PrologueBayside Hospital San Francisco, California Room 316 Friday, February 13 NOW
They think I'm going to die.
I hear it in their whispered words.
They think I can't hear them, but I can, and I'm listening to every single syllable they utter.
"No!" I want to scream. "I'm alive. I'm not giving up. I will fight back."
But I can't speak.
Can't utter one damned word.
My voice is stilled, just as my eyes won't open. Try as I might, I can't lift the lids.
All I know is that I'm lying in a hospital bed, and I know that I'm barely alive. I hear the whispers, the comments, the soft-soled shoes on the floor. Everyone thinks I'm in a coma, unable to hear them, to respond, but I know what's going on. I just can't move, can't communicate. Somehow, I have to let them know. My condition is bad, they claim. I understand the terms ruptured spleen, broken pelvis, concussion, brain trauma, but, damn it, I can hear them! I feel the stretch of skin at the back of my hand where the IV pulls; smell the scents of perfume, medicine, and resignation. The stethoscope is ice cold, the blood pressure cuff too tight, and I try like hell to show some sign that I'm aware, that I can feel. I try to move, just lift a finger or let out a long moan, but I can't.
It scares me to death.
I'm hooked up to machines that monitor my heartbeat and breathing and God only knows what else. Not that it does any good. All the high-tech machines that are tracking body functions aren't providing the hospital staff with any hope or clue that I know what's going on.
I'm trapped in my body, and it's a living hell.
Once again I strain ... concentrating to raise the index finger of my right hand, to point at whoever next enters the room. Up, I think, raise the tip up off the bedsheets. The effort is painful ... so hard. Isn't anyone watching the damned monitor? I must be registering an elevated pulse, an accelerated heart rate, some damn thing!
All that effort. Wasted.
Worse yet, I've heard the gossip; some of the nurses think I would be better off dead ... but they don't know the truth.
I hear footsteps. Heavier than the usual. And the vague scent of lingering cigar smoke. The doctor! He's been in before.
"Let's take a look, shall we?" he says to whomever it is who's accompanied him, probably the nurse with the cold hands and cheery, irritating voice.
"She's still not responsive." Sure enough, the chipper one. "I haven't seen any positive change in her vitals. In fact ... well, see for yourself."
What does she mean? And why does her voice sound so resigned? Where's the fake, peppy inspiration in her tone?
"Hmmm," the doctor says in his baritone voice. Then his hands are on me. Gently touching and poking, lifting my eyelid and shining a harsh beam directly into my lens. It's blinding, and surely my body will show some response. A blink or flinch or ...
"Looks like you're right," he says, turning off the light and backing away from the bed. "She's declining rapidly."
No! That's wrong! I'm here. I'm alive. I'm going to get better!
I can't believe what I'm hearing, and should be hyperventilating, should be going into cardiac arrest at the very words. Can't you see that I'm stressing? Don't the damned monitors show that I'm alive and aware and that I want to live? Oh God, how I want to live!
"The family's been asking," the nurse prods. "About how long she has."
My family? They've already put me in the grave? That can't be right! I don't believe it. I'm still alive, for God's sake. How did I come to this? But I know. All too vividly I can remember every moment of my life and the events leading up to this very second.
"Doctor?" the nurse whispers.
"Tell them twenty-four hours," he says solemnly. "Maybe less."