Richard + Bobby,
Chapter 11: UCMC, SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA (Part 1)
I am the victim of something terrible.
No, is that right? Am I about to be the victim of something terrible?
No, no that doesn’t seem right. I am the victim of something terrible … and something worse is about to befall me.
I am somewhere that is not my home in Rancho Bernardo, or Richard’s office, or the Sheraton, or anything I am familiar with.
But I am somewhere because I hear sounds. I can’t determine their source; I can’t see anything. It is as if I’ve dropped into a deep well.
I strain to determine what the sounds might be? Water trickling down the walls of the well? Animals perched high up on the rim peering down at me, chattering, chirping, and buzzing.
I feel something, too. Something tugs at my right arm. It’s gentle, but it hurts, like a sting. Not a bee sting; it’s metallic, a dull, deep pain, under my skin.
The pain is what has awakened me. I open my eyes. I’m not blind. I can see. But I don’t see much of anything. What I see is blue. Blue surrounds me; portions of it move, too.
The blue has a voice, voices, for I detect two different tones. I don’t understand what they say, but they definitely are voices. I want to respond to them, to tell them to speak more distinctly, or slower, or louder, anything to make themselves intelligible to me. And slowly, very slowly they begin to articulate clearly.
“Jesus, she’s awake.”
It’s Richard. His words have a sibilant quality, as if uttered by a snake.
My eyes irritate me. They are dry and scratchy. I blink several times and they hurt until they tear.
I try lifting my head to see Richard and his partner and what occupies them, but I’m too weak and sore to raise my head off the pillow. I look around as best I can, and even this is excruciating.
I am encased in blue, sky blue; I feel as if I am suspended in the middle of a clear winter afternoon, not in a well. The blue is familiar; it is the blue I’ve seen on No. 13, in my bedroom, my kitchen, on Bobby’s Belair, and on Bobby himself.
I blink several more times and as I do a person steps to the head of the bed, next to me. It is Richard. I want to demand he tell me what has happened to me, where I am, what he is up to, who is with him. I move my mouth, but indistinct sounds issue from me, rough approximations of words, more grunts than intelligent speech.
“Just a minute. I’ll have it in a minute. Keep her quiet.” It’s the partner, the voice harsh and anxious. I recognize its cruelness. “There, a second now.”
Something tugs at my arm and intensifies the pain under the skin.
I know it is imperative I move my head. Doing so is painful and almost impossible, but I manage to roll it enough in the direction of the voice. I see Bobby.
He wears hospital scrubs. They fit him loosely and are ceil, a color I imagine I’ve seen him in often lately. He is fiddling with a transparent tube that fits to a taped-over needle stuck in my arm just above my wrist. It’s the source of the pain beneath my skin.
I attempt asking, “What are you playing with there, Bobby?” But I can’t form words.
“Do you think she sees us?” Richard’s speaking, agitated.
Bobby pauses and stares down at me, bends into my face. I smell his breath, foul with coffee, as he inspects my eyes.
“Maybe,” he concludes. “Doesn’t matter. Not much she can do about it.” He resumes fiddling with the tube.
“Can’t you just poke a needle in it?” asks Richard. “Wouldn’t it be faster?”
“Faster? Sure. But somebody’s certain to spot the puncture later. Better this way.”
“I thought you knew how to do it.”
“I do,” he says, annoyed, put off by Richard’s implication. “It’s the valve. I can’t remove the plug. The nurse should have noticed and replaced the tubing.”
“Oh, Doctor McFarlane, can I help you?”
A woman in a flower print scrub top appears next to Bobby. Her features are blurred but I can sense from her voice she is mature and, more important, surprised and troubled.
“No, nurse,” says Bobby. He speaks quickly and leaves no doubt he does not welcome her interruption.
“Doctor,” she says, “I wasn’t informed that Mrs. DeSantis needs medication at this time. Nothing’s noted on her chart.”
“I was about to update the chart, nurse.”
I can’t completely comprehend what is happening. What I do understand is if Bobby is involved it can’t be good for me. I try to yell “Help,” to scream he may look like a doctor, he may have a degree, he may even have the officious and arrogant attitude of a doctor, but he is really just a greasy boy mechanic, and worse, a murderer. He killed my best friend, Angie. Maybe he didn’t run her down or contract it, but I have no doubt once she was hospitalized, he was responsible for her death. Now he’s helping his best buddy high school friend kill his wife, to knock off the tiresome little woman who had the audacity to spring a divorce on him, to probe his meticulously hidden finances and claim her fair share, for herself and her daughters. However, all I can manage is meaningless clicking, grinding guttural sputtering, like the worn starter on Bobby’s dilapidated Belair.
