For One Life
By J.D. and M. Blais
Luka had shifted more to his side, giving his knee a rest as he settled into an uneasy sleep disturbed often by coughing, the slow hiss of the oxygen the only other sound breaking the tent's quiet.
Sometime during the night, the other two returned, and now Claire was sleeping in her father's cot, much quieter than Luka was.
As a particularly heavy jag woke him he propped himself up on one arm...as he was waiting for it to pass he was just able to pick out their sleeping forms in the darkness.
William stirred from the chair he was stretched out in, his eyes opening to slits in the dark as the sound roused him. "Luka?"
"Yeah..." His voice came out a hoarse croak. "Didn't mean to wake you."
William unfolded himself from the chair, rising to fetch the water pitcher and a cup. "That's quite all right. It may not look that way, but it's close to dawn, and this is when I wake anyway." His voice was low, in the dark.
Luka simply nodded before dropping his head as another cough moved through him harshly.
He poured the water into the cup and offered it. "The cough is always the most persistent thing."
"Thanks..."He took it and forced a sip down his raw throat only to cough again forcing him to lower it before it spilled. "How's Claire?"
William's eyes flicked over to where she was sound asleep, her chest rising and falling with slow breath. "She's got a concussion, but it's luckily a small one. I think it was simply aggravated by lack of sleep."
"You have to ..." He searched for the word in English and frowned when it wasn't there then added it in Croatian. "You have to sedate her?" He finished it off in the more comfortable tongue.
"Only a little," William answered, pulling over his stool so he could ease himself onto it. "Need to be careful when sedating a concussive patient...just enough to get her to fall asleep. It should be well out of her system by now."
Luka took note of the information..."Sa..day..te" He whispered the word to himself as William voiced it, then nodded. "I should have remembered that."
William smiled, amused. "You will. Takes a little time for these things to become habit, but you'll learn. You did well, yesterday. I meant to thank you."
He shrugged, giving into yet another coughing run. "I didn't do that much."
"I disagree. You were quick, competent, and made your patients comfortable as you worked. I was very pleased with it all."
He lifted a hand to wipe his eye, not ready to accept that he was good for anything at the moment. "Anyone could have done it."
"No, they could not have. Perhaps a lot of other doctors, yes, but not very many medical students. You have real potential, Luka."
He brushed his hand across his face again in dismissal before still another cough caught him and delayed his response. "Doesn't really matter now anyway."
"Because it's gone like everything else." He lay back again with a heavy sigh, his hand sliding into his pocket seeking the reassurance that his single remaining possession was still there.
"Not everything is as it seems, Luka. Your potential is not gone. You proved that yesterday." William rubbed at his chin a moment, thinking. "I do need to start my rounds soon, and I need to stop and restock my bag beforehand. "You'll watch Claire for me?"
He flicked his eyes across the tent then back to him before nodding. Yeah."
William smiled. "I wouldn't ask you if I didn't think you were capable, Luka."
"I know..." He left unsaid that he hoped he wouldn't fail him like he had his own family though it remained in his eyes.
William nodded, rising from his stool. "I won't be long. But I trust you."
He simply nodded, then propped himself up so he could semi keep an eye on Claire.
The elder man took up his bag, after a last check on his daughter, then slipped his shoes on and walked out of the tent.
Luka found himself watching William until he left then he fully sat up...going so far as to shift so his good leg hung over the side of the bed. If Claire need him he wanted to be ready.
Morning light seeped into the tent, lighting it before she started to stir, tossing a little on the cot.
As he heard her he moved his other leg, getting both feet on the floor before he pulled the oxygen line off. He suffered through still another burst of coughing he before reaching for his crutches in anticipation of rising.
She opened her eyes, blinking in the light, then raised her handto her head to block it out a moment.
"I'll get it." He used the crutches to push himself to his feet then after tucking them under his arms moved over to turn the oxygen flow off before going to draw the tent flap closed.
Claire managed to open her eyes enough to see him. "Hmm? Oh." She let her head fall back on the pillow. "Thank you." Her voice was thick with the sleep.
"That's okay.." He coughed a couple times to clear his throat then made his way back across the tent. "You need anything?"
She moved her arm off her face so she could make an effort to get up. "Are you taking care of me now?" Her tone was teasing.
"Your Father had to go out..said he wouldn't be long." He was surprisingly fully dressed though a closer look showed the wrinkles of his clothes having been slept in.
