The doctor looked down with little emotion upon the unconscious patient on the bed. A typical array of tubes and monitors were attached to the woman, who remained in limbo on the life support system. According to the tests so far, there was drugs as well as alcohol in her blood. She had probably washed down pills with gin, and the alcoholic level in her system was so high she suffered from alcoholic poisoning as well. This woman had obviously been on self-destructive path, he concluded, and was lucky even to be alive.
An unidentified man, the doctor was informed, had brought her to the emergency ward smelling of liquor, himself, and immediately fled into the night. Without identification, she would remain a Jane Doe and, unless a miracle befell her, she would die a Jane Doe with no one giving her a second thought.
The doctor shrugged his shoulders and left her in the dimly lit room. He had living patients who cared about life; he could not waste energy on someone who may never wake up and he could not help, a woman who had deliberately taken a reckless path in her life.
As he exited into the corridor, a male colleague asked him, in an off-handed way, what the Jane Doe’s prognosis was this hour.
“She’s lucky just to be alive,” he shook his head. “I’d be surprised if she lasted through the night.”
In the shadows, came the faint gurgle of the life support system pumping air into her lungs. The various monitors continued registering her heart rhythm and brain activity as she lie there on her bed. Her eyes were peacefully shut and her body lie motionless. IVs in both of her arms dripped nourishment and anti-coagulant drugs into her bloodstream as she slept a dreamless sleep.
With the exception of the tubes connecting her body to the life support system and monitors, she looked peaceful lying there on her hospital bed. Her delicate hands were resting daintily on the blanket, one hand lying over her stomach, as it might have done in normal sleep. Her dark chestnut hair, spread neatly on the pillow on each side of her infantile face, caught the glow of the dim overhead light, as it had each time she had lie invitingly on her nuptial bed.
When the door opened again it was a nurse who inspected her vital signs. As she looked down at the supine form, she noticed animation in the comatose patient. Her hands were twitching, and there was a fainting jerking movement from one of her legs. While adjusting the tube in her mouth, she distinctly heard the woman groan. As the patient’s eyes opened up to expose large frightened blue eyes, the nurse was already on the phone with the doctor on call.
The woman, after awakening from a dark dream, could hear the young nurse arguing gently with the doctor: “Yes, it’s true, the woman appears to be coming to. She’s groaning, her eyelids are fluttering. Now she’s looking up at me from the bed.”
“Keep her calm,” the doctor clipped into the phone. “I’ve got to see this for myself.”
“Don’t worry,” said the nurse, patting Cora’s wrist, “you’re going to be all right. The doctor’s on his way.”
It was, the nurse knew very well, a lie. It was hard to believe that anyone in her condition could ever be all right. In limbo, without identification as well as consciousness, the poor woman had hovered, neither alive nor dead, her mortal soul given temporary reprieve as far as a priest would be concerned, just enough of a spark of life to give her the Last Rites. But this woman had appeared to be brain dead, too far gone for even a priest.
Now, she’s back, thought the nurse, pulled from the shadow of death!
With the doctor and nurse staring down at her, she emerged fully from her twilight world, her mind devoid of memories, except those she had many years ago before she had ever met Adam Leeds. Removing the tube from her mouth, so she could speak, the nurse, wiped her moist lips tenderly with a Kleenex, and the doctor checked her vital signs once more, incredulous that the preliminary diagnosis of the woman had been so wrong.
“Where am I?” She murmured faintly.
“There-there.” The nurse wiped the tears from her azure eyes.
“I’m doctor Scott Madden and this is Holly Doyle, your night nurse,” he said rechecking her pulse. “. . . You’ve had an accident,” he chose his words carefully, “You’re in the hospital. Do you remember being brought here today?”
“What’s wrong with me?” She wept softly, reaching out feebly to grab the nurse’s hand.
“Stand aside, Holly,” Doctor Madden whispered in her ear. “I need to perform a few tests.”
