By R. L. Keller
Antoinette Casey, Toni to her friends, hummed softly as she entered the large Detroit hospital where she worked as an LPN, a Licensed Practical Nurse. She’d spent the weekend in Chicago with her daughter and family, but was happy to be back home. As much as she loved her grandchildren, at 4 and 2 ½ they were a handful. But at least she got to see them more frequently than the rest of her family. Her two sons lived halfway across the country, one in Seattle, Washington, and the other in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and she was lucky if she got to see them and their families about once every two years.
She left her purse and the small cooler that contained her lunch in her locker in the Nurses’ Lounge on the 6th floor, Men’s Medical, and walked back out to the main desk. This had been her duty area for so many years now, the staff found it hard to think of getting along without her. And she did nothing to discourage that idea. Oh, she wasn’t conceited enough to believe they wouldn’t manage just fine. But she’d been able to make a good living for herself after her husband’s early death, put three children through college, and survived several budget cuts at the hospital by making herself as indispensable as possible. It was hard work, but work that she loved. She enjoyed the closer contact she had with the patients than a lot of the RN’s had time for.
"Good morning, Toni," Dr. Bob Rogers greeted her pleasantly as she walked up to the Nurses’ Station. "Have a good weekend?"
"Lovely day, Doctor, and yes. It’s always good to see the little ones." She smiled and heaved a sigh. "But they are a busy pair," and the two shared a chuckle.
"Slowing down, Toni," teased Elizabeth Ness, the Head Nurse on the floor. Toni really liked Liz, and enjoyed working under her.
"Not a bit," Toni drew herself up – all five feet of her – then grinned along with the other two as she added. "Just have to save my strength for looking out after the two of you." It was an old joke between them.
The only person not smiling was Nurse Karen Matteo. She was Liz’s weekend equivalent, although still under her in authority. Toni was glad she didn’t have to work with Karen very often. While competent, she just didn’t seem to have as much of a caring attitude toward her patients as Toni thought she should have. Toni had heard rumors that the care given on weekends wasn’t as good as during the rest of the week. Karen also didn’t appreciate the joking that went on between the other three. Now she drug the chart rack a little closer, preparing to go over the patient updates. With her head down she didn’t see the amused looks that passed between the others, but Liz quickly got her face under control.
"Well, Karen. I expect you’re wanting to get out of here. What’s new?"
Toni listened carefully to which patents needed what, occasionally adding her own small commentary – mostly because she knew it annoyed Karen. As the woman mentioned, "611-A went home," indicating the bed number, Toni said softly, "Oh good. Mr. Harris made it home in time for his son’s birthday party yesterday." Toni absolutely hated referring to the patients by other than their names. She knew it was done – a lot! But not by her.
"Dr. Carrolls ordered med changes for 624-B," Karen continued with a glare at Toni.
"That should help ease Mr. Newell’s pain," Toni said sweetly. "It’s been hard on his family, watching him." Mr. Newell had nearly lost a leg in an accident with a power saw.
Karen frowned again but continued with the reports, going over several new admissions. Toni took careful note of room and bed numbers, and made Karen give her names if she forgot. These were people Toni dealt with, not pieces of paper.
Toni was glad to see the back of Karen as the reports ended and she could get down to business. There was only one out of the everyday (Toni didn’t like the term ‘out of the ordinary’. As far as she was concerned, nothing she did was ordinary) patient, a man sent up to what Karen snidely referred to as the Charity Ward. At a look from Liz, Toni had held her peace, but frowned nonetheless. It wasn’t usually their fault that there were men who couldn’t afford the luxury of a private or semi-private room, and were forced to share the 6-bed ward at the end of the hall. This one was a John Doe. What little information had come upstairs with the patient from Emergency indicated he’d been found in the train yard, unconscious, with nothing on him except the old, baggy clothes he’d been wearing, a week’s growth of beard, and an incredible number of contusions. What was in him was another story. Even after a full toxicology screen the doctors were unable to identify all of the weird substances in his bloodstream. Although, strangely, there had been no alcohol. It was assumed that the man was a transient, riding the rails, and whatever he’d taken had caused him to fall off. Nothing was broken, but the drugs had so fried his brain that he was basically in a vegetative state. He’d been sent upstairs to await identification, if possible, and until Social Services could find a long-term care facility that would take him.
It was several hours before Toni got more than a quick look at the man. It was her habit to do a quick walk-through of her assigned patients and determine who needed what immediately and who could wait just a bit – her own form of triage. She was accompanied by Trish Patton, a young LPN barely out of school. But what Trish lacked in experience she more than made up for in exuberance, and Toni really liked her.
Toni’s one quick look at the John Doe was depressing. Not being able to determine at that point what was dirt and grime, and what was just an apparent dark complexion, Toni decided to leave him as the last of her morning chores when she could take her time. It didn’t appear to matter to the patient. While his eyes were open they were obviously unseeing, and he lay limp and unmoving. Nonetheless, Toni gave his arm a quick pat and spoke softly, whether the man could hear her or not. "You just rest easy. I’ll be back and get you cleaned up as soon as I can," and she hurried on her way.
Under the circumstances, she wasn’t expecting much of a change when she finally got around to the new patient. Nor was there any. The man lay just as before. There was absolutely no response as Toni pulled the curtains around the bed. Never the less she chatted softly, explaining what she was doing as she turned back the blanket and stripped off the top sheet. Taking care with the IV and Foley lines, she rolled the man to one side of the bed and loosened the hospital gown, the only thing the man was wearing. Using warm water, mild soap, and washcloth, she gently cleaned the man’s back, buttocks, and legs. As she worked she made a mental tally of what she found, over and above what was on his chart. The man was indeed dark complexioned, only discovered under a fair amount of dirt. Toni frowned and muttered under her breath that he hadn’t been cleaned up properly before now. He’d been admitted, according to the chart, early Sunday morning. She knew they were busy down in Emergency, but why hadn’t it been done after he was brought up. Obviously he wasn’t very high on Karen’s priority list, and Toni had something else to hold against the woman. She’d probably told the LPNs on duty over the weekend not to bother.
