A big night for EMT Saint Theresa . . . she has to save the life of Santa Claus!
The raucous sound of the klaxon blared throughout the building and Saint Theresa, facing the biggest poker pot of the night, sixty-seven cents, dropped her full house and stood.
“Anyone who touches this table before I get back will assume room temperature . . . God is watching you!” She shouted over the alarm before hurrying to her engine.
As she slid into the driver’s seat her new partner of two weeks, Cridel Washington jumped into the other side. Theresa hit the garage door opener and started the engine and the flashing lights. While they waited for the door to open, a loudspeaker gave their destination and Cridel needlessly wrote it down. The numbers were already burned into Theresa’s mind.
Cridel was straight from paramedic school and rumor had it that being Saint Theresa’s partner was equivalent to being Dirty Harry’s partner in the Clint Eastwood films. Small of stature at five foot one inch, Theresa regularly wriggled into smashed cars leaking gasoline while wiser men and women were running for cover. He requested this duty and had learned more in the last two weeks than other paramedics learned in a year.
To the sound of squealing rubber Theresa barreled out of the building, her truck sliding sideways and grabbing for traction. With a final wiggle, the truck straightened and accelerated toward the scene of a multiple car accident. Cridel surreptitiously loosened his grip on the armrest and leaning forward to help with spotting traffic, remembered what he had heard of his partner.
It was said that in the dictionary, beside the word ‘overachiever’, was a picture of Saint Theresa. She had gotten her nickname, ‘Saint’, because of her habit of praying over accident victims as she worked on them, beseeching the Almighty to spare their lives as she worked on their bodies. She was also known as ‘The Angel with a Death Wish’ for her fearless actions. She scared him to death but Cridel wouldn’t have had it any other way. He was as dedicated to the job as she was.
The truck hit the small rise on Maple Street and Cridel felt the tires leave the pavement momentarily before crashing down again. The first time this had happened, He had commented on ‘getting to the scene in one piece’. Her response had been a raised eyebrow and a sour look. He didn’t want to see that look again.
“Car on the right, might not stop,” Cridel sang out. On the cross street a car was rolling through the stop sign and gave every indication of continuing. Theresa leaned on the horn and whipped the truck left, then right into a four-wheel drift around the front of the startled motorist who was playing his radio too loud.
“You give a new meaning to the word, ‘traction’,” Cridel commented, hoping his voice was even.
“It’s all in the wrist,” she answered, shaking her right wrist at him.
When they arrived at the accident the scene was filled with onlookers. Leaning on her horn Saint Theresa surveyed the scene as the gawkers parted like the Red Sea. It appeared that an old 1960’s muscle car had been going north and T-boned an equally old German compact traveling east. The little car had careened off and center-punched a power pole and the crowd was milling around the tricked-out compact that now looked like a crushed beer can.
“Find the driver of the big car and check his condition while I look at the other one,” Theresa ordered.
She exited the truck and began opening locker doors while she made contact with hospital on the radio strapped to her shoulder. Carrying her medical bag and a big flashlight she ran to the compact and looked in. Her heart sank.
The driver of the little car was a big man, at least six feet tall and about 250 pounds with short silver hair and a full white beard. He hadn’t so much as entered the car as put it on. The driver’s door, the first point of impact, was caved in against the man’s left side. Hitting the pole had wrapped the flimsy front end over his lower body and he had become one with the car. Added to that was the fact that the gas tank had been in the front . . . it was now sitting on the hapless driver’s lap. Through the open window, Saint Theresa could smell gasoline.
“Dear Heavenly Father,” she murmured, beginning her litany.
While her hand searched for a pulse in the man’s neck her eyes surveyed his condition. The door impact had surely broken his left arm and some ribs. His head had struck the top of the door and there was a large swelling on his left temple. The steering wheel was against his chest but hadn’t pierced it. His legs were enveloped in metal and she couldn’t determine their condition.
Theresa turned to the two police officers standing by. “There’s gas leaking, better get the crowd back and tell them not to smoke.” She finally found a weak and thready pulse. The man is unconscious, she gauged, checking his eyes, no! He’s in a coma! The blow to his head probably caused a blood clot!
