By M. E. Connerty
"Admiral, Skipper, hold on a minute," called Dr. Will Jamieson as he jogged after his boss and his Captain who were walking up the hill at the Nelson Institute after a morning inspection of the research submarine, Seaview.
Captain Lee Crane heard him and placed a hand on Admiral Harriman Nelsonís arm to slow down his strides.
"What is it, Lee?" snapped Nelson whose thoughts were already on lunch and a busy afternoon. He didnít want to be delayed.
"Jamie. Heís calling us. Wait a minute for him."
The doctor caught up to them quickly but he was a little breathless. Lee couldnít let the chance go by to rib his doctor. Although he respected Jamie deeply and owed him his life several times over, he was renowned for giving the man a very hard time.
"Looks like you should join me on my morning runs, doctor," chided Crane.
Jamie poked Lee playfully in the arm. "Your morning runs would kill me. No, Iím happy on my treadmill. That was just too much incline for me."
Lee was bursting with a comeback when Harry grabbed Jamieís arm and pulled him ahead of Lee. "Youíre giving him way too big an opening, Jamie," he warned. "What did you want us for?"
Lee had joined them again. "I just picked up a message from a good friend of mine, a doctor who works at a hospital in L.A. Heís working with an eight-year old boy who is enamored with the sea, Seaview, Admiral Nelson and Captain Crane. Sam says thatís all he talks about. He was wondering if you would stop by to see him. He said he thought it would go a long way toward the boyís recovery."
"Whatís wrong with him?" asked Lee.
"You know, he wasnít really specific about that. Sam is a pediatric internist so it would be hard for me to even speculate. But he sounded very certain that you two could really make a difference for this boy."
Nelson was back on pace again and Jamie and Lee worked to catch up.
"Harry?" Jamie called.
"Sure, sure, fine with me Jamie. Check with Angie and find a time that works. She can coordinate with Leeís schedule as well."
"I didnít say yes yet," noted Lee.
Harry chuckled and turned back to his Captain. "Clearly the child has good taste, Lee. Why wouldnítÖ" But as he turned to face Lee he saw that Lee was serious. The walk ground to a halt.
"You donít want to do it?"
Lee shrugged and looked at Jamie.
"Heís still in the hospital?" asked Lee.
"That was my impression. Why?"
Another shrug. "Maybe we could do more good if we saw him out of that environment."
Jamieís eyes narrowed and Harryís head tilted.
"What makes you say that, Lee?" asked Jamie.
Another shrug. It was not accompanied by any words. Nelson studied his friendís face and was taken aback by what he thought he saw. Concerned, he tried to give Lee an out.
"Look, Lee, I could see him in the hospital and you could see him later. Spread the joy," he teased, trying to lighten the moment.
Suddenly Leeís faced snapped back to its usual calm composure. "No, Admiral, Iíll go with you. Iíll speak to Angie and have her call you, Jamie." Then he turned and walked off quickly.
Nelson and Jamieson turned to each other mirroring quizzical looks.
"And I always thought it was me," said Jamie. "But itís much bigger, isnít it?"
Harry shook his head. "Itís not you," he scoffed. "I canít remember the last time I saw that look on Leeís face. Iíve seen it so rarely. But he was scared."
Jamie nodded. "Maybe I should find a way to let him out of it."
"No, if he really wants to, heíll find a way out. Maybe this will be good for him. Since heís usually in our own Sick Bay, Iíd never considered that it was hospitals that spooked him."
"Do you know of any hospital stays that were tough on him?"
"Youíd have a better sense of that from his medical file than I would Jamie. I know he spent some time in a hospital when he came back from his last tour in Viet Nam but I had never heard that there were any issues. In fact, I think I recall being told that he was released in record time."
"Not surprising," said Jamie. "All right, Iíll just let it be and see what he does."
Two days later Jamieson, Crane and Nelson drove to St. Maryís Hospital. Lee had never said another word about this excursion to either Jamie or the Admiral. But he was unusually quiet as they made the trip.
