Authors: Patricia Davids
Tags: #Fiction, #Religious, #Romance, #General
“Lady, I’ve seen kids living in places like this covered with rat bites and worse. If you think you can go it alone, you’re crazy. There’s a system to help if you’ll use it.”
“Why do you care? You want to name your little girl after your mother, right? You know what I remember about dear old Mom? On my fifth birthday she gave me a Twinkie with a candle in it. Then she left me inside a Dumpster for two days because she was too strung out to remember where she’d put me to keep me quiet while some new boyfriend supplied her habit. Your precious system moved me from one foster home to another when it wasn’t giving me back to Mom so she could have another go at me. By the time I was sixteen, I’d figured out living in a back alley was a better deal. Your
isn’t going to get its hands on my baby. I’ll make sure of that.”
She squeezed her eyes shut, fighting to hold back a scream as the pain overwhelmed her.
“Okay, you’ve had it rough,” he said gently. “Show me one kid down at the shelter that hasn’t. But, if Child Welfare finds out this is where you’re living, do you think they’re going to let you bring a baby here? I’m just saying stay at a shelter until you find something better. It’s not you I’m worried about, it’s the baby.”
Everyone who’d ever shown her compassion had had their own agenda in mind. Why did she think this guy was any different? Why did she find herself believing he really did care?
“How come you’re so concerned about someone else’s kid?”
He stared out the broken window for a long moment without speaking, then he looked at her and said, “Maybe because I can’t have kids of my own.”
She frowned. “I don’t get it. What about the names?”
The smile he tried for was edged with sadness. “If I ever marry, I’ll adopt children.”
“You look healthy to me,” she said, giving him the once-over. “What’s wrong with you?”
He hesitated, then admitted, “I had a bad case of the mumps when I was a teenager. It left me sterile.” He shrugged. “It’s just one of those things.”
But not a little thing, Caitlin thought as she glimpsed the sadness in his eyes.
“Mick? Mick O’Callaghan?” A shout echoed through the building.
“Last room on the left, Pastor,” Mick shouted back.
The sound of someone clambering past the debris in the hall reached them. A moment later, Pastor Frank’s bald head appeared in the doorway. “Mick, what are you doing in here? Eddy was raving about you delivering a baby.”
His eyes, behind silver wire-rimmed glasses, widened as he caught sight of Caitlin. “For goodness’ sake. Are you?”
“Not yet, but we could be. Did you call for an ambulance?”
“I did.” The sound of a distant siren followed his words.
Mick turned to her and smiled. “Everything’s going to be all right now.”
He gripped her hand again. The warmth and strength of his touch made her believe him. He would take care of her and her baby.
* * *
Twenty minutes later, two paramedics loaded the stretcher she lay on into the ambulance. Another contraction hit, stronger this time. As she tried to pant through it, the need to push became uncontrollable. One of the paramedics started to close the door, shutting Mick out.
“Wait,” she shouted. “He’s got to come with me.”
She wasn’t sure why she needed Mick. Maybe it was because he truly seemed to care—about her, and about her baby.
She stretched her hand out and pleaded, “Please, Mick, we need you.”
The two paramedics looked at Mick. The older one said, “Okay, O’Callaghan, come on. We’re wasting time.” He motioned with his head, and Mick jumped in. Moments later, the ambulance rolled with red lights and siren.
Mick knew he’d be late getting home for sure now. He would have to call once he reached the hospital. The last thing he wanted was to worry his mother. Yet, for some reason he knew he couldn’t let Caitlin go through this alone.
She didn’t have anyone. He couldn’t imagine what that must be like. Besides his mother, he had two sisters, a dozen nephews and nieces and more cousins than he could count. There were enough O’Callaghans in Chicago to fill the upper deck at Wrigley Field, while this destitute young woman was totally alone.
No, God had set his feet on the path that led to Caitlin today. Mick couldn’t believe the Lord wanted him to bail out now. Taking her hand, he smiled at her and said, “You got it now. Just breathe.”
The siren wailed overhead. Caitlin struggled to block out the sound as she panted through the contraction with Mick coaching her. Why didn’t they shut it off? She couldn’t concentrate. She needed to hear his voice telling her everything was going to be okay. And she needed to push.
