Tennessee Writer: Death of a Blogger ExcerptPrologue and Chapter One
of the World's First Blogospheric Mystery Novel...Previously
goes to Chapters Seven...And now for Chapters Eight and Nine...
Chapter Eight: Strangers
Sharon walked into the hospital, feeling sympathy for the crying family in the corner of the large waiting room with its dozens of soft, yet durable chairs, and yet registering their presence as another drain on her vital energies. Surprising herself, she prayed for them as she got on the elevator next to a man who had an arm in a sling, and leaned on a cane for the other arm.
Seeing her sideways glance at his assorted, he gave a crooked smile.
“Not a good idea to try to dance on the roof.”
“Dance?” She asked, not able to help herself.
“Yes, I was showing off to the wife, and well, like the fool I‘ve always been, a missed step, and roll and splat. Doctors said I was lucky.”
Sharon pursed her lips wanting to laugh, and wanting to shake her head in disapproval, and he burst out laughing from behind his black with gray streaked beard.
“My wife had the exact same expression when she came over and saw I was still alive. After she got calmed down and all.”
“It doesn’t sound like you are too repentant.”
“Nope, I’m a legend in my own time. I decided I might as well embrace my idiocy since it always seemed to catch up with me anyways. You’re Charlie Walker’s wife aren’t you?”
“Yes, how did you know?”
“I’m a techie believe it or not, read his blog a lot, seen your picture last year, mostly lurked, not talking, but learning a lot. He had a weird sense of humor when it came to politics, and really nice children.”
With a sense of unreality, Sharon turned to the fellow.
“And your handle is?”
“MaxtotheMax. The way I like to live. No brakes, just a gas pedal.”
“Well, small world indeed, and I’d say you have a few breaks now.” Sharon remembered his kind words suddenly from her second post. He’d been one of a crowd wishing her well.
The elevator stopped, and she made to go, but he reached out an awkward broken arm to touch the arm of the silk blouse she wore.
“He will be okay, ma’am. Like me, he’s got something worth living for.”
She brushed a tear out of her eye with the back of her hand, and tried to smile, but it came out very crooked indeed.
“Thanks, Max. You’re a knight in shining armor. Any woman would be glad to have such a romantic hero worshipping her.”
Max laughed, but only for a second, and with a kind expression tugged on his blue jean jacket as if disagreeing with the part about shining armor, and then gave her a short knightly salute with two fingers to his head over the heads of the other people who clambered on to the elevator. Sharon turned and walked down a long corridor, through a set of double doors, to the right, past a new receptionist who made her sign in, and another zag to the left, and another to the right, and she was outside Charlie’s room. There she leaned against the wall to absorb the moment, to recover her balance, or something.
The touch of a nurse’s hand on her elbow brought her head around, and the nurse looked into her eyes with a concerned and steady gaze. Sharon feebly flapped her hand in an attempt at saying that it was all right, and the nurse went. But not before patting her on the shoulder.
Stepping into her husband’s room that he shared with an empty bed, she spoke his name with sadness weighting it down. And then she heard her name in response, and for one half of a second, thought her husband returned to her, but then the door opened fully. Charlie’s older brother, by three years, Sam (whom they had named their eldest after) stood there with his gray eyes looking with keen understanding from across the room after he saw her crestfallen face. His wife, Leslie, and their three children, two girls and a boy, like her family, were standing in a cluster slightly closer to the bed of their fallen uncle.
Looking at Sam, with his more weather-worn face, for he ran a dozen miles each day to make up for his previous smoking, and both made him look nearly a decade older, she thought she might be almost seeing the future. The eye color was a bit different, and the height was several inches taller, the chin was larger and Sam had no beginning of a potbelly, but other than that this was her husband.
He came across and hugged her.
“Hey, kiddo. We just flew in and got a hotel.”
Sharon smiled into his shoulder. Ever since they had met in Charlie’s apartment, and she had wrongly guessed his age to be much higher, he had done his best to play the part of the old graybeard with her, even though only a handful of years separated them. Leslie had been grateful for her mis-perception. Said it had been the final straw that let him know the smoking really was affecting him.
“Hi poppa.” Sharon replied.
Leslie came trailed by her kids, the youngest was Samuel‘s age, and everyone hugged again.
“We don’t want you to have to take care of us. We want to take care of you. Let’s go to dinner. You look exhausted.” Leslie said.
“That bad, huh?” Sharon asked touching her hair with wry embarrassment.
