Lake Havasu City, AZ
I had my left arm draped across Chrissy’s flat stomach as we lay on my couch watching a movie. Which, by the way, was one of my favorite ways of spending a hot Sunday afternoon in early September with my girlfriend.
“Hey, sweetie,” I whispered into her auburn hair, “can you stop rubbing my hand? It’s distracting me.”
“I would,” she said, sounding irritated, “but I’m not rubbing your hand. Be quiet and watch the movie.”
“Come on, I can feel it. You’re still doing it.”
She sat up and turned to face me. Piercing blue eyes bore into mine. Holding up both hands, she said, “Does it look like I’m touching you, Brad?” She lay back down and snuggled close to me again. “Watch the movie. The good part is coming up.”
Obviously, she wasn’t rubbing my hand. So why did it feel like she was? I leaned across her, picked up the remote from the glass-topped coffee table, and paused the movie.
As we both sat up, Chrissy tossed back her shoulder-length hair and gave me a dirty look.
I massaged the top of my left hand, stood up, and walked across the wooden floor. Chrissy didn’t say anything, but I felt her eyes on my back as I walked away.
My dog Sadie’s graying, oversized scruffy ears came alert. She lifted her head from her doggie bed and watched me. Not seeing food in my hands, she went back to sleep. A mix of black lab and German shepherd, I had rescued her from a shelter two years before. I spoiled her. As a result, she was slightly overweight. If I took her outside for walks more often, she would probably lose weight, but it seemed like I was always too tired or had something else I needed to do that was more important. I made a mental note to cut back on her table scraps and snacks.
The coolness of the tile floor felt good on my bare feet as I entered the kitchen and walked to the tiled counter near the sink.
“Brad, what’s going on?” Chrissy called from the other room. “Are we going to finish watching the movie or what?”
“Go ahead and start it. I’ll be there in just a minute.” I hated missing part of the movie, but my immediate concern was my hand. The feeling of someone rubbing it was still there and I was starting to freak out a little bit. It was like my nerves were jumping under my skin. I flipped on the florescent light over the sink and stared at the top side of my left hand. It was as though someone was lightly rubbing their fingers up and down my skin from my knuckles to my wrist.
Chrissy silently stepped up next to me. I could feel her breath over my shoulder.
I vigorously massaged the back of my hand to try to stop the strange sensation, a weirdly funny feeling.
Chrissy tucked a loose piece of her auburn hair behind her ear. “Maybe you’re having an allergic reaction to something you ate.”
What had I eaten during the day? Eggs and bacon for breakfast. A burger and fries for lunch. I shook my head. “I don’t know. I didn’t eat anything out of the ordinary today.”
“Your body is changing, putting on a little weight here and there.” She patted my slight paunch with a grin. “Maybe you’ve developed an allergy to something you’ve always been able to eat. Maybe you’re suddenly allergic to dust. Or maybe there’s some kind of new pollen in the air. It could be a number of things.”
Suddenly, the strange sensation disappeared. Just like that, it was gone. I lifted my hand and studied it with curiosity and relief. “Hmmm, the feeling . . . it’s gone.”
“Are you sure it wasn’t your mind playing tricks on you?”
I shook my head. “No, I’m sure it wasn’t a trick of my mind. Have you ever had anything like this happen to you? You know, some sort of funny feeling somewhere on your body?”
She shrugged her petite shoulders, the strap of her yellow top sliding down her right arm. As she replaced it, she said, “Yeah, I guess. I think people have strange sensations all the time. I’m sure I have, but I can’t think of when it happened last.”
“This was more than just a sensation,” I replied. “It was physically real, like you . . . ”
She glared at me with those baby-blue eyes, stopping me from accusing her again.
“ . . . or someone else . . . like someone else was rubbing my hand.” I passed my fingers across the back of my hand. “It felt so real. I’ve never had anything like that happen before.”
Chrissy opened the cupboard. Stretching her slender five-foot-five-inch body to its limits, she plucked a bag of chips from off the top shelf. “Well it’s gone now, so can we get back to the movie?”
I took one more look at my hand. “Yeah, sure.” I smiled at her to ease her mind. I didn’t want to ruin our Sunday night together by letting her know how weirded-out this whole funny feeling thing had gotten me.
Rather than cuddle up on the couch this time, I decided to stay seated for a while and eat chips as I pondered the experience with my hand. I wanted my hand in direct sight. I don’t care what Chrissy thinks about this. What I felt wasn’t just a common sensation. I’d had plenty of sensations during my lifetime, like an irritating itch or a pulsating vein. This feeling had been different, much more immediate, more like it was coming from outside me, not inside me. The thought gave me the shivers.
