Max had his office in the clinic’s trauma unit. He and Jim Dennison had discussed the results of the scan for a long time, before the nurse knocked on the door and put her head round it.
“Dr. Craig. Mr. Conway - Brad - is here. I’m afraid he’s rather - unhappy. His wife is trying to calm him down. I believe he’s in quite a lot of pain too. Are you ready for him?”
Max frowned, but he said softly, “Yes, thank you, nurse. Show them in.”
When she had closed the door again, he looked at the surgeon. “You’re sure this is the way to go? He’s going to blow a fuse! You told him you’d never operate again!”
“That was a long time ago,” Jim said sombrely. “We’ve made a lot of progress since then! There’s risk of course, there always is. We have no idea why he can stand and walk now. He says he has an understanding with God, and we can’t dispute that, however improbable it may seem. But if he believes that, there’s no reason why that understanding should not be - extended!”
“He told me this morning that he doesn’t believe God will give him another chance!” Max said. “Carrie tried to placate him, and that didn’t end well, I’m afraid. They argued, even in front of the family, which is very strange. Carrie was so angry that I’m even surprised that she came here with him!” He sighed. “He’s terrified that his miracle is going to be over.”
For a moment the surgeon was silent. Then he said, “I can’t operate without his consent. All I can tell him is that this surgery should end his pain.”
“Should - or will?”
“Should! There’s never any guarantee. You know that, my friend. Especially with his allergic reaction to just about every drug on the market!” He sighed. “These new spasms of pain he’s having, I’m sure are stress related. If we can persuade him to consent to surgery, it will have to be scheduled when his wife is fully recovered, and his sister’s babies are out of danger.”
Max gave a wry smile. ”You will have to be the one to do the persuading, old chap! Brad isn’t the easiest man to persuade! Even Carrie couldn’t convince him that….”
He stopped speaking abruptly at the tap on the door. The nurse held it open for Brad to push the wheelchair into the room, then withdrew, closing it firmly behind her.
Brad slumped down in one of the chairs, and he didn’t greet the surgeon. His face was as dark as thunder and his eyes were red, with fatigue, with pain and with a stubborn anger.
Carrie extended her hand to Jim Dennison, muttering a quick, “Good morning.” She glowered at her husband, saying indignantly, “I presume you know how rude you’re being?”
He glared back at her, but had the grace to mumble, “Sorry. ’Morning Jim,” but he sat stiffly, his eyes downcast, and he didn’t offer his hand.
Jim smiled, saying cheerfully, “Good morning. Nice to see you looking so well, Carrie. I hear from June Langley that your recovery so far has been astounding! That’s what we always love to hear!”
“Thank you. I’m still weak, but getting stronger every day!”
He looked at Brad. “I believe you’ve been having quite a lot of pain lately? And Max tells me you didn’t sleep well last night?”
When her husband remained silent, Carrie sighed. “He didn’t sleep at all. Tossed and turned the whole night!”
Brad shot her a look of wrath, but then lowered his eyes again, swallowed, but didn’t speak.
Max and the surgeon exchanged looks.
Jim reviewed the notes in front of him for a moment, then looked back at Brad, who was still staring at the floor. “Mind if I take a look?”
There was still silence as Brad got to his feet despondently, unfastening his shirt as he approached the examination table behind the curtain.
Carrie met her uncle’s eyes and shook her head slowly, clearly embarrassed by her husband’s attitude. He had been like this since she had questioned him about his restlessness in bed, his denial of the pain that she knew he had. For the first time ever in their three-year-old marriage, he had turned on his side away from her, refusing to be touched. Naturally, she had been hurt. She had tried to talk to him, but he had edged even further away from her, and she had heard his muffled cries into the pillow as the spasms grew more intense. Even when they had passed, he had refused to allow her to console him.
He had dragged himself to the bathroom, and when he came out. he stood by the balcony doors for more than half an hour, silently gazing out into the darkness. When she had tried once again to speak gently to him, he had almost screeched at her, “For God’s sake, Carrie, go to sleep. I’m ok!”
A few moments later he had climbed back into bed, full of apologies, and tried to take her into his arms, but by that time she would have none of it! The night had passed with neither of them getting any sleep. He had three more intense spasms of pain, but even though her own anger had waned somewhat, and she had tried to help him, he had still been sullen and hostile.
This morning he had helped her bathe and dress in complete silence. He had refused breakfast, and made Sarah cry by yelling at her for spilling her milk. Nanny had hurried the child away to the kitchens to wait for Lucien. So she, at least, had not witnessed the fury when Carrie, tired and irritable from lack of sleep and Brad’s antagonism, had finally blown her top.
