He parked on North Calvert and hustled through the sliding doors into Baltimore’s Union Memorial Hospital emergency room. He recognized the admissions nurse behind the window from the last time he’d been here. She wore the same dark blue lanyard with “Jesus Loves You” printed in white block letters with her ID badge attached. She typed at a computer. He started to speak. She held up a finger.
“Give me one second, babe.”
CNN played on a large-screen TV in the waiting area. A gray-haired man slumped in a chair, eyes closed, knuckles in his cheek. A grandmother wearing a black beret held a grandchild, who fiddled with her necklace. The woman looked over at Jason through large pink-framed glasses, as if wondering whether he could explain what was going on with their loved one somewhere in the emergency room. He wished he could.
Tall windows overlooked narrow North Calvert Street and offered a view of the few cars that drove by at two a.m.
“What can I do for you?” the nurse behind the sliding window asked.
“I got a call from someone here about Brian Foxx.”
She picked up the phone and pressed a button.
“And you are?” she said while waiting for someone to pick up on the other end.
“Jason Foxx. His brother.”
She asked whoever answered about the location of Brian Foxx, then hung up.
“Check in at the security station,” she said. “The officer will open the door for you. Your brother’s in room twelve. You been here before?” He looked over and recognized the thick-shouldered guard in a blue uniform and with long dreads who sat behind an open security station.
“I have,” Jason said. “Unfortunately.” He scolded himself for his tone of self-pity.
“Then you know the way.”
Brian lived in Jason’s basement. Less than three months ago Jason had come to this same ER because Brian was being treated for a compound fracture of the wrist from falling down a set of stairs at his “bud’s” house.
A young man holding a white towel to the side of his bloodied head came through the doors to Jason’s right.
“Over this way,” the woman behind the window said to him.
The guard gave Jason a stick-on badge, then opened the security doors leading to the emergency room. Jason walked down a short hallway that opened to a nurses’ and doctors’ station outside of rooms holding patients.
The familiar hive of doctors and nurses in maroon and green scrubs sat peering into computer monitors or stood talking with each other behind a barrier that separated them from visitors and patients.
Jason stood with arms folded at the counter. Soon enough a woman with her hair pulled back in a severe ponytail who was making entries in her computer asked him, without looking up, how she could help him.
“I got a call that my brother was brought in. He’s in room twelve.” He pointed. “I see that the door is closed, and—”
She swiveled her chair and rolled two feet toward a small woman wearing a white lab coat and green scrubs and attending a computer. They spoke in low voices that Jason couldn’t hear.
The woman with the severe ponytail told him that Dr. Pendharkar would be with him in a moment.
He leaned against the wall outside of room twelve, by chance the same room Brian had occupied last time, and watched the hospital activity: a man pushing an X-ray machine, a doctor coming out of a nearby room with a stethoscope around his neck, three nurses barging into a room where a woman was apparently having trouble breathing.
Dr. Pendharkar walked around the barrier wall with a clipboard. Had he seen her from behind in the hallway of the high school where he taught, he would have thought she was a freshman or maybe a visiting eighth grader. She approached with an outstretched hand. He leaned forward to lessen the height difference between them and looked into her eyes, so dark they seemed without irises.
“Did they tell you what happened with your brother?” she asked.
“Just that he’d been in an accident.”
She flipped up the top two sheets of paper on her clipboard, read for a few seconds, then paused. Jason leaned in closer, waiting for her to continue.
“That is true, he has been in an accident.” Her Indian accent soothed him. “He was brought into the ER a little after one a.m. He had a blood alcohol level of point two three.”
“From what we can gather he rode his bicycle into a parked pickup truck.”
“My God,” he said. His immediate concern braided around immediate anger. Another Brian screwup.
“So what’s his status? Why’s the door closed?”
“He suffered a concussion and we’re waiting to transport him for an MRI. Concussions have a mind of their own. We want to make sure that if there’s swelling of the brain, we can contain it with medication. Otherwise, we’ll have to operate to enlarge the cavity.”
“Can I see him?”
“I’ll open the door and you can look in, but I would rather you left him alone. You’ll be able to check on him tomorrow after we admit him.”
She opened the door and he stepped in. Monitors stood like solemn robotic sentries beeping in a variety of tones. Brian lay on his back in the cool room, his legs covered by a light blanket and his bandaged head turned to his left. He wore an oxygen mask, an intravenous line ran into the crook of his arm, and sensors were adhered to various parts of his chest. A clear plastic bag rested on a chair and appeared to Jason to hold Brian’s clothes and shoes.
People said that he and Brian looked alike. Jason never thought so. But staring at Brian from inside the doorway caused a sympathetic kinship in Jason that mingled with bone-deep weariness. He had taken care of Brian through his crash-and-burn employment history, his drinking, and his drug use.
As they turned to step out of the room, an aide arrived to take Brian for the MRI.
