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Fear  by Ariel

Chapter 9 - Surgery

The world felt strange.  There was still pain, though he felt oddly detached from it.  He floated in a grey haze and could make out no words or even identify voices.  Sounds from outside his world were muffled and softened, fading in and out on waves he could almost feel.  His other senses seemed to be waning too.  Light was a grey blur, touch was as if through mounds of soft combed wool, and smell was… different.  It touched his mind but he could put no words to the scents to describe them.  His sense of smell told him what he needed to know without bothering his consciousness.  He was safe, it told him, in a familiar place andShe was near.  He could not tell if she still held him, for one moment the world moved with a hypnotic swelling roll, the next, it was still, but he felt no fear because she was there, watching, protecting, comforting.

The sounds increased in pitch though he could still not understand them.  She was moving away.  He wanted to cry out, to protest, to reach for her, but his body would not obey.  He could not move right.  His mind had forgotten how to speak to his limbs.  Fear returned.  She was gone and with her, safety and comfort.  He wanted desperately to make some sign, call her back, but he was trapped, blind, deaf and dumb within a body that would not listen to him.

After a while there was another voice, lower than the first.  A warm, smoky smell enveloped him.  Dada!  The word came to his mind but he could only remember that it meant something safe and warm that he liked very much.  A soothing voice filled the empty void and though Frodo could not tell what was being said, he was comforted.  A hand gently stroked his cheek.  The touch was familiar too but there was something strange in the way it caressed him.  He might have expected hugs and tickles, tousled hair and sound thumps on the back from this hand but to feel it touch him so tenderly was almost unsettling. 

Movement.  His world spun a little and the dull thud of pain intensified.  There was pressure… A new set of hands touched his face.  The light grew a bit and then was gone, then again, a brief brightening that faded swiftly.  Another smell, sharp and acrid, filled his senses with its bite.  It was the scent of sickness and fear, of pain and stinging, of hurts cleansed but with no sweet coolness of breath to ease them afterwards.  He whimpered, begging for the loving, protective arms to come back.  In their embrace, he had something to cling to, something that would protect him when the darkness swallowed him again.  He was so tired.  The shadow had lied.  There was no comfort to be found within.  It still hurt and there were dark, cruel things that waited there to smother him.  He was deathly afraid of it but it was stronger than he was.  If it took him again, it would keep him.  


Frodo was distressed.  Daisy could see it in the way his eyes slowly rolled under the swollen eyelids and in the way his mouth feebly worked.  His mother's cries had at least stirred him from his stupor - and that sign encouraged Daisy.  Drogo moved to his son's side and Daisy willingly gave him the chair.  His face was a mask, but Daisy could see how tense Drogo's body was.  After a moment he leaned over and started speaking softly in Frodo's ear.  His large hand cradled the child's tiny jaw and he absently stroked the line of it with his thumb.  Frodo quieted and Daisy caught snatches of Drogo's words.  He was describing a mist filled morning down by the river, promising his son that, if he were very good, they would go there when he was well and fish.  Daisy, trying not to listen to the simple, heartbreaking scene, took the opportunity to lie out her freshly cleaned tools.  Dr.  Clearwater had sent along his assistant, a cheery hobbit named Bob, to help Daisy with the surgery and she was trying to arrange the instruments so that he wouldn't have to search for what she needed.  Drogo's softly worded descriptions ran like bittersweet accompaniment to the clink of impersonal steel.  There was a tremble of fear in his voice though it was firmly suppressed.  He was trying to sound a lot stronger than he felt.  Daisy's heart clenched finally unable to keep from responding to the other hobbit's anguish.  What crueler nightmare could any parent face than this? 

Bob returned from an errand to obtain the last of the supplies they would need; an irrigation bottle and some tightly rolled white bandages and Daisy nodded to him that she was ready.  She hesitantly touched Drogo's shoulder.  He sighed, crumpling a bit, but stood back from the bed.  Frodo was quiet again but when she turned his face towards the light, his little nose wrinkled and a frown slowly crossed his features.  He was less reactive than before, but his movements told Daisy that at least there was still a mind to be saved behind the child's bruised face.  Bob set his burdens down and moved the lamp so Daisy would have as much light as possible for her work.  She peered again into Frodo's right eye.  The iris was still open more than it should have been.  His left was more difficult to see.  Below the cut eyebrow, the tissues around it had swollen almost too much to even force open, but she managed and noted that the iris of this eye was beginning to dilate as well.  She had to act quickly.

Daisy took up her knife and carefully whetted it.  It needed to be very sharp in order to shave the hair off right at skin level.  She turned Frodo's head gently to the side and pushed his soft curls away from the wound.  He whimpered forlornly in protest but had no power to resist her.

"I'm going to have to scrape a bit of his hair off, Mr.  Baggins," she explained as gently as she could.  "If I'm to stitch this up, I can't have hair getting into the wound.  I'll also need the skin shorn for the other procedure."