She knew of course, that it was pure fear that was driving Brad to act so irrationally. He said nothing at all while the surgeon was examining him, merely answering any questions put to him with a grunt. And as he stepped down from the examination bed he staggered, and stumbled forward.
Max caught him by the arm to stop him from falling, and he sank back into his chair. Carrie reached out to take his hand, expecting him to jerk away, but he didn’t. He met her eyes for a moment, and she saw the apology there. She rewarded him with a small smile. He bit his lip, swallowed, and lowered his gaze, but his fingers gripped her hand suddenly, and she felt the trembling.
Jim finished washing his hands and sat behind Max’s desk, regarding Brad thoughtfully. “Your blood pressure is sky high, your sugar is almost non-existent and your heart rate is erratic!” he said bluntly. “Not good at all! BP and heart I suppose I can expect, but quite frankly, Brad, if we don’t get that blood sugar up, you will not be leaving this clinic unless it’s in a body bag!” He heard Carrie’s quick intake of breath, saw Max’s eyes widen, and he gave a little laugh. “Ok, maybe it’s not quite as bad as that, but it is serious! Have you eaten today?”
“I had coffee!”
“No, you didn’t!” Max repudiated. “You left it on the table when you shouted at Sarah. You told me you’d had biscuits before you came down?”
“Well, he lied,” Carrie said quietly, keeping his hand tightly clasped in hers, so he couldn’t pull away. “He was too angry to eat. No wonder his blood sugar is low. He’s had nothing to eat or drink.”
Brad cringed, keeping his head low. He hated them discussing him as if he wasn’t there, but he didn’t want to speak for himself either. All he really wanted was to get the hell out of there, go back home and hide in his study until this nightmare was over. Where was God now? What about the promises He had made? What about the promises that he had made to God? Promises he was sure he had broken a million times. Why should he expect the Lord to keep His word if he had failed so miserably?
He raised his chin a fraction, and muttered, “I’ll eat lunch.”
The surgeon smiled. “Good. I hope I’m invited?”
When Brad didn’t reply to that, Carrie sighed. “Of course, you are Jim. I’m sorry my husband is not in the mood to be very sociable today. You do realise why that is, don’t you?”
“I do. So, lets get to the crux of the matter.” He looked directly at Brad. “There is a small procedure I can perform. We have come a long way since I told you that I would not operate on you again. The surgery is relatively simple, a small fusion, and it could result in no more pain for you.”
Brad’s head came up, and he stared at the surgeon, but his glum expression did not change. His hand tightened on Carrie’s. He still did not speak, but he listened as Jim outlined the surgery. It certainly did not sound simple. It sounded almost as complicated as his last op had been, and it had taken him over a month to struggle out of the wheelchair then, even with Carrie’s help!
He looked at Carrie now, his beautiful wife. She was so brave, sitting in that wheelchair with her head encased in those bandages. It must hurt, he thought, yet she hardly ever complained. She didn’t deserve to be married to an ungrateful, bad-tempered wretch like he was right now! He was scared, he knew that. He was scared that he could end up as a cripple! He so hated that word! He needed to be the strong, dependable guy that people liked, not the wheelchair bound weakling he could become.
The concept hit him so suddenly that he blinked. Become? Oh, God! He didn’t need to become a weakling! He was already acting like a petrified, detestable, fool.
Why on earth did Carrie put up with his nonsense? He shuddered as he remembered her fiery anger that morning. She had berated him in front of the family and his guests! And he’d been viciously offensive in return! Yet she’d let him push her to the clinic for his appointment. She’d even tried to calm his fears! Darling Carrie! So sweet, so strong, so loving, so forgiving!
He looked down at her hand in his, and he took a deep, rather shaky breath. She turned her head and looked at him, a tiny smile on her lips, and he felt himself unwind. It was only when she raised her eyebrows that he realised that she was waiting for an answer to a question he hadn’t even heard.
He glanced at the two doctors, looked back into Carrie’s face. “What?”
Jim repeated his question. “So, what do you think? Do we go ahead?”
Brad closed his eyes a moment and his heart cried out, ‘Oh, God! Help me! Please forgive my unbelief!’
He bit his lip to stop it from trembling, swallowing hard. Another deep breath. He fixed his eyes on Carrie's face, saw her gentle smile. His heart gave a painful lurch, but he nodded as he heard himself say aloud, “God, help me! Yes, we go ahead!”
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