Caroline Is Screaming

St. Martin’s Rehabilitation Hospital Medical Wing, Intensive Care Unit Room: 114

Name: Jennifer Irving, patient 27D

Date: August 5, 1987

Initial Observation: Caroline is screaming.

Further Description: You can see it in the tight folds around her brow and her eyes, that slight tremble in her jaw, and the protruding veins in her neck, too dark against her paper-pale skin.

Her nurses are telling her to relax. Just take a deep breath and relax. But they don’t know what “relax” means to her.

To Caroline, relax means: “Swallow the truth, shove it down hard, and smile, girl. Just be normal. No one needs to know. Relax, act normal, and everything will be fine.”

But everything is not fine. Caroline cannot relax. And now, finally, finally, she is screaming.

Jenny was the first to make the observation. “She’s screaming…I think,” she offered, her voice warbling in the cold, white room.

Behind her, Nurse Vaughn ever so slightly cleared her throat. “Write about it in your observation report if that’s what you think.” She motioned to the clipboard on Jenny’s lap.

Jenny bit her lip and pressed her clipboard to her chest. “I did.”

Anya held hers up. “Me, too.” Below her identification, she had scribbled one short, sloppy sentence. The rest of the page was filled with a sketch of a woman’s face with wild hair, dark, empty eyes and a mouth gaping wide.

“Oh my,” Nurse Vaughn said, glancing from the picture to the patient in the bed and back.

Jenny gasped. “You made her look like a banshee.”

“You said she’s screaming.” Anya shrugged. “I drew it.”

“She can’t be. She’s not making any noise,” Nurse Evans said. She pursed her lips and shook her head. “Patient 42F hasn’t made a peep since she came in two weeks ago.”

“Caroline,” Anya corrected her. “Her name is Caroline.”

“That’s right,” the nurse confirmed, patting the patient file in her hands.

“Caroline…” Jenny whispered. “It’s nice to meet you.”

Memo from Dr. Jameson to Nurse Evans:

Has Patient 27D had prior contact with Patient 42F? Her observation report from this week suggests she has. Please double check before next week’s appointment.

Memo from Nurse Evans to Dr. Jameson:

Negative, sir. As prescribed, this week’s “Patient-to-Patient” therapy session was Patient 27D’s first meeting with Patient 42F. I apologize for her inappropriate, assumptive, self-focused notes. I must not have explained the exercise well enough. I will thoroughly review the rules with her before next week.

Memo from Dr. Jameson to Nurse Evans:

Do not intervene. Patient 27D’s comments appear to be subconsciously self-reflective. Share her observation reports with her lead therapist (Dr. Pratt, I presume), noting potential unresolved childhood trauma. Do no more than that.

St. Martin’s Rehabilitation Hospital Medical Wing, Intensive Care Unit Room: 114

Name: Jennifer Irving, patient 27D

Date: August 12, 1987

Initial Observation: Caroline is weeping.

Further Description: I can hear it in her raspy, stuttering intake of breath. It tugs in the edges of her nostrils three little times, just ever so slightly. Then she pauses half a heartbeat before exhaling hard and fast, the air hissing out through her clenched teeth.

I close my eyes to listen. “…in, two, three…OUT…in, two, three…OUT…in, two, three…OUT…” The pattern never alters. It reminds me of the rhythmic “Hee, hee, hee, hooo!” of a pregnant woman fighting her way through a labor contraction. But here, there will be no sweet, pink baby to lay in a triumphant mother’s arms. That thought makes me open my eyes and shake myself.

This cold, white hospital room holds no such hopeful joy. Here there is no end to the bagged liquid dripping into the bedridden patient’s veins. No end to the monitors taped to her skin, dutifully recording her steady heart rate. The bouncing, squiggly line and that obnoxious “beep, tick, beep, tick, beep, tick, beep…” on the machine beside her bed make my skin crawl. “Patient is alive and well,” they seem to declare.

But is she really?

Caroline is weeping and fighting and screaming, and I haven’t the slightest idea how to help her.

“Jennifer?” It was Nurse Vaughn. “Are you all right?”

Jenny wiped at her damp cheeks as she turned away from the bed. She shrugged. “I just don’t know what we’re doing here.”

