I awoke and tried to open my eyes but found that they were taped shut. I couldn’t move my mouth, and my hands felt to be frozen in wet towels. An ache radiated from the wrists up to my shoulders. There was a heaviness weighing on my face and it was impossible to breathe through my nose. I panicked. I was eight and a half years old.
Above the low ringing in my ears I could hear the muffled movements of someone else nearby. Then, a warm, strong hand gently turned my left arm so that my palm was facing up, and a voice called my name. It called to me the way a mother calls an infant out of a nap. The voice was melodic – rich and smooth and safe. A finger rubbed petroleum jelly on my cracked lips. I felt the her move the gauze that, I later learned, was wrapped layer upon layer around my head, up and off of my left ear, and she called my name again. A voice of comfort and calm, pouring into me like burnt orange sunlight. I cried and the tears soaked into the gauze covering my eyes. My ragged breaths and what I can only imagine were pitiful moans, wheezed through the plastic mouthpiece that was holding my lips apart. She gently closed her warm hand over my frozen fingertips and hummed a soft lullaby.
A man was talking. I heard my mother. She was asking questions and I could picture her, birdlike, her handbag hanging from the crook of her left arm, her left hand closed in a modest fist. Her small dark shiny eyes avoiding me, her broken and bandaged son.
I heard disconnected words but couldn’t hold on a thought long enough to translate their meaning.
Impact. Fracture. Concussed.
God I was thirsty. I remember feeling that I wasn’t getting enough air and tried raising my left arm to clear my face. It fought me as if held in place by rubber bands. Then more words from the man.
Seizures. Swelling. Panic. Catscan. Damage. Rest.
The people were gone, and the ringing in my ears had subsided enough for me to hear the hum coming from the fluorescent fixtures in the ceiling. The woman with the chestnut voice was there again. I felt her warm hand folded over my fingertips.
“Ski accident,” I heard her say to someone.
A voice like wet gravel from farther off answered. “Fool.”
“Mr. Jonathan!” she admonished, with a lilt of mischief in her voice.
“Strap myself to a cross before I’d strap those things on my boots. All flyin’ down the side a mountain. For what?”
She removed her hand and gently goosed the tips of my four fingers. I wiggled them for her. “Shh-sh-sh.” I don’t know if to me or to Mr. Jonathan. She stood next to me, with her hand over my fingertips and she started to sing – but they were just sounds, not words. It curled around me like the smoke from a candle.
“Eva,” came a loud whisper from beyond my feet. “Eva, shift’s over girl.”
“I’ll be just a bit,” she answered.
“Aint’ no overtime this month.”
I felt her rustle the sheets that were pulled up to my chest, and then resume her lullaby.
“He’s always been a very deep sleeper,” she explained to someone.
Someone rolled what felt like a sharp metal star up each of my feet. It tickled and hurt at the same time. I flinched.
My mother’s voice was calling my name again, telling me to wake up.
Then the man’s voice again. “You’re in the hospital. You’ve been in an accident. We are going to fix you up.” In my mind he was like one of the Lifeguards at the town community pool.
I was wheeled into a room with a machine that made an incredible racket. Then I was rolled somewhere else where they removed all of the bandages from my eyes but wouldn’t un-tape them. They told me to be still. A hum, a snap, and I was on my way back to my room.
Once I felt the locks for the bed wheels click on, my little sister was there by my side.
“You look fat!” she said. “All puffy”.
I wanted to pick her up and swing her in a hug.
“We brought a tiny blackboard,” said my mother. “The nurses said it might help you talk to us.”
I wagged my fingers, and someone placed the chalk between the tips of my fingers and put the board on the bed. A Doctor entered the room and began talking to my mother about the X-rays. They moved over by the window and I couldn’t make out what they were saying.
My sister began lightly tracing her alphabet with a small finger on my unbandaged forehead.
“Hey there,” said the woman. She was back.
“I’m his sister.”
“I’m Eva. Looks like somebody got some bandages removed.”
I heard Eva moving about, and then my sister leaned in again. “She’s brown!”
Sings at night. I tried to write on the blackboard. Pretty sound. I wrote beneath.
I could hear my sister sounding out the words.
Eva was at my right side, wedging a cool glass thermometer under my arm, and strapping the blood-pressure cuff on my arm. When I heard the final hiss of air being released, I waggled my fingertips, and she placed her warm hand over them.
“Another day or two, we’ll let you open up those eyes and we’ll take a look.” Then to my mother, “The nose splints can come out in a week, but his jaw will stay wired for 5, maybe 6 weeks. We’ll see how it’s healing.”
Eva was lightly pinching the tips of my fingers. I could feel them warming.
“What are you doing? What is she doing?” asked my mother, her voice rising.
“I’m encouraging circulation.” Said Eva, her voice like the first warm night of Spring.
“She sings to him at night,” my sister added, helpfully.
I couldn’t see it, obviously, but I recognized my mother’s disapproving glare.
“Is that necessary?” I could see Mom’s head moving nervously in pigeon-like abruptness.
“Nurse. Um...” I assume that the Doctor must have gestured with his eyebrows. She took her time removing the cuff and the thermometer. Then she touched my shoulder and I heard her leave the room.
My mother had her views, but I don’t know how vocal she would have been, or whether or not she would have said something to the Doctor, but Nurse Eva didn’t come back to my room for the rest of my time there. Perhaps if I had been older, I would’ve been angry, but as it was, I was just saddened.
My eyes were opened, and the flood of light and colors was nearly overwhelming. They said I could go home.
Mom wheeled me to the front door, with my sister skipping alongside the hospital’s wheelchair. Mom set the brake near the curb outside the front doors of the hospital. She ordered us not to move while she went to retrieve the car. My sister and I watched her walk towards the parking structure with her small urgent steps.
My sister was behind me leaning her arms on the handles of the wheelchair, when she called out, “It’s her!” Her arm shot past my left ear and arrowed towards the bus shelter. “Eva!”
I followed the line of her arm and index finger and saw the tall, tired, elegant figure of a woman waiting patiently for a bus.
I tapped the arm of the chair with the cast on my right arm and tried to point. I felt my kid sister fussing with the brakes before they clicked free and she pushed me towards the bus stop. I stared at Eva and her voice and image assembled in my head, she couldn’t have looked any other way.
My sister wheeled me up to her. Her eyes were closed as she appeared to sway to an unheard melody.
“Eva!” my sister’s voice rang out.
Eva’s eyes opened and she looked down at the two of us. Her face broke into a sad smile. I smiled back and waggled my fingers.
She folded herself over and hugged me. Before she straightened up, she whispered in my ear: “Keep those eyes open.”
My mother’s car pulled up to the curb and my sister spun me away.