Chapter 9 - An Outsider Invading
This has got to be, hands down, the CRAZIEST first week at a job I've ever had. Not only is the place I just started working at half collapsed in on itself, but I'm also immobile on a makeshift cot in a white fabric tent that looks like one stiff breeze would take it away if it tried hard enough. Then to add more to my list, they think I've fractured my hip and have me attached to a pain killer drip that puts me just on the right side of happy. They keep trying to load me into an ambulance and whisk me off to the hospital but every time a paramedic comes for me, I wave him over to someone who needs more urgent attention than I do. There are people dying feet from me you see, and everyone needs to get their priorities straight.
So now I sit on my little cot off in the corner, forgotten by most everyone except my new friends Abby and Jimmy. These two are a semi-constant presence beside me and I think the arrangement is mutually beneficial. I seem to be giving them some sort of port in this storm and they are keeping me updated on the status of the search effort for Agents Gibbs and DiNozzo. I still can't believe the two men I gave such a hard time to today are missing or that one of them might be dead and the last thing he might have known in this world was my irritation at having to give out personnel files I hadn't gotten the ok to hand over from Carol just yet.
Carol. Another tragedy to add to today. The two of us were just starting to hit it off over the storm and now I have to decide if we were friends enough to attend her funeral when this is all over.
I know the bodies of the dead are lined up behind the canvas wall at my back. I can catch glimpses of their growing numbers when the flaps of the tent get blown about in the wind, but I can't bring myself to ask to be moved and pull someone away from another soul who needs more care than I. So I endure it and say a prayer each time a new gurney laden with a shrouded and still figure comes to rest behind the canvas. I feel like their guardian and I think that's why I steer every paramedic that comes to take me away off in another direction.
"Mona? Is everything alright over here?" My little raven haired Goth is back and I can't help the surge of fondness that coerces through me at the sight of her. I know if I were to have met this young woman on the street any other day I probably would have crossed over to the other side to avoid the tattooed, dark lipsticked, girl who wouldn't have spared me a second glance. And I know what that says about the kind of person I am, but live as long as I have and sometimes you fall into a certain way of thinking of people. But to think I would have missed out on meeting this intelligent thing who has been nicer to me than my own kids, is enough to make me reevaluate how I look at the world. She sits with me when she takes quick breaks from helping the rescue workers and fills me in on what's happening beyond my 4 canvas walls.
"I'm doing just fine, love. Any luck on finding your people?" I ask her when she plops down into the folding chair Jimmy found for us a little while ago.
"No," she grumbles irritably, "they're still trying to make everything safe enough for people to get in there to search for them. McGee says it should be soon, though."
I can recall Agent McGee. He was the young agent with the far off look in his eye that had to come and hear directly from me that I had seen and spoken with Agent Gibbs. It's quite clear to me that the two men I met today are important to the visitors of my little corner of the white tent and that the not knowing is tearing them all apart from the inside.
I reach out a hand and pat Abby's knee and she smiles back at me before handing me the bottle of water she decides she doesn't want anymore and heads back out into the late afternoon light. When she moves aside the flap at the tent's entrance and holds it open so that another poor soul can be carried in on a stretcher followed by Jimmy, I can see that the sky above us is almost perfectly clear. It's as if there never was a storm and if it weren't for the chaos and the moans of pain around me, I could almost imagine that this all hasn't happened. Abby catches my eye one more time before letting the tent flap fall and I wink at her but she doesn't smile and disappears from view.
I won't see her again for a long while. Not until after the sun sets, artificially generated light illuminates the white tent from the outside until it's almost glowing with it, and everyone who needs to be taken to the hospital has been and they're getting me ready to be moved. I can't put it off anymore, the pain in my hip is growing steadily worse, and although I know Jimmy enjoys having someone he can come over and talk to who will put a smile on his face and rejuvenate his spirits a little, it's time for me to say goodbye. I want to ask him to go find Abby so I can say goodbye to her to, but she's needed elsewhere and I have to settle for Jimmy's promise that this little friendship between the three of us is far from over and that they'll be sure to visit me in the hospital. And, he reminds me with a determined glint in his eye, at work after they rebuild NCIS and we all go back to our normal lives.
But I think back to Carol and wonder how normal anyone's life can go back to being after surviving a tornado when so many others did not.
"Good luck with everything, Mr. Palmer," I say, offering my hand which he doesn't take but pulls me into an awkward hug instead. "You be sure to bring Dr. Mallard by with you when you visit if he has the time. I can't wait to meet him."
I say this last bit into his shoulder because he holds on for just a second longer than I expect (but can certainly understand). This has been a tumultuous day for everyone and it's not over for him yet like it is for me.
"Bye Mona," he says, like I actually helped rather than hindered him in all this.
I look up as someone throws back the flap of the tent and fully expect it to be my paramedics coming to take me to the hospital, but it's not and I watch a stream of dust colored people rush in and Jimmy is gone from my side before I even have time to turn my head back toward him and ask what's going on.
