Cathryn sat in the padded guest chair by the hospital bed, a brush sketch of black clothes and red hair and pale pink skin in the overriding washed green and taupe décor.
It just didn’t seem real. Henry had been… how would you put this? The picture of health? But that’s only appearances. And now he was an unconscious stick figure under hospital sheets. What could she say that might make it all change back? He was literally the healthiest person she knew?
No, then they might all become sicker.
It was like she had been gifted a magic wand made of a monkey’s paw and its battery connection was loose.
Or maybe it was all just what it was. Maybe he had been unwell and she hadn’t noticed.
But what about all those other strange things? Was she losing her mind?
Unless this was just a dream… a terrible one… One in which her husband was lying inert in a hospital bed with tubes sticking into him and electrodes hooked up to him.
But no. She tried that already. As she walked down the hall behind the doctor, she had said “This is just a dream,” and nothing had happened. And then she had said “I’m literally dreaming,” and blue-winged dragons appeared and carried her away to a strange and mystical land and she woke up in the chair by her husband’s hospital bed with a nurse saying “Are you OK?” and, to someone else, “She just passed out for a moment from the stress,” and, back to her, “I’ll get you a glass of water. Just stay seated for now.”
So now here she was, feeling foolish, having consumed enough water that she was sure to have to pee soon. The doctor came back in. “I’m fine. Thanks,” Cathryn said before being asked.
“Yes, you are,” said the doctor. “I checked your vitals. You just need to eat something.” Then she paused and glanced over at Henry. “How many meals do you eat a day?”
“We eat like normal people! I sw— I—” she paused to choose a non-hazardous phrasing. “We eat three meals a day, and probably a couple of thousand calories in total for each of us. Balanced food. We had a bacon-and-cheese soufflé last night. …A big one.”
Doctor Emoji looked at Henry and became Doctor Shrug Emoticon. Then she returned her arms to her previous clipboard-hugging pose. “We’ve had to put him into a coma.”
Cathryn stood up so quickly she almost passed out again. “But…” she gripped the chair arm and half-sat. “But he’s literally in perfect health,” she said, firmly, almost as a there’s-no-place-like-home incantation.
Henry didn’t move. His vital-signs monitor ticked its waves in unexcited continuity.
“We hope he will be,” said the doctor. “He’s stabilized. He’ll need some time, but there’s good reason to think he’ll be back to good health in a few weeks. We’ve put him in a coma to help speed that up. You don’t need to be afraid. He should be talking to you in a few days.”
“Well, thanks, that’s terrific,” Cathryn said perfunctorily. But then she was filled with a sense of intense dread at the enormity of the situation. Panic started to overtake her… a nightmarish terror seized her… “That’s wonderful,” she gasped. The terror cleared like a rotating billboard changing and she was suffused with wonder, awe, respect. She relaxed into the chair.
“I’m going to let you spend some time with your husband now,” the doctor said. “You will have to go home once visiting hours are over. Don’t worry, he’ll be OK. Do you have someone who can come and give you a ride home?”
“I… I’ll see if I can call someone.”
“I’m sorry I’m so rushed tonight,” the doctor said. “It’s not that I’m disinterested.” Cathryn wondered if she meant that in the dictionary sense or… “It’s just really busy. It has been a very weird day. Things you just don’t see. Someone down the hall has plethora. A few people have come to emerg in OK state and then just… One man walked in, said he had been electrocuted, and then dropped on the spot. It’s dizzying.” She did not look dizzy. She started to turn towards the door.
Cathryn raised her hand slightly to catch her before she left. “Doctor… I’m sorry, I missed your name.”
The doctor canted her clipboard forward to reveal her name tag. “Doctor Nurse. Anita Nurse, MD.” She made a wan smile. “My fiancé’s name is Skrzypczyszyn. I’m thinking of taking it just to make my life easier.” She almost laughed.
“Doctor,” Cathryn said, “this probably sounds like a stupid question, but… If you ever need a dictionary, you just use a medical one, right?”
Doctor Nurse was unflappable. “Yes, we have a few. Did you need one?”
“No… thanks. I don’t know why I have dictionaries on my… I was just… never mind. Thanks.”
“See if you can get someone to take you home. We’ll all be here tomorrow. Be careful out there.” She nodded, turned, went out.
“You too,” Cathryn said after her.
Excellent. Smooth surface peeled back here so we can see the bobbles of suffering endured by even the most perfectly ordinary dictionary people. Who has not wanted to scream, often at the television, ‘Noooooo, implied implied,’ when (for example) someone says he has ‘inferred’ something he actually implied. And so on. However, there but for, etc. (It’s a whole Cabin Pressure flight deck staving-off-boredom word game. And if you haven’t listened to CP, British BBC radio half hour comedy series, please do.You will feel better at once.)
Well done so far, James. Clever without being overly so – and, of course,