Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Walk With Me

Walk with Me
River North; New Edition edition (September 1, 2012)
by
Annie Wald


I dreamed a dream of love, and in my dream I saw a lonely traveler, Celeste, and another lonely traveler, Peter. Each was walking on the way to the King’s City, for they wanted to live life as it was meant to be, whole and holy in a world set right.

Celeste had just started on the journey, for she had grown up in Slouching City where no one ever talked about the King of Love or the rule of His realm. The inhabitants there were clever and cunning, and they were always inventing new machines to do the work of living. But in recent generations the once-magnificent city had begun to sink into a slow and dismal ruin. When it rained, the old drains overflowed with sewage and left a perpetual odor in the air. The outer ramparts were crumbling, and the fences were in dreadful condition. Still, people liked to boast about how wonderful it was to live in a place where they could do whatever they pleased.

As a child, Celeste had often walked among the broken ram- parts. If she pushed away the ivy and scraped off the moss, she found, chiseled into the stones, fragments of ancient songs that told of a King’s love for the torn world and His Son who came as the Servant to mend the tear. Like almost everyone else in Slouching City, Celeste’s parents thought the songs were nonsense. But Celeste’s grandfather still knew the old melodies. Every time he sang songs of the Servant’s selfless love and the restored wholeness He wanted to give, Celeste felt a deep ache in her soul.

After her grandfather died, she tried to hold on to the prom- ise of the beautiful songs. But her friends teased her when she mentioned the King or the hope of His city. So she grew up and learned the ways of the world: how to push to get ahead and how to grab all she could. Most of the time, she thought she was happy enough, but there were moments when she realized that deep down she felt very lonely. Although life in Slouching City was full of comfort and ease, there was no machine that could create love or keep it alive when it began to fade. As the years went by, she yearned to find a love that would never change or die.

Then one day she found the King’s guidebook her grandfather had left. She went back to the broken ramparts to read it. Captivated by the poems and history and visions and stories, she hummed along as she read, for she could hear the echo of her grandfather’s songs. Soon tears began to stream down her cheeks; to her grown- up heart the old songs sounded even more hopeful than before.

Every afternoon Celeste returned to the ramparts to study the guidebook and learn more about the King. Just as the songs had said, He loved every person in the world. He had sent His Son, the Servant, not to condemn men and women, but to bring them back home to His city where they would be part of His family for- ever. For He loved them enough to give them His life, first by dying for them and then by giving them His very Breath.

The more Celeste read the guidebook, the more she longed to experience the love of the King and to make her way to His city. But every time she thought about starting the journey, she gave up the idea. All of her outfits were stained and ripped from years of playing in the back lanes of Slouching City. She didn’t see how she would be allowed into the King’s City wearing such shabby clothes. The doorkeeper would think she was an imposter—not a daughter of the King—and turn her out.

But one day when she came to the ramparts, she found a spotless cloak of fine white linen. “This is My robe of righteousness to cover the stains of your guilt,” she heard the King say to her. “Come and take it, because I want you to be My beloved daughter.”

Celeste gazed at the bright, radiant robe which was perfect in every way. She could hardly believe that the King would let her wear it. Then she became very sad. “But I have no money to buy such a wonderful robe.”

“You cannot pay for it. It is a free gift,” the King said. “My Son purchased it for you.”

Celeste hesitated a moment, then she took the robe and put it on. The transformation was instantaneous: she had become a member of the King’s family. She beamed with delight. Now she could start her journey to His city. “Thank you, thank you,” she told the King.

“As you follow the trail I have blazed to My city, go with joy and remain always in My love. Your great adventure begins!”

Like a powerful wind pouring through her being, the Breath of the King filled Celeste—never had she felt so light and free. Then, on the other side of the ramparts, a path opened before her. Hurrying to it, she started on her way. As soon as she stepped out of Slouching City, a glorious country appeared before her, and it seemed that she was looking at the world for the very first time. The sky was bluer than she had ever seen, and there were so many birds singing, it sounded like a symphony. The air held a fra- grance whose sweet-smelling bouquet was deeper and fuller than any perfume made in Slouching City. She took one last look at its tumbled-down walls. Now in the bright sunlight, she could see what a small, dark place the city was. Then she turned. Grateful to leave it behind, she set her gaze on the far horizon, and headed to the King’s City.

