Waking at five each morning, Tom Bradshaw didn’t have to look at the clock. It was as though an internal alarm had gone off. From his bed he glanced toward the window. The white oaks and sugar maples that crowded the northwest side of his home, having cast off most of their leaves, revealed patches of grey sky. He rolled to a sitting position on the side of the bed, head in his hands, staring at his feet. Part of him wanted to lie down, but he knew sleep wouldn’t come. He got out of bed and went to his study.
Standing at a window that overlooked Lake Washington, he could barely make out the distant shore. Early morning fog drifted in ghost-like clusters across the water. He turned from the window and walked to a massive mahogany desk that had been his father’s. A stack of unread correspondence lay there. He picked up a photograph of Brenda and Link. He ran his fingers over her image. Why had he survived? He would have been driving if he hadn’t been drinking. It was his fault she died. He thought of the last time they made love. He breathed deeply, drawing into himself her sweet smell. The sense of her being there in bed beside him never abated. But now when he moved his hand into that space, it was empty, cold.
Folding his arms on his desk, he rested his head. He was soon asleep. When he awakened, he looked at his watch. It was six-thirty. My God. Link’ll be late for school, he thought.
He headed for Link’s room, taking the steps two at a time. Link lay sprawled on his belly, sleeping quietly. Tom shook his shoulder. “Hey champ, it’s time to get up.”
Link rolled over and rubbed his eyes. “Dad, it’s Saturday.”
Later that day, Tom and Link sat on the floor of their family room watching a baseball game. The Mariners were in a tough race for first place in their division. Ken Griffey Jr., their star centerfielder, had recently won the 1990 Golden Glove Award. Link owned a baseball bat signed by Griffey.
Link, sitting cross-legged, leaned back on his arms. “Dad, if the Mariners get in the World Series, can we go see them play?”
“Wouldn’t that be great?” Tom said. “I’ve never been to a Series game.” He sat with one leg flexed, his chin resting on his knee. “Tickets sell out fast.”
“How can you buy tickets ahead when you don’t know which teams are playing?” Link asked.
“Don’t know. I’ll check it out.”
“Yeah. Don’t forget.”
Tom and Link were caught up in the excitement of the pennant race. Tom loved baseball, not only because he grew up with a passion for the game, but it was an interest he and his son shared. Link moved behind his dad, pressing against him. Tom poked him in the ribs with his elbow. Link grabbed him around the chest, trying to wrestle him to the floor. It was getting so that if Tom let up even a little, Link might get the better of him. Rolling onto the plush carpeting, Tom wrestled Link onto his back and sat over him in a straddle position.
“This is getting harder all the time,” Tom said.
Link was sweating profusely. He grimaced.
“What’s the matter, champ?” Tom released Link’s arms.
“Feels like somebody’s sitting on me.” Link rubbed his chest.
“Does it hurt?”
“No. Just a heavy feeling. It’s hard to breathe.”
Tom pressed the front of Link’s chest. “Is it sore?”
“It’s probably nothing to worry about, but I’m gonna call Dr. Boat. See what he says.”
Dr. Boat insisted Tom bring Link to the emergency room at St. Joseph’s Hospital. “I’ll call ahead.”
On the way to the hospital, Link lay quietly in the back seat of their Volvo. Tom adjusted his rear view mirror so he could see him. “Feeling any better, son?”
“Do you think I’m having a heart attack, like Grandpa?”
Tom gripped the steering wheel as though someone were trying to take it from him. The muscles in his jaw tightened. He struggled to make his voice sound casual.
“I think you probably pulled a muscle. Happened to me playing football. A pulled muscle can hurt a heck of a lot.”
At the hospital entrance a uniformed attendant helped Link into a wheelchair and walked with them to emergency. There was a long line at the clerk’s desk. Link held his hand over his chest. The color drained from his face. Tom pushed to the front of the line. The receptionist was on the phone. As he approached, she swiveled her chair, so as not to face him.
“Pardon me, ma’am,” he said.
She ignored him.
“Ma’am, this is an emergency, excuse me!”
She covered the mouth piece with one hand. “These are all emergencies. You’re going to have to wait your turn.”
“My son is having chest pain. I spoke with Dr. Boat. He told me to bring him here immediately.”
The clerk peered over her almond-shaped glasses. She pressed an intercom button. “Send out the triage nurse. We have a young boy here with chest pain.”
A nurse came to the reception area. She wheeled Link to the rear. “Does your chest still hurt?” she asked.
“Yeah, kind of.”
She bypassed the triage room, taking him directly to a curtained cubicle where she helped him onto a stretcher. He was given a gown and asked to take off all his clothes. Tom sat beside the stretcher. A young woman entered the cubicle and looked from Tom to Link. “Hi. I need to start an IV. Okay?”
Glancing at her name tag, Tom asked, “Miss Davis, did Dr. Boat call in?”
“Yes, he ordered some lab work, a chest x-ray and electrocardiogram.”