While she radioed this information to the hospital a fire truck had arrived and the fireman were pulling out a hose as the Captain approached her.
“Get something on this gasoline and bring the ‘Jaws of Life’,” she yelled. She turned back to the victim, probing his wounds and talking softly to him. “Come on, big guy, work with me, stay with me, we’ll get you out.” Changing the urgency of her voice she prayed, “Heavenly Father, Giver of life, I plead for this man’s life if it be Your will.”
Saint Theresa was interrupted by the firemen bringing the Jaws and an extinguisher. One man operated the hydraulic crowbar while the other sprayed foam into the car. Cridel rushed up and told her that the other driver, apparently unhurt, had fled the scene. His car was full of empty beer cans.
The screeching noise of tearing metal brought her back to the victim. The Jaws pried open the door, then repositioning it, removed the door from the car. Instructing the two burley firemen to take the man’s shoulders and pull his upper body from the car, Theresa knelt by his side to see the condition of his legs. His left foot was trapped against the clutch pedal and as she worked to free it, sparks began falling from under the dash. There was no room for anyone to spray more foam, she would just have to trust God to hold back the fire until the victim was removed. Praying louder she worked to free the trapped foot. After what seemed to be an eternity, the foot came free and the firemen, with Cridel’s help pulled the man out and away from the car. As Theresa turned away, a loud ‘Foomph’ of igniting gasoline made her bend low, placing her body between the victim and the car. She felt the heat but there was now room the spray the car and put the fire out. Theresa silently thanked God for His intervention.
The injured man was put on a stretcher and placed in a waiting ambulance. Theresa climbed in beside him leaving Cridel to follow in the truck. The ambulance EMT knew Theresa and therefore knew better than to suggest he should handle it. Theresa’s hands flew over the victim while she gently talked to him. Coma victims could hear and she wanted him to only hear positive thoughts. Her prayers filled the ambulance every bit as much as the siren.
At the hospital she followed alongside the rolling Gurney inside the emergency room until a Doctor showed up. Saint Theresa had never seen him before. He was probably a young intern doing his first rotation. She quickly related the man’s condition to the doctor who listened with a smug smile.
“He’s probably just unconscious. Why don’t you let the doctor decide?”
The way he said ‘doctor’ brought Theresa up short. Turning to a nearby nurse she asked, “Marge, would you please page Malcolm?”
The doctor looked startled. “Malcolm? Malcolm Bridges, Head of the OR?”
It was Theresa’s turn to smile as the page echoed throughout the hospital.
Moments later a distinguished older man wearing a white coat rushed to the scene. “What’s the problem here?” Dr. Bridges asked.
Theresa spoke quickly. “Doogie Houser here wants to argue diagnoses while the patient dies. This man is in a coma with an obvious clot in the brain and the longer we wait the more brain damage he’s going to suffer!”
Dr. Bridges pulled a pencil flashlight from his breast pocket and peeled back the man’s eyelids, flicking his light in them. “Right again, Tess, let’s get this man to Radiology, STAT, and call Dr. Than.”
As an intern pushed the Gurney down the hall, Theresa left to find Cridel and a policeman to fill out her paperwork.
“Your first meeting with our Saint Theresa, Dr. Barnes?” Dr. Bridges asked.
“Really, Dr. Bridges, I must protest, an EMT telling me what to do . . .”
“Dr. Barnes, let me tell you a little bit about this EMT. Twenty-five years ago she came to us as an RN. She worked here in OR for five years, saving more lives with her knowledge than I can remember. She wasn’t happy with that and became an EMT because she thought she could save even more lives if she was first on the scene. She has performed heart surgery in a moving ambulance, under the auspices of our heart specialist by radio, and arrived with a man’s heart in her hands, massaging it. He’s still walking around and sends her a bouquet of roses each year on the day it happened.”
“She has more initials after her name than you and I combined. When she gives you a diagnosis, listen and look. In twenty-five years she’s NEVER been wrong. When you earn that kind of record, then you can dispute her. Until then, work with her, she’s the best ally you’ll ever have out there.”
