CHAPTER 1 “none of us gets out of here alive”
THE HIGH SIERRAS, CALIFORNIA (AERIAL) – DAY (1980’s)
Soaring high over majestic mountains, forested valleys; meadows carpeted with flowers; granite slopes studded with remote alpine lakes. Finally, towering above all MT. WHITNEY, stark and imposing, piercing the crystal skies at 14,495 feet; half way up we easily see a worn TRAIL, a brownish thread winding through the forest, up the side of the mountain.
TWO HIKERS make their way up the steep, barren trail: DAVID FOSTER, a slender and spry 30 years young with scraggly blond hair hanging to his shoulders, scruffy beard: kind of Christ, kind of Zonker but with an intense, kind of wild look in his blue eyes. He wears a light blue backpack, a beat-up black NIKON CAMERA, its leather casing worn from the years slung over his shoulder. A few steps ahead is UNCLE JACK, a spirited man in his 50’s with a friendly round face, full head of silver hair, slightly paunchy, but strong and hardy. David trudges along the steep trail, determined to keep up with Uncle Jack.
His breath comes in short, wheezing GASPS, his HEARTBEATS resounding in his head, like ominous drumming; a thin WHITE RESIDUE OF SALT left behind like sediment as the perspiration streams down his face. David stumbles to a stop; cannot take another step. He doubles over, clutches his chest, his face contorted in an agonized grimace. A distressing RATTLE rising from deep within his lungs as he gasps for air. Uncle Jack comes back down the trail, huffing and puffing, ever faithful, supportive, but also pragmatic when it counts.
David! (continuing) Come on, David. You’ve got to give it up now. You’ve already done more than any other person in your condition would’ve even tried. Don’t worry. There will always be another mountain.
David looks at his uncle, knows Jack is right. He turns his gaze upward into the blinding sun, towards — THE SUMMIT — only a scant thousand feet or so away. He raises his camera, SNAPS A PICTURE. So near, and yet…He pulls a dark green metal SIERRA CUP showing the roughened signs of many uses from his backpack. He SCOOPS OUT A HOLE in the sandy earth at the base of a LARGE BOULDER overhanging the cliff.
The next time I come up here, I’ll be needing a drink. When I do, this will come in handy. This is the place where I had to give it up, this time the mountain has won but this isn’t over. Not yet. Not by a long shot.
He places the Sierra cup into the hole and covers it up. He SNAPS A PICTURE of the spot, with Uncle Jack standing beside the boulder, and the magnificent vista beyond. He takes one more longing gaze up at the peak. David suddenly COUGHS again. Then harder. Until his entire body is convulsed with the tortuous coughing and retching, as…
UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER (UMC), TUCSON, ARIZONA Cystic Fibrosis Ward – THERAPY ROOM – DAYTIME.
The room is barren and void of any color, the feeling of a cell, stark and brightly lit. DAVID’S FACE abruptly DROPS INTO FRAME, UPSIDE DOWN. David GRUNTS with the force of the jolt. He is strapped to an INCLINING THERAPY BED, his head slanted downward. He looks the very picture of misery. A young male RESPIRATORY THERAPIST begins to pound on David’s bare chest with cupped hands, the rhythm like a down turned Latin dub step beat yet essential in clearing the lungs during postural drainage.
I want you to cough for me, David.
David COUGHS deep and heavy with the sound of mucus freeing up and moving. The Therapist again picks up the percussing with his continuous rhythm.
RESPIRATORY THERAPIST (continuing)
Good work David, Harder! (David coughs) Harder! That’s it. More!
DOCTOR DOUG MANNERS (30’s), good-looking Christian Grey type young doctor, he is serious about his chosen career and his patients — enters the room, shakes his head. David is one of the thorns in Manners’ side. The RT stops pounding. He levels the bed and helps David sit up, then EXITS. Manners puts his stethoscope up to David’s chest, listens a moment.
Are you out of your mind, David?
You’ll have to be more specific.
You’ve got barely fifty percent lung capacity. Less than a month ago you were at death’s door with pneumonia. What on earth possessed you to try to climb Mount Whitney?
Let’s see. Because it’s there –?
MANNERS gives a pained, guttural laugh; he isn’t amused
C’mon, Doug, lighten up. None of us gets out of here alive. I might as well go out doing something I love.
You’re only fooling yourself.
So what, if it keeps me going! (buttoning up his shirt)
We’ve got this thing, the mountains and me. Like being in love with a married woman. I’m drawn to her, even if it kills me.
And some day, I’ll get her!
Cystic fibrosis can kill you.
