by Stephen Reid Andrews
All rights reserved in the author
“He's finishing another one,” a distant foreign voice breaks through the confusion as my body jerks back and forth. My muscles are still tense and the shaking is prevalent, but whatever is controlling me and causing my involuntary actions is beginning to weaken. As the wrenching and trembling decrease, my body unwinds, and I can feel my limbs. I shut my eyes and am calmed as my body becomes completely still. The room is peaceful enough that I can hear myself breathing along with the decelerating beep of a nearby heart monitor.
I reopen my eyes. The light is blinding as I stretch my eyelids. At first, I am unable to make sense of my surroundings, but I am reassured as I adjust to the light and begin to focus. I am lying on my back, in a bed, and I can hear multiple footsteps coming near me. One set of feet is traveling faster than a second set.
The first person to approach is a short woman. Surprisingly, the woman does not come all the way to me but stops near my side. “He’s stable,” she says.
Initially the woman was a blur, but the outline of her features has somewhat separated from her surroundings. Her colorfully patterned shirt is blinding but, at the same time, is welcoming and leads me to believe the woman is friendly.
I want to raise my fists to my eyes so I can rub my face for a better focus, but I can’t move my arms. My hands are tied down by something. My feet are also immovable. As I continue to adjust to my surroundings without any help from my fists, the second set of feet, also belonging to a colorfully dressed woman, stop on the other side of the bed across from the first woman. Iron bars of a hospital bed are on either side of my body, and, as my gaze darts around the room, I am able to confirm that I am in a solitary hospital room.
“He’s awake!” the first woman says with some mild surprise as if this event which naturally occurs every morning is for some reason exciting to her.
“I’ll call Dr. Jensen,” the second woman says as she turns to leave the room as hastily as she entered.
I move my neck a little to watch the second woman exit the room. My neck is stiff – like I have been sleeping on a bad pillow for several nights in a row.
The first woman, who remains by my side, is plain, a little chubby, and definitely not as pretty as Jennifer.
Jennifer, I think.
My visit with Jennifer in the white room must have been a dream. The dream seemed so real, but it is obvious that I have been lying in this bed for a long time – days at least.
“Jen,” I say through dry lips. My throat is parched, and I feel like I have not used my mouth for days.
“No,” the plain woman says. “I’m Nurse Tony,” she says nonchalantly, making it evident that she has no idea who my wife is.
I study the room and notice that I am covered in a hospital blanket with an IV stuck in my right arm. I hate needles, and, at the sight of the needle, my arm aches.
“Where’s Jennifer,” I repeat, this time with more conviction as if I am the only sane person in the room.
“I don’t know any nurses named Jennifer,” the plain woman replies. “Well maybe one, but she’s down on the first floor.”
“No,” I say frustrated. “Jennifer is my wife.”
The woman has suddenly gone as pale as a ghost with some flush redness in her cheeks as if she is extremely embarrassed. At my announcement, she has become extremely nervous and her hand starts to shake while she finishes her surveillance of the hospital monitors.
“Oh,” is the only thing she says as she nervously turns to walk out of the room, fleeing what has become for her an awkward and uncomfortable situation.
A little alarmed and a lot confused, I call to the woman as she passes under the threshold of the door. “Where’s my wife!”
The woman does not reply but continues to move away at an even more rapid pace.
I panic. Why is my wife not in this room? I ask myself.
In answer to my question, I remember the most likely cause of my being in this bed. The shooting. Before I closed my eyes to the scene in the mall, I saw my wife lying on the ground. The medical staff must be taking care of her in another room, or maybe a bullet only grazed her, and she has already been released. She is probably getting a candy bar from the vending machines. She loves chocolate.
The second woman, who I assume is also a nurse, reenters the room and comes to my other side between me and the window, casting a dark shadow over her face. The second nurse is slender and taller than the first. Her expression is particularly serious as she comes over to me with a thermometer. Having comforted myself with the thought of my wife retrieving candy from the vending machine, I have temporarily dispelled any anxiety and, instead, draw my attention to my present circumstances.
“Why are my hands and feet tied down?” I ask as the saliva moistening the inside of my mouth makes speaking easier.
