CHAPTER TWO: WAKING WITH THE DAWN
There was something in her voice. I don't know, a calling
out to be a part of something - to belong. She's really just a girl,
alone in a dangerous city. And it's Christmas . . .
So many come into your life, Catherine. This girl must have truly touched you.
She's dying, Vincent - the streets are killing her, and she's fighting to hold on to her spirit. And she's carrying a child. She told me that she would rather see the baby die than bring another life into this world.
How can it be that this world could have no more to offer her?
I've talked to a dozen social workers and a dozen shelters, but I don't think - I know she won't respond. She doesn't have the strength anymore - or the hope.
Then she has lost her way.
I am afraid to think of what might happen to her, Vincent, if she's left alone. She's so far away from herself . . .
God Bless the Child (Written by Gansa & Gordon)
The sun rose that morning with an uncommon intensity, and in the small town in upstate New York it was a brilliance unencumbered by the smog of surrounding urban centers. Bathing the world in its warm glow, it hurtled rays of light into every niche of darkness until night was obliterated by the dawning of a new day. From the third floor of the patients' ward at the Pinewillow Convalescent Center a large bay window bid the sun good morning with the same openness that it had bid the moon good night mere hours earlier. But while the day had emerged in a joyous cascade of prism colors, its beauty served only to heighten the feeling of despair that blanketed the facility. Even the sun could not eradicate the desolation of this place where bare white walls met worn white linoleum floors.
Despite its reputation, spacious grounds, and latest medical equipment, Pinewillow still remained a long-term convalescent facility where decades ago antiseptic efficiency had replaced human compassion. That it was modern and clean, private and well-staffed, and monitored through a state-of-the-art security system to cater to an affluent clientele, could not erase the fact that it was a place that had seen more illnesses than cures and where any vestige of hope for recovery was thought to be both impractical and impossible.
In a corner room on the east end of the ward, a lone occupant lay motionless on the floor beside a standard hospital bed. In many places the absence of the woman in her bed would have been cause for alarm. In Pinewillow, no one had even checked on the patient. There was no need. She had never moved without someone's prodding in the year since she'd been admitted.
That her case was not diagnosed as terminal or irreversible was of little interest to the support staff who compelled her to move from bed to chair and back again several times daily, walked her around the grounds, and maintained her appearance and hygiene. Pinewillow was what it was. That she was a patient was sufficient to erase any thought that she'd ever be anything other than an empty shell, alive but certainly not living. Thus, it was that the sun rose each morning to greet the woman with more optimism than those who cared for her day after day. Never discouraged, the golden disk crept higher into the sky and silently accepted the welcome of the large bay window to enter her room. Dancing beams glided across the walls, and eventually made their way across the still body on the floor and onto the bed where no one lay.
It was nearly imperceptible, but slowly the figure began to move. With almost painful deliberation, she pushed herself up into a sitting position until her back was supported by the side of the bed. She had only a vague recollection of what had transpired during the night and now took her first real look at her surroundings. She realized immediately that she disliked the room. Its stark whiteness, devoid of all warmth and colors, reminded her too much of a morgue, and even though she didn't know how it was that she knew that morgues were typically white, she was certain that the association was correct. It wasn't so much that she remembered being in a morgue any more than she actually remembered anything else at the moment. It was more a feeling that she had - a feeling of familiarity that was deeper and more real to her than any amount of deductive reasoning. Hiding deep within her mind like a tangled web of shadows, the memories that could tell her what had brought her to this place danced just beyond her grasp.
Slowly, she lifted her hand and examined it. Looking at her fingers bend one by one, she accepted the fact that she was alive. That, in itself, brought her a measure of surprise but no relief. A feeling of dread clung to her subconscious, fueling the fear that still remained in the background. She had dreamed again; dreams lost in the black hole of her mind where she couldn't remember clearly but knew with certainty that they told of her destruction. She knew this intimately, as only one who had been held in death's unrelenting grip could know. Somehow she'd been spared, but not without consequence. Her weakened condition was simple proof of how narrowly she'd escaped.
Everything around her was familiar in a vague sort of way, and she was slowly coming to the realization that with the dawn, she'd returned to the reality of life. Going back to the place where nothing touched her was impossible now. Even in the brief time since she'd found herself slumped in a heap on the floor, her mind had begun to process everything around her and was now demanding answers based on concrete evidence and inescapable truth. She was compelled by a need to know; a compulsion that demanded that her confused mind make order of who she was, where she was, and why she was now sitting on the floor beside a bed without even the energy to stand on her feet.
Thus, it was with grim determination that she ignored the wave of nausea that suddenly hit her and began to examine her surroundings. There was very little to the room from what she could see. It was sparsely furnished: a single chair and dresser were side by side to her right. Glancing to her left, a large machine stood silent in one corner. With the exception of the bed which had been placed close to the large bay window that dominated the room, there was nothing else. Obviously no great pains had been taken to make the room even remotely appealing. Then, too, perhaps there had been no need for lavish amenities, as she remembered her feelings upon waking with the dawn -- feelings that told her she had been in a fugue for some time.
