An incessant beeping noise permeates the room, a chirp really, but it’s irritating nonetheless. My nerves are already tattered like an exposed wound, and this noise just puts me closer to the edge of losing it. I take my breaths, just like the therapist said, but they don’t help. I want to punch the machine until it stops, but I don’t want to raise any concerns among the doctors and nurses that come and go from my wife’s room. They’re here to help her, not me, but I wonder how much longer it will be before I need help, too. I cover my eyes with my hands and rub them until I see spots.
“Mr. Soczek,” a slight voice says in the darkness of my palms.
I look up and there’s a nurse standing before me. She’s an older woman who reminds me of my late grandmother, but she has gray hair that is tied back in a ponytail, not the dyed-brown bouffant that my sweet grandmother wore. She smiles slightly as if she’s waiting for me to acknowledge her presence, but the room still spins around us.
“Yes,” I say, and I know I sound exasperated because I am. The last 48 hours have been a roller coaster of emotions. I put my hands on the arms of the chair I’m sitting in as if it will stop the spinning.
“Dr. Kaufman will be here in about 30 minutes.”
“Is that what he said?”
“Last time he said that, it was two hours.”
“Mr. Soczek, please understand that Dr. Kaufman is a busy man. He has patients all over the hospital. If an emergency comes up, he will be delayed.”
“I understand that, but my wife needs him now.”
“She’s stable now. There’s nothing he can do other than wait to see how she recovers from the surgery. Only time will tell.”
I look past the nurse to my wife laying on her back and unconscious in the bed behind her. Bandages cover her head and part of her face. Her eyes are swollen shut, and a breathing tube snakes down her throat. The chirp of the machine continues, amplified by my anxiety. I think I see her twitch, but my vision is so shaky that I cannot know for sure.
“Mr. Soczek. Mr. Soczek.”
I drift back to the nurse and look at her a moment before I realize she’s still talking to me. “What?”
“Why don’t you go outside and get some air?”
“I don’t need any air. I’m fine.”
“You look like you haven’t slept for a while.”
“Do you know when she will wake up?”
“She has a lot of injuries. It’s best that she sleeps for a while. It will help with the healing process.”
“Is she blind?”
“I don’t know. Dr. Kaufman can discuss the prognosis with you.”
“Is she going to make it?”
“She’s stable now. The worst has passed, but you should discuss this with Dr. Kaufman.”
“When will he be here?”
“As I said, I expect him to be here in 30 minutes or so.”
I run out of questions to ask her. My mind is whirling through the last few days, and the lack of sleep has affected by ability to think clearly. The nurse looks at me for a moment longer as if she expects me to grow another head or something, then, she sighs slightly before she turns and walks away. I slump back into the chair as the door to the room swings shut behind the nurse.
I look at my wife for a moment, and I swear to myself that I see her twitch, so I get up and go to her side. Her bruised and bloodied hands, at least the parts not covered with bandages, lay by her side. Casts are wrapped around both of her arms. An IV needle is taped to her left hand. I look up to the bag hanging by her bed and watch the fluid drip slowly into the funnel that feeds the needle.
The drops remind me of our honeymoon. It rained the whole time we were in Costa Rica. Some days the rain tore through the jungle like angry bees battering the large leaves on the vegetation, and on others, it trickled from the sky and lazily dripped from the gutter above our balcony making a plopping sound that drove us both mad when we tried to sleep at night. It was too hot to close the windows, and since the air conditioning only worked sporadically, we had to choose between the annoying sound or broiling in our own sweat. It wasn’t a great way to begin our marriage.
I turn back to Bree, and a wave of gloom overwhelms me. I gently touch her hand fearing that I might upset the complicated mass of tubes and needles that loop across her body. I find some exposed skin near her pinky and I rub it with my thumb. I wonder what she will say when she wakes up. If she wakes up.
After a moment, I return to the chair, and the weight of the last 48 hours collapses on me. I lean into the back of the uncomfortable chair trying to get some rest. It’s inflexible with a prickly, coarse material that covers a stiff frame. My head lolls against the wall, and I shut my eyes. Sleep beckons me, but I’m afraid to go to sleep. What if Bree wakes up? What if Dr. Kaufman comes by and I’m asleep? I shut my eyes anyway unable to win this battle any longer despite that damn chirping noise.
Something startles me awake. When I open my eyes, I’m staring at the ceiling of the hospital room. The hanging ceiling tiles, perfectly square with irregular perforations, look down at me knowingly. An unsettled feeling comes up from my gut and I jerk up into a sitting position. I had leaned over in my sleep and rolled onto my back against the hard, cushioned arm of the chair. My back screams at me and I groan back. I stretch my arms out just as Dr. Kaufman walks through the door.
“Mr. Soczek, you’re awake,” he says. He seems surprised.
“I just dozed off.”
“I came by earlier, but you were asleep. The nurse said you wanted to talk to me.”
It took a moment to process what he said, but then, I remembered I wanted to talk to him about Bree. “How is she?” I shift my eyes from him to my wife, but I return to him when he responds.
“Well, the surgery was successful. She’s stable, but she’s still in serious condition. We managed to stop the internal bleeding. She has multiple fractures, a punctured lung, and both orbital bones are fractured.”
“Is she blind?”
