Tessa wakes in a hospital room, not knowing how she got there.
|Chapter 2 - You're Young
My eyes pop open. I am lying in a bed with bright light illuminating a white room. It’s quiet except for a continuous beeping which sounds like medical monitors to me.
"You're awake," a hushed, astonished voice mutters. She is squeezing my hand a bit too hard, making it almost uncomfortable. Then, louder, directed over my head to someone I can’t see, "She's awake!" Releasing my hand, she runs to the open door and shouts, "Come quick," then she's back, squeezing my hand again. I think she's talking to me, but I'm confused and not paying attention.
My mouth is dry. My body is stiff. I'm not really sure where I am. A hospital? I don't remember anything happening after I went to bed last night. I look down at the crisp white sheet draped over my body, tucked in at my sides. I wiggle my toes and see the accompanying motion under the sheet. I repeat the process with my fingers, then gently move each leg and arm. Everything moves normally. Nothing hurts. I feel a tug at the back of my right hand and look - an IV is stuck firmly in place.
I turn to look at the person who was shouting. She moves to within arm’s length. The smell of her perfume wafts by, enfolding me in a lavender scent, supplanting the sterile antiseptic-infused crispness of the room. Her soft brown eyes are looking intensely at my own, sparkling brilliantly of excitement and elation.
"Rosie? How do you feel? Can you hear me? Do you know who I am? Do you know where you are?" Her voice is gentle, tightly contained barely above a whisper. There’s a strong flavor of expectation in those questions, as though she is carefully walking on thin glass hoping not to cause any cracks.
I stare back at her. Rose? Why is she calling me Rose? It's obvious she thinks she knows me, but she is unfamiliar. I can't tell her "no," not yet, not until I know what's going on. I hesitate, trying to give myself time to think.
"Th-" I attempt to speak. I try again. "Thirsty." My voice comes out in a gravelly whisper, grating and surprisingly difficult, like I'm talking through a thick pillow.
"Oh!" she says. Like all hospital rooms, there is a plastic cup sitting nearby, upside down and unused on a TV tray. She picks it up and bounds out the door, narrowly missing a nurse and a doctor who have just entered the room.
"Good day, Mrs. Hawthorne," a strong, clear voice says to her.
“It is, doctor, it is,” she laughs as she hurries by him.
He walks to my bed and offers me his hand. I reflexively take it. "I am Doctor Voule,” he tells me, shaking my hand perfunctorily. He’s wearing casual dark pants and a brown button-down shirt, covered loosely with a white doctor’s coat open at the front.
“I’m your nurse, Sylvia,” the woman standing next to him says as she raises one hand it a bright greeting. Her blonde hair is pulled back in a severe bun but her smile is warm and caring.
The doctor continues, “You have been in a coma for eight months. Do you remember anything from the accident?"
"Accident?" I struggle out, a little better than my last attempt.
"Yes," he replies. He is tall, or seems tall from my mostly-reclined position in bed, with short dark hair and deep dark eyes. "You were in a car accident,” he says gently.
The woman comes back and hands me the cup, which she managed to fill with ice chips. I smile slightly and nod, then tip the cup up to my lips and back just far enough to slip an ice chip into my mouth. It feels sublime. The ice melts quickly in my warm mouth and the cool melted water trickles slowly down my dry throat. I can almost envision my throat with open dry splits, like the surface of the desert, starting to heal closed after the long awaited rain of my first drink of water in eight months. Eight months!
The water seems to heal my voice, and I try again to speak, this time with more than one word. "The last thing remember was laying in my bed, trying to go to sleep." My voice is rough and doesn't sound like my voice. Is that normal after not using it for so long? Eight months!
Dr. Voule says assuredly, "Memories surrounding traumatic events can be disrupted or even lost completely, either short term or permanently. You may start to recall the events leading up to the accident, and maybe even the accident itself, over time. Or you may not. It can't be predicted. Just be patient with yourself. You may have a long recovery, or things may change overnight."