She set a tray on the stretcher. She took Link’s blood pressure, pulse and temperature and then applied a tourniquet. She filled several glass vials with blood. Tom’s heart raced. A wave of nausea sweep through him.
“Are you feeling okay, son?” he asked.
“It’s not too bad. Where’s Dr. Boat?”
“He should be here pretty soon.”
After hooking up the cardiac electrodes, the nurse looked at the monitor. Tom saw her startled expression. “Is anything wrong?” he asked.
“I need to get the EKG machine.”
Tom watched as she rushed down the hall. Link tugged at his sleeve.
“Dad, what’s the matter?”
“She didn’t say. Maybe it was hooked up wrong or something.
When she returned, she attached a maze of wires to Link, and pushed some buttons on the machine. She tore off the EKG strip. “I want the doctor to look at this. She’ll be back to examine you in a few minutes.”
Link put his hand over the center of his chest and looked away from his dad.
“The pain coming back?”
He nodded. As he turned to face his dad, there were tears in his eyes. He moved his hand to his jaw. “Now it hurts here.”
Tom leaned out of the curtained cubicle, scanning the area for the nurse. She and another woman approached him.
“I’m Dr. Sharma.” After listening to his chest she said to Link, “We’re going to have to keep you in the hospital for observation.”
“Do I have to, Dad?”
Before Tom could respond, Dr. Sharma placed her hand on Link’s shoulder.
“We need to do more tests.” She motioned for Tom to follow her.
Tom and Dr. Sharma walked a few steps to the nurses’ station. The area was crowded with people in scrub suits and white coats. Phones, beepers, and the overhead pager were all going off at once.
Tom shouted, “How can anyone even think in this place? What’s going on with my son?”
“Mr. Bradshaw, the EKG shows a pattern suggestive of an evolving heart attack.”
“He’s only twelve. That’s impossible. Where the hell is Dr. Boat? I can’t believe this.”
Tom hurried back to the cubicle. He held Link’s hand as an orderly wheeled him from the emergency room to the coronary care unit.
“You’ll have to go to the family waiting area until the nurse says it’s okay to come see him,” the orderly said as they approached the CCU.
Tom pressed Link’s hand against his lips. “I’ll be right down the hall. Dr. Boat should be here any time now. I’ll be back to see you pretty soon.”
Tom looked about the familiar CCU waiting room. He and his Mom had spent many hours there after his father’s heart attack. It’s all a mistake, Tom thought. How the hell could Link be having a heart attack? Dr. Boat knows Link. Tom was certain he’d straighten them out.
A stack of National Geographics lay on a nearby table. Tom flipped through the magazines but couldn’t concentrate. The image of his son’s frightened face, as the door to the CCU. closed between them, it was hard to resist the urge to race down the hall and force his way into Link’s room.
An elderly white-haired gentleman approached him. He extended his hand, “I’m Dr. Holmes, attending cardiologist in the CCU. You’re Link’s father?”
“Yes, doctor. What’s wrong with him?”
Dr. Holmes pulled up a chair and sat next to Tom.
“The EKG continues to be abnormal, suggesting evolving damage to the bottom wall of the heart. Initial blood tests are consistent with heart muscle injury.”
“My God! Are you sure? I…I’ve never heard of such a thing!”
“We’ll have to wait several hours to confirm the diagnosis, but I’m afraid he almost certainly has had a heart attack. We’re starting a medication that’ll limit the amount of heart muscle damage by dissolving any clot that may be forming.”
Dr. Holmes stood as though preparing to leave. Tom remained seated, gripping the arm rests of his chair.
“I don’t understand how a perfectly healthy twelve-year old boy can have a heart attack.”
Dr. Holmes took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He looked at his watch before answering. “I can’t say for sure at this time, but I suspect the vessels that carry blood to Link’s heart muscle are abnormal. There is a test we can do after the situation has stabilized. It’ll give us a clearer picture of the arteries that nourish the heart. Mr. Bradshaw, I really must leave now.”
Tom’s face flushed. “Dr. Holmes, I’ve just been told my son has had a heart attack, and I’m not ready to end this conversation!”
Several people sitting in the waiting area turned and stared at Tom.
“Mr. Bradshaw, I understand you’re under a great deal of stress, given the situation. I can stay perhaps another ten minutes. I have a patient waiting in the Emergency Room.”
“I don’t understand why Link’s heart condition wouldn’t have bothered him until now,” Tom said.
“The heart, over a period of years, can grow new arteries by extension of existing blood vessels. These are called collateral vessels. They can sustain the heart muscle for a long time.”
“So why did he have a heart attack?”
“As the body continues to grow, the heart has to work harder,” Dr. Holmes said. “The collateral vessels alone aren’t enough to do the job. But without further tests, especially cardiac catheterization, we can’t be certain of the diagnosis.”
“His mother died in a car accident a year ago. Could the shock have caused something like this?” Tom asked.
“I’m very sorry to hear that, but I doubt that could explain your son’s present heart problem.”
Tom wasn’t convinced. “Can I see him now?”
