There were voices. They were far away, muffled, confused. Andy tried to focus; tried to distinguish the familiar from unfamiliar, but things were off. It was like she knew what she wanted to do, but her body refused to follow orders.
God, it hurts, she thought. It felt like someone was jumping on her skull at regular intervals; a consistent throbbing that seemed to permeate through her whole body. She had never felt anything like it.
She tried to swallow, and that’s when her mind caught up to the fact that something wasn’t right.
Her eyes snapped open.
She couldn’t breathe.
Andy ignored the lights which were making her head scream in protest, focusing instead on the foreign body that was lodged down her throat. Her hands scrambled clumsily to her face and hit plastic. She grabbed the tube hanging from her mouth and started pulling it.
She could hear beeping, and moaned in pain as she tried to move her legs and sit up.
Air rushed across her body as curtains flew open on either side, followed by sets of hands pressing her down and restraining her.
“Someone page Dr. Bijarani,” a woman’s voice ordered sharply, as she clamped a hand over her arm and held it down on the mattress.
“Hey!” a male voice cried, clearly trying to get someone’s attention over the ruckus. “Hey, hey, hey,” he said, gentler this time as his hands gripped Andy’s face firmly and forced her to focus all of her attention on him. “That’s it, Andy. Just try and relax. My name is Andrew, I’m a nurse at the American Military Hospital in Baghdad, and that just so happens to be where you are right now,” he said quickly, but clearly.
Andrew had soft brown eyes, and a kind smile, and Andy found herself latching onto his gaze.
“Alright, that’s better,” he said as the beeping in the room slowed.
“Andy, I know you’re a little scared right now, and things might be a little unclear, but I’m going to tell you what’s happening and all you need to do is listen, and know that you’re safe, okay?”
Andy nodded quickly.
“Okay, good,” he said, flicking his gaze up to his colleague and nodding before turning his attention back to her. “Andy, I’m not sure if you remember, but you were caught in a suicide bombing in the inner city. You took a knock to the head, and you’re leg was injured by shrapnel from the blast. You’ve been through a couple of surgeries, and that’s why there’s a tube stuffed down your throat. I know it’s uncomfortable, but what I need you to do for me is just relax, stop fighting it, and let it do its job for now. Can you do that?”
Andy felt the tears streaming down her face, but nodded.
“Good,” Andrew said.
She let her body relax back into the bed and concentrated on the feeling of oxygen being pumped into her lungs. Against all natural instinct, she stopped fighting the process.
“You’re a quick study,” Andrew said, finally releasing her face from his grip and stepping back.
“Andrea?” the woman on the other side of the bed said. “My name is Melanie and I’m the charge nurse this evening,” she said, speaking directly to her as she checked her IV lines. “I know things probably seem a little overwhelming right now, so we’re just going to start with a few things to help you get orientated until one of your surgeons arrives to explain your procedures more thoroughly. Do you understand?”
“Good. First thing, are you in any pain?”
Andy nodded again.
“On a scale of one to ten, ten being severe, can you let me know what level your pain is at?”
Andy held up five fingers on her right, but struggled with her left.
The monitor started beeping as her heart rate shot up in alarm.
“Andrea, there’s absolutely no need to panic, this is consistent with your injury – you have movement, your fine motor movements are just a little sluggish, which is normal. We’ve had you on some pretty heavy duty drugs. Take a deep breath and try again.”
Andy relaxed and managed to clumsily hold up two fingers on her left.
“So, a seven?”
“Okay. Dr. B wants to do an assessment before I give you any more pain meds, do you think you’ll manage for another ten minutes or so?”
Andy knew she had little choice in the matter, so simply conceded with a final exhausted nod.
“Good. I’m going to go hurry him along so we can make you comfortable as soon as possible, but I’m going to leave Andrew here to keep you company,” Melanie said, gripping her arm gently before excusing herself from the room.
Andy watched the doors swing closed, before taking in the rest of the room. There were curtains on either side of her, indicating that she wasn’t alone. The only sound permeating from her roommates, however, was the swish and click of ventilation machines and the steady beep of their heart monitors.
ICU, she thought. I’m in the ICU.