Cystic fibrosis will kill me. It’s only a question of when. And I don’t intend to sit around here, waiting for it to come get me.
(but –) Of course, if I can get a new set of lungs —
If is a big word. It could never happen.
DAVID (slides off the bed)
Then I guess I’ll just have to make the best of whatever time I’ve got. I’d rather die doing what I love, than live forever in a damn hospital bed, with an oxygen mask clamped over my face.
Sometimes, that’s all that keeps you alive.
That’s not living, Doug. That’s only surviving!
He is overtaken by a severe FIT OF COUGHING. He collapses to the floor, clutching his chest, GASPING FOR BREATH. Manners quickly clasps an OXYGEN MASK to David’s face. David deeply inhales the life-saving oxygen, gradually coming around. He grins at Manners, through the pain –
Whew. I hope that was as good for you as it was for me.
Nobody gets out alive.
INTERIOR UMC, CYSTIC FIBROSIS WARD – Later that DAY
David in a WHEELCHAIR, driven by the huge huggy-bear, Shak like of an ORDERLIE, PEDRO (30’s), always with a smile and wearing his favorite PHOENIX SUNS JERSEY. David is a well-known fixture here and greets most everyone. PATIENTS amble by — from small children to middle twenties — many attached to AMBULATORY IV’s or OXYGEN TANKS, but acting naturally, as if they didn’t know they even have a disease. Everyone is family here, all bonded by a fatal acceptance of what they cannot change. CHILDREN play with TOYS or BOARD GAMES; ADULTS read books, watch television, visit with friends and family.
Thru the doors of the private rooms, PATIENTS lie in their beds, most of them hooked up to various MONITORS and MACHINES, wearing full-face OXYGEN MASKS or receiving CHEST THERAPY TREATMENTS; at the same time watching television, talking on phones, reading. A lucky few find a few pain free minutes sleeping.
They pass by a table where some friends, CF Patients CHRIS CONZIONE and TOM POLAND sit PLAYING CARDS while a COLLEGE FOOTBALL GAME plays on the television.
Chris (22) is Italian-American with wavy black hair, witty; Tom (18) is Canadian, blonde, blue eyes, tall, with boy-next-door good looks. They greet David like he’s family.
Still among the living!
How are you feeling?
You looked like a dead rat when they hauled you in here yesterday.
You know me — always playing the sympathy card.
C’mon, watch the game with us.
U.A. is kicking ass on your Bruins again. I could tackle better than these guys, and I’ve got CF!
DAVID clutching his chest; laughs and waves as he and Pedro continue down the hall.
Maybe later guys.
David calls out to RUSTY MACDONALD (25), a big red-headed Irishman, kilt an all, ambling down the hallway while hooked up to an ambulatory IV unit decorated with SKA BAND STICKERS; Rusty has a RADIO strapped to his walker, playing NEW WAVE MUSIC. They high-five.
Hi, David! How was Whitney?
Did you make it to the top?
Nah. Next time. How you doin’?
Oh, you know — nothin’ a new set of lungs couldn’t fix.
I hear you, man. Gotta go. Hang in, Russ.
Their conversation is cut short, a sultry “Toni Braxton” like FEMALE VOICE floats out from a nearby doorway. “
Hey, Mountain Man!
David grins at the familiar voice and points Pedro over to Kayla’s room. Kayla is several years younger than David and is a mother of two beautiful young children.
Kayla was David’s first crush when he arrived at the hospital a couple years before. Quite use to this routine, Pedro makes fun of David and rolls his eyes, sighing.
What’m I, your chauffeur or something?
David chuckles and pats his friend on the hand as he pushes him in the direction of the room. As they approach the nursing station David spots a vase of assorted flowers; as he goes by, he reaches up. NURSE GLENDA – a perceptive blonde-haired woman in her forties and a gentle smile, which makes her sort of the floor ‘mom’ — catches David sneaking a DAISY out of a vase as they pass by the NURSE’S STATION.
Hey! Those aren’t for you!
David makes a ‘Shh’ sign to her, blows her a kiss and mouths the words “Thanks, Glenda.” David motions Pedro to stop, just outside Kayla’s hospital room door.
Give me a minute, Pedro –?
Why not? I only got about a thousand other things I gotta do.
David smooths down his hair, straightens his rumpled shirt. Propels himself on into Kayla’s room.