Once again she searched her mind for answers, but there were none, save the feelings of bone-chilling fear - her fear. Focusing once more on the room, she wondered what was outside the door but knew she didn't have the energy - or the courage, she admitted truthfully to herself - to find out. Patience, she chided herself, but intuitively she knew that patience was probably not high on her list of attributes. Nevertheless, the fact remained that she had no choice. And so she waited, and as the minutes ticked by, her frustration grew. More exasperating than the restrictions of her body were the questions that roared inside her head. It would have felt good to lash out at something, but instead, she did the only thing her weakened body would allow. She stared around the room and tried to hold back her fear. She realized the extent of the strain when she looked down to see that her hands had unconsciously balled up into fists so tight that her blunted nails were biting into her flesh. She had to get control of herself, and inhaling slowly, she unclenched her fists.
After what seemed to be an eternity of staring at the empty room and imagining any number of possible scenarios for her current predicament, she was startled from her reverie when the door suddenly swung open. In walked a tall female in a stiffly starched white and blue uniform. While she could tell by the outfit that this person was obviously some sort of medical attendant, the sharp sound of the door banging open had startled her into a paralyzing fear. She couldn't have moved if her life depended on it, and further fueling her fear was the fact that she wasn't certain that it didn't.
With an efficiency borne of monotonous routine, the attendant pulled a cart through the door and began extracting various sheets and towels. She never even glanced at the empty bed as she walked to the chair in the far corner of the room and dumped her load of bedding onto it. Yet, only a few steps beyond her, the figure of a woman lay motionless on the floor, waging an internal struggle against her terror - for the redemption of her life. In the end, the thought of being left alone in the room with only her questioning mind for companionship outweighed her fear of this stranger. She tried to speak, but her mouth was too dry. Her tongue felt too heavy, and the words simply eluded her. Fighting harder now to communicate, she reached out toward the woman, but found it was no longer necessary. Suspecting at last that something was amiss, the attendant had finally looked at the bed and walking around it, nearly tripped over the patient on the floor - the patient who was even now raising her arm toward the attendant in supplication.
"Oh my God, . . ." she gasped aloud. In her blind panic to put as much space as possible between herself and the figure on the floor, professionalism took a back seat as the woman abruptly turned and bolted out the door. She left behind the towels and sheets; the cart that now lay on its side where it had crashed to the floor; and most amazing of all, she left her patient on the floor in utter confusion. In actuality, it didn't matter to the woman all that much, because for a short blessed space of time, her fear receded and she was devoid of all emotions except utter amazement as she stared at the upturned wheels of the cart which still spun crazily before the now closed door.
Then she heard them....other voices from outside. Swiftly, the door opened again, and the room suddenly filled with people she didn't know. The cart was hastily pulled upright and shoved into a corner. And then they were there. Hands reached out to her, touching her, moving her, lifting her from the floor. Unable to stop them from putting her back onto the bed, she cringed away from these strangers and slid as far away from them as she could. The problem still remained -- for there was nowhere to go, and with mounting apprehension, she frantically looked at the sea of faces, searching for someone - anyone - who could make them go away.
Then in the midst of so much confusion, she saw an elderly gentleman step into the room and begin to make his way toward her. Though he was slight in stature and walked with a distinctive limp, he possessed an air of dominance and authority that emanated from him in waves. In obvious deference to him, the tight group of people surrounding her now parted to let this man through. Once at her bedside he gripped her hand, and then looked imperiously around. The mood in the room changed dramatically as the man stared scornfully at each person present with a look that promised future retribution for what had just occurred. Only when each person had looked away and no one was left with the courage to meet his intense gaze did he turn his attention back to the woman whose hand he still held. In a voice that left no doubt of who was in charge, he began to explain.
"Welcome, my dear. I'm Dr. Daniel Tallenger, head administrator of
the Pinewillow Convalescent Center. First, allow me to apologize for
the rather unusual treatment you've received at the hands of my
staff. While many of those here have never had the opportunity to
witness the recovery of one of our patients, that in no way excuses
their total lack of professionalism or disregard for standard patient
procedures. You have my word that they will be severely reprimanded
for this escapade; and rest assured that such an incident will not
occur again during your stay with us."
Even as he talked to her, his eyes continued to fire daggers of disapproval at the now embarrassed employees crowded around her bedside. This man gave the impression of total control, and he obviously did not suffer fools lightly. Frankly, she doubted he would forget anyone involved in this episode any time soon, and even the tone of his voice gave witness to his barely contained fury at his staff. From the looks on their faces, she correctly guessed that every last one of them was wishing that they were somewhere else -- anywhere else -- other than in her room just now.
On the heels of that thought came the realization that she, too, feared this man. Doctor or not, she sensed he had the capacity for total ruthlessness, and despite her best efforts, she was helpless to stop the trembling of her hand still gripped tightly in his own. He noticed immediately and abruptly looked away from his staff to turned his intense scrutiny on her. More quickly than she'd imagined with his awkward gait, he walked around the bed and half filled a glass of water. Raising her head with one hand, he placed the glass to her lips.
"Drink slowly," he admonished; and after draining the small amount there, she made a shaky effort to sit up. However, the same hand that held the glass, now put it away and restrained her.
"No, my dear, it's still too soon for you to get up, especially after what you've just endured. Please, just rest. I'm sure no one here wishes to distress you any further by our uninvited attentions. We'll give you some space now...right now," he said with a hard edge to his voice.