While I could care less about what was going on in the movie, Chrissy seemed totally wrapped up in it. We had met six months earlier, hitting it off right away with common interests and a compelling attraction toward each other. It seemed like most nights, I visited her apartment or she came to my house. We talked about moving in together, but neither one of us was ready for that big a commitment. Not that I didn’t love her, but I worked long hours during the week and interacted with a lot of people. Sometimes I wanted to have a private night to myself. Chrissy felt the same way. Deep down, I knew we’d end up getting married, but for now, this was what we both wanted and it worked well for us.
I owned a construction business called, Brad’s Handyman & Remodeling Services. Not too original, but with a name like Brad Jones, I didn’t have a lot of options. I’d thought about using my high school nickname, Jonesie, but Jonesie’s Handyman & Remodeling Services didn’t sound professional. It sounded more like a high school kid doing summer jobs, not the business of a forty-eight-year-old divorced hard-working man. For my age, I’m in pretty good shape. I’m five-nine and weigh a hundred and fifty-five pounds. I maintain a decent tan from working outside a lot, and my light brown hair is starting to show a few strands of gray. People have told me that my light blue eyes change color from blue to green, depending on my mood. Hmmm, I hope people can’t read me too closely from that.
The movie ended without any more interruptions. Chrissy’s concentrated involvement with the characters and drama had kept her attention off me. She wiped her eyes with a tissue and laughed at her own emotional response. “Well, I guess I better get going,” she said. “I’ve got to get to work early tomorrow.” As we stood up, she gave me a sweet kiss on the lips. “Thanks for the evening, Brad, and for picking out a great movie. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” She picked up her purse and left.
As I watched her pull out of the driveway, I felt relieved she would not be spending the night with me. I worried I would have another weird episode and I didn’t want her around to give me a hard time.
* * *
The next morning, I thought about the funny feelings as I drove my truck to the day’s jobsite at the home of one of my repeat customers. I sighed in frustration over the memory of the feeling, still unable to explain why it happened and why it seemed so real.
When I arrived at the jobsite, the homeowner had numerous questions and concerns about the big interior painting job he’d hired me for. This was a good thing. It took my mind off the funny feelings and made me concentrate on my work.
I had a long day. By the time I got home, I was completely exhausted. I called Chrissy and told her I was too tired to get together that evening. She readily agreed because she’d had a busy day, too.
Lying in bed, it occurred to me I hadn’t thought about the funny feelings since morning. And more importantly, it hadn’t happened again. I chalked it up to one of those unexplainable, passing things that happen occasionally. I decided to put it out of my mind completely. As I drifted off to sleep, I thought about beautiful Chrissy and how much I enjoyed my job and being independent.
My life couldn’t have been any better if I’d planned it.
White Plains, NY
Hilary Nordmeyer stormed into her husband’s private room in the Whispering Pines Nursing Facility. He’d been there a week now, still in a coma from a car accident.
The short dark-skinned nurse turned to her and asked in a sugary tone. “And how are you today, Ms. Nordmeyer?”
“Tired as usual,” Hilary said, annoyed at the fake friendliness of the nurse. She dropped her Gucci handbag on the cushioned chair next to the door. “I don’t know how Gregory did it,” she complained. “Taking care of everything at home by myself is so exhausting.”
The nurse rolled her eyes. “Yeah, tell me about it.”
Hilary ignored the sarcasm as she looked at Gregory. Still in a coma? When is this going to be over, Gregory? You’ve got responsibilities at home and at your company. Your father won’t get off my back about you getting back to work so he can get back to retirement and doesn’t have to deal with William’s inadequacies.
She noticed that the reclining chair next to Gregory’s bed, the luxury chair she’d ordered Eric to have brought into the room for her to sit on while she visited with Gregory, had been pushed away from the bed and sat against the wall. “That chair should be next to the bed,” she snapped. “I can’t sit next to Gregory when the chair is that far away.”
The nurse briefly eyed the chair. “Well, don’t that beat all.” She went back to her business of fussing with Gregory’s IV equipment.
Hilary took a deep breath and marched toward the drape-covered window, closed for privacy while the nurse was working in the room. This nurse drives me crazy. I’ll have to have a little talk with Eric about her.
Parting the heavy drapes slightly with her newly manicured hands, she looked out over the property. Whispering Pines, an upscale private nursing facility, sat on ten acres of land within the boundaries of White Plains. The lawns were beautifully manicured, the bushes and trees precisely trimmed, some in the shape of animals.
