sleep-tangled mess as the air around her moved through it. Her hazel eyes flashed with so many emotions; fear, dread, determination. She glanced down at the little bundle in her arms with love and worry.
Finally, headlights shone on the crop of curly blond hair atop the little baby head, right before the deafening sound of metal-on-metal as the little silver Mustang screeched to a dead stop right in front of Stacy. She ran around to the passenger side of the car and hopped in the front seat. She turned her head toward the driver, a bewildered old man wearing hearing aids, and ordered, "Take me to the hospital, step on it!"
"What's wrong, Miss?" The old man asked in avid curiosity as he looked toward the baby lying in her arms. His speech was slow and it was obvious he was in no hurry.
"Could you just take me to the hospital, please?" Stacy begged in a pleading voice.
"Of course I can!" The old fellow answered as his gaze turned toward the road. He stepped on the gas pedal so hard that the car leapt forward, bawling tires as it flew down the street, leaving a streak of black rubber in its wake.
The emergency flashers came on at a flick of the old man's fingers and Stacy said, "I'm so sorry about this." She began, but stopped when she heard a blessed noise coming from the child in her arms. "I can hear her breaths now!" She gasped in relief, not realizing in her shock that the man had no idea what she was talking about.
"I was a veterinarian before I retired fifteen years ago." The man said inanely.
"That's nice." Stacy said quietly as she busily rubbed her precious daughter's cheeks to bring color back into them. She had begun to whimper quietly now and Stacy said a prayer of thanks to God under her breath.
"You have to speak up, I can't hear you." The man said. He didn't seem the least bit surprised that some crazy woman had run out in front of his car and flagged him down, demanding to go to the hospital.
"I'm sorry I ran out in front of you like that, Sir. My baby stopped breathing." She spoke the words overly loud so he could hear her.
"That's okay. It was a little unexpected, but quite alright. What's wrong with your child?" He asked her curiously.
"I don't know. This has never happened before. I heard her scream out once, and then nothing. I ran to her room and she was limp and turning blue!" The remembrance brought renewed chills to Stacy's skin. Suddenly her chills turned to heat waves as she realized she was in her pajamas. Her feet were bare and they began to throb almost on cue when she realized the fact.
"My goodness child, we need to hurry then." The old man replied as he stepped even harder on the gas. "My name's Paul, by the way."
"I'm Stacy and this is Tiffany." She answered as she nudged the bundle in her arms upward a bit.
"That's a pretty name." He said simply.
"Yes it is. My husband picked it out." She said in a soft, gravely tone. The bitter sadness would've been obvious to anyone listening.
"Where's your husband? Shouldn't he be the one taking you to the hospital?" Paul asked logically.
"My husband was killed in Iraq almost two years ago. I was still pregnant with my daughter when it happened." She chose her words carefully and talked loud so that he could catch what she was saying. She wouldn't tell him what her husband had done...
"I'm sorry, that must have been hard on you, being pregnant and all." The old man apologized.
"It's fine, you couldn't have known." She replied. They had just passed a blue and white hospital sign on the right side of the road and the sight caused Stacy to breathe a huge sigh of relief. "We're almost there!"
"Yes we are. I hope your baby is okay." He retorted as he turned into the entrance to the hospital. His shock of white hair was overly long and he looked like he hadn't slept in ages.
"If I may ask, why are you out so late?"
"I just left the hospital. My Ethel passed away earlier this evening and I couldn't bear to leave her just yet." He answered tiredly.
A feeling that Stacy couldn't describe washed through her body. She hadn't felt it since she was in elementary school and had accidentally wet her pants in the lunch room. She guessed it was humiliation. "I am so sorry." She said loudly, enunciating each word slowly so he was sure to hear. "I didn't know. If I would've realized I wouldn't have..." She trailed off, not being able to finish her apology because the humiliation she felt was so full.
"It's okay young lady. That baby is more important than any grief I may be experiencing. She's still among the living." He retorted as he pulled into the parking garage.