Although his glance was casual enough, his meaning was hardly lost on those present: they had all been ordered to get out and stay out. Cued by the veiled threat in his command, the staff nervously began to file from the room in short order. No matter what his motive, at that moment she was simply grateful that he had made them leave. Her appreciation was short-lived, however, as he closed the door on the last one and then proceeded to pull the single chair from across the room, whereupon he sat down beside her bed. It then became apparent to her that while dismissing the others, he had every intention of staying himself.
"I know you must be anxious to understand what's happened to you," he began "but I'm afraid I know little more than you do at the present. I must insist, however, that from a medical standpoint it is imperative that you take things slowly right now. You mustn't run the risk of having a relapse and losing everything that it appears you've gained."
The strain of the morning had begun to wear her down, and a dull pain in her temples warned her of the onset of a headache. She wondered how long she would be able to hold a rational conversation with the doctor before the worst of the pain closed in. Yet, in one thing he was right: she was anxious to understand what had happened to her. And so she willed herself to hold back her growing fatigue and with a voice, roughened by disuse, she asked him, "So exactly what does that mean?"
Surprise flickered briefly across his face at her question, but he covered the lapse immediately and answered her. "It means that you've had more than enough excitement for today. First thing in the morning we'll give you a thorough physical examination. If everything checks out alright, as I have every reason to suspect it will, you'll soon be well enough to start physical therapy. From there we hope your progress will result in a full recovery."
Although every instinct she possessed warned her to be careful of what she said to this man, right now he was her only source of information. So, shoving aside her apprehension, she nodded and waited for him to continue. Once again, she got the feeling that she had somehow surprised him. True to form, however, he quickly hid his discomfort and set about explaining more about where she had spent the last year of her life.
"As I mentioned before, Pinewillow is a long-term disability facility for persons requiring extensive convalescent care. Despite what happened this morning, we have a very capable and dedicated staff who have cared for you since your arrival. Also, our facility has the reputation of being quite discreet with the backgrounds of our clients. So, you see, there's nothing to fear. Most importantly, you can trust me that anything you say will remain strictly confidential between us. So since it appears you're up to it - why don't we start with your name. . ?"
It was immediately apparent to the doctor that his words had hit a nerve. For the most part, the woman had listened to him with only the barest flicker of emotion. Now, however, he saw the first signs of genuine emotions as panic played across her face and her eyes darted away from his. At first this display had him convinced that she was trying to deceive him, but he revised that opinion immediately as he saw the first signs of tears in her eyes. Apparently her identity was already a sensitive issue in her mind, and as one tear defiantly slipped from the corner of her eye, he instinctively sensed that more than anything, she didn't want to break down in front of him. Waiting to see how this unusual patient would handle things now, he remained silent.
With a voice made even more hoarse from the emotions she felt and was unable to hide, she finally replied to him. "My name? I thought you would able to tell me that and how I came to be a guest at a convalescent facility.. You see, I don't seem te be able to remember anything."
Daniel Tallenger had interviewed more patients than he could remember, and he knew he was fairly adept at discerning the truth from a lie. Not only that, but no patient in his long history could have faked the stricken look on her face and the intense sadness he felt from her - especially not after just coming out of a virtually catatonic state. He believed her memory was truly impaired, and using his most reassuring voice, he told her, "If you don't remember the details right now, it's perfectly alright. Actually, I would have been surprised if you had complete recall. Given the length of time that you've been ill, it's quite common for there to be gaps in one's memory. I'm fairly certain this won't be a permanent condition and the sooner we have you up on your feet again, the sooner the pieces will begin to fall into place. So, you see there's no need to cry."
"I'm not crying!" she insisted irritably as a single tear escaped and betrayed her. It left a thin trail of wetness down her cheek that she impatiently wiped away with her hand, admitting only to herself that she was more upset over being so easily read in her weakened state than by the absence of her memory. In fact, she had no reason to question his professional opinion that her memory would return in time, and this actually brought her a measure of reassurance. It did not, however, make her trust him any more than when they first began talking.
To his credit, the doctor ignored the obvious signs of her distress, and if he was bothered by her agitation, he didn't show that either. Of course, she thought uncharitably, he could afford to be gracious to her. In her weakened condition, she had no doubts over who held the power over whom. Yet, it would have appalled her to know that as the doctor carefully watched her, he could now easily read the thoughts mirrored in her expressive eyes. Satisfied that she truly knew nothing leading to her admission at Pinewillow, he interrupted her private musings to generously offer his assistance.
"So for now, are there any questions that I could answer for you?"
After just a moment's hesitation, she realized that she needed information even more than the rest her body craved and quickly responded before he could use her obvious exhaustion to end their talk. "Please don't think I'm not appreciative," she began, "but I'm sure you can understand that all of this is a bit much for me to accept, especially when even you don't seem to know much about me - not even my name. So perhaps if you could contact my family or friends. You know, let them know I've come around, then maybe they can help me regain my memories. I mean, certainly there's somebody who knows me."
Until that moment, Dr. Tallenger had appeared arrogantly
confident, but even as tired as she was, she noticed the sudden
tension that her words generated. So she wasn't surprised when he
said, "I'm afraid even that is a bit complicated. . . ."
She was disappointed, however, and turned her face away to hide the despair that suddenly hit her and had her blinking furiously against the threat of new tears. She had dared to hope that she had family or friends - someone - anyone - who could help open the missing places in her mind. But she knew from his tone, even before he said the words, that there was no one. She was totally alone, and even worse, her future was in the hands of a man she didn't know if she could trust. She desperately wanted information and the truth, and instead she saw the chances of getting either growing ever slimmer. Dr. Tallenger had ceased to speak while she gazed away, and when she finally nodded her head to him, he again continued.