She could see out into the hall, and watched hospital personnel and soldiers in uniform walk past the glass that separated her and her roommates from the outside world. She didn’t know any of them. Not a single face was familiar in the sea of blue scrubs and khaki uniforms.
Andy focused once more at the doors Melanie had exited through.
She watched them and waited.
She knew it was silly, but if anyone could move mountains, and military clearance, it would be Miranda.
The doors opened as a doctor walked in, chart in hand, and veered in the direction of another patient.
Andy closed her eyes and the tears came, warm and wet as they slid down her face.
Andrew moved and positioned himself within her line of sight. The expression on his face was all too knowing as he placed a hand on her wrist. “It’s going to be all right, Andy,” he said. “I know it probably doesn’t seem like it right now, but you got lucky.”
Lucky, Andy thought as her mind pushed back, back to a man with a hand across his neck, blood pouring out as he struggled for breath; back to a friend and colleague laying still beside her; back to the pieces of flesh and bone littering the ground, to the screams echoing through the marketplace, to piece of metal sticking out of her leg, to Roberts’ pale face above her.
It was all one singular, horrific nightmare which she was never going to be able to wake up from.
The throbbing in her leg seemed to worsen the longer she was awake, and she winced, which in turn made her head ache more. Her whimpers came out strangled as they struggled to bypass her intubation tube.
“It won’t be long,” Andrew said, rubbing her arm. “Just a few more minutes Andy, and we’ll be able to give you something for the pain.”
The physical, perhaps, but Andy knew there would be nothing they could do for the rest.
“She’s asleep right now, Helena. The extubation was a rough one. Apparently Miranda Priestly has strong armed the consultants into signing off on an immediate transfer now that she’s stable. She could be out of here as soon as tomorrow mor—fuck—Andy?” Roberts said in surprise.
“Miranda?” Andy said, her throat hoarse from the extubation Dr. Bijarani had performed earlier in the day.
“She’s awake again, I’ll call you later,” Roberts said as he snapped his phone shut and approached the bed. “Hey,” Roberts said, cautiously. “You’re a sight for sore eyes.”
Andy blinked a few times and tried to get her bearings. There was pain in her head – the equivalent of a decent migraine – and a dull throbbing circulating throughout her leg but she ignored it. Another round of drugs and she’s be incapable of keeping her eyes open. She needed answers.
“You’ve spoken to Miranda?” Andy repeated, this time managing the full question.
Roberts nodded. “Yeah, we’ve been in touch over the past three days while you’ve been out. She’s okay, so don’t worry.”
“Also fine – they’re home with Miranda. I spoke to your Mum and Dad too – they all know you’re awake, and in pretty good shape considering the circumstances.”
“Okay,” Andy said, a momentary sense of relief passing through her.
“I think you should be worrying a little less about everyone else and a little more about yourself, Sachs.”
“I’m fine,” she said, waving him off groggily.
“Do you want me to call them?” Roberts asked as he flipped open his phone.
“No,” Andy said, “Not yet.”
Roberts looked at her and closed his phone slowly.
They watched each other for a beat, before Roberts reached for the chair behind him and sat down.
“I need to know,” Andy said.
“I know you do,” Roberts said as he sat back in his chair, the exhaustion suddenly apparent in his face. “She’s on her way home,” Roberts said with an air of finality that left no room for question.
Andy felt her chest tighten.
“Shrapnel clipped a major artery,” he continued. “She’d bled out before I even had time to get down the stairs.”
They would be tied together now, the two of them. Even though there was nothing he could have done, Roberts would add this to his list of sins and carry it around with him as much as she would.
“She pushed me down,” Andy said.
“Possibly,” Roberts said, shaking his head. “We can’t be sure of that.”
“I woke up with her on top of me,” Andy said wetly. “She saved my life.”
Roberts didn’t say anything else.
Andy took a breath. “Wahid?”
Andy wanted nothing more than to curl in on herself.
“It’s not your fault,” Roberts said, as he reached over and gripped her clenched fist. “It’s not. We were in the wrong place at the wrong fucking time and Jacks got unlucky. It’s as simple as that.”