She waved her hand a little, dismissively. "It's okay....I'll be fine." She made herself sit up, swinging her legs over the side. "I think."
"Take it slow...your father said you have a concussion." He reached the bed and eased himself back down on it before propping the crutches beside him.
She sighed. "Do I?" She rubbed at her eyes. "My mouth feels like I've been swallowing cotton."
"Oh..sorry..." He forced himself back up..pouring water into the cup and then biting his lip as he maneuvered back to her while trying not to spill it. "Here, drink this." He carefully handed the cup to her.
She looked up, aghast. "Oh, God, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make you get up." She took the cup quickly, so he could hold the crutches again. "Are you alright?"
"Yeah...You want anything else?"
"I want you to sit back down....please," she said, half-joking.
He straightened up and pivoted around so he could move back to the cot..then lowered himself to it again. As he leaned the crutches on the side of it he stretched the
braced leg out in front of him.
She took a sip from the cup, closing her eyes a moment as she swirled the water in her mouth. Reopening them, she took a longer drink, then carefully scooted to the end of the cot, by the locker on the floor, obviously not trusting herself to walk yet "How is your--" She stopped, coughing to clear her throat. "your leg?"
"Side effect of the....said...seda..tive." He stumbled a bit with the English.
"Yea.." She pushed her hair back, messy from sleep. "Hopefully won't last long."
"My leg's not bad, but, I'll be glad to get your Father's splint off."
She smiled, as she leaned over, rummaging in the locker til she found a small bottle of pills. Holding it up so she could read the label, she said, "It would be nice to walk normally again, I bet." She gestured to her own wrapped ankle, the pills in the bottle
rattling. "I'm stuck too."
"Yeah..." He eyed the bottle. "What are those?"
"I'm praying they are painkillers," she admitted, rubbing her eyes and looking again.
"You can't take them..not without your Father's okay. Can't hide the symptoms because of the concussion." He extended a hand to have her toss the bottle.
She looked up at him, blinking. "It's just an analgesic...."
"Not unless he says..give them." He kept his hand outstretched.
She watched him for a moment, surprised at his suddenly decisive manner, and then meekly tossed them over, her shoulders slumping.
He leaned slightly to make the catch then sat the bottle on the small table by his cot.
"He won't be long."
Sighing, she finished off the water and set the cup down, then laid back on the cot again. "Very well." She brought her hand up to her head to rub it, and winced when
she encountered the stitches.
He wet his lips as he debated something with himself then spoke again. "I'll let you have a question to distract you."
Briefly, she muttered, "It had better be a good question to distract me from this headache." She turned her eyes to him, hers tired but amused, then saw that his expression was serious. Quietly, she said, "If we play that again, it means you get to
ask me a question too."
He fingered the corner of his eye then shifted his attention to her as he let the hand drop.
"We don't have to..this is to distract you."
She let out a breath, trying to make her hands rest on top of her stomach instead of playing with the stitches. Her feet hung over the end since she hadn't moved all the way up to the pillow. "Hardly seems fair."
"My choice." He dropped his eyes for a moment to a fray on the jeans, then after picking at it lifted them to her again.
She settled for rubbing the bridge of her nose, a diversionary tactic. "Alright." She paused, thinking. "How did you pick your children's names?"
He wet his lips with the question...then drew a breath. "Danijela...my wife..she picked Jasna..she liked the way it sounded. Marko was named after one of my Uncle's...to honor him."
She nodded, her eyes fluttering a little, but she put her hand back on her stomach. "Your uncle? Did he pass away?"
He nodded. "When I was a boy...I remember he would come to my Grandfather's farm...and he would make my Grandfather angry by putting us on the cows." He smiled slightly with the memory.
"Like....riding them? Like horses?"
"More like sitting on them until we fell off.."
She smiled, and her eyes closed all the way. "Did you fall off alot?"
"He would leave us there...he thought it was funny..and so did we until we did fall off."
"He did it every time though and we let him because it was a big joke to my Grandfather."
She giggled, quietly. "Falling off cows....did they get upset? The cows, I mean."
He shook his head. "Only if we tried to make them go by kicking them."
"Did they go anywhere?"
"Not usually..cows are very ..." He searched for the word..."stubborn."
"I've heard that." She fell silent again for several moments.
