Stranded with The Hero by Hannah Jo Abbott

3

Carson was the first to hear the call come over the radio. “Skier down at Freedom Ridge Resort.” He grabbed his gear and was in the ambulance in moments as the rest of the crew filed into their vehicles. The ski resort was a short drive from the station, but making it up the ski slope was the more challenging part. Often, the rescue team would be sent up the hill on snowmobiles, but it seemed this accident had happened at the bottom of the slopes. Carson wondered if they would find an elderly woman who had been trying her hand at skiing.

The lodge director waited at the front of the lodge and waved them into the portico. Carson braced himself against the cold as they exited the truck and made their way through the snow. The director pointed them around the corner to the accident. A small crowd of people circled around a woman on the ground.

“We got blankets and draped them over her, but we didn’t want to move her,” a man explained.

“That’s good,” Carson said. “Excuse me, coming through,” he called out. The circle parted and all he could see was a pile of blankets. As he stepped closer, he saw the face of a woman. To his surprise, she wasn’t elderly. She looked about his age, but it was hard to tell with her snow cap pulled low. “Hi there. I’m Carson. I’m here to help.”

“Thanks.” She grimaced.

“What’s your name?” Despite the fact that he could barely see her face, her eyes captured his attention. The blue color seemed to shine against the white of the snow. She locked eyes with him and he felt gripped by a connection between them.

“Nicole,” she said, her voice quiet and tense.

“Nicole, where does it hurt?” Carson kneeled down in the snow and spoke close to her.

“Everywhere,” she moaned.

“I’m sorry. I’m sure it does. Can you tell me where it hurts the most?”

“My ankle and my knee. On my left side.”

“Can you tell me what happened?” He picked up her wrist and checked her pulse.

She shook her head slightly. “Not really. I was coming down the hill, and I hit a bump. I went into the air, but the rest of it is a blur. I think I landed and rolled.”

Carson looked around at the people still gathered. “Did anyone see it happen?”

“I did,” a woman said. “She went up into the air and I saw her leg bend behind her when she landed.” The woman’s face contorted as she said, “It wasn’t pretty.”

“Thank you,” Carson said to the woman. “Are you two friends?”

“No, I was just watching for my kids to come down the hill.”

He turned his attention back to Nicole. “Are you here with anyone?”

Tears welled up in her eyes and she quietly said, “No.”

Carson couldn’t help it and reached out to put his hand on her shoulder. “It’s all right, I’m here with you now. We’ll take good care of you.”

Nicole nodded as a single tear slid down her cheek. Carson watched it for a moment, even as he told himself he had to stay focused on his job. “We’re going to put your neck in a brace and get you on a board so we can get you out of the cold. I promise we’ll be as gentle as possible.”

Nicole nodded again, a good sign that her neck was not injured, but Carson knew they still needed to take every precaution. He waved his crew over and took the neck brace from one of the other guys, carefully positioning it. He moved the blankets so he could check for any bleeding. Not seeing any blood, he looked down at Nicole’s left leg. He tried not to let his face show his feelings, but it didn’t look good. The odd angle of her ankle made him sure it was broken. He couldn’t see her knee underneath the snowsuit.

In a matter of minutes, the crew had Nicole loaded and strapped on the backboard, and were carefully carrying her across the snow. The fire truck crew assisted with carrying her off the slope. When they walked through the lobby of the lodge, Carson did his best to block her face from the view of the other guests who were staring and straining their necks trying to see the injured patient.

Nicole seemed to notice, because when he looked down at her he could see the embarrassment as she whispered, “Thanks.”

He grinned. “All part of my job.” That was true, wasn’t it? He would feel responsible and protective of any patient he went out on a call for. But still her eyes and the way his heart had lurched when she said she was all alone made him stick a little bit closer.

They loaded her into the ambulance parked in front of the resort.

He climbed in and began hooking her up to the machines in the ambulance to monitor her vitals. He moved carefully as he attached the blood pressure cuff and then listened to her heart. Satisfied that she was within a normal range, he picked up a clipboard and began filling out the paperwork. “Can you tell me your full name?”

“Nicole Simmons,” she said.

“Nicole, I just have a few questions for you. They’ll probably ask you the same things again at the hospital, but we just try to cover the basics.”

Nicole nodded her understanding.

“Age?”

“Twenty-seven.”

Carson noticed she gave him a side-eye at that question and he stopped himself from grinning. “Do you have any medical conditions?”

“You mean other than the excruciating pain in my leg?”

That grin he was hiding made its way across his face. “Yes, anything we should know?”

“No, I’m pretty healthy, I guess.”

“Any allergies? To medication or anything?”

“No, not that I know of.”

“Great.” Carson felt himself distracted from the papers, which was unusual. “And you were skiing at the resort today alone?”

Why was he so interested in her answer? He practically held his breath as he waited for her to speak.

Her voice quivered as she said, “Yes, all alone.”

He didn’t know what else to say as he saw the emotion on her face. So he simply put his hand on her shoulder as they sat in silence.

When they pulled up to the hospital ER entrance, Carson heard his partner open the driver’s side door and make his way around to the back of the rig. He braced himself against the cold wind as the back doors opened and he and his partner lifted the stretcher out and down onto the ground.

Carson told himself to focus as he put on his professional face. They entered the emergency room and were greeted by nurses ready to wheel the patient to triage. “Female, age twenty-seven, fell while skiing. Complains of left leg and ankle pain.” He gave her blood pressure and pulse numbers, then glanced at Nicole’s face as he said, “Left ankle appears to be broken.”

Nicole winced at his words and it pained him more than it normally did to give patients bad news.

“We’ll take it from here,” a nurse said.

Carson suddenly couldn’t stand the thought of letting Nicole out of his sight. He swallowed hard as he looked at her face and stepped back as they moved her behind a curtain. He made a quick decision and pulled his phone from his pocket, hitting a button to call his boss at the station. “Chief,” he didn’t waste any time when the man answered the phone. “I’m transporting a patient to Freedom Memorial. I’d like to stay with the patient.” He cleared his throat and dropped his voice, surprised at his own urgency. “She’s all alone, and she’s scared.”

The chief only hesitated for a moment. “The hospital staff will take care of her. I need you back at the station.”

Carson would never argue with his boss, so he put aside his instincts and resigned to his orders. “Yes, sir. I’ll be back on the rig in just a minute.” Before he could change his mind, he ran back to the stretcher that held the lonely stranger. He crouched down near Nicole’s ear. “Hey Nicole, everything is going to be all right. The staff here will take good care of you.”

“You’re leaving?” Panic washed over her face.

He felt the guilt building up inside. “Yes, I have to get back to the station, but you’re in good hands.”

He watched as she swallowed. He could tell she was trying to be brave. He reached out and patted her hand. “It will be just fine.”

“Thanks, Carson.”

He turned to go, but as he passed the curtain, he turned back for one last glance at her face and whispered a prayer that God would take care of her.