Into the Light
CATEGORY: Lko/KW/JC/Ensemble Cast/Drama
RATING: PG with mild violence, graphic descriptions
SPOILERS: this is written as an episode occurring about three months after May Day.
DISCLAIMER: These characters belong to Warner Brothers, etc. and are used without permission. This story is for entertainment only, to occupy our time until Season Seven starts, etc. etc.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Although not necessary, it might be helpful to read my previous fanfics: "Aftermath," "Uncharted Territory," "Friends and Lovers," and "Choices."
the medical situations, including PTSD used in this story, were researched and are based on information found on various medical web pages and reference texts. However, I am not a medical person and my research does not guarantee a correct interpretation.
There are several web pages that document the history of Vukovar and that region of Croatia which include information about patients (soldiers and civilians) taken from the medical center at the end of the siege as described herein. Upwards of five thousand Vukovar residents were also taken to concentration camps, some of whom have never been found.
There was one web page that has subsequently disappeared that particularly chronicled the siege and fall of the city, as well as had a link to a page that contained numerous personal stories of the medical staff of the Vukovar Medical Center. I read most of those stories, including one from the head of the center who, with many of the medical staff, was taken to a concentration camp and released nine months later. Unfortunately that page has not worked for the last two months. The medical testimony here is fictional but based on the accounts I have read.
I also have read "The Tenth Circle of Hell" by Rezak Hukanovic, a Bosnian Muslim, which documents his 1992 experiences in the death camps of Bosnia.
One final note: I had a slightly different crisis point in mind when I first started this five-story series. But in light of the spoiler in the Chicago Sun-Times, I made a minor adaptation to include it.
Thanks: my continued appreciation to three extraordinary friends who give me constant encouragement, feedback, and inspiration. Writing this series has been a learning experience, and I would not have learned so much without out each of you.
Comments and suggestions are welcome.
SUMMARY: this is written as an episode occurring about three months after May Day. Kerry makes a career changing decision; John tries to get others to change their behavior towards him; Mark and Elizabeth consider another idea; and Luka's past is revealed.
Tease 12 noon
Kerry Weaver closed her locker but stood staring at the door. Finally, she took a deep breath and turned around to face the day. Moving to the coffee machine, she examined the amount and quality of the liquid in the carafe, then poured a half-cup.
The lounge door opened and Mark walked briskly in. "Hey, Kerry," he greeted her warmly as he examined the carafe.
"Mark," she answered. She noted his happy face as he poured a cup. "You seem chipper today."
Mark stopped pouring and smiled as he put the carafe back. "Overall, things are going very well."
He looked sideways at Kerry and grinned again. "There may be wedding bells in the future." Then he looked away self-consciously but still smiling.
Kerry smiled as well. "May I be the first to offer congratulations?"
Mark nodded, then Kerry's face fell and she took a breath.
"Mark, I've been thinking about something."
"What," he asked, immediately concerned.
"I've been thinking," she stalled a little for time. "I know that I surprised you in how I -- read the politics and became Chief of the ER."
Mark looked away, trying to remain non-committal. Then he looked at her. "I was surprised, and angry at the time. But, I think we settled in and worked well together as a team."
Kerry nodded. "Yes, I think so too." She took a breath. "It's just that -- I've been thinking about stepping down as the ER Chief."
"Kerry!" Mark exclaimed in surprise.
She waved her hand to cut him off. "I've given this a lot of thought. I -- I have a number of reasons. But my point is -- if I recommend you as Chief, would you be interested?"
Mark was flabbergasted. He absent-mindedly put down his cup and shook his head.
"You did a good job when I was on suspension last spring," Kerry added. "And I believe you would listen to my recommendations, my thoughts. I think you would be fair."
"Well, Kerry," Mark stuttered a little. "I -- I really never gave it any consideration."
Kerry peered at him and he smiled a little.
"Well, okay. I have thought about it from time to time. But -- but not like this, not now."
"If not now, when?" Kerry asked, almost rhetorically.
Mark expelled a breath. "I don't know." He looked at her. "Is your mind made up? When are you thinking of doing this?"
Kerry thought a moment. "Soon, I think soon. I have a few things I need to do first. But, I have given this a great deal of thought. Being chief is something I thought I always wanted. And now, now I'm not so sure."
"Is something wrong, Kerry? Are you sick?"
"No, I'm not sick." She looked at Mark. "Will you consider it? I don't want to say anything to Romano until I'm sure you are."
Mark gave a small snort. "As if he'd listen to your recommendations."
Kerry smiled. "He might, he just might." She walked to the door with her coffee cup. "You think about it, okay?"
"Okay," Mark said shrugging. He watched Kerry leave the lounge, then found his coffee and resumed stirring, deep in thought.
Lydia stood by the exam table where a man lay, looking pale and worried, his breathing a little heavy. "Mr. Waterman is fifty-six, complaining of chest pain and lightheadedness," she explained as Luka walked in the room.
"Okay, Mr. Waterman, I'm Dr. Kovac," Luka greeted him. "We'll start with a series of tests." He looked at Lydia. "An ECG, cardiac labs and chest x-ray. Continue the oxygen."
The man twisted his head to look at Lydia as Luka took his stethoscope and started listening to Mr. Waterman's chest.
"I don't mean to sound rude," the man said between breaths. "But I really would like another doctor."
Lydia and Luka looked up in surprise.
Luka swallowed and stood up. "I'm sorry, have I done something wrong? Did the stethoscope bother you?"
The man cleared his throat. "I just would prefer another doctor," he repeated, not looking at Luka or Lydia.
Lydia stepped to the side of the bed. "Mr. Waterman," she began. "Dr. Kovac is very experienced. You needn't worry about anything."
Luka had begun to step away from the bed, his face growing more stone-like by the second.
"I'm sorry, I just would feel more comfortable with another doctor," Mr. Waterman repeated. "I know my rights."
"It's alright," Luka spoke quietly. "I'll get another doctor for you." He turned quickly and headed towards the door.
"I don't want any foreign doctors," Waterman said to Lydia as Luka opened the door. "Get me someone who speaks English."
Lydia reacted, trying to keep her anger in check. "Don't worry, Mr. Waterman, Dr. Kovac speaks English and he listens in English too."
Luka exited quickly and walked to the admit desk, his face grim. "Frank, can you get another doctor to Exam One?"
Frank looked up from his files. "Uh, sure." He noted Luka's demeanor. "Something wrong? You sick?"
Luka shook his head. "No. The patient wants another doctor. Don't delay too much -- possible MI."
Frank nodded and started looking at the board. Luka turned and walked away, looking at the floor, his hand clenched in frustration.
The Bursar's Office of the medical school looked like a bank, sedate and proper. Three student clerks sat at the windows, ready to transact business. Fortunately for Abby, the office was not busy the day after tuition was due for the students.