“I want to stay awhile.” Sharon said, unable to leave right away. They nodded, and settled in for a quiet visit.
A nurse came in, smiled vaguely, and began to strip Charlie’s shirt.
“Time for a bath.”
“Time for me and the kids to visit the snack room.” Uncle Sam the Elder announced with quiet briskness. Leslie followed him a few seconds later, but stopped for a pat on Sharon’s shoulder, and a neck hug as Sharon sank into a chair.
To give herself something to do while a strange woman bathed her husband, she reached down beside the chair at the foot of the bed for the rumpled up black t-shirt she had yet to carry home. Folding it neatly took her a moment that allowed her to compose herself.
“Is your husband allergic to something?”
“Uh, well a bit of pollen, sometimes, rarely cats. I think that’s where our daughter Jenna gets it. But she has it much stronger.”
“No, this is not that. Probably not a big deal.” The nurse had Charlie laying on his right side. She pointed a long arm with elegantly tight fingers toward Charlie’s unclothed left shoulder. A rash, with some individual bumps of a reddish nature, and a general unevenness of the skin about a palms-width, lies on his shoulder.
Sharon shrugged her shoulders. The kids were always getting a little rash, here and there. The nurse nodded and agreed with her assessment. It was probably nothing, but still, just to be safe, she entered a note on it in Charlie’s medical records.
Reaching down, she pulled up off the floor a small metal pin, black, and curiously examined it before tossing it into the garbage can.
“Can’t have sharps laying about.” Nurse Carly explained. “Especially after getting dumped on the floor. Anything viral that can survive living on our floor after the extremely serious disinfectants we dump on it is a really tough little beastie that you don’t want visiting you.”
So saying she changed her gloves, and got another pair, and then continued to wash Charlie with Sharon’s help. A few minutes later, and they were done. Sharon smiled gently at Carly who nodded in mutual appreciation of the help, and shared moment of kindness before exiting to attend to other patients in need of a bath.
Sharon bent over and gave Charlie a lingering kiss on the lips, and for a moment he seemed to react with a flutter of his eyeballs. But then nothing else about him changed. Her breath thundering in her chest, Sharon turned to run for the nurse, and then paused.
“I’ll be right back, Charlie. Don’t go anywhere.” Panting, she sprinted from the room, and lurched out into the hallway looking left and right for a nurse, any nurse, but no such authority figure appeared. A few steps to her right and around the corner, and the glassed in nurse station was empty.
Only another female, a large box-like lady, stood in the hall, and Sharon turned a glance at her full of despair for she knew her from a talk by a vending machine. Kandy, “with a K”, was here for her grandfather’s liver transplant. The poor, dear man was charming to a fault, and had also drunk a fifth every day since he was sixteen.
Then Kandy waved a pudgy hand at her, and jabbed a finger to her own right, at a door, and suddenly Sharon, before she fully thought it out was scooting down the hallway, and with a flash of a smile to Kandy as she heard two nurse’s speak, she rounded a corner and came to a stop. Right in front of the two who had been discussing a case, and their arms were full of laundry.
“My husband, he, he…” She began and found that she was not able to string a clear sentence together. The lead nurse gently pushed her aside, and half-ran down the hallway, followed by the other who only took time to put her towels down on metal rack. Sharon stood there gaping wondering what now, and Kandy spoke from beside her after she had stepped forward.
“I think you’d better go with them, dear.”
This common sense jolted Sharon’s frazzled nerves back into working order, and she bolted down the hallway to her husband.
Entering the room, she saw them checking out his vital signs, and both wheeled to see her there with clear relief.
“What was the problem?” The lead nurse quizzed her.
“Oh, no problem. I mean. I did need you. He, his eyelids moved when I said something to him, I think, and maybe he’s…”
The lead nurse’s face went through several shifts which professionalism held at bay. She changed from annoyance at a deliberate false alarm to understanding and then to regret.
“Sharon, have a seat, why don’t you?”
Sharon shook her head, wanting to be able to see the face of her husband. He lay so sweet, and now so still. But, there had been movement; it was a sign.
“Okay, Sharon. Lots of people in comas have movements. Nervous reflexes. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything.”
“Oh.” Sharon said feeling stupid and suddenly worn down. “Like when you chop a chicken’s head off?”
“Not the example I would have used, but essentially yes. But, it’s not always certain, and we really don’t understand what is going on in the mind of a coma patient. We do have stories of people related incidents happening to them in a coma, so we really don‘t know.”
