"Can we get this Godforsaken event over with so I can get back to presiding over civilization gone to hell in a handcart?" -- Jed Bartlet
DISCLAIMER: All these folks except Sarah belong to the Evil Genius A. Ron Sorkin and his corporate partners. Although Sarah bribed me to put her in this story, no other money changed hands here, and I only do this 'cuz I love TWW, so don't sue me, OK?
Somewhere in the far distance there was an irritating beeping sound...
Sarah woke up and rolled over to look at the clock. "You _wanted_ to do this, remember," she muttered to herself as she flailed at the call-room desk reaching for her pager. She pulled herself up to a sitting position and leaned on the desk to transfer to her wheelchair. Then she rolled over to the phone, checked the extension number on the pager screen, and called the Emergency Department.
"Chaplain on call," she said to the answering voice.
"That you Sarah?"
"Yeah, who's this?"
"Margie. We've got a... situation. There's been a shooting."
"Yeah well, so what else is new. Welcome to the District Knife & Gun Club." **A chaplain shouldn't be a cynic,** she thought.
Sarah could hear Margie smile. "You can take the nurse outta the ICU, but you can't take the ICU outta the nurse." She paused and Sarah could hear some papers rattling. "Seriously, we need you down here. Major mega VIP alert."
"OK. I'll be down as soon as I can dress for success." They both laughed as Sarah hung up. She leaned forward to don her jacket, pressed the Velcro tabs of her yarmulke down on her hair, and wheeled out of the on-call room.
When the elevator doors opened into the Emergency Department, chaos had descended. A much larger crowd than usual was milling around, and the newcomers didn't look like the usual denizens of a weeknight DC Emergency Department. They were much too well dressed. There were also many more DCPD than usual. Sarah saw an officer she knew from other late nights on call, and pulled on his sleeve. "Steven?"
The young blond police officer looked down at Sarah and smiled, briefly, then started to walk away. "Gotta go - "
"Wait!" She started to follow him. "What in the world is going on?"
"Haven't you heard?" her friend responded. "The President's been shot." He hurried away.
**Ribbono shel olam!** she thought, calling on the Master of the Universe. **Well, that explains the Twelve Tribes having descended on the ER.** She turned to head for the nurses' station, and was stopped by a young woman in a wrinkled dark suit. She inspected Sarah's hospital ID, stuck a yellow map pin in Sarah's lapel, and waved her on.
"Sarah! Over here!" Margie's voice carried across the waiting room, strangely empty for once.
"You weren't kidding about mega major VIPs," Sarah said as she skidded to a stop. "What can I do to help?"
A loud voice came from the corridor. "What do you mean I can't go in there? Do you know who I am?"
Margie looked down at Sarah and jerked her thumb in the direction of the voice. "THAT's what you can do to help. He works at the White House, so I can't give him the usual Margie treatment."
Sarah smiled, recalling the night a combative young shooting victim had called Margie an "ugly fat pig honky bitch"; her response was, "Who sez I'm fat??" Giving Margie's hand a quick squeeze, Sarah turned and rolled toward the source of the ruckus.
A fortyish, rumpled, balding, bearded man had one of the technicians backed into a corner. "I'm gonna find out what's going on in there, with your help or without it!" He spun on his heel and headed for the treatment room door.
Sarah blocked his way, hoping he wouldn't trample a woman in a wheelchair. "Can I help you?" she asked in her sweetest voice.
"Yeah, you can get out of my way." He was frowning so hard his eyebrows practically met over the bridge of his nose.
"I'm sorry, sir, you can't go in there."
"That's what HE tried to tell me, but I'm going anyway."
"You're concerned about the victim?" Sarah asked, trying to distract him.
"I'm concerned about my FRIEND," he responded. Then he sighed, deeply, and all the energy seemed to drain out of his face. He looked down at the floor, then over to Sarah again. She thought she saw tears beginning to well up in his eyes, but he turned away so fast she couldn't be sure.
"Would you like me to find out what's happening?" Sarah asked him. "You could wait in the family room over there." She pointed toward an anteroom, which had a burly young black police officer standing by the door. "Oh, maybe not. Let's find you somewhere to sit down."
He smiled; that is, one corner of his mouth twitched upward. "That's OK. I can wait in the... what did you call it? Family room?"