Stacy checked on Tiffy Sue again, just as she had numerous times in the fifteen minutes it had taken them to get to the hospital. She was still whimpering, but sleeping lightly. "I don't know what to say, Sir. My car is in the shop and my cell phone is turned off and I was so scared. The only recourse was for me to make someone stop and take me to the hospital."
"That makes perfect sense to me." Paul said sincerely as he opened his door. He stood up and reached down to the side of his seat. It was only then that she realized that he was missing a leg, the left one.
Stacy couldn't help it. She gasped in horror as she got out of the car on her side and rushed around to try to help him. She clutched the baby tightly to her chest and used one arm to try to steady him.
"It's okay little lady. I've been sporting this injury since I was twenty-two." He told her as he waved away her offered hand of support.
"Were you in the war then?" She asked. She was trying to mentally add up the dates to see which one it might have been.
"No I wasn't. Before I became a veterinarian I worked in the bomb squad." He said with a small rueful grin appearing on his wrinkled face.
"Oh, that sounds interesting." She was really at a loss for words. He seemed like an oddly interesting character.
"It was very interesting, until I got my leg blown off by a bomb, that is." He said deadpan.
They were hurrying toward the entrance of the hospital but she took a second to glance at his face to see if he was serious, or if he was pulling her leg. He looked serious but accepting of his devastating injuries.
"It must have been very traumatic for you." She huffed as they continued toward the door. "I don't think I could handle it if I lost a limb." Tiffany had begun to wail and her mother's instincts kicked back in two-fold. Stacy grunted and sped up.
"You go on ahead. I'll catch up soon enough." Paul told with a strained voice as he maneuvered his crutches like a pro. He'd begun to fall behind when she'd quickened her pace.
The double glass doors opened automatically and Stacy rushed in with her baby's cries gaining strength. She'd never heard such an awful sound. In between cries she was wheezing with short, gasping breaths. She ran up to the glass-enclosed window and tapped loudly. The young woman behind the desk pushed a button and asked, "What can I do for you?" She sounded bored and uncaring and Stacy felt her anger rise at the woman's lack of common decency.
"I need a doctor! Now would be nice!" She demanded. Her heart was racing with the adrenalin that was flooding through her body. She began to shake and suddenly felt dizzy and light-headed. She straightened her spine at this intrusion. She didn't have time to pander to her own issues right now.
"What seems to be the problem?" The lady asked again. She still sounded bored and unaffected by Stacy's agitation.
"I...need...a...doctor!" Stacy enunciated each word carefully and loudly with breaths in between so the woman wouldn't be confused.
"I still need to know why." The receptionist retorted, getting angry herself now. Just then her phone beeped on the desk and she picked it up to read a text.
Stacy thought she could've done serious harm to this callous lady if she'd been able to reach her through the glass enclosure. That's probably why they had it, she guessed.
Just then Stacy saw a doctor enter the small office behind the receptionist. "Sir, could you help me? My baby is having trouble breathing!" She yelled loudly as she pounded the glass furiously with one small hand.
The doctor turned toward her urgent voice, took one look at the wheezing baby who was losing color again and popped a button on the wall beside him, motioning her through the double doors to the left of where she stood. Stacy turned and ran through the doors, right into a solid brick wall.
"Oh! Sorry!" Stacy apologized when she realized it was a stocky-built man with reddish-blond hair. When she looked into his eyes for the first time she was stunned. The greenest eyes she had ever seen were staring back at her with the same stunned expression she must be wearing. Tiffy Sue wheezed loudly again and Stacy side-stepped the man and ran to the waiting doctor behind him.
The doctor grabbed the baby and ran to an examination room, calling a nurse as he went. The nurse came running. She expertly pulled down the oxygen and hooked it to the baby's face while the doctor listened to her heart and lungs at the same time with a black and silver stethoscope placed on her chest. He asked Stacy, "Has this ever happened before?"
Stacy answered back, "No! I don't know what happened. She woke me up with a scream and then she went silent. When I got to her room she was already turning blue!" Stacy said loudly in her agitation.
"Nurse, get someone from respiratory therapy down here right now! She needs a nebulizer treatment stat!" The doctor ordered firmly. "Get blood and O² sats!" He barked urgently.
"Okay, consider it done!" She answered and ran out the door.
