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By Shanell Keys
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Shanell Keys
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIt was a day like any other, or at least I thought it was, but it was the day that would change my life forever. I can still remember it so vividly it seems like yesterday. It was a warm spring day, almost too warm. I knew if it was that warm already, we were in for a hot summer. I was already sweating terribly when I arrived at Sacramento Grace Hospital, where I worked as a nurse. I took my cell phone out of my pocket to check the time. Eight fifteen. I could still stop by the cafeteria for some coffee. Even though they had coffee at the nurse's station, it wasn't nearly as good as the coffee in the cafeteria. I took the elevator to the second floor and went down the long hallway to the cafeteria. As soon as I entered, Mac looked up and smiled. He had worked in the cafeteria for years, and he had become a good friend of mine. He knew what I wanted even before I told him my order.
"Hi, Jen. Iced white mocha, right?"
I nodded. "You know me too well."
Mac started working on my drink while I got the money from my purse. I knew it would be a dollar fifty with tax. I looked around the cafeteria, which was already buzzing with activity. There were people of all ages scattered around the tables and booths. One little girl, who couldn't have been more than two, was smearing syrup all over a table, much to the disapproval of the woman she was with, her mother, probably. The woman quickly snatched her up and carried her to the ladies' room, scolding her the whole way. It reminded me of when my own son was that age. In some ways it seemed so long ago; in other ways it felt like only yesterday.
"Here's your drink." Mac handed it to me over the counter. "That will be a dollar fifty."
I handed him the money and took a sip of my drink. "Have a good day, Mac." "You, too." He started humming a song I couldn't recognize as he turned to help the next customer.
* * *
"Hey, Jen!" Lisa called as I arrived at my station a short while later. Lisa was one of those overly perky people. Although she could be annoying at times, she was a nice person and an even better nurse. She really cared about her patients, and it showed. She always went the extra mile to let them know they were more than just a patient. I had learned a lot from working with her the past few years.
"So, who do we have today?" I asked, browsing through the patients' files.
"Well, only one new patient since yesterday. But this one is really interesting. Some guy was in a car accident, and the car was totaled. Besides a little bump on the head, he's fine, physically. But he can't remember anything."
"He can't remember anything?" I repeated.
She nodded. "He came in around midnight. So far, no one's claiming him. And he didn't have any type of identification on him. News cameras have already been here to cover the story. It was quite a zoo all morning. They are calling him 'the mystery man.' He's cute, too." She grinned, and I had to laugh. Lisa loved men, especially ones that she considered hot. I always tried to see beyond just outward appearance. I felt that it was much more important to have a kind heart than a six pack. "Oh, and Mrs. Furguson is here again," Lisa continued. "She's complaining of leg pain. You can take care of her, and then our mystery man." She winked and handed me both patients' files.
Mrs. Furguson was one of our regular patients, a sweet old lady in her late eighties. She was always coming in with some kind of ailment, but everyone knew she needed company more than she needed medical care. Her husband had passed away a few years back, and her children didn't visit much. She was healthy as an ox, but we would always check her vitals just to humor her. We weren't really supposed to treat patients that weren't admitted to the hospital, but there was an unspoken understanding when it came to Mrs. Furguson. I took one last sip of my coffee before I headed for the exam room.
"Hi, Mrs. Furguson, what seems to be the problem today?" I sat down in the chair across from her, and she looked at me with a sweet smile. Her silver hair fell into wispy curls around her face, and I could tell that she had been really pretty in her younger years.
"Well, my leg has been hurting a little bit." She held it up for me to see, and I reached out to touch it, pretending to examine it, even though I knew it didn't need examining.
"And when did it start hurting?"
"Can you stretch it out like this?" I stretched my leg straight out to show her.
"I think so." She did the same with her own leg, and she seemed to have more flexibility than I did. That reminded me how badly I needed to work out! "So, how is that handsome little boy of yours?" she asked.
I smiled a proud smile, as I did when anyone asked about my child. "Danny's doing really well, but he's not so little anymore. He's nine now." I took the blood pressure cuff from its hook on the wall and slipped it over her arm before pressing the button to start it.
She looked surprised. "Nine, already? Time really flies when you're my age." Then she looked at me with a curious expression. "And what about you? Have you had any hot dates recently?"
I smiled. "I don't really have time. I'm always at work or spending time with Danny."
"Well, you should. A pretty young lady like yourself shouldn't be sitting around the house on a Saturday night."
