Chapter One: Nurse Ham-Hands and the Great Escape
It's hit me.
Hit me like a cobalt blue 1995 Jeep Wrangler.
My problem. My issue. Where I'm going wrong.
I consider myself lucky because I'm fully aware that a man can go through his entire life without ever really finding out what it is. If I have one small complaint on the matter, it would be that I had to get hit with the cobalt blue 1995 Jeep Wrangler to realise it but I can't argue with results.
The issue itself is one I didn't even know I had which is probably why I felt such an impact when I realised it. It came from a scary nurse, who when I regained consciousness asked a simple question:
"Is there anyone you'd like us to call?"
My answer was a simple one. 'No', But the word felt like it had re-bruised my ribs and re-dislocated my shoulder. I had people they could have called two years ago but not anymore. I'd never thought to replace them.
"No family? Friends?" the nurse asks, unwittingly reversing the metaphorical Jeep back over me. These are routine questions, asked void of empathy.
"No, no. I'm fine, thank you. When can I go home? I have. . ."
"Do I look like a doctor?" she asks, rehooking my board in place and walking away.
"Wow." I mouth and sit back, left with nothing but the sound of something beeping and the realisation that I actually have nobody in my life.
Other than Meryl but I don't think she counts.
I've managed to pull a few things together the last couple of years, cut some strings and tried to reverse the momentum of my down-hill spiral but one thing I haven't managed is friends.
I've done it once before. How hard can it be to repeat the process? Maybe this time I might even pick one who doesn't stab me in the back. That would be a nice change.
The curtain opens again and the nurse steps in with a box.
"Your belongings, Mr Miggs."
The box lands loudly on the table, making me jump. She's a frightful thing. Spun copper wiring for hair, slabs of refrigerated ham for hands and frown lines deep enough to house odd looking creatures.
"Thank you, nurse," I say as politely as possible. If she's going to be at the other end of a needle anytime soon, I want her on my good side. She glares at me, regardless of my manners.
"I have a name," she tells me and then leaves without telling me what it is.
"I have a concussion. . .." I mutter to nobody in the room. "I win"
I focus my attention on my belongings. My shoes, worn from overuse but shined none-the-less. Two-thirds of my black three-piece suit and my dark blue shirt. My soft leather satchel, a little scuffed from yesterdays beatings. My fedora. . .
I smile and pick it up, checking it for damage. This hat and I have gone through some serious stuff. I wouldn't even know how to replace it. . .
Again, the thought, my problem orbits to the front of my mind. I pull a black notebook out of my satchel and my black pen, flicking to an empty page. I stall on the image I drew yesterday, moments before I was taken out by the colour blue.
I run a thumb over it, a cello exploding into music notes, and narrow my eyes.
"Her fault," I mutter to the page before turning it. My pen lingers over it for a while and I check my surroundings.
There's nothing more frightening than a blank page; with its endless possibilities of brilliance and even more endless possibilities of failure.
'Friendships!' I write at the top in wide, brave cursive, 'and other things I don't have.'
The best way to start, I realise, is to establish a list of people who could be potential friends. The 'just add effort' group. I may have a lot of faults but I have enough self-worth to know people skills aren't one of them.
1) Jill (last name unknown) from Vavoom cafe.
2) Mrs Sinatra (first and last name unknown) from the food back and
3) That Cello Girl I still haven't met because things (cobalt blue things) got in the way.
I'm disappointed in the lack of men on my list but I haven't met any who can tolerate me yet. I dwell on this amazing fact. This had also never occurred to me. The guy who serves me coffee doesn't regard me highly, my boss also doesn't, my brothers. . . my father.
I wonder what makes me so distasteful to my own sex. Maybe I just need more practice.
My curtain slides open again and I slam my book closed ready for another weird interaction with the Nurse Frowny-Face. Instead, though, a man steps in, not far off my age, Asian descent, tall and most importantly, a smile on his face. I mentally label him as 'Practice' in my head.
"Good Morning." he chirps in perfect English. . . British English too. He limps to my notes having a peruse of them. "I'm Dr Leigh Amari. I'm replacing Dr Keen. How are you feeling this morning?"
"Like I've been hit by a Jeep."
"What a coincidence." he smiles, pulling up a chair and easing himself into it. Still smiling. Good start. "So! Anthony Miggs. The concussion doesn't seem to have done too much damage. Don't be surprised by headaches for a while and lethargy. Your ribs are bruised but still fully intact and we relocated your shoulder. . ."
"Somewhere sunny, I hope."
"It's in a better place than where it was," he adds in just as quickly before sifting through my notes. "Onto. . . something else. According to your history, this isn't the first time you've been hit by a car."
"It is my first time being hit by a Jeep." I offer but I'm just looked at with friendly impatience. I get the memo. No more stalling. "But, you're right. Two-nil to automobiles."
"What happened yesterday and remember, I have read your history." He gives me a pointed look and I groan.
"Why did I have to get the thorough Doctor?" I mutter making Dr Amari laugh. I clear my throat and decide on a particular fold in the sheet to focus on. "I was distracted," I tell him
He doesn't believe me, of course, and I can't say I blame him.
"Distracted by what? I only ask because when someone steps out in front of a Jeep, we have to make sure they didn't do it on purpose."
"I would have waited for a tram." I assure him. I hear him clear his throat, trying not to laugh.
"Is that supposed to make me feel better?" he asks and I shrug, soon being reminded by my shoulder that I shouldn't. I put a hand on my heart.
"I swear on my social life's grave that I was just distracted. I was in search of a. . . white rabbit."
This peaks my doctor's curiosity and he leans in a little.
"And this "white rabbit", does it talk to you as well?" This time I laugh loudly and rest back. I'm reminded by a few pain receptors not to. "How's the pain?" I'm asked.