Food could be purchased to feed the fish and ducks that lived in the large pond which sat in the middle of the property. Because of the high quality of the care, their services were only available to those who could afford to pay outrageous sums of money every day. For a hefty fee, Whispering Pines offered private rooms and the best nursing care money could buy. Hilary’s social standing in the community required nothing less than the best for her husband. Still, she resented having to put so much money into something she couldn’t spend on her own interests.
She turned away from the window. Alarmed that the nurse was removing the dressing from Gregory’s arm, Hilary barked, “What are you doing?”
“Gettin’ ready to take the IV out of his arm.”
“It’s my job.” The nurse grinned unkindly and added, “Relax. It’s time to switch it to the right arm. We switch it every three days. The left arm needs a break.”
It would be nice if they’d tell me these things beforehand, Hilary thought. “Is that normal?”
“Oh, sure, sweetie. Haven’t you seen us do it before?”
Not wanting to seem like an idiot who didn’t pay attention to little things, she manufactured an excuse. “Well, most of the time that type of thing is finished by the time I get here. And I’ve just been so concerned about Gregory’s coma, I haven’t paid that much attention to what the nurses are doing.”
The nurse gave her an unsympathetic sideways glance that indicated she didn’t buy the excuse.
Deciding it wasn’t worth spending any more time discussing, Hilary put it out of her mind. With any luck, the nurse would finish quickly so Hilary could get on with her visit. She wanted to be alone when she spoke to Gregory.
Hilary folded her arms over her chest and studied the whiteboard hanging on the wall. It held Gregory’s stats, medications, and nursing information. Nothing new there, she thought. She glanced at the oak nightstand that sat on one side of the bed. It held a phone and the remote for the flat-screen TV, hanging on the wall opposite Gregory’s bed. They charge me for all these amenities and Gregory can’t appreciate any of it. What a waste.
The room had been arranged to look like a comfortable bedroom with a chest of drawers to hold the medical equipment, sheets, and hospital gowns. Everything was always polished and in order.
Most of the technical equipment that had been in the room to monitor Gregory’s vitals had been removed since his heart rate was always steady and he was able to breathe on his own.
Growing impatient with the nurse’s unhurried stance, Hilary walked to the window again and parted the drapes. She had insisted he be on the ground floor so that she could have quicker access to him when she came to visit.
From the window, she looked across the manicured hedges to see a family with two young children, a boy and a girl, sitting on the grass next to the pond and eating a picnic lunch. An old, gray-haired woman sat forlornly in a wheelchair nearby. She wore a loose cashmere bathrobe over a hospital gown. The orderly caring for the woman laughed at something one of the children said. The old woman scowled.
On the sidewalk, closer to the building, a nurse pushed a wheelchair with a young boy of eight or nine. He had no hair. The boy watched the family eating and laughing, wishful thoughts showing clearly on his young face. An IV hung from a post fastened to the wheelchair. Most likely cancer, Hilary thought detachedly.
She turned around, catching a glimpse of herself in a mirror hanging on one wall. The bright lighting in the room made the highlights of her newly styled brunette hair look dull. She made a mental note to tell her beautician about the problem at her next appointment. The lighting also made her face look thinner and older than normal. She grimaced at the thought that she was in her mid-forties and the next decade would be hitting too soon. With a freshly manicured hand, she smoothed out her custom-tailored Gucci floral-embroidered jacket. Thank goodness, the matching slacks look as fresh as they had this morning when I’d put them on. And that’s why I only buy the best, she thought, raising her chin.
Hilary looked down at her $4000 watch, then glanced at the nurse again. “How long are you going to be?” she demanded.
“Before I remove the IV from Greg’s left arm,” the nurse said in a slow, condescending tone, “I want to prepare a new one for his right arm. Then, I will be able to switch the lines without losin’ a lot of time in between. I need to get everything ready first. Then I will start.”
Hilary huffed, “His name is Gregory, not Greg, and I didn’t ask for a play-by-play. I asked how long you would be.”
The nurse turned her head to face Hilary squarely. “As long as it takes, ma’am. Sometimes it goes fast. Sometimes it goes slow. Depends on how cooperative the patient is.”
Hilary smirked. “How uncooperative can he be? He’s been in a coma for a week. Just stick it in him and get on with it so I can have my visit. I’m tired. I want to go home.”
The nurse placed a protective hand on Gregory’s arm. “Just stick ‘em, huh? Sorry, but it don’t work that way. I’m gonna take my time and do my job right. You don’t like that, take it up with my supervisor.” She turned her back to continue her work, her wide hips blocking Hilary’s view.