"Yes," the disinterested clerk asked her.
"This is going to be a strange question," Abby began, not knowing how to ask it. "Yesterday, did someone come in asking how to establish a scholarship?"
The clerk shrugged his shoulders. "How should I know? We were busy yesterday."
Abby decided conversation with this clerk was not going to be productive. She moved to the next window.
The clerk there spoke first. "I heard you," she said. "Strange you should ask. Someone did come in. I sent him to the manager."
"A 'he'?" Abby asked.
"Yeah," the girl smiled dreamily. "Tall, good looking. Wish I could have helped him."
"Any other description?" Abby pressed her.
"He had a beautiful accent." The clerk smiled again. "Didn't seem to know too much about how we charge tuition."
"Thanks," Abby smiled back at the clerk as she turned to leave. "Thanks very much."
Kerry was waiting as John came out of the lounge door.
"John," she said quietly. "Walk with me."
He nodded and they headed down the hall together.
"Are you ready to come back to work?" she asked professionally.
John looked at her. "Yes." He spoke with confidence, but then wanted to add something. "Before I left the Talbott Center, my doctor gave me a very good lesson about how everyone can have relapses -- and moments when they doubt the progress they've made."
Kerry stopped walking and looked at him.
"Yesterday, I got scared, no doubt about it." John swallowed. "I met with my psychiatrist last night. I know I have to get back in the saddle, so to speak." He tried to smile.
"John, you have our full support," Kerry offered.
"I know," he said. John hesitated, then decided to speak. "But sometimes, that support turns into hovering, into too much concern."
"But Luka knew what to do?" she asked.
John nodded, careful in his reaction. "Guess so."
Kerry appraised his face, then smiled. "Good." She paused as she looked at her watch. "I have a meeting, but could you tell me how we might deal with this in a more appropriate manner in the future, okay?"
"I'd be glad to," John answered, a smile brightening his face and sincerity in his voice. "Thank you."
Kerry nodded, then turned, and walked towards the elevators. John watched her, smiling, then went back to the admit desk.
Act One 3pm
Elizabeth walked out of the surgery suite and started stripping her protective garments. Mark rose from the chair in the hall and walked towards her.
"Hi," he said as he got closer.
She smiled coyly in greeting as she deposited the items in the hamper. "What brings you to the fourth floor?"
"Something I need to talk to you about," Mark answered. He took a breath as they stepped out of the traffic pattern and against the wall.
"What?" Elizabeth narrowed her eyes.
"Kerry is thinking of stepping down as Chief of the ER," Mark started.
Elizabeth reacted, her eyebrows raised and mouth dropping open in surprise. "She is?"
"Even more, she wants to recommend me for the position."
"What did you tell her?" she asked quickly.
"I said I wanted to think about it," Mark smiled thinly. "So here I am, thinking about it."
"Well," she started to say something but stopped.
"What? What are you thinking?" he asked.
Elizabeth shrugged a little. "You should take it if you are interested."
"But --," Mark continued her sentence.
She debated about saying the words. "Well, you know how difficult it is to deal with Romano."
"You do it every day, and you have survived." Mark bristled a little.
"Yes, but, this also means that you are going to have more paperwork, more obligations."
He looked at her, not understanding where this logic was headed.
"I -- I thought we might be thinking about starting a family," she finally said, hesitant.
Mark smiled broadly and warmly put his hands on her shoulders. "This wouldn't change that."
"There will be less time," she countered.
"We'll work it out somehow, I promise," Mark tried to assure her.
Still unsure, Elizabeth tried to smile. "Well, then, you must do what you think is best."
"I know there will be some rough times -- we both have impossible schedules. But I'm willing to try."
She nodded a little easier. "I will too."
Mark took her elbow and they resumed walking down the hall.
"So why does Kerry want to quit?" Elizabeth asked after a moment.
"I don't know," Mark answered.
"I think I do," Elizabeth answered as they stepped into her office.
Kerry walked down the hall on a mission, her eyes scanning the bustle and movement. After peaking around the corner at the admit desk, she headed towards the lounge. There she found her quarry sitting at the table, completing a pile of charts. But she noted his pen was not moving and his eyes were not focused on the chart.
"Luka," she greeted him.
He looked up quickly and sat straighter in the chair. "Kerry," he answered.
Kerry paused for a second and then sat down. "I heard about the possible MI who wanted another doctor."
She couldn't decipher the look that crossed his face.
"I'm sorry," she shrugged.
"It's okay," Luka tried to smile but failed. "It happens from time to time. I'm used to it."
Kerry wanted to lighten the moment a little. "Happens to all us. Too bad that man doesn't appreciate what he turned away."
Luka managed a faint smiled. "Well, it seems no matter how much I work on my accent, I'll always be a foreigner to some, huh?" Luka looked away quickly.
"I also wanted to thank you for your help with John yesterday," Kerry added, her face more serious and her voice softer.
Luka simply nodded and did not look back at Kerry.
Once again, Kerry took a deep breath, her hands folded on the tabletop. "You knew what to do," she said simply. "Is -- is it because of what happened nine years ago?"
Luka lifted his head sharply and looked at her in surprise, his eyes wide, his body stiff. Then he struggled to put a neutral look on his face.
Kerry pressed ahead. "After what happened yesterday, and some of the things we've talked about lately, I -- I went and looked at your personnel chart."
Luka got up from the chair and went to the window.
"You were in the equivalent of a second year surgical residency at the Vukovar Medical Center in late 1991 -- the last of your six years of medical school in Croatia. Then -- there was a two-year interruption. Then, to France for a two year residency in emergency medicine, then England for two years. And then to the states three years ago."
"At that time, Croatia did not have a program for emergency medicine like they have today. I had to go to France to study." Luka's response seemed a little rehearsed.
Kerry rose and crossed the room, standing near him. "Luka, I went to the Internet, and I read about the Medical Center in Vukovar. And I found testimony by some of the medical staff. I printed the statement of one doctor."
She pulled a folded piece of paper from her pocket, opened it, and handed him the printed document. There was silence for a moment as Luka looked at it and handed it back. Then he looked out the window.
"I knew him," Luka finally said softly, realizing she knew too much.
"Is what he wrote accurate?"
Luka nodded, still looking out the window. "Yes." He took a breath. "He committed suicide about a year after we were released from the camp."
"I'm sorry," Kerry said quickly.
He turned and looked at her, the hurt in his eyes the same as the day he had revealed his wife and children and been taken and then killed.
"Why do you want to know?"
That took Kerry by surprised and she looked down. "Two reasons. One is -- all these little pieces started coming together, and I started thinking -- that maybe we have not been as supportive as we could have been -- the staff here in the ER."