Cridel and an officer were filling out the paperwork so she took over and asked Cridel to restock the unit while she double-checked his work. Cridel had never made an error and he was going to be one of the good ones she thought, but attention to all details was a good learning tool.
“The guy looks like Santa Claus, doesn’t he?” The officer commented.
Theresa held the driver’s license up to the light and looked at the picture. “Yeah, he does, and he wouldn’t need padding, either.”
James Richard Baer, six feet one inch, 250 lbs, hazel eyes, fifty-seven years old, address out in the county. “Have you found any next-of-kin?” She asked, going through the wallet.
“Not yet. Calling his phone number just rings his cell phone there,” he said, pointing at Baer’s personal effects on the counter.
Theresa went through the wallet. No pictures of wife or kids, but one of a sad-eyed Basset hound. Should have been Comet and Cupid, she idly thought. There were business cards of publishers and one agent. “I’d call this agent, Max Burbage, Baer might be a writer.” She handed the card to the cop.
“Good idea. That number was stored in his phone.”
Cridel came up with his arms full of medical supplies and she went with him to put them away in the unit.
“You sure handled that doctor,” Cridel commented.
“Gotta train ‘em right,” she commented, putting the pack of sterile bandages in place.
Cridel looked at his watch as he climbed back into the unit. “I’ll be end-of-shift when we get back; I’d better call my wife to come get me.”
“Nonsense, why make her wrap up the baby to come get you at this time of night? I’ll drop you off on the way home.”
“Well, if it wouldn’t be any trouble . . .”
“If it was any trouble, I wouldn’t do it,” she said with a wink.
Theresa wheeled her ¾ ton crew cab pick-up truck into her garage with inches to spare on either side. Friends were amused at her choice of vehicles, but she pointed out that experience showed that people driving big vehicles came out better in accidents. Like that poor man tonight, if he’d been driving this truck . . . What brought him to mind? She wondered.
She started a hot bath and poured some scented oil into the water. At fifty, her knees and feet were starting to bother her and the bath helped. She soaked for half an hour while reading the latest New England Journal of Medicine. Later, she steamed some veggies and after her meal, went to her second bedroom, her computer room, to check her e-mail. There was the usual spam her blocker missed, but nothing important. Sipping a diet drink, on a hunch, she typed “James Richard Baer” into her search engine. Among references to boxing and The Beverly Hillbillies she saw what she was looking for and clicked on the website.
There he was, looking even more like Santa. He wrote Romance/Adventure stories and there was a link to sales. Theresa perused the titles and actually bought one online. Idle interest, she told herself.
The picture of the Basset hound filled her mind and she searched the website for more information, but there was nothing. Shutting down her computer didn’t shut down the image of the dog so she reached for the phone. Suppose he lived alone, what would happen to that sweet dog without him to care for it?
Remembering the officer’s name at the hospital, she called the Police Department and requested the officer call her when he could. Five minutes later her phone rang. It was the cop and he had called the Sheriff’s office to check out the Baer premises. There had been no one at home but there was a dog, scheduled to be picked up by Animal Control in the morning. Theresa pictured the frightened Basset sitting on cold wet concrete wondering where its master was. That wasn’t going to happen. She called the County and made arrangements to pick up the dog herself. Then she called the hospital and asked about Baer’s condition. Against the rules, Marge told her that he was in surgery but his outlook looked good because of her timely diagnosis.
The next day was her day off, and after calling the hospital Theresa bought a leash, dog food and a map and managed to find Baer’s place. She was surprised to see that it was a huge log cabin, and not a kit, either. Someone had built it with their two hands. It was the perfect setting for a writer. Although the cabin was sitting on expansive grounds, there was a chain link fence behind it, enclosing a large back yard. One deep ‘woof’ brought her attention to the gate, and the sorrowful dog behind it. She knelt and stuck her fingers through the fence and the Basset licked them cheerfully. Remembering that the photo in Baer’s wallet had ‘Emily’ written on the back, she said the name and was given a happy, quizzical look. She opened the gate, snapped on the leash and was rewarded by almost having her arm pulled from its socket by the heavy, powerful dog. Too short and too heavy to jump into the high truck, she had to help the dog in, wondering if she had perhaps bitten off more than she could chew. Emily seemed happy enough to go for a ride, drooling and shedding hair all over the upholstery. Back at her house, Theresa decided Emily would stay in the backyard.