Dirt and grime notwithstanding, Toni began to question if this man really was a transient. She noted a too lean but firm, well muscled frame, neatly trimmed toe- and fingernails, and the hair on the back of his neck below his short curly cut had been recently trimmed – not details a homeless man usually took care of. He also appeared to be younger than the estimate on the chart – somewhere in his early to mid forty’s, Toni thought. There were signs that the man had perhaps not lived an entirely easy life. Toni found multiple old scars on his back and legs, and did wonder for a moment about the man’s past. But no matter who or what he was he deserved to have decent care, and Toni continued her work.
Finishing up what she could wash with the man in that position, she stripped off the sheets from the other side of the bed and put fresh ones on, folding everything down smoothly, then rolled the man onto the clean side. Stripping off the old linen and tucking in the fresh, she rolled him onto his back and continued the bed bath. There were more signs of old traumas on the man’s chest and arms, and again Toni paused just a moment. If he’s a criminal, the police will have his prints on file and we’ll soon find out. Toni knew it was SOP to take fingerprints in Emergency of anyone they were not immediately able to identify. "In the meantime, young man, you’re going to get the best of care," she said softly to unseeing eyes.
After getting the man’s body as clean as she could, she started in on his face. There wasn’t much she could do about his hair and beard growth today – she’d spent longer than she’d intended to getting the rest of him cleaned up and she still had lots to do before the end of her shift. "Tomorrow we’ll deal with that," she promised him, got him into a clean gown, and after checking the IV and Foley lines again, tucked him in comfortably.
For some reason the man stayed on her mind as she worked the rest of the day, and she found herself checking on him several times. There was no change in his condition – he continued to stare blankly, unmoving. There was no word on his ID, and Toni took a small bit of comfort in that. If he were a criminal, surely the police would have been able to match his fingerprints by now. She left that night hoping Social Services didn’t find a place for the man too quickly, at least until he was identified. For some inexplicable reason Toni found herself wanting to know more about the man – wanting to know who he was, and hoping there was someone somewhere who would take care of him.
* * * *
The next several days passed quickly for Toni. Of course, time usually flew by for her, she kept herself so busy. Each morning she came to work wondering if the man had been identified – indeed, wondering if he was still there or had been transferred somewhere else. But each morning when she quickly ducked into the ward the instant she came upstairs he was still there, staring blindly. Nor when she checked his chart had there been any word on who he was. Liz reminded her that it could take a long time, and in fact they might never find out. But somehow Toni had a feeling that the man had people who cared about him – would be worried when they had no word of him.
Shampooed and shaved he was actually a remarkably handsome young man, although his face was gaunt and he was obviously underweight, and Toni revised his age down a few more years to the mid thirty’s. But while the heavy bruising was beginning to heal, turning even his dark complexion an interesting variety of purples and greens, there had been no sign of voluntary movement. He did respond involuntarily to stimuli so there was no paralysis. But there also didn’t seem to be anyone alive anymore behind his dull brown/green eyes.
By Thursday Toni couldn’t stand not having a name to call the young man, so while she gave him his bath she chatted quietly as usual, this time trying to come up with something that fit. Officially, of course, he was John Doe #394M, for hospital records. But she couldn’t call him John or Johnny – that was her oldest son’s name. She thought about JD, just using the initials, but somehow that didn’t fit, either. Then for whatever reason she reversed the letters. "How about DJ," she asked with a smile, and liked the sound. She even thought there might have been a momentary flicker behind the dull brown eyes. She stopped and spoke softly, "DJ?" But she decided she’d been mistaken when there was no more reaction. She finished her ministrations, tucked in the blankets, and patted the man’s arm reassuringly. "Rest easy, DJ." She said with a smile. "I’ll be back to check on you in a little while," she added as she always did, and turned to leave. But again – and this time there was no mistaking it – the man’s eyes flicked her way ever so briefly, then returned to their sightless position. "Well, well, well," Toni said. "So there’s someone home after all. You be a good boy. I’ll go get Dr. Rogers," and she hurried out.
Toni tracked the Doctor down and told him what she’d observed, but then got busy elsewhere so it was several hours before she was able to catch up with him again. But while not dismissing Toni’s observations, he’d seen no difference when he had examined the man.
"I hope you’re right, Toni," he said as he made notes on a patient’s chart. "And while I saw nothing new this morning, I’ve ordered another set of blood tests. With any luck at all, maybe whatever weird drugs he was on are finally working their way out of his system."
"Still no word on an ID?" Toni asked, even though she knew, with both Dr. Rogers and Liz aware of her special interest in the man, they’d let her know if they heard anything.
"Afraid not. And Social Services is still trying to get him into a long-term care facility. But there’s just nothing available right now." Toni couldn’t suppress a smile, and Dr. Rogers laughed. "I know that bothers you tremendously," he chided.
"There’s just something about him…" and she smiled embarrassingly.
"Well," the Doctor said confidently, "if there’s any chance at all he’ll recover, in my book you’re the best medicine he could have right now."
Toni blushed. "Thank you, Doctor. But I give all my patients the best care I know how."
Dr. Rogers laughed. "And don’t you ever think they – and the rest of us – don’t appreciate that. Now, about Mr. Newell…" and they got back to other matters.