"Jamie," Harry inquired, "did you find out anything more about the boy?"
"No, Sam and I never connected live. We just passed logistical messages back and forth. But Iím sure weíll get a few minutes with him before we see the boy."
While Jamie drove, Nelson occasionally tossed a glance back at his silent captain. Lee's face revealed nothing but he fiddled nervously with the model Seaview that sat in his lap.
Harry could think of nothing to say that would not seem to be intrusive, so he said nothing.
When they arrived at the hospital they went to the nurses station on the floor where the boy was located and asked for Doctor Sam Alvarez.
"Oh," said the nurse, "are you here to see Ricky?"
"Dr. Alvarez never mentioned the boyís name. Is it Ricky?" asked Jamie.
"Yes, heís in room 341. But Dr. Alvarez wanted to see you first. Iíll page him."
Lee was making every effort not to notice his surroundings. He tried to keep his focus on Nelson. In other time of stress, he found the Admiralís presence calming. But his senses were on full alert. The smells were already starting to get to him Ė a mix of industrial cleaner and flowers and other indiscernible scents that you just knew were unique to a hospital. And the sounds Ė bustling feet, the page, wheels rolling, the nurses voices, a doctor snapping out an order, a cry. He was beginning to sweat and was sure his hand must have felt clammy as he shook hands with Dr. Alvarez.
They were walking towards Rickyís room and Dr. Alvarez was just starting to tell them about Ricky when Leeís cell phone rang.
"You go ahead. Iíll catch up," said Lee.
"Room 341," said Alvarez. Lee nodded and turned to go to the other end of the hall where it was quieter.
He finished the call and turned off the phone so he wouldnít be interrupted when they were with Ricky. He looked down the corridor and the terror started to grip him again. He could leave. He could just go back to the car and wait. He would have time to come up with some excuse.
Stop it, he ordered himself. This is ridiculous. This boy is sick and you can help him feel better. You of all people should want to help him. You will walk down this hall. You will walk into his room with a smile. And you will make him feel better.
He smacked the model of Seaview into his palm and strode down the hall. He was smiling as he walked into room 341.
And then he saw Ricky and the IV drip and blood drip and the traction bar and he knew exactly what was wrong with this boy. He dropped the model and instinctively moved backward. All color drained out of Leeís face and he appeared to be having trouble getting his breath. Jamieís back was to Lee but the look on Nelsonís face caused him to turn. He tried to reach Lee when it was apparent he was in distress. But Lee made it out of the room, leaned his back to the hallway wall and slid down into oblivion before Jamie could get to him.
A voice was filtering through the haze.
"Lee, Lee, can you hear me?" asked Jamie.
"Jamie, what happened?" Lee asked weakly as he tried to sit up.
Two sets of hands held him down.
"Thatís what Iíd like to know. Just stay put for a bit, Skipper. Sam is getting me some instruments."
There was a hand squeezing his shoulder. A glance above his head revealed the Admiralís worried face.
"But Iím fine," he protested, again trying to sit up. He realized he was lying on a gurney in a hallway. His tie and jacket were off.
"Take it easy, Captain Crane," said Dr. Alvarez adding to the hands pushing him down. "We just want to be sure youíre okay."
"Thanks, Sam," said Jamie as he took the equipment from Sam.
"Iíll be right down the hall if you need me."
"Jamie, please," pleaded Lee, who was both embarrassed and desperate, "just let me up and letís get out of here."
"Skipper, when was the last time you ate something?" Jamie asked as he rolled up Leeís sleeve and pumped up the pressure cuff.
"I donít know," was the surly reply. Jamieís eyebrows shot up.
"Lee," asked the Admiral, moving around to get in Leeís full view, "who called you before you came down to the room?"
That question received an equally surly, "I donít know."
"Well," said Nelson, "it seems like thereís a lot you donít know, Captain."
The anger swelled before Lee could stop it and the words spilled out. "And thereís a lot you donít know, Admiral!"
