Confessions In 451

           The overhead light of the corridor glanced off Vera’s white uniformed hips as the nightshift nurse backed out of one of the rooms in the Intensive Care Unit.  Silvia, the morning nurse, in her soft rubber shoes, was squeaking along the quiet corridor toward Vera.

“What we got in there? ”

Vera, closing the door of room 451, sighed and said, “New one.  Name’s Roscoe Wilson.  He’s 61, smashed into the overpass.  Over a hundred stiches, broken legs and can’t talk.  Doc don’t give him more ’n a day or two.”

“Is he all hooked up?”

“Yeah, he’s still out of it.  Made the family calls an hour ago, but nobody’s showed up yet.”

Through the glass next to the door, Silvia could see her new body.  He looked like a mummy with all his bandages.  Everything that stuck out from under the sheet was either covered in bandage or plaster.  She couldn’t see any skin on the guy.  She remembered that the other patient in room 451, on the other side of curtains between them was a young gambler named Ronnie Wild from Las Vegas.  She could just make out the form of Ronnie Wild who was wrapped up just like the new patient.  Wild had been in a mysterious house explosion and fire.

Silvia slipped into the darkened, familiar room smelling of fresh gauze and tape.  She grasped the leading edge of one of the lightweight curtains between the two patients and zinged the ceiling mounted material around Roscoe’s bed, enclosing him in a thin, material box.  She left Ronnie Wild’s bed open to the room.

The zinging whine of the curtain’s rollers brought Roscoe temporarily out of his drug induced fog.  He couldn’t move or see but he knew someone was near him.

Silvia’s white uniform melted into the curtain as she stood outside the confessional-like enclosure.  The thin barrier between her and the patient allowed her to say softly in the darkness, “I don’t know if you can hear me in there, but I just wanted to tell you that I’m sorry you’re here.”   Silvia was known for talking to her comatose patients.  She paused, looking up at the ceiling as if praying for guidance and then blurted out, “Please don’t die, at least not on my shift.  See, this is my last week and I was hoping to retire out of here without losing someone as a last remembrance.”

Roscoe, on hearing the eerie one-sided conversation, tried to make a sound but nothing happened.  He couldn’t even grunt.

The embarrassed morning nurse backed away from the curtained enclosure and slipped out into the corridor to face her friend Vera.

“Jesus, Vera, looks like mummies in an Egyptian tomb in there.  What’re Doc Billious’ instructions about the new guy?”

“Same as always.  Keep him calm, watch the fluids and don’t leave the monitors,” Vera sighed in a fatigued dulled voice.

Roscoe heard all this before the closing door snipped off the rest of the conversation between the two nurses.  He felt like he was floating.  He couldn’t see or feel his body, but he could smell the antiseptic bandages.  He was in a hospital all right.  He wiggled his nose, which moved the gauze, and a tiny slit of light hit his right eye, but then he went under again.

Out in the corridor, the two women trudged toward the lighted nurse’s station a short distance down the highly polished, light green floor.

“Come on, Silvia, lets go over the orders, I want to get out of here.”

At ease, behind the counter and seated at their well-organized station, the two nurses went about the business of transferring authority and control of the I.C.U.  Vera passed on the doctor’s instructions to Silvia and then grabbed her purse and coat and hustled to one of the elevators as the door ‘dinged’ open.  She slipped passed a flustered, well-dressed man who strode smartly up to Silvia before she was fully settled.  Some people have respect for floor nurses responsibility and power.  This nervous man was not one of those people.

“You have a Roscoe Wilson here?”

Silvia looked up with her best ‘big-nurse-I’ll-be-with-you-in-a-minute-stare’ and continued putting things in order on the desk in front of her.  She took her time to establish who was in control as the man looked up and down the corridor and fidgeted with his briefcase.   Finally, Silvia asked, “Are you family?”

“Ah, yes, yes, I’m his brother.  I’m William, “ William Hornsmith expertly lied.

“He is sleeping now.  You will have to wait.”  She looked down as if to dismiss him, but he didn’t move.  She looked up again and said with a little more force, “You will have to wait.  Have a seat, please.  The doctor will begin rounds in about 10 minutes.”

“Just let me look at him.  We are very close.”

Looking directly at 451, Silvia gave away Roscoe’s room number as she said loudly, “Please have a seat; he will be available after rounds.”  Silvia’s stern glare backed Hornsmith into one of the cheap chairs opposite the nurse’s station.