When the nurse came back into the room the doctor told her, "Call a pulmonologist and get him down here ASAP." She rushed back out and another nurse came in the door at a run.
She was busily trying to put a pulse-ox on the baby but couldn't get a reading. She finally managed a count on the foot. "Reading is seventy-four Dr. Dooley." She informed him. She took Tiffany's blood pressure and pulse and wrote it down on a clipboard. "Do you need anything else? I have to go back down to four for a spinal."
"Macy, call x-ray and let's get some film on her chest." The doctor said when the first nurse came back into the room, ignoring the other woman's question. He would dress-her-down later for her lack of professionalism in an emergency. You couldn't leave a patient when they were in respiratory distress! "Julie, if you can't get an IV going call someone down from NICU to find a good vein. We'll also need a blood draw."
"I didn't get your name, sorry." The doctor apologized as he turned his gray-eyed gaze toward Stacy. He took in a breath when he got his first look at the young mother.
"I'm Stacy Masterson and my baby is Tiffany Suzanne but I call her Tiffy Sue for short." Stacy replied. She was still feeling a little weird and the doctor could tell. She'd been standing silently by with goose bumps all over her body, trying to make sense of all that was going on around her and the baby.
"Do you need something to calm you down, ma'am?" He asked in concern.
"No, I'll be alright. I'm just a little upset right now." She answered back. Her face was pale and her heartbeat was fluttering weirdly in her chest, not to mention her whole body was trembling with fear and anxiety, but she didn't want to tell him any of that, she wanted him to concentrate on the baby.
After a couple of minutes Tiffy Sue began to breathe easier, although she was still wheezing. The doctor felt it was time to ask some questions. "Has the baby been acting any differently lately?"
"Not that I'm aware of. She did sleep a lot today, now that I think of it."
"Is that unusual for her?" He returned.
"Yes, it's a little odd. She usually only takes one nap a day but today she took three." Stacy replied as she thought back and remembered each time. Regret filled her. "I should've realized something wasn't right."
"Don't be so hard on yourself, Mrs. Masterson. Babies are always changing and sometimes it's hard to catch the little things. The important thing is that you got her to the hospital as soon as you could. It was crucial that she get oxygen immediately." Doctor Dooley told her.
"What's going to happen now?" Stacy asked as she picked the baby up and squeezed her to her chest protectively. The oxygen mask was still over her tiny face but she was sleeping more peacefully now and Stacy needed to feel her warmth.
"We'll admit her to the hospital for at least a couple of days to observe her and make sure she has significant improvement. Right now we've got a pulmonologist on the way and we're also going to do some chest x-rays after she gets a Neb treatment." He said. "I'll have to wait until after the pulmonologist comes in and I get back the results from her blood test and x-rays before I'll know more." He told her.
"Is it too forward of me to ask what kind of doctor you are?" Stacy asked. "I mean, are you just a general practitioner?"
"I'm a pediatrician. I've been practicing for over twenty years." He smiled easily at her discomfited question. He pegged her as a first-time mother. They were always the most upset by late-night emergency room visits.
"That makes me feel much better." She retorted.
Just then a couple of respiratory therapists came to give Tiffy Sue a breathing treatment. Before they had even left the room the x-ray technicians came in to take Tiffany down to get her x-rays. Stacy refused to let her go alone. She would have to accompany them. There was no way she was going to lose sight of her daughter in this huge hospital. "I'll go with her."
"It's perfectly okay for you to go down, ma'am, but when we do the actual x-ray you'll have to step out of the room." He informed her firmly.
"That'll be fine but she isn't leaving this room without me." She returned just as firmly.
The other technician just laughed. He was also used to late-night visits from sick children with distraught mothers.
They all left and headed down to radiology. Stacy was nervous, but hopeful that the x-rays would come back in a positive light.
When she returned from downstairs Tiffy Sue was sleeping in the hospital crib. There was a questionnaire lying on the metal table beside the bed. She picked it up and began to read what it said. It had all kinds of prying questions on it like; do you ever give your baby alcohol, etc. She harrumphed and began to fill it out.
