Just A Matter of Time

"Damn traffic," Dalgety said as he surveyed the stalled traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge. He turned on the radio and listened to the traffic report. 

"Traffic accident near the Palace of Fine Arts is backing up Bridge traffic. Scene is being cleared. Two transported to Mission General with serious injuries."

Dalgety looked grim. He struggled to hold his emotions in check. His shift was due to start in a half hour. But he needed to know more details about the accident victims. He needed to know about the accident--quite badly. 

He pushed a button on his cell phone. 

"Mission General."

"Dalgety here. I heard."

"Ah, the traffic accident at the PFA. Not too serious, despite the reports. Mainly head lacerations and you know how they bleed. We've been trying to get updated information to the news agencies but their switchboards are jammed. But we have the victims covered, so no worries if you're a bit late."

"Roger. I'm stuck in traffic on the bridge; be there as soon as possible," Dalgety replied, relief washing over him. These days, traffic accident victims were the most difficult type of patients for Dalgety to treat. 

"We'll expect you," came back the rather chirpy voice. Dalgety frowned, clicked off his cell phone, then sat back in the passenger seat. The driver's side door opened and Maggie slid into the driver's seat. 

"Find it?" Dalgety asked, although the answer was obvious: Maggie was holding a duffel bag. 

"Sure did!" she responded, unzipping the bag. "Just the thing for those stuck-in-traffic blues." Dalgety watched her root around the contents of the duffel bag for a moment then he turned his attention to the view from the Bridge. 

He had to admit the early morning sun shining on the orange paint made for a spectacular view. The fog had lifted some fifteen minutes before and pale tendrils were still floating between the suspension cables. 

Dalgety thought the view from the Bridge this morning to be the most beautiful sight he'd seen in a long time. Especially since that accident.

He didn't like to think of that traffic accident. His emotions went into overdrive  whenever he passed by the accident site and saw the flowers at the roadside memorial. Strangers kept refreshing the flowers, leaving teddy bears and poems for him to read. He wished he could find some way of thanking them for their kindness. 

"Here it is," Maggie said triumphantly, holding up a music CD. Dalgety turned his attention back to her.  "You're going to like this homemade mix," she promised him. Dalgety nodded, then leaned his head against the headrest. He heard Maggie pop the cd into the player. 

"Gonna catch a bit more shut eye?" Maggie asked. Maggie was the type of person who was chirpy in the morning. Then Dalgety wondered why he kept thinking of the word chirpy.  Dalgety heard Maggie's spine do a soft pop and he considered--briefly--considered telling her to see a chiropractor. 

"Mmm hmmm," Dalgety murmured instead. He allowed himself to relax as Eva Cassidy's haunting rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" began playing. 

Dalgety strode down the busy street, trying to keep his mind off accident victims. Street vendors were hawking their wares and despite the warm touch in the air, the coffee shops were doing a brisk take out business. It appeared that the entire population of San Francisco, its suburbs and the surrounding rural countryside had turned out in full force with the first sign of good weather in more than two weeks.

"Making up for lost time," Dalgety thought to himself, smiling a bit. He was doing the same thing as the rest of the milling crowd: enjoying the fresh air. The recent record snowstorm had dropped more than a foot of snow on the City's streets.

Car wrecks had been quite common in the City during the record snowfall, especially with the tourists unfamiliar with street layouts--but despite the hills, at the Mish, only one patient had needed emergency surgery in the last few weeks. 

She was expected not only to make a complete recovery but to compete in the swimming competition in four months time. Dalgety had ensured her recovery. 

The Mish tended to get less of the severe trauma victims, something Dalgety was going to change. There were times when he could feel his battlefield surgeon skills going rusty. Certainly now was not the time to have his battlefield surgeon skills go to pot. And certainly the stingy hospital administration could understand that opening a trauma center in the Mish would be a good thing for the hospital. 

Tired to the bones, Dalgety had spent many of the past fourteen days in the Mish's ER treating broken bones and lacerations, especially head lacerations. Hilly, snowed over streets, kids, and sleds did not mix well. He lived some distance from the Mish and with the transportation shut down, he'd only been back to his home a few nights in the past two weeks. 

