At 9:15 on a dry March night a fire, started by a smoldering cigarette left in the dust, broke out on Desert Palms Drive
in Palm Desert, California. The flames jumped from building to building as rapidly as a forest fire. Within minutes the
entire block was a mass of leaping red and orange blazes. Fire fighters arrived as soon as possible, but it wasn't soon
enough. They tried to evacuate the burning buildings; however, they soon decided it was hopeless. They instead set
about trying to put out the swiftly spreading flames. Ambulances raced towards the scene, armed with first aid kits and
paramedics to help the victims of this accident. People with serious burns were rushed to the nearby hospital. Finally,
after 5 hours of battling the gruesome fire, firefighters managed to put out the conflagration. But nearly 25 were
seriously injured and at least 200 people didn't have homes. It would be a busy night for the Emergency Room and the
Red Cross Shelter for the Homeless.
Dr. Edward Calvert, a young man of about thirty with curly blonde hair, was standing at the front desk of the Emergency Room of Eisenhower Medical Center in Palm Desert listening to the radio and checking his schedule for the next day. He wanted to see if he had enough spare time to go play golf with some of his colleagues. But he forgot about golf as soon as heard the anxious voice of the newswoman.
"A fire broke out tonight on Desert Palms Drive at about 9:15. The fire is not yet under control, however, firefighters are working their hardest. There are said to be 150 people without home, and, at a minimum, 10 injuries….."
Dr. Calvert stopped listening as soon as he heard the word "injuries." "Dammit," he muttered under his breath. Then he took a deep breath and called out to everyone within hearing distance, "Ok, everybody, let's get our acts together. There's a fire down the road with casualties. We need more cots set up and get more people at the front desk. Catie, go get some gauze. Mary, we're gonna need burn cream. Alex, run upstairs and get some more rubber gloves from the supply closet. Thank God that it hasn't been busy yet; it's going to be a long night."
Not thirty seconds after this had all been said, the sound of ambulances was heard at the front door. The doors swung open and paramedics raced in caring stretcher after stretcher. Right behind them was Nurse Andrea Robertson, who was arriving for her 9:30 shift. She was a woman of 27 who loved every aspect of her job. She came in, put down her briefcase, changed into a pair of scrubs, rain her fingers through her curly brown hair, and set to work.
Nurses and orderlies surrounded each stretcher: some wrapping a paste of cream and other things around burns with a piece of gauze, some setting broken bones, and still others running back and forth getting Tylenol and neck braces. Dr. Calvert and Nurse Robertson checked each patient and admitted the more serious burn victims to the intensive care unit. No matter how fast they worked, more and more people arrived. And not only patients, but family and the press, too.
"Doctor, could you come look at my daughter, please?" asked an elderly woman. Doctor and nurse exchanged a look , and replied, "Of course."
She led them over to a stretcher where a young woman, probably about 23, lay. The poor young woman was covered with first degree burns. Andrea asked the older woman to step aside, and she and Dr. Calvert went over to the patient. Andrea picked up the patient's limp wrist to check her pulse. "Jesus God, Ed, she's gone."
"Oh, SHIT, Andrea. I hate it when they bring me dead bodies and don't tell me. Judging from the looks of her, she was dead before the ambulance picked her up. Why didn't they just call the f---ing coroner!"
"Look, Ed, while you're overreacting here, I'm going to go tell the poor woman her daughter is dead, get here a cup of tea, and sign the death certificate. Get someone to wheel the deceased to a room somewhere, and try to prevent the other patients from dying."
"I'm sorry, Andrea, but I just can't stand it when my patients die before I can try to help them. DAMMIT!! I feel so bad."
"I know, Ed, I know. I hate it, too. That's the only bad thing about our profession." And, with a quick hug, Andrea
turned to find the old woman.
"Ma'am? Could I talk to you for a minute, Mrs. ---?" questioned Andrea.
"Mrs. Goldstone. Call me Louise. Yes, you may, Nurse ---?" replied the old woman.
"Andrea Robertson is my name. Why don't we go to a quiet room down the hall?" Andrea suggested.
Mrs. Goldstone stood up quickly, with a look of apprehension in her eyes, and wordlessly followed Andrea down the hallway.
When they reached the conference room, both women sat down. Mrs. Goldstone was the first to speak. "My daughter, she's dead, isn't she?"
Andrea was taken aback, but managed to answer calmly, "Yes, ma'am, I'm sorry, but she is."
Mrs. Goldstone sank back into her chair. "I knew it. I had a dream several years ago that she would die in a fire. But I never believed it until a few minutes ago. Beth always was my favorite daughter. I knew she was dead before we even got here. I used to be a nurse, you know. I was in the ambulance with her. I watched her eyes glaze over, and I watched her go limp. There was nothing I could do. I was her mother, and I was a nurse, but THERE WAS NOTHING I COULD DO!" And Mrs. Goldstone broke down and started weeping.
Andrea herself felt like crying, but she checked herself before she could start. "Mrs. Goldstone, can I get you some tea?"
The tearful reply was, "No, don't bother yourself, dear. You have other patients to attend, I know. May I use the phone in the corner to call family?"
Andrea turned away with a heart full of sorrow and walked down the hall. She found Dr. Calvert and told him that Mrs. Goldstone was using the phone. Ed noticed the anguish in her eyes and grabbed her into a hug and rocked her back and forth as though she were two. "You always were the emotional one of us, Andrea. I used to think that you were foolish to waste your tears on someone you didn't know. But now I see that your heart is always in the right place."
Nurse Bethany Stevens stuck her head in and said, with a smile, "I hate to ruin the moment, but could someone make a statement to the press? And Dr. Calvert, I want you to come see the last patient. Most of the others have gone home."
Andrea wiped her tears and said, "I'll make the statement."
And without another moment passing, she walked out into the waiting room. The press surrounded her. She took a deep breath and said, "I would like to make a brief statement. Most of the patients treated here tonight have suffered from only minor burns and broken limbs. However, there are three people in critical, yet stable, conditions who have been admitted to the hospital. There are also two fatalities. I am unauthorized to release any names at this time. Thank you."
As she turned on her heel and walked away, she heard the barrage of questions behind her.
She wondered, with a hint of sarcasm, "Is this the way Princess Diana felt before she died?"
It was 3:30 before everyone was gone. The press had left, weary and in need of coffee, and the patients had either been admitted overnight or released. Mrs. Goldstone was the last to leave, escorted by another daughter and a son. As she passed by Andrea, she left a folded note in front of her.
Andrea unfolded the note and read, "Thank you for being a wonderfully understanding nurse. Yours truly, Louise Goldstone."
It was then that Andrea started to cry. And it was there that Dr. Ed Calvert found her.
He placed his arm around her shoulders and started to open his mouth to say something when he saw the note. He quickly read it, and then he turned to the nurse. "Oh, Andrea," he whispered, and held her close.