I smiled. "I will try my best to take your advice, okay?" The blood pressure monitor beeped to let me know it was done, and I glanced at the numbers. "One twenty over seventy two. Perfect." I slipped it off her arm and placed it back on the hook. "Now, I want you to take one of these every day, and your leg should be feeling better in a jiffy." I reached into the drawer, and pulled out a small pill bottle. It was actually vitamins, but she didn't know that. It made her feel as if we were doing something to help her, so we always kept them stocked in the exam room.
"Thank you," she said. "You really are the sweetest nurse I've ever had."
"You're very welcome," I told her. I helped Mrs. Furguson walk out the door and looked at the file of my next patient. The mystery man. On his file they called him John Doe. He had been picked up by the ambulance after some kindhearted person had called and reported seeing him in a ditch. He had a mild concussion, but other than that he was in good shape. I thought to myself how confusing it would be to not know who you were. I walked to room 220 and slowly opened the door, knocking softly as I did so.
"Hello?" I saw him sitting in the hospital bed. His television was on, tuned in to some game show, but instead of watching it, he was staring blankly into space. I thought that it felt strange not to know his real name. I didn't know what to call him. "Hi, sir. I'm Nurse Jennifer. I'll be taking care of you today."
He looked up at me, and I saw then how truly lost he looked. He was handsome, just as Lisa had said. He had wavy, dark hair and big green eyes. He was tall, and I noticed that his feet almost hung off the end of the hospital bed. But there was something about his eyes—they looked so sad, and I felt bad for him. He had a bandage on his forehead, and I could see that it needed changing. "Hi," he replied. "You can call me John; that's what everyone else is calling me."
"Okay, John, nice to meet you." I was trying to sound as cheerful as possible, hoping it might help to boost his mood. "Let's get you a clean bandage." I went to the supply cabinet at the far end of the room, and pulled out a large cloth bandage and some tape. "Are you ready? This might sting a little." He nodded and leaned toward me, and I quickly pulled off the old bandage and applied some ointment. Then I covered it with a new one and taped it up. His cut wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, but I knew that head injuries always bled a lot.
"You're really good; I didn't even feel that."
"Thanks, I've been doing this a really long time." I smiled at the compliment. "So, tell me how your pain is, on a scale from one to ten."
He shrugged. "My head still hurts, but I'm kind of used to it now. I guess about a four or five." I nodded and jotted it down on his chart. "So tell me something," he said, looking serious.
I looked up from his chart. "Sure."
"Have you ever treated someone like me? A freak who can't even remember his own name?"
"No. But there's a first time for everything. And don't call yourself a freak."
He was silent for a moment before he continued. "Does it say in my chart that my car crashed into a ditch?" I nodded and then sat down in the chair beside him. I could tell he had more to say. "I just wonder what I was doing. I mean, it's like I just lost control and skidded off the road. And I can't remember anything before the accident. Nothing. I have been lying here in this bed trying so hard to remember something, but there's nothing. Do you know how frustrating that is?"
I was at a loss for words. Of course I had no idea what it would be like to forget everyone, everything, in my life.
"You don't have to answer that. Nobody could understand what I'm going through." He looked down, shaking his head sadly.
I patted him on the shoulder sympathetically. "Just relax. Hopefully, as soon as the swelling goes down, you will start to regain your memory."
"What if I don't? What if I never remember?"
"Try not to worry about that right now. Just concentrate on getting better, okay? I know it's easier said than done. I've done a lot of research on amnesia, and at some point, most patients do regain their memory."
He nodded, quietly taking that in. "Most, but not all, right?"
"Yes. But like I said, you should just rest, and take care of yourself."
There was some awkward silence after that, but it was interrupted when Doctor Martin entered the room. I stood up, trying not to look too comfortable. He was the lead doctor in our department, and I had never really liked him much. He had the bedside manor of an ogre. He cared more about billing insurance agencies for unnecessary tests than he did about the patients.
"Hello, sir. I'm Doctor Martin. It's time to take you in for more tests."
John just sighed, and I slowly made my way to the door.
"Okay, I have to get going. It was nice meeting you, John." I said with a smile.
He looked up, and for the first time, he smiled. "Nice to meet you, too, Jennifer."
Chapter TwoBy the time I arrived to pick up Danny from his after-school program, I was tired and weary from a long day on my feet. I couldn't wait to get home and relax a little. There were children everywhere, loading into cars and minivans. Most of them seemed happy, with big smiles on their faces. But not Danny. He walked to the car with his head hanging down, looking depressed. Although he was nine, he was small for his age, and he looked much younger. He was often made fun of at school, and I worried about him all the time. He didn't have many friends, and while most of the boys his age were into sports, he was more of a bookworm. He would spend hours in his room, reading. I never complained, because he was truly the most easygoing kid I could hope for. He was just misunderstood, and I wished other people could see him the way I did.