“Doctor,” she says, with an articulate distinctness I envy, “I don’t believe you have those privileges here.”
“Nurse, you are aware your chief medical officer has allowed me to look in on Mrs. DeSantis. And Mr. DeSantis has requested my help. We all want the best for Mrs. DeSantis.”
I can’t talk but my mind is lucid. Though Bobby’s diction has improved, his brutish nature is unchanged. He’s pulling rank on her, intimidating with his position, and invoking the chief doctor to establish his right and authority to manipulate my tube, and murder me. Or trying, because she isn’t buying his line.
“I’m sorry, doctor, but I can’t allow you to change anything in the patient’s chart unless Doctor Auschlander authorizes it. In writing, doctor, on the patient’s chart. If you care to, you can use the phone at the station to call him. It’s late, but I’m sure he’ll speak to you.”
When I realized Bobby and Richard were the hazy figures, panic griped me. Breathing became difficult. My heart raced. But now, with the nurse, more romantic Nightingale than mortal, I calm down a bit. I attempt lifting my head again, and this time I get it off the pillow and suspend it there a few seconds, until the effort and pain overcome me. I must know my savior’s name. I shift my eyes to glimpse her badge. Nancy Rose … I can’t read the rest, but Nancy Rose is enough for me.
“Well,” Bobby says, his irritation palpable, “I suppose it can wait until morning. I don’t like late night calls, so I wouldn’t want to disturb Doctor Auschlander.” He pats my hand and runs his thumb across my knuckles in a show of affection. “Besides, Mrs. DeSantis appears to be reviving nicely.” He releases my hand and positions his forefinger in front of my eyes. “Focus on my finger, Mrs. DeSantis.” From habit I do. “Good. Now follow it, please.” More inculcated behavior on my part. “Excellent,” he proclaims.
Richard grasps my other hand. He squeezes. “Babe, what a relief. For a while, we thought we were going to lose you.”
I command my hand to pull free of his, but it doesn’t respond. I grunt and moan and move the only part of me that will cooperate: my head side to side, and my eyes; I blink them furiously, to convey to my savior the terror Richard and Bobby have raised in me.
It’s stupid what invades your mind at a time like this. I’m castigating myself for refusing my mother’s urgings to become a girl scout. She was interested in the social aspects, but now I wish I had given into her nudges, for the Morse code I might have learned would be handy. How do you blink S.O.S., I wonder?
“One step at a time,” Bobby cautions me, as if he might care about my survival. “Don’t overdue it. You don’t want a setback.”
I’m laughing, I know, because I feel my chest bucking inside, my lips yearning to curl, fighting against facial muscles still in rigor. Just what Richard and Bobby are planning for me: a permanent setback.
“Let’s go,” he says to Richard.
Far, far away I hope, and never to return.
But, no, because Richard squeezes my hand, hard; too hard, much too hard, it hurts too much. “I’ll be back later,” he says, as he punishes me with his grip. “Samantha and Emily are begging to see you. But with you … you know, uncommunicative, I didn’t think it was a good idea. Now though …” He brightens with a smile. I misunderstand; it’s for me, bygones be bygones. No, though, it’s for Nurse Rose. He ‘s persuading her that he is a good husband, caring and considerate; and, of course, that he is the superdad.
Finally, thankfully, Richard releases me, and he and Bobby leave. Nurse Rose remains.
“I’m happy to see you’ve rejoined us, Mrs. DeSantis. You had us worried for a while.”
I grunt and groan and blink my eyes rapidly.
“You want to know what happened? How long you’ve been here?”
I go into my pantomime again. I want her to keep Richard and Bobby away from me.
“Sure you do,” she says, as she handles the tubing and examines the valve. Her expression is a mix of curiosity and perplexity. She lays the tube gently on my bed.
“A car hit you on Mira Mesa Boulevard. You were crossing the street. You weren’t in the crosswalk. You were in the middle of the block. Someone near the curb stopped to let you cross. She was trying to be nice and helpful, but, unfortunately …” She allows the words to trail off as she studies my arm, searching for something, suspicious, I’m hoping, of Richard and Bobby.
I agitate as best I can in response. But even if she thought I had something interesting to say and brought me a pad and pen, I couldn’t use it.
“You must be worried about your daughters. They’re fine. You heard your husband.” She gestures toward the door. “They are at your home. They were on the center island when …” These words float too me in a near whisper, as if they reveal a terrible secret to painful to speak.