Nelsonís eyes narrowed in anger at the tone and content of Craneís outburst. But his reflexive retort caught in his throat when he saw Leeís eyes close, regret painting his face.
"Both of you stop," snapped Jamie before the exchange went any further. "This isnít helping me to get accurate readings."
The Admiral stepped back to his original position behind Leeís head but maintained an intense scrutiny of his friend. Lee finally laid his body completely down on the gurney.
"Thatís better," said Jamie as he continued his exam, shining his light in Leeís eyes.
"Did the boy see me faint?"
"No. You waited until you were out of the room. We told him you hadnít been feeling well and that we would come back to see him another time."
"Heís too smart to believe that."
"You donít even know him, Lee. How can you say that?"
Lee covered quickly. "You know kids. They see through lies."
Jamieís eyebrows went up again and he glanced at Nelson. Harryís face plainly showed that he was picking apart every little thing Lee was saying.
"Well your breathing is a little rapid and your blood pressure slightly high, but I canít find anything else wrong with you. Sit up slowly and dangle for a minute."
"Please, letís just go," said Lee as he got off the gurney, quickly and without dangling.
Harry handed Lee his tie and jacket and the three of them left the hospital.
The drive home was completely silent until Jamie was within ten minutes of the Institute.
"Lee, Iím taking you home. I want you to take it easy for the rest of the day."
"Fine," was the curt reply.
When they pulled up in front of his house, Lee got out without a word and slammed the door. Jamie and Nelson watched him go into the house.
"Do you think heís okay?" asked Nelson.
"I think heís more embarrassed than anything. But he needs to eat and we really should try to find out what happened."
"Iíll come back later. Bring him some dinner. See if I can get some sense of whatís wrong."
Will Jamieson and Harriman Nelson both sat in their respective offices with their individual thoughts about what had happened with Lee this morning.
Jamie reflected on all the years he had been dealing with Leeís resistance to medical intervention. He had come up with many theories over the years. Of course, at first he just thought Lee either didnít like or didnít trust him. But that made no sense because they got along just fine outside of Sick Bay and Lee trusted him completely to treat the crew, including the Admiral.
The next most plausible hypothesis was that Lee simply did not want the crew or anyone to think he was vulnerable. Perhaps he worried that if they saw him as fallible, they would not trust him as much to take care of them all. Silly. At one point, he thought Lee was afraid of IVís. That was even more ridiculous. Eventually, he just accepted that for whatever reason Lee couldnít stand to be in SickBay or to be away from his job.
But hospitals? Jamie had never thought about hospitals. A bad experience in a hospital is something that sticks with you. And if the Admiralís suggestion that it might be related to returning from the war was correct, it could be pretty bad. Lee would have suffered trauma on top of trauma. He would have to see what he could find out.
But Nelsonís thoughts were running in a totally different direction. He had seen Leeís face when he walked through that hospital room door. At first it was totally plastic. A false smile pasted tightly on so nothing else was showing. But in an instant, when Lee laid eyes on the boy, it changed to complete recognition. He remembered thinking to himself, "Lee knows this boy." That was a split second before the model Seaview hit the deck, to be followed by Lee.
Of course, Lee didnít know that child. So what did he know? If not the child, then what? The situation? Given what Dr. Alvarez had told him and Jamie about Rickyís situation, that thought was very disquieting but not implausible. This was somehow related to Leeís childhood.
Nelson had had fairly limited information about Leeís childhood and for years Lee did nothing to illuminate any part of his life before Annapolis. The Admiral knew Lee was an orphan and that his early years had been split among orphanages and foster homes and the street. Then he was adopted when he was nine years old. And, for many years, that was all Nelson knew.
Finally one Christmas he forced Lee to tell him about his adoptive parents and his life after the adoption. It was a tragic story. But now he suspected there was an even greater tragedy lurking.
