You suddenly realize that you're in a hospital room looking at a patient...
you need to find out why he's here.
And then why you're here.
Mature or distressing themes. This story deals with violence and rape.
I look around to get a better feel for this place. It’s a more or less typical hospital room. There’s a hospital bed with the rails on both sides raised. There’s a clock on the wall above the head of the bed. Stupid place for a clock; the person in the bed won’t be able to see the time. On the wall opposite the foot of the bed, where the clock should be, there’s an old fashioned TV, the kind with a picture tube, mounted a couple of feet below the ceiling. It’s sturdily mounted to the wall with heavy-duty steel brackets that are painted a particularly ugly shade of hospital-pale-green. There’s other stuff in this hospital room, typical stuff for a hospital. On the wall next to the head of the bed there’s a bank of monitors, each monitor has blinking lights and one of them makes a loud, irritating beeping noise. On the patient’s right there are IV bags of saline solution and antibiotics and pain killers hanging on a bright chrome stand that has wheels like a portable coat rack so it can roll where it’s needed. Next to the stand there are two uncomfortable looking chairs for visitors. On the patient’s left there’s a cabinet, like a sort of nightstand on wheels, painted the same kind of ugly hospital-pale-green color; it has two drawers and at the bottom an empty shelf. On top there’s a beige plastic tray with a beige plastic cup with about an inch of lukewarm water that’s holding a few of those plastic moistening sticks that have a little sponge thing they use to daub the patient’s mouth when the patient can’t drink water.
Ah, yes, the patient. A boy. A teenage boy. Five foot ten, one hundred fifty-five pounds; that’s what it says on the chart hanging at the foot of the bed. He’s sort of big for his age. Even though his age isn’t on the chart he’s fifteen years old. His hair is the color people call strawberry blond, a 50-50 mix of light red and light blond. There’s a band of freckles across his cheeks and nose. His complexion is light colored, too. He looks like he wouldn’t tan, he’d probably sunburn easily. His eyes are closed, his head turned a bit to his right. There are tubes coming from his mouth and nose, and other tubes from the IV bags snaking down to needles stuck in his right arm and the back of his right hand. That arm is strapped to the side rail, probably to keep him from moving it and pulling out the IV lines. There’s a large bandage on the left side of his head just above his ear; it’s clean, there’s no sign of any blood. He has ugly bruises on left side of his face and on his left shoulder. His left arm is in a cast that’s mostly hidden in a sling; only the wrist and hand can be seen. He has been injured, critically injured.
On the chart it says his name is ‘John Doe 10-0007’. That isn’t his name; they put that on the chart because the hospital doesn’t know his name. But I do. I know his name. His name is Brian Anderson.
Brian and I are the only ones in the room. I’m looking down at him, watching his shallow breathing. With each breath he takes there’s a rattling noise, and his breathing is starting to sound forced. It’s starting to be a problem for him to continue breathing, to stay alive. I wonder why there’s no nurse or doctor in the room, responding to the loud beeping noise that one of the monitors is making. It sounds to me like an emergency signal, but I really don’t know about these things, so I don’t know if it’s an alarm or not. Hey, I’m only fifteen years old. Just like the kid in the hospital bed. In fact, I am the kid in the hospital bed. I’m Brian Anderson.
I don’t understand how I can be outside of myself looking at myself lying in a hospital bed all connected up to machines and IV’s. I don’t even know why I’m lying in a hospital bed, why I’m here, why I was injured, why my condition is marked ‘critical’ on the chart hanging from the foot of the bed. I feel okay, really I do. I’m not unconscious, I’m not in pain, I’m not having any trouble breathing, there’s no reason I can think of why I should be in a hospital bed. And why I should be separated from myself, outside of myself.
Brian, the one in the hospital bed, twitches, then his whole body jerks, and it sounds like the Brian in the hospital bed can’t breathe at all now. Hey, that’s me who can’t breathe! I yell as loud as I can: “Hey, someone get in here and help me!”