I'm the only one left in the tent on a cot and every available doctor that has stayed on to work through the night is over to the two figures they bring in on backboards and put on the tables where everyone is triaged before given a cot if they need it. Some don't make it to cots and are taken outside again. I pray this isn't the case with these two new arrivals.
Both figures have tubes down their throats attached to ambu bags attached to dust covered firemen squeezing them at alternating intervals. One of the doctors on loan from the local hospital says something to Jimmy that has the young man jumping up onto one of the tables to straddle one of the patients and begin chest compressions. I don't know who these men are because I can't see their faces, but judging by the way the crowd mills around, I think I know in my gut who they are. A few seconds later I spot Abby and Agent McGee just inside the tent flap and they both flee to my little corner of the tent to watch the scene unfold out of the way of the doctors. I grab Abby's hand when she gets close enough and she squeezes it hard, but I don't mind.
One of the men, the one not getting CPR, chooses that moment to wake up and all hell breaks loose for a few minutes.
"Agent Gibbs?" Someone says and I watch the man on the table struggle against the breathing tube down his throat and the hands that descend down on him in an instant to keep him from bolting.
"Agent Gibbs you've got to calm down!" One of the doctors is shining a light in Gibbs' eyes, agitating him further even as he continues to plead with him to calm down. Someone manages to get him hooked up to a heart monitor and the tent is once again filled with the sounds of its beeps.
I look over to Agent McGee and Abby to see how they're holding up against what's unfolding before us just in time to watch McGee make a beeline for Gibbs' side, determination steeling his gait. The younger agent grabs his boss' hand and no one moves to stop him and everyone in the tent quiets for a second as if they're all listening.
"Gibbs, it's alright," I hear McGee plead. "You did it. We got him out and you're safe now but you've gotta calm down and let the doctors do their job." I see Gibbs still slightly, but not completely and McGee continues on.
"He's right here Gibbs." And I know he's talking about Agent DiNozzo.
"Right next to you. Now calm the hell down and maybe then these nice doctors can get that tube out of your throat." This is the thing that calms Gibbs completely and I wonder if it's the knowledge that Tony is right beside him that does it, or the hope that he'll get extubated by the doctors if he does what McGee says.
They're still working on Agent DiNozzo beside him, but I make my eyes stay on the doctor helping Gibbs and see when he nods after using a stethoscope to check on his breathing. They pull out the tube a few minutes later but immediately replace it with an oxygen mask over his face when he's done choking and start to move him off the table and onto a cot. But his hand shoots out to grab Agent DiNozzo's wrist beside him and I can tell in that moment there will be no moving him.
For the first time since all this started I feel like an outsider invading on a private moment I have no business witnessing and part of me wants to ask to be taken to my ambulance now to give Gibbs his time with his agent who's dying right beside him. And for one brief second, I have a crystal clear view of the absolute despair filling Gibbs' eyes as he turns his head to search for Tony and the gravity of the anguish in that look is so intense, it takes everything in me not to fall apart completely. Abby gasps beside me. I've never seen a look like it before, and if I'm lucky I never will again, and this time it's me who squeezes my new-found friend's hand tighter.
Everyone in the tent draws their focus back to Agent DiNozzo and the doctor that makes Jimmy stop chest compressions every few moments to check the heart monitor for signs of a rhythm and order more drugs pumped into the IV they've stuck him with. And when the line continues it's flatline and he can't find a pulse with his fingertips, he presses his stethoscope to Tony's chest just to make sure. It goes on like this for an age and everyone in the tent is leaning forward slightly and praying for a miracle.
Our miracle comes in the form of little erratic jumps on a normally flat line that has the doctor screaming...
"He's in V-FIB, charge to 300!"
...like something out of an episode of Gray's Anatomy.
Jimmy jumps off of the table, Abby lets out a hysterical little laugh she tries to hide with her hands, and Gibbs closes his eyes while McGee hangs his head as if in prayer.
I've never seen anyone get shocked with a defibrillator before so I keep on watching even though part of me wants to look away as they apply the paddles, the doctor warns everyone to clear away, and he delivers a charge to Agent DiNozzo chest that has his torso arching off the table a few inches. I realize everyone in the tent is holding their breath and no one lets theirs out again until the doctor practically laughs out a:
"Sinus rhythm. He's back."
And time starts moving forward again like it forgot what it was made for for a second and abandoned its forward motion to stop and see if Tony DiNozzo lived or died.
When Abby leaves my side I know my time here is over and that I'll be forgotten now, but I'm alright with that. She heads over to Agent McGee's side and the young man throws his arm around her and kisses the top of her head as they both grab hold of Gibbs' hand at the same time and watch the medical personnel stabilize their friend.
I let the paramedics take me away then, though the sight of the connected little group of NCIS friends will be forever etched into my mind.
It's a relief to know that not even mother nature can rip asunder what fate has brought together. And as I lose sight of them as I'm taken out of the little white tent and away from those saved and killed this day, I know in my heart that we'll all get those 'normal lives' back that Jimmy Palmer was talking to me about.