She was pushing by the time the ambulance reached the hospital. Her stretcher was quickly unloaded and wheeled into the building. People came at her from all directions, yelling instructions, asking for information and giving orders she couldn’t follow. All she could do was bear down and push a new life into the world as she clung to Mick’s hand like a lifeline.
A sudden gush of fluid soaked the stretcher, and her tiny baby slid into the hands of a startled doctor. “We have a girl,” he said. Mick lifted Caitlin’s head so she could see.
“She’s so small.” Dread snaked its way into her soul as they whisked her daughter to a table with warming lamps glowing above it.
“Is she okay? Why isn’t she crying?” Caitlin tightened her grip on Mick’s hand. So many people crowded around the baby that she couldn’t see her. She tried to sit up, but a nurse held her back.
“Your baby’s being taken care of.”
“Just tell me she’s okay. Please, someone tell me she’s okay.” Frantic now, Caitlin struggled to push the nurse aside, but a sudden, sharp pain in her chest halted her.
She tried to draw a breath but couldn’t get any air. Something was wrong, terribly wrong. She collapsed back onto the bed as the crushing pain overwhelmed her.
Long minutes later, they wheeled the baby’s bed up beside her. Caitlin turned her head and focused on her daughter’s small face. For an instant, all her pain faded away.
Her baby was so beautiful—so tiny—so perfect. But she wasn’t moving. Someone spoke, but Caitlin couldn’t hear them over the roaring in her ears. Then they pushed her baby’s bed out the door. Their faces were all so grim.
“Is she dead, Mick?” Caitlin whispered, terrified to hear the answer.
“No,” he answered quickly. “They’re taking her to the NICU. It’s a special intensive care just for babies. They’ll take good care of her there. She’s going to be fine.”
“Why isn’t—she crying?” The pain in her chest made it hard to talk.
“It’s because she’s so premature,” Mick answered. “She has a tube going into her airway to help her breathe, and she can’t make any sound with that in.”
Caitlin’s own breathing had become short, labored panting. A frowning nurse slipped a plastic mask over Caitlin’s face and spoke to the doctor. He frowned, too.
Caitlin looked from face to face. She didn’t know any of these people. Who would look after her baby?
She gripped Mick’s arm, pulling him closer. “Go with her.”
He glanced at the E.R. staff, then back to her. “I think I should stay with you.”
“I’m fine,” she insisted. She forced a smile to her trembling lips. A strange cold was seeping into her bones. “Stay with—Beth. Watch over her for me.”
He patted her hand. “Okay. I’ll be back soon.”
Nodding, she whispered, “Thank you,” and watched him hurry out the door.
The nurse beside her claimed her attention. “I need you to tell me your name.”
“Caitlin—Williams,” she wheezed.
“Are you allergic to any medication? Are you using any street drugs?” Caitlin shook her head at each question the nurse fired at her. The room grew dark around the edges.
So this was what it was like to die. She wanted to cry because she knew what would happen to her daughter now—the same things that had happened to her. It wasn’t fair.
“Who is your next of kin?” The nurse continued to insist on answers. Caitlin only wanted to close her eyes and rest, but more people crowded around her, taking her blood pressure, listening to her heart, poking needles in her arm, sticking wires on her chest. They were all frowning.
“Is the man who came in with you the baby’s father?” the nurse asked.
“What?” Caitlin tried to focus on the woman’s face.
“I said, is that man the baby’s father?”
Would Mick see that her daughter was taken care of? She could say he was the father, then he’d have the right to look after her. Would he understand? It didn’t matter, she was out of time. She nodded as she whispered, “Yes.”
“What is his name?”
Don’t let her be alone, Mick. Please, take care of her.
Darkness swooped in and began to pull Caitlin away. She struggled against it. She needed to stay for her baby.