Suddenly a repeating, monotone bell broke the silence between them.  Dismissing all thought of the man, Silvia quickly checked the bank of instruments on the wall to her right to see where the trouble was.  Locating the room she swung around the edge of the counter and ran down the hall away from Hornsmith.  When she was far enough from the station, William looked around, jumped up and then ducked into room 451.

With Roscoe still enclosed in his curtain, Hornsmith inched forward in the darkness toward the only bed he could make out.  The body in the bed looked to Hornsmith like someone who had just been in a car accident.  He dug into his thick briefcase and pulled out a stack of papers.  He began to quickly arrange the separate documents so that the final sheets were on top.  He did this so that a signature on the bottom line of each one could be added to give him full and legal control of the law firm he and Roscoe had built over the years.  William knew that if Roscoe died without signing these papers half the firm would go to his wife, Beatrice.

In the dim, early morning light of the room, he made it to the side of the bandaged form in the bed by the window.  He knew he didn’t have much time, so he uncapped his pen and, bending close to the side of the completely covered head, said, “How are you doin’ ‘o’l buddy.  It’s me William.  You’ve got to sign some papers right now.”

There was some movement from the bundle of bandages.  Good, William thought, he’s not dead yet.

He tried again, slipping his pen into the white-swathed right hand.  The hand rose but just waved around so William grabbed it and guided it to the line of the top sheet.  “Just sign and everything will be great.”  Nothing happened, so William griped the wrist brought the pen down to the line at the bottom and started him off in scribbling the signature he needed.

In his haste, William wasn’t checking the signatures that he was guiding onto his sheets.  They looked OK and he got all seven documents signed.  Of course, Ronnie Wild’s scribble looked a lot like Roscoe Wilson’s signature in the low light.  William stuffed the worthless papers back into his briefcase and hurried past Roscoe’s enclosure to the door.  Opening it a crack he could see that the nurse had not returned yet.  Relieved and smiling, he slipped out and down to the elevator before Silvia came back.

As William stepped into one of the elevators coming to the I.C.U., a small, good looking, older woman clutching a handkerchief to her face rushed out of the other one.  She didn’t notice Hornsmith leaving.

The woman rushed to the vacant desk and looked all around for help.  Then she saw Silvia approaching and scurried toward her.

In quick staccato she peppered Silvia with, “Where is my husband?  Is he all right?  Can I see him now?  What happened to him?”

Recognizing the fluster of a next of kin, Silvia calmly sidestepped her and said, “What is your name, please? “  She quickly got behind the counter to get to the paperwork that would help her and the distraught woman in front of her.  Silvia noticed that the brother was not around.

“Mrs. Roscoe Wilson,” the woman sobbed a little too loudly, dabbing at her heavily made-up eyes again.

Silvia glanced up at the bank of screens that represented Roscoe Wilson to her.  They showed an even heart rhythm, normal blood pressure, heart rate and breathing.  “He’s had a bad accident on the freeway, Mrs. Wilson, but he is sleeping now and you can’t see him until after rounds, which will be in a few minutes.”  Seeing the frustration on the wife’s face, she continued more sympathetically with, “He’s in room 451.”  As an afterthought, Silvia said, “His brother was just here a few minutes ago.  If you wait here I’m sure he will probably be back soon.  You both can go in after the doctor completes his rounds.”

“Brother?  My husband doesn’t have a brother.  What are talking about?”  The woman looked around the empty corridors in confusion.  “I want to see my husband NOW.”

At this point, doctor, Doctor Billious banged open his office door and strode out into the lighted intersection of corridors where Roscoe’s wife peppered him with the same rapid fire questions she’d leveled at Silvia. He dismissively regarded Mrs. Wilson and fixed Silvia with, “Who is this?”

“Mrs. Wilson, the new patient’s wife.  He is the freeway accident in 451.” Silvia waivered tentatively, looking up at the doctor with that look that gives overall control to the medical profession.

Turning on the small woman, the doctor clinically recited, “Well, I’m afraid the news about your husband is not good.  I saw him last night when he was brought in.  He will not likely live beyond tomorrow night.”   He almost seemed to enjoy deflating the poor woman with this prognosis.

Mrs. Wilson gasped and staggered back a step, clutching her handkerchief to her breast.   “Are you sure” Are you absolutely sure?”

Pausing in hope that his authority would somehow pass between them, he finally said, “Yes.  He hit a concrete abutment at about 65 miles an hour.  A younger man might have a better chance, you know.  An accident such as this takes matters out of our hands, I’m afraid.”

Looking over at Silvia and then back to the doctor, Beatrice Wilson whimpered, “Oh, just let me go in and sit by his bed.  I promise I won’t disturb him.  Please?  I’ll be as quiet as a mouse.”