In response, the slender nurse timidly looks at me as if she has been forbidden to speak to me. She must see the concern on my face because she brings herself to say something, although the words escape her hesitantly. “It’s okay,” she says gently as she smiles awkwardly. “The doctor will be here in a moment, and he’ll answer all your questions. We’re glad to see you awake.” She nervously repositions herself and straightens her back. “Can I get you anything?”
I look down at my strapped wrists and tell her with my gaze that I would like the straps removed. Because her shoulders relax and because her smile becomes more genuine, I can see that she understands what I am telling her through my expression. Some of the tension in the room has been relieved as the nurse recognizes that I have no intention to lash out at her.
The nurse moves closer, putting her hand gently on my shoulder in an attempt to comfort me. “Don’t worry. As soon as the doctor gets here, I’m sure he’ll let us take the straps off. But, we have to wait for him – it’s hospital policy you know.” She taps her fingers on my shoulder and lifts her hand. “In the meantime, can I turn on the TV or get you anything?” The nurse seems much more relaxed as if an unpleasant tension has just passed.
As I allow myself to settle down, my circumstances slowly resemble a routine hospital visit rather than an odd experiment. Obviously these nurses are simply doing their job, and I have nothing to worry about. When I was twelve, I was in the hospital to get my tonsils removed, and, except for the straps that bind my legs around the ankles, my arms around the wrists, and my torso around the waist and except for the fact that I am much older than I was when I got my tonsils removed, my environment seems similar, which gives me a sense of security.
My thoughts return to my wife. “Where’s my wife,” I ask again, this time with less urgency.
The slender nurse looks at me as if she didn’t hear the question. I conclude that she must be new at the hospital, or that she is filling in for the regular nurse. This must not be the regular shift for either of the nurses as the short plain nurse also seemed to have no idea who Jennifer was.
In a strangely compassionate voice, the slender nurse speaks as she turns back to me. “We’ve called your brother. He said he’ll be here as fast as he can – ‘twenty minutes at most,’ he said.”
I am surprised by this statement because I have not seen my brother for at least six months. Why would he be the one to come? “Trevor?” I ask. “Why did you call Trevor?”
“He’s listed as your nearest relative and point of contact should you wake up,” the nurse responds and then continues as she walks out the door, apparently to meet the doctor that has just arrived at the opening to my room. The nurse promptly shuts the door behind her in an obvious attempt to keep her conversation with the doctor concealed from me.
Why is my brother listed as the closest relative? I think to myself. I must be in a downtown
hospital, and he’s a seventeen-year-old senior in high school who lives with my
parents. Why would they call him
and not Jennifer? Chicago
My heart tears as I realize the horror of the situation. I feel like I am going to vomit. Something must have happened to Jennifer. She must also be in a bed somewhere in the hospital, her injuries must have been worse than I thought. I hope she’s okay. I hope she is not in any pain. I have to get these straps off so I can go to her. Testing the straps, I wiggle my arms and legs, but the restraints are too tight.
Interrupting my struggles, the doctor enters the room with a smile that seems to me oddly misplaced given my recent experience with the nurses and my fear that something has happened to Jennifer.
“Hi David, I’m Dr. Jensen.”
Before allowing Dr. Jensen to go on with his bland introduction, I interrupt. “Can I see my wife?”
Dr. Jensen looks at me with the same confusion the nurses had when I asked them about Jennifer. I am now getting annoyed and angry.
“David, just let me check your vitals,” Dr. Jensen says visibly avoiding the responsibility of providing me with a direct answer to my question.
“Is she okay?”
Dr. Jensen doesn’t respond, and I feel as if I am speaking to the walls.
As a result of the doctor’s secrecy, I can sense my blood boiling with frustration, and I manage to raise my voice, which is not my natural disposition. “Where’s my wife!” I almost yell as I feel the veins on my neck and arms surfacing. Given the fact that I have yet to receive a straight answer about my wife and given the fact that I am still strapped to this stiff bed, I believe I am entitled to some liberty with my emotions.
As my muscles tense again and my heart beats faster with excitement, I lose the sensation in my limbs. I am aware that my eyes are glazing over as my vision blurs and my arms and legs start to twitch.
“He’s seizing up again,” I hear Dr. Jensen say as I am abandoned by my senses. This is the last thing I hear before I lose awareness of my surroundings and slip into an unconscious state.