"Please try to understand, you came to us anonymously a little over a year ago with no previous records or medical history. As a favor to a fellow colleague, I authorized your admission, but no one has ever visited or called about you since your arrival. The cost of your care has been covered through a monthly electronic transfer of funds - all legal, mind you, but quite impersonal. I am truly sorry to say this, but I have no additional information on you. Unlike yourself, the vast majority of our patients never recover sufficiently to live normal, productive lives, and by the time they come into our care, their loved ones have accepted that fact. Most of our patients wouldn't be aware even if they received visitors, and until recently, you were also such a case. So you see, it's not unusual that we've heard nothing from your family or friends."
She looked at the doctor as he spoke and again something instinctual kept her from taking his words at face value. In her heart, she knew there was more to her situation than what he had just shared with her. It wasn't what he had told her, so much as what she suspected that he had omitted. The very idea that he had admitted her on the word of a fellow physician without even obtaining her name was just plain odd. In fact, the entire story was so unorthodox that it boggled her mind; a mind that was keeping pace with her exhaustion and an accelerating headache. And if she weren't so tired, she was certain she would have challenged his story directly -- but now was definitely not the time. Still, she did nothing to hide her obvious skepticism as she told him, "OK. I accept what you've told me - there's no family or friends. So could you tell me how to contact your colleague, the one who arranged for my admission and care -- or better yet, the one who has been paying for all this?"
Wearily, Daniel Tallenger rubbed his hands across his eyes. Things were definitely not going as he'd expected. Few patients questioned him to such an extent, actually none in recent memory, and certainly not any who had just emerged from a near catatonic state! While he could honestly say he didn't know the woman's identity, he was getting a pretty good read on her personality; and early in their discussion he had ceased to be amazed that she was now awake. She was obviously the kind who didn't know when to give up. It just made sense that somewhere in her life, she must have run into some pretty mean characters who found her as uncooperative as he was beginning to feel. That was probably why she had been tortured to near death, and he also bet that whatever they had wanted out of her, she had never divulged. She was simply the kind who would have died first, but then, she hadn't died. Even now the woman was plainly exhausted and running on sheer determination, and yet she was adamant about questioning him! Stifling his annoyance, he checked that his mask of sincere concern was firmly in place and responded to her.
"I am sorry, but as a professional courtesy, I have given my word not to divulge the identity of your referring physician or your sponsor without permission. It's important that you understand that your transfer here was done quite secretly, and all I have truly gathered is that you were in some sort of trouble. So putting together the scant pieces that I was told, I suspect that we've served as more than just a place for you to recuperate. I think this is also where you were hidden for safety - and as I informed you initially, Pinewillow is known for its discretion and confidential handling of our patients' backgrounds."
This time she did believe he was telling her the truth, and it stood to reason that in the past she had been in danger. How else could she have wound up in such a condition in a place like this with no one who could explain her presence? The pounding in her head had become too painful to ignore, and her body ached with the exertion to keep pressing for answers. Yet, she knew that in spite of her weariness, it was more the state of not knowing that was draining the last reserves of her strength. Then as the doctor reached over to squeeze her hand in what he thought was a supportive gesture, it took all of her remaining willpower not to flinch. She knew then that there would be no more questions for today.
Satisfied that he had allayed her fears, Dr. Daniel Tallenger patted her hand comfortingly and told her with all the sincerity he could dredge up, "I truly regret that I don't have the answers to all your questions, my dear. However, let's not lose sight of the most important thing. And it is that you've come through the worst, and now conscious and alert, there will be plenty of time for you to find the answers you seek. For now I suggest we let the questions go and concentrate on building up your strength. Despite the unusual circumstances of your stay here, many people here have worked very hard to see this day when you would begin to reclaim your life. The truth of your background will reveal itself in time, and regardless of what that might be, let me say on behalf of our entire staff that we're very happy that you've pulled through."
Inwardly, she admitted that from what she could discern, she had been well cared for during her illness. For that she owed the staff a debt of gratitude. And yet, despite his words, she found herself doubting that happiness was what he was feeling toward her at the moment. Then, as tired as she was, perhaps she was sensing danger where there was none. Perhaps the doctor did wish that he had more to tell her. So why did she continue to have the distinct impression he was only happy that she had stopped with the questions?
With a sigh of resignation that she couldn't completely hide, she accepted that there was absolutely nothing she could do at the moment. He said she'd been there for over a year, a little longer would hardly seemed to make any difference. So for now, she conceded. There was nothing more to do other than to simply say thank you.
Dr. Tallenger heaved a sigh, as if he, too, were relieved to get past the last half hour of their conversation. Then he rose from the chair. "There really is no need to thank me. It's why I'm here and what I do. And I noticed you seem to be suffering from quite a headache. That's also to be expected. I'll have the nurse in directly to give you something for the pain so you can relax . . . . Oh yes, and we do need to call you something. For the past year, you've simply been 'the patient in 48-D' and that simply won't do at this point in your recovery."
Perversely, she was tempted to tell him to continue to call her 48-D. She felt no connection to any name, and the throbbing in her temples made such considerations the least of her concerns. Then the part of her which could still think reasonably acknowledged that on this issue, the doctor had a point. Immediately she grabbed the first name that came to mind. "Perhaps Caitland? Yes, Caitland. That will do as well as any other name."