What can it hurt, Silvia thought, we’re here to serve, right?  What harm can she do at this point?  She searched the doctor’s worn and lined face for a positive answer.  His stoic stare finally broke into a slight affirmative signal.

“Alright, c’mon Mrs. Wilson.”  Silvia led Beatrice across to 451, opened the door, pulled the curtain back away from one side of the bed and placed a chair next to Roscoe.  She then drew a similar curtain around Ronnie Wild putting her finger to her lips in silent instruction.  Beatrice returned the gesture, nodding her agreement.

Beatrice sat quietly for several minuets after the nurse left, but the silence began to get to her.  She scooted the chair up closer to the head of the bed and, looking around as if someone might be watching, leaned over close to the ball of gauze and tape that was Roscoe’s head.

“Roscoe?  Can you hear me?  It’s Beatrice.  Can you hear me?”

Roscoe didn’t move.  Beatrice moved even closer to where his ear would be behind the wrapping.

“Move something if you can hear me, dear?”

Roscoe was still.

Beatrice stared hard at the motionless mummy in the bed and with impatience, slid her chair even closer to the bed.  She put her handkerchief in her pocket and laid both hands on the edge of Roscoe’s bed, gripping the sheets in tight little fists.

“So this is how it ends, eh?  You just drive into some concrete?”

The word ‘concrete’ woke Roscoe up.  The growing morning light came through his right eye slit.  He could make out the curtain around him, but nothing else.  Someone was in the room or in his head.  Who ever it was they were very close and talking to him.

“You think you can get away that easy?’ the voice continued.  “Well, it won’t work.  I’m going to tell you some things before you go.”

Roscoe tried to move but couldn’t.   The voice sounded like Beatrice.

“32 years with you has not been a picnic,” she whispered, “and you should hear it from me.  You always got to run around the world and I had to stay at home.  Well, I’ll tell you something….”

Out at the station, Silvia looked up from her magazine to notice that the monitors on the new guy were spiking all over the place.  His heart rhythm was fluctuating and his blood pressure was lurching up.

“…and remember the time I said I was going to my Aunt Roberta’s?  I wasn’t going there at all.  I went to see William Hornsmith on Catalina.”  Beatrice was really getting into it now.  “That’s right, your law partner for 30 years…”

Now Roscoe’s monitors made Silvia stand up.  Something really strange was going on.  She checked the screens of her other patients and left the station, headed for 451.

As Silvia eased the door open she heard, “And remember the papers I had you sign last week?  You didn’t even read that stuff.  Those were an insurance policy for $500,000.  Now how do you feel?  Maybe finally I’ll…”

“What the hell are you doing?” Silvia cried.

Beatrice lurched up straight in her chair, squinted at the nurse and almost yelled, “Please leave us alone.”

Moving quickly, Silvia pulled back half of the curtain and stepped to the side of Beatrice’s chair.  Firmly grabbing Beatrice’s arm and raising the shorter woman to her feet, Silvia hissed, “I’m sorry, you’ll have to leave right now.  His vital signs are not good and he needs to rest.”

Silvia hustled the angry wife out of 451.  Both Roscoe and Ronnie were now awake.

Candy Mounds, Ronnie Wild’s long-time girl friend, having totally hypnotized a janitor with her low-cut blouse, had been hiding in the fire stair well, waiting to see her man.   As Silvia escorted Beatrice down the hall and was dealing with the angry woman near the elevators, Candy clip-clopped down the hall in her high-heels and into 451.  She went to the side of the only bed-ridden body she saw and sat in the seat Beatrice had pulled up to Roscoe.

“Hi, honey, it’s me.  How ya’ doin’?   Look, we gott’a talk.  I know you’re not feelin’ great, but some guy named Tony came to the club lookin’ for ya’.  He says you owe him a lot of money.  After the house explosion he thought you was dead.  He don’t know you’re in here yet so he came after me.  This guy is scary, Ronnie.  Do you owe a lot of money?  Who are these people, Ronnie?”

Roscoe was struggling unsuccessfully to tell the woman she had the wrong mummy.  All he could do was move his right arm a bit.  She took this as a sign he was listening.  She couldn’t hear the muffled sound from behind the other curtain.

“I don’t know what you had in the house, but the police got dogs all over that place.  You were lucky to get out of there alive.”

She was quiet for a moment.  Then looking down at her ample bosom, she said coyly, “Too bad you can’t see me today.  I’ve got the new bra.  Really makes me look big.  Well, you know, bigger.”

