Interlude, a Prequel
Night. Cornfields. A licorice whip of an interstate highway snaking through soft rolling hills.
A sleek, mid-size sedan makes a jerky, rolling stop off an exit and turns towards the lights of the town. The car passes a bubbly, inviting, too-perfect sign that reads, “Emerald, Iowa: The Jewel of the Midwest.”
The car brakes and accelerates erratically until, around a curve just at the edge of town, the lights of a larger building – the Emerald Community Hospital – appear. The car speeds for the entrance.
The sleepy, small-town hospital stands a handful of stories tall. The lobby inside, visible through large picture windows, is calm. A few nurses, slim and fair, mill about.
There are no patients.
The sleek sedan speeds up to the door with a hasty, jerky halt.
Amal, a 30-something well-dressed Indian-American man in expensive dress shoes, jumps out and scurries to the passenger side door, pauses ever so slightly, then runs toward the entrance. The doors slide open and he hovers there. It’s a warm, late summer night and he’s worked up a sweat, visible on the back of a crisp dress shirt. He calls inside.
“Help! My wife is in labor!”
Startled nurses stand frozen. A young, wide-eyed nurse, a human Bambi, opens her mouth to say something, but stops when she sees that none of the others are moving.
Amal, meanwhile, runs back to help his wife, a hugely pregnant Priya, who is deep-breathing and holding her belly. When Amal’s gaze returns to the lobby, he’s taken aback.
No one’s moved an inch.
“HELLO?” he bellows. “Help! Goddammit!”
At that moment, a pleasant-looking man, Dr. Nicholas Nash enters from the double-doors at the back of the lobby. Nicholas is settling into older-manhood easily and looks like an affable, active, youthful grandpa…like someone who might not be old enough to be a grandpa. He wears a white coat and moves through the space comfortably, like he’s at home.
Dr. Nash looks around at the frozen nurses and then his eyes settle on Amal and Priya just outside the entrance. There is the slightest hesitation before…
“Lisa – wheelchair,” he begins, motioning to Nurse Bambi. “Terry, Ellen – prep delivery room one.”
Dr. Nash glides to Priya’s side, who clutches Amal’s arm. They gingerly place into a wheelchair that perky and obedient Lisa wheels over.
“I’m only 37 weeks!” Priya cries, despondent.
Lisa carefully pushes the chair as Dr. Nash stands in the double doors entrance to the hallway. Amal huddles close to his wife’s side. The other nurses steal glances as they pass.
“Fantastic!” Dr. Nash smiles. “That’s technically full-term. I delivered a little one just last month at 34 weeks. My own daughter came at a hair past 38…”
Lisa continues pushing Priya down the hallway, while Dr. Nash turns to Amal, stopping him from proceeding.
“Amal. Amal Reddy,” he says, distracted. “My wife is Priya.”
Dr. Nash shakes hands with Amal quickly. “I’m Dr. Nash. When did your wife’s contractions start, Mr. Reddy?”
Amal thinks a moment. “Maybe two hours ago? We though we could make it home to Iowa City. We were in Chicago for a conference.”
Dr. Nash nods and then motions to the check-in desk. “Why don’t you talk to Georgia over there. She has some paperwork for you. I’ll come get you when there’s some news.”
Amal glances in the direction of the check-in desk where Georgia, a looks-younger-than she is, pixie-haired woman sits, watching the exchange with wide eyes.
Amal moves towards her, throwing back a cursory, “Sure, sure. Thanks.”
An open anatomy textbook and highlighters lay in front of Georgia, but she continues staring like she’s watching TV. Amal stands impatiently in front of her.
Georgia looks over at Dr. Nash who gives a small nod. It’s only then that she begins gathering forms.
“So fill these out, front and back, and bring everything back to me,” she says, while gathering things on a clipboard. She hands it to Amal along with a pen. He turns to make his way toward the nearest chair. “I’ll need the pen back, too,” she calls after him.
Two hours later. Dr. Nash enters the lobby and motions to Amal. “Mr. Reddy. Follow me.”
Amal rushes over, jittery and fully of nerves. Dr. Nash turns to walk quickly down the hallway toward the delivery room, with an anxious Amal trotting beside him.
“Your wife is at eight centimeters,” Dr. Nash begins cautiously. “Everything looks good.”
Amal is distracted, searching the rooms as they pass for any sign of his wife. “Uh-huh. Ok. Ok.”
They reach the delivery room door and Dr. Nash pauses before entering. He’s lost a bit of his easy, affable nature from their arrival. He turns to Amal.
“Mr. Reddy, it’s very important that you stay in this delivery room with your wife at all times.”
Amal, eager to enter the room, tries to peek inside. “Of course.”
Dr. Nash positions himself so he’s eye to eye with Amal. “I don’t want you to leave to use the bathroom even. Not if I’m not in that delivery room with you, ok?”
Amal stares blankly at Dr. Nash for a moment.
“I can’t use the bathroom?”
Dr. Nash pauses. His voice is steady and quiet. “Your wife needs you, Mr. Reddy.”
There’s a moment of tension between the men before Amal nods in acceptance.