Dr. Tallenger now smiled, knowing that his patient was unaware that he was more than ready to get away from her probing questions and leave her to rest. Reaching over, he gave her hand another quick squeeze. "Well, Caitland it will be then. Now, why don't I get the nurse in here for you and let you get some much needed rest. With everything we've talked about, you must be exhausted."
She looked up at him and gave a slight nod in agreement. "I am tired," was all she said, and with nothing more from her, Dr. Tallenger shook his head and left the room.
The young woman who had given herself the name Caitland didn't go to sleep immediately. After the nurse came and went, she found herself still too anxious to fall into the oblivion of sleep. In the quiet of the room, she finally began to sort through the first hours of her new life. If Tallenger were to be believed, it didn't seem very promising. Her past life was gone, and she didn't have a clue as to how to get it back or if she even had a life to get back. The only thing she knew with certainty was that she was mired in a whole lot of trouble and apparently there were no easy answers to be found. She didn't want to feel sorry for herself, but the life she now faced left her feeling empty and alone. She hadn't lied when she'd told the doctor that she was tired, and she was grateful for the medicine that began to quiet her mind. Slowly she closed her eyes, and as she began to drift off, the last thought she had was, God, what a mess. . . . .
Once in the hallway, Dr. Daniel Tallenger's disposition took a turn for the worse. It was obvious that he was annoyed. Impatiently he headed for his office as fast as his arthritic hobble could take him. He was oblivious to the employees who made hasty retreats into various rooms and hallways to avoid him. It wouldn't have mattered if he had seen them. The doctor was far too absorbed in his thoughts to care about the hired help at the moment.
Fine, just fine.... he thought. What was he going to do with the woman now that she was conscious? With more than half of the floor present to see her, it wasn't like he could just put her in isolation somewhere and no one would notice.
Over the months he had almost forgotten that her condition wasn't classified as irreversible. Jameson had mentioned that she might come out of it when he brought her to him that night, but given the severity of her injuries and the catatonic state she had lapsed into, there had been nothing to indicate things would ever change.
Great, just great; now he had a prima donna Jane Doe on his hands who was going to be a major thorn in his side. He hadn't been fooled in the least. He knew she hadn't bought his story completely. Still, the basics were true. All he had omitted was the enormous fee that had been charged for her care and how major portions of that money had been diverted to several private accounts - all belonging to him. "Damn," he swore savagely under his breath. She should have been a cash cow for the center for years to come, and his own personal retirement fund. Now, in barely thirteen months she was awake and looking for friends and relatives. If she only hadn't awakened in front of the entire staff!
Absorbed in these thoughts, Tallenger barely noticed when he was joined on his solitary walk back to his office by his Supervisor of Nursing, Betty Carlisle. "How is she?" Betty asked, taking immediate notice of the doctor's preoccupied look and his agitated gait which was always more pronounced when he was angry. Taking cue from these warning signals, she quietly matched her stride to his and waited for him to acknowledge her presence..
"How is she? A hell of a lot better than I expected her to be," he said irritably. "Although she doesn't remember, at the moment, how she came to us or why, but we both know that's no big surprise in these cases. I suspect it's only a matter of time before she regains her memories."
"So what went wrong?" Betty asked carefully. It wasn't her intention to become the target of Daniel's obvious displeasure, but if it related to a patient, she was obligated to find out the problem, especially when it involved a patient who had made such a miraculous recovery.
"Who said there's a problem?" Daniel replied. Then with dripping sarcasm, he continued. "I just spent the better part of an hour being interrogated by a patient who just woke up from no man's land and who had the utter gall to express her disdain over my lack of information about her past. I swear, I felt as if I was being cross-examined by the little chit."
Pretending not to notice the doctor's disparaging remarks, Betty
remained upbeat. "Ok. So it seems she's going to be alright with the
exception of what's probably only a temporary memory loss. She'll
keep for now, but knowing how you dislike aggressive patients, I'm
more concerned about you, Dr. Tallenger. Need I remind you that you
do have hypertension? Was she really worth getting this riled up
about?" she queried with a half-smile.
Despite using his formal title, Daniel heard the amusement in her voice and glared at her - to no avail. Betty's face was the perfect reflection of concerned professionalism, and the doctor quickly wondered if he'd imagined her insolence. Without answering her, he continued his progress down the hall.
Betty kept easy pace with the doctor, have nearly five inches over him in height. Reflecting over his attitude, she wondered if there was more to this than what he was saying. She knew how much the good doctor hated complications; and more than anyone, Betty knew how much of a complication the patient in 48-D could become for Daniel. They both had acknowledged that this new patient was well worth the round-the-clock care she had received since being admitted. Losing her as a patient would certainly put a dent in the center's revenues. Then, too, Daniel hated being challenged by a patient...any patient...and by his attitude, Betty suspected their newly awakened patient had asked more than just the standard questions to so completely ruffle the doctor's professional feathers.
Out of the blue, he suddenly stopped and turned to her. "You ask me how am I and remind me of my blood pressure! Where the hell were you this morning? It was damned frustrating to walk in there to be greeted by half the staff, Betty. They nearly scared the woman back into a comatose state and no one had the sense to recognize her distress. So what exactly was that all about?"
