This is for Seal Girl. She made me remember how much I enjoyed watching Ironside over 40 years ago. (Ugh, I've revealed I'm an old broad.) Trying to combine what seems common knowledge now to the story of Robert Ironside as revealed in 1967 shows how different treatment of spinal cord injuries are understood. Believe me, marrying these two things together was a bit of a stretch.
I also thank my beta reader, girlwithoutfear, for her work in making this story work and beg her forgiveness for the last minute changes she did not approve.
To all my usual readers, I am finishing my other stories and have some in the works that I will try to get out faster.
St. Mary's Hospital was a state-of-the-art trauma centre, the best that money could buy. So many things had changed in the world of medicine that very few patients that entered St. Mary's emergency department left unhealed. Still, there were patients that even the best medicine could not cure.
The nurse's aide quietly copied the information from the machinery surrounding the intensive care bed to the chart in her hand when the head nurse came in.
"Sister Agatha, there's been no change since Dr. Chapman extubated Mr. Ironside."
"Chief of Detectives Ironside," the heavily accented voice corrected her subordinate. "This man is, in many ways, the San Francisco Police Department."
"Was the police department, don't you mean?" Barbara Jones smiled as she handed the chart to the nun.
"I have to believe in miracles in this line work," Sister's voice was almost inaudible as she double checked the neat columns of numbers on the chart. "I want you to stay here until your shift change, Barbara, and I want to know immediately when the Chief wakes."
"Yes Sister," Barbara Jones said to the retreating back of her supervisor. Pulling the bedside chair closer to the patient, Barbara picked up the paperback novel she'd found in the staff room. Studying the garish cover she decided that fictional mayhem was not what she needed tonight. Instead she settled into the chair and imagined just what kind of a life a police chief might live. Her imagination had improved in the months since she arrived at St. Mary's, beaten half to death, brain injured and a total amnesiac. Creating a fantasy life of her own made creating one for Chief Ironside almost effortless.
"Well, Mr. Chief of Detectives Ironside, just what do you do besides point your finger and say 'solve that crime?'" Barbara laid her warm hand on the patient's forearm and gently massaged the cool skin. "I saw your picture in the Chronicle; they really expect you to die tonight. Won't they be surprised when you wake up? Field Marshall Agatha has decided you are going to be one of her success stories."
Ironside drew in a long, rasping breath. Barbara was immediately on her feet, fingers moving down from the man's arm to the pulse point in his wrist. Where was that pulse? Her fingers gently searched around the tendons at the bottom of the large, square hand until she found the steady beat of life in the man.
"Robert, you just scared ten years life from me."
"Sss," slow release of air caught Barbara by surprise. She leaned forward and wondered what was going on.
"Sssoorry," finally came out.
"Oh, nothing to be sorry about," she smiled, knowing that Ironside would not remember any of this when he finally regained full consciousness. "You relax and go back to sleep. It's two in the morning, time for all good little chiefs to be asleep." Dimples flashed on Barbara's face as a very small smile flitted across Ironside's face as he fell back into deep sleep.
Barbara slide back into the bedside chair and started talking to the patient. "I like big men; I think I always have. Someone who would fill my arms when I wrapped them around his chest seems like a very safe place to be. I do love leaning on a man's shoulder and looking into his eyes, but that just isn't going to work with you any more." Barbara rechecked the patient's chart. "Robert, that's a nice name. Well, Robert, before you leave here I will find a way for you to get hugs from all the women who will flock around you. I am betting you can figure out how to give a hug or two yourself."
She reached over and pushed the call button; now all she had to do was wait.
"Barbara, has our guest woken up?" The hard German accent that had become gentle and familiar told her when Sister Agatha entered the room.
"Mr. Ironside came close to reviving, Sister. He managed to say sorry as I talked to him; purely a reflex reaction."
"Yes, but a good reflex." Agatha reached over and took the man's pulse too. This was her reflex reaction. "I think I'll leave a message for the doctor on call to check in. You may go get a coffee; I will stay until you get back."
"Thank you, sister." Barbara appreciated a chance to caffeinate herself to help make it through the long night ahead.
"Please make sure mine is black," Sister Agatha added, the twinkle in her eyes telling Barbara that even nuns can have ulterior motives.
When she checked the duty roster the next night Barbara saw she was assigned to sit with Chief Ironside again. It felt like an award for good behaviour. Most of the machines were gone, only an I. V. and a nasal cannula were left to worry about. Flipping through Robert's chart told her that it was going to be another quiet night because there were enough narcotics in his system to keep him asleep and pain free.
"How's he really doing?"
Barbara jumped, startled by the unexpected intrusion of the man leaning by the door. "What are you doing here? Visiting hours ended at eight o'clock," She stopped and finally recognized the intruder, "Sergeant Ed Brown. Haven't you been here since yesterday?"
"The day before yesterday, actually; now, can you tell me how's the Chief is really doing?"
Barbara took pity on the man. "That is a question with a lot of answers. For now your Mr. Ironside is doing as well as can be expected.
Brown levered himself up to his full six foot one height and walked to the bed. His face revealed nothing, but his hand resting lightly on Ironside's shoulder told Barbara that there was a real friendship between the men. "What are some of the other answers?"
Barbara sighed, "Your Chief's health will be more… fragile now. He'll need help with many things that were easy before and will have to deal with frustration and depression. It will be the ones closest to him that will take the brunt of these things."