That first day of Celeste’s journey the path was straight and flat, bordered with soft ferns. She swung her arms as she walked, singing the King’s songs out loud and smiling at the beauty she saw all around. She expected the journey would be smooth and easy the entire way. However the next day, the trail became studded with tree roots and stubby stones. The years she had spent pacing the dead-end alleys of Slouching City had left her legs weak. By early afternoon, she was exhausted. But she pressed on, working to strengthen her flabby muscles.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Still Life in Shadows

Still Life in Shadows
River North; New Edition edition (August 1, 2012)
by
Alice Wisler

Chapter 1

Kiki had to get out, get going , or she’d punch a hole in something. This two-bedroom house was as cramped as a coffin and nearly smelled like one, as the aroma of fried food saturated the walls. Mari had told her to stay close, dinner was almost ready. but who wanted to wait around inside as her sister stir-fried green peppers, onions, and potatoes—again?

In her room, Kiki laced her neon green tennis shoes as quickly as her fingers could maneuver the frayed strings. She grabbed Yoneko, her cotton tabbycat puppet, and scrambled to her feet. Too quickly. The blood all rushed from her head. She steadied herself against her closet door and waited for the sensation to pass. Slow down, slow down, for Pete’s sake. Then with tiny steps, she ventured into the hallway.

Her sister Maria lanky figure still wearing the tea shop’s frilly apron stood in front of the stove. With her back to Kiki, she turned vegetables over with a spatula and hummed some song—probably from the last century. Mari liked those old romantic songs by the Beatles and Bob Dylan because, as she put it, they had meaning for her heart.

Kiki held her breath; she was good at that. One, two, three. She’d held it for ninety-nine seconds once. No way could anyone, especially not that braggart, Angie Smithfield, compete with the record she’d set. Still holding and counting to herself, she made no sound as she slipped toward the screened back door. She opened it cautiously, making sure not to bang it against the frame.

Quiet as a mouse. If Mari knew what she was up to, the game was over. Mari would yell, then Kiki’d yell and do what Dr. Conner said she must not do—throw a clenched fist at her bedroom wall.

There, dimmed by the fading sun on the crooked driveway, stood her best friend—her maroon bicycle. She tossed Yoneko into the wire basket that wobbled by the handlebars, hopped on, and released the kickstand with a swift push. Just a little cruise before it was time to eat. Just down the street and around the corner. Exercise was good for her. hadn’t dr. Conner told her that?

She pedaled fast and then slow, pretending she was a cyclist on some reality TV show, going for the prize. With the evening breeze in her short-cropped black hair, she smiled. Riding was almost as beautiful as hearing the choir at church sing the benediction about God being close to us, like our very breath. When she rode, it didn’t matter that she was often a girl in the shadows watching others her age gather to talk about boys, leaving her out.

The dry mountain road curved around, and the climb was steep. but once she passed the Ridge Valley Apartments, the road sloped and she could coast down it with ease. To the left, right, suddenly she was in town pedaling past the hardware store, the tearoom, the Smithfield Funeral home, and then a right curve by Russell brothers Auto Repair Shop.

She’d watched these men, greasy with car fluids, jack up a Chevrolet or Ford in the two bays and use their tools to fix what they needed to. They had so many shiny tools. her fingers itched to touch them, to use them on her bike. One of these days, she’d ask them—ask the man who always wore a beige shirt and John deere ball cap—if she could borrow a tool or two. her bike’s front wheel was squeaky, especially after she cruised in the rain. but now a sign on the shop’s glass door read “Closed.” That meant everyone had gone home. She edged her bike to- ward the parking lot, a wide section to the left of the shop. Today it was barricaded by four bright orange cones, cones standing tall in a line where the lot met the leaf-blown sidewalk.

Past those cones was a spacious place to ride, without a parked car or truck in sight. She bet she could go fast. The space called to her; she could hear it. She would just ride around it, the autumn air in her face. She wouldn’t hurt anything—those cones probably just meant they didn’t want people parking there when they were closed. She heard music in her head—not one of Mari’s ancient songs, but one of her own that sang , Kiki is the champion, Kiki rides faster than the wind.

