He had been wrong. Waiting in the office hadn't been the most agonizing time in his life. The ride to the hospital was quickly claiming that title. Despite that he knew Toby was now in the hands of people who could help him, this was harder for Sam because he was no longer with him. He couldn't see that his boss was still breathing and fighting to stay with them; couldn't try to offer comfort. If it was possible, he felt even more helpless now.
Josh was at his side, knuckles white from his tense grip on the wheel. He had spent the walk to the car trying to comfort Sam, but had apparently given up on that as his own emotions hit. He was now concentrating on keeping the ambulance in sight and the car in the correct lane as he broke just about every speed law of the district.
Sam was staring out the window looking deceptively calm. The only sign of his true emotions was the fist he had clenched in his lap, nails digging into the tender skin of his palm. He knew he should pick up the phone...call Leo and CJ, maybe Toby's ex-wife Andi...but he couldn't bring himself to move. He was trying not to think at all, instead focusing on the dull pain he was inflicting on his hand and the streetlights flying by outside.
It was weird. In their jobs, they dealt with crises every day. Some were minor and mundane; others were major and sometimes emotionally wracking. And they always handled them. But personal crises, things that affected him and the people he cared about, always hit Sam hard. His Dad's affair, for example. Finding out had torn him apart emotionally, and though it had nothing directly to do with the job or the rest of his personal life in DC, it had seeped in to everything. He had eventually coped-with some help from his friends.
But this...how could he even begin to cope with this? Toby was a huge part of his life. He never would have believed that could happen a few years ago when they had first started working together. Their relationship had been...well, strained. And that was on a good day. He knew Toby saw him as a green kid who had to be led through everything, and he has seen Toby as an overbearing jerk. Forced to work together, they had eventually found a way to get along and appreciate each other's talents. And, somewhere along the way, they had even become friends.
He felt sorry for the people who only saw Toby's gruff and condescending side. There was a lot more there. It just took time to get past his emotional walls.
Sam couldn't imagine things any different. Couldn't grasp the idea of Toby's role changing, and couldn't even begin to deal with the concept of Toby not being there at all. He had to be okay. He just had to.
Josh was surprised by the lack of activity in the ER. Granted, he had been a little preoccupied during his last trip through, but it still seemed slow. It turned out that it was being purposely emptied, what with the President and First Lady coming in, even if they were just visitors this time.
It all brought back memories he would just as soon forget. But he pushed them aside. He knew Sam had seemed so calm in the office because he had been keeping it together for Toby's sake. Now he needed to be strong for Sam, whatever the outcome and whatever he was feeling himself.
He wasn't all that surprised that President Bartlet would be joining them. The senior staff was a little family in and of themselves, however dysfunctional they might sometimes be. And the President treated them as an extension of his own family. He'd been at Josh's side in the recovery room. However irritated he managed to make the secret service, he would be there when one of them was in trouble.
The question now was exactly how much trouble Toby was in. He and Sam had followed the paramedics in as far as the hospital staff would allow. Now they were forced to wait.
Sam's silence was becoming unnerving. Josh knew his best friend pretty well, and he knew that Sam was upset and scared. He wished he'd talk about it, cry about it or even blow up at him-anything but internalize it. But that was Sam's way. He'd try to deal with it alone. Josh stopped pacing the waiting room to drop into the seat beside the younger man and stare at him openly in concern. Sam didn't react.
Josh didn't even want to think about what Toby's death could do to Sam. They were closer than most people saw, and certainly more than he ever would have predicted. He couldn't think of a better word to describe it than...brotherly. Not that they would ever admit that to anyone, least of all each other, but he could see it. They argued like brothers, but also had stuck together through some serious conflict and even stood up for each other occasionally. The great Toby Ziegler, who had originally resented being saddled with this kid, now had a tendency to be rather protective of him. And Sam reciprocated that tenfold. They cared about each other. Losing Toby would be a major blow to Sam, to all of them, one that Josh wasn't sure they would recover from.
He broke off his thoughts when the waiting room door opened to admit a couple of Secret Service agents who were soon followed by the President and First Lady. He stood. When Sam didn't even react, he nudged him, then reached down and gently grasped his arm, prepared to haul him to his feet. But he caught the President's eye as he shook his head. He let go of Sam's arm and settled his hand on his friend's shoulder.
"How is he doing?" the President asked quietly as he walked over to them.
That brought a reaction from Sam. He looked up and noticed who had joined them, then shot to his feet. Luckily, Josh had noticed the pale countenance he had worn since they left the office, and was prepared to grab him when his legs refused to hold him up. He held onto his friend while he gained his equilibrium and President Bartlet, now worried about more than one of his staffers, crossed to Sam's other side and also took a gentle hold of his arm.
