Word count, start of day -- 27,850
I got to the car and grabbed a note pad from my audit bag. I had to make a list or I would forget something important. Call Gwen's folks, call Nat's school, call my work, call Gwen's work.
I punched up daughter's school and got hold of the woman who ran the after-school program. I told her there been an accident and I may need to make provisions to get Natalie picked up. She told me who was on the approved emergency pick-up list. More names and phone numbers for me to record on my list. But those calls could wait for a while.
In transit, I punched the speed dial to connect to Gwen's employer. Her supervisor at the printing company answered her phone. "Mike, it's Brian Norton, Gwen's husband."
"She's not back from lunch yet. Do you know where she is?" So he noticed her absence, but was not worried. He was just mad.
"Mike, there's been an accident," I said louder than I had to. I had to get this guy's attention.
"Is she all right?" Now he was concerned.
"I don't know yet, I'm on my way to hospital now. I'll keep you posted." I punched out before he could respond. I was able to get hold of my work and I left a message with the receptionist for Arnold Scotti. Knowing Marjorie Dilger, the rest of the administrative staff would know the news in thirty minutes, and all of their principals would be know the news sixty minutes later.
So I was covered for any absences at Phares and Barnes for a while. I got to the hospital and found a spot in the West Garage, third level. I wrote this down on my list and crossed off the phone calls I had already made. Gwen's parents were still on the list, bus I couldn't call them until I knew anything more than I did now.
The emergency room was a zoo, even on a Wednesday afternoon. I was able to learn from the admitting nurse that Gwen was in surgery. Surgery for what she could not tell me, but she promised to find for me someone who knew. In the meantime, I filled out reams of admissions and insurance forms, waiting for information.
Before a doctor arrived, I was approached by a uniformed police officer. "Mr. Norton?" he asked. The young officer explained that Gwen apparently crossed over into an approaching lane of traffic on a major state route and got nailed by an oncoming vehicle. He did not offer any medical conclusions, but did comment that her legs "looked pretty bad."
"Thank you, officer," I said and turned to go.
"Sir," I heard him say forcefully. I spun back to face him again. "That's not why I stayed to speak with you." Now that he said it, it made sense. Of course, that's not why he stayed. Police officers don't stay around in hospital waiting rooms to deliver vague news to a crash victim's spouse. There were plenty of medical people around here who could do that.
"Does your wife drink, sir?"
Oh, no. "In the middle of the day?" I asked, frustrated. "She was drinking in the middle of the day?"
The big man nodded. "It appears that way, sir. Open containers in the vehicle, a smell of alcohol on the clothes. We won't know for certain until the blood work is completed." He paused. "There may be charges, Mr. Norton."
I took a deep breath to steady my legs and process what the officer was saying. "Was anyone else hurt?" I had to know what Gwen was facing, beyond just the medical problems. We were talking vehicular homicide?
"No, sir. Your wife's injuries are the most serious. But there are a range of driving offenses, if she had an elevated alcohol level in her
"When will you know?"
"The test takes two to three days. Someone from our department will do the following up. We would like a statement from her whenever she can give one, no rush of course, and maybe one from you, too."
"Of course," I said. "Whatever we can do."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Norton, for your wife's accident. I hope she makes a speedy recovery." He turned and left. I mumbled my thanks to his retreating form. I took out my notes and added 'Call insurance agent' and 'call lawyer' to the list.
I moved slowly around the waiting area, dazed, trying to find a place to sit that was less noisy, less, hectic. Maybe a spot with a couple of empty chairs around it. Before I had to chance, a man in a white coat approached me. He looked young, younger than me. "Mr. Norton?" I heard him say. I nodded.
"I am Dr. Lansing, and I saw your wife when she was admitted." He led me to a pair of chairs and we sat. "She is in surgery now."
"How bad is it?" I asked, leaning so forward that I almost touched knees with the kid doctor.
"It looked far worse that it turned out to be." This sounded hopeful. "There was a lot of blood, but nothing vital was hit or severed. The operation she is now undergoing is a tedious one, removing glass from her forehead and around her face. There will be scarring, as well as general bumps and bruises."