"I don't want your sympathy," Luka said quickly, almost defensively. "Too much pity destroys a man."
Kerry was taken back by his reaction. "I didn't mean to imply that it was pity I was offering."
Luka backed off just a little and shook his head. "I don't want sympathy, I don't want strange looks. I just want to be normal. I struggle every day to be normal."
"Is that why you don't let on, don't talk about it?"
"What happened to me in just one page in a very large book of stories. It does not matter what the details are. Some political leaders exploited old grievances. Some normal people went crazy in anger and revenge. There was, and still is needless suffering and death on all sides. It is very, very complicated."
"But it would help us understand," Kerry objected.
"What, am I such a poor doctor that I need to be understood -- to be excused, huh?" Luka grimaced as the anger rose again.
"That's not what I meant," Kerry tried to say.
"Well, then it should be okay that I don't talk about it." His voice was only a notch less angry. "Everyone here is curious about your leg and your crutch, but you don't talk about it either."
Kerry's face drained of color. "Of course, you are right. I'm sorry." She started backing away.
Immediately, Luka's face lost all its anger and his words flowed out in a torrent. "No, no, I am sorry. Of all people, Kerry, I mind you knowing the least. You have always been fair. I am sorry." He spread his hands apart, gesturing a peace.
Luka looked back out the window. "The fall is always difficult for me. I used to love the fall, but now --.
"The anniversary is coming up," Kerry offered.
"Yeah. I'm sorry."
"I'm sorry, too, Luka. I didn't mean to upset you."
"I had a life before it happened and I try, every day, to have a life after it. But once people know, they treat me differently. It's as if they run away."
Kerry thought for a moment then made a guess. "Do you think Carol ran away?" she asked carefully.
Luka swallowed. "Sometimes I think maybe, but no. She had a family to be with. It turned out the right way, huh?"
"But you miss the family feeling?"
"More than you know," he said, his voice almost inaudible.
"Oh," Kerry whispered, looking down. "I know."
Luka turned to her again. "I'm sorry, Kerry. I stopped asking 'why me?' a long time ago. I get counseling. That's how I knew about Carter. But I can't take people looking at me."
He took a breath and looked back out the window. "I don't think I can take another Chicago winter, huh? I think I'll head south as soon as you find someone to replace me. Sit on a beach and look at the ocean."
Kerry slumped against the backside of the couch. "I can't stop you, and I hope you won't, but I do understand why."
She stood up and joined him at the window. "The truth is, I'm thinking of resigning as Chief of the ER. And that's the second reason -- if I can figure it out, other may as well, and I won't be able to influence their thinking as much, their reactions. I wanted to warn you."
"You want to quit as Chief?" Luka asked, first surprise and then concern in his voice. "Why?"
Kerry shrugged. "My life seems to be getting away from me."
Luka started to say something else and changed his mind. "I understand, more than you know."
They glanced at each other and a look of respect passed between them.
Suddenly, the door burst open. "Multiple trauma coming in," Haleh said, surveying them both, reading the vibrations in the room. She backed out quickly.
Kerry looked at Luka, trying to make light of the situation. "Well, as long as we're both still here, shall we go to work?"
He nodded without smiling. "Sure."
They both moved out of the lounge, Luka holding the door open for Kerry as they left.
Act Two 6pm
John saw Peter Benton coming out of Trauma Two and changed his direction towards him.
"Dr. Benton," John called out. "You busy?"
Peter smiled a little but not too much. "No. Mild chest trauma, no need for surgery."
They stepped out of the hallway and John leapt into the subject. "First, I want to thank you for your concern yesterday."
"I don't know how to broach this," John continued. "But I've been trained on how to respond to myself."
Benton looked dubious. "You just need self-control and support."
John looked down. "Have you seen the latest research on narcolepsy?"
Benton scoffed. "I'm a surgeon, Carter."
"Then, please, don't jump to conclusions about medical issues that you know nothing about. They now think narcolepsy is based in some auto-immune response to a deficiency in the brain cell structure."
Benton looked askance at Carter.
"My point is," Carter tried to clarify, "that everyone used to think narcolepsy was psychological, but now they know it is physical. It is the same with PTSD -- while there are psychological issues attached, its cause is chemical changes in the brain because of a traumatic experience."
Peter looked on in disbelief.
"I have PTSD. The management of my disease is more than self-control. It is learning to recognize the symptoms of stress, and then to use your thoughts and a variety of techniques to handle it. I am learning to handle it with breathing exercises, visualization techniques, and cognitive thinking patterns."
Peter bristled a little at being upstaged. "We were just concerned, Carter."
"I know you are, Dr. Benton, and I appreciate it very much. But if it happens again, I need to have some peace and quiet to do my work."
"But I wanted Kovac out of there, he doesn't need to see you like that."
John was torn. "Well, he was there at the time of the crisis, and he -- seemed to know that I needed to be in a quiet place."
"He did, did he?"
John was getting exasperated. "Yes, he seemed to. Dr. Benton, I know you mean well, but you can't always be there for me. I am learning to handle this on my own. But I just wanted you to know I was grateful."
Peter's pager started beeping and he unclipped it from his waistband. Then he nodded solemnly at John. "You're always going to be my student, Carter."
"Dr. Benton, do you think someday -- we can move beyond that -- to colleagues and friends?"
"Gonna be hard, Carter," Peter replied gruffly as he started moving off.
Staff, patients and visitors scattered before Romano as he charged down the hallway in his customary fashion.
"Kerry," he greeted her at the admit desk. "I've come to see how the recommendations on supply management are coming."
Looking up from her chart, Kerry suddenly relished the opportunity. She leaned casually on the desk. "You know, Robert, that report is just not coming together quickly."
"Well, we need it for Monday's meeting with the accounting staff," he countered.
"Well, if I get it done in time, fine."
"This isn't like you Kerry," Robert peered at her. "You always get your reports in on time."
"And you never provide constructive feedback, Robert. I hear through the grapevine about your concerns, but never -- never do you sit down with me and discuss alternatives." Kerry's voice was steady and strong.
Robert tried to play coy and shrugged sweetly. "I just test the grapevine from time to time. Works pretty well, then." His smile turned to victory.
"Robert, I'm going to resign as Chief of the ER, effective immediately."
For once, Romano was shocked into silence and Kerry knew it.
"That's right, Robert. No more of your games, your rumors, your demands. I'm going to go back to being a doctor."
Romano recovered quickly. "Frankly, Kerry, this is not a good time. We've to the vote on the budget from the County Supervisors coming up next week. And the accreditation teams for OB and medicine are due the week after that. I've got my hands full right now."
"Then Robert, I suggest you immediately appoint someone from inside the ER. I think Dr. Greene would be very good at the job."
"Greene? I don't know."