Sharon nodded, and absorbed the rest of the nurses’ counsel, and the younger nurse hugged her as they left to go back to laundry duty, and Sharon could not decide if she hated them or if she wished never to have their job. It was hard enough looking a man in the face, and telling him the IRS was going to take his children’s college fund, but to be sitting somewhere, and folding laundry and then suddenly to be thrust into life and death would be too much for her stamina.
She already felt terrifically worn down, and so she bent over Sam, kissed him, and left the room.
The dinner was pleasant, and revivifying, especially for the children who loved seeing their older, and thus cooler cousins come over to play with them. Sharon found herself explaining the situation, and then confiding to Leslie what she was doing to figure things out. The blog. Both of the two looked at her like she had suddenly evinced signs of incipient insanity, but she kept explaining with a kind of convert’s zeal, and dropping names of important doctors and such into her conversation who wanted to help her on the Net.
Those only made them think that a bunch of people were lying to her, abusing her trust, which was a step up from “possible mental patient.” Now she was just “gullible idiot.” Annoyed, she lapsed into silence, and found herself surprisingly wishing that they had not bothered to come. The strength and intensity of the feeling worried her.
Perhaps I have become too enthused, she mused, as she found herself longing for the safe and sane haven of her blog, High Mountain Travels where she was powerful, respected, and had wise councilors in plenty. Out here, I’m just Sharon; there I’m Somebody Special, a celebrity almost. And so for one second, she found that she could begin to understand the perverted mindset of Munchausen By Proxy people. They would hurt others close to them to enjoy the sympathy this generated for their suffering since they were presumed to be so sad at the pain their child or husband must feel. And Sharon felt herself happy for all the attention, but then sanity and sensible priorities reasserted themselves, and the strange insight faded to be viewed with disquiet puzzlement, as it no longer made any sense.
But, she felt more balanced, and so she ended up enjoying the rest of the dinner. And seeing her calmness of spirit made the two inquisitors wonder if perhaps they had gotten it wrong. Perhaps there was something to these blogs after all?
She went home after dropping the kids off at the hotel with her brother-in-law’s family, which hurt. The unexpected pain was from how glad her children were to play with someone else. Perhaps, she had been making herself unavailable, but then she was hardly hanging on as it was. The thought of having to help another was just too much, and outside the hotel in her car, she slumped over her driving wheel. And then just gently banged her head on it for a couple minutes as she tried to find energy to drive home.
At home, she fumbled with the keys into the door which she had used ten thousand times before, and finally let herself in as a light went on outside down the street.
I didn’t drink that much, she moaned. Only one glass of wine. Inside, she tossed her keys and the shirt from the hospital on the table, and feeling truly haggard, she wanted to go to bed, but felt like she had to take just one look at the blog. Knowing it was probably unhealthy, she booted up anyways, and sagging sideways in her chair waited through the Windows bar scrolling back and forth until finally the machine announced its willingness to serve.
A rather long comment in one of her posts on Charlie’s medical condition had set off a firestorm of replies. Nearly two hundred replies from that post, and they covered the ground from the kindly…
We all at Hooper’s Doughnut Shoppe in Corpus Christi are praying for your husband, and your family. Do you need help with anything, medical bills, perhaps? Mrs. Hooper.
Thankfully, no. It was very expensive, but they had good insurance. Part of the reason she worked was to get that insurance. Charlie made more money, but his insurance as a private contractor would have been out of sight. She replied to Mrs. Hooper, and felt a little better.
To the odd…
Vitamin B12 mixed with sprig of spearmint will do wonders for such cases. Vitamin B12.
She ignored him, hoping that he wasn’t suggesting cannibalism as he sounded like mixing himself with spearmint would be helpful.
To the chatty and intriguing…
I had a kinda similar situation five years ago. Couldn’t think of anything that might have set off this intermittent fever I was having. Ended up that I washed my car every two weeks, and I was allergic to the soap in the car wash. Now my car is dirty, and I am well. Clark Hughes.
But there was nothing that Charlie had been doing that was out of the ordinary, was there? She racked her brain, but came up with nothing for her sweat. Getting up and walking two steps forward, spin about, uh, and one step back, spin about, and uh, what next, yeah, two steps again in the tiny room did nothing to help her remember either. They lived so boring, so normal lives, and she ordinarily loved it, but right now it made her want to scream. If only she had something to help out, but she was without a clue. And her mental model was still so barren.
