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The Rest of the Story: A Short Story Part 2

As Paul Harvey used to say, “And now, the rest of the story.” If you missed my previous post check it out for the first half this story.  Without further ado I present the conclusion:

A Stranger Within

part two

Robby bolted from behind the bar and leaped to the stage. “Stacey!” he yelled back over his shoulder, “call 9-1-1!” Three minutes later Benjamin Street was bathed in red strobing lights as EMTs rolled an empty gurney through an anxious population of fans.  Blanketed, strapped in, and fitted with an oxygen mask, the groggy singer was rolled out to the waiting ambulance a short time later where she and the gurney were folded into the boxy vehicle. Derek jumped in with her while Patrick and Robby followed the ambulance to New Castle in the van.

speeding ambulance at night

Gail was waxy and silent the entire ride.  The siren and lights allowed them to make the 20 minute drive in about half of that.  Derek described what happened, mentioned her back ache, and provided her name and address to the EMT during the trip to the hospital.  Once there, the medical team wheeled Gail away.  Derek was deeply worried and shaken and had to sit alone in the emergency waiting room until he was eventually joined by Patrick and Robby.  It was an agonizing hour before a doctor came out to talk to them.

“Ms. Yancy has been admitted, but she’s not conscious at the moment so we’re not letting any visitors see her just yet. We need to run some more tests but her levels of red blood cells are well below normal and that coupled with the puffiness, fatigue, your reports of her lower back pain complaints all point to a preliminary diagnosis of renal failure.”

“Renal? What’s that,” asked Derek, “the liver?”

“Kidney.  Once we get confirmation from the tests, we’ll need to get her hooked into UNOS—that’s the United Network for Organ Sharing—and the National Kidney Registry so that we can find her a match.  Her blood type is O negative which is a very common blood type but that means that we have to find a donor who is either O negative or O positive. AB blood types are much more rare, but they can receive a kidney from people of any blood type.  So its a bit of a double edged sword.

“There is also more to it than just blood type.  There’s tissue matching, which involves matching up proteins called antigens; and crossmatching, which is a final series of tests that will ultimately determine the likelihood of organ rejection, a sort of ‘go’ or ‘no-go’ result. A sibling would be the best candidate. Are any of you related to Ms. Yancy?”

“No. As far as I know, Gail’s an only child and her parents live down in Florida, I think.” Derek had somehow been arbitrarily appointed as Gail’s spokesperson. “So living people can donate kidneys? For instance can we be considered for a donation if we wanted?”

“Absolutely. Living donations are very possible and new surgery techniques are now less invasive making it an easier decision for many people. If you don’t already know it, determining your blood type would be a simple first step.”

“Sign me up,” said Derek.

* * * * *

When Derek got there the following morning she was awake but weak. “You gave us quite a scare last night.  How are you feeling?”

“Totally wiped.”  Her voice was hardly above a whisper. “They plan to put me on dialysis later this morning.  It’ll help but it’s not a permanent fix.  They still have to find me a match.”

“Right. I want to be a donor if I turn out to be a good match for you. Seriously.”  Gail reached over and caressed his hand but even that small gesture took quite a bit of effort. “We’re all pulling for you.  Robby wants to organize some sort of blood drive to see if we can identify other potential matches, while building up blood supplies at the same time.  This whole week he’s shut down Brewski’s taps as sort of an awareness campaign. They’re collecting donations too. A pretty cool idea.”

Robby and Stacey popped in at that moment.  Stacey was carrying a large floral arrangement. She set it on the window ledge and leaned in to give Gail a light kiss.  “How ya feelin’ there, girl?” Stacey spoke in an effervescent voice trying to keep things upbeat and light. Gail gave the classic teeter-totter gesture with her hand signifying she was feeling only so-so. Robby also gave the patient a peck on the cheek.

“Hey, lady,” he said quietly. “That was a hell of a publicity stunt.  The things people will do to get noticed,” he cleared his throat and gave her a wink.

“Derek was just telling me all that you guys are doing for me.  Thank you.  Means a lot.” Gail’s eyes misted over.

“Jesus, this place is a freaking maze.” Patrick came crashing through the door carrying a huge orange and green stuffed gorilla that must have been a prize from a carnival game booth.  “Hope this cheers you up.  It’s all I could find around my apartment on such short notice.” He set the day-glo animal on the foot of her bed which brought smiles to everyone’s lips and questions to everyone’s mind centering around why the pierced and tattooed drummer would even own something like that.

“I’ll be sure to give you more warning next time I decide to go into renal failure.  Thanks for thinking of me, that was sweet.  He reminds me of you. Big and goofy, but lovable. I’ll take good care of him.  Let me know if you ever want him back.”  Patrick blushed at her comment. That was the most extended bit of speech she had attempted all morning.  It tired her out and she dropped her head back on her pillow.

