The Hidey Hole
by David Price
The doctor who came to see me looked about eighteen, although she must have been older. In truth, she wasn’t a lot of comfort.
“We’ve arranged for an angio-scan,” she told me.
“I’ve had a heart scan.”
“Outside the heart, yes. Now we want to drop a probe inside your heart.”
“The procedure is quite safe, I assure you.”
Well I didn’t, but she explained further.
“When they brought you in, your heart was beating at less than 35%. The medication seems to be working, but we need to know ‘exactly’ how serious your condition is. Then we can decide on a course of action.”
“And then what?”
“That’s hard to say. Either keep you on the medication or fit you up with a pacemaker. We won’t know until you’ve had the scan.”
Three days later, I was given a consent form to fill in (presumably — in light of all the ‘possible’ dire outcomes — so they could abrogate responsibility should I suffer an adverse reaction!).
“You are happy with this?” I was asked.
Hardly, but a hospital can make you surprisingly amenable.
An hour later, two male nurses came in and wheeled my hospital bed out of the ward and along the corridors to the treatment room. I was wearing a one-piece hospital gown and a skimpy pair of disposable pants that just about covered my dignity.
“Good morning, Mr Oakleigh, and how do we feel today?” the doctor asked.
Oh great, fantastic, over the moon! How do you think I feel?
“Good, then we shall begin?”
I was placed next to a complicated-looking piece of machinery, a scanner was lowered over me... and then a nurse produced a pair of scissors and hacked off my briefs.
“Comfortable?” she asked, slapping a load of amber goo over my thigh.
“Yeah. Er, aren’t they sending the probe through my arm?”
“Probably, but if they can’t find a suitable vein, we’ll have to insert it into your groin!”
Insert it where?
Thankfully, they found a suitable vein.
They then switched on the scanner and invited me to observe the proceedings. So I watched, mildly interested to see what my somewhat ineffectual ticker looked like from the inside (if you’re interested, it looked as though a family of worms had taken up residence in there!)
“Hmn, doesn’t look too bad,” one doctor observed, which I was mildly pleased to hear.
But I could have sworn, just for a second, that a face was forming on the screen, the face of a young girl.
No, surely not. I told myself to snap out of it. With all the drugs they had pumped into me, I was sure to have a few hallucinations. Yes, that had to be it. I closed my eyes, and when I opened them again, she was gone.
She was never there, Jace, I told myself.
But a memory resurfaced, a very unpleasant one from childhood.
“You can wheel him back to the ward now.”
Ten minutes later, I was relaxing with a cup of tea.
But I was troubled. Yes, I’d had a few weird experiences, like on the second day, when I woke up at dawn and could have sworn I was in a dream -- my fellow patients asleep in bed, nurses standing around, the sun bathing the entire ward in a surreal glow and making the whole scene resemble an oil painting. It was almost a minute before I cottoned on to the fact that it was all real.
Yes, that was weird. But it was nothing like this.
I adjusted the bed and made myself comfortable. I didn’t have much time to dwell on it as a nurse was hovering around, taking my blood pressure every ten minutes or so. But I couldn’t help remembering the railway bridge and its dark secret.
Okay, there was a body, and it could well have been a child. No doubt it was a murder, but the deed had to have been committed more than a hundred years ago. What could I do about it now?
The lady with the dinner trolley came around. I didn’t feel like eating much, and so settled for a couple of lettuce and tomato sandwiches. Hospital life was playing Hell with my appetite.
* * *
Later that night, I had the first dream. Or should I say nightmare?
Nightmare; it certainly shook me up.
In the dream I was in darkness, my bed surrounded by rubble; the railway bridge, of course, with that niche still in the wall.
A young girl sat on top of that rubble, her dress in rags and her face shrouded in darkness.
“Why did you leave me here?”
I had no answer in that dream, or in the others that came to me over the next few nights. So I put it down to my illness. Even the first time, as brief as that experience was.
An hour before the scan, I went into the bathroom to put on my surgical gown. For some minutes I sat on the edge of the bathtub, thinking about the future. This was the day I got the truth, and I was suddenly scared. How many bargains had I made with myself during the long days and nights? Make this not so bad, let me recover; I’ll lead a cleaner life, honest I will.
I was probably giving it the same shtick. All I can remember is this dark cloud coming over me, a crushing sense of despair. My hands were shaking too much to tie the straps at the back of my gown, I remember that.
Then I heard a voice (or thought I did), a thin, reedy child’s voice telling me You’re going to be fine. It was enough to calm me down. I stood up, tied the straps at the back of my gown and left the bathroom. You know the rest. I was fine.
But that image of a child’s face on the scanner, had I really seen it?
Or was it just my conscience, chiding me after all these years?
“Why did you leave me here?”
Because I was young, and I was scared. Is that a good enough excuse?
Maybe. But those bones were still festering under the bridge, and only I knew they were there.
* * *
So the treatment and tests continued. Then one day I was sitting on the bed and flipping through a magazine, when a doctor came to see me. Unusually, he didn’t pull the curtains around.
“How are we feeling today, Mr Oakleigh?”
He checked some notes on a clipboard.
“You seem to be responding quite well to the treatment.”
“Yes, I’d say so.”
“We have been discussing your case. It is an option we are keeping open, but for now there is no need to fit you with a pacemaker. I believe that we have done all that we can for you.”
It took a few seconds for that to sink in.
“If you wish, you can go home today. Is there anyone you can call?”
This, I must admit, had completely taken the wind out of my sails. I was looking forward to the day I could leave, but this wasn’t quite what I had expected.
“Yes, I have.” I was already reaching for my mobile ‘phone.
“Call a nurse and get her to arrange for a test at your local clinic. Your blood still has to be monitored.”
I was already dragging my belongings out of my locker.
Home. My own bed. Wonderful.
I brought up Jo-Jo’s number.
“Hello Jace, what...”
“Jo-Jo, get your arse over here and take me home. Soon as poss’, hey?”
For a while, I felt good.
Copyright © 2010 by David Price