Ch. 26 Unless It Isn't Paradise

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***Russell

Russell hit her between the shoulders with the heel of his palm, but nothing happened. He hit her again. Suddenly, she retched and sucked in air noisily, choking. She lay across the board alternately gulping air and coughing up water; he could not say for how long. The other surfer, a young Hawaiian, patted her back, telling her to take it easy and that they were going back to the beach. Russell held one of her hands and started pushing the board.

"I can't breathe," she croaked hoarsely, hyperventilating. "I can't get enough air."

"It's normal, sweetheart. Just keep breathing as best you can, we'll be at the beach soon," Russell reassured her. "You're okay, I've got you, just breathe."

A couple of other surfers saw they were transporting someone and one pulled ahead to alert the life-guards and call 911. Beth would need oxygen and a checkup at the hospital, at the very least. By the time they reached the beach, they were surrounded by worried people and the life-guards helped carry her to the hut. Russell crouched at her knees while she shook and tried to get enough air from an oxygen bottle. Her color was returning to normal, but her eyes were distant and glassy.

"My dad sent you," she whispered, focusing on him.

"I'm glad," Russell answered.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to cause all this trouble."

"It's not your fault."

"But it is. I was following a turtle and all of sudden I was stuck in the tide—"

"Shhh, Beth, it's all right now."

"Why can't I get enough air?"

"It's normal, you have to restock the oxygen in your blood. I know how you feel," he said, wanting to make sure she understood him. He gently pushed the mask over her mouth and nose again. "I know exactly how you feel. I was lucky that someone came for me once when I went out too far. It's all right now. Do you understand?"

Tears welled up in her eyes and she nodded at him. He rocked her in his arms and stroked her wet hair, wishing he could make the shivering and the tears stop. She was in shock, and there was nothing he could do, but hold her and wait it out.

***Beth

They spent over five hours in the emergency room; Beth had to breathe some more with an oxygen mask for over thirty minutes, they had to check her heart rate, blood pressure, and levels of oxygen in her blood. They verified that her pupils dilated correctly and that her reflexes functioned. They made her lie down, they made her stand up, they asked her to walk, they asked her to balance on one leg. She assumed they would have her perform her sixth grade dance routine soon.

Finally, the doctors announced that she seemed to have recovered enough to be released. Russell asked if she could fly the next day. Since the flight to Denver would be after the twenty-four hour watch period recommended for a near-drowning accident, they said she should be fine, but if any complications arose or in the case of doubt, she had to return immediately to the closest hospital.

Beth started crying again when they reached the bungalow. She felt foolish, putting others in danger because of her own stupidity.

"I'm sorry I ruined today," she said.

Russell stopped preparing the bed to hold her. He was saying something, but all Beth could hear was rumbling in his chest.

"I made us miss the barbecue at your neighbor's," she said, remembering their plans for the evening.

"I called, he understands. We need to get you ready for bed."

She accepted his help in finding a pajama shirt and shorts, and going into the bathroom.

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