“We’re losing her,” someone shouted.
ick caught up with the baby as they wheeled her into the nearest elevator. Squeezing in beside them, he stared in amazement at Caitlin’s daughter. He’d never seen anything so tiny. Her head was no bigger than the palm of his hand; his little finger was thicker than her gangly legs, yet she was so complete. Downy, brown hair covered her head and miniature wrinkles creased her forehead above arching brows. She even had eyelashes! The tiny spikes lay curved against her cheek. Awed by the wonder of this new life, he gazed at her in fascination. Truly, here was one of God’s greatest creations.
Her delicate hands flew up and curled around the breathing tube taped in her mouth.
“No, honey, don’t pull on that,” a nurse chided as she pried the tiny fingers loose. “Hold Daddy’s hand instead,” she suggested with an encouraging smile.
Hesitantly, almost fearfully, Mick reached for the baby’s hand. Her thin fingers gripped his large, blunt one. Her eyes fluttered open. She stared at him and blinked, then her frown deepened into a scowl. An identical, miniature version of her mother’s, and Michael Aaron O’Callaghan fell hopelessly in love.
“She looks like her mom,” he said, surprised to hear the catch in his voice. He glanced at the woman beside him. “Will she be all right?”
“She has a very good chance, but there is a long road ahead of her, I’m afraid. I’m Dr. Wright. I’m one of the neonatologists on staff here. Her lungs are much too immature to work properly, so she’s going to need help. She’ll be placed on a ventilator once we reach the unit.” As she spoke, she continued rhythmically squeezing a small, gray bag that delivered oxygen to the baby. “Do you have a name for her?”
“Beth,” he answered, “or maybe Elizabeth. Her mother can tell you for sure. When can she come and see her?”
“We’ll be busy getting Beth admitted and stabilized for the next hour or so. I’d suggest you wait until then to bring Mom in.” The elevator doors slid open, and Mick followed them as they wheeled the baby across the hall and into the NICU.
A flurry of activity began as soon as they entered the large room. At first, it seemed like nurses were scurrying in all directions at once, but it quickly became apparent it was a controlled rush as Beth was placed on a larger bed, and hooked to a waiting ventilator. Within minutes, a jungle of wires, IV poles, tubing and oxygen hoses surrounded her.
Glancing around the room, Mick noted with amusement its peculiar mix of Mother Goose and science-fiction technology. Rows of flashing monitors and digital displays shared wall space with giant nursery-rhyme characters above the open beds and incubators. IV poles held bags of fluid, swaying mobiles and colorful toys.
Dr. Wright spoke as she worked. “We need to administer a medication directly into Beth’s lungs to help mature them and start some IVs.”
Mick interrupted, “What are her chances, honestly?”
“She weighs barely two pounds, and she looks to be about twenty-six weeks gestation, which means she was born fourteen weeks early. Her chances of survival are good if she doesn’t develop any serious complications. Only time will tell.”
After the excitement of Beth’s admission died down, the nurses let Mick sit beside her bed. He couldn’t get over how adorable she looked in spite of the tubes and wires. His heart warmed to her as he watched her with a sense of wonder and fascination. After a while, he glanced at the clock surprised to see how late it was. In the rush of events he had forgotten to call home.
“I’d better go and tell your mother how you’re doing. I know she’s worried.”
He took a last look at the little girl whose arrival had generated so much activity. “Goodbye, Beth. Be well,” he whispered, knowing he might never see her again. His mother’s voice echoed in his mind, and he smiled. He took hold of her tiny hand. “May God grant you many years to live, for sure He must be knowing, the Earth has angels all too few, and heaven’s overflowing.”
A nurse across the bed smiled at him as she added medication to a bag of IV fluid. “Are you a poet?”
Sheepishly, he grinned. “It’s an old Irish blessing, something my mother always says as a kind of birthday wish.”
“It’s darling. I’ll write it out and put it on her bed. We like to keep personal things by the babies, like toys or photos. Things that help the families connect with their baby.”
She reached out and patted his arm. “I’m Sandra Carter. Try not to worry, Irish. She’s a fighter, I can tell.”
“I hope you’re right.”
“Hold out your hand.” He did and she fastened a hospital wristband around his arm. “You’ll need this to get back in.”
He fingered the white strip of plastic without comment. He was here under false pretenses, but only because Caitlin had insisted. Still, that didn’t quite ease his conscience.