Down the hall at the nurse’s station, Silvia had just convinced Beatrice to go down to the cafeteria for breakfast when she saw a large man, looking very uncomfortable in his cheap suit, come out of Candy’s fire stair and amble slowly down the corridor toward her, looking into the glass windows of the rooms as he came.  Silvia reached over the counter and grabbed the stun gun they kept for protection and met the man as he got opposite 451.

Holding her surprise equalizer behind her back Silvia asked, “Who are you and what are you doing here?”

Ignoring her the cheap suit growled, “Where’s Ronnie Wild, lady?”  Then, through the window, he saw Candy sitting next to Roscoe and he made the mistake of ignoring Silvia again and pushed open the door.

He drew a black pistol from his coat and shouted, “You little shit, Wild, I knew I’d find you.  You owe me…”

Silvia hit him twice with the stun gun and he dropped like a sack of laundry, the gun clattering across the floor to the middle of the room.  Candy squeaked, “Tony..” and leapt to her feet backing into the bedside table.

Silvia was already on the wall phone to security glaring and glaring Candy into silence.  “Billy?  Get a couple of your guys up to fourth floor I.C.U.  stat.  We got a little trouble here.”
Candy found her voice despite Silvia’s control, “Oh, Please, I just wanted to give him a little comfort.  I didn’t mean any harm.  Christ, guns…” and she side stepped further away from the gun on the floor.  “I didn’t do anything…”

Having just dealt with the nasty wife, and thinking Candy might be Roscoe’s last pleasure in life, Silvia broke into Candy’s plea, “Just go before security gets here, and stop sneaking in here like this, OK?  You have to come to the desk like everyone else.”

Candy clattered out and down her familiar fire stair.

Billy’s men strapped the still unconscious Tony to a gurney and wheeled him to the maximum-security unit to await the police.  Silvia sagged into her chair and checked her watch.  7:15!  She’d only been on the floor a little over an hour.  This was going to be a long day.

About two hours later as the activity on the fourth floor picked up, the shiny suited Simon Lentil, bent over below the nurse’s counter and slipped by Silvia as she tended to several other problems.  Simon, as it turns out, was the insurance agent for both men in room 451.  He was in the hospital closing out another case and thought he could ‘kill two birds with one stone’, as he often put it.  In his haste, Simon sat in the chair still next to Roscoe’s bed, but pulled out Ronnie’s file.

Roscoe could now just see the slick, shiny hair of a man sitting where Beatrice and Candy had been earlier.

“Well, I’m afraid I’ve got bad news for you my boy,” the sleazy agent sighed.  “The police found the makings of illegal drugs and several cigarette buts in the bedroom where the fire started.  Your policy doesn’t cover illegal activities and negligence such as this.”   Simon could hardly contain the glee in his voice as he said this.  “Says so right here on page 23, section 3a, paragraph 2, lines 7,8 & 9.  We don’t pay if you cause the fire, simple as that.  I’ll leave a copy of the policy for you here on the table.”

There was muffled movement from the other side of Roscoe’s curtain.  Silvia was on rounds with Dr. Billious and couldn’t see the wildly reacting monitors of both the men in 451.

The smirking agent dropped the papers on Roscoe’s bedside table and dragged the chair over to the curtained enclosure of his other client.  He parted the material and stared down at what he thought was a dying old man.

Sitting down next to Ronnie, the oily agent began with, “Well, the news isn’t much better for you, Mr. Wilson.  Clear weather, no mechanical failure found on your vehicle.  You just drove into the overpass support.  Looks like a suicide attempt to me.  Not something we cover, and, of course the new life policy you and your wife just took out is invalid as well.”

The smug agent leaned back away from the jerking bandaged body of Ronnie Wild, and took out a cigarette.  Simon didn’t know what to make of the electronic noise coming from the machines connected to Ronnie.  Not bad, he thought, not going to have to pay either of these claims.  He was just about to light up when Silvia banged open the door for Dr. Billious, her arms full of patient folders and heard the flat tone that signaled death.

The doctor and the nurse pushed Lentil aside and attempted to revive Ronnie with no success.  Roscoe’s machines showed he was agitated, but gaining strength.  Roscoe had just decided to live.

Two months later, after her retirement, Silvia came to visit Vera.  Before she could say anything, Vera picked up a newspaper clipping from the social page and laid it carefully on the counter for Silvia to read.  “Roscoe Wilson, prominent attorney, recovering from injuries suffered in a car accident, won his case against the Fidelity Insurance Company and then announced his engagement to his live-in nurse, Miss Candy Mounds of Bumpus, Louisiana.

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