She pedaled quickly into the lot. Immediately her bike slowed, grew sluggish. She pedaled harder. What was wrong? She looked at the pavement. For Pete’s sake, it was soft and gooey, like the oatmeal Mari made for breakfast on chilly mornings before school. She pumped her legs hard; that always made her bike sail. But today it was only getting the front tire stuck. She tried again, but the bike teetered to the left. To regain balance, she dropped her feet from the pedals onto the ground. Like the tires, her shoes made fresh imprints into the pavement.

She saw all the faces that could get mad, grow red with frustration. “Yoneko,” she said to her puppet, “we gotta get out of here.” her tires were coated

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Heartbeat Away

A Heartbeat Away
David C. Cook (September 1, 2012)
by
Harry Kraus

Chapter 1

Between the gods and men. Are surgeons.

That’s the way Victoria “Tori” Anne Taylor, MD, always explained it to the sea of gaping medical-student faces as they prepared to begin their clinical rotations. She would pause for effect after the word men, turning one sentence into two and solidifying her own near-godlike status among the students who may have been book smart but didn’t know a normal S-2 heart sound from the bass rhythms throbbing through their iPod earbuds.

Tori looked around the busy anesthetia holding area and reviewed the operation, going over every step, imagining each movement as a choreographed symphony of dissection. She’d once heard that the best professional baseball hitters did the same thing as they stood on deck, just before entering the batter’s box. They saw the windup, the delivery, and the anticipated trajectory of the fastball, knee-high, just painting the inside corner of the plate. They saw their swing and the bat impacting the ball. Imagination led to success. Hitters who could see what would happen before it happened were the ones the fans adored.

And so it was with oncology surgeon Tori Taylor. Her operations were a thing of beauty, her even rows of sutures lining up like little soldiers on a Civil War battlefield. Predictably, home runs for Dr. Taylor were the norm. And behind her mask, she enjoyed the students’ worship.

But today was different.

Today the operation she imagined was not going to be performed by her; it was going to be performed on her. The mental review of her surgery was her way of coping, a vain attempt, a desperate grasping at something she was loath to give up: control.

Illness had changed everything. No longer was she wearing the stethoscope; it was being gently laid over her sternum. And the eyes that couldn’t hide concern were not hers but the eyes of her surgeon. The blade of the scalpel pointed toward her, not away. Up was down. In was out. Black was white, and control was a mirage, a wavering image floating above the minds of lost desert nomads or surgeons who thought they could predict outcomes because of their obsessive grip around everything manageable.

She’d lost control. And that terrified her.

The face of a nurse appeared over her. Tori had seen this par-ticular nurse a thousand times during her own tenure as a cancer surgeon, but, like all of the others, he was a background person, a nameless helper in orbit around her.

But today was different. She wanted—no, she needed to know the nurse’s name. She strained to lean forward, gripping the railings of the stretcher, and grunted. She attempted to focus on his name tag. Her voice was as weak as she felt, barely a whisper. “Jeff.”

“Don’t try to talk now, Dr. Taylor. They should be coming to get you soon. Dr. Parrish is closing on the case in front of you.”

That “case” has a name, she thought. Tori closed her eyes, annoyed but understanding. The nurse wasn’t allowed to mention a name.

“Don’t be afraid,” the nurse continued. “Dr. Parrish is the best.”

Do I look afraid? I’m not afraid!

Fear, Tori thought, was another needless emotion. She prided herself on operating on a higher plane than those mortals who struggled with the baggage of feelings. Emotions interfered with her ability to make tough decisions. When your enemy was cancer, being touchy-feely paralyzed your ability to cure. My enemy has no feelings. Cancer attacks without respect to beauty, form, or function. In order to win, a surgeon must match her foe.

She watched the staff scurry about, activities that Tori would have participated in just a few months ago without thinking. Hanging an IV, walking from bed to bed checking vital signs, pushing a stretcher. These were the mundane and unappreciated acts made possible by a functioning and efficient heart—something she no longer had.