“Helping.” Nurse Vaughn smiled gently.

Anya snorted. “We sit in this room doing nothing for two hours every Wednesday afternoon. How exactly does that help Caroline?” She squinted down at the Observation Report in her lap where she was drawing a spiraling maze for that day’s “Further Description.”

“Have patience,” Nurse Evans said, frowning and clucking her tongue. “These things take time.”

Memo from Dr. Jameson to Nurse Vaughn:

Please encourage Patient 14B to include more than three words on each of her observation reports. Drawing is allowed, but it is not to be the sum total of her report.

Memo from Nurse Vaughn to Dr. Jameson: Noted, sir.

Memo from Nurse Evans to Dr. Jameson:

Your “Patient-to-Patient” Therapy program seems to be running well, but I am concerned about one particular grouping, Patients 27D & 14B visiting Patient 42F. In their session this afternoon, Patient 27D appeared delusional. Her observation report corroborates this. I suggest you have Dr. Denovan increase appropriate medications. I could speak to him myself if you would like.

Memo from Dr. Jameson to Nurse Evans:

Thank you, Nurse Evans. Do not contact Dr. Denovan. I will see to what needs to be done.

St. Martin’s Rehabilitation Hospital Medical Wing, Intensive Care Unit Room: 114

Name: Jennifer Irving, patient 27D

Date: August 19, 1987

Initial Observation:

Caroline can hear me!!

Further Description:

At least she could for a moment there. Oh my–my hands are shaking so hard I can barely write. Dr. Jameson isn’t going to be able to read a single word of this. Oh dear–okay, three deep breaths. There. No, three more. Now, let me see if I can write this properly, because today I have a story to tell! Here’s hoping there’s enough room on this form.

Caroline’s room smells like a funeral parlor today. It’s awful. When Anya and I arrived, a heavy aroma like soapy, half-rotting orchids enveloped us at the door. I held my breath, and Anya actually choked and coughed. Nurse Vaughn and Nurse Evans were already in the room, standing just inside the door. The smell (perfume??) was strongest near them, so we sat as far away as possible, which just happened to be right by the head of Caroline’s bed. I’ve never been so close to her. Usually we sit five or six feet away, but today my knees are pressing against her blankets right where they tuck in under her arms. The shoulder ties of her hospital gown are hanging down against my leg. I had to wear one of those gowns every day and night my first two weeks here. The gowns made my skin smell like bleach and mothballs. I hate that smell. Sitting here now, I can’t catch even the slightest suggestion of it. That sickly floral scent smothers it completely.

To distract ourselves, Anya and I began whispering to one another. That was unusual, too. Normally, we just watch and take notes or try to say loud, simple encouraging things to Caroline. She never responds, of course, but today, oh my–I’m still trembling. Anya started talking about how, when she was a teenager, she once bought this whole case of blue nail polish. But not just any blue: electric teal. She liked the color so much, she painted her fingers and toes every week until it ran out. She told me it was the color of the evening sky just where it borders a red and purple sunset over the Arizona desert in the spring. (Isn’t that beautiful?) She closed her eyes when she said that. She said she could smell the crisp, open airiness of it. She said electric teal smelled like freedom.

(Note: turn page over. There’s more on the back!)

I told Anya I don’t think I know what freedom smells like. But then she opened her eyes and admitted that the orchids were too overpowering. (They were. They still are.) We both snickered.

I told her that I had electric purple nail polish once. I was little, and it was the kind that peeled off in rubbery chunks five minutes after you painted it on. It was scented, too. It smelled like grape popsicles, and the scent was really strong. “If we had some of that on our fingernails now,” I told Anya. “We could hold them up under our noses to ward off the evil dead smell.” I smashed my fingers against my nose as I said it. We both burst out laughing, and then Caroline moved! She really did! The left side of her tight, trembling mouth pulled upward once and then again! Almost like she was trying to smile! Her heart rate went up, too, but Nurse Evans said that was just because Anya and I jumped up and started shouting. She said some other things, too, that were really mean!

Neither of the nurses believe us. They both frowned and shushed us like we had done something wrong. This is our third week in the “Patient-To-Patient” Therapy Program. Everyone else is making friends by now, sharing stories, crying together, and holding hands. All Anya and I have been doing is sitting and staring at poor, broken Caroline.