"But it seems to be off limits for the moment -"
"That's OK," he said, much calmer now. "The officer is with me." Turning back toward the anteroom, he stopped and pointed at Sarah. As he passed the policeman, he said "When she comes back this way, let her in."
"Yes sir," the officer replied.
Sarah wheeled over toward the family room. "Who was that?" she asked the guard.
"That's Mr. Ziegler from the White House."
"Oy," she whispered.
"You can say that again," the guard answered, smiling.
Sarah said a silent prayer of thanks for electric doors as she entered the treatment area. A flurry of frantic activity surrounded Trauma A; Trauma B was full of people, but most of them wore suits rather than scrubs, and the air wasn't nearly as anxious. As one of the suits stepped aside, Sarah saw the President on the gurney in Trauma B. She gasped, then laughed at herself. When she began to roll toward the Trauma rooms, one of the suits stepped out to block her passage.
"Sorry, you can't be in here."
She unclipped her hospital ID from her lapel and held it up for the suit to see. "Chaplain," she said simply.
"Oh - sorry. The agent outside gave you the wrong pin." He took the yellow map pin out of Sarah's lapel and replaced it with a green one; then he stepped out of the way.
**Well, I can see that President Bartlet's doing OK - at least he's talking - but what's up with this other guy?** She rolled slowly up toward Trauma A, as an X-ray technician wheeled his unwieldy apparatus out of the room. "What's up, Jenny?" she asked the technician.
"Train wreck," came the answer. "Two shots in the chest, could be a bullet in the mediastinum."
"Who's got the baseball hat?"
"Brewer's the chief on call, but Mac is on his way in from Arlington."
"Good cutters both," Sarah responded as the technician hurried away, parking her portable unit in the corner.
As she got closer, Sarah could see a forest of IV bags, pressure bags, and units of blood hanging from the poles in the ceiling like a multicolored forest. There was blood everywhere else, too; on the floor, on people's shoes, on the covers. The regular hissing of a ventilator came from the corner of the room. "Four more of O neg," someone shouted. One of the crowd came jogging out and headed for the small refrigerator at Sarah's left. "Positive belly tap," another voice called. Margie stuck her head in the door and called, "OR's ready!"
The entire entourage moved out of the way, as the gurney came speeding toward the back elevator. Sarah waited until they passed, then wheeled into the nearly-empty cubicle. A single technician was packing up all the paperwork which had accumulated in the room.
"They forgot the flow sheet," Sarah noted as she picked up and folded the large sheet of paper. Glancing down, she noticed that the victim had lost a lot of blood in the field, and had required a lot of intravenous fluid to keep his pressure up. The diagram showed two entrance wounds, one upper left chest and one lower right. She checked the name field: Lyman, Joshua, age 39.
Sarah surrendered the chart to the technician who headed for the elevator, and the Operating Room. Just then a group of suits and two figures in scrubs wheeled the President's gurney past the door to Trauma A. Bartlet glanced over his shoulder as they passed. His eyes flickered over the bloodstained floor and the laundry cart full of bloodstained linen. "Oh God," he muttered, softly.
Sarah rolled slowly toward the President's gurney. "Sir?" she asked. "Mr. Lyman is in surgery."
Bartlet's glance caught the cap on Sarah's head. "They called for a Rabbi?"
"No, sir," she answered, "not specifically. I'm the chaplain on call."
"Will you be here later?" the President asked.
"I'm here until noon tomorrow-" Sarah looked at her watch. "I mean, today, Sir."
"I'll have them call you when I get settled, Rabbi. I have a feeling we'll need God's help with this one."
"I'm at your service, Mr. President."
After Bartlet's entourage left the room, Sarah noticed her hands were shaking. She took a deep breath and headed back toward the family room. The guard waved her inside.
She rolled in to find a room full of people. Three of them started to speak at once; the questions were all the same. "Mr. Lyman is in surgery," Sarah answered.
"And..?" the one named Ziegler said.
"He's hurt very seriously."
"What the hell does THAT mean?"
"Under normal circumstances we only give out details to the family ..." Sarah began to wish the floor would open, or someone would burst through the door to rescue her.
A tall woman with a bandaged face leaned forward toward Sarah. "We spend ninety hours a week with him. We ARE his family."
Sarah heard a walkie-talkie outside, and the guard opened the family room door. "The President is in his suite," he said. "Mr. McGarry wants you all to come up there."