"Lady, anyone who ever worked with the Chief got the brunt of his frustrations already and I don't think he'd tolerate depression unless it helped solving crimes." Brown pulled away from the bed and stuffed his hands in his pockets and turned, "I've got to get going; I'm on the late shift too. Be careful if he wakes up on you, the Chief is like a bear with a bug up his… well; let's just say he's not a morning person."
"I'll remember that," Barbara smiled and waited for Brown to smile back. When he did, it was a fleeting smile that didn't reach his eyes and then Ed Brown was gone.
Slipping the chart back to the end of the bed, Barbara settled down to another quiet night. "You have some good friends, Robert. You're one of the lucky ones."
"Miss Jones," Sister Agatha's voice stopped Barbara as she entered the post surgical corridor for her next rotation, "would it be possible to have you stay with Mr. Ironside again?"
Getting out of the intensive care area was always a plus for her. "Of course, Sister; I'm beginning to feel like I have been assigned to him."
"In many ways, you are." Sister Agatha started walking, knowing Barbara would follow her. "I want someone who is steady and responsible there. This morning he has already started talking about getting back to work. I need someone who will make sure he stays still when he has to and knows how to deflect questions until Dr. Chapman decides to tell Mr. Ironside everything he must know."
Barbara reached for the nun's arm; stopping her supervisor before she dismissed her. "Sister, many of the nurse's aides could do just that."
Sister tilted her head. "They are too young, and he eats them up and spits them out and then demands I stay with him. Your patient is a forty six year old man and he does not tolerate fools lightly. I have already found out from personal experience he doesn't tolerate anyone who can't keep up with him intellectually. You, my dear, are calm and still able to put patients in their place. Tonight, you may be just what Ironside needs."
Barbara almost ran into Sister Agatha's back when the nun stopped. She turned and Barbara could see resignation in Agatha's face. "I want you to know that I think he suspects something is not being told to him. I've tried my best to get him to rest and heal, but he is insisting on leaving as soon as possible."
"But Sister, Mr. Ironside will need extensive rehabilitation."
"He can get that at a different facility. He's very lucky that he is healing as quickly as he has been. I fear what will happen when he learns he is a complete paraplegic."
It was time to start her shift; armed with a crossword puzzle book and a copy of Valley of the Dolls, Barbara entered Ironside's room for her night's work.
"Who the flaming hell are you?"
"Barbara Jones; and I already know who the flaming hell you are."
Ironside looked embarrassed but still managed to come back swinging. "Would it be possible to get a pillow? It's damn uncomfortable to be lying flat on my back day in and day out without a flaming pillow."
"No pillow, you've had back surgery and you stay the way we put you until it has healed sufficiently that a pillow will not cause further damage."
Ironside finally stopped ranting and took the time to inspect the woman who was going to be his keeper tonight. This was not another callow teenager with a job that was only supposed to last 'in between'.
"When will that be?"
"When Dr. Chapman says it's time and not a minute before." Barbara settled herself into the bed side chair and started working on her first crossword of the night. "Would you know a four letter work for fencing sword?"
Ironside harrumphed. "Epee. That word is in just about every crossword ever printed." He waited while his watcher quietly worked on her puzzle. "Give me another word." When Barbara didn't even raise her head he reluctantly added, "Please."
"A five letter word meaning not before or during." She looked almost smug as she smiled at Ironside.
Time passed and another rotation was finished. Barbara was wearing her street clothes, a dark brown skirt with a burnt copper coloured blouse. The last few weeks had been so different from the previous months here at St. Mary's Hospital and the only reason was the presence of Robert T. Ironside. It had to have been when they had started their verbal jousting; first with crossword puzzles and then politics when she realized she might be developing more than a nurse-patient interest in the gruff man. Finally she had broken through his crusty shell and found his marshmallow centre, a love of art and literature Barbara would never have imagined was there. Today she wanted to look her best because Robert was being released and she might never see him again.
Barbara pushed the door open after two sharp raps, "may I come in?"
She pushed through the door and saw Robert out of his bed for the first time; out of bed and in a wheelchair.
"You're not dressed yet." She walked over and picked up the narrow black tie that lay on his bed. "I would have thought you were ready to say good bye to this place permanently."
"Good bye to this place, yes; but I wasn't sure if I'd get a chance to say good bye to you." Ironside managed an awkward push in his chair toward Barbara. "Having your company so many nights almost made this place tolerable."
"That and the New York Times crossword puzzle," she smiled and sat down in the bedside chair. Being eye level to Robert made it easier to enjoy his company. "You are going to have to explain to me what an 'in between' job is?"
"That," the disgust dripped from his words, "is the type of job some girls take in between high school and marriage. Not you. You seem made for your job. You made my nights here a whole lot easier to get through."
"I'll take that as a compliment. I'm going to miss our crossword time together; it's nice to actually finish them every night."
Ironside looked cautiously at her, "Barbara, I want to show you how much you've meant to me these weeks. I would like to take you out to dinner once things have settled down."
"Robert, there's no need…"
"No," he caught her hand gently in his, "I need to take you out and show you, even in a small way, just how much you've done for me."
Keeping her hand in Robert's, Barbara rose and came round behind him. Her left hand joined her right and Barbara enfolded the Chief in a warm embrace. She laid her chin on the top of his head and relaxed as Robert brought her hand up to his lips and kissed her knuckles. "I take this as a yes."
"Yes; and when you call I'll be there with bells on. It makes finding me much easier."
"It'll be soon, I promise."