But now I know that she can hear me. Now I know she’s not just screaming and weeping in frozen silence. Caroline can hear me, and that makes all the difference! (No matter what Nurse Evans says.)

Anya is shouting at the nurses now. Nurse Evans told her that a patient suffering from severe unresponsive catatonia could not smile in response to a silly story. Anya clearly disagrees. I do, too. I think Nurse Evans must be the one wearing the noxious perfume. And, oh dear, I think we’re about to be kicked out. — Dr. Jameson, I hope you can read my shaky scribbled writing! Please believe me. Caroline smiled at us!

“That was bullshit,” Anya hissed out the side of her mouth as she and Jenny were escorted back to their rooms. “We know what we saw. Caroline twitched because of what you said. Don’t forget that.”

“No talking, please,” Nurse Evans said. “And Jennifer, take two steps to your left please. Remember, ladies, as soon as you exit Patient 42F’s room, you begin your private processing time.”

“Reflect and ponder,” Nurse Vaughn added.

Jenny glanced toward Anya and nodded once before moving away. Neither spoke again until they reached the East Wings dormitories.

As Anya stepped into her room, she paused with one hand wrapped tightly around the door jamb. Then she turned back just enough to catch Jenny’s eye. “Don’t forget it,” she said. “You made a real connection with Caroline. You–”

“That’s enough,” Nurse Evans said, then she forcibly removed Anya’s hand and closed the door.

Memo from Dr. Pratt to Dr. Jameson:

Jenny Irving (Pt.27D) came into her one-on-one therapy session with me today in tears. She informed me that Nurse Evans had accused her of lying and of inventing “dangerous fantasies.” It took nearly our entire hour together for me to calm her and acquire an explanation. Apparently, in her “Patient-to-Patient” session today, what Jenny saw as breakthrough communication with Caroline Martin (Pt.42F), Nurse Evans immediately condemned it as imaginary nothingness. In Jenny’s words, Nurse Evans acted “really angry, like we had personally offended her.” My opinion coincides. While I didn’t bring it up last week, Nurse Evans also overstepped her role then. Last week, she directly criticized Jenny’s “P-to-P” observation report, telling her she was making up stories about being a maternity ward nurse. I have read that particular OR of Jenny’s. She makes no such claims. I believe she was referring to her time as a teenager working alongside an aunt who was a midwife (Ref: Pt.27D Patient History, page 7). Personally, I found the reference insightful and poignant. Nurse Evans’ behavior, on the other hand, alarms and troubles me.

Memo from Dr. Jameson to Dr. Pratt: Thank you for the update. Your concerns are noted.

Memo from Dr. Jameson to Nurse Evans:

See me immediately.

St. Martin’s Rehabilitation Hospital Medical Wing, Intensive Care Unit Room: 132

Name: Jennifer Irving, patient 27D

Date: August 26, 1987

Initial Observation:

Caroline is dying.

Further Description:

I can feel it in that strange, tight, tingling sensation at the back of my throat and under my arms. Both Anya and I have goosebumps. Caroline’s doctors had her moved to a new room last night, 132, at the very end of the hall. That’s the room patients move to who have very little time and no hope left. There are more tubes and wires sprouting from Caroline today than we have seen all month. And more machines punching out numbers on paper lists. There are too many people in her room. Nurse Vaugn is by the door as usual, but she’s accompanied by Head Nurse Lyle today. Franco, the hispanic security guard is standing by the window, watching us. I don’t recognize the other guard. (Why are there guards here, Dr. Jameson? And why was Nurse Evans supplanted by the head nurse?) This room feels stuffy and prickly all at once. I don’t like it at all.

Caroline just lies there, of course, frozen in pain and terror as always. Anya is pacing tight strides along the side of the bed. She’s mumbling to herself while she walks, rubbing her hands up and down her pebbled forearms, and glaring down at Caroline. She jumps every time someone shifts a foot or clears a throat. She’s sweating, too. That worries me. I think Anya might be palming her meds again. Maybe it’s good she’s on the side of the bed by the guards. She’s angry no one will share Caroline’s patient history with us, and she’s frustrated that no doctors will talk with us about the physical movement we saw in Caroline last week. (Why not, Dr. Jameson??) It’s like it never happened.