One of the nurses rushes into the room. She looks at the Brian in the bed then looks around, confused. “Who’s here?” Just as she says that, one of the machines hooked up to the Brian in the bed starts screeching. Now, that’s a real alarm. I watch her as she pushes a button that starts another kind of alarm, one that is outside of the room that beeps about once a second, and there’s a bright flashing light that blinks with each beep. She pushes another button that stops the screeching alarm. She pulls some sort of cellphone, it doesn’t look like a regular cell phone, out of her pocket and is yelling into it: “Code blue room C5, code blue! Crash cart to room C5 STAT!”
Two guys in green hospital uniforms run into the room, closely followed by a guy in white. There’s a name badge on his white jacket: ‘Doctor John McFadden’. All three of them begin working on the Brian in the bed. One monitor on the wall has a display of some kind, like a chart made using a spreadsheet program, with a line with blips every so often that moves across the display. Suddenly the line has no more blips, and that monitor starts screeching. This sounds like the other screeching alarm, maybe it’s the same one as before. The doctor says something that I can’t make out because of all the noises. The nurse pushes a button on the monitor and the alarm stops screeching.
The doctor gives the Brian in the bed an injection. I can’t see what they’re doing; they are huddled around him blocking my view. A guy in a green hospital uniform pushes a cart that has lots of equipment into the room. The doctor waves his hand at him, waving at him to stay back. There’s a beeping sound from one of the monitors, and the blips are moving across on the display again. I wonder if I’ll feel anything from the shot they gave the Brian in the bed, but I don’t. And I feel fine.
I grin, thinking ‘and I feel fine’ makes me remember an old song by R.E.M. ‘It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.’ I love that song. I start to hum the tune, out loud. Suddenly all of the talking in the hospital room stops. The doctor and nurse and orderlies... hey, I just remembered that’s what the guys in green are called: orderlies. Anyway, every one of them stops talking. They are looking around the room, at the Brian in the bed, and around the room again. Oh, my God! They can hear me? I remember now, when I called out for help, the nurse said ‘who’s here’ but I didn’t pay any attention to that then. I realize that I’m still humming the song. I stop, wait about two seconds, and start humming again, much louder this time.
“Okay, who’s the joker?” That’s the doctor who said that, and I keep humming the song. “This isn’t funny. I want this to stop, right now.”
He’s looking at the nurse. She looks at him. “I’m not doing anything. I’ll tell you, there’s someone in here, something strange going on in here. What happened, someone yelled from this room, said they needed help, and I didn’t see anyone. Then he...” she’s pointing to the Brian in the bed, “...flatlined and the alarm went off and I called code blue.”
As I listen to her, I remember reading that ‘flatlined’ means the person’s heart stopped. I stop humming without even realizing it. Everyone is quiet. The only sounds are the labored breathing of the Brian in the bed, the muted beep of the alarm in the corridor, and the soft sounds made by the monitors above the bed.
I decide it’s time to say something to them. I don’t even know if that will work, if they will hear me if I try saying something to them.
“I don’t know what’s going on, but I can hear you and I think you can hear me. My name is Brian Anderson. I’m the one in the hospital bed.”
Well, you’d think I set off a bomb in that hospital room. The doctor yells to the orderlies to close the door, search the room, check the bathroom, check the closet, check under the bed, check outside the window, check the TV, who’s the joker, that sort of thing. The orderlies, including the one who brought in the crash cart, rush around like crazy looking everywhere.
I look at the nurse. She is looking at the Brian in the bed. She pulls up one of the visitor’s chairs and takes my right hand and holds it with both of her hands. Yeah, she takes my right hand, the right hand of the Brian in the bed, but I can feel her touch on my right hand, the warmth as her hands hold the hand of the Brian in the bed, my hand, the slightly rough feel of the skin on her right thumb as she moves it in small circles over the back of my hand.
I’m feeling emotional for some reason. Then I realize it’s because of her gesture, her holding my hand, for some reason that makes me feel a connection with her. I can see that she believes that it is me, Brian, who is there in the room somehow and can talk to them. I can tell, from her touch, that she doesn’t care why or how this is happening; she accepts that it is happening. I whisper “Thanks for believing me.” She doesn’t respond, but she smiles as if she is telling me that she understands. I sure don’t understand. How did I get injured so bad that I am here in a hospital room close to death? How did I get separated from my body? Is this “me” that is doing the thinking actually my soul? My disembodied spirit? How am I able to speak and have others hear me? What will happen to me if the other me, the Brian in the bed, dies? If he gets better will he and I be joined back together? Lots of questions, and no one to answer them. I certainly don’t know the answers.