I nod, still confused. It occurs to me then that I don't know who else was in the accident. Oh my God! Was I driving? Are the kids hurt? Where are they? And Tim...where is he? "Are the kids okay?" I ask, my voice rising in a panic. "Who else was in the car?"
The nurse and the doctor exchange glances, and Sylvia makes a note in the chart.
The woman who handed me the ice chips widens her eyes and tilts her head to the side. She’s hovering so near me that I feel her perfume smothering me like a wool blanket. She glances quickly at Dr. Voule, then looks back at me and opens her mouth as if to say something.
Dr. Voule speaks first. "It was a single car accident. You hit a patch of ice after work, slid off the road into a ditch, and tipped over. We think you hit your head on the window. No one else was involved. We can talk details tomorrow. I’d like to do a quick examination of you right now, if you don’t mind.”
I’m too stunned to decline. He has me look right, then left. I follow his finger around in a circle with my eyes, squeeze his index fingers with my hands, stick out my tongue and point it up and down. He has me swing my legs off the side of the bed and holds each knee as I try to pull up. This part is a struggle for me and I tire quickly. My legs shock me by how look thin and frail they look.
“Very good. Thank you, Rose,” Dr. Voule says as he helps me lay back down. The woman re-tucks the covers in around me as he talks, fussing over smoothing out the wrinkles and folding the edges obsessively. “Things look good. You’ve lost muscle tone and strength, which is expected for the amount of time you’ve been immobile. For now, you should rest. Maybe eat some food - but go easy at first. It's been a long time since you've had real food. If you're able to eat and drink, we can unhook the IV and other equipment. Over the next few days we will do a few tests to see what, if any, lasting damage there is.”
I nod again. Is there something he's not telling me? Where are the kids? My heart starts beating fast and I feel a cold sweat coming on. He could be lying about the kids, but he did just say it was a single car accident and no one else was hurt. I don't understand what's going on. I look at Dr. Voule. His face is stoically passive, a rock in my emotional windstorm. I want to ask more, but I'm sure he's not going to say anything else now. I take another ice chip, a heavenly waterfall melting in my mouth.
“Now,” he continues, “What is your name?”
I’m stunned. I want to say Tessa, but since they’ve been calling me Rose I’m just so unsure what to say. I settle for, “I don’t know.”
“Ok. That’s fine. What’s the year?” He takes the clipboard from Nurse Sylvia.
“2013?” I hazard a guess.
“Right,” he confirms, making scratchmarks with his pen on the clipboard. “What country are we in?”
“The United States,” I answer, feeling like there’s a chance I could get this wrong. What the hell happened to me?
“Right. Who is the president?”
I’m pretty sure of my answer here. “Obama,” I say with confidence.
Dr. Voule, to his credit, only purses his lips slightly. “No, he lost the last two elections. George Bush is on his third term, though I hear Mr. Obama hasn’t given up hope and is preparing a campaign for the next election,” he smiles warmly.
I feel as if a bucket of ice water has been dumped over my head. I am stunned, numb to the bone. This isn’t making sense to me.
As if reading my thoughts, Dr Voule says “That’s enough questions for today, my dear. We don’t want to overdo it,” and he pats me assuredly on the shoulder.
“But I don’t understand...I am so very confused,” I tell him in a half-whisper.
“Disorientation is common after serious injury and long-term coma. You seem to have amnesia, but let’s not rush things. You just awoke. Over the next couple days we’ll have a better comprehension of your brain function and any lasting effects of the accident. For now, just let your body get reacclimatized to being conscious. It’s a big change.”
Dr. Voule turns away and walks to the door with the nurse. They are conversing quietly, their heads turned in toward each other. Dr. Voule pulls a pen out of the front pocket of his white jacket and starts writing on the clipboard. The nurse seems to agree and, as the doctor walks out, turns and says, "I'll order some soft foods. They should be here shortly."