Dalgety had quickly come to realize that spending all his time at the hospital wasn't such a good idea; it reminded him he needed to develop new interests. Not that he didn't love his job. It was rather the endless repetition of his duties: work a double shift, sleep, work another double shift, eat, sleep. Repeat for two weeks. Anyone would fell stressed under that kind of grind. So when a soft rain melted the last of the snow and the sidewalks were clear of grit once again, Dalgety found himself strolling the streets of the City. 

"Hey!" he said,  as someone pushed past him, obviously in a hurry. The woman ignored Dalgety as her high heels clicked on the pavement.

"High heels?" Dalgety asked, shaking his head. He hoped she wouldn't end up in the Mish's ER with a broken ankle--there were still some icy spots on the sidewalk. 

"Ahh!" he said aloud to no one in particular. He spied the restaurant he was seeking and wended his way through the milling crowds to reach the door. Opening the door, the smell of Thai food wafted into his nose. 

Dalgety smiled, going to the take out window. He picked up a menu, then thought better of himself--then went to a table in front of the street-facing window. He was going to enjoy himself a bit after being virtually snowed in at work for the past two weeks. No reason to stay at home. A waitress placed a pot of tea in front of him. 

Gazing out the window at the passing people would be a good distraction, Dalgety thought as he poured his tea. He returned his attention to watching the passing crowd out the window as he waited for his tea to cool a bit. 

Robert raised his wine glass. "To us. And to the future." He smiled at his lunch partner. 

"To us," Gina repeated, raising her own wine glass, clinking her glass against his. At that moment, the waitress placed their orders in front of them

"Is that any good?" she asked him, pouting her mouth.

"Yep. Best food on the planet." 

Gina set her wine glass down and looked dubious. "What's in it?"

"Mostly chicken and peanuts."

"I've never had Thai food before," she admitted. "I tend to be predilected towards Chinese."

"You're going to love it," he promised Gina. He gave her his best Robert Dalgety smile, and she smiled in return. 

"I love you," she said, then leaned over their lunch and planted a kiss on Dalgety's lips. Her bracelets brushed against the wine glass, spilling the ruby red liquid onto the tablecloth. "Ooops," she said when she pulled back from the kiss. She giggled to hide her nervousness.

Robert had smiled as he picked up a napkin. "No worries, love. Easily cleaned up." He motioned for the waitress. "Another cabernet for the lady," he said as a bus boy appeared to mop up the spilled wine. 

"Sir?" the waitress asked. "Sir?" Dalgety started as he came back to the present. His shy but exceedingly pretty waitress set down the bowl containing his lemon grass soup. 

"Oh! Yes. Just lost in thought," he responded. "Thank you. Thank you very much." 

The waitress smiled, turning to the next table and Dalgety picked up a spoon. 

He froze for a moment as he saw her walk by. Dropping his spoon, he stood up suddenly, banging his hand on the window to catch her attention.

The well-dressed woman turned towards him--but it wasn't her. She wasn't Gina. Gina could never wear her favorite coat again. Gina could never smile at him again. Gina could never kiss him over a Thai lunch. Gina was, well, Gina was dead. And Dalgety needed to admit that to himself.

The cast of this woman's face was different--as were the color of her eyes. How could he have thought she was Gina? Dalgety thought to himself, then saw that she also had a thick scar running down the side of her face--"an old scar"--the surgeon in him noted, "sudden and jagged injury, but well sutured. Advances in plastic surgery could make that scar a lot less noticeable.

Not knowing what to do, Dalgety merely smiled his winning smile, the crinkles showing in the corners of his eyes. The woman on the street looked sharply at him, then continued her way through the busy, noisy crowd--Dalgety could hear soft echoes of the street vendors every time the door of the restaurant opened. 

Feeling a bit foolish, he sat back down, adjusted his chair, then once again picked up his spoon. 

An intense wave of emotions overcame him just then. Why now? he asked himself. Why did that woman have to pass by right now? 

He took several deep breaths, hoping he wouldn't panic and lose his temper once again. That time in the Mish's kitchen when he had slammed the trash can around had been scary enough--and he wasn't keen on repeating his behaviour. Kellerman's voice came back to him: "as a medical professional, I too have to learn to deal objectively with grief. Even when the grief strikes a little too close to home."