* * * *
Friday there was more good news, as fractional as it was. The new blood test definitely showed improvement, although now the question was if there had been any permanent liver/kidney damage from the body’s efforts to filter out all the drugs. So far there was no indication of any, but that kind of damage could take a long time to show up. There was also the question of what if any brain damage had been done from the drugs themselves. But DJ’s eyes more constantly followed Toni as she worked with him, something she was also able to show Dr. Rogers this time, along with some brief but disjointed hand and leg movements. Dr. Rogers reminded Toni that what little progress there had been could arrest at any point. But Toni still left Friday night with a much lighter heart, wondering how much improvement she’d find Monday morning.
* * * *
Toni tried very hard not to take her work home with her. But she just couldn’t get DJ out of her mind, and finally called a friend she knew was working Sunday afternoon to check and see if he was still there, or been transferred elsewhere. Lois worked on another floor but she quickly checked patient information in the computer and was able to relieve Toni’s mind by telling her that that patient number was still listed for Ward 6, bed 4. Lois was of course curious, since the computer listed him as a John Doe, why Toni was so interested.
"I really don’t know," Toni confessed reluctantly. "Guess he just seems like he needs somebody to look out after him."
Lois laughed. They’d been friends a lot of years and she knew her friend well. "Toni," she teased, "you’d take care of the world if you could figure out how."
"Just my little corner of it," Toni assured her confidently, and they both giggled.
* * * *
Dr. Rogers and Liz were as usual standing at the Nurses’ Station when Toni came in Monday morning. She noticed Karen had a decided smirk on her face as Toni walked up, but Toni just continued to smile pleasantly. The smirk turned even more sickly sweet as, at the end of her report, Karen told the others that the John Doe had become quite restless over the weekend. "We tried everything we could think of to communicate with him," she said smugly. "Tried to get him to calm down. But when he wouldn’t, and instead became increasingly restive, we were forced to put him in restraints to keep him from hurting himself." She stared pointedly at Toni as she added, "We were afraid he’d somehow manage to fall out of bed." Toni was furious, mostly at the underlying callousness in the way Karen had said it. Deep down she knew that this sometimes had to be done. But she could barely restrain herself from bolting down to the ward the instant Karen had finished. She hurried nonetheless, and was surprised to find both Dr. Rogers and Liz following her.
What they found was appalling. The smell was the first thing they noticed. It didn’t appear that DJ had been bathed all weekend. But Toni immediately noted there had been improvement in DJ’s mental condition, if nothing else. His eyes refused to leave Toni’s face, seemingly imploring her to help him, and he tried to form words as he struggled weakly against the restraints. But all that came out were guttural, unintelligible sounds.
"Toni," Dr. Rogers warned sharply as she reached to release the restraints.
"Please, Dr. Rogers. At least let me try. I can’t believe he’s as bad as Karen made him out to be."
"All he’s trying to say," Liz assured her, "is to take it slowly. Right now we need to document everything here," and Toni gave her a quizzical look. Almost in a whisper Liz continued. "We’ve been carefully keeping track of a lot of little ‘incidents’ that have occurred on weekends when Karen has been on duty. This is just one more to add to the list."
"I want you to stay here while I examine this patient," Dr. Rogers took up the narrative. "We’ll see what’s going on, what has and hasn’t been done, and compare that with what his chart says."
"In the meantime," Liz continued, "I’ll have Trish start the rest of the work."
After getting her surprise at the revelation under control, Toni had been watching DJ carefully. Now she smiled. "He understood that," she said confidently, and looked at the other two. "While you were explaining, he relaxed and quit fighting the restraints. I knew he couldn’t be as bad as Karen made him out to be. Now, young man," she continued firmly to her patient, and missed the quick smiles that passed between the other two before Liz hurried off, "you’re going to lie there and behave yourself, aren’t you?" and she reached to unfasten the padded straps that held his wrists firmly against the bed rails.
Toni was disgusted and angered by what she and Dr. Rogers found. She worked hard to keep her emotions under control, but was relieved when the Doctor finally left, patient’s chart and a small notebook in hand, and she could get down to the task of rectifying the problems. The smell had been coming from the absorbent pad placed under DJ’s hips. Since he’d been on IVs for sustenance for so long there wasn’t a lot of excrement. But what there was appeared to have been there most of the weekend. DJ’s skin was oily, indicating he’d not been bathed – probably all weekend as well. While they didn’t roll him over at that point, Toni was reminded (heedlessly, her expression told Dr. Rogers, and he grinned bashfully at her) to check carefully when she bathed him for the beginnings of bedsores. The collection bag for the Foley had been changed fairly recently, surprisingly, but further checking showed that the floor under where it hung on the edge of the bed showed evidence that it had leaked and not been thoroughly cleaned up. Karen had apparently not deemed it worthy of notifying housekeeping to take care of the problem. But Toni was greatly relieved that Dr. Rogers’ exam showed there had been no apparent damage to DJ’s general condition except, of course, on his level of comfort.
Toni quickly got her supplies together and set to work. DJ was totally co-operative, both during the exam and now, and Toni was amazed and delighted at the change. His eyes seemed alive again, and had changed color from a dull brown to hazel, with flecks of green, and added a great deal of expression to his still too gaunt face.