"Thank you," I mumble as the nurse follows the doctor out of the room.
I look at the woman who is still standing near my bed. She has wavy dark brown hair, speckled with strands of grey. It is shoulder length and a bit ruffled, like she has just woken up. Around her brown eyes are crows’ feet and ashen circles. She's not wearing makeup, so a few age spots are visible on her cheeks and forehead. Her face is pale and her mouth is drawn in a thin, tight line. A beige blouse hangs loosely on her thin frame though it doesn't hide her slightly soft and paunchy belly.
She walks around the bed, back to where I saw her when I first opened my eyes. She looks tired, as if she’d been up all night. She takes my hand again and I notice her fingers are long and bony and the skin is slightly wrinkled on the backs of her hands. "How do you feel, Sweetie?" she says, with definite concern in her voice.
"I'm not sure," I reply hesitantly, feeling her fingers stroke the back of my hand.
"Right. Too soon. That's ok," she says quickly, then, even quicker, "Oh my God! I need to call your father!" She releases my hand and turns around, looking for something. She finds it on the chair in the corner - her purse, a big blue sparkly bag - and bends to rummage though it for a minute, muttering to herself "Come on. Where are you hiding... Ah-ha!" she finishes triumphantly, and pulls a cellphone out of the depths of the bag. She dials and puts it to her ear. "Doug. She's awake!" She turns away from me and says much more quietly into the phone "She's confused, but awake and talking. Her memory is fuzzy and she doesn't recall the accident. I'm not sure she knows who I am..." She tapers off and I realize it's because she's crying. Silently crying, but crying nonetheless. Her shoulders are shaking rhythmically and she sniffles twice before saying to the voice on the other end of the phone "Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Yeah, I know... okay, okay. I will. Love you." Then she ends the call.
I'm still not sure what to think. I've only been awake about fifteen minutes but my eyelids feel heavy. I want to ask a bunch of questions, but this is so surreal I don’t even know where to start. Who is this woman? Why is she "calling my father"? My father is dead! Maybe they have me confused with someone else. Am I horribly disfigured? Maybe they think I'm someone else because I can't be identified correctly! My heart jumps into my throat. Ohmygod,ohmygod, ohmygod. I put my hands up to my face and feel around. My fingertips find smooth skin. No bandages, no scars, no rough patches suggestive of burns. My hands, my arms, everything I can see above the covers look smooth and normal in every way.
The woman who I’m starting to think believes she is my mother turns back to me while dropping her phone back into her purse. She smiles wanly, then sees me checking myself out and rushes back to my side. "Oh, no, Rosie dear, you are fine.” She’s very emphatic. “Like the doctor said, no apparent injuries, just a bumped head. They didn't even have to cut your beautiful hair." She gently takes a few strands of hair and holds them out and in front of my eyes. "See? I brushed it for you every day, just like I did every day before school."
I see it. It's brown! Brown hair?! I feel my heart begin to race. The theme to The Twilight Zone starts to play in my head. Am I going crazy? Maybe it's this woman who is crazy. That doesn't explain the brown hair, though. Unless she dyed it too?? Maybe she WANTS me to be her daughter and this is a huge charade of a mentally unstable woman. But then, where is my family? My mom, Tim, the kids? They wouldn't let a strange deranged madwoman visit me in the hospital every day, brush my hair, DYE my hair. Holy crap, what is going on?
"Can I have a mirror?" I ask with trepidation, feeling my voice waver as though I was riding a bike over a gravel road. Still hooked up to the IV and, I'm sure, a catheter, I'm stuck in bed, relying on this woman - on this mentally unstable woman - to help me figure things out.