Still, Dalgety thought he was dealing with his grief quite well--almost like an old pro--Shelly's voice now intruded into his thoughts.

"An old pro?" he'd asked, shocked at her insensitivity. He'd placed his hands on his hips in mock imitation of her and to show Shelly how much he'd thought of her statement. Dalgety might understand her comment better if three or four years had passed since Gina's death but the grief still stung him deeply--and only a few months has passed since the accident. 

"This is a hospital," she'd told him glibly. "And as part of the administration, it's part of my job to learn how to deal with grief in a detached and professional manner,"  she said crisply before spinning on her on her stacked heel, then clicked off down the hallway. Dalgety had shaken his head at her retreating back. "You sound like Kellerman. Easier said than done," he'd muttered to himself. 

Her explanation only confused Dalgety more. As if conjured by Dalgety's thoughts, Kellerman had passed by at that moment and had heard the last part of the conversation. "A bit insensitive, isn't she?" he'd asked.

"Yeah," Dalgety had replied, nodding. 

"Well, you doing all right?" 

"Yeah. Planning on going out to eat soon as I can."

"That's good. Going out to dinner is very good," Kellerman distractedly replied before going off to do his rounds. Dalgety remembered thinking Kellerman's own behavior was a bit edgy, then he had remembered Kellerman was having a bit of trouble with one of his investment account managers. Seems the man walked off with a rather large part of Kellerman's retirement account.

Glasses clinked, and Dalgety's mind came back to the present. He looked at cooling soup then dipped his spoon in, thinking next time, he'd ask one of the candy-stripers to come to dinner with him. 

After his dinner, Dalgety left the restaurant. If anything, the dinner had left him feeling a bit more morose and the cheery street musicians did nothing to help his mood. Still, he sauntered down the street, trying to take his mind off dinner, off Thai food, off Gina.

He paused a for a moment at a book stall, looking over the titles available. Spying a small booklet of Wordsworth's poetry, he glanced at the price, then paid the dollar listed. He tucked his poetry book into his coat pocket as he came to the street corner. He passed by another Thai restaurant at the street corner, noting its window said "Now Open."

He'd have to try the Moon and the Stars Restaurant next time, he promised himself. He paused at the corner when the pedestrian light turned against him. 

Hearing shouts, he looked towards the sound of the commotion. Quite unusually, two cars were speeding down the street in his direction. Dalgety was surprised and voices of his fellow shoppers called out variations of the same phrase:

"Hey! Watch it! Assholes trying to get themselves killed."

"Trying to get us killed."

Dalgety tightened his lips as one of the cars spun out. He was worried the car would crash but apparently the driver of the car was well trained, for the car merely spun around a few times before coming to a halt directly facing the second car. The engine gunned. 

The second car stopped as well, and its driver gunned the engine. The driver and front seat passenger of the first car opened their doors, prompting the driver and passenger of the second car to get out of their car. 

Too late, Dalgety realized the worst.

This was no simple drag racing.

These two cars carried members of opposing gangs. And Dalgety knew, he just knew, there was about to be a shoot-out.

As the shots began to ring out and he dropped to the ground for cover, he turned momentarily towards the Moon and the Stars restauant and was surprised to see a reflection of Gina kissing him--a replay of the last time he had seen Gina alive.

He saw Gina pull back, point towards the newspaper stands, then mouth the words "get down!" as he fell towards the pavement, scrambling on all fours to get behind the long stand of newspaper machines.

Gunfire continued to ring on the street: BAP! BAP! BAP! 

Shouts were called out. Looking up at the window again, hoping for a last glance of Gina, Dalgety instead saw all the wounded men he'd stitched up on the field. 

He saw in the window's reflection the faces of the men he'd helped save, and the faces of the men who were too gravely injured for his help. 

BAP! BAP! BAP! BAP! BAP! BAP! gunshots continued to ring.

Then, silence. Blessed silence.

A sudden squealing of car tires told Dalgety one of the warring gangs was victorious and the other two gang members were dead. The field surgeon in Dalgety prompted him to get onto his knees and carefully peer out from behind the newspaper vending machines. 