DJ did give her one moment of concern. She’d rolled him to one side of the bed to remove the soiled pad, and place it in a plastic bag along with the paper towels she’d used to quickly clean the problem spot on the floor. Deciding the sheets had to go as well, even before starting the bath, she quickly and efficiently changed the bedding, then started to gently clean DJ himself, starting with his shoulders and working her way down. She paid special attention to the points on his back and hips where bone was closest to the surface, checking for the telltale reddening of the skin that would indicate the beginnings of a pressure ulcer, or bedsore. Happily she found none. But as she gently cleaned his buttocks, getting rid of every trace of his difficult weekend, DJ’s arm began aimlessly twitching, somewhat getting in Toni’s way. She reached for his hand, gave it a squeeze, and smiled as she placed it gently but firmly back on the bed. "Easy, DJ," she said lightly. "No need to get fussy. Everything’s under control now." She gave his arm a pat and went back to work.
As she finished DJ’s legs and rolled him onto his back to continue the bath, the arm movements came again. It took Toni a second to realize what was happening, but as soon as she did she burst out laughing. When DJ had been admitted he was so obviously unaware of his surroundings Toni had not bothered with her normal precautions to a patient’s modesty, and had opted instead for convenience. Realizing her mistake in not correcting that oversight as DJ began to respond to her, she nonetheless started to lecture him. "Young man," she said firmly, looking directly into DJ’s eyes, "I’ve been doing this longer that you’ve been alive. There’s nothing there I haven’t seen a gazillion times." But as she talked she reached for a clean towel and laid it across his hips. "There. Happy now? And I do apologize," and she smiled brightly. DJ just closed his eyes and made no more move to interrupt Toni as she finished.
Toni grinned, wondering for the umpteenth time who this man was. She was thrilled with the progress he’d made so far, from vegetative state to mentally alert enough to be totally embarrassed at her care of his body. She sent a silent prayer that his motor skills would continue to progress as well. It didn’t look like the police were going to be able to identify him. She could only hope and pray he could eventually identify himself. She just knew he was too fine a man not to have someone somewhere wondering where he was.
DJ opened his eyes again as she tucked in a fresh hospital gown. "Welcome back," she said with a grin. "You’re safe now. I’m all done – at least for the time being." The grin spread across her whole face as he lowered his eyelids, looking at her practically through his long, dark lashes. "Oh, no, you don’t," she scolded. "That look may work on all the pretty, young things you probably have trailing after you. But I’m far too old to be suckered in. Now," and she gently rolled him over on his side, making sure he was in a comfortable position, with several extra pillows tucked in around him for support. "Lets give the skin on your back a bit of a break, shall we?" She tucked the blankets in and gave his shoulder a quick squeeze. "I’ll be back after awhile to shift you again. And I expect you to behave, young man," she added firmly. "You smart off with me and I’ll be the one putting those restraints back on you." But the smile on her face belied her stern warning, something she knew he understood from the sparkle present in his eyes.
Thankfully, the rest of the day went much better for Toni, although she was kept on the run. There was only one other patient in the ward besides DJ at the moment, but the rest of the floor was almost filled to capacity. She made time every couple hours to go shift DJ’s position, and each time received a look of appreciation, or what she read as a look of appreciation, from the young man. With nothing much working except his eyes, it was hard to tell for sure. But she chatted with him nonetheless, and received in return that ‘through the lashes’ bashful acknowledgment she was getting familiar with. "I keep telling you, young man," she chuckled, and tucked him in comfortably before leaving for the day, "ain’t going to work on me. No way. Now you behave yourself and I’ll see you in the morning."
* * * *
Tuesday started out badly for Toni. There had been a major accident during the commute the previous evening which culminated in 5 new admissions to the 6th floor, basically filling all the beds except those in the ward. But even before that, as she was just coming on duty, Liz informed her that Social Services had called up to say they thought they’d found a care facility for the John Doe. Toni figured her face must have registered her distress over that bit of news because Dr. Rogers, also standing there at the time, reached out and patted her arm.
"Now, don’t panic, Toni," he’d said indulgently. "DJ’s not going anywhere, at least not for awhile, yet," and Toni looked at him curiously. But it was Liz who took up the narrative.
"Dr. Rogers and I still think that you’re the best medicine for DJ right now, especially after how he responded to you yesterday morning. That’s not to say he wouldn’t be just fine elsewhere, mind you," she cautioned. "But I asked Social Services if they had anyone else on the waiting list. Turns out they do. Several, actually. And the facility was balking slightly at taking a John Doe anyway. So he’s here, at least for awhile yet."
"And that’s another thing," Dr. Rogers now continued. "I was taking another look at his file yesterday, as we were going over things. There’s no photocopy of his fingerprints in there. Normally the originals go to Security to be sent to the police and a copy stays with the patient’s file. But I couldn’t even find a notation that they were ever taken. I called down to Dr. Maynard, who saw him when he was admitted, and the only thing he could think of was, DJ was in such bad shape no one originally thought he’d survive, and figured they’d just get his prints in the morgue."
"That would certainly explain why we haven’t had any word," Toni admitted, still concerned. "I just know he’s got people somewhere."
Both Liz and Dr. Rogers nodded, and he went on. "I’ve been coming to that conclusion myself, looking at his overall condition. I have absolutely no idea about how he ended up how and where he was found, but like you I have serious doubts about him being a simple transient." He smiled at Toni. "As soon as things calm down around here this morning," and he took a deep breath, "I’ll call Security and have a set of prints taken."
"In the meantime…" Liz sighed heavily and handed Toni her assignments list. But she smiled as she added, "Right after you go say ‘Good Morning’," and Toni gave her supervisor a quick smile before hurrying down the hall.
