2

The doctor stood beside Buchanan’s bed, read Buchanan’s chart, listened to his heart and respiration, checked his intravenous bottle, then took off his bifocals and scratched his salt-and-pepper beard. “You have an amazing constitution, Mr. Grant. Normally, I don’t see anybody as banged up as you unless they’ve been in a serious car accident.” He paused. “Or. .”

He never finished his statement, but Buchanan was certain that what the doctor meant to add was “combat,” just as Buchanan was certain that Doyle would never have brought him here unless the small hospital had affiliations with his controllers. In all likelihood, the doctor had once been a military physician.

“I have the results of your X rays and other tests,” the doctor continued. “Your wound is infected, as you guessed. But now that I’ve redressed and resutured it and started you on antibiotics, it ought to heal with reasonable speed and without complication. Your temperature is already coming down.”

“Which means-given how serious you look-the bad news is my internal bleeding,” Buchanan said.

The doctor hesitated. “Actually, that bleeding seems more serious than it is. No doubt, it must have been quite a shock when you discovered blood in your urine. I’m sure you’ve been worried about a ruptured organ. The reassuring truth is that the bleeding is caused by a small broken blood vessel in your bladder. Surgery isn’t necessary. If you rest, if you don’t indulge in strenuous activity, the bleeding will stop and the vessel will heal fairly soon. It sometimes occurs among obsessive joggers, for example. If they take a few weeks off, they’re able to jog again.”

“Then what is it?” The doctor’s somber expression made Buchanan more uneasy. “What’s wrong?”

“The injury to your skull, Mr. Grant. And the periodic tremors in your right hand.”

Buchanan’s chest felt icy. “I thought the tremors were caused by shock to the nerves because of the wound in my shoulder. When the wound heals, I assumed. .”

The doctor squinted, concerned. “Shock. Nerves. You’re partially correct. The problem does involve the nerves. But not in the way you imagine. Mr. Grant, to repeat, you have an amazing constitution. Your skull has been fractured. You’ve suffered a concussion. That accounts for your dizziness and blurred vision. Frankly, given the bruise I saw on the CAT scan of your brain, I’m amazed that you were able to stay on your feet, let alone think on your feet. You must have remarkable endurance, not to mention determination.”

“It’s called adrenaline, Doctor.” Buchanan’s voice dropped. “You’re telling me I have neurologic damage?”

“That’s my opinion.”

“Then what happens now? An operation?”

“Not without a second opinion,” the doctor said. “I’d have to consult with a specialist.”

Restraining an inward tremor, appalled by the notion of willingly being rendered unconscious, Buchanan said, “I’m asking for your opinion, Doctor.”

“Have you been sleeping for an unusual amount of time?”

“Sleeping?” Buchanan almost laughed but resisted the impulse because he knew that the laugh would sound hysterical. “I’ve been too busy to sleep.”

“Have you vomited?”

“No.”

“Have you experienced any unusual physical aberrations, apart from the dizziness, blurred vision, and tremors in your right hand?”

“No.”

“Your answers are encouraging. I’d like to consult with a specialist in neurology. It may be that surgery isn’t required.”

“And if it isn’t?” Buchanan asked rigidly. “What’s my risk?”

“I try not to deal with an hypothesis. First, we’ll watch you carefully, wait until tomorrow morning, do another CAT scan, and see if the bruise on your brain has reduced in size.”

“Best case,” Buchanan said. “Suppose the bruise shrinks. Suppose I don’t need an operation.”

“The best case is the worst case,” the doctor said. “Damaged brain cells do not regenerate. I’d make very certain that I was never struck on my skull again.”

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