After making his way back to the E.R., he halted on the threshold of the room where he’d left Caitlin. It was empty.
Out at the main desk, Mick spoke to the heavyset woman seated behind it. “Excuse me. Can you tell me where they’ve taken the woman who just had a baby here?”
“The patient’s name?” she asked in a bored voice, continuing to write on the paper in front of her.
She laid down her pen, then shuffled through the charts beside her. She located one, flipped it open, then gave him a startled look. “Let me get Dr. Reese to speak with you.”
She hoisted her bulk out of the chair and opened a door behind her. “Doctor, there’s someone here asking about the Williams woman.”
The unease Mick felt intensified when the grave-looking doctor emerged from the doorway. “Are you family?” he asked.
“No. I’m—a friend. Is something wrong?”
“I’m afraid so. Ms. Williams has developed a rare complication of pregnancy called amniotic fluid embolus.”
“What does that mean?”
Drawing a deep breath, the doctor continued, “It means during her delivery, some of the amniotic fluid got into her blood stream. Once there, it traveled up through her heart and lodged in her lung preventing her from getting enough oxygen. That stopped her heart.”
“She’s dead?” Mick struggled to grasp the man’s words.
“No,” Dr. Reese admitted slowly. “We were able to restart her heart. Ms. Williams is on a ventilator now, but she hasn’t regained consciousness. The lack of oxygen can cause profound brain damage, and the embolus can cause uncontrollable bleeding problems. Her condition is extremely serious. She’s unlikely to survive.”
Unlikely to survive?
The phrase echoed inside Mick’s head, filling him with a profound sadness. Caitlin was so young. She had a baby who needed her. What would happen to Beth now?
He raked a hand through his hair. “I should have stayed with her. I knew something wasn’t right.”
“I heard her tell you to go with the baby,” the doctor said gently. “These patients often have an overwhelming sense of doom. She knew, and she chose to have you stay with her child. She’s a very brave young woman.”
“I’m sorry to interrupt,” the clerk spoke up. “Doctor, you’re needed in room six.”
He nodded, then looked at Mick. “I’m sorry we couldn’t do more,” he said, then hurried away.
“Are you Mick O’Callaghan?” the clerk asked. Mick nodded. The woman pushed several sheets of paper toward him and offered him a pen. “We need you to fill out these forms, and I’ll need a copy of your insurance card.”
“My insurance card? For what?”
“For your baby.”
“No, you don’t understand. Beth isn’t mine.”
“According to Caitlin Williams, she is,” the clerk said smugly.
Just then, Sandra and two other NICU nurses rounded the corner and walked past. “Hey, Irish,” Sandra said with a bright smile. “I’m glad I ran into you. My shift is over, but I’ll be back in the morning. Your daughter’s doing fine, but you need to leave us a phone number. We overlooked that detail in the rush of her admission.”
She started to leave, but stopped and turned. “Oh, I wrote out your mother’s blessing and taped it to Beth’s bed. Several other parents have asked for a copy of it. I hope you don’t mind.” She waved and followed her friends out the door.
“It seems a lot of people think she’s your baby,” the clerk said with a smirk.
It took a call to his attorney to convince the woman that unless Mick himself had signed the paternity papers, he had no legal responsibility for the child—something Mick suspected she knew already. After that, he called home to make sure his mother was all right. Surprisingly, his mother’s friend and part-time nurse Naomi answered the phone.
“It’s about time you called,” she scolded.
“I know. I had to take someone to the hospital. I’m glad you could stay. I hope it wasn’t an inconvenience.”
“I can watch my favorite TV shows here as well as at home. Besides, your mother is good company.”
“How is she today?”
“Determined to get up and clean house even with her arm in a cast. I knew it was a mistake for that doctor to take her ankle brace off. The woman has less sense than you.”
“Keep her down even if you have to sit on her. And tell her I’ll be home in a hour or so.”
Knowing that his mother wasn’t alone was a relief. After hanging up, he went in search of Caitlin. At the medical ICU, a nurse led him to Caitlin’s room. He paused in the doorway. A single bed occupied the small room. He stepped next to it and rested his hands on the cold metal rails.