She just did a quick check to see that all was in order. DJ had been staring at the ceiling when she walked up, but his eyes never left her as she checked IV and Foley lines, and changed the absorbent pad under his hips. "There now," she said, giving his arm a pat. "That’s all I have time for right now. I’ll be back later for your bath," and chuckled as DJ closed his eyes – almost. "Oh, and if you see Mrs. Ness – you remember which one she is? – you be sure and tell her ‘Thank you’. We almost lost you this morning. Social Services called to say they’d found an opening in one of the long-term care facilities." DJ’s eyes opened wide. "Now don’t you worry a bit. Liz headed them off at the pass, so to speak, and had them take someone else on the waiting list first. You don’t get rid of me quite that easily, young man," and she laughed and hurried off.
When Toni returned a bit over two hours later, DJ seemed quieter than he had been the day before. She was a bit more cautious with his modesty, but was still concerned when he made very little effort to move either arms or legs. He also didn’t watch her as much as had been his habit, choosing instead to just close his eyes until she was tucking in the fresh gown. And she didn’t think his eyes, when he did open them, sparkled as much as they had been. Please don’t be relapsing, she thought to herself, but smiled brightly. "There now. All nice and clean. Sorry I can’t stay to chat but I’m up to my ears today. But I promise I’ll be back before I leave this evening," and she hurried on her way.
DJ was as he’d been earlier when Toni looked in on him briefly before leaving. "Oh, and by the way," she added to her usual soft little banter she kept up while around him, "apparently there was a mix-up when you were admitted, and no one bothered to take your fingerprints. That’s why we’ve had no word so far on who you are. But Security’s being notified and they’ll get to it shortly." She smiled down at him. "We’ll have you back to all those pretty lady friends you’re sure to have in no time," and she patted his arm and hurried off before she missed her ride home.
* * * *
Wednesday started out even worse for Toni than the day before. Her very dear friend, a woman who lived just a couple blocks from her, had called while Toni was getting dressed. Denise had just gotten a call that her sister in Richmond, Virginia, had been rushed to the hospital, Denise wasn’t quite sure why. She was making emergency plans to fly down and could Toni, who had a spare key to her house, possibly stay at Denise’s tonight to look after her two dogs and three cats. The next-door neighbor who normally looked after them in Denise’s absence was on vacation, but would be home the next day. Toni assured her friend that all would be taken care of here, and to please let Toni know what she found out about her sister.
The news didn’t get a lot better at work. "You need to go check DJ," Liz greeted her, barely letting her get her stuff put away.
"What’s wrong?" Toni demanded immediately, but Liz laid a quieting hand on her arm.
"Maybe nothing. But Katy," that was Toni’s night equivalent, "said he was very restless last night. Nothing to warrant restraints," she added quickly at the look Toni gave her, "and he didn’t cause any trouble. But definitely not a happy camper, either," and Toni hurried down the hall.
She understood the concern with her first glance. She’d come in quietly, and as yet DJ didn’t realize she was there. He was laying on his back, seemingly staring at nothing, but his right arm, the one not hooked up to the IV, was twitching. As Toni looked closer she could see that he was making as good an effort as he was capable of, with his limited motor skills, to repeatedly smack the bed with the fist that he’d made.
"And just what’s your problem this morning, young man?" she scolded as she walked up to him. But concern replaced the smile she’d willed on her face as she looked down at him. She thought that it was anger she saw in his eyes this morning. Or maybe just frustration. She couldn’t be sure which. With few other facial muscles working correctly, it was hard to tell. "What’s wrong?" she asked, concerned, yet knowing she wouldn’t get an answer.
But DJ tried, nonetheless. The guttural noises he’d been making Monday morning reappeared, and the pounding continued, harder than before, until she reached out and took his hand. "Enough," she commanded, and while he remained tense, he stopped fighting. "Thank you," and she tried the smile again. "Now settle down. I know it’s frustrating but you are getting better. It’s just going to take some time," and saying that, prayed that she was right. "Can I trust you to behave yourself for awhile or do I have to put the restraints on?" and was relieved to once again see DJ look at her through lowered eyelashes. "I’ll take that for a ‘yes, you’ll behave’. I’ll be back in a couple hours. Don’t let me find out you’ve been having another tantrum," and she chuckled as she walked out.
But he stayed on her mind as she worked her way through the morning’s chores. DJ had seemed so amiable of late. He’d obviously been upset over what had occurred during the weekend. Or rather, not occurred, Toni muttered to herself. But what had set him off this time? He had been, what? startled? afraid? when she’d mentioned he might be moved. But this was anger, Toni was almost positive.
What else had they talked about? Toni tried to remember. But the only other thing that she could think of was the bit about Security coming to do the fingerprints. But what could be the problem there? Are you a criminal after all, DJ, Toni wondered, and don’t want to be identified? But that doesn’t make any sense, either. Toni simply could not bring herself to believe it.
When she finally made it back to the ward it was nearly 11 am. She dealt with the one other patient there first but kept an eye on DJ. For his part, he seemed to be keeping an eye on her. Or is it the door? Toni wasn’t totally sure. The other man was in the bed next to it, and DJ had managed to turn his head just enough to the side so he could watch in that direction. Toni could see that his hand was still in the shape of a fist, but at least he was lying quietly.
However, he grew agitated again when she walked over. As much as she tried to calm him down he just seemed to ignore her, and returned to the seemingly meaningless swinging of his free arm. Several times he managed to connect with Toni’s left wrist and tried to close his fingers around it. When he managed it for the fourth time, she let it stay there for a moment to see what he would do. But when nothing more seemed to happen she again replaced his hand at his side and he just grunted angrily, closed his eyes, and refused to acknowledge her any further as she got him cleaned up and the bedding changed. Toni tried joking with him as she had in days past, even going so far as to tease him when she laid a towel across his bare hips while she washed and dried his chest. Nothing!