After she cleared the doorway, Sarah turned toward the lobby. "Oh no," a voice said behind her. "You're coming with us." Someone grabbed the handles and turned her chair toward the elevator. "At the moment, you're the only one who knows anything."
The largely-disheveled group pushed past the suits at the doorway to the Presidential suite. Sarah had never been in the VIP wing; it was so quiet, and people spoke in hushed tones. All except one.
"Who the hell is she?" someone bellowed as they entered.
"She's the chaplain," the woman with the bandage answered.
"Did we call for a chaplain?"
"She saw Josh, Leo," Ziegler said.
A shortish, squarely built 50-something man whirled to face Sarah. "And?" he asked.
"We were about to find out," the woman answered as she settled her long frame onto the sofa.
"They may fire me for this-" Sarah began.
"They won't," the woman interrupted.
"Mr. Lyman is in surgery. He has two bullet wounds, one in the upper left chest and one in the lower right. Both bullets are still in his body. He lost a lot of blood."
"Was he awake?" the one called Leo asked.
"I don't know," Sarah responded. "I couldn't see him, I'm not as tall as I used to be." She stopped suddenly. **Damn. My smart mouth is gonna get me in trouble again.**
Ziegler's mouth twisted again into what passed for a smile. "I see that."
"Mr. Lyman has the best thoracic surgeons in the hospital working on him. The surgical team is top-notch. If anyone can save him, they can."
The smile disappeared from Ziegler's face. "Isn't this where you say something about him being in God's hands?"
"Trust in God, a wise man once said, but tie your camel," Sarah answered. "We have the best camel wranglers in the District."
"A Rabbi who quotes Muhammad?"
Sarah looked up to see President Bartlet standing in the doorway to his room.
"Toby," he continued, "I don't think this is your average Rabbi."
"No sir," Ziegler answered. "I don't either."
The First Lady strode out of the President's room and into the sitting room of the Presidential Suite. She walked up to Sarah and introduced herself: "I'm Abbey Bartlet, Rabbi. Thank you for coming."
"I'm Sarah Cooper, Dr. Bartlet; and I'm not a Rabbi, just a chaplain."
Abbey smiled. "I see." She sat next to Sarah, on an overstuffed chair with pink flowered upholstery. "You said you didn't see Mr. Lyman directly?"
"No ma'am. I doubt if he was awake, though. He was intubated and would probably have bucked the vent if he were."
The First Lady furrowed her brow. "Anything else you heard that you can remember?"
"The belly tap was positive, faintly; lower right bullet may have dinged the liver. There was a question about where the other bullet wound up, but the films didn't come back before they took him up to OR."
Leo looked at Abbey. "Did you understand that?" Abbey nodded. "Maybe you should go see what's happening."
"I can do that," Sarah responded. "Dr. Bartlet probably wants to stay with the President..."
"With all due respect, Chaplain, I don't think you'd understand the situation as well as she would," Leo replied.
"I was an ICU nurse before-- in my former life," Sarah responded.
"It's OK, Leo," Abbey said. "Ms. Cooper will be able to tell us what we want to know."
"Please call me Sarah. I'll be back as soon as I know anything."
As she left the suite, the agent by the door stopped Sarah and added a purple map pin to the collection in her lapel.
Sarah made four or five trips from the Presidential Suite to the Operating Room and back that night. Lyman survived his surgery and was transferred to the surgical ICU just before dawn. One by one, the crowd of West Wing staff left the Presidential suite to go home, shower, and get clean clothes. By the change of shift at seven, only Abbey Bartlet, Leo McGarry, and Toby Ziegler were still in the sitting room. Coffee cups and candy wrappers were scattered around. Leo was muttering at the crossword in the morning New York Times. Abbey was snoring softly on the sofa. Toby got up and headed for the door.
"I'm going down to the ICU," he told the agent.
"May I come along?" Sarah asked.
"Sure," he shrugged. They took the elevator down in silence.
Just as the elevator doors opened, Sarah's pager sounded, and the overhead broadcast DR. MCENANY, SICU STAT. Several personnel hurried to Josh's bedside. Sarah stopped Toby from joining them, waiting with him just outside the glass partition. She could see the monitor from where she was; Josh's heart was racing and his blood pressure had fallen dangerously low. "Call the OR," someone called out; "we gotta go back." Sarah could hear the charge nurse on the phone. "Lyman's popped a bleeder," the nurse said; "we're bringing him back down."
