Sorry for taking so long to update this story. Also, I've done a lot of research for this chapter, but I'm not a doctor so I apologize in advance for any medical inaccuracies. Thank you to anyone still reading this.
For a few seconds BJ stood there unable to move, the shock causing his every muscle to lock up. The grey pallor that painted Hawkeye's features sent chills down BJ's spine. BJ had seen his friend in varying states of well-being, and never once had he looked this bad. There were nights that he'd wake up from a yet another nightmare of destruction and bloodshed only to look over at his bunkmate in the low light of the moon and feel his gut clench and his heart skip a beat when for a moment he could've sworn that Hawkeye wasn't breathing. More than once, the sight of blood on his bunkmate's clothes had him out of bed and across the Swamp before the rational part of his brain could catch up with him. It was only once he was standing by his best friend's bedside, ready to check him over for injuries, that he'd remember that the blood soaking into Hawkeye's scrubs was not his own. The rush of relief that overshadowed the feeling of shame for his stupidity would come simultaneously with the memories of working in OR the day before followed by Hawkeye collapsing on his bed, too tired to even bother changing into a clean t-shirt. This, however, was different. This was in broad daylight, without the residual horror of a nightmare pumping adrenalin through his veins, and his best friend had never appeared closer to death than he did at this very moment. He could almost believe the typically lively surgeon to be dead if not for the rapid rise and fall of his mutilated chest.
He felt his hands loosen up from the clenched fists they'd become and automatically reached for the pulse point on Hawkeye's neck as his brain shifted from shocked best friend to determined surgeon. His pulse was thready at best. It had taken BJ a moment to find it, in which he panicked and applied more pressure to the area—no doubt there would be a bruise there later to mark the spot where his pulse should have been. He had to take a moment to breathe before trying, and this time succeeding to detect the faint thrumming beneath his fingers. BJ closed his eyes and let out a sigh of relief, momentarily allowing himself to relish the feeling of the proof of life against his fingers.
"Atta-boy, Hawk," he whispered. The relief gave way to the panic as he opened his eyes only to once more be confronted with the image of his best friend whose skin was troublingly pale and whose bloody and bandaged chest heaved unevenly with the effort of each shallow breath. Pulse rapid and thready, shallow breathing, shrapnel on the right side of the chest near the lungs, possible pneumothorax, BJ noted to himself as he peeked under the blood-soaked pressure bandage. He reached over to grab the medical bag that Hawkeye had clenched in his hand and rummaged through its contents for a minute before pulling out a stethoscope. He jammed the eartips in his ears and, using the chestpiece, probed at the parts of Hawkeye's chest that were still intact on the right side, but any sounds coming from Hawkeye's chest were drowned out by the intense beating of the chopper blades. Cursing his own stupidity, BJ resolved to get Hawkeye loaded up onto the jeep so that he could listen to his chest on the ride back to the compound.
A glance up told him that Radar was the closest to him and he called the corporal over. Radar ran over but halted as soon as he was close enough to see the face of the wounded soldier laying on the stretcher. The young clerk's eyes widened marginally, and his face drained of color. BJ could see the intake of breath followed by Radar's lips moving but the words he uttered were too quiet to hear amidst the chaos of the helipad.
"Help me get him in the jeep," BJ yelled over the noise as soon as the corporal was close enough to hear him.
Radar just nodded his head and ran to the other side of the stretcher. Together they lifted the unconscious surgeon, BJ supporting most of the weight. Radar alternated his gaze between Hawkeye's boots, which lay on his end of the stretcher, and the ground. He avoided looking up at his mentor all the while they carried him to the jeep and placed his stretcher over the back seats. As soon as the stretcher was settled, BJ hoisted himself up into the vehicle in which Colonel Potter was already standing and tending to the kid with the leg wound.
"Let's go," BJ called impatiently to the driver.
"How's the—Holy hemostat!" Colonel Potter said upon turning around to check on BJ's patient. "How bad is he?" he asked, his voice barely a whisper.
"Not good. Chest wound…" He placed the chest piece of the stethoscope to the undamaged skin on the right side of the chest and strained his ears to hear his bunkmate's breathing over the engine of the jeep. No matter how hard he listened, he could barely hear any breath sounds. "…probable pneumothorax, but we'll need an x-ray to know for sure," he finished, pulling off the stethoscope and discarding it.