Not until she was tucking in the blankets under his arms did he again open his eyes. He seemed to stare fiercely at her as he slowly raised his right arm and held his hand in front of her. She watched as he seemed to concentrate desperately to make the fingers move the way he wanted them to. But try as he might, Toni had no idea what he was attempting to tell her, and she shook her head sadly.
"I’m sorry, DJ. I just don’t know what you’re trying to tell me." She smiled at him, however, and gave his arm a pat as she laid it back down. "But maybe tomorrow. Look at how much progress you’ve already made." She was disappointed when he once again closed his eyes, and the fingers of his right hand again slowly formed a fist.
Toni went to the Nurses’ Lounge and, retrieving her small cooler, sat down to eat a belated lunch. She couldn’t, however, get her mind off of what had just happened. That what DJ needed to communicate was desperately important, at least to him, was obvious. She glanced down absently at her left hand. The only thing of note there was her watch. Toni wore no rings – they just tended to get in her way what with putting latex gloves on and off all day. And surely DJ couldn’t be worried about what time it was. Even if it mattered there was a wall clock in the ward, easily visible to him even with his limited mobility. So what else could be so important to him? she mused, and headed back to work.
It was almost 4pm before she got the chance to check on DJ again. There had been several discharges and the rooms had to be thoroughly cleaned before they could be used again. Trish was a bundle of energetic help as always but it still seemed to take forever. Toni walked up to DJ’s bed and said hello, but wasn’t sure for a second if he was going to acknowledge her. When he finally did, she smiled and sat down on the edge of the bed next to his right side. "I’m willing to try again if you are," she said quietly, and waited for a response.
It was slow in coming, and she almost gave up. But finally he raised his right hand and slowly held it out to her. She tried letting his hand fall on her right wrist, but he just closed his eyes. She took it gently and laid it on her left, and was rewarded when his fingers tried to grasp it. "OK. So its this hand you want. Let’s try to make this a bit easier for you," and she laid his hand on his leg, but left her wrist in his light grasp, and waited. Unfortunately, that seemed to be all he was able to tell her, until she noted his finger seemed to be trying to tap the watch. "The watch?" she asked, and saw relief in DJ’s eyes. "Surely you can’t be worried about the time," and knew she was off track again when DJ closed his eyes and his hand fell away from hers. "OK, so what about the watch?" and was relieved to see his eyes open again. "The watch has a band?" ‘No’ said DJ’s eyes, closing briefly. "A face?" ‘No’. Toni looked at her watch for a second. "Numbers?" and there was an obvious sigh, and what passed for a smile, from the young man. "Be right back," Toni said excitedly and hurried out, returning with a clipboard and a blank piece of paper. She quickly drew a large circle and put in numbers as on a clock face, then held it out so DJ could reach it easily. She watched as he concentrated on his hand, and thought for a second he was going to make a fist again. But this time his index finger didn’t bend and she gently helped him make the pointer. She watched carefully as he indicated a number, called it out when she was sure, waited for a quick blink of his eyes for confirmation, and wrote it plainly at the top of the page. 8 – 0 – 5 – 9 – 4 – 7 and continued until there were ten numbers across the top of the sheet of paper. Then DJ laid his hand back on the bed and relaxed his fingers. "OK, Smarty," Toni chided herself, and watched as DJ gave her a bit of a smile. "DJ’s given you 10 numbers. Now its up to you to figure out what they mean," and she stared hard at the list. "Can’t be a social security number for identification. There’s one too many," and stopped as DJ again reached for the sheet. She watched as he carefully fingered a line between the 5 and the 9. "805", she mouthed, "separated…" and she had it. "Phone number," and again DJ sighed heavily. "Family?" Toni asked, but only got the enigmatic little smile that lit up DJ’s eyes. "Friend?" she tried again, but there was only the same response. "Will they be home to answer the call now?" and she got the quick blink that seemed to indicate yes. "Be right back," and she hurried off, but not without stopping at the door for a quick look back. DJ had his eyes closed, lying perfectly still on the bed, breathing deeply. It was as relaxed as Toni had ever seen him.
Toni had absolutely no idea what she’d stumbled into, and wasn’t sure for a bit she wanted to know, when she dialed the number from the phone in the Nurses’ Lounge. She’d checked the phone book first and discovered that the 805 area code was for California, the part that included Santa Barbara. Good heavens, she thought, and punched in the numbers. DJ, you’re a long way from home, and waited for the rings to be answered.
"Morton," came a man’s voice, firm and not a little intimidating.
"Ah, excuse me, Sir, but…" and the voice cut Toni off.
"Sorry, Ma’am, but you must have dialed a wrong number," and the line went dead.
DJ, what have you gotten me in the middle of, Toni muttered, and re-dialed the number.
"Morton," came again, sounding angry.
"I’m sorry to bother you," Toni tried again, and was again cut off.
"Who is this?" the voice demanded. "How did you get this number?"
"If you’ll just listen for two seconds," Toni said huffily right back at the voice, "I’ll tell you."
There was a heavy sigh. "Make it quick," said the voice resignedly.
"My name is Antoinette Casey. I’m a nurse at Mercy General Hospital in Detroit. We have a patient here, admitted 10 days ago. He wasn’t carrying any identification…"
"Describe him," the voice cut her off, sounding a bit breathless.
"Fairly tall, dark complexion, short curly black hair…" and stopped again because she heard something breathed through the phone lines she couldn’t identify. She heard the next words just fine. In fact, she was surprised to find out later they hadn’t heard it clear out at the Nurses’ Desk.
"Why the hell has it taken you this long to notify us?" was screamed over the phone lines, and Toni had to council herself not to scream back.