“Certainly. When I left, Dr. Boat was with him. I know he wants to speak with you. Do you know the way to the C.C.U?”
Tom was already moving toward the door. He turned. “Yes, I do. Thank you, Dr. Holmes.”
Tom saw Dr. Boat walking toward him. They shook hands.
“Tom, he’s stable and is in no imminent danger. Let’s have a talk after you’ve had a chance to see him. I’ll be at the nurses’ station.”
Tom had become accustomed to the maze of equipment in the CCU after his dad had his first heart attack. But he was not prepared for how small Link looked in that crowded room. Tom hugged him gently, as though Link had suddenly become fragile.
“Don’t worry, Dad, the doctors told me I’m doing okay. I got a shot. My chest doesn’t hurt anymore.”
“You do look better.”
“They got me wired up like an astronaut. The nurse at the desk can tell my pulse and blood pressure without even coming in the room. They got my heart hooked up to a computer. The doctor told me an alarm goes off if anything weird happens.”
“Sounds like you’ve got this place pretty well figured out, champ.” He leaned close to his son’s face. “Dr. Boat says you’re going to do just fine. I have to go talk with him now, but I’ll be back.”
Dr. Boat never appeared to know what to do with his long legs. At six feet four inches tall, he seemed ill suited to care for little people. Somehow, however, he always managed to get down to the child’s level. His wisps of brown hair looked like feathers, and his long, narrow nose made it appear to be a beak. Link nicknamed him “Big Bird.”
The nurses’ station was muted compared to the Emergency Room. Dr. Boat ushered Tom into a room that looked like a storage area. The walls were covered with open shelves that held bottles and boxes of all sizes. There was a counter and sink on one wall. They sat at a small table.
“Tom, Dr. Holmes is a fine heart specialist. I’ve known him for years. But Link’s going to need a pediatric cardiologist. I’d like to transfer Link to Children’s Hospital.”
“But you told me to bring him here.”
“When you called I had no way of knowing how serious it might be. This hospital is much closer to your home.”
The room was barely larger than a closet. It was warm and stuffy.
“Yes, of course,” Tom said. He could feel perspiration running down the inside of his shirt.
“We can transfer him once he is over the acute risk. At Children’s Hospital, the entire team is expert in caring for children with heart problems.”
Tom’s mouth was dry. He grabbed a paper cup from a wall dispenser and filled it with water.
“What do you mean by acute risk?” I thought you just said he’s not in any danger.”
“In the first two to three days after a heart attack there is increased risk of developing abnormal heart rhythms.”
He told Tom that he would make all the arrangements at Children’s Hospital and would work with Dr. Holmes to determine when Link could be safely transferred.
After his conversation with Dr. Boat, Tom went to Link’s room.
“I’ll call your grandmother to tell her you’re in the hospital.”
“Yeah, tell her I’m okay. And don’t forget to bring my glasses.”
As Tom left the hospital he decided to drive to his mother’s condominium instead of calling her.
“Tom, I’ve been calling the house all afternoon. No one answered the damn phone!”
“Mom, Saturday’s Mrs. McAllister’s day off. And you know how Albert likes to putter around outside.”
They walked to the living room. Tom was wearing blue jeans and a tee shirt. He sat next to his mother on a brightly flowered chintz couch. He was silent for a few moments, not knowing where to begin.
“Tom, look at me. What’s going on? Has something happened to Link?”
He went on to describe the events of the day, leaving out some of the details and stressing how well Link looked.
Lydia sat with her hands on her lap, her face ashen.
“You should’ve called me.”
“Damn it, you should’ve gotten some indication that Link wasn’t doing well. How could he have a heart attack without problems showing up on all those check-ups with Dr. Boat?”
Tom stood. He tucked his hands in the front pockets of his jeans.
“Mother, that’s not fair. The doctors said there had been no way to tell there was anything wrong.”
As he spoke he circled around the coffee table. He noticed a dish of cashews and realized that he hadn’t eaten all day. He grabbed a handful, and chewed as though he bore a personal grudge against each nut.
“Those doctors will close ranks to protect each other,” Lydia snapped. “I’d fire Dr. Boat. I never did think much of him. Leaving Link’s tonsils in after all those strep throats and Boat’s hair looking like a bird’s nest! I’ll call Kenneth. He’ll recommend someone. We need to get the very best doctors for Link. Even if it means transferring him to another hospital.”
“Slow down, Mother. Link loves Dr. Boat. I’m sure Dr. Boat will bring in whomever he has to.”
Lydia walked around the table and stood directly in front of Tom.
“Very well, but I’m still going to call Kenneth to see what he thinks of the cardiologist Dr. Boat recommends.”
Tom put his arms around his mother. At first she drew away but then embraced him tightly. She rested her head against his chest. “You’re right, Tom, that wasn’t a fair thing to say. I just go half crazy when I think of anything happening to Link.”
“I know, Mother.”
By this time, Tom had eaten all the cashews. She stared at the empty dish.
“Can I get you more cashews?” Lydia asked.
“I’m starved. What else do you have?”