Dr. Degas was still on the line with Celine when her van came screeching up in front of the medical center. Her own heart pounding now, Dr. Degas grabbed a wheelchair and met them at the door, trying to shove aside the dread that was flooding into her stomach.
Maybe the symptoms were wrong. Maybe it was just a chest cold like Roman apparently kept arguing.
She met Celine on the front walk as she was easing Roman out of the passenger seat. He looked awful, his face pale and clammy as Celine held up most of his weight.
“Here,” Dr. Degas said, taking hold of Roman and easing him into the chair.
“Hey, Doc,” he said with a sickly smile on his face. “I’m thinking it may not be a bug after all.”
“No,” she said, trying to keep her voice calm and warm. “No, I don’t think it is.”
He winced, hunching over in the wheelchair as she turned and began rolling him into the building, Celine right behind them. None of them spoke as she passed by the front desk and went straight into an examination room.
He needed an emergency room. Roman was having a heart attack, and she did not have the resources to save him. This was exactly the reason she’d been after the town council for resources for a decade now. The worst-case scenario had arrived and now Roman had to suffer for it.
Dr. Degas rolled the wheelchair up to the exam table in the corner of the room and gently helped him onto it. Every movement made him wince with pain, no matter how carefully they worked.
“You’re okay,” she said softly, lowering him down so he was resting on his back, the bed propped up enough that she could see him meet Celine’s eyes from where she was standing by the door.
She put the earpieces of her stethoscope into her ears, then slid the chest piece under his shirt to listen to his heart. It only took a few seconds of listening to confirm that they were right. Obviously he’d need to be diagnosed, but he was having a heart attack.
Dr. Degas stood up and pulled the earpieces down. Roman was looking at her, eyes hazy and pained as the smile he tried to give her turned into a grimace. This wasn’t going to be enough. He needed an emergency room, or he was going to die.
And both Roman and Celine knew that.
Her nurse, Bonnie, took over with Roman to give him aspirin and hook him up to the EKG machine. As she did so, Celine pulled Dr. Degas into the hall.
“This isn’t enough,” Celine said in a hushed, terrified voice. “He’s having a heart attack, isn’t he?”
“We don’t know for sure yet,” Dr. Degas said, her stomach sinking again. “But yeah, I’m almost positive that’s what this is.”
“What do we do?”
Dr. Degas opened her mouth to answer, but realized with horror that she didn’t have a confident answer to give this woman as her husband slowly died in the exam room.
“It’s a long shot,” she said softly, “But I called an ambulance as soon as you called me and they’ll be here in a few minutes. We could try to get him over the line. If we can get him to a hospital, I think he’ll be okay. But I can’t do it here.”
Celine held a hand up to her stomach like she was about to be sick, but she nodded. “Let’s talk to him.”
She walked back into the exam room before Dr. Degas turned around. Dr. Degas took a breath, tried to steady herself, and walked back in.
“Listen, Roman-” she started.
“I know,” he said, voice shaky. “It’s a heart attack.”
She nodded. “We need to get you to an emergency room.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Doc…”
“There’s an ambulance on the way. Do you want to give it a try?”
Celine kept wiping her eyes, trying to hide her tears from Roman, who looked scared, but thoughtful. “Is there anything we can do here?” he asked.
“No,” Dr. Degas admitted. “You’re young and you are capable of surviving this. But not with the supplies I have.”
Roman closed his eyes and for a terrifying second, Dr. Degas thought he had passed out. But then he opened them again. “Worth a try,” he said finally.
There was a knock at the exam room door and Dr. Degas opened it. Her receptionist was standing there with the paramedics. “We’re ready when you are,” the first paramedic, a young man with dark skin and serious eyes, said.
They rolled a stretcher into the room, barely fitting it into the space. Then the two paramedics helped Roman carefully move onto it, laying him down and strapping him safely into place.
“We’re going to ride with him,” Dr. Degas said.
The other paramedic, a pale young woman, looked like she was about to protest, but the first man put a hand on her forearm. “We have room,” he said. “One of you will be up front with her, one of you can stay in back.”
Roman took a sharp breath and Dr. Degas could tell he was fighting to stay conscious. “It’s okay,” Dr. Degas said to him, putting her hand on his. “We’re leaving now. If all goes well, they’ll be able to get you in right away and take care of you.”
She expected him to ask what happened if it didn’t go well, but he didn’t need to. None of them did.
Celine took his other hand, and he squeezed it, giving her a shaky smile. “Celine,” he said, “I love you.”
“I love you,” Celine whispered.
The paramedics started wheeling him out of the office as Celine and Dr. Degas hurried to keep up.
“Celine,” Roman said suddenly, eyes wide. “Celine, what if I fall asleep and I don’t wake up?”
The tears spilled over Celine’s eyes at his words. “You will,” she said around them.
“I love you. Tell the kids I love them so, so much. Tell-”
“You can tell them when you get home,” she said, reaching out to brush the top of his head, the only part she could reach as they moved, with her fingers.
Her eyes met Dr. Degas’s for a second as they all went around the reception desk and toward the front door. She looked terrified and Dr. Degas wished she had anything else to offer.
It was freezing outside and she realized she’d forgotten everything back in the office. And she had at least three other patients to see today. But as they got into the ambulance, all she could think was that this wasn’t going to work.
The medical center was about a five-minute drive from the town line. Now that they were on Plan A, Dr. Degas was frantically trying to think of a Plan B that wasn’t just keeping Roman comfortable until he died. Maybe the paramedics could save him with something she didn’t have in her office. If he needed surgery, maybe they could get a heart surgeon to come into town and do it. She could keep him alive long enough to get the surgeon there, right? And yeah, the clinic wasn’t the ideal surgical center, but…
No, that wouldn’t work. But she couldn’t think of anything else that could possibly save him.
She sat in the front seat, face pressed into her steepled hands as though that could help her think of something she was missing, the final puzzle piece that would stop all of this from happening. Meanwhile, in the back, she could hear Roman’s shallow breathing as the paramedic worked on him and she knew he was unconscious. Maybe she could fashion some kind of…no, she couldn’t MacGuyver her way out of a medical emergency.
There was no miracle to be had here. He was going to die.
The town line should be coming up soon. She’d been so desperate to think of a Plan B that she hadn’t been looking out the window. They’d turned onto Route 122, so it would only be another minute at the most. Dread churned in her stomach and she clung to the sound of his breathing, knowing it was going to stop soon.
Dr. Degas looked out the window at the passing trees for the town sign, but something wasn’t right. The trees looked wrong. She’d lived in New Winslow for decades, she knew what the forest looked like along the route out of town, but these trees weren’t in that same configuration she’d always seen. And the reason why the trees looked so wrong hit her just as Celine’s hand landed on her shoulder. Dr. Degas jumped and turned around in her seat to see Celine’s tear-streaked face inches from her own.
“We passed it,” Celine said. “We’re out.”