"Because he came in as a John Doe and hasn’t been able to identify himself," Toni said slowly and carefully. "It’s a fluke I was able to get this phone number. And you don’t have to yell. There’s nothing wrong with my hearing."
There was a pause, then the voice came a good deal more under control. "You said Mercy General in Detroit?" and the voice was back to officious.
"Yes. Sixth floor."
"Doctor’s name," and it wasn’t a question.
"Phone number," was the next demand and Toni gave it to him, including the Nurses’ Station extension number.
"We’ll be there in…" and there was a pause, "about three hours," and Toni had a feeling the line was about to go dead again.
"Please…" she begged, and was relieved to hear the voice respond.
"What is his name?"
"Lee," and the voice softened. "Lee Crane." The voice hardened again. "And you tell him from me he’d better have a damn good explanation for where he’s been," and the voice was gone.
Toni hurried back to the ward, stopping at the desk to scratch a hasty note for Dr. Rogers who she didn’t see at the moment. As desperately as she wanted to stay and see who showed up, see who DJ had so desperately wanted her to call, she knew she had to get to her friend’s house – she had promised. But first she needed to see DJ. Lee Crane, she corrected herself, and now understood why he’d seemed to react to the sound of the initials. As she walked into the ward she saw him obviously watching the door, and got a huge grin on her face. She walked up and took his hand. "It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Lee Crane," and watched the expectant look in his eyes relax. "However," she continued firmly, "you really need to choose your friends more carefully. That Mr. Morton I talked to didn’t sound like a pleasant man at all." She watched as DJ’s eyes sparkled. Hesitantly she delivered the final message verbatim, and listened in amazement to what had to be, from the expression on DJ’s face, a giggle. She just shook her head. "Anyway, this Mr. Morton said they, whoever ‘they’ are, would be here in about three hours. As desperately as I want to stay I just can’t." Her eyes started to cloud over as DJ struggled to reach his hand toward her, and she grabbed it again. "But you, young man," she said firmly, trying to get her emotions under control, "had better let me know how you get on." She squeezed his hand and was delighted when he did his best to squeeze hers back. Not knowing what else to say, she dropped a quick kiss on his forehead. "You behave yourself, young man," she ordered with a grin, and quickly left before her emotions did her in totally.
One morning almost two months later, Trish came running into the Nurses’ Lounge just as Toni was sitting down to lunch. "Toni," she practically yelled, "come quick." Toni was just in the process of imagining all sorts of horrors when the young woman continued excitedly. "There’s the most gorgeous man at the desk asking for you."
"For me?" Toni was incredulous.
"Tall, dark, and dreamy," Trish continued with a heavy sigh, and Toni rose nervously. The only person she knew who even came close to that description was her oldest son, and he lived in Seattle. Not only had he not told her he was visiting, and while he was somewhat handsome (especially to his Mother), by no stretch of the imagination could he be described as gorgeous. But then, Trish was young and impressionable. But if Johnny was here… and Toni’s imagination was off and running again.
But as she approached the desk, with Trish hanging as close behind her as she dared, Toni knew immediately that the young man standing there in a khaki uniform and jacket, hat tucked under his left arm, was not her son. There was a second similarly dressed young man, this one blond, holding up the wall next to the elevator. She relaxed and smiled at the stranger. "Good morning. I’m Toni Casey. May I help you?"
"Mrs. Casey. I hope I haven’t caught you at a bad time," the man said softly as she looked up at him. She didn’t think she had ever seen him before, but there was something…
"Not at all, Mr…."
"Sorry. I’m sure you don’t remember. I’m Lee Crane," and he smiled again shyly. "About two months ago. I just wanted to thank you properly for all the care you gave me, and for contacting my friends."
And instantly Toni remembered. But this couldn’t be the poor John Doe. Could it? "DJ?" she breathed softly, almost afraid to believe it.
The young man laughed, the brilliant smile even brighter. "Don’t look much like I did the last time you saw me."
"That’s for sure," Toni chuckled. She looked him up and down. "Knew all along there was a fine young man under all those bruises," and grinned herself as she realized she’d embarrassed him. "So tell me. What happened to you? I was sorry I couldn’t stay that night…"
"Quite all right. I understand. And how is you’re friend’s sister?"
Toni couldn’t hide her surprise. "How did you know about that?"
"You told me," and he hesitated and lowered his eyes in the way she so clearly remembered, "at some point that day, anyway."
"She’s fine. Turned out she’d just had a bad reaction to some medicine she’d been given. So? And why don’t we go sit down. You can stay for a bit?" She’d noticed DJ – she still couldn’t think of him as anything other than the nickname she’d given him – rest his hand seemingly lightly on the desk counter, and noticed the blond straighten up sharply.
"Actually, no," DJ apologized. "We can only stay a few minutes. I had to come back to take care of a few things and wanted to stop and say thanks personally."
"Well, I’m so glad you did. When I didn’t hear from you…"
"I know, and I’m sorry. Things just got a little…complicated for awhile."
Toni chuckled. "I know how that goes. But the last word I had was Dr. Rogers telling me the next morning that your friends – or somebody anyway – had hit this place like a commando raid and scooped you up so fast you were gone before anyone could blink, practically."
DJ frowned. "Chip?" he said firmly, and Toni watched the blond, who’d obviously been listening to the conversation, walk over. "What did you guys do to these people?"
"Don’t fuss at me, Skipper," the blond said with a smile. "I was the model of amiability. The Admiral may have over reacted just a bit." Toni watched as DJ raised his eyes momentarily skyward.
"Sorry," he apologized again. "Admiral Nelson has a tendency to get…" and he hesitated.
"Enthusiastic?" his friend offered.
