She was 16-years-old, a backseat passenger in a rollover car crash. The driver died at the scene, and the front seat passenger lay in the trauma bay opposite hers. She was awake and alert and very intoxicated. Her right leg was broken between the knee and ankle, but otherwise she had no major injuries.
The other passenger from the car, an 18-year-old boy, lay still, his head bleeding from a long laceration, and his left pupil enlarged to twice the size of the right, a sign of a major brain injury. The girl alternated between sobbing and laughing uncontrollably.
We quickly sent the head injured boy to the CT scan and moved the girl to the observation area. She calmed down and seemed rational. She asked for her cell phone so she could call her family.
The orthopedic surgeon came and looked at her leg, ordered a splint and called the operating room to book her for surgery. She called a friend on her cell phone.
About 30 minutes later, an older guy showed up. He looked to be in his late 20s. He wore black jeans and a sleeveless black t-shirt. His arms were covered with Aztec themed tattoos. Two teardrops were tattooed below his left eye, a double 5-year prison term. His black hair was pulled back in a tight ponytail. His body language and dark eyes broadcast aggression.
“Two teardrops were tattooed below his left eye,
a double 5-year prison term.”
“Where’s my sister?” he demanded. The trauma nurse pointed to the curtained observation area where the girl lay. He started that way.
“Can I help you?” I asked, standing up from the chair where I’d been writing orders.
“You the Doctor?” he asked.
“I’m the Trauma Surgeon tonight,” I said.
“What happened to my sister?”
I explained that she had been in an accident, that her leg was broken, and that she’d need surgery to fix it. I hadn’t found any other injuries.
He listed, his fists clenching and unclenching.
What was this guy’s problem, I wondered. I almost told the nurse to call security, but he closed his eyes and took a deep breath, visibly controlling himself.
“She’ll be all right, though?”
“She’ll need to be in the hospital for a few days but should recover without any lasting problems.”
He nodded. “Was she drinking?” he asked.
Uh oh, I thought. He wouldn’t be happy with the answer. He seemed to sense my reluctance.
“Just tell me,” he said in a slow calm voice.
“Her blood alcohol was twice the legal limit, but she wasn’t driving.”
“Maybe not, but she’s only 16.”
He turned and swept the curtain aside. The girl was still talking on her phone. She looked up as he stood over her bed but didn’t stop her conversation. He snatched the phone away from her and shut it off.
“You’re busted,” he said. “No more talking to your low-life friends.”
“Hey,” she shouted. “You can’t do that!”
“I can and I did. I’m in charge now. You had your fun, but I won’t let you turn into your mother.”
They screamed at each other along those lines for a few minutes until the girl dissolved into tears. Her brother held her shoulders for a while until she stopped crying and covered her head with a sheet, clearly done talking as well.
He stepped away and turned to me.
“Sorry to come on so hostile. I have trouble with that. I’m her legal guardian since our mom died last year. Mom was a drunk and never gave a damn about her, anyway. I’m all she’s got now.”
“You’ll need to sign for her surgery,” I said. “Don’t be too hard on her about the alcohol. Like I said, she wasn’t driving.”
His nostrils flared. “I’ll bust her ass if she drinks again before she’s 21. I’m an alcoholic, so was our mother. Dad too, I suppose, but he left before she was born. I did two nickels in Florence before I was 26. But I got sober. Been sober for 3 years now. I work for New Leaf as a drug and alcohol counselor. As soon as she’s out of here, she’s going into the teen residential program there. I can’t be her counselor, but I can be her sponsor. I’ll be damned if she’s going to get into the same crap I did at her age. She’s smart. She can be better.”
He turned away and went to her side. She took his hand but still wouldn’t look at him. He stayed with the gurney, holding her hand as the nurse wheeled her to the operating room.
Bruce Davis, MD, is a Mesa AZ based general and trauma surgeon. He finished medical school at the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Chicago way back in the 1970’s and did his surgical residency at Bethesda Naval Hospital. After 14 years on active duty that included overseas duty with the Seabees, time on large grey boats and a tour with the Marines during the First Gulf War, he went into private practice near Phoenix. He is part of that dying breed of dinosaurs, the solo general surgeon. He also is a writer of science fiction novels. His works include the YA novel Queen Mab Courtesy, published by CWG press (and recently reissued by AKW Books as the e-book Blanktown). Also published through AKW Books are his military science fiction novel That Which Is Human and the Profit Logbook series, including Glowgems For Profit and Thieves Profit.