Dr Mark Conway was the only one in the ward when Carrie opened her eyes. He had been sitting at a table writing reports, keeping his eye on the monitor which was beeping slowly and rhythmically, when he heard her whimper. He turned his head to look at her, and stood up as the beeping became faster.
She was staring at the ceiling, and her breathing was laboured. Mark pressed the call button at the back of the bed as he gently turned her head towards him, checking her eyes for recognition.
“Carrie. Just try to relax. You’ll be fine!” He took hold of her hand. “Can you squeeze my fingers?”
He felt the pressure, weak but definite, and he smiled. “Good girl. Welcome back!”
Dr June Langley pushed open the door of the ward and stepped briskly inside, her eyes scanning the monitor before she joined Mark at the bedside.
“Well, well! This is good! We’ve been waiting for you to wake up. Can you move your head for me, just a little?”
Carrie did as she was told, and croaked, “Brad?” Her voice was weak and the confusion showed in her eyes.
“He’ll be here soon,” Mark said softly. “Just lie still now and don’t try to talk yet. Just squeeze my hand if the answer to any of our questions is ‘yes’. Can you do that?”
Her hand curled around his, and he smiled. “Good.”
The examination did not take long and it was obvious that the surgeon was extremely pleased with the results. Brad arrived with Max just before it was finished’ and was irritated that the nurse would not let him into the ward. He sat impatiently outside, drumming his fingers nervously against the door frame, until at last the door opened. He shot to his feet, but Max put a restraining hand on his arm as he came out of the ward.
“She doesn’t remember the accident, Brad. She doesn’t even recall being in the car. But the rest of her memory is intact. Mark and Dr Langley have left it up to you to tell her what happened. Otherwise she appears to be okay. Not much pain, either, which is good, although the bruising is extensive.” He compressed his lips, adding, “But, she is extremely weak, and they have not told her about the head trauma or the surgery as yet. All she wants is to see you. Apparently, she believes you’re ill!”
“Yes. She seems to think we’re keeping the truth about your illness from her for some reason. So, you better go and enlighten her.”
Dr Langley gave him a reassuring smile as he entered the ward. “Your wife is back with us, Brad,” she said cheerfully. “And talking too! That’s very encouraging. I’ll leave you to chat to her for a while but I’ll look in before I go off duty.”
The respiratory tubes were gone, although the IV drip was still attached to her left hand. Brad took her other hand in his. Mark patted him on the shoulder before he left, whispering softly, “Please tell her you’re not ill, for heaven’s sake. That’s all she’s worried about!”
Her eyes were dull, and she was very pale. Brad let his lips brush her cheek before he pulled the chair to the side of the bed, and he gazed down at her and tried to smile.
“Darling! Thank God you’re awake!”
She seemed to struggle to find her voice, and it was very hoarse, as if her throat was sore. “Brad! They said there was an accident. Are you hurt?”
“No, no. I wasn’t in the car. I’m fine.” His hand tightened on hers. “You were alone in the car, sweetheart. Are you in pain?”
She blinked in confusion. “Not really. What happened?”
He hesitated. “You don’t remember?”
“I only remember seeing you - and Uncle Max. I was so tired. The - the music - ” her brow furrowed. “You were ill!”
“No! I’m fine. Really!” He stroked her cheek. “You heard the music? ”
“I heard you speaking too. I was dreaming, I think. You - you’ve been crying?”
He nodded, a slight smile hovering on his lips. “And trying to pray! I was so worried about you. But Mark sent me home to sleep.”
She blinked again. “Sarah?”
“She’s with Ian. There’s a fete at the park.” He suddenly remembered the picture in his pocket, and fished it out. “She made you this.”
The picture made Carrie smile weakly. “Very colourful!”
“She misses you. But you know I can’t bring her into the clinic, don’t you? She spent a couple of days with Edmund and Irene.”
“So - so how long have I been here?”
A hesitation. Then he swallowed. “They brought you in on Wednesday afternoon. Today’s Saturday. Dr Langley operated on Wednesday evening and you’ve been in - in a coma ever since. But I’ve been here all the time.”
“Operated? What - what happened to me, Brad?”
He leant forward and kissed her cheek again, very gently. “You have a head injury, - and bruising, - nothing else.”
For a moment she was silent, then she said softly, “So that’s why they were asking me all those questions! I remember Uncle Max saying my brain was still active! They operated on my brain?”
“It was just to stop the bleeding, I believe.” Brad said soothingly. “You - you lost a lot of blood too.”
“Oh, God! My face? Am I - am I hideous?”
Now Brad blinked. “What? You’re beautiful! As always!”