"You were just praising him a couple of weeks ago about the new equipment list," Kerry said, looking at Romano's reaction.
Romano tried to look innocent.
"And I'm going to stay on as an attending." Kerry played her trump card. "The grapevine does work very well, Robert. There is that little matter of Gretel -- and whether the board of directors knows how their OR is used on a day to day basis."
Romano's face fell. "I see your point, Dr. Weaver." After a breath, he gathered his wits. "I'll make the announcement tomorrow. But," he said, stepping closer and pointing his finger, "this is the only time you can use that. After this, I don't ever want to hear those words again or I'll have you out of here so fast your head will spin."
"Sure," Kerry answered, trying to keep a straight face, not phased by his bluster.
Quickly, Robert wheeled around and stormed down the hallway. Kerry watched him with a satisfied smile.
"What's coming?" Luka asked as he arrived outside the Trauma Room where Carter was putting on a yellow protective gown.
"Possible MI," John answered. "The EMT report seems critical."
Luka started putting on his own gown.
"I'm sorry about yesterday," John started. "The others -- they are just over-protective. I think Dr. Benton is a little jealous of our friendship."
"It's okay, John. Don't worry about it." Luka's words were positive but his face seemed withdrawn, his voice quiet.
John wanted to explain further. "I sent you away because I didn't think you wanted to chance them figuring out why you knew what to do. And I was feeling better because of your quick thinking."
Luka looked at him with subdued eyes. "Thank you," he said quietly.
"Is something wrong?" John asked tentatively.
Luka shrugged and tried to smile. "Just one of those days, huh?"
John was going to ask another question when the EMT's arrived with the patient, Abby at their side.
"Sixty-five old male, Mr. Pulanksi, acute chest pain," Chris said as they lifted the man to the table. "The ride was short so we only got to the oxygen and one nitro spray."
"Yosh, set up the blood pressure and pulse ox, then get me two large bore IV's," Carter took charge. "Chuny, an ECG, chest x-ray, initial CPK, and CBC."
Both Abby and Carter listened to the man's chest.
"Mr. Pulanksi," Luka said. "How long have you been having chest pains?"
"About an hour," the man whispered, obviously in pain and panicking as well.
"Have you been here before?" Abby asked.
"BP is one sixty-five over ninety-five," Yosh reported. "Pulse ox is ninety-six."
"Yes, about two years ago," Mr. Pulanski struggled. "But just for the flu."
"Please see if you can pull his chart, please," Luka asked another nurse. She nodded and left the room.
"He's got a slight murmur," John said, standing up.
Luka went over and listened. "Hard to say at this point if it is significant. Let's get these test done and see."
Peter stormed into Trauma One in his normal fashion. "Whadda got?"
The nurses, Abby and John looked up but Luka spoke while working. "Sixty-five year old male with MI. But the x-ray shows a normal cardiac silhouette. We've ordered a two way echocardiogram."
Peter listened with his stethoscope, then stood up. "Have you considered mitral value rupture? The murmur's pretty obvious."
John immediately listened for himself, then turned to Peter. "The murmur was not this significant when he first came in."
"Listen to the axilla and left sternal border. There is a audible systolic thrill," Peter pointed at the patient.
"I did not see a double density of the left atrium in the x-ray," Luka answered. "And his history does not include rheumatic heart disease. So we have not checked for a change in the heart sounds in the last fifteen minutes."
Benton looked up from his examination. "Where you come from, rheumatic heart disease is the overwhelming leading cause, but here in America -- the primary cause is myxomatous degeneration." His eyes narrowed and voice rose in irritation. "The MI probably affected the papillary muscle, causing the acute regurgitation and valve failure."
Luka immediately recognized his mistake. "Yes, yes, of course," he said quickly. He turned to the nurses. "Forty milligrams of Lasix, and fifteen milligrams IV bolus of Activase."
Abby watched the exchange with wide eyes and John started getting uncomfortable.
"You should know better, Dr. Kovac," Peter continued.
"You are right," Luka responded immediately. "I was not thinking American standards. That's why teams work best, huh?" He tried to smile at Peter.
"Hey, Dr. Benton, we were all here. The murmur wasn't pronounced when he came in," John tried to set the record straight.
Peter was not dissuaded. He leaned across the gurney at Luka. "You're not so perfect, Dr. Kovac. And from now on, stay out of things that don't concern you."
"Dr. Benton," John immediately objected.
"Shut up, Carter," Benton growled as he went back to work on the patient.
Luka had frozen in place at Benton's words. "I'm sorry you feel that way," he said quietly, but his fists were clenched and his jaw was moving in tense frustration.
"Just get out of my way," Peter raised his voice, not looking at Luka. "Let's get him ready to take upstairs. Let's move, people, now!"
Luka backed up quickly and stormed out of the trauma room, stripping his gloves and his gown and throwing them in the nearest container. He paced down the hallway, passing Kerry coming the other way, his face dark as he took off his stethoscope and lab coat.
"Luka?" she asked as he passed by but he did not stop, didn't even look at her.
Kerry turned into the trauma room entrance to see John and Abby watching from there. "What happened?" she asked quickly, seeing Peter at the patient's side.
John struggled to explain quickly. "Dr. Benton corrected a diagnosis. Dr. Kovac immediately agreed and was very polite but Dr. Benton," John searched for the words, " Dr. Benton was in his usual way."
Kerry shook her head. "I think Luka's had a very rough day."
Abby and John both looked expectantly at her.
Kerry decided not to answer their question. Instead, she looked at John. "Tell me, should we go after him? He looked really upset."
John thought for a moment. "Give him a few minutes to be alone, but we could send out a little search party. But not as a group -- just one person should approach him."
Abby took all this in quietly, but then spoke. "I'll help."
Kerry appraised Abby's sincerity.
"He's been a good mentor to me," Abby tried to explain. "And I think he's the one who did something very nice for me yesterday."
Kerry accepted this quietly, putting two and two together. "Alright. Is the patient okay with Benton?"
"Yes," Carter answered. "Acute mitral regurgitation with valvular rupture, secondary to an MI. They're moving him upstairs to surgery now."
"Good," Kerry continued. "I'll check the roof. You two -- check Doc MaGoo's, the parking garage, and -- the riverwalk. He likes to watch the water."
"I've got my cell phone," John said. "Call me if you find him."
"I've just got my pager," Abby added. "But put in 77 if you find him.
"Just tell him I need to talk to him right away," Kerry instructed.
Abby and John nodded in agreement and then the three scattered in pursuit.
Act Three 9pm
Luka leaned against the cement wall and looked out over the river. The evening breeze had finally cooled off the city. The newly risen moon and the streetlights reflected in the river. Sounds of the river lapping against the retaining wall mixed with distant sounds of the traffic that always seemed to occupy the city.
