Can Someone Tell Me What The Hell Just Happened?
I want to accomplish the simplest task and am finding it beyond difficult.
Open your eyes. Just open your damned eyes.
My eyeballs feel like they should pop out with the effort I’m making. My exertion’s wasted, for they open slowly and it burns. Before the sudden pain clamps them shut, I’m able to make out a single object: a long line set below a rectangle. It’s shiny and tall like a street sign set near my throbbing head. I reach for the phantom shape with my left arm, but a sharp pain in my ribs calls off the effort. I switch sides, intending another probe, but a tearing sting in my shoulder puts a stop to that search, as well. I give up on exploration for the moment and start groping within my own borders, making sure the rest of me is intact. Something soft; like a large pillow is stuck to the side of my chest. It’s too close, I can’t lift my head. Not that I could, but it would be nice to have room to try.
Every muscle feels painfully stiff.
A growing tickle just below my nose has gone from troublesome to absolutely irritating. Its real work at first, keeping my reach from veering to one side. Finally, with a moderate amount of effort, my fingers crawl up my chest, sticking close to the pillow set to one side, until I’m able to make the small move to my nose, landing my fingertips on a hard line set across my face.
I crack open one eye; just enough to examine my raised hand and find it’s also burdened with a mess of tubes and tape. I feel weak and sick. My arm is like lead. I let it fall back to my side. Once I had the stomach flu for an entire week, the worst case I have ever had in my life, this feels ten times worse. I must be groaning because suddenly someone’s next to me.
“Time for pain meds?” The sound is soothing, offsetting the sharp smell of rubbing alcohol invading my nostrils.
“Where am I?”
A shadow blocks the blinding light and I open my eyes. Everything’s hazy, distorted. Blinking, I’m able to make out the form of a woman standing at my bedside.
“In the hospital,” she says.
Her pink and white striped shirt bears a laminate name tag that reads: Chelsea Gibbons, R.N. I can’t be sure, but something in her expression makes me think she’s teasing. She shifts and the light blinds me again.
“Shut off the light?”
A thread of cool wanders up my arm, medicine flowing through the tube and into my bloodstream. The pain disappears. Then, specks. Little points of nothing start on the fringes, growing to dim blotches that bleed together until they meet and close me in.
The peaceful void is contradicted by a rolling heave that constricts my stomach and widens my throat. The feeling turns me to one side. I don’t see where the vomit lands but hear a long sigh after the splash.
Floating. I’m lost in some pleasant cloud, seeing nothing, but hearing voices. They’re quiet and far off at first, growing clearer as the knowledge of pain streams in. But it’s bearable. I pull myself from the medicated slumber to listen.
“I’ve never heard anything so terrible. Mugging an unconscious man? What’s the world coming to? It makes me glad I don’t have children.”
“The woman who called said she was stopped at a red light and suddenly there were two guys on the hood of her car. Fighting.”
“What did she do?” Both voices are full of interest and trepidation though they speak low.
“What do you think? She called 9-1-1. When she got back to her car, the whole intersection was backed up. The one guy was gone—police are still looking for him. This one’s been in and out since yesterday.”
“Has he said anything?”
“We don’t know his name, either. Whoever it was must’ve taken his wallet. Dr. Shepard should be here soon to go over his x-rays. So far, all we have is a mild concussion and simple dislocation.”
“What caused the burns on his hands and ears, though?”
My stomach twists when there’s no audible response to the question. Papers shuffle before one woman excuses herself, while the second greets who I guess must be the doctor.
“Give me the rundown,” a man’s voice says.
There’s a click and more papers rustling while the second voice repeats the previous conversation in more technical terms, using words like lacerations, contusions, emesis, and leukocytosis.
During the riveting back and forth the doctor just ‘hmm’s’ and clears his throat. I want to ask what it all means but I feel so sick, I may puke again if I open my mouth. I’d rather just lie here and hope for sweet death to take me.
“It appears the dislocation has taken care of itself and the concussion is mild. I’m not comfortable with the blood counts. What’s his L.O.C?”
“He’s woken a few times, briefly. There’s a note in his chart to call the police when he wakes. They want to be the first to question him. What should I tell them?”
“He should be fine. Next time he wakes, ask him if he’s in radiation therapy. I want blood, stool, and vomit samples sent to the lab. The white counts are high and I want to know why. Page me when the results are back. I’m due in O.R.”
