Skip McAllister woke up in a small, windowless hospital room that reminded him of a Salvadoran prison he’d spent ten days in during one of his first jobs after the military.
“I’m underground,” he muttered to himself.
Skip couldn’t be sure of that, but he felt fairly confident that his hospital room was in the basement of the building.
“Who does that?” He asked. “Is this convenient to the morgue?”
Nobody was there to answer. He had an oxygen tube under his nose. An I.V. was plugged into his arm and an assortment of wires connected him to a laptop situated on a small table near the bed.
Skip’s only companions were the machines, which beeped, beeped, beeped and so on.
The call remote dangled from the right-side metal rail of his bed but was actually a couple of inches short for him to reach without trying to sit up.
Skip didn’t much feel like sitting up. He didn’t feel much like doing anything, though he felt much better than he had when he collapsed on the floor of that gas station.
He felt a little foggy about what all had transpired. There’d been a car accident of some kind. He remembered crawling out of his nearly destroyed Cadillac and walking toward the light. If he’d been a seriously religious man, he might have taken that as being part of some divine experience, but he left the new age mumbo jumbo for the Nancy Reagans and Al Gores of the world.
Skip didn’t think he’d brought the money with him into the store and he was halfway certain that he’d discharged his sidearms, but the why that might have happened alluded him.
He needed to talk to a doctor. He needed to call his wife. He needed… He needed his phone, for starters.
The machines beeped a little faster, tracking his clear aggravation under the circumstances. He took a deep breath. He didn’t know if it was a sure thing, but Skip was about halfway certain he’d had some sort of heart attack.
Becky would love that, he grumbled, but not really. She was always on to him to eat better, to get out and walk and to cut back on the cigars or even just give them up. After this was all over, she’d be onto him about losing weight and the smoking again.
This had turned into a total disaster and Skip realized he really wasn’t in the right place mentally or physically to make it right, but problems seldom became problems when you were actually prepared for them.
He needed to get out of this hospital bed, first.
The door opened and a young woman in surgical scrubs decorated with a Donald Duck motif entered the room briskly.
Her hair was a cheap shade of green.
“Mr. McAllister,” she said. “My name is Karen. I’m the head nurse on duty tonight in the cardio ward. Do you know where you are?”
Skip thought she seemed a little young to be in charge of anything that didn’t involve sides of fries or onion rings.
“I’m going to guess the cardio ward of a hospital,” he said. “I presume I’m still in Charleston, though I don’t know the name of the hospitals here. I’m not of the area.”
She nodded encouragingly. He was doing well, apparently.
“You’re at Charleston Area Medical Center and you’ve had a mild heart attack,” she said. “You’ve also sustained some injuries from a car accident –just bumps and bruises. You have a concussion.”
The nurse let that sink in for a second.
“You’re lucky to be alive,” she said, adding, “You flipped the car and went down a hill. Then you walked about 80 or 90 yards to a gas station, where some people called an ambulance.”
Skip listened and then asked, “When did this all happen?”
“About five, six hours ago,” she said.
“Where’s the doctor?” Skip asked.
“She’s with another patient. Saturday nights can be kind of busy,” the nurse told him and Skip resisted the urge to say, “Save me from the perils of woman doctor. Find me a man, preferably one who speaks English,” but he kept his mouth shut.
He wasn’t in Sacramento. He was in a vault inside a West Virginia hospital.
“Dr. Suresh is very good,” Karen said. “She’s first rate and I’m not just saying that because the hospital pays me to say that.” She smiled. It was a joke. Skip did not smile back.
The nurse let his lack of enthusiasm slide. He’d had a heart attack, after all.
“She’ll be in to see you in a little bit,” she said and then asked, “How do you feel?”
“Lousy,” he said.
“You’re going to be sore and tired,” she said. “If you want to sleep, you can. We’ve got you on some blood thinners and medicine to help you relax. You’re lucky. We got this early. It was less than an hour between you having the heart attack and then getting to the hospital.”
Skip didn’t feel particularly lucky.
“If you’re hungry, you can have some ice chips. If you’re thirsty, you can have some ice chips,” Karen told him. “We can’t let you eat until the doctor decides what she’s going to do.”
“Surgery?” Skip asked. That was the last thing he wanted.
“Treatment is something Dr. Suresh can talk to you about,” Karen said. “I’m just here to do her bidding and make sure her orders are carried out.”
“You’d make a good soldier,” Skip said, off-handedly.
“I was one,” she said. “I served in Afghanistan.” The nurse began to go. “I’m going to keep this door open, just so we can keep an eye on you.” She rescued the call box, unwrapped it from the rail and then looped the cord closer to Skip’s hand. “If you need anything, hit the button.”
“Nurse,” Skip said slowly and waved her to say. “My things. My wallet, my phone, my clothes, where are they?”
“Your wallet is the drawer by the bed,” she said. “Everything else is bagged up to be cleaned. You didn’t have a phone when you came in. Is there someone you’d like us to call?”
Skip thought about it for a moment. There was no reason to worry Becky and he didn’t want to contact Mr. Gardner just yet.
“Not at the moment,” he said. “I think I’m just going to rest my eyes for a bit, but please send Dr. Suresh in as soon as you can. I’d like to hear what she has to say.”
“Of course,” the nurse said and slipped out the open door and away.
Skip watched her go. He tried not to worry. Worrying couldn’t be good for him, but he needed to hear what the doctor had to say. Then, he needed to get out of here.