"You're fine, Honey. Beautiful as always. But, yes, I think I have one somewhere." She turns back to her blue bag that, just like all moms I've ever known, must be full of things you never know when you'll need them but are useful nonetheless: Band-Aids, Kleenex, safety pins, stain-remover pen, Chapstick, sunscreen, pen, pain medication (probably several different types), Tums, and - "Here it is" she says - a compact mirror.
She flips it open and hands it to me. I don't want to look. But I must. So I do.
I have a whole head of brown hair, the color of medium roast coffee highlighted with flecks of gold and honey. It's pulled back into a loose pony tail, just as the Woman-Who-Must-Believe-She-Is-My-Mother must have left it last time she brushed it. I can't tell how long it is, but it disappears behind me, so it's at least shoulder length or longer. The eyes staring back at me are no longer blue. They are brown, the same brown that is full of concern and calling me Rosie. This face I see in the mirror has full lips, prominent cheekbones, and unmarred olive-toned skin. Gone are the everyday lines I've become accustomed to seeing in the mirror back home. Instead, my face is bright and clear. Young. MUCH younger than thirty-sex and as unfamiliar to me as any stranger’s face. It's is very disconcerting looking in the mirror and seeing someone else looking back. I can't speak. I hand the compact back, numb and chilled to my core. This makes no sense.
"See, Sweetie, you look like you've always looked. So beautiful," she says, attempting a reassuring smile. Her cheekbones echo the ones I just saw in the face in the mirror.
Nurse Sylvia returns with a plate of food, if you can call basic green jello food. The sight of those neon wiggly cubes makes my stomach grumble louder than I can ever remember it grumbling before. I stop thinking and wait with bated breath for the nurse to set it down in front of me. I remind myself to wait for a spoon before digging in.
Silvia says to me, "Go slow. Your stomach could revolt. It's not used to processing food."
Again I nod, not trusting myself to say anything coherent, and force myself to eat slower. I savor the limeness of the jello. I let it melt slightly in my mouth before swallowing. It's squishy and cool but warms quickly. Why is it that jello is always the first meal following major illness? It's wonderful.
Very quickly, it's all gone and I notice my stomach is still rumbling. No longer hungry, it's complaining to me like a fussy toddler. "Ug" I mutter.
The Woman-Who-Does-Believe-She-Is-My-Mother asks, "Are you feeling ok?"
"Nauseated," I reply simply, closing my eyes.
"Give it time. Your body will adjust. Slow deep breaths," and she rubs my leg. I focus on that rhythmic up-down, up-down, matching my breathing with it, and my stomach calms in time with my anxiety.
"Rest," she whispers into my ear, and I realize I must be drifting off to sleep. I don't fight it, though I vaguely hope when I open my eyes again, I will find myself back in my own bed with Tim on my right and Cole on my left.
"How are you today, Rose?" my nurse, Sylvia, asks. She is carrying a tray of food, covered with a metal dome.
“I’m ok, I guess,” I reply.
She sets the tray down on the bedside table. “Good to hear. I’m just going to check your vitals, then you can eat your lovely breakfast of chicken broth and jello.”
“No steak and eggs?” I joke.
She politely laughs. “Not today.” She takes the stethoscope from around her neck and listens to my heart, then has me breath deep while she presses it against my back. Then she takes quick swipe with a handheld thermometer on my forehead and writes down the results on her clipboard. “Blood pressure next, then we are done,” she informs me. She has a sweet yet efficient bedside manner.
I hold out my arm for the blood pressure cuff but she takes a small device about the size of an iphone and presses a button. It makes a small, barely audible buzzing sound, then emits a purple-tinged light. On the bare crook of my elbow, she shines the light and waits, then turns it off and tosses it into her pocket.
“What was that?” I enquire.
Distracted with her note-taking, she replies, “Your blood pressure looks normal. Temperature was, too. Things look good.”
“You just took my blood pressure with that?” I ask incredulously. I’ve never seen anything like that device. “I’ve always used the cuff thing. Is this a new technology?”
