Coma. The dreadful diagnosis was whispered behind closed doors and in the hallways of Mercy General’s ICU, where the unidentified little girl lay surrounded by tubes, IVs, and monitors.
“Sir, how bad is it?” Richard asked Dr. Maxwell Mallory, chief of surgery at Mercy General.
If his former guardian and mentor was surprised to see him, he didn’t show signs of it. He gestured him to a chair and pushed aside some papers he’d been looking at.
In the small corner office overlooking the East River, the man gazed at him over the top of his reading glasses, his expression stern. “You know I can’t discuss a patient’s condition with a nonfamily member,” he said.
Richard tamped down his annoyance. “I realize that, sir, but I thought, you know, given my almost premed status and given my personal involvement in the matter—not to mention being the primary witness . . .”
“That’s a lot of givens,” Dr. Mallory observed, sounding more amused than annoyed.
“Please, sir. The kid wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for me. She got hurt trying to push me out of the way.”
The man’s eyebrows drew together in a contemplative frown. “Well, I suppose you’re entitled, if only for the fact you were there to provide assistance, very likely saving her life,” he said.
“Thank you, sir,” Richard said.
He waited nervously while the older man went through the laborious task of cleaning out his pipe and refilling it. The ritual was as familiar to Richard as the man’s unfashionably thick mustache, his collar-length salt-and-pepper hair, and rumpled scholarly appearance. This time, however, his motions were slower than usual, leaving Richard wondering if he should take it as a bad omen.
The doctor finished what he was doing and set aside the pipe, then looked at Richard. “She’s still in a deep coma and so far we have seen no improvement of her cognitive functions.
Fortunately, there were no internal injuries or broken bones, but the violent blow to her head has caused severe trauma to the brain.”
A sickly feeling settled in the pit of Richard’s stomach. It wasn’t fair. He should be the one lying in a coma, all cut and bruised. He would have been better able to sustain the impact.
“What are the chances of her regaining consciousness?” he asked.
The doctor shrugged. “It’s difficult to say at this stage. The results of the initial tests have shown no change. She’s in a state of extreme unresponsiveness and doesn’t react to pain stimulation.”
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