An Undiscovered Country, part 2

Updated: March 23, 2017

When the nurse got off the phone, the first thing she did was slide the cell phone deep into the pocket of her uniform, then she ran from the staff lockers, down the long hospital hallway, up the ramp and around a corner that led to the room marked “Therapy.”

Unable to speak because she was out of breath, the nurse thrust herself in front of the door to the Therapy Room, preventing two orderlies from wheeling a gurney and the old man lying on it inside.

“Doctor’s orders, Mary,” the taller orderly said.

“Wait,” Nurse Mary said, panting.

The younger male orderly looked sheepishly at Mary. “We don’t wanna get in no trouble.”

Mary shook her head, sucked in more air, and finally, gasping, explained. “No trouble … emergency contact … on her way.” The nurse pointed in the general direction of the entrance to the hospital.

“Emergency contact?” the taller orderly asked skeptically.

Nurse Mary nodded.

“Not the same as next of kin, and you know it.”

“In the absence of kin …” Mary said and took a deep breath.

“You sure a’ that?” the younger orderly asked. When the nurse nodded, he looked over at the taller orderly, shrugged and pushed the foot brake on the gurney. Then he tapped the old man’s foot. “Guess they’s no therapy fer you right now, Mistuh M. Just gonna sit tight a couple a’ minutes, ‘kay?”

The old man could only nod slightly. He was restrained by the white jacket he’d been secured in when they found him in the kitchen, and by the drug he’d been given. The younger orderly took a step away from the gurney and waited. The taller one stood his ground momentarily, staring at the nurse. “I might check with Nurse Peters. See what’s protocol here.”

“You do that,” Mary said. And the taller orderly marched off down the hallway.

Mary leaned over the old man on the gurney. “Remember me, Bob? Your favorite nurse. Mary? Remember?”

The old man’s eyes seemed to light up for a moment, then his expression went lax again.

“They drug him?” Mary asked the orderly who had remained.

“Yup. Big time.”

“Drugs AND straitjacket? Overkill, don’t you think?”

“You shoulda oughta seen him,” the younger orderly said, thrilled to tell someone the story. He took a deep breath and sort of wound himself up, grabbed the gurney and pitched himself up onto the tips of his toes and began to speak in a voice so different from the one Mary had just heard him use in answer to her questions that for a moment she wondered if someone else were speaking, a voice that echoed off the adobe and cement walls of the hospital hallway, a voice you could hear all the way down to Nurse Peters’ office, a voice that belonged not to a youngster learning the ropes in his first job but rather to someone trained in histrionics, a persuasive public speaker, an orator, a demagogue, even, accustomed to swaying the masses in whatever direction he wanted them to sway. That was the voice that came out of the skinny frame of the young orderly.

“When my ‘larm clock waked me up this mornin’, I jist knew somethin’ big was gonna happen, y’know? So I gets m’self up—”

“Wait,” Mary interrupted, “what time was it when he started shouting?” She indicated the old man lying on the gurney.

“What time?”

“Yes, what time?”

The young orderly with the big voice considered the question. “Uh, musta been most a’ two or so, I reckon.”

“Yet you’re going to begin by telling me what happened when you woke up?”

The orderly looked puzzled. “Yes’m. I was always taught to begin at the beginnin’, which is when my ‘larm went off.”

“The story is about this old man right here, what made him start screaming, so it begins with the old man, what he was doing in the kitchen and how he got there.”

“But I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout that,” the youngster looked crestfallen. “I only know ‘bout how I got to the kitchen.”

“No one saw the old man before he fell in the kitchen?”

“I told ya, I dunno.”

“You didn’t overhear anyone talking about it?”

“No one talks to me ‘bout nothin’. Nothin’ hospital, that is.”

Mary nodded. “I understand. I was a newbie once too. But you didn’t overhear anyone explaining how he ended up in the kitchen, alone?”

The orderly shook his head.

“So how’d you end up in the kitchen?” Mary asked, then revised her request quickly. “I mean, after you got up and got to work and did your duties and all, what happened that brought you to the kitchen to help with Mr. Mayberry?”

“Ah,” the young orderly said, “y’all want the short version of the story, doncha?” Mary nodded. “Yeah, I shoulda figgered. That’s all they ever want. Ain’t nobody never got no int’rest in the whole tale, nossir.”

He looked defiantly at Mary and she stared right back into his blue eyes until he looked down.

