His Father’s Eyes – Snippet 32
I dug out my wallet and flipped it to my driver’s license. “She kept her name,” I said, as the doctor peered at my picture. “She’s a blogger and has a big following. She couldn’t afford to change it.”
“Of course,” she said. She met my gaze again. I slipped the wallet back into my pocket, feeling guilty.
“Your wife hasn’t woken up yet. If all goes well, she should begin to come around soon, but with head wounds and concussions, things are sometimes slower. Don’t be worried if she takes a bit of time to wake up. Because of her head injury, the surgical and anesthesia teams took every precaution with her anesthesia. You should also know that even after she does wake up, she’s going to be woozy for a time, and a little disoriented. In fact, it isn’t uncommon for patients with brain injuries to exhibit some short term memory loss.”
“Of course.” I was struggling to keep up, but belatedly that got my attention. “Wait. Brain injury? Is she all right?”
“All things considered, she is doing well. She has a concussion, some stitches in her scalp for superficial lacerations, and of course the broken arm. The orthopedist put a plate in to set the bone properly, but he was able to do all the hardware internally, so no external fixator or screws. This should mean a faster healing time and less chance of infection.
“She also has two broken ribs. One of them punctured her lung, causing a pneumothorax — a collapsed lung — which could have been much more problematic. Fortunately, it was only a partial collapse and we were able to treat it in time. We inserted a chest tube and she’s already breathing on her own, so I believe she’s going to make a full recovery. But between the pneumothorax and the concussion, she’s had a rough time of it. She’s going to be staying with us for a little while.”
“I understand. Thank you, Doctor.”
“You’re welcome. If you have questions, or if she does once she’s fully conscious, have the nurses call for me.”
“We will. Again, thank you.”
The doctor nodded to the nurse, who said, “This way,” and led me into the ICU area.
It had been a while since my last trip to an intensive care area in any hospital, and things had changed. We walked between rows of beds, each one in its own glass cubicle, each one surrounded by banks of monitoring equipment. Within some of the glass enclosures, curtains had been drawn. The nurse stopped at one of these, opened the door and pulled the curtain aside, and gestured for me to enter.
I stepped through, and stopped, swaying, my knees almost buckling.
Billie lay on a bed that made her appear tiny. Her head was wrapped in a light gauze that was stained with patches of blood. Her arm, which rested on several pillows, was in a double splint and swathed heavily in what looked like the sticky purple bandaging usually used for sports injuries. A plastic tube snaked from an oxygen tank to a nasal cannula that had been looped behind her head, around her ears, and under her nose.
The nurse placed a gentle hand on my back.
“It’s always hard the first time you see someone like this. But she’s better off than she was when they brought her in.” She steered me to a chair. “Let her know you’re here, hon. Talk to her.”
I nodded, swallowed. But I had no idea what to say. I’m sorry I got you blown up. I’m sorry we can’t even have a lunch date without one of us almost getting killed.
“Billie,” I said, my voice shaky. “I’m right here, and I’ll be here when you wake up. Okay?”
The nurse patted my shoulder. “That’s good, hon. That’s good.” She left me there, closing the curtain and glass door behind her, and giving Billie and me what in a hospital passed for privacy.
I sat and stared at Billie, waiting for her to wake up, turning questions over in my head, and feeling rage at my own impotence build like steam in a kettle. Why would the same weremyste who killed James Howell go to such lengths to keep me alive? What did Dimples and Bear do with the homeless man’s blood? What was happening to my father? What did all of this have to do with Regina Witcombe and Jacinto Amaya, and why were so many mystes suddenly so interested in me? I felt more certain than ever that all of it was connected, but the result reminded me of a modern art sculpture gone wrong; everything seemed to jut in random directions. There was no coherence, no story line.
All the while, as my thoughts churned, Billie remained as she was. Despite the doctor’s warning that she might not wake for some time, I began to wonder if something was wrong, and if I ought to call the nurse back to check on her. When at long last she stirred, her eyelids moving ever so slightly and her uninjured hand shifting, I whispered a quick “Thank God,” and sat forward in my chair.
“Billie? Can you hear me?”
She shifted her head maybe an inch and winced even at that. “Fearsson?” It came out as a croak, but it sounded like music to me.
“Yeah, it’s me.”
I hesitated. “Let me get a nurse.” I slipped out of the cubicle and hurried to the nursing station. The woman who had brought me in was there with a couple of other nurses. “She’s awake,” I said. “She says she’s thirsty.”
“I’ll bet she is,” the nurse said, walking with me back to Billie’s bed.
It turned out there was a large plastic carafe bearing Banner Desert’s logo and a long flexible straw sitting near the bed, already filled with ice water. I hadn’t noticed. The nurse told me to let Billie have some. “But slowly at first,” she said. “Not too much.”
Billie took a small sip, and slipped her tongue over her dried, cracked lips.
“How do you feel?” A stupid question, I know, but it was all I could come up with.
“Like I got blown up.”
“Sounds about right.”
Her eyes slitted opened at that. “Are you okay?”
I wondered how much she remembered from the restaurant, but we’d have plenty of opportunity later to talk about that. “Yes,” I said. “I’m fine. Are you in a lot of pain?”
“No. Drugs, I think. Where are we? Wha’ hospital?”
“You’re in intensive care at Banner Desert Medical Center. You have a concussion, a broken arm, a couple of broken ribs, and you even had a collapsed lung.”
“Holy crap,” she mumbled.
“No kidding. You’ve been out for a while. But the doctor says you’re going to be okay.”
“Guess it’s a good thing I have insurance.”
I laughed. “Yeah, I guess.”
“Where did you say we are?”
I glanced at the nurse.
“That’s normal,” she mouthed.
That was how our conversation went for the next several minutes. We talked about nothing at all. She asked me to list her injuries again, and she wanted to know how long she had been unconscious. The more we talked, the more lucid she grew. Her eyes opened wider, her speech cleared. She sipped more water but told the nurse in no uncertain terms that wanted nothing to do with food, at least not yet.
The nurse eyed the instrumentation by her bed, which monitored her blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, and a host of other things I didn’t pretend to understand. She didn’t seem too alarmed by anything she saw, but after a time she told me, “She needs some quiet time. I don’t want her getting too tired.”
“I understand. I have . . . A few places I have to go.”
“We’ll take good care of her. Oh, and Mister Castle, don’t worry if her bed is empty when you get back here. We need to test her lung capacity, and also do some further scans: neurological — we want to see how she’s doing with the concussion.”
“Of course.” To Billie I said, “I have to leave for a little while. I have things to do. As soon as they let me come back, I will. All right?”
“I’ll be here.”
I smiled, stood.
She made a little motion with her hand, beckoning to me. I bent closer to her.
“Did she just call you Mister Castle?” she asked, her voice as soft as a spring breeze.
I nodded, my cheeks burning. “Yeah. That’s a long story.”
“Okay. Then tell me this: how is it possible that you’re not hurt at all?”
I looked her in the eye, not wanting to scare her, but also unwilling to lie to her. I’d had to keep things from her early on — stuff about magic and the phasings and Namid — and that had almost ended our relationship before it got started.
“You already know the answer,” I whispered.
“That’s all I know right now. But I’m going to find out. I promise.” I kissed an unbandaged spot on her forehead. “I’ll see you soon.”