“But the blood?”
“From the cuts on your scalp. You don’t have any on your face. You are still my gorgeous lady!” He hesitated, then, “They - they had to shave off most of your hair. But it will grow again, my darling. ”
She shuddered, closing her eyes for a moment. “More scars!”
“Carrie, you’re alive! I could have lost you! I even thought I had! And I’ll always love you, scars or not.”
Tears stung her eyes. “But you loved my hair!”
“Your hair will grow again, my love! I love you. If I’d lost you......” He took a deep breath. “I know it’s an obsession, but I can’t help myself! You’re my whole world!”
Her hand moved in his and he felt how frail she was.
“Tell me - tell me about the car accident, Brad,” she muttered. “Was it my car? Was it my fault?”
“No! It was nobody’s fault!” Brad replied, kneading her hand very gently. “According to the driver of the car that hit you, his brakes failed and he careered through the stop street and hit into you. That was confirmed by the police mechanic and also a witness. Your car spun a few times apparently before it hit the tree.”
Carrie swallowed. “I hit a tree? Why was I in the car? Where was I going? Sarah wasn’t with me, was she?” She seemed to be agitated now, and Brad almost panicked.
“It’s okay, sweetheart,” he said quickly. “You were alone in the car. You’d just dropped her off with Edmund, and were on your way home.”
She gazed at him in confusion. “I can’t remember taking her to Edmund! Why was she going there? Why can’t I remember?” She suddenly burst into tears and begged, “Brad, please hold me!”
Brad wasn’t sure that he should try to lift her close to him. She seemed so fragile and he was scared that he would hurt her. But he stood and tenderly lifted her delicate body against him. She cried in his arms, and the rapid beeping of the monitor swiftly brought Max into the ward.
“Now, now, what’s all this?” Max asked as he moved to the bedside. He saw Brad try to lay her back on the pillow, and he added quickly. “No, it’s okay. Keep her close to you. She needs the contact.”
“I don’t want to hurt her,” Brad whispered, but Max smiled at him.
“You won’t, don’t worry. It’s good that she can get her emotions out. Hold her, kiss her. I’ll get these wires out of the way.
Carrie sobbed in her husband’s arms until Max finished removing the cables attaching her to the monitor, and the wires protruding from beneath the heavy bandages around her head.
“The nurses will want to come in here soon to get her ready for the evening meal. We’ll see if she can eat some solid food. Are you still going down to the fete?” Max asked.
Brad gave a quick nod, and he kissed Carrie very gently on her lips before he lay her back against the pillow and mopped at her tears with a tissue from the box on the cabinet next to the bed.
She tried to smile, but her face crumpled again and she swallowed back more tears.
Max patted her hand. “It’s all right, my angel. I’m going to leave your husband with you until the nurses come in, then he’ll come back later, at visiting hour. You just try to relax now.”
“I want to go home, Uncle Max!” Carrie wailed.
“Not right now, Carrie.” Max said firmly. “We need to do more tests. And you’re not well enough.”
“I want to go home!”
Brad took her back in his arms, saying softly, “And you know I want you at home, my darling, but I want you well. There are nurses here who know what to do for you. I’ll be here with you as often as I’m allowed. Please don’t cry. You need to rest and get better.”
She clung to him feebly for a few more seconds, and then he let her lie down again, and said gently. “I need you to be brave, my love. As soon as the tests are finished, I’ll speak to Mark and the surgeon and see if they’ll let you come home to recover.”
Carrie sniffed and tried to nod, but she whimpered, “My head hurts!”
“Dr Langley has prescribed pain-killers,” Max told her. “The nurses will give them to you. No more crying now! You need to settle down, stop fretting.”
A short while later Mark and Dr Langley came into the ward. The surgeon frowned, moving to the bed.
“Is there a lot of pain?” She lifted Carrie’s eyelids, felt her pulse and nodded. “You’ve been extremely lucky, you know. There could have been a lot more damage!”
Mark smiled at her. “You certainly had an angel in that car with you. But now I’m going to have to separate you from your hubby for a while. He can come back this evening.”
“I want to go home!” Carrie mumbled, and Mark laughed.
“Not now Carrie! It’s too late for us to discharge you at this time of the day. And we still have tests to do tomorrow, now that you’re awake! We’ll see what time they’re finished.”
As Brad made his way, on foot, to the park on the estate, he realised that his conversation with God was very different to the one he had intended to have. His envisioned begging and pleading, - and complaining - had now become grateful thanks for Carrie’s protection and delivery from the collision. He now offered praise instead of disillusionment, and he especially tendered repentance for his lack of faith.