“Okay,” he said and started again. “I guess it was the screamin’ I heard first. I was in the cafeteria when he started into wailin’. Larry grabs me and we run through the first kitchen—weren’t nobody but the cooks in there—and into the freezer room.”

“Larry’s the other orderly?” Mary asked. “The one who went for Peters?”

The young orderly nodded.

“And you found him—Mr. Mayberry here,” she said, putting her hand on the old man’s shoulder, “on the floor in the freezer room?”

“A’ shoutin’ to raise the dead.”

“Could you tell what he was saying?”

“He was screamin’ that he’d done seen Brad and that Brad—“

“The orderly named Brad? The one who quit recently?”

“Guess so. He was cryin’ and rollin’ ‘bout on the floor and screamin’ that he’d seen Brad and that Brad had fallen on top a’ him.”


“Yup, that’s what he was sayin’, best as I could make out, that Brad had fallen on top a’ him—Brad’s body, I figger he meant—‘cuz he was convinced that Brad was dead, yessir! And not just that but Brad’s body had been hidden in the closet, that’s how he come to fall on top a’ him. Brad, on top of the uh …”

He gestured to the old man lying in the gurney, who looked for all the world like he was listening to an accounting of his life by St. Peter at the Pearly Gates. A beatific look, a sort of glow to his eyes and cheeks, as if he’d just been called up from the minor leagues to The Show. The look of a man who has discovered a new country, a brave new world, a land of milk and honey, a paradise he would never need depart, a home.

“That’s what you was sayin’, ain’t it, old man?” the orderly asked Mayberry. “You was havin’ allusions, wasn’t you?”

“Delusions?” Mary said, unable to stop herself from correcting the young man. “You sure he was delusional?”

“That’s what Larry said and he oughta know, he’s been here longer ’n most a’ the patients.”

“But Larry’s just another orderly, like you. He’s not a doctor, not even a nurse. Telling the difference between delusions and hallucinations is tricky. Sometimes even the doctors get it wrong.”

The orderly looked puzzled. “What dif’rence? Ain’t they the same?”

Mary smiled. “You’re smart. You ask good questions. Tough questions. Ever thought about getting a nursing license?”

“Ya mean goin’ back ta school? Nooosirree! Not for no million dolluhs.” He smiled, his blue eyes shimmered. “Well, maybe fer a million, but not for nothin’ less. School was the death a’ me.”

“And yet you seem so alive!”

“Yeah, yeah,” the young orderly chortled, “I’m alive, fo’ sho’, but that school shit, it almost killed me.”

“I get that. But you’ve matured. You hold down a job now, and not an easy or pleasant one either. You can probably handle school now.”

“What fer? To spend even more time with old farts like this? No disrespect, Mistuh M,” the young man said, nodding toward where the old man lay on the gurney, “but you ain’t the most fun I ever had.”

“No disrespect taken,” the old man said.

The nurse and the orderly’s jaws dropped. They stared at the old man. Mary put her hand on his arm, “You’re back with us, Bob. How you feeling?”

“Like a new man, a million dollars, like I was born again or just pitched a no-hitter—that what you wanna hear?”

Mary laughed. “No, but it’s good to hear you sound so like yourself.”

“Who did you expect me to sound like? Vince Scully? Red Barber? Or maybe Mel Allen, his voice was like Vermont maple syrup. Sweeeet!”

The orderly looked at Mary. “Is he hallucinatin’ or delusional?”

“He’s just remembering.”

“So who was them people he mentioned?”

“You never heard of Vin Scully?” the old man craned his neck to see the orderly. The straight jacket prevented him from sitting up. The young man shook his head. “Did you?” the old man asked the nurse.

“Voice of the Dodgers,” she said smiling, “back in the days of the major leagues, right?”

“Good girl,” the old man said, patting her hand. Mary ignored the patronizing tone and held his hand, just happy he was talking again, cogently too. Reason enough to ignore an elderly man’s chauvinism.

“But really, Bob,” she said, “how do you feel? You had quite a fall, I hear.”

“Fall?” the old man said. “What fall?”

“Ya don’t ‘member?” the orderly said.

The old man shook his head. “No … I don’t think so … where? when?”

“Well,” said the orderly, happy to tell the story again, “we found ya in the kitchen—not the lunch kitchen but the freezer room behind, ya know? You was on the floor screamin’ yer head off ‘bout Brad and how Brad done—”

“Brad?” the old man interrupted. He turned to Mary, a desperate look in his eyes. “I saw Brad. He fell on me. I mean, his body fell on me. Brad was …”

Mary’s look stopped the old man. The light had gone out of her eyes. The lines of her face slid down and every part of her seemed to be frowning.