Before she could formulate a reply, he turned and walked down a side corridor that housed the administrative suites. They had reached his office, and as the doctor settled in his chair, Betty sat across from him, separated by the large mahogany desk. She knew there would be hell to pay for that little gathering of staff in the girl's room, but it couldn't be helped. Better to let him take it out on me than the staff, she thought. Lord knows he did that often enough, and the entire ward staff were petrified of Daniel's heartless reprisals. Unfortunately, Pinewillow was the singular employer in the area and many depended on their positions to support their families. As for her, Betty had been with him too long and knew too much. She was confident he wouldn't fire her in one of his fits of anger. Nevertheless, she didn't look forward to listening to him rant and rave at her either. With more than a little defensiveness in her voice, she gave her explanation.
"It was the new orderly, Beth, who discovered her lying on the floor. She's only been on board for a month, and it just plain spooked her. As for the rest, most of them didn't even know she was awake until they arrived in her room. They were responding to Beth's call for help. As for my whereabouts, you do remember that I'm on a flex shift this week, and I wasn't expected in until 10. By the way, I'm here early, if you're keeping tabs. Bottom line, Dr. Tallenger, is that no one expected her to just come out from under like that. It was an unfortunate incident, but it's over and no one was really harmed. If our patient questioned you to the extent you say afterwards, that's your proof that she's none the worse for wear. So my suggestion is that we issue a memorandum on protocol for newly revived patients and conduct an in-service training to make sure every employee is informed of the proper procedures."
As he opened the chart, Betty was relieved to hear him say suggestion accepted. But knowing the Dr. Daniel Tallenger as she did, she couldn't believe that this was simply the end of the incident. Daniel was nothing, if not predictable, in his retribution, and so it didn't surprise her when he gave the next order.
"And as for that orderly....what's her name? Beth? That one I want out of here as of this afternoon if not sooner No discussion on this, Betty. Her behavior was more than unacceptable. It was unpardonable. So just get rid of her."
Betty didn't respond. She just sat back and waited for him to complete his notes on the interview with the woman in 48-D. In reflection, Daniel had actually acted in moderation. She remembered a time nearly five years ago when he had fired the staff of the entire third floor for the mistake of one nurse. So while this was less dramatic, Betty still felt that Beth deserved another chance. A written reprimand, perhaps, but termination? She silently fumed as she thought of what a truly gifted and brilliant physician and administrator Daniel Tallenger could be, when he didn't let his ego, his ambition, and his temper get in the way. It seemed to Betty, though, that either she was becoming less tolerant of her boss or lately all three were getting more and more in the way.
Betty Carlisle had been Supervisor of Nursing at Pinewillow for the past ten years. During that time, she had seen the entire spectrum of emotional, physical, and neurological disorders - from catatonic to comatose - and she knew, based on what Daniel had reported, that the young woman in 48-D should respond quickly to treatment. She certainly didn't seem the kind of patient to wallow in self-pity if the way she awoke today was any indication. In any event, it had been Betty's experience that the vast majority of patients who awoke from a severe catatonic state that had lasted as long as this woman's often didn't speak coherently for weeks. Asking questions and interacting in the manner alluded to by Daniel was virtually unheard of.
Reflectively, Betty recalled the night she had been paged to meet Dr. Tallenger on the roof of the East Wing. She had thought it a strange request at the time, but soon discovered it was nothing compared to the even stranger events which had unfolded later. She and Daniel were the only witnesses to the patient's late night arrival. A helicopter landed in the stealth of night carrying only the pilot, a New York doctor, and the body of an unconscious and gravely ill woman. What was even more disturbing was that the woman had no paperwork - nothing - not even a name. Betty had not approved of Daniel admitting the woman, but years of working with the doctor had compelled her to trust his judgment, to follow his orders. Since that night, though, she'd had plenty of time to question the wisdom of her decision to blindly follow Dr. Daniel Tallenger.
Though he had not seen fit to introduce her to the two strangers, Betty remained in the room as the unknown doctor gave a brief account of the woman's injuries and condition. And then she caught a glimpse of her. She was attractive and slept peacefully in the still, seemingly lifeless grip of unconsciousness; and it was then that Betty's concern with precedent and procedures dissolved and she saw the woman for what she truly was: a very sick patient. She assisted Daniel as he transferred her from the portable life support equipment in the helicopter to the center's intensive care ward. There, they worked through the remainder of the night and well into the next day, stabilizing her condition and creating the necessary documentation to establish her as a patient of the facility. That night Daniel had made it clear that Betty was to be personally responsible for the care of their mysterious unconscious patient. Over the next several months, she came to accept the woman in 48-D, at least without further questioning Daniel about her history or unorthodox admission to Pinewillow. Now, more than a year later, the woman was awake. Betty could only shake her head in wonder at the tenacious life force of some patients to survive against all odds.
Lost in her thoughts, she didn't notice that Daniel had finished writing and was patiently waiting for her to respond to what he had just said. Shaking off the past, she looked up.
"Sorry. Did you say something?" she asked.
With his usual snide attitude, Daniel replied, "I didn't mean to intrude on your personal time Nurse Carlisle, but I was informing you that she would like to be called Caitland....I wonder where she got that name from? Anyway, you're still in charge of her, Betty. She seems to be clueless as to her reason for being here, but if she begins to remember absolutely anything, I want you to notify me immediately. As it stands now, she's not happy with her situation, and I suspect she'll be somewhat difficult to handle if my conversation with her today is any indication. So I'm giving you full rein to schedule her however you see fit - just keep her happy and out of my way."