As the staff cast furtive glances in her direction, Tori recognized contempt in some, pity in others. Their eyes sent the message: Oh, how the mighty have fallen. She may have stepped on them, reprimanding inefficiency, ineptitude—or worse, laziness—in this field where the stakes were health or illness, life or death. But now the tables were turned. She lay dying, her heart whimpering with each beat.

She heard low murmurings from beyond the curtain. The staff didn’t seem to know what to do. It’s neither professional nor personally satisfying to gloat over the dying.

Her heart had been ravaged by an evil lover of sorts, a virus that followed a cold-like illness, something Tori had pushed through, taking Tylenol and Sudafed until she just became so weak. At first, she’d just thought she had been pushing too hard, working late, performing too many operations in spite of the flu.

Later, she had awakened one night breathless and sat up gasping for air that suddenly seemed too thin to satisfy. She coughed frothy sputum into a Kleenex and stared down at her bare feet. Where did my ankles go? Extra fluid had taken up residence in her lungs and formerly shapely legs. Tori picked up her phone and dialed 911, explaining to the rescue squad that she was in acute heart failure. She demanded and received morphine, oxygen, and Lasix. Control.

Her heart-lover had a name: coxsackievirus B. It embraced the muscle layer of her heart with a savage jealousy, inflaming the muscle into submission and weakness. Regular medications improved things a little, chasing bully symptoms off the playground for a few hours, but then they would return and remind her to take the tablets that made life’s menial tasks possible.

But medicine could not provide a cure. Only surgery could do that. Only the transplantation of a new heart could cure.

Ironic, Tori thought, that a surgeon can only be cured with the knife. Finally, the woman who had not had so much as a childhood tonsillectomy would be submitted to the same controlled violence that she had inflicted on thousands of others.

Another face appeared above her, a female of about fifty-five with short, cropped gray hair and a no-nonsense demeanor. She turned to face a mobile computer monitor. “I’ll need you to verify your identification,” she said. She lifted Tori’s arm and studied her wristband.

“Victoria Anne Taylor,” she whispered, rolling her eyes. Protocol. “And what operation are you having today?”

“Heart transplant.”

The nurse entered the data, clicking boxes on the computer screen. A moment later, her face appeared again. This time she was holding a small electric hair trimmer. “I have to prepare the operative field.”

Tori shook her head. “I don’t have any hair on my chest.”

“Just routine,” the nurse responded, lifting and pushing Tori’s gown up under her chin.

The nurse studied Tori’s chest for a moment before lowering the gown again, but not before Tori’s eyes met those of a passing orderly who seemed to be enjoying a quick peek at Tori’s ample anatomy.

Tori shook her head. “You should have pulled the curtain.” “Dr. Taylor,” the nurse responded, “you’ve never cared much

about that before.” She offered a plastic smile. “It’s only business.” Tori winced. She must have slighted this nurse a time or two in

the past. Or maybe a hundred times or two. How petty. A taste of my own medicine.

The nurse studied Tori’s face. “You’ll need to be aware of the pain scale,” she said. “In recovery, the nurses will want you to rate your pain on a scale of one to ten. One is a slight annoyance. Ten is the worst agony you’ve ever felt.”

“I understand.”

“Who will be waiting for word from Dr. Parrish when the operation is over? Parents?”




Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Proof - Excerpt

Proof
Kregel Publications (June 1, 2012)
by
Jordyn Redwood

Chapter 1

August 28

The cemetery was closing in ten minutes, and Lilly Reeves was going to be late. She searched through her black tote bag for the third time and rifled through medical reference cards, hemostats, and lipstick tubes, frustrated that her means of escape had disappeared. An alarm toned at the bank of ECG monitors that sat at the nurse’s station and a quick glance assured her that no one was dying.

“Is everyone sure they haven’t seen my keys?” She secured coils of black hair behind her ear.

“Dr. Reeves, you need to keep your bag locked up. Someone may be trying to teach you a lesson,” her senior attending said. The man who’d hired her onto the ED staff at Sage Medical Center.

She eyed him evenly. His gray hair and washed blue eyes did little for his pale skin. Was the look on his face amusement or condemnation?

“Wouldn’t be you, would it, Dr. Anderson?”