The Admiral rang Leeís bell for the fourth time. It had started to rain, the pizza he had with him was getting cold and he was growing impatient. He walked around the back of the townhouse to the beach and then over to the deck stairs. Lee was sitting at the bottom of the stairs, a bottle of Jack Daniels, about a third empty, at his side.
"How full was that when you started?" he asked, putting his packages down on the stairs.
Lee swayed slightly as he stood. He reached for the bottle but Harry was quicker.
"Youíre not my keeper," he growled.
Well, heís had enough to erase rank. Let see if it was enough to loosen his tongue.
"No," the Admiral replied calmly. "But I am your friend. And Iím worried about what happened at the hospital."
"Let it alone," ordered Lee.
"No," snapped Nelson. "We need to talk about this."
"Apparently you need to talk about this. I donít." He turned and went up the deck stairs and into the house, letting the screen door slam behind him.
Harry sighed, grabbed the bags and followed Lee up the stairs. He went into the kitchen, found the cap for the bourbon and hid it in the back of a cabinet. He took out the pizza he had brought for Lee. He had also brought a couple of beers, but those went in the fridge. He grabbed a can of Coke and took everything into the den where Lee was sitting, flipping through a magazine. He put the food and soda on the coffee table. Then he sat down in the leather recliner across from Lee.
"You never wanted to go that hospital," observed Nelson.
Lee continued to flip pages. "I told you to let it alone," he barked without looking up.
"Did you?" Nelson pressed.
Lee smashed the magazine closed between his hands. "LET IT GO!"
But Harry wasnít going to let it go. He couldnít.
"You told me this morning that there was a lot I didnít know. I donít like not knowing, Lee. On a purely professional basis, that could be dangerous. But on a personal level, I canít stand to see you this distressed."
Slowly and in an almost deadly tone, Lee said, "Iím going to ask you one more time. LetÖ itÖ goÖ and leave me alone. GO HOME!"
Harry slid forward in the chair. "I could do what you want. I could just go. But I want to do whatís right - for you. That means I stay and we talk."
Lee smacked the magazine down on to the table and shoved off the couch, crossing the room to the glass doors.
"You were that boy, werenít you?" Harry asked quietly.
Lee didnít say anything, but the silence was as good as any answer.
"When?" Lee repeated without turning around. He chuckled and there was bitter sarcasm in his next words. "Wrong question, Admiral. Letís see, twice when I was five. Three times when I was six and seven. Four when I was eight. Once when I was nine. You do the math," he snapped.
Harry felt a small part of his heart give way.
"Hurt like Ricky?"
Lee shrugged. "Sometimes one broken bone, sometimes more. Cuts, burns, bruises, internal bleeding, pneumonia, malnutrition, infectionÖ invasion."
Lee was tracing the path of raindrop as it ran down the glass pane.
Nelson had to fight for his voice. "That must have been terrible for you."
Another shrug. "The injuries werenít the worst part. The worst part was the hospital." The first raindrop had dissipated and he began anew tracing another drop.
"It was very scary."
"In what way?"
"Different ways. One of those times when I was six, I woke up and I heard two nurses talking. The first one said ĎOh no, not him againí. The other one said, Ďit would be kinder if someone would just go too far and put him out of his miseryí. I thought that meant that one of them or a doctor was going to kill me. Whenever someone came to fix a pillow or give me medicine or take me for an xray, I thought that was it. That time, I ran away from the hospital. But I wound up back there again and again. It was always the same - the smells, the sounds, the shadows, the whispers, the loneliness, everyone so abrupt. I think I reminded them of things they didnít want to believe existed and so it was easier to just stay away from me. And I was terrified of IVís. I didnít really understand what they were and I was sure the needle was going to break off and go into my body. No one explained anything and I was too scared to ask."
Nelson could feel his blood starting to boil. He had to move. He got up, walked towards Lee and stood behind him. Leeís face reflected back at him in the glass. His eyes were closed, his face tight with memory and anger. Now his finger was tapping on the glass.
"They usually kept me isolated. But occasionally I would share a room with a normal kid and I saw how it was supposed to be."