Hilary prickled. She narrowed her eyes. This turn of events forced her into an uncomfortable position, even though she knew she was wrong about rushing the nurse in this situation. The hired help had no right to talk down to her like that. This nurse is pushing all the wrong buttons. She’s about to find out just what kind of influence I have. I don’t pay a fortune to this place every day to be treated this way. “We’ll just see about that,” Hilary hissed over her shoulder as she snatched up her purse and stormed out of the room.
* * *
Hilary barged into the luxurious corner office that belonged to Eric Bolanger, Executive Director of Whispering Pines. A short pudgy man, he immediately stood up.
His secretary, Mona, followed closely behind Hilary. “Sorry, Mr. Bolanger. I tried to stop her but—”
“It’s okay, Mona. I’ll take care of it.” Eric straightened his expensive suit jacket and tie as he moved out from behind his antique mahogany desk.
Mona turned and left, her shoes making little to no noise on the strategically placed runners that protected the cushy, beige carpet that covered the floor. She closed the door quietly behind her.
Hilary, already in a bad mood from dealing with the nurse in Gregory’s room, was further infuriated when Mona left without the courtesy of acknowledging her. What a witch. And Hilary hated the cheerful, happy pictures of Eric with well-known and easily recognized clients that hung on the wall adjacent to the door. Diplomas and awards vied for space on the wall behind the desk. Sunlight poured in through the wall-to-wall windows on the other two walls.
“And what has my staff done this time?” Eric asked, a shadow of worry flashing across his middle-aged chubby face. He briefly glanced at his thick Rolex watch.
“Gregory’s nurse moved my chair. It was clear over against the wall,” Hilary growled. “And she is taking her sweet time changing his IV. She’s cutting into my visiting time. Can’t she do these things before I get here so I don’t have to wait to visit my husband?”
Eric sighed. “Hilary, I applaud your faithfulness to your husband, but—”
“Don’t but me,” Hilary snapped. Her spiked heels sunk into the carpet as she came face to face with him. “I don’t want excuses. I want uninterrupted visits. I’m paying you a fortune every day he’s here, and I think I deserve to be accommodated.”
“I realize that,” Eric explained, backing off a little, “but we need to take care of Gregory’s needs on our schedule, mainly because it’s impossible to know when you will show up.”
Hilary’s eyes widened. “Now I’m supposed to make an appointment?” She glared at him, her lips pursed tightly, her body defiant. “I don’t think so.”
“No, no, nothing like that,” Eric apologized, putting up his hands in a conciliatory gesture. “You can come when you want.”
“And the chair?” She was not going to back down. This kind of stuff had been going on long enough, and it seemed to be getting worse. She was going to get more accommodation.
“As for the chair, the nurses need to be able to get to Gregory to take care of him. If the chair gets in the way, they will move it, but they will always move it back where it belongs. I’ll see to it.”
“Well, talk to your help. I don’t want any more disruptions than necessary in Gregory’s recovery.”
Eric sighed and moved behind his desk. He sat down, picked up a pen, and toyed with it. He looked Hilary in the eye and his tone of voice became more authoritative. “I’ve told you, Hilary, just because Gregory showed a small physical response five days ago, doesn’t mean he’s coming out of his coma. When you were rubbing his hand, it could have been just a random muscle spasm causing his hand to seem like he was shaking you off.”
“He was trying to tell me something. He wants me to know he knows I’m here.”
“The neurologist and other specialists have made it clear to you that he’s had a brain injury and there’s no guarantee that he will come out of it any time soon. Comas are unpredictable. It’s true that many people come out of a coma within four weeks, but there is often significant damage. Some have a long road to physical recovery. Some never recover mentally.
“From the doctor’s tests, there are no signs of any new brain activity in Gregory, nor a response to any external stimuli. I don’t see how the movement of his hand on one day proves anything. It was just a muscle spasm.. It could be weeks, months, years or maybe nev—”
“Don’t say it,” Hilary snapped. “I refuse to believe he won’t recover. Look at him. He looks like a normal healthy person, sleeping peacefully. You can’t tell me he’ll just lay there like a vegetable for the rest of his life. You agreed with me the other day that his moving hand might be a good sign.”
He spluttered, “Well, yes, I did, but I spoke too soon. We haven’t seen any other signs since. I also told you not to get your hopes up.”
“That’s not acceptable.”
“And as for my staff,” he said, changing the subject, “they’re doing the best job they can under the circumstances.”
She glared at him a long moment. Okay, then, you need to see what I have to deal with on my visits. She started toward the door and turned to him. “Now, if you’ll be so kind as to come with me.”
Eric dropped the pen on the desk. A look of shock registered on his face. “Why?”