“What?” the old man said. “What happened to Brad?”

Mary didn’t know what to say. She looked into the old man’s eyes, but before she could say anything the orderly whispered to her, as if the old man weren’t there.

“Is he hallucinatin’ or is that one of them delusions?”

Mary nearly cried. She lowered her head, took a deep breath, and tried to find the words to comfort the old man. She looked up at his face, filled with anxiety and a need to know.

“Brad’s dead, isn’t he?” the old man asked.

Mary shook her head, but before she could explain, Nurse Peters arrived with Larry, the other orderly, in tow.

“What’s going on here?” Peters demanded.

“Old boy’s havin’ delusions,” the young orderly spoke right up. “Or hallucinatin’,” he added, then looked for confirmation to Mary.

“Nurse Boogey?” Peters looked at Mary, expecting an explanation.

Mary looked down at her hands, considering how best to persuade Peters that the old man on the gurney should not be wheeled into the Therapy Room, but before she could decide on what to say, the old man himself spoke up.

“I don’t need any more of your damn therapy.”

Peters looked at the old man, flat on his back, eyes on the hallway ceiling.

“Your language would suggest you did, Mr. Mayberry. The doctor has prescribed it. We only do it for your own—”

“You can’t,” Nurse Mary blurted out.

Peters gave Mary a cold, hard look. “What did you just say, Nurse?”

“His emergency contact. She’s on her way. Here. Now.”

Peters studied the nurse. “His emergency contact, as I understand it, just left here after a  meeting which disturbed our patient. What would bring her back?”

Mary couldn’t look at her boss. She didn’t know how to explain what had persuaded Pam Postema to return to the hospital without revealing the phone call she’d made. That might cost her her job. Her hand gripped the contraband cell phone in her pocket. She took a deep breath and readied the best lie she could come up with.

“She called. After she left. She called back.”

“She called?” Peters’ tone expressed her doubt. “Did you record that call on the log in the Nurses’ Station?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Why not?”

“She didn’t call the main phone.”

Peters wasn’t a patient woman. She knew when one of her staff were lying, but she also knew proving it wasn’t easy. Unless she could get them to confess.

“So, did she call one of the pay phones?” Mary refused to look up. “Of course not,” Peters answered her own question. “How would she get the number? So … Nurse Boogey, what phone did she call?”

Mary knew she was trapped. She kept her eyes on the floor, her hand on the phone in her pocket.

Peters had her prey surrounded. In a moment the young nurse would admit to having a cell phone, against hospital regulations, and once that was revealed, Peters sensed, the nurse would give up the charade and admit that she, Nurse Boogey, had called the old man’s visitor to warn her about the scheduled therapy. Then Peters would have to suspend her nurse, pending an investigation.

Peters had time and she used it to her advantage. She often thought of her nurses as her children, young women most of them, needing guidance and a firm hand. And when they strayed, as Mary Boogey had clearly done, Peters used the age old parental trick to squeeze a confession out of a child.

“Nurse Boogey, look at me.” When Mary wouldn’t look up, Peters took a step toward her. The Head Nurse towered over her young employee—her tall, angular body in sharp contrast to the shorter, softer curves of Nurse Mary—and now she leaned over the younger woman, Peters’ wild head of tight red curls falling nearly into Mary’s face.

“Look at me,” Peters repeated.

As Mary slowly, reluctantly, lifted her head up to face Peters, she knew the game was up. She’d be found out for sure, and the illicit phone in her right hand would be confiscated, the phone that had provided the old man on the gurney his single link to a world beyond the madhouse walls, the phone that had nearly secured his escape once before, the phone which Nurse Mary had, at great risk to her own career, stolen for the old man. The phone that belonged to Nurse Peters.

“Look at me.”

Mary looked up.

“Mr. Mayberry’s visitor didn’t call you, did she?”

Mary shook her head.

“You called her, didn’t you?”

“I called her,” the old man suddenly said. He grabbed Mary’s arm and held her.

No one moved. Nurse Peters looked at the old man. He lay flat on the gurney, staring up at the ceiling, a look of defiance on his lips.

“What’d you say?” Peters asked the old man.

“I called Pam and told her to get her ass back here pronto.”