"I'm sorry, sir," Sam said softly. Mrs. Bartlet had crossed the room to get some water, and she motioned for Josh to sit Sam down. He eased his friend back to his seat and kept a supportive arm around him as he and the President sat on either side of him.
"Don't apologize, Sam. It's all right." They all heard the double meaning in that statement as the President squeezed the young man's shoulder. Abby knelt in front of him and handed him the cup, steadying it when his hands shook. She studied him for a moment. Apparently satisfied that he would be okay, she looked to Josh. "Have they told you anything?"
"Not yet," he responded. She nodded, then stood. "I'll see what I can find out. Keep him sitting," she cautioned as she walked away. Sam drank his water obediently, and Josh thought he saw a bit of color coming back to his friend.
A few minutes later Josh reached for the now empty cup in Sam's hands and set it aside. Then he fixed his gaze on the door, absently rubbing the back of Sam's neck. The three of them waited in silence; each lost in their own thoughts of the Communications Director.
Sam kept wishing someone would wake him from this nightmare. Almost passing out in front of the President was tons of fun in and of itself, but the dizziness had also contributed to the surreal feeling he had been experiencing. The water combined with the President's grip on his shoulder and Josh's soothing hand on his neck helped him to reestablish his anchor to reality. If only reality weren't so harsh.
He heard Josh ask over his head where Ginger had gone. The President responded that she was calling the others and would join them soon.
When Abby came back into the room accompanied by a doctor, the three of them tensed. Sam started to stand, but thought better of that when he considered his last attempt. The President stood instead, but motioned for Josh to stay with Sam.
"This is Dr. Burke," she said quietly. "He'll tell you what's been going on and what's going to happen." She nodded to the tall, dark-haired man beside her. Sam tried to read her expression, but couldn't. He gave up and looked to the doctor.
Dr. Burke gave them what was probably supposed to be a comforting smile. All it did for Sam was make him more nervous. He nodded to the President, who Sam could tell was trying to hide impatience as he asked him to please tell them what was going on.
"Mr. Ziegler has had a mild heart attack." Sam felt his heart skip a beat and Josh's hand on his neck tighten almost painfully. Though he had suspected a heart attack, having it confirmed still hit hard. The doctor continued, "We're taking him up to Cardiology now. I'm going to perform a balloon angioplasty to reopen the artery and insert a stint..." he noticed that the three of them seemed a bit confused and looked to Mrs. Bartlet "...do you want me to explain the procedure, or would you prefer to?"
She responded that she would and thanked him before telling him to go and take good care of Toby. He turned back to the three men before he left, "You all can make whatever arrangement you need to and move upstairs to the waiting room. I'll be seeing you in a couple of hours." He gave them that smile again and headed back to his patient. Sam stared after him for a moment before looking to the First Lady.
She sat down across from them and President Bartlet resettled beside Sam. "I always thought 'mild heart attack' was a bit of an oxymoron," he said to his wife.
Sam shifted his neck slightly to loosen Josh's death grip on him. "But mild is good right? I mean, he's going to be okay, right?"
"The odds are in his favor," she responded. "This procedure is fairly common now, Dr. Burke has done dozens himself. They've located the blockage-that's what interrupted the blood flow to the heart and caused the attack. He will use a catheter to insert the balloon into that artery and inflate it to push the plaque that is blocking it against the artery walls; " she used her hands to demonstrate as she spoke. "Then when they remove the balloon, they will insert a stent in that place to hold the artery wall open. If all goes well, it should only take a couple of hours."
Sam processed the information. Though his brain was trying to form about a hundred different questions, he could only get one together coherently. And even though he knew he sounded like a scared little boy, he still asked, "Then he'll be okay, right?"
Abby gave him an encouraging smile and patted his knee as Josh replaced the hand on his neck, gentler this time. "He'll have to stay at least overnight and take it easy for a few weeks. He'll also have to adhere to a stricter diet and exercise program; but yes, Sam. Assuming the surgery goes well, he should recover completely."
There was a collective sigh of relief from the three men. She allowed them a few moments before regaining their attention. "There is going to be some talk of his stress levels. We'll need to help lessen them if we can and keep him calmer...but this is Toby we're talking about, and he does work at the White House. This recovery may be hard for him..." she trailed off and shook her head. "We can talk about that later. Let's move upstairs and get through the surgery first."
As they waited for the Secret Service to orchestrate their movement to the Cardiology waiting room, Ginger joined them and Mrs. Bartlet explained to her what was going on. Sam felt a certain amount of relief at the positive outlook, but he knew he wouldn't feel at ease until after the surgery when he actually got to see Toby and confirm it for himself. He followed the others upstairs and prepared himself for yet another, even longer wait.