She didn’t answer as her heart pounded and the pain roared in her head. She clenched her jaw, fighting desperately to keep it at bay. To keep everything at bay. She felt so helpless.
Roberts reached across and hit her call button.
“What are you doing?” Andy demanded.
“Getting you a nurse,” Roberts said bluntly.
“I don’t need a nurse.”
“Yeah, and I don’t need a couple of decades worth of therapy, but I’ll probably get it anyway,” Roberts said.
The door opened cutting off any further argument, and a nurse who was neither Andrew nor Melanie approached the bed.
“She’s in pain,” Roberts said immediately.
“Supply issue,” the nurse said, shaking her head as she fiddled with Andy’s IV and pulled a syringe out of her pocket. “Usually we’d have her on a pump,” she said as she pulled the cap off and injected clear liquid into the IV line. “She was up next on my rounds but I got held up a couple of doors down. Sorry about the wait Miss Sachs – should have topped you up thirty minutes ago.”
“I’m fine,” Andy said through gritted teeth.
“They said you were a tough one,” the nurse chuckled as she pulled the syringe and dropped it back in her pocket, before reaching down to check her catheter. “You’ll probably be switching over to oral meds and fluids tomorrow if your throat can handle it after the intubation,” she said, dropping the catheter with a satisfied look. “You’re still sounding a bit rough though, so we’ll wait and see,” she said, as she pulled back the blankets and checked the dressings on Andy’s legs.
Andy glanced at it before looking away and back at Roberts. “You can go,” she said. “I’m fine.”
“Clearly,” he said, the sarcasm clear as he looked her up and down. “If it’s all the same to you, I think I’ll stick around for a bit, unless I’m in the way?” he said, directing the last part to the nurse.
“No, not at all,” the nurse said with an amused smile as she replaced the sheet over Andy’s leg. “We’ll do a dressing change tomorrow,” she said, “For now, everything looks good. Do you have any questions?”
Andy had more than a few, but she could feel a heaviness entering her limbs already and shook her head carefully.
“Okay, well if you need anything, just hit the buzzer. Otherwise I’ll see you on my next round,” the nurse said as she excused herself.
Roberts stayed put, dropping back into the chair beside her bed.
“What is it about your accent that seems to make everyone so agreeable?” Andy said.
“Australian charm,” Roberts said with a wink. “We’re an irresistible bunch.”
Andy rolled her eyes at him before turning her attention towards the ceiling, tracing the lines with her eyes and blinking against the exhaustion that was threatening to overtake her once more.
“How is she, really?” Andy asked after a while, not taking her eyes off the ceiling.
“I think it’s safe to say she’s worried,” Roberts said.
Andy turned her head to look at him, the movement making her feel a little woozy.
“Other than that?” he continued, “I couldn’t really say. She’s a bit of a closed book.”
Andy nodded as her eyes drifted closed.
“Word on the street is she’s organized a transfer for you as soon as possible though,” Roberts said.
Andy made a noise to encourage him to keep talking as she finally succumbed to sleep.
The next time she awoke, it was to find Helena Holden sitting in a chair, typing on her laptop.
Andy watched her silently. Her curly brown hair was pulled back from her face and she looked like she hadn’t slept in days.
Helena eventually caught her observing, but said nothing as she closed the lid on her computer, and placed it on the floor. She reached for a glass of water on a nearby table before placing the straw in Andy’s mouth and finally speaking. “Small sips only.”
Andy took a tiny sip of the cool water and resisted the urge to guzzle the glass as it slid down her parched throat. She drank slowly, ignoring the pain when she swallowed. When the glass was gone, she released the straw and gave Helena an appreciative glance.
Helena set the glass back down on the table before turning back to her.
“I called ahead,” Helena said, by way of explanation, “The staff said you’d hopefully be awake around now and I wanted to speak to you before you left.”
“Every time they come in here they seem to give me something that knocks me out, so I guess they would know,” Andy said, “What time is it?”
“About six a.m.”
“They have some strange ideas about visiting hours around here.”
Helena smiled, her lined face a portrait of relief.