“Naw, he’s yours for keeps.  I’ve been looking for a good home for him,” he said as the flush in his cheeks settled.

“Well, looks like a regular fan club meeting in here,” the young duty nurse assigned to Gail for the day announced as she entered wheeling a tall, narrow piece of equipment. “Let’s see how your vitals are this morning,” she said as she went about the business of wrapping the blood pressure cuff around Gail’s closest arm, taking her temperature and checking her pulse. “We’ll change this bag too while we’re at it.” The nurse gave the plastic bag a little squeeze, to gauge how much of the clear liquid was really still in it. “I’ll be right back to change that.” She nodded to the IV bag while she undid the blood pressure cuff. “How’re you feelin’ this morning, doll?  Need help getting over to the bathroom or anything?”

Gail shook her head.  “I’m okay.”

“You just hit that call button if you need anything.”  She left with her equipment to get a replacement hydration bag. At the door the nurse turned and addressed the crowd, “Let’s not start an ‘Occupy’ movement here, if you get my meaning.  You can visit for a while but she still needs some rest.”

* * * * *

Two weeks after Gail’s collapse, a banner adorned with her photo and proclaiming that it was ‘Gail Yancy Day’ had been strung across the facade of SR Brewski’s Bar & Grill.  Inside the restaurant the Red Cross was collecting blood. The restaurant tables had all been cleared out and a mobile blood donation center had been set up in their place. Food and sodas were provided free of charge to those giving blood.  Out front several booths lined the porch and front lawn. The National Kidney Registry was handing out literature and taking down information from potential living donors so that they could be added to the Registry.   It was a beautiful September day.

Several local bands were selling copies of CDs, the proceeds of which were being donated to the Gail Yancy Fund set up to help defray her medical costs. A small stage had been assembled and featured bands were taking turns rotating through live sets.  There was even a moon bounce for the kids, adding to the carnival atmosphere of the whole affair. Across the street away from the crowd Ed Knight watched intently from beneath hooded eyes in grave silence.  After twenty minutes he rolled down his sleeves, turned, and walked the few miles up Benjamin Street to his house.

Gail’s mother, Louise had flown up from Tampa to play the role of care taker.  She was in the kitchen preparing panfried chicken with a balsamic and caper pan sauce who’s pungent but heavenly aroma filled the house.  The phone jangled and Louise picked it up.  She stepped into the family room where Gail was resting on the couch.

“Gail, honey,” Louise said softly with her hand covering the mouth piece. “It’s Dr. Clayton.  He says he thinks he has some good news for you.”  She walked the phone over to her still weak daughter. Gail greeted the doctor and listened to what he had to say.  The conversation was short.

“What did he say’” her mother asked.  Gail shrugged.

“They found a donor.  Surgery’s scheduled for next week. Thursday.  I’m supposed to be there at 8:00 AM.”

“That’s fabulous, honey.  You must be thrilled.”  Louise smiled a mother’s smile, a mixture of compassion and pride. Gail just shrugged again. “What’s wrong, sweetheart?”

“I don’t know.  So many people making such a fuss over one person.  It makes me feel a little squeamish. Or guilty anyway.”

“Oh, Gail.”  She stepped over and sat down on the couch brushing a few loose strands out of her daughter’s face.  “People all across the country are getting the same kind of attention and outpouring.  This sort of thing is being played out in every town from here to Portland, Oregon.  You have no reason to feel guilty.  You haven’t asked for any of this.”  She sighed and asked, “Did Dr. Clayton say who the donor is?”

“No. The donor want’s to remain anonymous, for now anyway.  Dr. Clayton did slip and called the donor ‘him’ so that rules out half the population.  Did I tell you Derek put in to be considered as a donor? Last time we talked he hadn’t heard if he was a good match or not.”

“That’s probably who it is then,” Louise called from the kitchen as she returned to attend to the pan sauce.  “That’s so sweet.  I think he’s a bit smitten with you.”

“Mom.  We’re bandmates, good friends. That kind of thing never works out.”

“Well, you’re never going to find anyone at this rate.  When are you ever going to settle down?”

Gail rolled he eyes theatrically since her mother was in the other room.  Louise was a big supporter of her musical pursuits but she longed for grandchildren and periodically couldn’t help taking up that banner and marching it around. “There’s still time, Mom.  There’s still plenty of time to settle down.”