ĎA normal kidí thought Nelson. Oh God.
"I remember one time there was a boy my age who had his tonsils out. One of his parents was with him every minute. They even slept there. And he was showered with ice cream and presents - a fire truck, a puzzle, baseball cards, books. And if the doctor came to do something, his parents would explain what was happening. And when he was in pain or when he was scared, they would hold him and tell him that everything was going to be all right, that in a few days the pain would be gone and it would all be over. I thought he was the luckiest kid on the face of the earth. In a few days, his pain was going to be gone and it would all be over. Imagine that!" Leeís voice was filled with bitterness.
The Admiral felt ill. He had a thousand questions, but he wasnít sure he really wanted to know the answers. He had to close his eyes for a few seconds to hold on to his dwindling composure. When he was able to look back up, it was just in time to watch Lee put his fist through one of the glass panes in the door. Instantly, blood was everywhere. Lee seemed almost unaware of what he had done.
"Oh, God, Lee, oh God!" Nelson ran to the bathroom and grabbed towels. When he came back Lee was sitting on the floor, dazed and obviously in pain.
Harry looked quickly to be sure Lee hadnít caught the artery in the wrist. He picked out any large pieces of glass he could see and he wrapped the hand gingerly. Then he ran for the phone and called Jamie, cursing himself for pushing Lee too far. He gave him a very brief description of the problem to the doctor.
"Can you move him?"
"I think so."
"Get him to the Institute Medical Center right away. Iíll meet you in the emergency area."
Harry went back to Lee. The towel was already blood soaked. He wrapped another towel around that one and lifted Lee off the floor. Lee went easily with Harry to the car but he passed out once he was seated.
Harry sped to the Medical Center where Jamie was waiting with a stretcher. Jamie was about to whisk Lee into the emergency room but Harry intervened.
"Jamie, I have to be with him."
"Admiral, youíll just be in my way."
"Jamie, I donít care what you say this time. I have to be with him."
"Alright, alright, weíre wasting time. Come on."
Although Lee appeared to be quite out of it, Harry leaned close to him and told him everything that was happening Ė "Thatís just the IV going in, itís not going to break"; "Jamie is cleaning your hand"; "You need some blood". Each fact was punctuated with, "Youíre going to be fine, son, just fine. Iím right here." He held on to Leeís left hand. Harry didnít stop talking until Jamie assured him that due to the medication Lee could no longer hear him. At that point he stepped back and took in the sight.
My God, I put him right where everyone else did.
After working frantically for about ten minutes to understand what he was up against, Jamie relaxed a little when he was sure he was dealing largely with superficial wounds, nothing major was severed or cut. So he looked up at Harry and asked, "What the hell happened?"
"I pushed him too far," was all Nelson would say.
He stayed in emergency until Jamie was done putting over 50 stitches into Leeís right hand. Then he accompanied Lee to his room and planted himself by Leeís bed.
Jamie put a hand on his bossí shoulder. "Admiral, heís fine, really. Normally, Iíd be getting him ready to go home. But Iím just keeping him sedated a little longer to let him get some rest. Iíll keep him here till morning and then Iíll take him home. Iíll call you if anything changes."
With anger in his voice that Jamie didnít expect, Nelson snapped, "I AM NOT LEAVING HIM HERE ALONE."
Jamieís eyes grew wide and he came around to the other side of the bed so he could see Nelsonís face. "He would never be alone here. You know that. Harry, you didnít put his hand through the glass. He did."
Harryís eyes closed for a minute and ran his hand over his head. "I might just as well have," he said softly.
He looked back up at Jamie. "Iím sorry, Jamie. I know he wonít be left alone here, but thatís not exactly what I mean. I need to be here. Iíve put him in the situation he most fears. The least I can do is try to fill the void that heís lived with for so long."
"What does he fear most? What void?"
Nelson sighed. If anyone had a right to know, to understand, Jamie did.
