Hour one: Frenzy.
Gage watched the doctors work slavishly on his wife, digging into her, pulling the newborn free. The baby didn't cry. Gage knew that was bad. The doctors now had the infant clear of its mother, and worked to save both with separate strategies. Large paddles were placed on Lauren's bare chest. Dignity is the first casualty in the emergency room. Where he saw the slope of Lauren's breasts, the places where she liked to be touched, the doctors only saw vital organs beneath. They saw heart and lungs; machines that were now failing. Other machines were brought in to jump-start her.
They'd wanted a child so much, for so long. Now, facing the loss of both, Gage didn't want the baby. He wanted Lauren back. He wanted the one he knew and loved. He despised himself for wanting this. He hated how, until this moment, he'd wanted it all. Greed for love had been his undoing, he was sure of it. Gage had offended the gods, and they were now raging above him in the form of a hurricane.
Hour two: Silence.
Doctor Collier called time of death. They shut down the machines and covered Lauren's body. Gage sat in the waiting room and listened to the roar of the storm outside the hospital walls. He remembered the hospital was named after a saint.
A nurse tried to comfort Gage by letting him know his baby girl was struggling but alive. "She's a fighter," the nurse said. Gage stared at the right sleeve of her scrubs. It was spotted with Lauren's blood.
Hour three: Thread.
Gage found the room where his baby clung to life. Everything about her seemed miniature and alien. She lay encased in a device with a glass top. Tubes and wires fed into the device. A nurse introduced him to the machine that kept his child alive. "This is ECMO. It's a little noisy but it does the job." One accordion-like instrument hissed rhythmically.
As the lights flickered, Gage asked the question. The nurse's answer: "We have a generator." And if that failed? If they ran out of fuel?
The nurse pointed to a hand crank at the base of the ECMO. "One revolution every two seconds." Doctor Collier made a visit on the half hour, to check on them. Gage asked how long his baby needed life support. Collier made some noncommittal noises and guessed, "Maybe 48 hours." Then, as if it were fashionable, he added, "she's a fighter."
Hour four: Name.
And her name was Lauren. The nurse handed Gage the pen and the birth certificate, and offered her own suggestions. Katrina was a popular one at the moment, in honor of the furious storm overhead. No, Gage had a theory. Lightning didn't strike the same place twice. God wouldn't take two souls named Lauren. She was his new love, this tiny human under glass. She was supposed to survive, to justify her mother's death.
Hour five: Tantrum.
Katrina shook the foundation. She broke windows, and howled through doors. She crashed against the walls with anything she could lift outside. And she took away. Phone lines, power lines, cellular towers.
The generator kicked in, but only half the lights worked now. Gage listened to the ECMO hiss and thump quietly. His new Lauren said nothing. As if it was all she could do just to learn how to breathe.
The next three hours were the same. Then, at hour nine, Katrina moved on. The war outside faded. A few nurses down the hall cheered and clapped. Soon help would arrive, and everyone would be relocated.
Hour ten: Cave.
Gage woke, terrified he had dozed off in his chair. Shouting voices accompanied a great sound like white noise. Murky water pressed into the room and wrapped around Gage's shoes. The nurse with his wife's blood still on her scrubs hurried past, announcing, "The levy's broke. Barricade the doors." Gage stood, ready to follow, when a loud snap echoed from the bowels of the building, and the generator shut off.
Gage turned around, splashed through the four inches of water, and bent for the ECMO's hand crank. It was difficult to find in the dark, and he gouged the back of his hand on an exposed fitting before gripping the rubber handle. With some effort, he began to turn the crank. It complained, but the device continued hissing and thumping.
Gage crouched in the dark, spun the crank clockwise, and shouted for help.
At forty minutes past the hour, someone waded past his door. Although Gage's eyes had partially adjusted to the dark, he couldn't tell if the man was a patient, nurse, doctor, or someone like Gage. Gage's voice cracked as he called out. Where are the doctors? When will the generator be fixed? What's happening outside this room? The figure said simply: "Everyone's leaving." Gage pleaded with the man. He could not leave. Please. The figure quickly promised: "I'll get help," and waded into the dark.
Hour eleven: Loop.
Gage relived it over and over. He spun the crank like an oarsman, maintaining a metronome. He kept the machine alive that kept his baby alive. He cranked until his wrist went numb and spear-points of pain stabbed into his elbow, then he switched arms to continue. The water stank, to the point he retched. He shouted, then he lost his voice. Later, he kicked at furniture every few minutes to create a loud noise. It reverberated through the halls.
He prayed to God. Then he cursed God. Then he begged for forgiveness. He thought of Abraham. He changed his prayer to one of self-sacrifice. Finally, he came to a conclusion that no one was listening to his noises or his prayers. There was no God. There was only the hiss and thump of ECMO, and the little click-murmur of the crank.
He kept to his task.
Hour thirty-two: Dream.
In that dream, little Lauren spoke to him. Let go, Gage. Walk away. Go outside and wave down a rescue boat, or a helicopter. Get a big bottle of water and drink it down. Find a warm shower and wash away this life. Step out as someone new. No one would blame you. Everyone will understand. You're already a hero, Gage. It's okay, just let go.
Fuck you, Gage told her. I'm not leaving.
Gage could no longer feel his body. He recognized his arm was still moving as it had been taught, but it did so on its own. He was now untethered from himself. Despite all efforts, he could not reattach. His own internal generator had failed.
Slowly, his torso began to drift. He was leaning away from the device now, watching as if he were just a camera mounted on someone else's shoulder. His grip slid off the handle, and Gage fell to the floor, and water entered his ear and his mouth, and he rolled on his back. Nearby, the ECMO exhaled one long hiss.
Gage now stared at the ceiling, as the world roared and sloshed inside his ears. Beams of light flickered from the hall outside. Voices were calling, and he could not call back. If this weren't a dream, if they were his rescuers, they would not hear him.
Then he heard another sound over the roar; an enchanting high-pitched bleat. A baby's cry. His baby.
The last minute: Salvation.