"Her legs?" I asked.
The doctor seemed baffled by the question, as if I had thrown off his rhythm. A little flustered, the kid answered, "Her left leg is broken, a clean break that has already been set. Her right ankle was twisted beneath the starting column, but appears to be uninjured. This position strained her right knee, but again it appears to be uninjured. Both will be plenty sore."
I nodded. This was not altogether good news, but it also could have been far worse. "Thank you, doctor. When will she be released?"
"The operation will take another hour or so. As I said, it is very tedious work. She will wake up some time this evening, but will of course be awfully tired." I nodded. I had to think about this for a bit. With Nat, I may not be able to get back in to the hospital until tomorrow, but that would score pretty bad on the husband scale. "Release?"
"Probably two, three days. We will want to test for head trauma tomorrow and consider back and neck issues, as well. These can take a few days to manifest. We want to be especially careful."
I thanked him and he departed.
Slumping deep into the chair, I closed my eyes and let myself absorb all of this. A minute later, I checked my watch and found my list. I arranged for Natalie to be picked up by a neighbor from down the street who had a daughter in Nat's grade at the same school. We were not particularly close to them and the girls were not best friends or anything, but they were reliable neighbors. The kind of neighbor that you let pick up your paper and water your plants when you were away. We owed them big after this. They had a key to our house, and would let Natalie come back to get some clothes for a sleepover if it came to that. I took out my paper and made another note. 'Call Natalie.' Then I made the tough call. I called Mrs. Shea.
"Rita, it's Brian," I said, trying to keep my voice solemn.
"This is a surprise, Brian. It can't be good, can it?"
"No, it's not, Rita." I hoped my voice was conveying the seriousness of the situation.
"Oh my, I'll sit down."
I waited a few seconds, then told her the bad news.
"Oh my, oh my, oh my." I heard the tears welling up in her.
"She'll be in the hospital for a few days, then after that-"
"We'll be there tonight."
"No, you don't need to do that. Give me a chance to get the house ready for you." It was a four hour drive. And Chester was still at work. And they weren't packed. They had arrangements to make before heading out of town for who knew how long?
"You don't have to do that. We'll stay in a hotel tonight."
"Tomorrow is fine, Rita. You won't be able to see her until tomorrow anyway. Don't-"
"There are morning visiting hours?"
"I guess, of course."
"Then we will be there for the morning visiting hours. Now give us the name of the hospital, directions to it, and her room number."
It was obvious that this particular train had left the station. I gave her all the information she wanted and rang off.
I waited until Gwen was out of surgery and I was updated on her conditions to call Natalie at the neighbors. It was a difficult conversation.
"Is Mom sick?" she asked, her voice full of concern. Obviously, the neighbors had given her the skeleton story of what had happened.
"Yes, I'm at the hospital with her now."
"Can she talk?"
"No, I'm sorry, honey, she can't. Not now. She still hurts too much."
"When can I see her?"
"Tomorrow after school, maybe. I hope so, but I am not sure."
"Is she going to be okay?" It was part question, part prayer, part plea.
"I think so, honey. The doctors think so." They did. I told her that I would pick her up from school the next day and bring her down to see her mom if Gwen was strong enough for visitors. And I told her that Grandma and Grandpa Shea were coming to help care of her while her mom was recovering. That cheered her up. It would be a big help to me, too. The list of people I owed was growing longer every moment. I told my daughter I loved her and that I would see her the next day. I think it impressed her that I was planning to spend the night in the hospital. "So I can see Mom the minute she's ready," I told her as I disconnected.
I was able to contact our insurance agent, who promised he would check with the police about getting the car out of police custody
and getting it repaired. With Gwen's condition, we did not need a rental car, at least for the time being. I mentioned the police officer's comments, and the agent recommended I contact our lawyer. I did so.
Gwen was moved to a room, but she was still recovering from the surgery. There was no way she knew I was there, but I slept in the guest chair in her room nonetheless. The wild emotional swings of the day finally hit me, and hit me hard. Only nine hours before, I was having lunch with Annie. Now I was sleeping in a hospital chair. It was not terribly comfortable, but I was far too tired to notice.