The ER pager at her hip vibrated. Lilly pulled her lab coat aside and checked the message. “Trauma Code—one minute out.”

“You might as well take that.” He closed the chart he held in his hands.

“My shift is over. I have other plans.”

“Like what, Lilly? Family event?”

She let the comment drop. “If you’re understaffed tonight, I’ll stay.”

“My guess is you won’t be going anywhere for a while anyway. Maybe in the interim, your keys will turn up.”

Lilly blew the stray hair from her eyes and then left her bag under the desk before she made her way down the corridor. From the hall cart, she gathered her safety equipment and pushed through the swinging doors. Two nurses were on either side of the bed. Towering over all of them, Luther waited with one hand holding cords for the monitor. Regan, petite, with brown hair and eyes, hung IV fluids into the rapid infuser. Sonya, one of their newer nurses, stood near the head of the bed. The paperwork from the trauma folder slipped to the floor as she worked to organize it on the mayo stand.

“Someone get that? I don’t like to bend over unless I have to.” She stroked her pregnant midsection.

Lilly pulled her stethoscope from under her gown. “What do we know?”

“Not much.” Luther offered Sonya the stray chart sheets.

“Twenty-eight-year-old female involved in a high-speed MVA,” Regan said.

“Vital signs?”

Luther shook his head. “Their radio cut out. Don’t think they had time to try cell phones.”

“Fabulous.”

The EMS crew pushed through the doors.

The patient’s breath misted inside the oxygen mask, eyes closed, blond hair snaked and tangled around her pale face. Thick, clotted blood covered the left side of her head. As the medics transferred the patient to the bed, a rounded midsection on the thin woman caught Lilly’s gaze.

She frowned and pushed the blanket to the side.

“Hey, Mike . . . Raul. She’s pregnant?”

Mike yanked the oxygen tubing from the transport tank and connected it to the wall source. They tilted the backboard up so the patient rested on her left side.

First responders used the left-side position to prevent compression of the vena cava by a pregnant woman’s enlarged uterus, thereby improving blood flow to the growing baby.

“Two for the price of one.” Mike, the shorter of the two men, confirmed. “This is Torrence Campbell—”

“Torrence?” Sonya’s startled gasp paused Lilly’s movements.

“You know her?” Regan asked.

“She’s a friend. Our babies are due on the same day.” The color drained from Sonya’s cheeks. She fanned her face with the chart.

“Can you do this?” Lilly asked.

“I’ll be fine.”

“Twenty-eight-year-old restrained driver was T-boned by a truck moving at a high rate of speed,” the paramedic continued. “Her car then slid into a lamppost at the corner of the intersection. No air bags. Significant incursion of the vehicle into the passenger compartment.”

Lilly looked down at the woman on the table. What was going to happen to the little one inside? Experience had shown her there was no guarantee for either of them. Would she have to choose which one lived or died?

“Her head hit the side window—shattered the glass. Initially alert and oriented but now we can’t get her to wake up. Both femurs with obvious deformities. Splints in place. Heart rate 130. Respiratory rate 32. Blood pressure 90/50. Pelvis feels stable. She stated on scene she is 28 weeks pregnant. Was able to get fetal heart tones at 140. Two large-bore IVs in each AC with saline wide open.”

“Thanks, guys. You’re clear.” Lilly said to the EMS team. She helped Regan pull off the layers of linen, placed her palms lightly on the woman’s abdomen, and pressed inward at various stations, her practiced hands testing for firmness that might indicate a collection of blood. The muscle tensed under her fingers. A contraction?

“Sonya, I need a page out to OB for an imminent delivery.”

“Got it.”

“Luther, let’s get a couple of liters of Lactated Ringer’s running in. See if that helps her blood pressure and fast heart rate.” Lilly motioned to one of the ED techs. “Pull the bedside ultrasound in here. I don’t see it.”

“The cops are right behind us.” Raul tossed the dirty linens into the laundry bin. “They don’t think it was much of an accident.”

“What do you mean?” Luther connected the ECG cords to the patient’s chest. Lilly watched the tracing come up on the monitor.

“They’re saying someone was after her. That she was hit on purpose.” Mike followed his partner out the door.