Two bicyclists rode by on the wide sidewalk, using the break in the weather to get some exercise, but the walkway and the street twenty yards away was otherwise rather deserted. A man fished from the river wall about a half-mile to the north of where he stood.
Luka focused on some distant point down river for a while, then looked down and ran a hand over his forehead and through his hair.
A voice spoke from some distance away. "Luka?"
Resenting the intrusion into his thoughts, he turned around to see Abby walking quickly towards him.
"What are you doing out here?" he asked gruffly. "You should still be on duty."
Abby stopped as she neared him. "So should you."
His face hardened and he turned back to look at the water.
"Dr. Weaver wants you back."
"What, are you looking for me, huh?" he asked in irritation but then had regrets.
"In a way," Abby tried to shrug.
"Tell her I'll be back in a little while," he answered, trying to lighten his voice.
Abby took a step closer then leaned on the wall looking out as well. "I think she wants you back right away."
Luka nodded, resigned. "Why don't I walk you back, huh?"
"Thanks," Abby smiled.
"Excuse me," a male voice spoke from behind. "Can you give us directions to the boat ramp?"
Luka and Abby turned around and their faces turned to shock as they saw two men, one with a gun, standing menacingly about seven feet behind them.
"Actually," spoke the one standing to the left, wearing a plaid shirt and smiling with clear malfeasance, "we don't need directions. We need your money and whatever else you got."
Luka quickly took a step to put himself between Abby and the two men.
"No quick moves, buddy," the man wearing a blue windbreaker pointed his gun. "In fact, get on your knees. You're much too tall to deal with." He motioned with his gun what Luka should do.
Raising his hands from his elbows, Luka slowly lowered to his knees and in doing so, managed to better place himself in front of Abby. She had frozen, pressing against the cement wall. Taking several deep breaths, Luka worked to keep the rising panic from his face and hands.
"Good, good," Plaid Shirt said. "Now, I want your wallet. Empty your pockets."
"I -- I don't have money," Abby stuttered. "All I've got is my pager."
Plaid shirt held out his hand, wiggling his fingers and Abby got it out of her lab coat pocket.
Luka reached slowly into his shirt breast pocket and took out his cell phone. He held it out for Plaid Shirt who stepped forward and took the two items. Luka kept his eyes on Blue Windbreaker with the gun.
"Now your wallet," Plaid Shirt instructed.
Abby started to gather her wits and began to think that they could escape unharmed
Luka unclipped his pager from his belt, then he reached behind and slowly took out his wallet. "Let me give you the money," he started.
"Just hand it all over," Blue Windbreaker ordered threateningly.
Luka looked down at the wallet and pager in his hands, then took a deep breath. "Just let me have the picture -- and you can have the money, the credit cards --."
Abby could not believe Luka was arguing with the two muggers.
"Give it to him now!" Blue Windbreaker shouted, stepping a bit closer and holding the gun steadily on Luka.
Plaid Shirt reached in as Luka slowly raised his hands, hesitated, and then handed over the wallet and pager. Abby thought Luka's hands were shaking as he pulled them back, and she realized his breathing was becoming more pronounced, his shoulders rising and falling noticeably.
Plaid Shirt took one step back, shoving the bounty in his pockets, then paused, holding on to the wallet. "Well, well, let's see what was so valuable." He grinned as he opened the wallet and fingered the contents. He found a small photo and pulled it out.
"Come on, quit fooling around!" Blue Windbreaker was getting nervous. "Let's go!"
"Is this it? What you wanted?" Plaid Shirt said, holding up the photo for inspection. "Why, its only an old black and white one."
Plaid Shirt grinned malevolently, not noticing a growing rage on Luka's face, then stepped to his left towards the wall. Abby and Luka twisted their heads to watch Plaid Shirt as he held the photograph out, above the river rushing by twenty feet below.
"How bad do you want this?" Plaid Shirt looked over at Luka. "Or shall I let it go?"
"Please --." Luka's voice revealed the rage in his eyes. He held his hands out, palms up.
At the same time, sirens sounded in the far distance.
Blue Windbreaker became more agitated, trying to keep watch between far street corner and his two victims. "Come on, let's go," he urged his companion. "Let's get out of here."
Abby looked from Plaid Shirt to Luka's profile. He was starting to weave slightly on his knees and his breathing was even more strained. She could see the muscles twitch in his face as he clenched his teeth. His eyes were wide open, starting at Plaid Shirt. Suddenly Abby felt a terrible dread and she looked back as well.
"Okay," Plaid shirt agreed with his partner. "I just want to get rid of this trash." With a casual flip of his fingers, he dropped the photograph to the river below.
Luka's scream pierced the air, more an emotion than a word. In an instant, he was off his knees and charging wildly toward Plaid Shirt. The intensity of his scream shocked everyone and for a moment, Luka was the only one in motion.
Plaid Shirt started to react only as Luka tackled him and they both fell to the ground, the mugger struggling against Luka's fierce grip.
Blue Windbreaker gathered his wits and took one step forward, trying to take aim with his gun but unable to get a clear shot as the two men fell and rolled.
Abby, forgotten for the moment by Blue Windbreaker, recoiled and took two automatic steps to her left, unable to take her eyes off the fight, unable to believe the sight before her.
The sirens were louder. Blue Windbreaker pulled back and tried to take a quick look to see how close the sirens really were. He saw flashing lights in the distance, the police car at the far corner turning towards them but moving slowly, the searchlight carefully scanning both sides of the road.
With his weight as an advantage to stop the rolling, Luka came upon one elbow, released his other hand and drove his first into Plaid Shirt's mid-section, and then tried to strike again and again, hitting blindly, offering no self-protective moves except for the unrelenting onslaught.
Plaid Shirt fought back against Luka's flailing arms, one strike landing a blow near Luka's right eye but most of the time was forced to keep his arms up for self-protection.
Blue Windbreaker took action, running towards the two men on the ground. He raised the handle of the gun, wanting to strike Luka on the back of the head, but there was too much movement to get in a good aim. He threw the gun away, managed to grab Luka by one arm, and started to pull him away as Plaid Shirt struggled to his feet.
Luka twisted, broke free of Blue Windbreaker's grip, and with a scream much like the first, drove his shoulder forward. He caught Plaid Shirt in the chest and crashing him backwards against the cement wall. Luka immediately reached to strangle the mugger, who raised his own arms in defense.
Blue Windbreaker quickly stepped up from behind, grabbed Luka's arms, and started to pull him off Plaid Shirt, who quickly punched Luka in the stomach. As Luka doubled over and sunk to his knees, the two muggers ensured their escape by shoving him to the ground.
The muggers turned, ran past Abby and away from the approaching police car, the searchlight almost catching them.
Instead, the light found Abby standing transfixed against the wall. She flinched, her own breathing rapid and the light in her eyes.