She squints at me. “No, we’ve used this device for about ten years. It’s much quicker and more accurate.” She respectfully ignores my confusion, probably chalking up my ignorance to what she must think are memory issues related to the accident. I feel like I could be knocked over by a feather. Things are just not adding up. My jaw starts to hurt and I realize I’m clenching my teeth.
“It’s ok,” Sylvia says, “I’m sure there are lots of things that will feel new to you right now. Try not to get overwhelmed by it all. Just focus on getting stronger and going home.” Her pleasant smiles returns. She’s really an angel for me right now, a light breeze through this tornado of confusion. She’s right, of course. “Eat your breakfast,” she tells me as she sets the tray in front of me.
An hour later, I have eaten my liquid breakfast of chicken broth and jello. My stomach is only slightly queasy, more accepting of its contents this time. Dr. Voule is sitting in a chair next to my bed. I have used the automatic motor to put the head of the bed into a less inclined position so I, too, am sitting up. I feel less powerless this way; I have more of a take-charge attitude.
"I feel fine, Doctor" I reply with more strength than yesterday.
"Good. I expect once you are moving around, the stiffness you're experiencing will disappear. You'll still tire easily - you need to get used to physical activity again, but with a little physical therapy, you'll be back to normal activity very soon. You're young - youth tends to jump back quickly."
The "you're young" comment has me taken aback. Sure, thirty-six isn't old, but certainly it's not "youth". "Doctor" I say, then take a deep breath, "I'm afraid you have me confused with someone else. You keep calling me Rose, but that's not my name. And I'm not sure I'd call thirty-six young."
He smiles dismissively. "My dear," he replies with what I must assume is supposed to be a soothing and reassuring voice, "amnesia is very common in patients just waking from a coma. I understand how disconcerting this is for you. Most likely this is temporary, and being around family and friends will bring back your old memories. It might be slow going for a while. Rest assured, we are certain of your identity."
I can't think of anything to say. I don’t feel as though I have amnesia, because I do have memories. Detailed memories. In fact, I have an entire lifetime of memories that are not of Rose Hawthorne’s life. Just yesterday I was worried about my car engine light and trying to hard get laundry done while keeping my kids happy and fed. That’s is my reality. Was my reality? Could I have false memories?
I decide to play it slow - maybe it is the coma messing with my brain and he's right that my true memories will come back. "Ok, doctor. Uh, how old am I?" I ask.
He smiles again, this time a warm smile. "Twenty-three. Now, I'm going to run a few tests on you. I know your family is waiting to see you, so we will be quick. Honestly, there's not much we can do no matter what we find - the brain heals as it will, in its own time. But we gather information now with which to gauge progress." With that, he was done talking.
I go through the motions of the tests he has ordered for me. I'm wheeled down a hallway by Silvia, who is friendly and respects my wishes to remain silent. I don't ask questions and no information is given to me. I lay here, turn that way, wait as one machine after another does the thing it does. MRI, X-ray, EEG. Whatever they are I just don't care. I follow instructions without complaint, stuck in my numbness about this whole situation. After what could have been one hour or five, I'm returned to my room.
I search the wall for a clock, finding a shiny metal one hanging directly next to the door. I’m taken aback - the face of the analog clock is numbered one through twenty-four, with the twenty-four at the top of the clock and the twelve at the bottom. There is only one hand, which is currently pointing to the 11. I blink at it.
Dr. Voule bounces in to the room.
"You're back. Excellent,” he says to me.
“Um, doctor, what time is it?” I ask, dumbfounded by what I’m seeing on the wall.
“11:00,” he answers as he glances at the same clock on the wall that i’ve been trying to decipher, then continues with his own agenda. “A couple of your test results have come to me and they look just fine. I should have the rest of them by tomorrow morning at the latest. I'll stop by and confer with you then."
I nod dumbly. He doesn't pause to register my acknowledgment nor my discombobulation. I watch the back of his head recede as he slips out of my room.