Sarah saw Toby's fists clench at his sides. "I don't wanna be saying kaddish today," he said to Sarah.
"Neither do I," she responded, touching him softly on the arm. As the charge nurse walked by, Sarah said softly, "Page me when Lyman gets back, OK?"
The charge nurse shook her head yes.
Toby walked back toward the elevator in silence. Sarah followed at a respectful distance. As the doors opened, he turned to her and asked, "Where's the chapel?"
"I'll show you," she answered.
They sat quietly together in the chapel, Toby slumping in the chair, rubbing his face and chin. After several minutes, Sarah asked softly, "Would you rather be alone?"
"No," Toby said, looking away; "but I wish it weren't so... quiet."
"We could go back up to the Presidential Suite and wait there."
"Too many people. It's the noise I miss, not the noisemakers."
Sarah smiled. "Sometimes it's hard for me to cope with silence. There's nowhere to go to hide from my thoughts."
"Yeah." he responded. "And right now, mine are pretty ugly."
Toby made no response.
"If that were my friend up there," Sarah said, "I'd be for skinning the guy who shot him."
Ziegler's face was a steely mask. "That's too good for him."
"I hear you," Sarah answered.
Toby spun in his seat to face her. "Do you have ANY idea how much I HATE that phrase? Pure psychobabble crap!"
She made no response, searching his face and waiting; he turned away, sighing audibly. After a few seconds, his pager went off. He pulled a cell-phone out of his coat pocket and turned toward Sarah pointedly. Excusing herself quietly, she left.
Within moments, Sarah's pager also sounded, summoning her to the Presidential suite. Bartlet was returning to the White House, having convinced his physicians that he could recover as well there as elsewhere; having a physician wife clinched the agreement. Dr. Bartlet had cancelled all her engagements for two weeks, concerned for her husband's health beyond the superficial damage to his left hand sustained in the gunfire. The President, the First Lady, and the Chief of Staff all offered their thanks to Sarah, who got to meet the First Daughter in the bargain. Then the group disappeared into the elevator, leaving Sarah in the sitting room.
She was still there when a half-dozen housekeepers entered to give the suite a terminal cleaning. "You'd better get on downstairs, Chaplain," one of them said. "They've locked the elevators already. I'll call it for you with my key."
Exhausted after her night on call, Sarah went home and nestled herself into her huge recliner for a nap. The sound of a ringing phone woke her some hours later.
"Hi, Sarah. Sorry to bother you at home .."
It was Mickey, another of Sarah's friends from her ICU days. "'T's OK. What's up?"
"There's a hysterical woman here who wants to talk to you."
"Oh goody. How did _I_ get so lucky?"
"She works at the White House - somebody there told her to ask for you. When did you start hobnobbing with the Executive Branch?"
Sarah laughed. "I was on call last night when Bartlet got shot and got to hold some very influential hands... But don't worry, you can say you knew me when."
"Mickey, how's Josh Lyman doing? Some folks were keeping quite a vigil over him last night."
"It's still touch-and-go, but he made it through the night. Thank God for small favors. He's the one this blonde is hysterical about. Can you come?"
"OK, but let me try to talk to her first." Hold-muzak came briefly through the receiver, followed by the sound of sobs.
"Yes, I'm Sarah Cooper. I'm coming over as soon as I can, but I thought we might chat a bit now, since it'll be awhile. Who's this?"
"My name is Donna Moss, I'm Mr. Lyman's assistant. Nobody here will tell me anything except that he's-" (her voice turned into a sing-song) "_as well as can be expected_. I HATE that."
"I know what you mean, Donna. It must seem like people say that because they don't want to tell you the truth." She waited a moment to give Donna a chance to respond, but nothing came. "How much did your co-workers tell you?"
"That he got shot in the chest and he's hurt really bad and he might..." She started to sob again.
"Every hour he hangs in there makes that less likely," Sarah responded. "I'll be there within half an hour; will you be OK?"
"I guess so."
"OK, Donna. Can I talk to Mickey for a minute again?"
Mickey's voice came back on the line. "Well that worked well, my friend. She's gone from sobbing to whimpering."
"Some days you don't get up to bat. I'll be there ASAP." Sarah hung up the phone, torn between being flattered that the President's staff knew who she was and wishing they'd never heard of her.
END PT. 1