One Night At John Hopkins

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Brandon was lying in his bed at John Hopkins. For a reason known only to him, he would have rather preferred the local hospital on New Fayette Street. But this accident was severe. As he struggled to lift the full weight of his eyelids, the sudden harshness of the fluorescent startled him, and the blurry scene gradually resolved into the green fabric of the surgeons mask.

‘Mr. Brandon, you are ok. This is just an anesthesia,’ the voice filled the surgery room like an echo, and in rhythm with the short, stifled beeps of a cardiogram. Brandon wanted to say something, but he was too weak, as a gentle hand pressed the mask on his face.

‘Later.’ The surgeon whispered.

The next morning he woke to the smell of the formalin and the squeak of the stretchers. An unknown pain had engulfed his entire body. He realized the presence of a thick stretch of bandage wrapped around his head, across his ears and surrounding his chin. His memory was faint.

‘Why was he here in this eerie environ? What happened?’

He gazed at the food tray for a minute. It was still full. Then he heard footsteps across the hallway.  A nurse entered with other men in uniform.

‘Sir, can we ask you some questions?’ One of them quizzed.

Brandon nodded.

‘What time did you leave the bar last night?

Brandon lifted his index finger as if to make a sign.

‘Sir do you know that you were involved in a car accident with an elderly gentleman?’ Brandon’s eyes inflated and an empty feeling froze at the tip of  his lips. The reality of yesterday started sinking. Flashes of an elderly man crossing the New Fayette Market. The grand party for his friends at the G-daddy’s Sports Bar. A momentary lapse in judgment which made him drunk. The uncertain drive. A ‘thud’ on the bumper?.incidents whisked in series like an unprogrammed montage of scenes.

As his body started to shiver the nurse came up close and held his palm. Brandon struggled to ask the current condition of the elderly man.

‘Yes, he has survived, but is still in danger.’ The nurse replied.

Two tears trickled down Brandon’s cheeks and found its way on his stained bandage.

The nurse whispered something to the cops. They promptly left.

While the sound of the stilettos and boots faded in the hallway, Brandon sat up. The nurse smiled, spread the blanket on his shoulder and gently nudged him to eat. 

‘Alcohol can cause so many problems Sir, you’ve got to be careful’ she said.

Brandon didn’t have any inclination to eat. The nurse dimmed the lights and drew the drapes behind. As she left, Brandon placed his pillow on a recline and stared emptily into the distant January snow. 

Almost 28 years ago Brandon  had found himself in a similar car accident. He had vowed never to drink again. Then, as an energetic teenager, he had collided with a little girl, except that, the girl succumbed to her injuries. Surprisingly, no one had come to claim her body. The police suspected that being immigrants from Mexico, her family must have worried about their questionable residency status. Without a complaint or witnesses, Brandon had a good chance of not pleading guilty. After two years of deliberation he was absolved.

But what was a legal victory just remained as such. It was not easy to forget the human dimension. The cold stare of the victim’s twin sister on the accident scene that December night, and the helplessness in her intense green eyes. For a moment she had hugged him, with utter helplessness, but then immediately recomposed, and disappeared into an empty Baltimore street. Brandon didn’t understand her actions then, but her memory hung over like an icicle, precariously positioned to torment him time and again.

Yesterday it was deja vu. In a sober state he would have never pumped the pedal of his Sedan at 90 miles per hour and he didn’t know what hit him until he caught a glimpse of a walking stick strewn on the road. He had gestured his hand towards it before slipping into unconsciousness. The net thing he became aware of was the surgeons mask blurring in front of him. As he started convulsions, the surgeon ordered the assistants to stabilize him by giving him an extra doze of anesthesia. The cardiogram fluctuated violently as he felt the surgeon’s hand on the mask. In his hallucination, he could not tell whether this was a hand of care or the clutch of death.

""…He realized the presence of a thick stretch of bandage wrapped around his head, across his ears and surrounding his chin….""

As night began to fall, Brandon had frozen his gaze at the tiny square frames of his Georgian window. He worried and prayed for the old man’s life as he was battling a small little battle himself for finding a reason to stay alive. 

How could he live with another death? He could not. He started chastising himself for the weakness he had shown. A minute later he scribbled a suicide note, and placed it in his pocket. He wanted to talk to someone and rang the buzzer for the nurse. When the nurse arrived and stood at the door, he didn’t know what to say.

‘Some good news for you, Sir.’ The nurse broke the ice.

‘That elderly man you collided with, has escaped with minor injuries.’

Brandon did not talk, nor did he show any emotions.

‘Aren’t you glad Sir? It could have been worse.’ The nurse came closer to him and patted his shoulder. Brandon nodded. He asked the nurse to sit next to him. In this deserted period of his life, her words were comforting, and her touch spread a soothing glow into his body. While the old man was spared, he sensed, he had another void to fill.

Then, there was a long embarrassing pause. The nurse insisted on his dinner. Although Brandon had lost his appetite, he sat straight up and made a concerted effort to eat. She sat next to him in a silent approval.

‘The surgeon will be here soon. You may have another forty five minutes’ she said as she rearranged his pillow. ‘I will meet you then’ she said as she gently expressed a twinkle in her eyes and closed the door behind her.

Brandon sat still for some time and then fumbled into the washroom to have a look in the mirror. He mildly brushed his hair, rearranged his shirt and went back to bed.  The snow showers now had become intense and the drapes rustled in the soft breeze.  He tidied his room as much as he could. Then he composed himself at the window and looked at his clock. The time had come. This time there would be no denial. He would thank the surgeon for sparing his life, for the gift of her forgiveness, and live in the mercy of her enchanting green eyes for a thousand more years.

Author: Newton Dsouza- USA

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