She looked over at the questionnaire, and paused to begin to fill it out. But sitting down let her tiredness catch up to her, and suddenly her brain was in a fog, and she dropped it on the floor, and wandered off to bed with her feet stumbling on a half-dozen steps in the carpeted staircase before she got her rhythm. Then with a hand on the wall, and one on the step three steps in front of her feet, she proceeded upwards on a seemingly infinite staircase. At last she reached the upper hallway, and stumbled past the bathroom that had sung such seductive songs to her. But now she was just too tired to even hear such a macabre siren, even if it sung. Shoving her bedroom door open took an act of will, and then she walked across the master bedroom, and flopped on the bed in the last bit of drama she had.
Fully intending to get up in a moment, and get undressed, Sharon slept.
End of Chapter Eight.
Chapter Nine: Questionnaire
Upon waking, sore, and feeling skuzzy with her crushed clothing, and her hair all-astray like a bent ball of wires, she stared in dismay at the reflection in her bedroom mirror. She hadn’t done this since Sam was a colicky baby, and she and him would fall asleep on the couch after exhaustion finally put him to sleep. But at least she felt better than last night.
All things considered, she was surprised she had not crashed on the way home last night. Looking over at her antique seeming clock with its electronic guts, she noted that it was ten o’clock in the morning. The last time she had slept so late was on her honeymoon, which might explain why she glommed so hard onto the blog. It represented a vacation.
A shower, and new clothes, and some coffee, and she felt like a new woman. Since the kids were at the hotel, and Leslie had promised last night to get them to school, Sharon found herself with an utter oddity. It had been a very long time since it had happened; she had free time on her hands. Not knowing what else to do, she headed toward her husband’s sanctum and the blog.
The questionnaire waited on the floor where she had dropped it. Re-reading last night’s few responses brought home again how tired she had been. The first was dull-witted and rambling. It went downhill from there to the fifth and final question she had answered with “Peches, ;orange nd purple; bilke fr suppor.” Sheer nonsense as her brain collapsed from emotional exhaustion, she assumed.
Problem was that even in the fresh light of morning nothing really came up that she could see. He had not been in a foreign country in the last year. The mere thought of Charlie working at a chemical plant made her laugh. It was so, not him. There were no projects involving chemicals to strip wood, even though she had been after him for years to strip a hutch in the guest bedroom because its white paint was flaking off.
But then she wondered. Perhaps he had consulted at a chemical store or plant, and gotten exposed? But how would she find that out? She wrote down her concern, and pressed on, suddenly troubled instead of annoyed.
And then on to the questioning of those on the Net, which she had left off in the middle of last night…
A long list of questions, some seemingly close repeats of each other, issued from a humongously long comment by Mr. MAYOnaise. She would have ignored it, but he mentioned reading SoCalLawProf’s blog, and he casually, in passing, mentioned working at the Mayo Clinic. So she answered the questions, which were far more detailed than the questionnaire‘s. And then he bounced back a response before she got finished with the rest of the comments by other people. Asking for more clarifications that dredged up even more details. Then he went away to study the data, he said, and Sharon wondered if she had just given some freak satisfaction by giving him all her personal data. After all, he must have been just waiting by his computer for her to post.
A bit worried, she considered how to find out about Mr. MAYOnaise, and then hit upon emailing Morgenstern. While waiting for that reply, she got up and started her eggs cooking for a ham and cheese omelet. Worrying about her figure, and about the probable layers of fat the monster eggstravaganza was laying down in her arteries was so not her this morning. It was comfort food, and easy to make.
Then while it cooked, she ducked back down the hallway to check on the email.
“Its okay. I know the guy, not personally, but I’ve seen him around. He really does know his medicine, at least as far as I can tell because none of the other docs on the Net have exposed him as a fraud, and they’ve had plenty of opportunity.
He probably has your blog syndicated as part of an RSS feed which means whenever you make a new post, or for some of them, a new comment by the blog-owner, it will blink on his computer screen letting him know. Rather like Call waiting, if you think about it. Its what I do with yours and the others of my favorite blogs.
I can track down his IP if you like. Internet handles provide some privacy, but if someone really wants to find you, and has a minimum of skill, it’s not that hard. Not to brag, but I could do it in my sleep.
The Girl and I are praying for you,
She nodded thoughtfully to herself, and then Googled “IP”. At first it seemed nonsensical with some techno babble about the protocol for information being transferred over the Internet, but further study let her see that Morgenstern had engaged in the common human laziness of shortening what he meant to an almost indecipherable minimum. An “IP Address” was the street number and road, so to speak, for her computer on the Internet. Feeling triumphant, she leaned back, and then smelled the eggs.