Then the searchlight ranged up and down the sidewalk and found Luka, awkwardly getting to his knees and then his feet. He moved to the wall and stood, looking down at the water.
Abby started walking towards Luka as the police car came to a halt at the curb. The first officer was out of the car quickly, his gun drawn on Luka, while the second one rounded the end of the car and headed towards her.
The first officer reached a point about ten feet behind Luka. "Get your hands in the air!" he ordered.
Abby froze in her forward motion.
Luka unsteadily turned around and looked at the officer, his face empty, his breathing obvious. He wavered and leaned against the wall.
"Now!" the officer yelled. "Hands in the air!"
As if too tired to stand, Luka's knees gave out, and he slid his back down the wall and sat heavily on the sidewalk. The first officer kept his gun trained on him.
The second officer reached Abby. "Are you alright?" he asked quickly.
Finally, Abby found her voice. "No, no, he's a victim too."
Luka remained passive, his arms resting on his knees. He stared straight ahead at the ground, his eyes unfocused, his mouth slack.
Abby struggled to explain, the fear now erupting in tears. "We both work at County Emergency Room. He's an attending. I'm a medical student."
More sirens sounded in the distance.
"Maybe you better explain what happened," the second officer said, turning towards her. The first maintained his position, his gun pointed at Luka, as Abby started to explain between sobs.
"Dr. Weaver," Frank said as he hung up the phone.
Kerry looked up from her computer screen that she had not been reading. "What?"
"Couple of old cop buddies of mine just radioed in," Frank explained. "They say a couple of the ER staff are victims of a mugging down on the river front."
Dread consumed Kerry and she stepped closer to Frank.
"EMT's on are the scene," he continued.
"Who?" Kerry asked, not wanting the answer.
"Lockhart and Kovac," Frank answered. "She's ok, and he's unhurt, except they say he's like, in a trance. Won't talk to them."
Kerry stuffed down a panic and quickly walked to another phone. She dialed and did not have to wait long for an answer. "John. Abby found him but there's been a mugging. Do you know who his doctor is?"
She listened for a moment. "John, he's going to need his doctor."
Finally, she nodded, writing down a telephone number. "Yes, get back here right away."
Doris and another EMT tried to lean in close to Luka who was still sitting next to the wall and looking at his hands. Abby was on the other side of him, her tear-streaked face frightened. All were hesitant to touch him.
"Dr. Kovac, can you tell me what's wrong?" Doris tried.
Luka did not seem to hear her and offered no response.
"What happened?" Doris asked, turning to Abby.
Abby was unsure if her trembling voice could answer. "He just sorta went crazy. He attacked one of them while the other was still holding a gun because -- because they dropped a photograph of his into the river. He's -- he's been like this since the cops arrived. I -- I don't understand."
Luka finally stopped looking at his hands but his gaze went beyond Doris. He spoke in Croatian but the tone of voice was unmistakably imploring.
Abby gathered her wits. "Speak English, Luka," she said quietly, trying to keep her fear inside.
He slowly turned his head and looked at her. She was certain he did not know who she was.
"Tell me, but speak English," she repeated, trying to gain control.
"My family --," Luka finally spoke, searching for the words, his eyes closed.
"What?" Doris asked.
Luka looked at Doris, his eyes begging her. "On that bus -- please -- let me go."
"Come on, Dr. Kovac, come with us instead," Doris tried to humor him. She reached and took his elbow but he flinched and pulled away so she withdrew her hand quickly.
" -- go with them." He looked beyond Abby and Doris, into the street.
Doris looked at Abby. "Has he been drinking?"
"No, no," Abby answered quickly.
"I'll have to sedate him. Can't take a chance of him becoming violent again." Doris turned to her partner. "Get some lorazepam."
Out of Luka's sight, the EMT opened the drug box and extracted a pre-loaded syringe.
"Talk to him," Doris said to Abby who nodded.
"Dr. Kovac?" Abby asked gently.
He looked back at her from his view of the distance.
"Can you tell me why -- what happened -- why you got so upset?" she continued, her voice trembling. He just looked at her with a blank stare.
The EMT leaned in from behind Doris and jabbed the syringe into his upper arm, giving the inter-muscular injection through his shirtsleeve.
Luka lurched forward to escape the pain in his arm, Abby and Doris catching him. He struggled a little but not much, as if all the energy had been drained from him. The drug quickly took effect and he slumped in their arms.
Kerry stood at the ambulance door, waiting with Haleh and Chuny.
"Put Kovac in Exam Four quickly," she said to Haleh. "And keep people away."
"Abby can go in Exam One. Cleo and Jing-Mei can take care of her."
Again, Haleh nodded silently.
Finally the lights blinked in the distance through the night. Kerry took a huge breath and stepped forward to meet it.
Act Four 10:30pm
Furthest from the admit desk and foot-traffic, John and Kerry stood outside the door to Exam Four. There were no words to say, just waiting.
Finally, the door opened and Steven Phillips stepped out.
"Dr. Phillips?" Kerry greeted him with questions in her voice.
Steven let out a breath and smiled a little at the two of them. "He's back in the present, but I gave him something to sleep. I'll need to see him tomorrow."
John smiled a little but Kerry remained concerned.
"He gave me permission to talk to you both. He knows what happened." Steven leaned against the wall and folded his arms. "Tonight, two stimuli contributed to a PTSD flashback to his original trauma. The mugging -- they forced him to his knees, and the photograph symbolized the loss of his family."
Both Kerry and John looked a little puzzled.
"It was the only one he had of his wife and daughter, and he has none of his son. So for him, the loss is catastrophic, both losing the picture and experiencing their deaths again."
It took a minute for Kerry and John to absorb the information, then they looked back at the doctor.
Steven took a breath. "Luka is a complex person. He's a strong introvert and takes things inside himself, absorbs the emotions. His PTSD manifests itself mostly by intrusive recollections -- nightmares and emotional associations. He has some avoidance and numbing symptoms, but in the last two years has worked through a lot of those. And he's pretty free of paranoia and other hyper-arousal symptoms, and has no co-morbidity like drugs or alcohol. He can get outwardly angry, but it is short lived. Given his temperament, the biggest problems are withdrawal and depression."
After shifting his weight, Steven continued. "Now, not only will he have to live with the grief, in a sense, of losing his family again, he'll have to deal with a natural anger over what happened. Then there's his recurring survivor's guilt, and the issue everyone with PTSD has -- re-entry into society."
Steven hesitated but Kerry's look told him to continue.
"This is a serious set back for him. I think it is his first flashback. He had a smaller crisis last May, that that was just revisiting the emotions. This time, he really thought he was back in Vukovar."