When Betty offered no comment, he continued. "Regarding her treatment plan, first I want to make sure that there are no residual effects from her illness, so schedule her for a full physical. I'm not contacting her sponsor until we're absolutely certain that her condition is stable and she'll make a full recovery. From what I know of him, I suspect he's not the type to appreciate us raising false hopes. Once he's told, you better believe we'll have to produce a miracle: a completely recovered patient who's healthy and mentally stable."
Betty suddenly stiffened and sat forward. Looking straight at the doctor, she spoke in the frank manner that was her trademark. "But Daniel, that's exactly what she is: a miracle!"
Seeing him raise one eyebrow in surprise at her intensity, Betty slid back down in her chair and decided it was time to lay everything out on the table. With more control of her emotions, she quietly repeated herself, "She is a miracle; and I don't see how can you see it otherwise with her coming here within twenty-four hours of birthing a child, half dead, hemorrhaging, and filled with enough morphine to kill a man twice her size - and yet she survived! Now she wakes up. There's no obvious brain damage or psychosis, merely the usual memory loss. How can this be anything other than miraculous? You know, I've never been comfortable with how she came to us, but I accepted your decision. Now, the unbelievable has happened: she's awake and she's lucid. There's bound to be questions; if not from her, then from the staff. Some of them still remember what she was like when she first came. And from what you've said, she's already questioning how she ended up here . . . . So what if she asks about her injuries? How she was hurt? What if she asks what happened to her baby? What ifÐ"
"Damn it Betty!" the doctor interrupted heatedly. Half out of his chair by now, he rose to lean across the large desk and stare down at his Supervisor of Nursing. "Has everyone around here loss their minds as well as their professionalism just because one patient woke up? You know the score! You're not authorized to say anything of a medical or psychiatric nature to a patient. The same thing goes for the staff, and I'll fire the first son-of-a-bitch who disregards that rule. None of you are this woman's attending physicians. So if she asks, you can answer her honestly: You are not authorized to know anything about her case! What can be more simple than that?"
Breathing heavily, he felt a quick pain pass through his chest and with obvious effort, he concentrated on regaining control of his temper. It just seemed that everyone - even Betty, his most dependable employee - was conspiring to make a total catastrophe over this one patient. It was definitely making him nervous, and yet nothing would be served by shouting at Betty Carlisle. Of all the staff, he knew he needed Betty's help with this one, and the last thing he wanted to do was to alienate her. Plus she deserved more than that for an answer. Betty had helped him with saving the woman's life, and she was loyal to a fault -- never breathing a word about how the woman had become a patient at Pinewillow. It certainly wasn't her fault that out of the blue the patient had suddenly regained her wits.
Putting down his pen, he leaned back in his chair and looked at Betty Carlisle appraisingly. She was a sturdy Black woman of forty-five with high cheekbones and a proud bearing that commanded the respect of others, even without the benefit of her deep, no-nonsense voice. Daniel had come to appreciate long ago that Betty was a rare find in his kind of profession. It took a special kind of nurse with a deep abiding respect for human life in all its various forms to care for unresponsive patients. Betty was that individual. Instead of seeing the patients as mindless bodies as did so many others, Betty saw her patients as individuals with past lives, families, friends, hopes, and dreams. Daniel knew she took the charge of their care as personally as if they were a part of her own family. It was her calling: to care for them over the weeks, months, and even years, with dignity and respect until, as today, one of them awakened to reclaim the life that had been left behind.
He pushed the chart across the desk to Betty, and when he finally
spoke, it was as the doctor Betty had come to know and respect while
working by his side for the past two decades, rather than the
cynical, power-hungry chief administrator who she often barely
"Betty, the truth is, I don't know what happened to this woman. You were there that night and heard everything with me. The doctor was a friend of mine from medical school who asked for my help in saving her life. I asked him for more details, but he told me that for her safety, as well as my own, he couldn't supply any more information. Frankly, after talking with her today, I'm glad I don't know any more. She was definitely in trouble...very serious trouble, and she still could be. Look, I'll even admit I took a big risk in allowing her in our facility. You've got to admit, though, that it's paid off royally. At the time we desperately needed the revenues, but before I'll allow her presence to endanger our operations here or the other patients, I'll set her outside the doors myself and tell her sponsor to pick her up by the side of the main road."
"But we aren't at that point with her - yet" he told her now in earnest, "The fact still remains that she has just awakened from more than a year in the twilight zone! Even if we knew the entire story - even if you were ethically allowed to tell her what we discovered of her condition when she arrived - I suspect that right now it would be too much of shock a for her to assimilate. If she doesn't remember being pregnant or having a child, telling her could do more damage than good, compromising all the strides she made today in waking up. You and I both know that her illness wasn't just a response to physical trauma. Hell, we had her stabilized by morning! That woman experienced something so emotionally devastating that she underwent a total psychological collapse. She simply shut down, and right now we can help her the most by allowing her to bring back the memories when she's ready to face them."