He scooted back on the cot and pulled the splinted leg up..then stretched back. "You can ask something else..." He made the offer quietly.
She barely stirred, then she said, "Do you like to ride horses?"
"When I was a kid I did...been a longtime."
"Did you like it?"
"Better then cows." The answer came innocently.
She laughed, and then promptly winced, putting her hands to her head. "Bastard, you made me laugh."
His smile deepened then faded. "Sorry."
"And if you tell my father that I use language like that, you'll be sorry." She smiled, making her words a tease.
He glanced over to her. "You said a bad word? You mean I should not call your Father this?" He allowed his accent to thicken with the mock naivety.
Her eyes flew open, and she turned on the cot to stare at him. "Dear god, no."
"Bastard..." He repeated the word...his accent flowering it slightly.
"Oh...you're teasing me." She laid back down with a groan. "I swear, I don't remember being so mean to you as to deserve this.."
"I am being very nice to you...."
"You took away the painkillers," she pointed out, almost pouting.
"You have a concussion."
"Yes, yes.." She pursed her lips a moment, trying to keep from rubbing her head. "I like the way you say 'bastard.' Sounds funny."
He caught her action and forced himself to sit up...then pulled his leg off the bed before reaching for the crutches and standing...once up he found a towel and soaked it with water before carrying it to her. "For your head." He balanced the crutches under his armpits as he folded it and handed it over.
She opened her eyes, hearing him move, and seemed surprised to see him standing by her cot. Rising onto her elbows, she took it and laid it on her head. With a sigh, she laid back down. "I take it all back....you are being very nice."
While up he picked the cup up and carried it back to refill then brought it back as well.
"Here's some more water too." Once done he made his way back to his cot and eased himself down on it.
Propping herself back up, she took the cup, removing the towel for a moment so she could drink deeply. Then she set the cup aside, and laid back down with the cool
towel in place. "Thank you."
"Yeah." He watched her a moment more then lifted his leg back on the cot again...and leaned back.
Claire rested her arm across her forehead, over the towel, gingerly. "I feel like I'm riding a horse right now," she said, low. "Or else the whole tent is moving."
He pushed himself up on his arm as she spoke..then looked over at her. "Dizzy? Are you sick to your stomach?" Even as he asked he was shifting the leg back to the floor and reaching for his crutches. He gave into a couple deep coughs before forcing himself to his feet again, as he saw the penlight on the table he made his way over to it.
"Yea....some." She shifted on the cot, keeping her arm over her head. "Not that much, just a little."
Once he had picked it up he walked over to her and lowered himself to where he could sit on the edge of the cot beside her. "Take your arm down and let me look at your eyes."
With the request he set the crutches aside and flicked the light on.
Obediently, she slid her arm to her side, pushing the cloth off her head to expose her eyes.
He shined it first in one then the other, comparing the contraction rate then moved it to her right eye. "Follow the light.." He shifted it up, then down, then side to side. As he moved it to the other eye he frowned slightly as he repeated the actions..noting the difference.
She blinked a little at the light, but did her best to follow his instructions. "Okay, this is really not helping the dizzy factor." Switching it off he reached for the crutches and pushed himself to his feet again..pausing as he searched for something then making his way over to a small bucket which he then carried back and sat beside her cot. "It's probably because of the concussion...but if you feel sick I'll put this here."
She pushed the towel back into place. "I can't throw up in front of cute medical students," she teased, although her voice was pained.
"Then you're in luck because there are none here." His reply came dryly before he moved back to his cot.
"Yea, maybe you aren't that cute," she agreed.
He let the comment go unanswered as he settled once more on the narrow cot.
"But you're sure acting like a med student."
"I told your father I would look after you."
She sighed, placing her other hand over her stomach again. "Well, I'm glad you're acting like a doctor," she said, quietly. "And not just keeping me company."
"Anyone could do what I'm doing...it's no big thing." He sat up enough to lean forward and lift his splinted leg over..then lay back again.
"Damn you.." She said it very low, before she turned onto her side, facing away from him, her shoulders hunched.
If he heard her he said nothing...though he did catch her movement...and for a moment longer he left his eyes on her back as if waiting to see if she said more.
Her voice was muffled. "You could have just said 'your're welcome'." She moved her arm back over her head.
He released a sigh with her words and shifted to his side as well...resting his head on his arm before withdrawing the picture from his pocket and settling his eyes on it.
To be continued...