Me, I’m just trying to get close to Caroline again. I gently laid a hand on her forearm when I greeted her. Her skin felt cold and clammy under my fingers and palm. I shivered, but I tried not to let it show. Then Nurse Lyle told me I wasn’t “to touch the patient without prescribed instruction,” whatever that means. It’s hard to breathe in this stuffy little box of a room. But looking into Caroline’s eyes, I don’t think that bothers her. I don’t think she’s here at all today. She’s not responding to anything I say, even when I lean over her, practically nose-to-nose. This close, I can see that there are strange marks on the side of her neck, four pale half-moon scars along one side; one on the other. They look like permanent fingernail impressions. I wonder–

Hang on, someone is knocking at the door. Please tell me there aren’t more people coming in. I think it’s a doctor…

… (Oh my! Turn page over for more!) …

Our visitor wasn’t a doctor. He was an orthopedic physical therapist! Dr. Jameson sent him to show us how to massage Caroline’s arms, hands, calves, ankles, and feet to improve blood flow and keep her joints limber. (Thank you, Dr. Jameson!!) I was hesitant to touch her at first, but then Anya sat down on the side of the bed, lifted one of Caroline’s stiff, heavy arms, and pressed her cheek against her half-fisted hand. Anya tilted her head so that she could look Caroline in the eye, and then she said, “I see you, Caroline,” with her jaw and the side of her lips moving against the skin on the back of Caroline’s hand. I almost burst into tears.

The PT said, “You’re going to do very well at this, I think.” He was smiling as he sat down at the foot of the bed.

By the time he left, the muscles of my hands and arms were aching with fatigue. Then Nurse Lyle stepped forward grinning like she had a puppy in her pocket. But it wasn’t a puppy she pulled out; it was a bottle of blue nail polish! (Thank you again, Dr. Jameson!) It’s not electric teal, but my fingers and toes feel electrified wearing it. I can’t stop wiggling them and admiring them! Anya and I painted Caroline’s fingernails and toenails and then our own. The tile floor is cold under my bare feet, but it’s a deliciously alive chill. I still feel like crying, silly as that is. I think I might let myself, when I get back to my room. It’s a good feeling, like an old dam buried deep within that is ready to burst open and wash me clean.

Caroline looks more relaxed now. Her hands don’t look like they’re about to claw through the covers anymore. They’re resting nicely at her sides. I told Nurse Lyle that her face looked calmer and happier, too, but she said I was probably just projecting my own emotions onto the patient. I don’t think so. I remember my first few weeks here, how badly I wanted to be touched, to have someone just draw near enough to let me know I was still a real, whole, living human being.

Restful and dolled up, Caroline is beautiful. Despite all the wires and tubes and this hopeless room. Even if she can’t see her fingers and toes. She can feel it. I know she can, because I can, too.

“Pssst,” Anya hissed as they walked back to their rooms. “I have a plan.”

“What?” Jenny mouthed.

“Did you see the tattoo on the inside of Caroline’s right elbow? It said ‘Hesed.’”

“What?” Jenny mouthed again.

“Hesed,” Anya whispered. “It means covenant love.” She grabbed Jenny’s arm, pulling her close, and pressed her mouth to her ear. “We’re going to break Caroline out of here. I have a plan. Sit with me at lunch tomorrow. I’ll tell you everything.” She winked as the nurses pulled them apart and funneled them into their rooms.

Memo from Head Nurse Lyle to Dr. Jameson:

The “Patient-to-Patient” therapy session with Jennifer I. and Anya S. today was a resounding success! (Ref: Attached Observation Reports from Pt. 27D and Pt. 14B) My one concern was the two security guards sent by Dr. Denovan. They lent a sense of stress and oppression to the room that I was worried wouldn’t lift before the PT came. But, the mood shifted quickly when he arrived. At the end, both visiting girls were wreathed in proud smiles and more open and relaxed than I have ever seen either one. This is an excellently paired group, sir, if I may say so. I see much potential for healing here.