Her food was a little overdone by the time she scrambled out there, and so she scraped it out of the frying pan, and surveyed it. It still looked edible if a bit dry and black in spots. Not anxious to redo her effort, she grabbed a fork, and headed back to the computer to eat in front of it.
Eating her breakfast, she saw her answers explode across the Internet igniting other questions in a near dozen other minds. Almost frightened, she saw numerous theories tossed back and forth, many involving horrific diseases of extreme rarity with no known cure, or so it sounded.
When prompted, she answered still more questions. The clot of doctors and nurses and an occasional layperson used her blog to have a real-time conversation. Those who had an inane comment were quickly ignored, and finding themselves embarrassed left. Ideas were tossed out, and obscure facts were touted as rebuttals.
Finally, the general consensus was that the doctor’s group needed more data. If she could get her hands on his medical records, and photocopy them, that would be helpful. Some of the doctors felt bad about looking over a colleague’s shoulder, and jogging his elbow as it were, but a couple tart comments from the laypeople disabused them of this over-tenderness for the abused feelings of another doctor.
So Sharon called up the hospital, and tracked down her husband’s current nurse.
“Um, would you mind photo-copying his medical files, and faxing them to me?”
“Its not regular ma’am, but if you give me some identification, and an e-mail address, I can just send what I have on my computer as an attachment.” Nurse Ramirez replied, and Sharon enthusiastically gave her Social Security number, date of birth, and her house’s address before the nurse broke in to tell her that that was more than enough.
The attachment arrived a couple minutes later, and she had some difficulty transferring it over to her blog. Her sudden euphoria at a possible diagnosis evaporated, and she shook with fear and exhaustion. Surprised, she looked at the clock. It was past noon.
Queries from a doc as to where the files were got her reply that she did not know how to transfer them. And then Vitamin B12 spoke up.
He gave her precise directions after ascertaining her computer model for completing the shift.You are quite good at the computer stuff. Sharon.Thanks, but what you mean is you think I’m a flake about my Vitamin obsession. Maybe I am, and maybe I’m the unreasonable man that progresses the world. Time will tell. Vitamin B12.
Sharon still thought he was way wrong, but a nice guy with a sense of humor about his own obsessions, and definitely an expert with desktops.
Then the doctors and med students and others tore into the file.
To their disappointment, and occasional curse, the laboratory findings were non-specific. They had limited it down to an environmental effect, when a diffident voice spoke up, and mentioned that he was a herbalist, and had eaten some wild cherries one day about ten years previous. The soft, apologetic words fell like a thunderbolt into the clear sky, and lit up minds across three continents for one of her helpers was an Englishman, a research chemist, and another was a missionary doc in Zimbabwe.
So about a dozen people in the space of thirty seconds asked her if “the patient” was known for taking long walks in the woods. Another added orchards since that seemed a hobby in his neck of the woods to go strolling in the mini-orchards. But she did not think so, that was not Charlie’s thing. Besides, he was too busy.
Did he drink fruit teas, or especially teas made from the bark of a tree? Mr. MAYOnaise.
She shook her head, and then realized a bit dopily that no one could actually see her. Sharon replied, and then added her thought that brought back some laughs.Dear Lady, on the Internet no one can tell you are a dog, not that I believe you are. Mr. MAYOnaise.Besides, we all wear pajamas when we blog. And I’m pretty sure, she’s a fox. Kid Vicious.
That sparked the telling of a story of a Mainstream Media guy who had protested at being brought low by people who typed in their PJ’s. The blogosphere had laughed, and adopted the insult as a badge of honor. It was typical behavior for these boisterous intellects, she gathered.I think you ought to go back to bed. Your spelling is getting as bad as a med student’s. Professor Vincennes.
She nodded to herself. He was right. A throat-cracking yawn, and she swayed in her seat with her butt sore and prickly from staying in one position too long. So she signed off, but the conversation continued through the day, in log cabins in the Alaskan Outback, and in tiny labs with a window mostly blocked from which you could see, if you really tried a beautiful if wounded skyline of glory, and in college dorm rooms with keenly imaginative pre-med students, and in small towns where retired doctors riffled in their minds through the decades of experience with human frailty while sitting at their dining room tables while she slipped back into her bed, and slept much of the day away feeling both depressed and exhausted.
End of Chapter Nine.