Drogo, standing grim faced and wooden at the stove, nodded.  He hadn't been too sure about the surgery Daisy described, but both she and Clearwater seemed agreed that Frodo needed it.  The pot of boiling water before him was empty; the evil looking metal tools it had contained now gleamed from a tray on the nightstand.  Drogo had been asked to lend a hand in cleaning them and had followed Daisy's instructions to the letter, glad to have something to focus on besides his injured son.  Though he had tried to hide it, he had never been so terrified in his life.  

The rest of the company, his wife, Menegilda and the doctor himself had left, but Drogo insisted that he be allowed to remain.  Frodo was his son, his only living child, and he would not leave the boy's side.  Primula had wanted to remain too and fought the removal bitterly but Drogo had to agree with both healers; she was in no condition to endure this trial.  Drogo's heart still ached remembering her desperate, heartbroken pleas.  Primula was in an even more fragile state than she had been after the stillbirth of their daughter.  At Drogo's insistence and while held in his arms, she had taken the sedative draught Clearwater provided.  It broke his heart to feel her droop unconscious against him but he knew it was for the best.  Though neither physician had actually come out and said it, Drogo was beginning to understand, from the looks they gave Frodo and their quiet urgency, how dire his son's condition was.  There was a very real chance Frodo would die from this injury.  Drogo had held Primula's sleeping form tightly while the doctor gave last minute advice and instructions to his assistant.  The scent of her dark hair pervaded his thoughts and gave him strength.  He loved his little family fiercely, and would stay by his son, come what may, but he understood how desperate this hour was.  They were doing everything in their power to save Frodo, but if the unthinkable did happen, he could not risk losing his wife as well.  She would be all he had left, and though the loss of two children would cleave his heart in two, losing Primula would finish him utterly.  

So, to save that which he held dearer than his own life, he had handed his beloved wife over to Clearwater and tried to steel his resolve as the doctor cradled her in his arms.  Menegilda, tight lipped and as anxious as any of them, spared Drogo a look that might have been empathy, before following him out, clucking comfortingly in Primula's unhearing ear.  It was for the best.  Primula was a strong lass, but the procedure Daisy and the doctor had carefully described to him would have been too much to put her through in her current state.  Cutting a hole in his boy's skull somehow didn't seem right, but Daisy had explained it all quite carefully and seemed sure this was the only course open to them.  Clearwater had agreed, which reassured Menegilda; and although he would never have admitted it, Drogo as well.

"You'll need to scrape quite a bit away," offered Bob.  "And you'd be best served cutting the surrounding hair short just to make things easier."  He had placed several bottles of alcohol within Daisy's reach.  She looked up at him and nodded.  She had never worked with a trained assistant before, usually relying on the help of relatives and grandmothers when delivering babies, but Bob was quick, handy and knew his business.  He seemed to sense what Daisy wanted before she'd even asked for it.  She could have gotten used to having him around.

When all was ready, Daisy began shaving the dark curls from the back of Frodo's head.  With each careful pass, the soft waves and blood-stiffened ringlets fell away revealing incredibly pale skin underlain by the odd shadow of un-emerged hair.  The wound itself was jagged and swollen.  Proud flesh made it difficult to shave right to the edge, but with Bob pulling the tattered tissues taunt, Daisy managed it.  Frodo quieted after the first gentle pass of the knife, though the healer wasn't sure if it was because he was sinking deeper into unconsciousness or if the gentle, gliding motion of her strokes calmed him.  In a basin of still steaming water, she carefully washed her hands and then washed his shorn head with a watered solution of distilled spirits.  Frodo didn't respond at all. 

She made a tiny incision at the edge of the existing cut and then widened the curving flap to see the faintly pink bone beneath.  She was relieved that the surface was smooth and unmarred - without even a crack, though she was aware that did not mean the boy was out of danger. 

Picking out a small saw-like knife from the tray, she began to carefully score a square no more than a half an inch across on the surface of the bone.  The living bone was hard, but not as hard as bone that had been boiled, or left to bleach in the sun.  Daisy knew that with the right tools and careful pressure, she could cut it safely.  Under the tutelage of Mame Twofoot, she had amputated limbs before, but this procedure was infinitely more delicate.  She pressed carefully, over and over her small lines and slowly the scores deepened.  Doctor Clearwater had given her an excellent suggestion - to scratch the side of her blade to the estimated thickness of the bone so that she did not inadvertently slice too deeply.  It was working.  Periodically, Bob would rinse the area with previously boiled water to sweep the tiny shavings of bone away, but other than the muted sounds of the operation, the apartment was silent and the air thick with tension.