"Mrs. Casey, Chip Morton," DJ changed the subject by introducing the two. The name sunk in as Toni shook the other man’s hand, and she looked at him momentarily down her nose – not easy since he was a good foot taller than she was. Almost as tall as DJ. But she managed it anyway.
"You’re the Mr. Morton who was so rude on the phone?" DJ burst out laughing, and the blond turned red.
"Sorry," it was his turn to apologize. "You just caught me a bit off guard. Lee had given you my cell phone number so you wouldn’t have to go through the switchboard at the Institute. Not too many people have it."
"Institute?" Toni said, puzzled, and looked at DJ. She’d wondered at the uniforms, and the blond’s use of the term ‘Skipper’.
"Chip and I work at the Nelson Institute for Marine Research in Santa Barbara. It was Admiral Nelson that apparently blew in like a storm trooper, along with our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Jamison. And who else came along and caused trouble?" he turned to the blond.
"Chief Sharkey and Kowalski came upstairs with us. Patterson was downstairs commandeering – ah, arranging for - an ambulance to get you back to the airport, and Riley was driving the other car." All this seemed to be said a bit reluctantly, and Toni noted Mr. Morton wasn’t quite looking DJ in the eye.
DJ just stood shaking his head for a moment, then turned back to Toni. "Sorry," he said once again. "I don’t remember much once Jamie got here," and he frowned as the blond snickered.
"That’s alright," Toni offered. "They were obviously just anxious to get you home. And from the looks of you,’ and she gave him another appraising glance up and down, "home is just what you needed."
"I’m fine," DJ said with a smile, then frowned again as it was Mr. Morton’s turn to raise his eyes skyward.
"Can I ask what happened?" Toni tried once again, and immediately regretted it when Mr. Morton’s expression turned dark and angry, and he glared briefly at DJ.
But DJ just ignored his friend. "Sort of a long story," he answered cautiously, nonetheless. "Let’s just say I found myself in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"I suspected it was something like that," Toni said lightly, trying to defuse the suddenly tense atmosphere. "I’m just so glad to know it all turned out OK."
"With much thanks to you," DJ smiled, and reached into his jacket’s inside pocket and pulled out an envelope. "One of the other things I remembered you saying was that you don’t get the chance to see your sons and their families very often, and Admiral Nelson wanted to make our Thank You a bit more tangible. This is an open pass accepted by several different airlines. It will let you fly anywhere, anytime, and as often as you want, as long as you make your reservations at least two weeks in advance," and he started to hand the envelope to Toni.
"I can’t accept that," Toni said adamantly and refused to take it. "I was just doing my job."
"You not only can accept it," Mr. Morton said sternly, "you have to. If you don’t you’re likely to have Admiral Nelson blow in again." He started to smile. "And you really don’t want that to happen."
DJ looked embarrassed. "Please," and he held out the envelope again. "When the Admiral gets set on something there’s usually no changing his mind. And I’d like you to accept it as well. I owe you so much…"
This time Toni took it, although a bit hesitantly. "If you’re sure…"
"Trust me, the Admiral can afford it," Mr. Morton said with a smile. "Who do you think paid Lee’s bill?"
"I do seem to remember Dr. Rogers saying that after you all left, he found a personal check at the Nurses’ Station that more than covered the bills," and noticed DJ and the blond exchange glances.
But DJ suddenly sighed heavily and Toni noticed the blond stiffen again. "Lee, we’d better get going," Mr. Morton said quietly.
Toni seemingly casually took DJ’s arm and walked with the two toward the elevator. The look she got from DJ told her he understood her ploy, but he said nothing until they stopped and the blond punched the down button. "Anyway, thanks again," DJ finally said quietly, and smiled that shy little smile Toni had grown to love.
But instead of smiling back, at least immediately, she drew herself up again and looked at him sternly. "You take care of yourself, young man, or I’ll use this ticket to come out there and tan your hide but good."
Before DJ could say anything, the blond broke in. "Say," Mr. Morton seemed to smirk, "didn’t I hear Jamie say he was looking for a good nurse in the Med Bay? Something about getting one you couldn’t intimidate?" The grin on his face changed to a soft chuckle, the harder DJ glared at him.
But suddenly the glare turned into an expression Toni had never seen on DJ’s face before, a grin that was positively evil. Mr. Morton’s expression changed to one of puzzlement, but it was to Toni that DJ spoke. "Not such a bad idea after all. I would love seeing you get your hands on Chip." Toni knew exactly to what he was referring, and they shared a grin, purposely not explaining.
Toni went so far as to give the blond an appraising look. "He’d be no problem," she told DJ confidently, and was rewarded with his soft laughter as Mr. Morton suddenly looked uncomfortable. But the elevator doors opened and the blond stepped in, holding them for his friend.
"Seems Chip’s all of a sudden in a hurry," DJ said lightly, with a teasing grin.
"Impatient young man," Toni agreed sternly, but couldn’t keep the smile off her face. "Definitely needs to be taught some manners."
"Afraid that’s hopeless," DJ snickered, then laughed outright at the snort that comment brought from the blond. "Take care, Mrs. Casey."
Toni looked at the tall man fondly. "I believe that’s my line, young man," then continued firmly. "And I’d better at least get a card now and then."
"Yes, Ma’am," DJ responded obediently, and stepped aboard the elevator. The last sight Toni had of him as the doors closed was that shy little smile she’d come to love so much. Reluctantly she headed back for the Nurses’ Lounge and her interrupted lunch. As she ate quickly so she could get back to work she patted the envelope in her pocket, wondering how much of a side trip it would require to visit Santa Barbara on her way to Seattle.