INTERIOR UMC, CF WARD, KAYLA’S HOSPITAL ROOM
FRAMED PHOTOGRAPHS of KAYLA’S FAMILY adorn every inch of wall space and flat surface. A simple wooden CROSS hangs over the bed. KAYLA (24) – pretty with mousy brown hair, though pale and sickly sits upon the edge of her hospital bed. Her shoulder blades arc and protrude at an odd angle as she coughs hard. RESPIRATORY THERAPIST RITA (40’s) a “Mrs Doubtfire” type, sits on the bed behind Kayla, lightly tapping Kayla’s back with cupped palms.
DAVID (Free-wheeling in the door)
Hey, kiddo –! Oops; sorry. I didn’t know you were busy.
It’s all right. Come on in.
Hello, David. Nice to see you again.
David kisses Kayla warmly on the forehead. Kayla speaks comfortably, while receiving the therapy, routinely changing positions from sitting to lying flat on her stomach, to lying on her side with her head sloping downward on a reclining board.
I brought you a flower.
A daisy!. My favorite! Thank you. Just stick it in the water there.
David looks around for something to put the flower in. There is only a PLASTIC HOSPITAL WATER PITCHER on Kayla’s night stand. He sticks the flower in it.
SO!! Long time no-see, stranger! I thought you’d forgotten about us?
Never! I didn’t know you were in!?
KAYLA (she flushes slightly)
I’m just here for a little tune-up.
David notes the all too familiar last chance lifesaving OXYGEN TANK standing nearby; he makes a slight face poking fun of her yet understanding as he looks around. David has a genuine care for Kayla, she is so pure an innocent; almost perfect, the wife or partner a man could only imagine. Yet it remains as such, innocent, she is a flower in his life.
Hey, I like what you’ve done with the place. Nice decor — and practical.
KAYLA (pointing at the OXYGEN TANK)
They want me to hook me up to that silly thing. But I refuse to use it except when I’m sleeping — y’know, unless I really need it. (off his look) I had a couple spells recently. Joel wanted them to check me out. Make sure everything is okay. He worries too much.
DAVID (warm smile)
He just loves you. We all do. (then, changing the subject) Hey, I been feeling outta sorts, too. You think maybe there’s something going around?
Hmph, yeah. I know what you got — some kind of death wish.
Who, me? Nah. I’ve got some kind of life wish. So you gonna be around long?
Going home today. Joel and the girls should be here to pick me up any time now.
That’s great. Give my best to Joel and the girls.
Will do. Thanks for the flower.
David kisses Kayla’s hand, then wheels around and heads towards the door.
David turns – KAYLA (continuing – and speaks re “Hill Street Blues”)
You be careful out there!
Like the Jester in the Queens court David bows to her, then BACKS HIS WHEELCHAIR into JOEL SALUDABLE, Kayla’s HUSBAND (30’s), your average young career oriented family man with their two daughters, EMILY (5) with a small BOUQUET OF FLOWERS, and ANNIE LAURIE (3) with her BABY DOLL and a home-made GET WELL CARD. Joel has made a successful career out of the realestate business but the strain of his wife’s sickness has had him taking a little more time off for his family. The two little girls dart past David and Joe, climbing up onto Kayla’s bed, kissing her and hugging her with all their might.
Annie Laurie starts to mimic Rita’s cupped hand treatment on their mother, upon her baby doll. Emily joins in, doing it on her sister — the little girls start pounding on each other, smacking each other all over the body and head, and laughing. The time and love shine in Joels eyes, he is tired but the strength he holds for his wife is unquestionable. He understands the relationship his wife and David have, perhaps not only David but also all of the ward family.
Joel smiles, gives David a little fist bump then heads on into the room. David pauses in the open doorway, a happy but lonely expression as he watches Kayla surrounded by her loving family — the family that he knows he will never have. Pedro takes hold of his wheelchair and pulls him away. As David an dPedro make their way down the hallway the atmosphere changes as they hear ,
Suddenly a HOSPITAL GURNEY moves swiftly by, its wheels rattling as it carries a little six-year-old Afro American patient; it’s JOSEPH RIGARD. He is hooked up to OXYGEN and IV’s, NURSES and DOCTORS all around him as his frenetic PARENTS follow them closely. David grabs a passing nurse, it’s a familiar face, NURSE CINDY 20’s, a second year student in the nursing program. She is a cute Brunette, cute as a button and petite; Cindy has a genuine spark about life and the care she give these sick children. There is something about Cindy he can never get enough of, she is always a delight to talk too.
Cindy, what’s wrong with little Joseph?
He had an episode. His parents got him in here as fast as they could.
(reassuring smile) He’ll be all right.
David lowers his head. It’s always tough to see anyone deal with this. But especially the kids.