In the five minutes it took her to get bowls of food and water, Emily had partially dug up her flowerbed. Theresa loved yard work and spent many happy hours cutting and pruning until the grounds were immaculate and this dog was going to ruin it, she was sure. She wondered if it was too late to call the dog pound. But Emily trotted to her side and laid her wet muzzle in her lap and looked up at her with the saddest eyes. Her heart melted. Adjustments could be made, she reflected, her hands combing through Emily’s soft fur.
Theresa cleaned up and took a drive to the hospital. No one questioned her presence in CCU and she pulled a chair up beside the bed and sat down. Tubes and wires flowed from Baer’s body to various beeping machines and though she had seen it many times, her mind rebelled at measuring human life by these artificial means. Life was meant to be experienced by touching, feeling warmth, conversation, not by mindless machines measuring various electrical impulses. Where was the comfort in that?
Still, with experienced eyes, Theresa read the machines, but she also took Baer’s free hand in hers and sat quietly. His left arm was in a cast, and underneath his gown his ribs were surely wrapped, but except for the bandage on his head, his full beard made him look almost normal . . . human. She bowed her head and began to pray.
Theresa pleaded for Baer’s life as she had done for so many others, but this time was somehow different. It wasn’t the fact that he looked like Santa Claus, but that there was such a quiet strength within him, a strength she could feel through his callused hand, a strength that couldn’t be measured by the machines. She looked at his sleeping countenance, the laugh lines around the eyes, the strong, straight nose, the lips hidden behind white hair and realized that he was handsome although half of his face was hidden beneath the beard.
What was this man like? She had clues from his cabin and from the dog that shared his life, and her mind took this information and began building upon it to the point where something happened to her heart. There was a pain within it that she had never felt before, and she suddenly realized, for whatever reason, that this man was very important to her.
James. Would his friends call him, ‘Jim’? ‘James’ seemed so formal. This man was too warm to be formal, too quiet and too thoughtful. He wrote of romance, something he had no doubt experienced, for could someone write of that of which he had no knowledge? She would have to wait until his book arrived to know.
Theresa talked to him as if he could hear her, something she truly believed. She told him of the accident and of his injuries, carefully adding that he would recover and that all was well. She told him that Emily now lived with her and that he should not worry about that, that he should not worry about anything, the she and God would make things right. It was an hour before she could let go of his hand and leave.
She couldn’t leave this man, really. She was on her way home but still, on one level, she held his hand. Many times over her life she had asked God for the right man for her, but he had not appeared. Yes, she had dated, but those men were self-centered or afraid of her intellect and abilites. Her life was fulfilling and over the years she had stopped asking, content with her life, working for God. Why complicate things at this late date? She knew nothing about Baer really, only her imagination. He could have an ex-wife, or kids, or a new love, and wouldn’t she just be setting herself up for heartache? Yet, she couldn’t stop herself from thinking of him, she couldn’t stop her heart.
The next day at work, Theresa had a moment between runs and decided to look in on Baer. She took his hand and sat beside him, relating all that Emily had done to her yard. When she looked up at his face, she was startled to see two beautiful hazel eyes trying to focus on her. Whispering her thanks to God, she pushed the ‘panic’ button and a nurse hurried in.
“Look,” Theresa said gratefully, ‘he’s waking up, get a doctor.”
Doctor Meyer appeared and shooed her from the room. She trusted this doctor so she left quietly, buoyed with happiness that ‘her man’ had awakened.
There were no more emergencies that day so Theresa never got the chance to see Baer. After work, she rushed home to bathe and change before visiting hours. As she was picking up her truck keys, the doorbell rang.
She opened the door to a strikingly beautiful blonde woman in her mid thirties.