I’ve been concentrating so much on the nurse holding my hand and what I’m thinking about that I haven’t noticed that the doctor and the orderlies are standing looking at the Brian in the bed, looking confused.
The doctor turns to the orderlies. “Not a word to anyone about this. Do all of you understand that? Everything that happened here is protected health information related to this patient. You know the HIPAA rules. Anyone who breathes a word of this is fired. Get it?”
The three of them nod and say ‘uh huh’ and ‘yes’ and ‘okay’. I don’t believe that they really agree for even a second. I know that I’d call one of those supermarket tabloids that my grandma reads and tell them the story of spooky voices in a hospital room and I’d get a ton of money and screw my job at the hospital, I’d be rich.
“Alright, the patient seems stabilized now. Thanks for your quick response to the code blue. You can get back to your stations.” He turns to the orderly who’d brought in the crash cart. “We won’t need the crash cart any longer.”
After they leave, the doctor shuts the door then sits down in the other visitor’s chair. He closes his eyes, and rubs his temples with his thumbs. He takes a deep breath, and turns to the nurse.
“Connie, what the hell is going on here?”
“I don’ know. Weirdest, spooky thing. Like a ghost, but this boy’s not dead so why a ghost. Maybe his spirit comes out and talks to us because he can’t?”
The doctor closes his eyes for a couple of seconds then opens them again, like a long blink. He looks up at the ceiling, then around the room. I can see he’s making up his mind whether to talk to me or not, and talking is winning.
“Brian? Are you here?”
“I don’t know. Where am I?”
“You’re in the hospital.”
“I know that, but what hospital?”
“Where’s that? What city?”
“Weatherford. Where are you from?”
“Edmond. I never heard of a Weatherford in Oklahoma. Where is it?”
“It’s in Texas. Weatherford is west of Fort Worth. Edmond’s a couple hundred miles north of here. How are you able to talk to us?”
“I don’t know. I... what happened to me? How did I get here? Why am I here?”
“You were found by a farmer on his property, in a wooded area. He normally doesn’t go there, but he saw the headlights of a car that had stopped along his property then it pulled out and sped away. People dump trash along the road there, so he stopped to look. He found you, dumped in the bushes. You had been pretty badly beaten, you had a significant head wound, blunt force trauma.” He stopped for a few seconds. He seemed to be making up his mind what to say. “You had been raped.”
“Raped? You mean....”
“Yes. Do you remember any of this happening to you?”
“No.” I closed my eyes and tried to think about what I was doing before... before now, whenever ‘now’ was. “How long have I been here? What’s the date?”
“Today’s the 18th of February. You were brought in six days ago, around two in the morning on the 12th of February.”
“I’ve been here a week?”
“Almost. You’ve been in a coma the entire time... uh, you are in a coma. At least your body is. We had to operate, you had no identification, you were a John Doe and there were no known parents or guardians, we had to get a court order putting you under the juvenile court’s protection and they gave us the okay to operate.“ He paused and took a deep breath and let it out.
“I see my patient in this hospital bed. He’s in a coma, and can’t respond. You, on the other hand, I can’t see, but we’re able to converse. That’s... let’s just say that’s not something I understand. It’s beyond being strange... it’s not normal. Who are you? Or maybe I should ask what are you?”
Now I’m starting to panic. If this is strange for the doctor, what about for me? And for the Brian in this bed? “I don’t know! I don’t know! I’m scared. What’s going to happen to me, and to the real me in this bed? Am I going to die? Am I going to live? Why am I separated from my body?”
“Sorry if this is upsetting you, Brian. Let’s try to get some things straightened out here. Okay, you’re from Edmond, Oklahoma, right?”
“I think first we need to contact your family. They must be frantic. You’ve been gone so long. What’s your address, phone number, and your folk’s names?”
“I live at 22810 Cedar Creek Road in Edmond. Our phone number is 405-555-7271. My mom’s name is Phyllis Anderson, my dad’s is Greg Anderson.” Doctor McFadden writes this down.
“Thanks, Brian. Connie, please stay with him while I go make a phone call to his parents.”
Thanks to Cole Parker for editing I'm Sticking Around for a While
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