The first car was gone. Dalgety saw the driver of the second car lying face up on the pavement in a pool of blood. Scrambling up to his feet, Dalgety ran towards the downed gang member.

"Call 911! The police! Anybody!" he shouted out as he ran. "I'm a doctor!" 

"Doctor, over here!" shouted a woman. "My husband's shot!" 

On his way to triage the wounded man, Dalgety stopped by the driver of the second car and immediately saw two things: death--and the fact the dead driver was a woman. 

The passenger side door was open and the other passenger was half lying out of the car. Dalgety went around to the passenger side and saw a replay of the earlier scene: death--and the fact the passenger was a woman. 

"Hey Doc! Over here! My husband's shot!" the woman's voice was insistent.

"A girl gang?" he asked out loud, shocked at the realization. Then he remembered that in the wee hours of New Year's Day back in a London suburb, two 17 year old women were shot to death--fatalities of girl gang warfare.

Dalgety stood up and spun on his heel at the sound of "Doctor! Over here!" came the woman's insistent voice a third time. 

He went to the fallen man and assessed him.

Addressing the woman,  Dalgety told her, "shoulder wound. Non-fatal. Can you hold on while I assess other patients?"

"Are you sure it's not fatal? I mean, it's bleeding awful bad," the woman asked but the man nodded.  "Not fatal," Dalgety repeated as he showed the woman how to hold her coat as a compress over her husband's wound.

As he finished with the shoulder wound, Dalgety looked up--and saw trucks full of military wounded. Bloody bandages covered ghastly wounds. He heard the steady bip! bip! bip! of gunfire.

"Hey doc! Over here! Shrapnel wound to the abdomen!" a soldier gruffly called and Dalgety stumbled towards the wounded man, wondering if this war would ever end. 

Then, to his surprise, a woman's voice shouted: "Hey Doc! Over here!" 

A woman? There were no women where Dalgety was posted as a field surgeon. 

Puzzled, Dalgety looked around at the sound of her voice. Seeing the wounded woman on the street, he realized where he was: he was in the city of San Francisco. He hurried over to her. 

"Leg wound," he told her. 

"I know. I'm a nurse. I was wondering about the girl behind the newspaper machines. I saw her go down," she indicated with her finger the stand of newspaper machines on the opposite corner from where Dalgety was standing when the gunshots broke out. 

Only her hand showed, and from the way the blood had pooled around her hand, Dalgety realized the street slanted slightly downwards towards the Bay. He got up and went over to the girl. He kneeled next to her, checking to see how serious her wounds were.

Grimacing, he stripped off his jacket and used it as a compress on the abdominal wound, hoping one of the sirens was an ambulance and that it would arrive very fast.

The girl didn't have much time. 

A moan of pain brought Dalgety's attention to the girl's face. "What's your name?" he asked her. "I'm a doctor," he added. 

She nodded slightly, wincing her in pain. "Kathy." She took a small breath, whimpering. "You won't have much to do. I'm already dead." 

"No, you're not going to while I'm here," Dalgety tried to keep his voice reassuring but he had a growing suspicion that Kathy was correct. 

"I'll be here," were the only other words he could give her before she passed out. 

He looked back across the street and saw Gina appear in the window of the Moon and the Stars Restaurant. She blew a kiss towards him, held up her hand in a good-bye gesture, then faded away.

"Don't go!" he called to her. 

The nurse called out, "There! Behind the newspaper stands!"

Dalgety looked up at the sound of the nurse's voice. "Red blanket! Red blanket behind the newstands!" he called frantically.

He heard the sound of footsteps coming quickly towards him. 

"How bad is she?" a paramedic asked Dalgety, bringing him back to the immediate crisis. 

"Red blanket." Dalgety wondered if the paramedia had heard his red blanket cry then thought the man must have thought the red blanket was someone else.

The paramedic nodded as he helped his partner and Dalgety to load Kathy onto the stretcher. 

"Any other red blankets?" the paramedic asked Dalgety.

"No. Two dead, one leg wound and a shoulder wound. Both non-fatal," Dalgety replied as he moved with the stretcher into the waiting ambulance. 

"Another unit!" Dalgety said urgently, knowing all the while that his efforts would be in vain. Still, he had to keep trying. The montiors bleeped wildly. But no one moved to obey his command. Blood was everywhere and blood dripped down Dalgety's goggled temple. 