“Make sure you get info on next of kin, too. I want everything.” Padded footsteps fade to silence.
There are several things wrong with this picture but placing what those exact things might be is difficult. I can’t say why, but I know in the pit of my stomach that I’m not supposed to be here. My thoughts linger on the mystery, but the mere presence of it makes no sense. I should know how I got here.
After some deliberation, memories start rolling in like a slide show passing before my eyes. I focus on the details. Sitting with my dad, helping him trim his ear hair so he looks good in his casket. Ahmed firing me . . . the way the store looked from across the street as I waited for the bus. Abi throwing me out, my job interview.
A red diesel truck. Broken metal. The frozen face of the driver inside. A bearded stranger shoving me out of the way.
What happened to everyone else?
Is that why the police want to talk to me?
To the first two questions, I have no answer. To the last I can only assume. There may not be other survivors to question. It had to be a horrific scene. But . . . how is it possible that I could survive and no one else? I was in the thick of it. No one was closer to that truck than me. Except the one guy who probably saved my life. A tinge of guilt sets in as I remember: I thought he was trying to hurt me.
My body demands respite but my mind is running wild. Rest is impossible. I need to find out what’s going on. But that means they’ll ask questions. They’ll want answers. I’m not sure why, but something about this whole scenario feels off, prompting a few questions of my own. Here’s a good one: how am I going to pay for all this?
My good hand automatically gropes where my pants pocket should be. I find a hospital gown instead.
I’m upright with no conscious thought about how I got that way, heat throbbing through my head and chest. My eyes scream as I force them to stay open, searching for a cabinet or closet inside the lonely space.
It can’t be gone.
The only light comes from the wall behind me. Making my way to the edge of the bed to better see the bright rectangular glow over my bed, I stare. It stings, though the light is shielded by dark semi-transparent images. As I focus on those, the shapes start to make sense. It’s x-rays. I try, for a second, to get a closer look but my eyes refuse to cooperate.
For the next part, it takes a few deep breaths to mentally prepare. My errand demands accuracy and my legs may not manage. My feet ache and tingle as I stand. After gaining balance, I count to five before letting go of the bed. I feel the disconnecting fuzz coming and fight against passing out.
Somehow, I catch myself on the edge of the tray table. The wheels under it spin toward the wall. It doesn’t take long to realize I’ll be flat on my face if I don’t do something quick. Using my bad shoulder and aching arm, I shift my weight, ditching the tray table for the IV stand. The table rolls into the wall with a placid thump. By the time that happens, I’m at the end of my bed, using the rails and IV pole to hoof it toward the wide wooden door on the far wall. Relieved to have reached it without falling, I push the door open.
There’s nothing but a toilet and small sink. No clothes. The door hits the shower wall and wobbles, then I hear something—a swish and hobble around to check it out. Hanging on the back of the door is a yellow and white bag swinging from the inside handle. I take it and make my way back to bed, heart racing and palms sweating.
My shoe is stuck in the mouth of the bag. I’ve got no strength to shake it, but try to loosen the stupid rubber from the plastic. I can’t grip it the way I need to. My hands are covered in red blotches and my fingers won’t work right. Finally, the bag tears and the shoes fall onto the faded blanket. Everything else falls on top. The pants I was wearing are mangled. They don’t look burned, just dirty. I check the pockets. My heart sinks. Nothing. Something’s missing . . . my backpack! I changed clothes before the interview.
The interview! Aw, I missed that, too!
Water streams from my stinging eyes while I grope the space beneath my bed to find nothing but dust bunnies. About to give up, my blurry gaze falls to a chair in the dark corner. And there it is.
Inside the backpack, my jeans are wadded just the way I left them. Within the front pocket, I find what I’m searching for. My money.
Relief floods me. As I relax, the effects of my hurried journey surface in more dizziness. Clutching the priceless paper to my chest, I fall back into bed.
“You’ve been up I see.”
Warily, my eyes open to find the room comfortably lit. My belongings are still crumpled around my legs. I’m shivering, and half-way beneath the blankets before it registers both my arms are moving. The mass of cotton and gauze that was taped to my shoulder is gone. Quickly, I give myself a once over and see the reddish marks on my hands are also fading.