“Ms. Taylor? Jim Baer asked me to stop by and pick up Emily before she does anymore damage to your yard. It took me awhile to track you down and I’m running late and I just have time to do this. I brought her leash.”
Numbly, Theresa led the woman to the back yard. Emily obviously knew her, and allowed herself to be leashed. She followed the woman out to her car and petted Emily goodbye.
“She was no trouble, really.”
“Well, Jim is very grateful for your help, but felt he had imposed on you enough. I gotta run, and thank you again.”
Theresa watched the Mercedes pull away from the curb, and she secretly gloated at what Emily was doing to its upholstery. Then she asked God’s forgiveness.
She went back inside, almost doubled over from the emptiness she felt inside. With a woman like that, why would Jim even look at her? Young, beautiful, this woman was everything that Theresa felt she was not. A crushing sadness enveloped her heart. She threw herself on her bed and cried. Why? She beseeched God. Why tempt me with something I cannot have? A lesson? A reminder that love, after all these years, is not for me?
She rose and went out to her backyard. The dead flowers lying in the dug-up beds were mute testimony to her loss. She felt just like those flowers, ripped from life and left to die by the wayside. For the first time in a long time, being alone felt lonely.
Theresa threw herself into her work, and when Baer’s book arrived, she tossed it, unread, on her computer table. She wanted to work on her day off, but the Captain, sensing her mood, made her take it. At home, she tackled her flowerbeds, setting them right, erasing the last evidence of her hurt from her life. The last flower replaced, she stood and massaged her aching back. She was startled by a single ‘woof’ from her gate. A ghost sound?
Theresa turned and saw Emily smiling and wagging her tail. Her leash ended in the hand of Santa Claus.
“Emily wants to know if you’d care to go for a walk?” Santa asked.
Warmness flooded through her heart and she tried to hold it back, but failed. Even if she couldn’t have him, she could have this time. It would be closure of a sort.
“Are you in any shape for a walk?”
“Well, I drove over here, didn’t I? Besides, I’m told that a certain ‘Saint’ has pronounced me well.”
Theresa opened the gate and took the leash from him. Emily immediately jerked and pulled her against her master, who couldn’t hide a wince.
“She’s not very well trained, I’m afraid. She’s too single-minded for it. Kind of like you, I guess.”
Emily started off down the sidewalk, pulling them with her.
“What could you possibly know about me?”
“A lot more than you might expect. I’m a writer and I’m used to doing research. Besides, you told me most of it yourself.”
“Then you did hear me talking to you?”
“Yes. That was the biggest reason I woke up. I just had to meet the woman with so much kindness in her heart.”
Theresa blushed for the first time in many years. “I do that for a lot of my ‘patients’.”
“So I hear. I’m glad you did it for me.”
Emily, who had been steadily pulling on her leash suddenly stopped to smell a bush.
Theresa took a deep breath. “I’m sure your girlfriend would have done the same, if she had known.”
“Girlfriend?” Jim asked quizzically.
“The beautiful blonde you sent for Emily.” Theresa could feel her heart beating rapidly.
“Oh, Max. Or Maxine, my agent. She has a soft heart but hides it under the personality of a trial lawyer. She often cares for Emily when I must travel.”
“So, there’s no one in your life to care for you?” What was she thinking to say something so bold?
“There’s Emily,” he said, looking down at her with those smiling green eyes. “But she has a little trouble with the refrigerator. Once she gets it open, she tends to eat everything inside of it herself.”
Finished with the bush, Emily pulled them along again until they reached the light pole at the corner.
Theresa massaged her shoulder. “This dog could pull Santa’s sleigh,” she teased.
“I tried that one year, but she stops constantly to catch a scent, and if a rabbit crosses our path, well, I lose an hour.”
“So, you think you’re Santa? Must have been a bigger blow to your head than I thought.”
Jim looked furtively around then brought his face close to her’s. “Keep it quiet, or we’ll be up to our armpits in children.” There was a genuine twinkle in his eye.
“What an imagination! I bought one of your books.”
“Heart of a Saint.”
“You’ll love that one, it’s my favorite. It’s about a paramedic who falls in love with a man she saves.”
© S.J. Beres 2004