Both Kerry and John reacted to the stark reality of this news. While Kerry accepted it a little more stoically, John absorbed the information both with recognition and surprise. He sagged against the wall, trying to listen.
Kerry finally found her voice. "Is he a danger for suicide?"
Steven shook his head. "Actually, I don't think so. He has a strong moral conviction against suicide. I took off the restraints."
Steven realized that he had scared them. "He's done remarkably well since I've known him. He has one of the strongest internal set of values I've ever seen -- and immediately upon release from imprisonment, he was given intense psychological counseling by some of the best people in Europe."
Steven tried to smile. "Both have made a major difference in his ability to cope, especially because, with the exception of the counseling, he does not easily develop other support systems." Steven looked at them both. "He won't want it, but he'll need a couple of days off, maybe a week. I think he will make the struggle to come back to us."
"I'll make sure the time off is arranged," Kerry responded.
"He's worried about the other person, Abby?"
"She's fine, resting in another room," John answered.
"Good," Steven said. "I'll be back in the morning."
Kerry nodded thoughtfully and then smiled in gratitude. "We'll stay with him."
Steven smiled in return. "Oh, he said you could use that internet document you have -- to help explain things to the others. He said there's no way to keep this quiet now."
Then Steven nodded slightly and headed down the hallway. His passage out of the ER drew the attention of others who had been waiting near the doors.
Kerry turned to John. "Are you okay?"
John nodded tentatively. "I think so. I mean, I have struggled, but this -- this is tough for him."
"Are you going to give up on him?" Kerry asked as they walked towards the admit desk.
"Not at all," John answered with conviction. Then he looked at Kerry. "What document?"
"I'll tell you later, if we have to use it," Kerry answered. "Let's deal with the fallout."
In the distance, they saw a procession coming quietly down the hallway towards them. The nurses were in the lead and behind them the residents followed.
"How is he?" Haleh asked as they met near the elevator hallway.
Kerry tried to smile at the crowd to acknowledge everyone's presence. "His doctor is confident he can over come this, with some time and some support."
Mark, Elizabeth and Peter arrived and came forward to the center of the group.
"What's going on, Kerry?" Mark asked.
She took a breath for courage and tried to keep her voice neutral. "Luka and Abby were mugged by the riverside. The muggers took the only photograph Luka had of his family. He had a PTSD intrusive recollection."
"Is Abby alright?" Elizabeth asked, concerned.
"Yes, yes," Kerry answered. "She's resting in Exam One."
"No, I'm right here," Abby spoke from the back of the crowd. She inched her way forward. "I'm fine."
"PTSD?" Peter asked incredulously. "Why would he have PTSD?"
Mark objected a little. "That's something between him and his doctor."
"Yes, Mark," Kerry said without smiling but appreciating his support. "But Luka gave me permission to tell you. His family was taken from him and murdered after the siege of Vukovar in Croatia, where Luka was a surgical resident at the Vukovar Medical Center," Kerry answered, her voice intense and direct.
Malucci looked particularly stunned, as did Peter. The nurses, though, seemed to accept the information quickly, as if they already knew.
"Actually, PTSD is much more common than we think," Elizabeth spoke up. "It's now been identified in survivors of incest, rape, childhood abuse, and natural disasters -- as well war and political torture."
"For survivors of the Oklahoma City bombing," John added, his voice hesitant at first but gaining strength.
Couple of people nodded in recognition.
John stepped forward. "I don't know exactly what Dr. Kovac experienced, and you all don't have to know either. But can you accept that something did? Then, can you be understanding for him like you are for me?" He looked around the crowd and then focused on Peter. "Because I'm asking you to."
"I told you not to get too close to him," Peter started in.
"I can choose for myself," John's voice rose.
Undaunted, Peter continued. "If this is true, he should have told us."
"Yes, from your point of view, probably so." John took a step closer to Peter. "But I couldn't tell you."
"And he endangered Abby," Peter continued to protest. "He was violent."
"We were being mugged," Abby tried to object.
John's ire rose and he looked directly at Peter, struggling to keep his voice calm. "You have been the best teacher to me. And you probably saved my life in May. But you just see what you want to see. He has PTSD just like me, Peter."
Benton was taken back, realizing that John had used his first name and its implications.
"I don't know, Carter," Mark spoke up. "This does seems to be much more serious than what you experienced."
John lost his temper. "Even more reason! What does it take, people, for you to accept someone in spite of themselves, even though you don't know them very well."
Unseen to the group assembled, Robert Romano came down the steps and moved to the rear of the group, listening to the conversation.
John continued. "If he had cancer, you'd be all over yourselves to help him. Does everyone have to be perfect all the time, never a mean word, always a perfect diagnosis? Can't we cry once in a while? We used to be a family in the ER." He took a breath and turned to look at Kerry, then stepped back next to her.
"I can appreciate your friendship with him," Peter acquiesced. "But this sounds too serious to deal with. He's out of control."
"I told you, it's not a matter of control," John gritted his teeth.
Kerry put her hand on John's arm to quiet him, then stepped forward, trying to will away the emotion in her eyes. She pulled out a piece of paper from her coat pocket.
"I'll tell you exactly how serious it is, Peter. Abby needs to hear this so she understands what she saw -- all of you do. This was written by a doctor who was with Luka during a three month siege on the town of Vukovar -- but they might as well be his words."
The people in the hallway quieted.
Kerry cleared her throat. "We operated on patients without anesthesia, without blood or saline, without clean water. We had no place put the dead except out side in a courtyard, one on top of another. Food was scarce and we felt compelled to share what little we had with the patients who were civilians and soldiers. We treated the population of the city without regard for their heritage just as we had lived side by side for decades in our small town. And after a while, the people began to respect us for that. They helped to smuggle in supplies during small breaks in the artillery shelling."
Kerry looked up from the paper to see everyone listening carefully. She resumed.
"When the city fell on November eighteenth, we waited, expecting treatment under the international rules of the Red Cross and the Geneva Convention. Instead, our patients were taken away, mostly soldiers but some civilians, including another doctor's wife and two children who had been injured in an artillery shelling. Several months later, journalists found the bodies in a mass grave several miles away."
Kerry again looked up at the room, struggling to keep her voice calm.
"At gunpoint, the medical staff was put on busses and my group was sent to a concentration camp. We were beaten, used as slave labor, starved, and tortured until the UN negotiated our release nine months later."
Everyone was silent. John sagged against the wall, his face showing the devastation he saw in his own mind, understanding even more.
Kerry looked up from the paper. "I want to add that Luka is very insistent that -- the we not make easy generalizations about peoples and what happened in that region. He said it is very complicated."
Elizabeth nodded knowingly. "It is, terribly complicated." she offered.
Kerry continued, holding up the paper. "But this happened to him. And today, he had a PTSD flashback to these events," she restated the information. "His first, apparently, but without question, a devastating experience."