"He's fine. I'm supposed to see him this afternoon, actually. . . Oh you mean, the shoulder. I was thinking of my father. Painkillers would be great."
He shakes his head and limps somewhere out of view.
"So this white rabbit?" he asks again. I reluctantly give into the subject.
"A, um. . . a girl." I say quietly. I hear him chuckle.
"Of course it is."
"I was trying to catch up with her and didn't see the Jeep coming. . ." I immediately stop what I'm saying, wanting to kick myself for my choice of words.
"You didn't see it coming," he repeats. Damn. I squirm and rest my head back. I've managed to avoid this subject for a while now. Sure, I can't avoid thinking about it but not talking about it has been attainable until now. I sigh as Dr Amari drugs me up. "Is this because of the. . ?"
"It was because my eyes were on the girl." I cut in "But. . . old Reggie Pig-Toes probably didn't help."
"Reggie Pig-Toes?" he repeats with an amused smirk.
"I thought if I gave it a fun name, it would be less scary?"
"Does it work?" he asks. I don't reply and the Doctor folds up his arms, watching me a moment. I feel a question about as probing as the needles they use coming up. "Are you seeing a specialist?"
"Why? Have they found a cure?"
A stiff smile and he limps back towards his wheely chair. Yay. More talking.
"What stage are you at?" he asks. I grip my hair a little and shrug. This is an unnatural subject to me like I'm walking around in shoes a size too small. I want out. I don't care how. I don't think I've talked about it since I was told. Not that he needs to know that.
The curtain slides open and both the doctor and I flinch. We also both groan; him at his foot and me at my ribs (which have taken on the hue of a smudged artists pallet). Nurse I-Have-a-Name steps in.
"Mr Tindel's wife is here." she barks and then leaves again. I shudder.
"Can I get a different nurse? One who hasn't had the bed-side-manner vaccination maybe."
Dr Amari puts up his hands.
"I'm just as scared of her as you are, pal. You should see what they do to us new recruits. . ."
"Is that what happened to your foot?" I ask. He chuckles and looks down. I swear I see him even go red.
"No. There was this girl. . ." he says quietly. I laugh properly at this and he opens the curtain. "I'll be back to finish our chat," he tells me, almost as a warning.
"I'll keep an eye out for a tram in the meantime."
He laughs his way out and I lean back my smile dropping. The tram may be a bit extreme but surely there's another way to get out of this.
I look at my clothes and belongings all stacked there nicely. Temptingly, even. I wonder how long I have before Nurse Ham-Hands comes back. . .
Being stealthy is difficult having limited use of one of my arms, especially when the good one is holding the back of my gown closed. I'm surprised that walking to the bathroom with a hospital gown, fedora on my head, shoes half on my feet, a satchel over my good shoulder and my clothes stuffed under my arm hasn't aroused more suspicion.
More difficult, is trying to get dressed in my state. I think I used up my yearly quota of cuss words in that twenty-minute interval. Escaping from a hospital is by no means Alcatraz but Nurse McMurder is one of those everywhere-at-once nurses so I had to dive into random rooms to hide from her. All I had to explain to the patient was who I was hiding from and I received sympathy and even help to make sure the coast was clear. The idea of pulling a Hollywood and trying to swipe a doctors jacket entered my mind but only briefly because I didn't want to risk being pulled in to do a triple bypass on an unsuspecting victim.
Just as I see the exit and can smell freedom, Dr Amari comes out of nowhere, phone to ear and a frown on his face. I slide quickly into a cafeteria and hold up a magazine. I'm hoping it might just be cliché enough to work and for a while it does until he stops right next to me.
". . .You can't fire her. It was an accident. . . . she what? . .well, I can't say I blame her."
"Amari!" I jump and I see my doctor do the same. Crap. Nurse Hatchet! I hide deeper in my corner. "Your patient just did a runner."
"Which one? My Altimeters Lady or the Jeep Hugger?"
"Jeep Hugger?" I whisper, too impressed to be offended.
"Miggs. He's your patient. Your problem."
Then, the sound of her leaving.
"Ugh! Look, Jack, I have to go. We'll talk later." he says and then groans. "Day One of the Captains log and no sign of intelligent life in this hospital."
I smile. He's talking to himself and making movie quotes. He'd make a great friend if he didn't know too much.
Free. In a frigate load of pain but free and home-bound on the tram. The Melbourne city air fills up my lungs, embraces my senses and paints a smile on my face. I'm not going to say I hate hospitals as that would be about as redundant as the single clip on the back of the hospital gown, but it is nice to get away from the Au De Bleach Perfume and games of pin-the-needle on the patient my nurse liked to play.
I watch the city pass by, green, full and bustling. I love Melbourne. It doesn't feel like I'm crawling through shiny teeth-like buildings ready to consume me. This is different. It has a pulse. A city built by optimists.
I live above Vavoom Café in a dinky little flat, ten paces in length and five and a half wide. It doesn't sound like anything special, probably because it isn't but I hear music, I smell coffee and it has a nice little view over the park. It's big enough for myself and Meryl when she's visiting.
Having snuck up the back stairs (next years quota of cuss words now used up as well) I stand at my little door and swing it open.
"I'm home!" I call out. Nothing. I step in and scan the room and Meryl's usual hiding place behind a painting on the wall. No grotesquely long legs hang out. I scan the walls again. "Meryl?" I call out. Nothing. I smile. Looks like I get the flat to myself today.
I ease myself on the end of the bed, pull out a packet of painkillers I picked up on the way and down a couple. That should do me until my appointment with father this afternoon. I scan my small empty flat, a little reminder about my search for friends crossing my mind.
Later. I ease myself back and close my eyes. Now is for sleep. . . in whatever form it decides to come.