Lilly catalogued the comments in the back of her mind. The patient’s clothes lay on the floor in a shredded heap. Trauma protocol dictated a systematic approach to assessment so nothing was missed. First, responsiveness.

She shook Torrence’s shoulder.

“Torrence, can you hear me?”

Not even a flicker of an eyelid. Lilly pulled a hemostat from her pocket and pushed the metal into the base of her patient’s fingernail.

Nothing.

“Sonya, she’s unresponsive.”

“I don’t have a good feeling about her, Lilly,” Luther whispered as he secured a blood pressure cuff around her flaccid arm.

“Regan, we’re going to need an airway.” She positioned her stethoscope in her ears. Techs began placing films for X-ray.

Next, breathing and circulation. Breath sounds quick and shallow. Heart tones distant. Pupils were unresponsive black discs as Lilly shone her penlight into the vacant stare.

One was larger than the other.

Reaching to the wall, she grabbed an otoscope.

Blood behind the left eardrum.

Lilly’s years of practiced training edged over the panic that enticed her heart into a faster rhythm. She began an injury checklist in her mind

Head injury probable. The blown pupil could indicate an epidural bleed. A torn artery near the brain could be devastating. That meant a CT scan and neurosurgery consult. The lower blood pressure and increased heart rate could be blood loss caused by the presumed femur fractures or other internal bleeding. Add an ortho doc to the list. Disruption of blood flow to the uterus was Lilly’s next concern as it could mean death for the baby. OB should be on the way.

“Where are ortho and neurosurgery? Is anyone getting their pages today?” Lilly asked.

“The system’s been a little twitchy,” Luther said. “I’ll call the desk and have the service specialist page it out again.”

A man unknown to her entered the room. Regan pulled a stand of airway equipment near the head of the bed. Lilly tested her patient’s jaw to see how easily she could get it open to place the tube.

Tight.

“Luther, I’m going to need a dose of Etomidate.”

“Got it.”

“Is she coherent?” the stranger asked.

Lilly glanced his way. His height topped hers by a couple of inches. Tousled brown hair and bloodshot blue eyes alluded to his lack of sleep.

“You are?” She guided him back toward the door as they shot the last X-ray.

“Detective Nathan Long.”

“You know you can’t be in here until we give you clearance.”

“I know, I’m sorry. I just need to ask her a few questions.”

“What’s your interest in my patient?”

The radiology tech tugged Lilly’s gown to get her attention. “We’ll have these in the computer soon.”

His voice drew her attention back. “We think she was intentionally hit by the man she was going to ID as her rapist. Can she talk?”

“She’s not responsive, and we’re getting ready to stick a tube in her throat. I doubt he’ll show up here.” Lilly turned back to the patient.

“He might be crazy enough.” Long stepped closer to the bed.

Lilly took two strides and faced him, putting her fisted hand in the center of his chest. “Since you were wondering, I’m her doctor, Lilly Reeves. Perhaps you didn’t hear me when I told you she’s not responsive. I need you to wait outside.”

“I have to try. She’s the only one so far who’s come close to identifying this man.”

“Meaning there are multiple victims?”

Detective Long was silent.

“The police department is keeping quiet about a serial rapist?” She pushed her nose within an inch of his face. “You need to release that information to protect other women.” He stood his ground.

“I’ll keep someone outside this door.” He turned and left. Lilly watched as he spoke with a uniformed officer.

“Her pressure’s dropped into the 70s,” Regan said.

It was much too low for mom and baby.

“Have the two liters of LR run in?” Lilly asked.

“All the way,” Luther noted.

“Let’s get some blood running.”

Lilly unlocked the bed and pulled it away from the wall until she could step behind it to access the patient’s airway. “Luther, we’re going to roll her supine.”

They eased the backboard down.

“Ready for the Etomidate?” he asked as he pulled the metal stand with airway equipment within her reach.

Lilly looked over the tray to ensure each piece of equipment was ready. “Give it now.”

Luther injected the medication. A respiratory therapist pulled the oxygen mask off and began to assist the patient’s breathing.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Her Good Name - Excerpt

Her Good Name
River North; New Edition edition (July 24, 2012)
by
Ruth Axtell


Chapter 1

***Coming Soon***