Tuesday, February 08, 2005

2:41 AM

I should go to the children's museum and get some of those glow-in-the-dark stars to stick on my ceiling. Or maybe I could do what the OB-GYNs do, and pin some cartoons up there. Then I'd have something to look at when I find myself staring at the ceiling in the middle of the night.

I tried putting whiskey in the Nighty-night tea. It didn't do much for the taste and it didn't do a damn thing for the insomnia. I raise my head and look at the clock again. How much longer till I can take a Vicodin?

The answer does not please me, and I drop my head down on the pillow again. It's not that bad yet; I guess I can live with it for another hour. And it probably wouldn't help me sleep anyway. At this point, it's more the anticipation than anything else -- I don't need to check the weather report to know that it's going to get cold again over the next few days.

I gingerly arrange myself on my left side with a pillow wedged under my right knee. There's another pillow under my head; it's wiggled toward the front so I'm kind of hugging it. I sigh before I can stop myself.

My mind is skittering from one thing to the next: work, work, some stuff around the condo, work, something my mother said the last time I called, that green tie that showed up around Wilson's neck again, Foreman, clinic hours, the rotator cuff in my right shoulder, Cuddy, the coming cold weather, I'm going to need a haircut soon, when was the last time the piano got tuned, that journal article, work, those med students Cuddy threatened to inflict on me....

I manage to shove thoughts of work, at least, away, but my memory seizes the opportunity and brings me back to the hospital again. I realize where it's trying to go, and I try to fight, but finally I close my eyes and just give in.

Six years ago, a sunny Saturday afternoon. My body, draped in a johnny, hooked to two IV pumps, propped in high-Fowler's position in a hospital bed, with the button for the morphine drip taped to my forearm so I wouldn't lose it again in the bed linen. My brain floating in a miasma of fatigue, nausea, morphine, and denial, doing its best to float off completely or, failing that, escape into a nap. But when I heard the knock at my door and recognized the voice calling my name, my brain snapped right back into my cranium.

It was Eileen.

My poor befuddled cerebrum was still trying to get everything to work together, so the "Eileen!" slipped out before I could manage to bring up some kind of facial expression besides stupid amazement.

She walked in, tentatively at first. I struggled to put the sentence come in, how are you together; I only got as far as looking towards the chair on the left-hand side of the bed. She followed my gaze, pulled the chair close to the head of the bed, and sat down. I cringed a little inside as I waited for her to put on her brave face, but when her smile started to appear, it was genuine, and it was beautiful -- it was so beautiful. Some strange emotion flipped in my stomach. How long had it been since I'd seen her? Two, three years?

"Eileen!" I say again. I'm so stupid and surprised, all I can do is look at her. "How did you --?"

"Your mother told me." Seeing my befuddled look, she explained, "I called your place -- I'd lost my address book and wanted to get your address. I also thought it might be nice to, you know, catch up." Was she angry with me? No, her green eyes were twinkling -- she was just teasing. (Though I had been very bad about keeping up with her.)

"I guess I called on Thursday evening and your mom answered the phone. I told her who I was, and she remembered me, and we started talking, and she gave me your address, and it was so nice talking with her again, and then I asked if I could speak to you, and that's when she explained that you were in the hospital."

"Oh, Mom..." I leaned back into the pillow and rolled my eyes to the ceiling. "Eileen, I'm sorry, she's just -- it's not -- you didn't have to come all this way, really --"

She stared at me. "Greg! Your mother was crying. And I'm still not sure what she was trying to tell me -- something about they thought you had cancer, but then it was a stroke? and maybe cutting your whole leg off, and then something about your kidneys and intensive care -- I didn't quite get what was happening, but it sounded pretty serious. And for your mom to be here, and crying on the phone?" Her eyes softened as her voice dropped. "Things have been rough for you for a while, haven't they?"

More than you know, I thought.

"And it's... it's been too long. I've been thinking about you for a long time, and when I talked to your mom, I was worried. I wanted to come." She looked at her hands, knotted together in her lap. She looked up again, and her green eyes were filled with concern. Slowly she lifted her left hand out of her lap. She hesitated, and then quickly, lightly, took my hand where it lay on the bedcovers and gave it a gentle squeeze. Her little hand was warm and dry, and my heart did a big thud in my chest.

I looked up at her. "Thanks," I whispered.

She smiled again. "How could I not come?" She squeezed my hand again and held it as she asked the next question, the one I'd been dreading. "Greg... do you want to tell me what's happened?"

to be continued


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