Monday, March 16, 2015

Empty - Part 1

It was a wet Tuesday morning when a calm-faced twenty-something with two left feet limped toward a hulking New Jersey Emergency room. In the shadow of the monolith, a group of orderlies huddled around an overfilled smoker’s oasis, fists buried in their pockets except for the occasional threat of exposure to complete the pull of a dangling cigarette.  The circle of men, still full from the previous night’s drunken plundering, were too engorged by a heated fantasy football debate to notice her shuffle pass.  Instead, this morsel dimly broke the blocks, escaped the tackles, and touch-downed at the nurse’s station.

“Emergency?” questioned the grey-set wire haired nurse hunched behind the counter.  The woman was clamping a phone between a makeup stained shoulder and scrunched face. Her eyes never looked away from the glow of the computer screen. 

After a moment, the frail twenty-something realized the nurse was not repeating their mutual location into the phone and thus offered a response,“No…yes…maybe.”

And a verbal ménage-a-trios proceeded between the girl, the nurse, and the phone:
"No, no. The group number is R009678832...What hurts?"
"Well my head feels-"
"Hold on...yea he has been here for a few hours and we need an answer-“
“-fill this out," swiveling and insisting a Stephen King sized pile of documents upon the tentative patient.
Continuing into the phone, "-he's complaining of fogginess."

The nurse plunked a pen on top of the pile and pointed toward the seats adjacent from the counter. Continuing the awkward tango, the soon-to-be patient pivoted and made a wobbled march toward the sign that read, “ADMISSION SEATING”.

Seated between an elderly man with a towel-wrapped arm and a scraggled itchy blonde who didn't know how to cover his mouth, the girl navigated the pages of wasted paper under the rhythm of fluorescent light. A few minutes later she had an invitation to meet the wizard of nod, and a promise to cure her headache.

By the time evening was stroking toward night, a CAT-scan was rolling out a light-bright stencil of a brain cavity. A distracted doctor, just finishing off a pair of double-doubles, was on the heels of the final few minutes before stepping out from behind the curtain for the day and finally satiating his appetite.

For a late-night snack he would be sandwiching his last patient somewhere between his third liter of jet fuel and his second moment of disassociation.

His time-sick eyes and embattled bed hair told the story of a 48 hour marathon.  For completing this race he would not receive a decimaled bumper sticker, nor would there be the typical selfie wallpapering his recently slow social media account. Instead, he could expect a quip from the blunt nurse at the front desk and the satisfaction of having earned some informal exception from his boss - if he ever had a lapse in judgment in the future. For him, that was enough.

All that stood in the way to the finish line and a mid-week stay-cation, was a dull looking female with headache and a peculiar looking CT-Scan.  Dull because the girl was neither scared nor nervous, nor was she presenting the typical signs of someone having the type of headache which would force her to an emergency room. Peculiar, because a fleshy fist sized mound of the patient’s brain was missing.

The cerebellum normally hitchhiking to a brain’s undercarriage had unceremoniously left. Gone. Even more confusing was the lack of any evidence of extraction. Where the patient’s "little brain" should be was instead a large smudgy darkness.

It was impossible.
                                                      She was impossible.

But there she sat. Seated and lightly swaying like a buoy in a calm bay. She was a blur…like the glitch in the same image he inspected. 

(Top image: Feng Yu et al.;
Bottom image: Zephyr/Science Photo Library )
He thought, “How unfair that she had to casually drift into my horizon.” She was a ghost ship bouncing gently into his waters, hoisting a tattered skull and cross bone flag. He could feel the dread of uncertainty beginning to bubble up; rising from deep cool dormant currents, waiting directly below the surface where all unknown horrors wait.

His first thought was that it simply was gone. A thought he immediately suppressed. Not just because the realities of the thought terrified him or because he was already checked out for the night, but because he was a student of science. There was no room for fantasy. Occam ’s razor replaced the dull blade of intuition years ago and the pursuit of the simplest conclusion always took priority.

The reappearing Five O’clock horseshoe, he had bic’d away the last time he was home, had begun to push beads of sweat across the top of his scalp.  The creases in his forehead distributed the droplets toward the stress between his brows and down into his eyes.  Squeezing the thin skin of his lids and pinching the tussle scared bridge of his nose sent a sharp pain up his sinus – a jolt stronger than any cup of coffee.

He reconsidered his original assessment, “…She is looking to score, and her rubber legs brought her here.” He knew the drill. It was a simple wash and rinse patient. All he needed to do was walk-in, toss her a script, and he could leave the rest to the next shift.

Wash and rinse.

He woke seated directly across from the patient. Lowering her chart he wondered how long he had actually been sitting in the room in silence. He was reaching his end and need to go home. Unnaturally he jumped into conversation, "While very's not unheard of that something like this could go unnoticed.”

He quickly stood up in an impetuous effort to push back against the sleep and turned toward a countertop in corner of the room. Continuing his furious pace, he swished his white cape, scribbled some notes on a clipboard, and shuffled some papers.

Wash and rinse.

Then he threw in an anecdote, "The human body can do remarkable things. In fact there was a case just last week. A 30 year old coma patient in England woke up completely rested and speaking perfect Mandarin!"

She had no reaction. Just starred. And he saw her for what she was: A blemish. A peccadillo. A blurry imperfection in a photograph. She was a stain on his lab coat. A fever dream that had snuck in on the back of a cold.

He wouldn't let her.

Handing her a prescription for ibuprofen he doubled-down, "...isn't that remarkable!?...Mandarin!?”
Finishing, he flew out the door with his coat whisping behind him as the door closed his voice faded away, “...Hang here and someone will be in to help out with a few more tests..."

Once again she was alone. And alone she would remain.  She was forgotten. By the time she recognized no one was coming, the wizard had already escaped on his bicycle racing toward an NJ transit train, the nurse, having supplied her desired banter, had since returned to the insurance provider rodeo, and by Wednesday morning the un-toxicated patient was swaying through the double glass doors and back into the streets of New Jersey. 

 Down the block an orderly kept pace and tried to start a beat:
“…Hey Lady…”
“…Ya wanna come to a party?”

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