"Damn, better get him into OR immediately."
BJ nodded, never taking his eyes off Hawkeye's body.
"Will the doc be okay?" Potter's patient asked, but BJ couldn't find it within himself to turn around and comfort the kid. "He got hurt because he was helping me." Potter turned around and began to assure him he wasn't at fault and that they would give Hawkeye the best care possible, but BJ tuned them out.
He looked down at his hands, staring at the red streaked digits as though processing them for the first time. The urge to puke made itself known, but he refused to give in to it. He swallowed hard against the rising bile, which only burned the back of his throat and made him gag more. He managed to get the reflex under control but the taste of vomit and the festering nausea in the pit of his stomach remained.
He told himself to focus, Snap out of it. Hawkeye needs you, but he knew he wouldn't be able to focus on anything so long as his best friend's blood was taking up residence under his nails. When the jeep finally came to a halt he jumped out, sparing a minute to yell instructions at the nearest corpsmen before taking off. He pushed his way into Pre-Op, bypassing the scrubs section entirely in favor of the scrubbing sinks.
Pushing the tap to the hottest possible temperature, BJ grabbed the soap and immediately started to scrub harder than he ever had before. His hands were red, and he couldn't look at them without feeling thoroughly revolted. It didn't matter to him that they were no longer red due to the blood but because of the scalding water and the vigorous scrubbing, they only served as a reminder of the physical and metaphorical blood on his hands.
"I'll take Hawkeye, son. You take the kid with the leg wound."
BJ, who had been so focused on getting the damn blood off of his hands that he hadn't noticed the older man enter the room, jumped a little at the sound of his voice but quickly recovered and stepped over to make room for him at the scrubbing sink.
"No," BJ said, perhaps a tad too cold. He knew that the colonel had good intentions and was concerned that he was too emotionally invested to operate properly. In all honesty, he probably was but he didn't trust anyone else to save Hawkeye. He needed to ensure that Hawkeye received the best care possible. Besides, giving him a different patient wouldn't help the situation. He wouldn't be able to focus on his own patient if he knew that Hawkeye was fighting for his life just a table away. He would either end up watching Potter like a hawk or, at the very least, listening out for any audible clues that something might have gone awry. Every word, facial expression, and intake of breath would be overanalyzed, and his own patient would end up neglected. He would probably end up making careless mistakes or even missing pieces of shrapnel in his haste to get to Hawkeye. "I'm operating on Hawkeye."
"You sure you're up to it?" Potter said.
"I'm working on him," BJ practically growled between gritted teeth.
"Easy there, son," Potter said, placing a placating hand on the young surgeon's shoulder. BJ shrugged off the hand, unwilling to take the comfort and knowing that Potter would try to convince him to stand down. "He's your best friend; you're a little too close to the situation to keep a cool head."
"Can anyone in this camp honestly say that they're not too close to the situation? I need to see—no, I need to know that he's okay. I won't be able to focus on my patient if it's not Hawkeye."
"Stand down if you have to. We can cover for you if need be, it's a light load."
"No, I want to—" BJ closed his eyes and took a deep breath, "—I need to do this. I'm okay. I can handle it."
Potter scanned his face for a moment before conceding. "Fine, but don't be shy to tap out if you need to, I'll send in the cavalry."
BJ nodded and they continued to prep for surgery in a tense silence. When he was finished, BJ left for the OR with the older man on his heels. Ignoring Charles, who was already working on his patient with Bigelow, BJ grabbed the x-ray he wanted and attached it to the lightbox on the wall with Potter looking over his shoulder. His heart sank seeing the amount of black space visible between the lung and chest wall on the right side.
"Definite pneumothorax," he said.
"With a couple of shell fragments to boot. Damn," Potter muttered before going to analyze his own patient's x-ray. BJ stalked over to an unoccupied table giving the doors urgent looks and tapping his foot impatiently.
"What's taking so long? Get him in here already!"
"Calm down, son," said Potter. "Getting excited won't do Pierce any favors."
Charles and Bigelow looked up from their patient in shock, the instrument he'd been reaching to grab lay forgotten in her hands, but it was Margaret who broke the silence that had fallen over the OR.
"What do you mean 'won't do Pierce any favors'?"