The woman was terrified as she lie in the dimly lit room. The doctor checked her pupils, they remained temporarily dilated yet moved fearfully about. “This is good,” he muttered, when his pin light caused her pupils to contract. Rather than the doe-eyed look of brain-damaged patients, there was intelligence in her gaze. Tears gathered profusely in her eyes. When she had spoken, it was clear and distinct, rather than slurred. Now she was weeping—also a positive sign. Comatose or brain damaged patients didn’t cry.
“Ma’am,” she could here the doctor’s voice through her simpering, “what’s your name?”
“. . . . I dunno,” she shook her head with the jerkiness of small child.
“Think hard now,” he said, patting her arm. “We’d like to notify your next of kin.”
“Nothing,” her lips quivered, emitting a sob.
“Do you remember anything about what happened to you, ma’am?” The nurse asked more gently.
“No,” she looked up at them both fearfully, “nothing. . . Dear God, what happened to me
. . . What’s wrong?”
“Sounds like amnesia,” Nurse Doyle murmured to the doctor, as they retreated discretely away from the bed.
“Calm down ma’am,” doctor Madden called from across the room. “After all that junk she put into your system,” he whispered to Holly, “it’s a miracle she’s alive.”
Turning up the lights, the doctor looked at the woman’s monitors, then began dialing the telephone, shaking his head in disbelief as the phone rang at the night nurses’ station.
“The patient in Room 1C will require a new a new evaluation,” he informed the nursing supervisor. “She was comatose and on life support but she’s awake. I don’t care what her prognosis was. She’s lucid and she’s awake. We’ll need to monitor this condition for the remainder of the night.”
“She might be suffering from amnesia,” he commented to the nurse as they approached the bed, “but her cardiogram and encephalogram are normal. Her pulse is erratic and her blood pressure is elevated slightly, which is normal for someone awakening from a bad dream.”
“But doctor,” protested nurse Doyle, “she should irreversible brain damage. She should barely be able to talk!”
“We’re going to have to perform several more tests,” doctor Madden explained in a subdued voice. “She’s suffered memory loss, which might have been caused by a blow to the head, but she was admitted as an OD. Her vitals were practically flat line. Her toxicological tests were off the charts.”
“Too bad her rescuer didn’t leave some personal information,” he whispered to nurse. “This woman was brought into the emergency room in a bathrobe—nothing more. Without a purse or wallet, her link to the outside world is broken and she’ll remain for all practical purposes, a Jane Doe.”
“I remember something,” the patience’s eyes widened, “. . . fire. . . . There was fire where I was. . . . I must’ve been in hell. . . . My mother said I’d go there if I wasn’t good. . . . I’ve been bad, doctor, . . . I just know I’ve been bad. . . . Where am I? . . . . I can’t remember my name, but I remember yellow light. . . . fire!”
“She’s delirious,” concluded the doctor, with a shrug.
“No,” the nurse shook his head, “It sounds like a near death experience. I‘ve heard patients claim that they’d seen bright lights as they approached heaven. Perhaps this woman was going in the opposite direction like she said: hell.”
“Nonsense,” Doctor Madden frowned, “this could be a real life event: a household or automobile fire. There aren’t any burns on her body, but that stranger who brought her in probably saved her life. Hopefully it’ll jog her memory. I’m bringing a specialist in on this one.” “For now,” he motioned to the patient, “keep her calm. I still can’t believe that woman’s even alive. This one’s for the medical books Miss Doyle. After all the crap dumped into her system, there should have been an explosion in her skull.”
As the doctor left the room, muttering to himself, nurse Holly Doyle returned to her patient and sat down next to the bed in a visitor’s chair. Holly, who was a devout Roman Catholic, took the woman’s hand, squeezed it gently to comfort her, but said nothing more as she contemplated this miracle witnessed in the room. Although she could not recall her past or her God given name, Cora Leeds was at peace in the company of the nurse, certain she had escaped damnation for her past deeds.