Memo from Dr. Jameson to Head Nurse Lyle:

Thank you, Nurse Lyle. Your nail polish idea seems to have sparked quite a bit of joy as well. I appreciate your willingness to step in and help this trio of young women.

Memo from Dr. Jameson to Dr. Denoven:

Two security guards is a bit excessive, don’t you think?

Memo from Dr. Denovan to Dr. Jameson:

Patient safety is my highest priority, Dr. Jameson. You of all people should know that. Unmedicated, Patient 14B is prone to violence. (Ref: Pt.14B Patient History, page 22, Alexithymia) If Patient 14B agrees to start taking her medications again, instead of palming and disposing of them, I will consider reducing her supervision. — Have Dr. Pratt make the suggestion. Patient 14B responds well to his emotion laden suggestions.

Memo from Dr. Jameson to Dr. Denovan:


Memo from Dr. Jameson to Dr. Pratt:

In your personal session with Patient 14B this week, please strongly encourage her to restart proper medication schedules.

Memo from Dr. Pratt to Dr. Jameson:

No need. Anya’s (Pt.14B) personal detail made quite a sensation at Group Therapy last night. Within five minutes, three separate patients were shouting and one was standing on his chair. The guard count immediately tripled, which did not initially help the situation. (Ref: Incident Report 37H4, submitted first thing this morning.) Luckily, one of the guards, Franco Marcón, had a deck of cards on hand. He cut the tension with a few magic tricks. He did a marvelous job, despite his limited grasp of English. Within ten minutes every patient was seated calmly. By the end of the session, all were affirming Anya’s need to take her medications. Overall, it was a positive, productive session. Officer Marcón deserves to be commended for his quick, intuitive response to the situation.

Memo from Dr. Jameson to Dr. Pratt:

Noted. Thank you, Dr. Pratt.

St. Martin’s Rehabilitation Hospital Medical Wing, Intensive Care Unit Room: 142

Name: Jennifer Irving, patient 27D

Date: September 2, 1987

Initial Observation:

Today, we’re going to set Caroline free!

Further Description:

Anya and I have gone over our plan every day since last Wednesday. It’s flawless. At least, Anya thinks so. I’m trying not to let my nerves show. Only, my mouth has gone all chalky, and I can taste bile on the back of my tongue. What if we fail? They’d lock us up in solitary for sure. Oh dear, Anya just cleared her throat and shot me a warning look. I had better take a deep breath and stop tapping my foot. I wish I could have a drink of water. Lemon water, yes, that would help. Or iced with some mint or cucumber so it’d be oh-so-refreshing, aaahhh.

At least it’s a little quieter in here today and less crowded. Nurse Vaughn is ill, so only Head Nurse Lyle is here supervising. Also, on Monday, Anya agreed to start taking her meds again so long as they dismissed the guards from Caroline’s room during our visits. Apparently, that worked. Fully medicated, Anya is no longer considered a threat to Patient 42F–bleh.

Caroline looks the same as she did at the start of our visit last week. I wonder if anyone has touched her since we were here? Today, we began right away with the therapeutic massage that her PT taught us. It’s easier the second time. There’s something so tranquil about running my hands down Caroline’s forearm, gently pressing into her muscles in long, slow strokes. When I circle my thumb across the palm of her hand and stretch her fingers straight by running mine up and down hers, I can’t help but smile at our matching blue nail polish. Yesterday, I asked Dr. Jameson if the three of us could paint a fresh coat on our nails today. He worked out a way to have it done this morning, so that it wouldn’t take up our “Patient-to-Patient” time.

I’m sitting on Caroline’s right side today, so I can see her tattoo while I’m working. There’s a delicate, pretty scrollwork curl around the word “Hesed.” Anya told me it was Hebrew. She said that her pastor preached about it once during a church wedding. That doesn’t make much sense to me, but I love what she says it means anyway. Hesed…covenant love…it’s such a beautiful thought. I wonder if Caroline ever experienced that kind of love before she was swallowed by hatred and dumped in here.

Today, Caroline’s room smells like lavender. I did that. I mean, it was my idea to ask for relaxing, scented lotion to use in our massage work. (Thank you for hearing me, Dr. Jameson.) Mmm…it smells good. I haven’t smelled lavender in ages. At least, it feels like ages.