* * * * *

Louise and Gail were at the New Castle Hospital by 7:40.  Traffic had been lighter than anticipated.  Gail was quiet and nervous.  So was her mother.  Her name was called and reams of paperwork were filled out.  You would have thought she was purchasing Buckingham Palace.

An orderly finally led Gail off leaving her mother in the waiting room to fret only as mothers can do.  Gail was prepped for surgery and the anesthesiologist explained what she could expect and how she would feel when she woke up in recovery.  Gail nodded at all the right moments and offered smiles at all of the doctor’s threadbare jokes, but she was barely paying attention.

“All right Ms. Yancy.  Are you ready?”

“Ready as I’ll ever be.  Let’s get this show on the road.”

“Spoken like a true entertainer.”  The man in sea-foam green scrubs wheeled her gurney through the double swinging doors into the surgery theater. The last thing she remembered was counting backwards from 100.  She got as far as 92.

“You might feel a little nauseous from the anesthesia,” the nurse was saying. “We’ll get you set up in your own room soon.”

Gail picked her head up and looked around but it felt like it weighed at least 30 pounds and let it drop back into the pillow. The nurse wheeled the familiar portable trunk of equipment over and went through the routine of checking Gail’s vitals: blood pressure, pulse, temperature. “Would you like some ice chips to suck on?” Gail nodded in reply.  Her mouth was a desert. She shook a few slivers past her chapped lips when Dr. Clayton came in to check on his patient.

“Ah.  Good to see you awake.  How does everything feel?”

Gail shrugged. “Sore.”

“Well, once we get you upstairs, we can start you on some pain management medication.”

“Doctor, how is the donor?  Will I ever get to meet him?  I want to say thank you.”

“Mr. Knight is doing fine.”  Dr. Clayton smiled.

“Knight?  Ed Knight was the donor?”

Dr. Clayton nodded. “He said you’d be surprised.”

“That’s an understatement.”  She closed her eyes but it couldn’t keep the tears from coming.

* * * * *

SR Brewski’s was filled to capacity for the National Kidney Foundation Benefit Concert.  When Gail Yancy and the Contusions finally stepped foot on the small stage, the venue erupted into a prolonged and spirited standing ovation, shrill whistles cutting through the calls and applause.  Gail stood there at the microphone nodding her head saying, “Thank you” repeatedly like the President at the start of a State of the Union speech. It became clear that the only way to quiet the crowd was to play. She turned and signaled to Patrick with a nod of her head, he started cracking his drumsticks together over his head to count off the beat, and Gail hit the first chord of Double Take which had become their signature opener.  The cheers from the crowd ramped up even higher but finally settled down halfway through the first verse.

It felt great to be back on this hometown stage after being out of commission for over a month. The energy and chemistry of the first half of the show surpassed even those flawless performances on the same stage right before her hospitalization.  The trio was at the top of their craft and unstoppable and the crowd was eating it up.  Not single person sat down from the moment the band set foot in front of the lights.  Arms punched at the air, heads bobbed, feet danced.  The performers found it all very intoxicating.

For the fourth song of the second half of the show, Patrick and Derek stepped from the stage, leaving Gail to solo.  She walked up to the mic and said, “About a month ago at our last concert, I don’t know if anyone remembers…”  The crowd laughed and a smattering of applause rippled across the room. “I was four songs into the second half when I collapsed.  I’m at that same point right now and I want to mark it with a new song.  It’s called The Stranger Within. I hope you like it.”

Gail picked up an acoustic guitar and played the opening strains as the lights narrowed down to a single spotlight. She leaned into the microphone and sang.

 The answer was in front of me, but never made quite clear
An answer that I couldn’t see, nor one that I could hear
A pound of flesh was carved from him, a pound of flesh for me
A sacrifice, a heartfelt hymn, a life made fresh for me.
The forest was right there for me, yet trees were all I saw
I didn’t know you cared for me, my one and only flaw

You managed to crawl under my skin
Unlocked the door, and strolled right in
How do I start, where do I begin
Where will I find the stranger within

How do I start, where do I begin
Where will I find the stranger within…

 The entire time she was looking at Ed Knight and she saw the shiny trail of the first tear roll down his cheek.  He made no attempt to wipe it away. A flood of her own sprang up and her voice grew too thick with emotion to continue.  She wouldn’t make through this song either. The quite man in the front row who had given the singer a new lease on life jumped effortlessly up on the stage and wrapped her in his arms.  The two of them stood locked in an embrace for quite a while. Neither of them could hear the cheers.

* * * * *

I hope you enjoyed my story. I would love for you to leave any feedback or constructive criticism in my comments section. Would you like to see more of this kind of thing?  Would you have preferred the whole story in one post? Let me know what your thoughts are.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

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Photos: Thinkstock
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