“To talk to the nurse, of course. I’m tired and I want to go home, but first I need to spend some time with my husband. I can’t do that with a nurse banging around the room.” She walked out the door, not waiting to see if he would follow or not, but expecting him to obey, as he always did.
By the time she passed two doors down the hall, she heard Eric’s shoes slapping on the highly polished wooden floor. He rushed to meet up with her.
Ha, I knew he’d follow me. He can be so spineless.
They walked together in silence to Gregory’s room.
* * *
As they entered the room, Hilary noticed the obnoxious heavyset nurse still bent over Gregory. She was getting ready to insert the new IV into his right arm.
Perturbed with the nurse, Hilary walked to the bedside and took Gregory’s left hand.
Suddenly, Gregory seemed to be jerking his arm away from the nurse, as if she was hurting him.
Hilary squeezed Gregory’s hand. “See, Eric,” she exclaimed, “he is coming out of the coma. He’s aware enough to know he doesn’t need the IV tube anymore.”
The nurse shot her a glower, knowing the dig was meant for her. She continued to struggle to get the needle into his arm.
“What’s going on, nurse?” Eric asked, drawing closer to the bed. He stopped, however, far enough from the patient that, should there be an accident and blood shoot out of Gregory’s body, he wouldn’t get anything on his prim clothing or catch some germs. At least, that’s the impression Hilary always got when Eric came into Gregory’s room. As far as she knew, he was only a figurehead and left the care of the patients to the specialists on his staff.
The nurse managed to finish putting the IV into Gregory’s arm and he immediately settled down. “Don’t know why he was fighting me, Mr. Bolanger,” the nurse said. “I couldn’t seem to get the needle in right.”
“Did you see that?” Hilary shouted as she squeezed Gregory’s hand again.
“What?” Eric said, coming a little closer to the bed.
“I thought I saw his eyes flicker for a moment.”
The nurse checked under Gregory’s eyelids to see if he was awake. “Seems to be quiet. Same as he was before.”
“He’s coming out of the coma,” Hilary insisted with a growing feeling of hope and excitement. “It’s a sign.”
“It’s not that simple, Hilary. It could be a sign, but maybe not. We’ve seen these kinds of temporary muscle spasms in many coma patients. Random responses can be deceiving.” He spoke to the nurse. “Has he been showing other signs of increased stimuli like this?”
“No,” the nurse said begrudgingly, frowning at Hilary as if she wished Gregory would come out of his damn coma and leave the premises so she wouldn’t have to deal with Hilary any more.
Hilary refused to have her hopes dampened. “His eyes flickered. He moved his arm. This is good news, Eric.”
Eric hesitated in his wishy-washy way. “Again, we don’t want to get our hopes up too much. We still have no idea if he will come out of it.”
Once more, Hilary squeezed Gregory’s hand in hers. Her budding hope turned to slight disappointment when he didn’t squeeze back or respond in any other way. Despite that, a million heartening thoughts flashed through her mind at this latest development. Foremost, that Gregory would come around and be able to go back to work in his company, and that her home and social life would return to normal.
“Monday morning,” Eric said, “I’ll have the doctor making the rounds bring in some monitors and do some tests. We’ll see how Gregory reacts to various kinds of stimuli.”
“Do it now,” Hilary demanded.
“The doctor isn’t here and he won’t do tests like that over the weekend, unless it’s an emergency. We’ll just have to wait.”
Hilary bristled in silence. “But if he wakes up tonight, I want a phone call. I don’t care how late it is.” She moved toward the door. “I’ll talk to you in the morning.”
“Are you leaving so soon?” the nurse blurted. “What about your precious visit?”
Eric glared at the nurse.
“Yes, I’m leaving. I’ve had all I can take today. You ruined my visit, but at least I have the satisfaction of knowing my visits here may be coming to an end. Once Gregory comes out of this coma, we can move him to our house and hire a decent private nurse until he’s completely well.”
Not missing the dig at one of his employees, Eric shook his head and sighed. “Come on, Hilary, I’ll walk you to the door.”
“Good,” she asserted, standing in the doorway. “On the way, we can discuss how you’re going to change Gregory’s nursing schedule. I don’t want this nurse around him anymore.”
“I’m just doing my job,” the nurse shot back.
Hilary ignored her and motioned for Eric to follow her as she walked out of the room. Continuing down the hall, she said, “She may not have done anything wrong, but she’s full of negative energy. I don’t want her around Gregory anymore. Do I make myself clear?”
“Crystal clear,” Eric muttered.
Hilary rolled her eyes. God, I can’t wait until Gregory gets well. I’m so tired of dealing with these people. I just want my life back the way it was.