“I’m okay,” Andy said. “I have the attention span of a goldfish and can barely keep my eyes open for more than 30 minutes at a time, but I’m okay Helena. I can still string a sentence together.”
“I had to see it for myself. Head injuries are…tricky.”
Andy hummed in assent, as her mind caught up to something Helena said earlier. “Wait, what were you saying before? You said, before I left.”
“You’re scheduled to be transferred to New York Presbyterian this afternoon.”
Andy thought back to last night. “Michael did mention something,” she said, trying to shake off the permanent fog that had camped out in her brain. “Sorry, I’m having a bit of trouble keeping everything in order. Apparently it’s a combination of the drugs and the surgery and is ‘nothing to worry about’ and will ‘pass with time,’” she said. “I’m assuming this was Miranda?”
“Yes, Miranda. I think if she could have been here with her own personal team of surgeons, she would have. There’s a rumor that she approached Hillary in regards to clearance, although I’m not sure how much stock to put in that one.”
“I wish you hadn’t told me that,” Andy said, grimacing, and well aware of Miranda’s sizeable donation to the Secretary of State’s campaign for 2017.
Helena chuckled, but it was a hollow sound, one reaching deep for a little lightheartedness in light of recent events.
Andy watched her for a moment before she spoke again. “It’s over, isn’t it?” she said. It wasn’t really a question.
Helena leaned back in her seat. “Right now you’re on a leave of absence. That’s all you need to be concerned about. The Tribune will take care of you, so don’t worry about work.”
“I wish work was all I had to worry about,” Andy said, her voice dropping tiredly. “I know you worked together for a long time,” she said. “Helena, I’m so sorry.”
“Never apologize for things that are beyond your control, Andrea. Neither the event nor the consequences are any fault whatsoever of yours,” Helena said.
“It was a dead end,” Andy admitted. “I knew it was a possibility, but I decided to go anyway. We shouldn’t have been there. I wish I’d never asked you,” she said, the anguish bursting from her throat without permission.
“Yes, and I’ll wish every day that I had said ‘no’ to your request,” Helena said. “But at the end of it all, you were both just doing your job. Jacks had been out here for more than ten years, and she’d seen her fair share of close calls – she knew the risks. Don’t carry her around as a burden, Andy. She wouldn’t want you to. You need to make peace with this.”
“I don’t know how,” Andy admitted quietly.
Helena watched her carefully, as if considering her next words. “Speaking as someone who has lost before, the only thing I can tell you for certain is that the world just keeps moving,” she said. “You simply have to make the decision to stay in it, and the rest will follow in its own time.”
The two of them sat quietly in the room for a while, the steady beat of the monitors for company.
Andy glanced at Helena’s untouched laptop before she spoke. “You don’t have to be here,” she said. “You must be busy.”
“I’m always busy,” Helena said, before changing tack, “How’s your family?”
Andy didn’t answer.
“You haven’t spoken to them,” Helena said. It wasn’t a question.
“No,” she said. “The doctors have, but I…”
“Haven’t asked?” Helena said, picking up the trail. “Look, if you want some advice from me, don’t push your family away,” Helena said. “You’ve suffered enough. Let them take care of you. Right now it’s all they want.”
“How am I supposed to ask them to take this on?” Andy said, waving at her head and her leg, “After what I’ve put them through? She asked me not to come, but I did it anyway. Somehow I ended up right where she said I would. The girls spent hours thinking I was dead. This wasn’t supposed to happen.”
“Maybe not, but it was always a possibility.” Helena said, “Look, if you push them away now, you’ll only hurt them more, and it won’t change what happened here on Friday morning. Nothing you do can ever change that. Let them do what they want, watch them worry about you endlessly, fuss over your every move and take that as your punishment if it will make you feel better.”
Andy looked at Helena. She looked at her drawn face, the lines, deepened by a lack of sleep and the stress of the last 72 hours. She was right. On an intellectual level, Andy knew she was right. However, the guilt that had seeped into every piece of flesh remaining was not going to be so easily subdued. But, as she looked into Helena’s eyes she knew she wasn’t alone. As masters of the written word, they were both aware of its limitations at a time like this. So Andy simply nodded, and promised Helena that she would try.