Haha! Anya just held out her observation report so I could see it. She wrote the word Hesed over and over in the shape of a heart. She sure has a peculiar way of interpreting these assignments. She’s standing and stretching now. That’s our sign. It’s time!

Thank you, Dr. Jameson, for bringing Anya, Caroline, and me together. Thank you for helping me see that we are all whole, real human beings and we all deserve to be loved. I will never, never forget that.

“Nurse Lyle?” Anya said as she scooted her chair away from the bed and set her observation report down on the seat. “Jennifer and I would like to pray with Caroline today.”

Jenny followed suit with a nervous twitch.

“That’s very sweet of you.” Nurse Lyle smiled at them both and wrote a few notes on her clipboard.

Anya folded her hands in front of her and took a deep breath. “We would like to pray, just the three of us. May we have a few minutes, if it would be alright, alone with Caroline?” She unfolded her hands and extended them toward the head nurse. “With you right outside the door and with the door ajar, of course. Would that be alright?” She laced her fingers together again. “Just for a few minutes?”

Nurse Lyle pursed her lips and tapped her pen against the edge of her clipboard. “Three minutes,” she said at last. “Yes, that would be acceptable.”

Anya exhaled but before she could respond, Nurse Lyle opened the door and made a beckoning motion. Franco stepped in, nodding to Nurse Lyle’s rapid instructions in Spanish. “Tres minutos,” she concluded.

“He’s going to be here?” Jenny asked, the last word squeaking. “Why?”

“I thought there weren’t going to be any more security guards,” Anya said, crossing her arms.

“He’s here to keep you and Caroline safe while I’m out of the room.” Nurse Lyle answered, tucking her clipboard under one arm. She tapped her wrist watch. “Three minutes.” Then she stepped out, closing the door halfway behind her.

Jenny spun so her back was to the door and the guard. “What do we do now?” she whispered.

“We continue with the plan,” Anya answered. “He’s not going to stop us.”

“How do you know that?”

“First, he can’t understand hardly anything we say. Second, he’s Catholic.” She motioned toward Caroline. “Just wait by the head of the bed, like we planned.” Jenny complied, and Anya turned toward the security guard. “Franco,” she said, licking her lips. “Por favor.” She made the sign of the cross in the air before her then pressed her palms together reverently.

Franco nodded. He fished a rosary out of his front pocket and bent his head.

Jenny was watching the interaction out of the side of her eye. She bit her lip then gathered the top edge of Caroline’s covers in her hands.

“Por favor,” Anya repeated, motioning for Franco to turn away and give them privacy. He nodded again, glanced at the half-open door, then turned so that the bed was in his profile.

Anya stepped quickly up to the head of the bed opposite Jenny and picked up a corner of covers. “You ready?” she whispered.

Jenny nodded then frowned. “But wait, shoes and socks first, right?”

“Shoot, that’s right. Thanks.”

Both girls bent a moment then stood, stretching and wiggling their blue-painted toes against the cold floor tiles.

“Covers next,” Anya instructed.

Jenny held her breath as the two of them pulled Caroline’s rough sheet and blanket down below her feet. Then she straightened the hospital gown around Caroline’s knees while Anya shifted the tangle of tubes and wires out of their way.

Behind them, Franco grunted. “Señoritas,” he said.

Anya pressed a finger to her lips to hush him. “Por favor,” she hissed through her teeth.

“Is that all the Spanish you know?” Jenny asked. Franco grunted again, and she jumped with a squeak.

Anya shot her a glare. “We’re running out of time. Let’s go.”

In one fluid motion, both girls lay down in the bed on either side of Caroline. Each lifted one comatose hand into her own, weaving her blue-tipped fingers through Caroline’s until their hands were clasped. Jenny shivered as she and Anya criss-crossed their arms over Caroline’s chest. Anya wiggled forward, wrapping her knees, calves, and feet around Caroline’s inert ones, and Jenny did the same.

“Ready?” Anya asked.

Jenny pushed her hair out of her face with her free hand. “Yes,” she said. Sucking in a sharp breath, she leaned in and kissed Caroline on the cheek. Then she turned her face to the ceiling as Anya did the same.