Drogo hung back, both fascinated and horrified by what Daisy was doing to his son.  He could not see, but he could hear it.  The faint scritch scratch of a knife over bone - it sounded horrifyingly like the sound of whittling on hard wood.  Whittling his son's skull.  Drogo shuddered, and his fear turned suddenly to hot anger.  What had he been thinking, asking old Bethany to watch him?  She might have been Primula's own nanny but she was far too old now to keep an energetic young boy like Frodo under control.  Inside the quiet hall, on a day when everyone else was outside enjoying the sun, all the old nurse would have had to do was nod off for a moment and his son would have been away.  It was what he would have done at Frodo's age.  The old nurse was probably beside herself with guilt, but it wasn't her fault Frodo was now fighting for his life.  If it was anyone's, Drogo knew it was his own.  

Primula was always so protective of her son - unlike most hobbit mothers who were, as a rule, rather easy with their children - that Drogo had pressured her to let the boy go to play with the servants’ children.  There were few of his own age and station at Brandy Hall.  He'd thought it would do the boy good to get away.  He'd also considered that Primula herself needed to relax her hold.  He was 8 after all, and no fauntling* any longer.  Drogo had thought her over protectiveness unhealthy for both of them.  He had only been thinking of their welfare. 

He cringed, watching Frodo slowly frown as if in response to pain.  His son had always been so lively and quick, a blur of dark hair and energy.  To see him lying so unnaturally still, and moving clumsily when he moved at all…  The image struck him with painful poignancy.  This was entirely his fault.  He had been the one to insist Primula loose her hold.  His persistence and sentimental choice of nursemaid had lead to this tragedy.  Now he regretted ever coming between mother and son.  Perhaps Primula was right.  If he'd let her keep their son close as had become her custom, this tragedy might never have happened.

"That's it, Daisy," Bob said softly.  "You've got a lighter touch than the ol' Doc."  The assistant grinned but Daisy couldn't spare him a look to wonder about the comment.  The sawing was getting easier, and through her sensitive fingers, Daisy could feel she was nearly through.  She laid down her knife and reached for a small chisel.  With this, she carefully pried at the edge of her scoring.  It took a bit of convincing, but suddenly there was a moist cracking sound and the tiny square of bone lifted like the hinge of a box.  There was blood beneath the bone.  Daisy shivered but Bob, without even being asked, poured clean water on the area again.  When the solution ran clear, Daisy motioned her assistant to move the light closer.  There, beneath the bone, was the glossy sheen of an intact membrane.  There was no dark blood beneath it, merely convolutions of grey and white.  Daisy had not nicked the membrane.  Blood still seeped into the opening she had created, but now she knew it was not inside the brain itself, and that the bleeding was from somewhere between the brain and the skull.  She breathed a sigh of relief.  The child might not be out of the woods, but at least the operation had done what she'd intended.

"What is it?" asked Drogo breathlessly, not daring to hope at the meaning of Daisy's sigh.

"It's good, Mr.  Baggins.  I have relieved the pressure and now I simply need to stitch him up again.  He'll have a drain for a few days, but unless there are other complications, he's now got a better chance of survival."

Drogo let out the breath he didn't know he'd been holding and dashed the sudden tears from his eyes.  "Then, he'll be all right?!" he asked, hardly able to believe her words.  Daisy grimaced.

"Well, 'all right' is hard to say.  Let's leave it at 'I doubt he'll get any worse', shall we?"  She took up the needle and boiled thread and began to stitch while she talked.  "Head injuries are funny things," she began carefully.  "Sometimes a body can seem to recover completely, sometimes they don't recover at all...  and sometimes… well, it changes them.  I don't rightly know how it will be with your boy, sir, but we've done everything we can now, and that's a fact.  He'd have died for sure if we didn't do this - but… well,…" she sighed softly.  "The damage may have already been done."  She pulled the knot on the last stitch securing a small piece of hollow reed at the edge of the incision and looked up at Drogo as kindly as she could manage.  "I just don't know what he's going to be like yet… there's no way of knowing.  We can only wait and see and hope for the best." 

Drogo, too numb, spent and weary to even nod, watched as the two healers continued to tend his child.  They cut the rest of his hair short, leaving what had not been bloodied in a dark cloud on the floor.  Then they wrapped his head in bandages, carefully encircling and supporting the tiny softened reed drain so that it was not blocked.  They re-splinted his arm and bound it gently against his chest.  Frodo's bruised face looked so tiny amid that sea of white swathing but already his color seemed to be returning.  Drogo felt an intense weariness settle down upon his shoulders.  His son was alive… at least for now.  They had done all they could.  All they could.  Yes, he chided himself.  He most certainly had done all HE  could to facilitate this tragedy.  And if Frodo never recovered, or was damaged beyond repair, Drogo knew it would be his fault alone.



A note on *-ed terms.

A faunt is a hobbit who has attained toddler age and is walking and talking, formally by his or her third birthday. A good friend and incredible author used this term in a story of hers and I found it so delightful that I just had to use it also. From "Letters..." - Letter #214 to reader A.C. Nunn, dating from late 1958 or early 1959.

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