I heard her arrive, moaning so loudly I wanted earplugs. It seemed as if all hell had broken loose in my previously quiet, sterile environment.
Nurses pulled the curtain around my bed for rest and privacy, but that thin, flimsy, plaid, room-divider was a joke.
I lay in my bed at the back of the room, trying to mind my own business, but I overheard most everything through that pseudo curtain of privacy.
When the nurse asked her what had happened, the patient’s words came out swollen and muddled. Something was wrong with her mouth or jaw. I tuned into her language as if she had a foreign accent and found out her face had been cut so severely by the breaking glass of the car’s windows that it was affecting her speech. She cried, moaning between words, begging for pain medication the nurse said she couldn’t have yet.
She claimed her boyfriend had tried to kill her: they were riding in a car she was driving when he became furious with her, told her he should just kill her, and then yanked the steering wheel. The car rolled several times, and neither of them were wearing their seatbelts.
I felt my own jaw drop in horror. The nurse’s silence said that she was as incredulous as I. I continued to listen intently, while the nurse asked the appropriate questions.
The woman’s boyfriend, uninjured in the wreck, left her and the car at the scene of the accident. He walked away from her, leaving her lying in the mud by the car’s tire.
Her story startled me and shook my sense of safety.
The injured woman’s parents and toddler son came back into the room, and I heard them request that the boyfriend not be allowed to visit. The hospital, however, could only keep all visitors from coming in or none, because it was too hard to stop just one person.
I was unnerved, stunned that the possibility existed for him to come into “our” room, after trying to kill her.
The injured woman assured her parents that he wouldn’t show up anyway, and soon, they said their goodbyes and left.
We were all alone.
“Hey! You over there! Call the nurse in here!” she bellowed.
We were each assigned our own nurse; there wasn’t one assigned to the room. I had been here long enough to know that much.
“There’s a big button to push on the side of your bed,” I answered meekly.
“I realize that,” she snarled. “It won’t work!”
I called my nurse. I could tell she wasn’t happy about needing to fetch my roommate’s nurse, but she did it. I was embarrassed and apologetic. After almost two weeks here, I knew how hard the trauma floor nurses worked taking care of so many patients.
My roommate moaned and wailed waiting for her nurse to arrive, after which she begged and cried for more pain meds. She must have gotten them, because she quieted some.
Her nurse left and we were alone again.
Then, her bedside phone rang. I heard her muffled, low “Hello?” Then the sounds of her crying. It was him. It was her boyfriend.
“You tried to kill me!” she screamed through swollen lips.
It got quiet as she listened to what he had to say.
Then she said she loved him, and that she wanted him here.
Wait—what? Was she crazy?
I was stuck in a bed, unable to walk, barely able to move, and fresh off my own trauma. And she was inviting someone who wanted her dead here to “our” room. What if he came to see her, they got into a fight, and I was the witness who needed silenced?
My newly healed heart fluttered in fear. I wanted out of that room.
I texted my mother—I didn’t call because I didn’t want my roommate to hear. Mom had been my advocate thus far, a constantly present force in the hospital every day. I was sure that once I explained the situation, she would take care of it.
I waited for her response text, which seemed to take forever. I knew she had gone out to eat with my uncle, but I also knew she would keep her phone nearby just for me. Her text back was nonchalant, not worried, an “Oh wow” response. I wished I could call her, but I didn’t dare take the chance.
Wait a minute. I was the only person who knew how I felt. My safety and peace of mind were being threatened after living through the most horrific trauma of my life. I was a grown woman who had also survived a heart attack. And I was entitled to be assured I would not die in a hospital room by the hands of some stranger’s maniacal boyfriend.
I had to take control, because this time I could. This time I could get away from another young man’s poor decision-making. I needed to talk to my nurse.
When she appeared, I motioned her closer there behind the curtain. She understood, moved to my side, and leaned down.
“I don’t want anyone to hear,” I whispered then explained my fears.
“I don’t blame you,” she whispered back. “I’ll see what I can do.”
She pulled the curtain back to take my vitals, long enough for me to see my roommate being wheeled out of the room for X-rays: she was young, her hair a ratted mess, and her face looked as if Dr. Frankenstein himself had sewn it back together.
Within minutes, the nursing supervisor came in to let me know they were moving me to another room. I had asserted myself when it mattered, spoken up for myself without someone else’s help, and it had worked.
~from Permanent Marker: A Memoir, by Aimee Ross, out March 13, 2018. You can pre-order your own copy here.