"Is he getting counseling?" Mark asked.
"Of course," John spoke up, his voice ragged. "That's how I found out."
"With PTSD, he shouldn't be a doctor," Benton spoke up, his voice firm and insistent. "Or at least an emergency physician."
John turned to him, incensed. "That's exactly why he doesn't want to tell people -- because that is everyone's first reaction. He doesn't believe that people can overcome the opinion that -- what happened to him is all that he is."
The assembled staff started talking among themselves.
Romano quickly read the predominant attitude of the people gathered in the hallway and stepped into the center of the group. He looked at them and they quieted quickly. "I don't think Luka needs to give up medicine. I think he needs our understanding and support."
"Dr. Romano," Benton began to object.
Robert whirled to face Benton. "Peter, you're an arrogant son-of-a-bitch. You're just like me, and unfortunately, neither of us will ever change."
"Kind of like two bulls locking horns," Chuny whispered to Haleh who just nodded.
Robert swept his arm around the room. "Who in this room has not had trouble balancing it from time to time? Who has never made a mistake? You ever been in a war, Dr. Benton?"
Benton shook his head.
Romano took a breath and settled a little, still commanding the attention of everyone. "I was a medic for the Gulf War. Seems it was nothing like what Luka saw, and I still have occasional nightmares."
Everyone was silent for a moment, thinking they might have heard a word of truth from the man. But the nurses again nodded knowingly.
Romano peered at the assembly. "He stays. Besides," he shrugged, "its no less than what you all are doing for Carter."
"How did he find out about Carter?" Mark whispered to Kerry who shook her head quickly.
Robert was not finished. "Oh, and Dr. Greene, I understand you're interested in the ER Chief position?"
Mark looked surprised.
"Dr. Weaver resigned this afternoon. The position is yours, effectively immediately."
"Dr. Romano, I'm not sure -- " Mark started in.
The rest of the room reacted, surprised with the news, but Kerry just smiled, watching it unfold.
"Do you want me to appoint some outsider?" Romano questioned, his voice rising again. "Or do you all want to take care of this among yourselves? I think you prefer the latter."
With that, Romano turned and stormed back towards the stairs, a smile on his face that no one else saw, his blue scrubs flapping behind him, the continued operation of his ER department assured.
Mark looked around the room, then put his hands together softly. "Well, folks, I guess we should get back to work."
Peter turned to see Cleo, who looked back at him with questions on her face. He walked towards her.
"He's a good doctor," she said as he got close, her hands on her hips.
He shook his head, trying to grapple with everything, still not entirely sure.
"Give it a chance, okay?" Cleo asked. "There but for the grace of God go you or I."
Peter opened his mouth to speak, the words hard to say. "I'll try," he finally got out.
Cleo smiled at him. "Come on," she said as she took his arm and headed towards the elevators.
Mark turned to Elizabeth. She took his arm and squeezed it. "This seems the right thing, all the way around," she offered.
He nodded grimly, then took courage from her smile.
Abby stood still as Malucci walked up to her and looked down. "You all right?" he asked.
She looked up at him and nodded tentatively. "I think so. It was pretty scary."
"I bet it was," he said sympathetically. "Come on, tell me about it."
She nodded and they walked off together.
Jing-Mei approached John who was leaning against the wall. "I really liked what you said," she offered.
John opened his eyes and thought for a moment. "Thank you," he responded quietly. "It's what I believe."
"I know," Jing-Mei answered. She smiled, then turned, and slowly walked away, as John watched after her.
The nurses in a group approached Kerry.
The overhead lights of Exam Four were turned off and two stand lamps were turned on. Luka slept, lying on his side with his long legs curled so he fit in the bed. He hugged a pillow between his arms, his right elbow supported and his right hand covering his eyes.
Kerry sat in a chair under one of the lamps, reading a medical magazine. John sprawled in another, dozing.
Suddenly, Luka thrashed a little in the bed with a nightmare, then jerked awake, his hand dropping from his face. He looked around with fear in his eyes, but just as quickly, realized where he was, relaxed back onto the pillow and covered his face once again with his hand.
Kerry rose and walked to the bed. John woke up with the noise as well and stood up.
"Kerry," Luka sleepily acknowledged her presence.
"Luka," Kerry said quietly. "I want you to know that Abby is fine. She says not to worry."
He nodded his head a little, but did not remove his hand. "Good."
"Do you always sleep like that?" Kerry asked, trying to be light-hearted.
Luka sighed. "It -- gives a person private time -- in a room with other people." His voice was monotone and slurred from the medication, his accent thick.
Kerry nodded stoically, and John looked a little stricken. She noted that he was in his own t-shirt.
"Do you want a hospital gown, or some scrubs?" she asked.
"Hate scrubs -- lived in them too long."
The silence hung in the room for a moment. Both Kerry and John were unsure what to say next.
Then Luka spoke. "Now I will go south -- as soon as possible."
John was confused by the reference but Kerry understood.
"Romano wants you to stay," she tried. "He found out, made a scene, and wants you to stay. Everyone wants you to stay."
"No." He did not look at them, but his left hand gripped the pillow tightly and his right one pressed against his forehead. Kerry could see his shoulders tense.
She tried again. "You've been wearing your blue plastic nametag all year. So, tonight the nurses thought it was time you had a lab coat embroidered with your name, like the rest of us. They've chipped in and ordered one for you."
Luka took a breath. "Tell them thank you, but no, I should go."
John stepped forward. "I know it's not the same, but I'm staying after all that happened to me. You gotta stay too."
Kerry reached out and touched Luka's arm. He reacted slightly at the touch, but then relaxed a little.
"Stay," she spoke softly. "You allowed your story to be told, so you must consider us family in some way. Don't run any more. Stay -- and be with your new family."
Luka pulled his hand away from his face and looked from one to the other, blinking slowly, the circles under his eyes perhaps more pronounced because of the dim light in the room. Then slowly, ever so slightly, he nodded.
Kerry smiled a little, her hand still on his arm, stroking it a little. "Now, go back to sleep, we'll be here in the morning."
Luka closed his eyes, but did not return his hand to his face. Kerry and John looked at each other and then stepped away from the bed.
"John, would you go get us some more coffee?" she whispered.
"Sure, be right back." John quietly left the room and Kerry sat down in her chair.
"Kerry?" Luka asked from the bed, his eyes still closed.
"Yes, Luka," she answered quickly.
"Thank you." His voice was small.
"Go to sleep," she struggled to keep her voice light. "And tomorrow, I'll tell you about my leg and my time in Africa."
Luka slightly nodded again and lay still. Kerry watched until she thought she saw the regular deep breathing of sleep, then she wiped the corner of her eyes, picked up her medical journal, and resumed reading.