Daniel now stepped around the desk to stand directly in front of Betty. As he moved, Betty could tell from his face that the chief administrator had returned, and business was back to usual. It amazed her how he could switch from the blunt truth to bull in a matter of seconds...must be a requirement of the position, she thought cynically. Focusing now on what he was saying, Betty found that she had to bite the inside of her lip to stop the retort that she so badly wanted to throw back at him.
Totally oblivious to the rising ire of his nursing supervisor, a calmer Tallenger now continued. "There's one more thing, Betty. I'm hesitant to certify that she's completely in the clear, and I think I'm justified in this decision. We must continue to see how she does over the next few months. If she has truly recovered, I'll get a message to her sponsor. He gave explicit instructions for us not to contact him under any circumstances regarding the woman, unless there was an emergency. I think you'll agree that this doesn't constitute an emergency as such, merely a change in her status. So I want you to continue to monitor her health - get her adjusted to our facility, become the friend she can confide in if she experiences any concerns. If anyone can help her regain her strength, I know you can, Betty. But stick to the basics. I don't want you pushing her to conjure up memories just to satisfy your curiosity. Let's leave that to the therapists and her doctors. And as for her past, it's a closed book. Is that clear?"
"Crystal clear," Betty replied. "I just hope for the sake of that poor woman that things have changed for her on the outside." Betty stood and picked up the chart. "I'll get her scheduled for a complete exam tomorrow and put these physical therapy orders in immediately."
Walking back to his side of the desk, Tallenger easily answered her. "That's fine, Betty. Oh, and by the way . . . .about the other employees in the woman's room today . . . ."
Suspecting what was coming, Betty braced herself, and while her face remained impassive, inside she felt the tenuous hold on her temper begin to slip. Defiant, stormy brown eyes bored into Daniel Tallenger with undisguised disapproval. As usual, the doctor ignored the look Betty's look. He'd seen it often enough in the past, but he remained unfazed. In the end, Betty Carlisle always came around, and if she didn't, in his mind she was just as expendable as any other staff.
Clearing his throat, he continued. "Get a list. I want the names of each staff person who entered that room this morning, and I want that list today. I'll expect you to issue reprimands in the personnel folders of everyone who was involved by the end of the week."
"But Dr. Tallenger...." she began.
"Oh, and they're all docked a full day's pay. Anyone who has a problem with that is welcome to turn in a resignation to me immediately. Now that will be all, Nurse Supervisor Carlisle," he said with a finality that Betty knew no amount of protest or begging would change. Turning away, Betty walked quickly out of his door before her indignation led her to let him know exactly what she thought of the person he'd become. At least this time he hadn't again fired the entire ward, but regardless of that, the whole affair left Betty with a bad taste in her mouth and mounting doubts about the good Dr. Daniel Tallenger.
Letting a long sigh escape, Dr. Daniel Tallenger felt confident that he had arrested the suspicions of his nursing supervisor, and he relaxed for the first time since he'd gotten the page that the woman in 48-D had come out of her stupor. What he wanted now was a strong drink. With a grim smile, he opened a hidden compartment within his credenza and took out a bottle pouring himself a liberal amount of his favorite brandy..
He was definitely getting too old for days like today. Retirement was looking better and better to him, and there was more than enough money now to sit back and enjoy life. After he had taken care of his latest problem in 48-D, he was definitely turning it all in. After a career like his, he deserved the good life...free of inquisitive patients, irritating staff, and nosey nursing supervisors. Then, with thoughts of deep-sea fishing foremost in his mind, he leaned back in his chair and downed his drink in one gulp.
Outside the office, Betty Carlisle proceeded to put the chart back in order and headed down to the physical therapy ward. For more than a year she had kept her doubts about their involvement with this woman buried beneath professional loyalty to Daniel. But now the doubts resurfaced like a flare. She was damned pissed off. She didn't like being forced to fire staff or generate reprimands and pay-cuts when she felt their actions hadn't warranted such severe reprisals. And most of all, she didn't like to be played for a sucker. She knew there was definitely something odd going on, and it directly involved their newly awaked patient, Caitland.
As much as a part of her wished she could ignore her intuition and accept Daniel's words at face value, to do so would be to betray herself and her commitment to her patients. She knew this was something Daniel had never really understood about her. She had a professional and ethical bond to her patients that ran to the very core of who she was. As a woman and a minority, she had no tolerance for the games that people played with the lives of others, and above all she definitely would not stand by while a patient under her care was abused or manipulated - even by the great Dr. Daniel Tallenger. As for this particular patient, she had already been through so much that as far as Betty Carlisle was concerned, enough was enough. The woman's benefactor should have been notified immediately, and that had been the real tip-off for Betty. She had never known Daniel to hesitate in contacting a patient's family when one awoke. So why now would he want to keep this particular patient isolated from the sponsor who had paid so much to insure her care?
Taken all together, Nursing Supervisor Betty Carlisle was absolutely certain that Dr. Daniel Tallenger was trying to cover something up or even worse, intended to keep Caitland on as a patient for the revenue she would generate for the center. Betty knew she could never be a part of such a direct violation of a patient's right to recover and reclaim her life, and she hoped that for once she was wrong in reading Daniel. Yet, whatever it was, Betty had sensed the nefarious undercurrents, and she planned in no uncertain terms to find out what was going on. For now, however, she would bide her time. Past experience had taught Betty when to keep her questions to herself, lie low, and simply observe. And as smart as the good doctor was, it still amazed her that by now he hadn't learned that secrets eventually leak out. They always did.