The industrial sliding doors heaved open to a burst of bitter alpine air, a dizzying flurry of snow, and a barrage of hoarse cries. "Hello—goddamn it--somebody help! He's bad. He's really—Oh, Jesus, wake up, Grant. Please, just—Someone help!"
From the blurry white, Terzian emerged, lugging his injured companion into the waiting room. Grant's head lolled to one side, and the arm slung over Terzian's neck was limp. The toes of his rubber boots dragged across the hospital tiles, squeaking at intervals.
The intake nurse bolted off her stool, already reaching for the intercom to rouse Dr. Patel from her cot in the on-call room. The urgent-care facility was a one-doc shop—six beds, two nurses, a single ER physician now at the midpoint of her forty-eight-hour shift. Strategically positioned on the steep mountain road between the lake resorts of Big Bear and Arrowhead, the skeleton-crew operation serviced adventuresome souls damaged by the vicissitudes of weather or their own basic human stupidity. Torn ACLs from unyielding skis, ulnas shattered by lost footing on black ice, collarbones obliterated against steering columns—these were the bread-and-butter afflictions mended within the facility's weather- battered walls.
Grant's injury looked much more severe.
The intake nurse flew out from behind her station, and Jenna, the staff nurse, was running up the hall toward them with a gurney. Dr. Patel jogged behind her, flattening her stethoscope to her chest with a palm to keep it from bouncing. Though her eyes were heavy with sleep, she looked ready to work, her teal scrub sleeves hiked up over her shoulders.
"Let's get him horizontal now," she said, digging in her breast pocket for a penlight.
The nurses stepped to the patient, and he slipped from Terzian's shoulder into their arms. They puddled him onto the gurney. Though the doors had slid closed again, November air still swirled in the lobby, tasting of pine.
Dr. Patel rapid-fired questions: "What's his name?"
"Grant. Grant Merriweather."
"And you are?"
"Terzian. His friend."
"He was driving, lost control—the slush—and...and...next thing I knew, we were over the edge, right out there—" With a wobbly finger, he pointed through the wall. "We hit a tree, and he was like this. I had to pull him out. Thank God you were so close. It's like a miracle."
"Left pupil blown and unreactive." Patel clicked off her pen-light. "Epidural hematoma."
"Wait—what? What's that mean?"
"He's got a bleed in his brain. There's too much pressure. We need to CT him—now."
"You have to save him. You have to save him."
The gurney wheels rattled as the three women, trailed by Terzian, sprinted into an adjoining room and fed Grant Merriweather's body into the massive white tunnel. He started posturing, his muscles stiffening, limbs straining. His dilated pupil looked unhuman, the halved marble of a stuffed animal's eye.
As the machine whirred calmingly, Terzian tore off his jacket. Sweat darkened the cuffs of his long-sleeved T-shirt. He stomped from foot to foot, yanking at his sleeves, his untucked shirt swaying. Sweat filmed his forehead, and he was breathing hard, the air thin here at seven thousand feet above sea level.
Jenna placed a hand on his back. "We're gonna take good care of him."
Dr. Patel was over by the monitors, reading the images. "We got midline shift, the brain pushed to the right side. Sheila, call for a medical airlift. We have to get him to a brain center—Cedars or UCLA."
"Wait, you can't take him," Terzian said. "You can't just take him."