She looked utterly helpless lying with the sheets neatly folded under her arms and her hands at her sides. A thick, white tube protruded from her mouth connecting her to a ventilator. The soft hiss it made as it delivered each breath made it sound as though the machine had a life of its own. Like a mechanical monster, it crouched there controlling her fate. One breath. She still lived. Another breath. She still lived.
Someone had combed her hair. It made her look younger, sweeter. The hard edges of streetwise homelessness didn’t show now, only the face of a lovely young woman.
He had promised her that everything would be all right, but he hadn’t been able to keep that promise.
The world wasn’t full of happy endings; his job, if not his personal life, had taught him that long ago. Only sometimes, like now, when God’s plan was hidden from view, he had trouble accepting things which seemed so unfair. Saddened beyond measure, he turned away knowing he could do nothing except keep her in his prayers.
After taking a cab home, he opened his front door and Nikki, his elderly golden retriever, met him with a wagging tail. Mick stooped to ruffle one silky ear. She licked his hand once then padded back to her bed in front of the fireplace, lay down and watched him across the room with calm, serious eyes. He sank onto the sofa and rubbed his hands over his weary face. The clock on the mantel began to chime midnight. He had to be on duty in less than seven hours. He considered pulling the throw over himself and just sleeping where he was, but decided against it. Instead, he rose to his feet and climbed the stairs with Nikki at his heels.
He glanced down the hall and saw that a light still shone from under his mother’s door. He walked to the end of the corridor and rapped lightly on the thick oak panel. At her muffled answer, he eased the door open.
Elizabeth O’Callaghan was sitting up in bed reading by the light of a lamp on the bedside stand. She was dressed in a simple cotton robe of pale blue that matched her sharp eyes behind her bifocals. Her long white hair hung over a thick plaster cast covering her left arm from elbow to wrist, the result of her auto accident. Around her neck she wore a small gold chain and simple gold cross that glinted in the light when she moved.
She once told him that the cross had come all the way from Ireland with her mother. Like her own mother, Elizabeth O’Callaghan had spent her life praying for the less fortunate. And she hadn’t stopped with simply praying for them.
After his father’s death, Mick’s mother had worked to raise her own children and then went on to help other young women who were alone in the world. Mercy House had been her idea. Her work, her heart and soul had started it. With the help of several women and the local pastor, her work still went on. Mick’s heart swelled with love and pride when he thought of all she had accomplished. The Lord gave her a strong will, and she used it to help serve Him.
“Hi, Mom. How’s the arm feeling?”
“Not too bad.” She wiggled her fingers for his benefit.
“Has Naomi gone?”
“She helped me with my bath then I sent her home. I’m better now. I don’t need a sitter around the clock. A few more weeks and I’ll be able to move back to my own apartment.”
“You can move back when your doctor gives you the okay and not before.”
“I’ve put you out long enough. A man your age shouldn’t be saddled with caring for a feeble old woman. You should be looking to get saddled with a pretty young woman.”
“Where am I going to find one prettier than you?”
She grinned at him, laid her book aside and patted the mattress beside her. “You can’t sidetrack me with flattery. I’ve been waiting up for you. What kept you? Naomi said you had to rush someone to the hospital. Come here and tell me everything.”
She sounded like a schoolgirl eager for gossip. He crossed the room in a few long strides and bent to kiss her cheek. “It’s a long story.”
“I’m not going anywhere and neither are you until you tell me the whole truth and nothing but the truth, young man.” She grasped his arm and tugged until he sat on the bed.
“If you insist.”
“Okay. I was on my way home from Mercy House when an old bum stopped me to help deliver a baby, but we got the mother to the hospital first, and since the baby weighed only two pounds she had to go to intensive care, and the mother asked me to go with the baby and I did, only while I was gone she told everyone I was the baby’s father before she lapsed into a coma. Any questions?”
His mother’s eyes were wide with stunned surprise. “About a million. Why don’t you start at the top and go more slowly.”
He grinned and repeated the story with as many of the details as he knew, stopping often to answer her questions. At the end of his tale, he met her sad, concerned gaze and wished he hadn’t shared quite so much.