She was just waiting on the results from the blood test and the x-rays now. She prayed silently to God to heal her baby and not to let her have some kind of deadly disease that would cause her to lose the only part of her little family she had left.
Since Tiffy Sue was still sleeping Stacy laid her head back up against the wall and dozed-off. A soft shuffling noise brought her to a straight-up position. Her hazel eyes popped open and she was face to chest with the same man from earlier that she'd plowed into on her way through the ER door.
She cleared her throat. "I'm sorry that I ran into you a little bit ago." She apologized.
"Its fine, I know the circumstances were the cause." He accepted. "Is your baby going to be okay?" He asked conversationally.
"I hope so. I think she may have had an asthma attack. I'm not sure why she would just start having them now though." She told the stranger. It was very odd that she was even speaking to him because it wasn't her habit to talk to people she didn't know, but his voice sounded so familiar and safe to her...
"That's too bad. Where do you live?"
"I live up on 23rd and Shields." She replied. This was getting even scarier because she'd just pretty much told the guy her address.
He stuck out his hand and said, "I'm Isaiah Cobb."
Stacy took his offered hand and shook it firmly. It was warm and dry and she didn't feel the least bit put-off by his touch like she did with most men. "I'm Stacy Masterson, pleased to meet you."
"I'm pleased to meet you, too. I'm from down River's Bend way." He told her.
Stacy's eyes widened slightly. Her mother lived in River's Bend! She'd been trying to get her to move there ever since Chris was killed. She was beginning to wonder why this man was even in her room, or why the hospital had allowed it. She knew there was a security guard on duty. She'd seen him when she'd come back from downstairs.
"I guess you're probably wondering why some strange man just walked into your room, aren't you?" He asked with a rueful grin plastered on his slightly freckled face.
He had a short, trimmed mustache and a smile that could outdo the sunshine. Stacy thought to herself before pulling her mind back in check. "I actually am." She replied with a look of confusion on her heart-shaped face.
"I also happen to be the pastor at High Point Independent Baptist Church in River's Bend." He finished with an unfathomable look.
Stacy thought about that for a second before saying simply, "Oh, that's awesome."
He laughed a little self-consciously and asked, "Are you sure about that because you sound a little funny.
"I'm pretty sure. I don't think I've ever actually met a real pastor before. I mean, there's obviously one at my church but so many people go there that it's impossible for the pastor to meet them all.
He chuckled in amusement. "We have about a hundred people in our congregation."
"It would be so awesome to be part of a congregation like that. One could actually get to know everybody else. You could probably even ask the pastor questions and realistically expect an answer!" She returned wistfully.
"Yeah, If there's a downfall to a huge congregation it would be that there's never any real closeness. I prefer my small gathering. I know every single person and I interact with them all." He told her.
"That must be nice, I'm happy for you." She said awkwardly. She'd come off sounding rude and unappreciative.
"What denomination are you?" He persisted.
"We're non-denominational. I don't agree with the idea of splitting up into so many different denominations, I think it's divisive." She told him bluntly.
"I guess it can be. We're an independent Baptist Church because we don't answer to any corporate headquarters. We are our own Church and we only answer to each other." He told her.
"That sounds more like it should be." She agreed.
"I guess I should have said that we only answer to God first, and then each other." He said with a self-deprecating laugh.
Stacy laughed easily. She hadn't felt this at ease with anyone since Christopher had been killed in the line of duty in Iraq. Suddenly a sliver of guilt ran through her. He hadn't even been gone quite two years. No matter that he'd almost ruined her life...
Isaiah immediately noticed the change that came over the young lady. He felt awkward now and said, "Well, I have to be on my way. I was here ministering to Widow Barnes. She just had a hip replacement and she needed to see me. It was nice to meet you. I'll pray for your daughter."
"Thank you, it was nice to meet you, too." She said to the already retreating back of Pastor Isaiah Cobb.
Stacy sighed with a sense of loss she didn't understand. The stranger had filled her room and dispelled the loneliness that had plagued her ever since Chris died. Tears of self-pity filled her eyes and she angrily wiped them away. Her daughter was sick and here she was feeling sorry for herself!