"Hi, Danny, how was your day?" I asked cheerfully.
He shrugged. "Okay, I guess."
"Why the long face?" I felt silly as soon as the words slipped out of my mouth. I knew perfectly well what was wrong with Danny. It was his weekend to go to his father's house, and he hated going there. My ex-husband wasn't the most devoted father. He had him every other weekend but not because he wanted to. He had walked out on us when Danny was just a baby. Only six months later, he had remarried, to the woman he'd had an affair with. Since then, they'd had two children together, a boy and a girl. When Danny was with his father, he was treated like an outcast. If anything bad ever happened, it was always Danny's fault. And his father was always trying to get him to be more like his other son, who was a little-league champion. Danny had never been into sports, and I doubted he ever would be. I wished his father could just accept him for who he was.
"How about we stop for some ice cream today? It sure is hot." I looked at Danny for a response, but he just shrugged.
"Listen, Danny, I know you don't like going to your dad's, but it could be worse. At least you only have to go every other weekend."
"I don't see why I have to go there at all. He never does anything with me anyway. All he cares about is Max's games or Megan's dance recitals." He looked sadly down at his feet.
"I know, pal. How about we do something special next weekend? There's a new wild animal park we could go to."
He cracked a faint little smile. I've always loved how his eyes light up when he smiles. He loves animals, and I knew that would do the trick—for now, anyway.
Later, at home, I made sure Danny had all of his things together for the weekend. He just sat there, staring out the window, waiting for his dad to arrive. He looked like he was in mourning, and I thought it was sad that a weekend with his father could have such a negative impact on him. He sighed as he watched his dad pull up in the driveway. His wife, Carolyn, and their two children were in the car. Danny didn't like any of them, and from what I had heard, I couldn't blame him. Max was always picking on Danny, and Megan was always trying to get him in trouble. Of course, his father just defended them. In his eyes, Danny was just a mistake, even though he would never admit it.
"I'll get it," Danny said when the doorbell rang, and he slowly walked to the door and opened it. His father, David, stood there with a fake smile on his face.
"Hey, pal, you ready to go? We have to hurry; your brother has a game tonight. We don't want to be late." Danny nodded and went upstairs to get his things. David looked at me; his fake smile was fading. "So how have you been, Jen?"
"Fine," I answered. "But Danny isn't fine, and I want to talk to you about that."
"About what? Don't tell me you're feeding his drama again. You know, you really need to stop babying him. For Christ's sake, Jen, he'll be ten soon."
"I'm not, but he really doesn't want to go with you. I think you should try doing some things that he enjoys."
David rolled his eyes. "I'm not going to spend the weekend at the bookstore. I think Danny is the one with the problem, and you don't help him by giving in to him all the time. He should try acting like a boy instead of a sissy."
"I'm ready to go, Dad." Danny came downstairs with his bag flung over his shoulder. I could tell by the look on his face that he had heard what his father had said, even though he didn't say anything.
"Okay, let's go," David said, motioning toward the door.
"Bye, Mom." Danny came and gave me a hug. "I love you."
"I love you, too." I squeezed him tight and kissed him on the cheek. "See you Sunday." I hated letting him go like this, but I didn't want to fight with David in front of Danny. David was good at turning anything into an argument. So I watched them get into the car and drive away, feeling like the most horrible mother in the world.
Chapter ThreeI never knew what to do with myself on the weekends Danny was at his dad's house. It always seemed so quiet. One weekend out of the month, I had to work. I always liked those weekends in a way, because it made the time go by faster. This happened to be one of those weekends. Saturday morning, I turned on the news while I was getting ready. The top story seemed to be John Doe, the mystery man without a memory at Sacramento Grace Hospital. They showed his picture over and over, asking if anyone knew who he was. I thought it was sad that nobody had claimed him, and I was anxious to get to work and check on him.
When I arrived at work a little while later, I was shocked to see news reporters scattered all around the hospital. As soon as I walked through the doors, about ten microphones were shoved in my face, and ten different reporters shouted at me.
"Are you the nurse treating John Doe at this time?"
"Does he remember where he came from?"
"What is his long-term prognosis?"
"Can you tell us more about him?"
"No comment!" I said firmly, and I slipped through the double doors, where only hospital personnel were allowed. I was going to have to take the back way to work. I thought about how John must feel being harassed by the media. He had enough of his own emotions to deal with right now. But then it occurred to me that it was really the only way he would ever be reunited with his family. If it weren't for TV, they might never know where he was. I practically ran up the stairs to the nurses' station, where Lisa sat sipping her coffee.
Excerpted from Blank Slate by Shanell Keys Copyright © 2011 by Shanell Keys. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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