Beside them, Franco cleared his throat and pocketed his string of beads. He clapped his hands twice. “All done, señoritas.”

“One,” Anya said, her voice loud and firm.

“Ladies.” This time it was Nurse Lyle at the door. “That is not appropriate. Not at all.”

Jenny scooted closer and took a deep breath.

“Two,” both girls said together.

Franco laid a hand on Jenny’s hip. “Done now. Up, señorita,” he called out.

She wrapped her free arm around Caroline’s waist, and Anya’s arm followed hers. They gripped one another tight. “Th–ree!” they tried to shout in unison. The word stuck in Jenny’s throat as Franco jammed a hand beneath her and pulled her half out of the bed. She gasped and gritted her teeth, twisting in his grip. Anya grabbed at her shirt and yanked the other way.

At the door, Nurse Lyle pressed the silent alarm button on the wall. She rushed toward Anya as a pair of restraint guards hustled out of the nurses station at the end of the hall and started running toward their room. Steel-toed boots clunked rhythmically along the tiled hallway floor.

Jenny twisted free of Franco’s grip at last. Her hips thunked back onto the creaky mattress, and she immediately wrapped herself more tightly around Caroline.

Anya was swatting and kicking Nurse Lyle away. “Three!” she shouted again. “Now, Jenny! Three!”

The boots in the hallway reached their door. Nurse Lyle straightened, one hand to her disheveled hair, and waved for the men to come in.

“Three,” Jenny repeated. She pressed the side of her head against Caroline’s temple and drew in a fast chest-swelling breath. Anya did the same.

Then, entangled as much as possible with the patient on the bed between them, each one of them held tight for dear life and, face upturned, screamed with everything she had in her.

Nurse Lyle’s hand dropped from her hair to her breast. Franco jumped back, startled, and grasped for the rosary beads in his pocket. The newly arrived pair of restraint guards moved forward, but Nurse Lyle stepped in front of them just as they reached her.

“Wait,” she ordered, both hands outstretched, palms up. “Just give them a moment.” She turned back to the bed. Anya’s face was beet red. Her mouth and eyes were stretched furiously wide, akin to the picture of the banshee she had drawn the first day. On the other side of the bed, Jenny had tears leaking out the corners of her tightly shut eyes. There was an edge of sobbing to her voice, and she clung to the women beside her as a drowning man would a liferaft. Caroline lay between the two, motionless as always, but also almost pulsing with the life of the bodies surrounding hers. Her features remained unchanged, but her forehead sparkled with tiny beads of sweat.

“Yes,” Nurse Lyle said with a breathy exhale. She glanced at the door where more nurses, doctors, and security personnel were swarming to the scene. She nodded to Dr. Pratt, who held the throng back with an extended arm across the doorway. He was smiling broadly while plugging one ear with the other hand.

Nurse Lyle turned back to the bed again, a smile touching her own lips. She surveyed the trio of faces, the chests swelling with air, the enfolded arms, and the tangle of legs and blue-toed feet on the bed before her. “Yes,” she repeated, her throat tightening. “I think this may be exactly what all three of these young women needed here today.”

Brianna van der Veen

Brianna van der Veen

Brianna van der Veen

Brianna van der Veen has been a writer since she was five years old building magical kingdoms in her grandfather's backyard vegetable garden. While fiction is her native language, all of her published work thus far has been nonfiction, in the school paper in high school and in college, then for Eternal Encouragement Magazine and TEACH Magazine as a home school mom in her twenties and thirties. The last few years most of her writing has been an aid and means of expression in healing from violent trauma. Serious stuff. On the bright side, Brianna often bakes sweets in her kitchen in order to come up with just the right words. This evening, for example, her home is filled with the rich, flirtatious smell of chocolate cake about to be served. With frosting and sprinkles, of course.

  • Kathie Evenhouse
    12:55 PM, 15 April 2024

    How moving! So much to think about. I will read this again and again.

    • Brianna van der Veen
      8:34 PM, 15 April 2024

      Thank you, Kathie. That’s a compliment for sure!
      This story was a significant one for me to write. I am blessed to know it was one like that for you to read.

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