A nurse held a sponge next to his temple, soaking up the blood. 

"She gonna make it?"  she asked naively. Perhaps she was trying to take his mind off the imminent death. 

Dalgety glanced at the nurse. "No." He took a deep breath then looked at his surgical team. For a long moment, he looked at each member of his surgical team before making the call. Each one nodded when he looked at them. 

"Time," he began to say, his voice cracking.

"Time," he repeated, his voice still cracking. Dalgety cleared his throat, glancing at the clock on the wall. "Time of death: 19:35. We did all we could. It was a good effort. A great effort."

"Looked like someone planted a grenade in Kathy's belly," one of the new surgical nurses observed. "No one could have survived that, Robert."

Dalgety noted the use of his first name, realizing Nurse Carmichael was trying to soften the blow of Kathy's death--a death that he'd realized back on the street corner. 

He'd ridden with Kathy to the Mish, calling instructions to his surgical team but all the while the grim look on his face told first the paramedics, then told his surgical team that Kathy was as good as dead. 

It was just a matter of time. 

Dalgety ripped off his mask and gloves, then ripped of his gown, throwing it onto the blood-covered floor. He left the surgical room. 

"Let him be," he heard Nurse Carmichael say behind him. 

Storming off, Dalgety went to the scrub room. He went to the sink and began to scrub first his hands, then his arms, then his face, hoping to scrub the death from him.

He heard the door open behind him. 

"Damn!" Dalgety slapped the edge of the sink, then turned towards the door. His face was pained. 

"You okay?" Kellerman asked. "I heard."

Dalgety grimaced. "Do I look all right?"


"Her parents are here. Do you want to, or do you want me to tell them?"

For a long moment, Dalgety looked at Kellerman.

"You or me?" Kellerman repeated.

"Me. I'll tell her parents. Just give me a few moments to get cleaned up and put on another gown. Don't want to scare Kathy's parents with all the blood."

"Good idea."

Kellerman left the scrub room. Finishing cleaning himself up, he looked up into the mirror. Briefly, he saw Gina's face--the Gina he remembered, the Gina who had kissed him that last time. 

His next words were whispered, "Good bye, Gina."

Then Gina dissolved, leaving Dalgety alone in the scrub room. 

A car horn bleeped insistently. In the passenger seat, Dalgety snapped awake, and realized that his face was wet with tears. Maggieglanced at him with concern. 

"Was that...your song? Yours and hers?" she asked as the closing strains of Eva Cassidy's Somewhere Over the Rainbow faded out. 

"Yeah. Yeah, it was our song. Gina's and mine," Dalgety softly said, then turned his head to look out the car window, hoping to hide his tears. 

A few stray tendrils of fog still were misting over the top of the bridge and the sun was rising higher in the sky as the traffic moved forward on the bridge. He heard Maggie turn on the radio to a pop station. Good. That would be good.

For a moment, Dalgety pondered the reasons why he had dreamed about his battlefield surgeon experiences and a gang shooting upon hearing his and Gina's song. Which also showed that you never knew how your subconscious was going to mix events. But Dalgety supposed he should be glad he hadn't dreamed of him and Gina in a more...intimate situation.

Now that dream he would like to have--on another day. The loss was too fresh in his memory. Wait! Did his dream meant that he shouldn't feel guilty about Gina's death? He hadn't been able to save Kathy and her parents never got a chance to say good-bye to her. Dalgety thought that this dream would be of great interest to his therapist. And yes, he'd tell his therapist about this dream: the twisting dream that started innocently with him having dinner in a Thai restaurant before transforming into a gang warfare battlefield and ending with his being unable to save Kathy.

Perhaps his dream had been a metaphor, telling him he'd had his time with Gina, and now it was time for him to let her find her own destiny.  

He hovered on that last thought a moment. Yes, it was time to allow Gina to find her destiny. Smiling just a bit, he said, "hey, how about stopping off at new bagel place on the way in? I could use some coffee," Dalgety finished. 

But Maggie was singing full-blast along to the radio, looking out her window. Dalgety smiled again before turning his attention back to the view of the bridge.