“You must be feeling better, because you’re moving like lightening. Take it slow; you don’t want to overdo it.” The nurse, Chelsea, is back. She raises the rolling tray table, setting it in front of my bed, laden with covered containers.
“How long have I been sleeping?” My voice sounds scratchy, like I haven’t used it for days.
“So far as I know, the last time you woke was eleven hours ago.”
Her hands locate a lever on the side of my bed and soon I’m sitting up. My stomach growls at the welcome sight and I suddenly feel ravenous, watching delicious steam rising from the edges of the lids.
“I bet you’re hungry. Your chart says you haven’t had solids since you got here.”
No time for chitchat, I commence with shoveling, gobbling down half the entrée before I taste the food. I’m not sure what the bland beef and vegetables are supposed to be, but they aren’t as appetizing as they look. Not that it’ll stop me from demolishing them.
“Don’t eat too quickly, you’re stomach may be sensitive.”
“Its fine,” I say, but the words are garbled.
After the last bite, I start on the box of apple juice, finish it and move on to coffee. It’s weak, but hot. Only then, is my mouth freed up for small talk. I palm the plastic mug trying to absorb the heat.
“How are your eyes? Still light sensitive?”
Her question prompts me to take the first good look at my surroundings. The walls are a pasty pink and off-white pinstripe with some sort of weird, gray swishes through them at random intervals. There’s a wood-framed, baby blue arm chair in the corner set beneath a large picture of a woman in a blue dress staring at a piano. The gaudy frame is painted wood with gold accents. Next to my bed there’s a plastic plant on a simple wooden nightstand that matches the chair. The thin blankets set around my waist match the walls. It all looks ancient, like a color scheme you might see in old episodes of Doogie Howser, MD. Right down to the out-dated heart monitors and television set on a metal shelf bolted in the corner. The set is so old it actually has round knobs to change the channel.
“Fine, I guess.”
This has to be County hospital. That’s where they send people without insurance. As I sip my coffee, the worries resurface. They’re probably charging a weeks’ pay for breakfast alone. My financial prospects are getting shakier by the minute.
“Can you tell me your name?”
I look to the plastic wrist band and see the bold print: ‘J. DOE’.
“Jonas Wakefield,” It’s the first name to pop into my head. A product of the last song I remember hearing. I hope she isn’t a Weezer fan.
Chelsea shakes her head, making notes in my chart. “It’s nice to meet you Mr. Wakefield. I’m Chelsea, your nurse for today. Do you know why you’re here?”
“I was in an accident.” It isn’t a question but it sounds like one.
She nods again. “I have to step out to notify the doctor. He’s been waiting to speak with you. Is there anyone I can call, a family member or friend?”
Her face is kind. Gentle and round. Her eyes are big, brown, and filled with a concern that mirrors my own.
I can’t tell Dad about this. He’s been preoccupied by something he won’t explain because he’s convinced I can’t understand and he’s too sensitive to stress these days. And Abi, if she knows, she doesn’t care.
“Nah, it’s just me.”
“If you need anything, press the call button. It’s on the railing near your elbow.” She points towards the plastic covered barrier at my side before sweeping out into the hall.
Left alone to rest, with pangs of hunger quieted—I feel much better than the first time I woke. Whatever was causing the nausea must have gone away. Or I slept through it. That reminds me of one, very important question. I hit the button to call a nurse.
A scratchy voice answers, “Do you need something?”
“Yes, is Chelsea available?”
A pause, then more scratches, this time a high-pitched almost shrieking. It sounds like a bad PA system. “She’s on a phone call Mr. Wakefield.”
“I just want to know what day of the week it is.”
“Tuesday. Anything else?”
“No, I’m going to sleep now.”
I go over the numbers in my head. Is it possible I’ve been here for six days? At the going rate of what—two-thousand a day?
The soreness in all my muscles is especially evident as I stretch for the phone on the nightstand. My effort’s futile because I can’t recall the number I want to dial. I stretch a little further down for my backpack on the floor. Inside is my phone, which is turned off. I press the green button and wait for the light, but no orange bars appear. Battery’s dead.
There’s little chance of recalling anything with my brain so fuzzy.
Drowsiness makes giving up easy. I lay the bed back and search for the remote to shut off the lights. I can’t find it but don’t really care. The ease of a full stomach soothes and soon I’m drifting.