It is like a nightmare, that day. When that day was she doesn’t say. Yesterday? Last week? More? If I could talk, I could ask Nurse Rose.
I must be contorting my face in some new manner, registering curiosity about time with my eyes, for she says, “You’ve been with us two weeks. You’re in a private room at UCMC in Hillcrest. Your husband insisted on a private room, so we had to keep you in ICU an extra day. Nobody was happy about that, I assure you. Fortunately, we had space. We don’t always. Your husband can be a persuasive individual, but I’m sure that comes as no surprise to you.” She’s running her hand along the IV tube, down to where it terminates in a needle in my arm. “I’m still wondering about—” She stops and stares at me for a second. “How does it feel? Sore? Let’s blink. One if it’s fine. Two if you’re experiencing pain.”
I blink once.
“Good. You had the ICU staff worried. But here you are safe and sound and on the mend. I’ve notified Doctor Anya. She’ll be here shortly to examine you. She’s been caring for you since you came out of OR.”
Then I hear the squeaking steps of someone entering the room. Nurse Rose turns away from me. “Doctor Anya, I was just saying you’d be here and here you are.”
Doctor Anya materializes above me, next to Nurse Rose. She’s a full head shorter than my savior; she can’t be much over five foot. She’s a striking woman, though, with long, straight, black hair and large eyes of liquid ebony, intense, but warm with empathy and kindness. Her aquiline nose lends her a Brahminic air. And her skin is strikingly pure, light brown, like densely packed baking sugar, very smooth and flawless. She leans over and she smells of soap, as if she just came from showering.
“Mrs. DeSantis, I’m Doctor Anya. I’ve been attending you.”
I go into my groaning act.
“Please, do not strain yourself. In couple of days, you will be speaking again. I guarantee you. However, your injuries are quite severe and you will require a few months to fully rehabilitate.”
I close my eyes. She touches my arm gently in response.
“Please, do not be discouraged. I have excellent news for you.”
I open my eyes and focus on her.
“Your accident was extremely traumatic. You legs are broken, as is your pelvis. But this is the fortunate part, you’ve sustained only bruising above your waist. I expect my news doesn’t sound particularly good. But when you consider the host of terrible injuries you might have sustained, I believe you will appreciate how fortunate you are. I am specifically referring to brain damage, Mrs. DeSantis. You were bashed unconscious and in a coma for nearly two weeks. But nothing permanent. In fact, I would add the coma was beneficial in that it probably saved you from recalling the horror of the accident and certainly experiencing some very intense pain.”
My eyes moisten and I feel droplets escaping down my cheeks.
“Well,” she says, stroking my arm, “that’s enough for now. You rest.”
She turns to speak with Nurse Rose, when a neglected detail flashes in her mind, or so it seems to me the way an arm flies up.
To me, she says, “Oh, Mr. DeSantis asked when you would be speaking again, and when you would be more your normal self. I told him what I’ve told you. A day or two for talking, followed by a long recovery. I’m sorry I must have upset him, for he seemed very alarmed. In a situation such as yours, Mrs. DeSantis, it is a great comfort to have someone who loves you very much. It speeds recovery more than you know.”
I want to scream that in a few days I might not be capable of speaking, ever again. After lying in bed nearly two weeks, I’m drained, but with the depleted strength I process, by the sheer force of my will to survive, by the power of my distrust and fear of Richard and Bobby, I jerk my head up from the pillow and groan as loudly as I can manage.
Nurse Rose and Doctor Anya’s faces show distress. The nurse grabs my shoulders and eases me down onto the pillow, with encouraging words that all will be well, that I am on the road to recovery, that while it will be challenging, I will emerge from the hospital good as new. I groan furiously, incoherently, that I will never leave the hospital if my husband and his greasy high school pal have their way. I’m crying now, spilling buckets of tears, for myself and for my daughters who will be without their mother, and living with a murderer.
My weeping impels Doctor Anya to check my chart. “It appears Mrs. DeSantis’ pain meds should be sufficient. I don’t believe pain is the cause of her distress.” She scans the several pages that comprise my chart. “Nurse Rosenthal, who is Doctor Robert McFarlane? I don’t recognize the name.”
Nurse Rosenthal, a name I chant in my mind, answers, “He was here a few minutes before you arrived, Doctor. He said he’d been granted privileges.”
“Hmm,” mutters Doctor Anya, “I don’t see that noted here.” She smiles at me. “You’ll be fine, Mrs. DeSantis. I’ll check in before I sign out.”
As Doctor Anya leaves, Nurse Rosenthal lowers the light and says, “You got yourself one of the good ones.”