When I don’t answer right away, she says, “Have you been in an accident?”
“You have cuts all over your face.”
“I’m not well,” I say.
“What do you mean?”
“I think I need to talk to someone.”
“Are you homeless?”
“Where’s your family?”
“I don’t know.”
She looks me up and down—a fast, professional appraisal.
“Your name, sir?”
Rising from her chair, she disappears around the corner.
Thirty seconds later, there’s a buzzing sound as the door beside her station unlocks and opens.
The nurse smiles. “Come on back.”
She leads me to a patient room.
“Someone will be right with you.”
As the door closes after her, I take a seat on the examination table and shut my eyes against the glare of the lights. I have never been so tired in my life.
My chin dips.
I almost fell asleep sitting up.
The door opens.
A portly young doctor walks in carrying a clipboard. He’s trailed by a different nurse—a bottle blonde in blue scrubs who wears four-in-the-morning exhaustion like a millstone around her neck.
“It’s Jason?” the doctor asks without offering his hand or attempting to fake his way through the graveyard-shift indifference.
I’m hesitant to give him my full name, but then again, maybe that’s just the brain tumor talking, or whatever has gone wrong inside my head.
I spell it for him as he scribbles on what I presume to be an intake form.
“I’m Dr. Randolph, attending physician. What brings you into the ER tonight?”
“I think something is wrong with my mind. Like a tumor or something.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Things aren’t like they should be.”
“Okay. Could you elaborate?”
“I…all right, this is going to sound crazy. Just know that I realize that.”
He glances up from the clipboard.
“My house isn’t my house.”
“I’m not following.”
“It’s just what I said. My house isn’t my house. My family isn’t there. Everything’s much…nicer. It’s all been renovated and—”
“But it’s still your address?”
“So you’re saying the inside is different, but the outside is the same?” He says it like he’s speaking to a child.
“Jason, how did you get the cuts on your face? The mud on your clothes?”
“People were chasing me.”
I shouldn’t have told him that, but I’m too tired to filter. I must sound absolutely insane.
“Who was chasing you?”
“I don’t know.”
“Do you know why they were chasing you?”
His appraising, skeptical look is far more subtle and trained than the front-desk nurse’s. I almost miss it.
“Have you taken any drugs or alcohol tonight?” he asks.
“Some wine earlier, then whisky, but that was hours ago.”
“Again, I’m sorry—it’s been a very long shift—but what makes you think something is wrong with your mind?”
“Because the last eight hours of my life don’t make sense. It all feels real, but it can’t possibly be.”
“Have you suffered a recent head injury?”
“No. Well. I mean, I think someone hit me in the back of the head. It’s painful to the touch.”
“Who hit you?”
“I’m not sure. I’m not really sure of anything right now.”
“Okay. Do you use drugs? Now or in the past?”
“I smoke weed a couple times a year. But not lately.”
The doctor turns to the nurse. “I’m going to have Barbara draw some blood.”
He drops the clipboard on a table and plucks a penlight from the front pocket of his lab coat.
“Mind if I examine you?”
Randolph moves in until our faces are inches apart, close enough for me to smell the stale coffee on his breath, to see the recent razor nick across his chin. He shines the light straight into my right eye. For a moment, there’s nothing but a point of brilliance in the center of my field of vision, which momentarily burns away the rest of the world.
“Jason, are you having any thoughts of hurting yourself?”
“I’m not suicidal.”
The light hits my left eye.
“Have you had any prior psychiatric hospitalizations?”
He gently takes my wrist in his soft, cool hands, measures my pulse rate.
“What do you do for a living?” he asks.
“I teach at Lakemont College.”
“Yes.” I instinctively reach down to touch my wedding band.
The nurse begins to roll up the left sleeve of my shirt.
“What’s your wife’s name?” the doctor asks.
“You two on good terms?”
“Don’t you think she’s wondering where you are? I feel like we should call her.”
“An hour ago, at my house. Someone else answered. It was a wrong number.”
“Maybe you misdialed.”
“I know my wife’s phone number.”
The nurse asks, “We okay with needles, Mr. Dessen?”
As she sterilizes the underside of my arm, she says, “Dr. Randolph, look.” She touches the needle mark from several hours ago when Leighton drew my blood.
“When did this happen?” he asks.
“I don’t know.” Probably best not to mention the lab I think I just escaped from.
“You don’t remember someone sticking a needle in your arm?”