The doctor touched Jason’s forearm with a gentle hand and guided him to a place at the barrier counter.
“Until we see the results from the MRI, we won’t know next steps. Does someone in the family have medical power of attorney? We might need to make quick decisions while he is unable to speak for himself.”
“I’ll have to find out.”
But he knew. Their father had not only medical power of attorney, but full power of attorney over all of Brian’s affairs. Jason had argued with Brian about granting both to him.
Our father is doing time in a federal prison. Getting him involved when you fractured your wrist and the doctors discussed surgeries was a nightmare! But Brian wouldn’t budge.
“Please do,” she said. “These things can suddenly become necessary.”
“Will I be seeing you tomorrow when I visit?”
“No, he will have a neurologist assigned to him. You can call before you come over to find out when she’ll be making her rounds. Please see about the power of attorney business. Let’s hope it’s not necessary, but it could be.”
He thanked her, then watched as she maneuvered to a computer station and sat down.
He started toward the doors leading out of the emergency room and glanced at a wall clock. A few minutes past three o’clock. He wanted to be at school by six thirty so he could go over his lesson for his first-period observation. He hoped to sleep for a couple of hours, at least.
As he was about to push through the security doors, in came their sister Ellen wearing her husband’s navy blue hoodie and thick stocking cap against the chill spring night air.
She hugged him.
Jason pulled her to the side of the hallway so that people could pass.
“First of all, aren’t pregnant women supposed to be in bed at three in the morning? Why are you here?”
“I’m on his emergency call list. I texted you and called. Why didn’t you answer?”
He pulled his phone from his pocket. Nothing from Ellen.
“Same thing happened last time. You get inside the hospital and all these machines and thick walls. . . . But I would have told you to stay home.”
“Can I see him?”
“No, they took him to get an MRI, then they’ll admit him.”
“Should we be worried?”
“Let’s go.” They walked through the security door that led to the waiting room. “I’ll walk you to your car.”
She put her arm around his. She and he had bonded over the years while they dealt with Brian. For a while, Brian would live with her, then live with him, then live with her, until she finally put her foot down and said she needed to be a wife to Karel and mother to their future child. So Brian moved in permanently with Jason.
“Should we be worried? Let’s wait and see. We’ll find out more tomorrow if I can catch his doctor. I’ve got an observation tomorrow—today—and I’m here in the middle of the night dealing with Brian’s shit.”
She put her head to his shoulder.
“Where are you parked?”
“Down the block,” she said. “This way.”
She steered them toward her car. “So tomorrow—”
“I’d like to ring his fucking neck. What an irresponsible asshole.”
She held the inside of his elbow and cocked her head at him.
“You’re really pissed off.”
“I didn’t tell you, but we got into a fight a week ago.”
“A fight fight?”
“No, just a lot of yelling. I told him I wanted him out of my house. He doesn’t pay rent. Never cleans up. Fell asleep while making a grilled cheese sandwich, which filled the house with smoke. A neighbor heard the smoke alarms and banged on the door, which woke Brian, who was sleeping on the couch. He’d let Gata out and forgot to let her back in. She was outside for hours. I’m sick of cleaning up after him. That job at Amazon pays him well enough. He can afford his own place.”
“Did you guys kiss and make up?”
“We’ve managed to make friendly male grunting noises at each other.” He looked skyward. “Now I’ve got to bring Big Mike into the picture.”
“The doctor asked about medical power of attorney. Brian won’t grant it to me.”
“Yeah, I remember that was a problem when he broke his wrist.”
“They don’t know what procedures they’ll have to do with him. What if he’s under and they need to make some sort of medical decision? Call Rio Hazzard and get Mike to sign off on it?”
They stopped at her car parked on the street.
‘Well, we’ll just have to do what we can right now.”
“Of course we’ll do what we can right now,” he said. He put his hands to the roof on the passenger’s side of the car and looked down the block, absent of traffic and dully illuminated by streetlights. Far off a car alarm blared. “It’s got to change. I’m not spending my thirties looking after my brother like I’ve—we’ve—been doing for the past ten years.”
“We’ll see what the doctor says tomorrow.”
“Ellen, I need you to hear me. This can’t go on. You and me, we need to be on the same team.”
“It’s late. You’re pissed off and I need to go home. Let’s text in the morning.”
She drove away and he walked toward his car, accompanied by the echo of his footfalls in a street empty of people and traffic.
“That’s right, I am pissed off,” he said to no one and everyone.
He got home a little before four. He set his phone alarm for five thirty, then stretched out on the couch. He needed to shower, dress, and be in his classroom ten or fifteen minutes before his usual six forty-five arrival time to make sure that he’d photocopied enough graphic organizers, that his wiki was ready to go, and that his room was in perfect order. He would print out copies of his lesson plan for the observers after reading it over with fresh eyes to see if it needed minor tweaks.