Kaufman stops and looks at me strangely, but maybe it’s just the remnants of sleep affecting my perception of his mannerisms.
“I did not detect any damage to the eyes, but we won’t know for sure until she’s awake.”
“When will she wake up?”
“She’s in a drug-induced coma. We need to keep her that way for a while. She needs to rest to help her body recover.”
“So she won’t wake up until next week, when?”
He gives me another odd stare before he answers. “Let’s give her a few days and see where she is. Then, we can determine when we can back off on the sedatives.”
I breathe a sigh of relief.
“Your wife, she’s a tough lady. I think she’ll pull through this. It may take a while, but she should fully recover.”
I muster the best smile I can for Dr. Kaufman. He nods and glances over at Bree one more time before he ducks through the door and disappears into the hallway. I look over at her and I wonder what she will say when she wakes up.
I managed to get away for a bit after the doctor visited us. Since I didn’t have to worry about Bree waking up, I decided to go home, our home, not the place I’d been living for the past few weeks, and clean up. I’d been in the same clothes for several days and hadn’t showered or slept. I felt disgusting. After my shower, I fell onto Bree’s, I mean, our bed and slept for a few hours. I don’t know what time I went to sleep, but when I woke up, it was late morning. I awoke in a panic, but then, I recalled my conversation with Dr. Kaufman and relaxed. Another shower helped.
Before I left to return to the hospital, I called Bree’s parents and her sister and let them know what had happened. I had to apologize repeatedly for waiting so long to call them, but I explained that I’d been out of it because I was so worried about Bree that I didn’t even think to call them. It didn’t help that my cell phone was shot and I hadn’t had time to get another one. Her family lives in Northern California, so it will take them a few hours to get to San Diego to be with Bree. That will give me time to get my shit together.
I don’t know what I expected when I returned to the hospital. I guess I thought there’d be more activity in Bree’s room as the doctors worked to bring her back, but when I stepped through the door to her room, all was quiet. She lay there in the darkness with only the faint overhead light illuminating the upper half of her body. I sit down in the uncomfortable chair again and just stare at her. I think of things to say when she wakes up. How do I make this all better?
As I’m rehearsing the things I’ll say in my mind, someone pushes the door to the room open hesitantly, and I see a large man in a tight-fitting sports jacket step into the room. It must take his eyes a moment to adjust to the darkness because I don’t think he saw me at first. He looks at Bree and then scans the room until his eyes land on me. He nods and steps toward me. Another man, similarly large, follows him.
“Mr. Soczek?” he whispers.
An anxiety comes over me when I see the badge glimmering on his belt. Police. “Yes,” I reply.
“I’m Detective Swanson, and this is my partner Detective Manous. Can we talk to you out in the hallway for a moment?” He continues to whisper as if he will wake Bree up, but each word he says sends a chill down my spine.
I nod and stand up. I look at Bree one more time before I follow the rotund officers out of her room. They step down the hallway a bit and I join them in a small huddle near the door of the room down the hall from Bree.
“Thank you, Mr. Soczek,” Swanson says.
“You’re welcome,” I reply. “What can I do for you? I’ve given my statement to the police already.”
“I know, and we’ve read through the reports, but we have more questions if you don’t mind,” Swanson says.
I don’t feel like I have any choice, so I nod my head in agreement.
“The report says that you arrived at your home at 10 AM on Tuesday after you didn’t hear from your wife. Is that correct?”
“And you two are separated. Is that correct?”
I don’t like the word separated. We weren’t separated. We had just decided to live apart for a while until things settled down. “We were living apart for a bit, but we had planned to move back in together. Things were getting better,” I reply.
“When was that going to happen?”
“Why next week?”
“I don’t know. That’s just what we decided.”
“When did you decide on that?”
“This past weekend.”
Swanson looks at Manous. Something passes between them, and it raises my anxiety a bit.
“That’s the last time you saw your wife before the incident, correct?”
“Do you know why anyone would want to hurt your wife?”
“No one would want to hurt her that I know of, but this was a robbery.”
“How can you be so sure?” Manous asks.
“Look at the house, it was ransacked.”
Swanson nods, but Manous doesn’t seem convinced. I fidget in place. My back starts to ache from spending so much time in that damn chair. I hear footsteps behind me, and I look back just as a nurse goes into Bree’s room. My anxiety level rises more.
“How is your relationship with your wife?” Swanson asks.
I pause a moment before I respond. I look from Swanson to Manous and back again. “What do you mean?”
“You lived apart. What happened?”
“We’ve had our ups and downs just like any married couple. We decided to try some time apart to see if that helped us.”
“You know, absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
“Did it?” Manous interjects.
“Yes. We are still deeply in love. Our time apart made that very clear.”
Behind me another nurse enters Bree’s room. I feel very anxious. I look behind me as her door shuts. Swanson asks a few more questions and I respond absently. I forget the questions and my answers as soon as they are spoken. I’m worried about what the nurses are doing in her room. I shift in place and a creeping nervousness shimmers down my back.
“I’m sorry detectives, but I need to check on my wife. Do you have any more questions?”
“Not at this moment, but, Mr. Soczek, if you think of anything we should know, please give us a call. Here’s my card.” He extends his hand and gives me a business card. I look at it briefly before I stuff it in the back pocket of my jeans. They smile as I shake their hands before I turn and go back to be with my wife.