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Broken Wings: A Novel

By Carla Stewart

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"This excerpt is printed by permission of FaithWords, a division of Hachette Book Group. All rights reserved." Publication date: June 3, 2011

[ c h a p t e r 1 ]

Mitzi

Present day, Tulsa, Oklahoma

She stumbled into my heart the same way she faltered through the
doors of the emergency room that November evening. Bloodied.
Bruised. And alone.

With only five minutes until my volunteer shift ended, I busied
myself by placing dog-eared Sports Illustrated, Good Housekeeping, and
People magazines in the wall rack next to the candy machine, then
I surveyed the waiting room of Tulsa County Hospital. An older
gentleman with sandpaper whiskers and a urine bag strapped to his
leg nodded and hacked into a gnarled fist. I returned the nod, then
smiled at a mother with an inconsolable infant. A UPS man, his face
as haggard as his rumpled uniform, asked if I knew where to get
a cup of coffee. Shaking, he told me his wife had miscarried . . . for
the third time. I brought him a Styrofoam cup of steaming Maxwell
House and wished I could do more.

Gathering a Snickers wrapper and a stray Pepsi bottle the housekeeping
girl had missed, I heard the ER doors clang open and turned
to see a young woman burst through. Strands of dark hair swirled
about her face, which bore a crazed look in one eye, the other covered
with a bloody towel. It was too early for drunks and barroom
scuffles, and car wreck victims usually arrived by ambulance.

A quick look over my shoulder told me that Helen, the intake
receptionist, had her hands full, so I bustled over to the distraught
woman.

“Here, let me help you.”

She jerked at my touch and shrank away. Red splotches like paint
splatters had ruined her tailored suit. Definitely not off the JCPenney
sales rack. A diamond on the hand clutching the towel caught
the light. Two carats at least.

My heart twisted. It wasn’t the blood that bothered me, but the
dazed expression she wore. Peering through the glass doors, I expected
a friend or a husband to come through with the explanation,
but only the neon emergency sign glowed outside.

An overhead page crackled, and under her breath, the woman
muttered, “He didn’t mean it. He didn’t . . .”

At least those were the words I thought I heard, and a chill settled
on me.

I coaxed her along, and she followed a step behind me until we
reached the half-moon desk that kept Helen, the receptionist, at
arm’s length from the rest of the world.

Helen told the couple in front of us that the wait would be at
least two hours. Maybe longer.

I elbowed past them. “Can we get this patient into a room? She’s
bleeding.”

“They’re all full, but I can take her information and get her on
the list for the admission clerk.”

“But . . . she’s injured. We don’t know how much blood she’s
lost.” Already, a small circle of crimson had pooled on the floor,
dripping steadily from the saturated towel. The young woman
chewed her bottom lip, her one visible eye begging.

Helen flipped her pen in the air, and gave me a blistering look.
“Will this day never end?” She sighed. “I’ll need some basic info so
I can alert triage.”

Grabbing a form and another pen, she asked the girl’s name.

Brooke Woodson.

Insurance card? No.

Address? Phone? Date of birth?

Each question took more effort, with the girl leaning against
the desk for support. “I’m sorry. I had an . . . accident . . . grabbed my
keys . . . please, I need help.” She dropped the towel from her face to
reveal a cut above her cheekbone, an angry red stream tracking toward
her mouth.

“It’s standard procedure, ma’am. You’ll have to call someone to
bring your insurance card. Your husband? A family member?”
Brooke hunched her shoulders and stepped back, shaking her
head. “No. No one to call.”

Helen tapped her pen and looked at me. Not in the eye, but at
my name tag. “Mitzi, kindly help the patient find a seat, and someone
will check on her soon. And by the way, it’s not your place to
interact with patients. You should get back to your assigned duties.”
My assigned duties as a Pink Lady. Only now we’re called “service
volunteers.” We run errands, make fresh coffee. And once a month,
on the third Tuesday, they let me operate the cash register in the gift
shop. Unlike Helen, I love my job, and let’s face it—there aren’t many
places an eighty-one-year-old woman can work. Being a Pink Lady
suited me more than being a Walmart greeter, that’s for sure.
I nabbed a green towel from a linen cart and helped Brooke
replace the saturated one, trying to be gentle and not gasp at the injury.
Then I led her to a plastic chair.

Accident, my left foot. A gash that size didn’t come from bumping
into a door.

Perched on the seat next to her, I waited and prayed, the woman
seemingly oblivious to my presence as she rocked gently forward and
back. Twenty minutes later, a nurse in olive scrubs and surgical shoe
covers called Brooke’s name.

Brooke winced as she struggled to her feet. After two tentative
steps, she turned back to me. “It was an accident.” Then she disappeared
into an exam room.

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