"Jamie, Lee was Ricky, many times over. He was terrified of hospitals and no one was ever there with him. He was left alone, thirteen times between the ages of five and nine Ė a victim of repeated abuse. And look what Iíve done. Iíve put him right back there. He told me to let it go and I wouldnít. I had to know."
In Jamieís mind, this morningís events were so far removed from the present moment that it took him a few seconds to understand the association Nelson was drawing. And then it hit him. The puzzle pieces fell together and he ached for his Captain.
He sighed wearily and went and got another chair and placed it next to Harryís.
"Was it as bad as Iím imagining?" he asked quietly.
Nelson nodded. "Worse. On top of everything else, he thought the doctors and nurses were going to kill him."
Jamie shook his head and tried to swallow the anger that welled up. His desire to take care of Lee ran deeper than a simple doctor/patient relationship. He admired and respected this man enormously. Leeís loathing and fears of medical treatment had confounded him. Understanding that their source was partly the making of medical professionals made Jamie furious.
"That explains a lot," he said tersely.
Nelson reached out and rested his hand on Leeís arm.
"How did he survive, Jamie?"
Jamie was quiet for a few minutes. His reply was thoughtful.
"He was meant to reach this moment, to know that he could be cared for with compassion."
"Well, itís more than thirty years too late," snapped Nelson.
Jamie shook his head and pursed his lips into a thin line.
"No, Harry, itís not. Itís never too late to feel secure, to feel loved."
"Safe? Loved?" Nelson repeated bitterly. "I hardly think thatís what heís going to feel when he wakes up and remembers that I just wouldnít let it go."
Jamie stood, picked up the chair he had been sitting in and put it back on the other side of the room. He came back to Leeís side and disconnected the blood drip. He checked Leeís breathing and made sure his hand rested on a pillow. Then he gently tucked the blankets around him. When he was finished he caught Nelsonís eye.
"Thatís exactly what he should feel," Jamie stated emphatically. "You didnít abuse him. You acted out of concern. You pushed him to reveal something that should have been out in the open a long time ago. He trusted you enough to tell you. He just couldnít control the anger he has over it. Heíll need help with that. But now he wonít be alone."
It was around 0400 when Lee started to stir. Harry picked up Leeís left hand and immediately tried to soothe him back to sleep. But Lee was awake.
Foggy eyes looked at Nelson. "Where am I?"
"The Medical Center."
Realization of what he had done dawned in his eyes.
"My hand?" he asked fearfully.
"Lots of stitches but no permanent damage."
Lee turned his head away from Nelson. "Stupid," he said.
"You were very angry. I should have realized, not pushed so hard."
Lee turned back to him. His eyes were glistening. "Not your fault. Just a lot of bad memories."
Harry squeezed Leeís hand. "Itís understandable. I didnít mean to bring it all back up for you."
"You had no way of knowing."
"I had my suspicions. I could have gone about it better."
"I just should have never gone to that hospital. I donít know what I was thinking."
But Nelson knew. Lee was thinking of Ricky and he was trying to slay the dragon, alone.
"I give you credit for trying, son."
Lee just closed his eyes and shook his head.
Harry wondered what was worse for Lee Ė the old memories or this new one.
Perhaps with just a bit more ammunitionÖ
He gave Leeís hand a final squeeze and stood up while surreptitiously taking his car keys from his pocket and laying them on the bed.
"The way you felt as a child, Lee," noted Nelson, "I wonder if thatís how Ricky feels."
Lee looked at him with a puzzled expression. Harry smiled and patted his arm.
"Youíre going to be fine, son, just fine. Iíll see you later."
Lee Crane, the ONI agent, slipped easily out of one hospital and just as easily into another. It was early, around 0700. Lee Crane, the child abuse victim, settled noiselessly into a chair next to the bed and he took Rickyís hand.
Sleepy, young eyes, one of them blackened, fluttered open and met tired, wise eyes that conveyed understanding and strength. Lee smiled at the boy.
And with one question - "Are you afraid?" - a relationship was born and a fear died a long, overdue death.