The Waiting

Chapter Seven

Day Three

Christie woke up with a jerk. Momentarily disoriented, she looked around blankly until she recognized her surroundings: the ICU waiting room. She must have dozed off after leaving Jim's room while they changed his bandage. She glanced at her watch: a few minutes after 6 a.m. The third day of her vigil had begun. She yawned and stretched, then stood up and headed wearily for the restroom. After splashing cold water on her face and pulling her hair back into a ponytail, she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. She barely recognized the haggard face and exhausted eyes that gazed back at her. She squared her shoulders and headed down the hall to the ICU entrance. She pressed the button on the wall and was admitted.

When she entered Jim's room, the night nurse, Joanne, was at his bedside, doing something to his IV. Joanne had been on duty each night since Jim was admitted to the ICU. Matter-of-fact and efficient yet caring, she was a reassuring presence at Jim's bedside. She looked up when she heard Christie approaching.

"Hey," Christie greeted her.

"Good morning," Joanne replied with a little smile.

Christie crossed to the side of the bed opposite Joanne and stood quietly for a moment, looking down at her husband's unmoving figure. "Any change?" she asked.

"Well, you know we've decreased his sedation," Joanne began. Christie nodded. The nurse pressed her lips together in thought before continuing. "He seems to be lightening up a little – he's been moving around some, the last couple of hours, but he's still not responsive. Dr. Jaffrey will be in to see him in an hour or so. He can tell you more then."

"All right." Christie pulled a chair next to the bed and sat down. "I'd like to sit with him for a while."

"Sure," Joanne agreed, making a final adjustment to the IV. "I'll be at the desk if you need me."

"Thanks."

Twenty minutes later, Christie felt herself drifting back into sleep. As she willed her eyes to stay open, she thought she saw movement out of the corner of her eye. She pushed herself to her feet and stood next to the bed. Jim was stirring. Her heart pounded. "Jimmy?" she asked. "Can you hear me?" Then, as she'd seen the nurses and doctors do, she took his hand in hers and told him, "If you can hear me, squeeze my hand." Jim's hand moved weakly. "Squeeze my hand," she repeated, more loudly. This time she felt it – Jim's hand closed around hers. His grasp was weak and fleeting, but he had squeezed her hand. Hardly daring to hope, she repeated the command. This time his grasp was stronger. "Oh, my God," she breathed. Then, forgetting the call button at the bedside, she dropped Jim's hand and dashed to the door, calling "Joanne!"

Joanne rushed toward her, a worried look on her face. "What is it?" she asked.

"He squeezed my hand," Christie replied breathlessly. "I think he's waking up!"

Joanne entered the room and crossed to Jim's bedside. She picked up his hand and ordered him to squeeze her hand. He did so, even more strongly than before. She turned to Christie with a smile on her face. "I'll get Dr. Jaffrey. He's just down the hall. I'll be right back."

Christie returned to the bedside and took Jim's hand again. "Jimmy, it's Christie," she said, "you're in the hospital, you were shot. Can you open your eyes for me?"

For a moment, she thought he hadn't heard her. Then, seemingly with great effort, he slowly opened his eyes. A wave of relief swept over her. He blinked rapidly and scanned the room with his eyes.

"I'm here, Jimmy," she said, thinking he was looking for her.

He turned his head in her direction, but his eyes looked blank and unfocused. Suddenly, his face contorted in a grimace of pain or fear – she couldn't tell which. He jerked his hand away from hers and raised both of his hands to his face. He rubbed his eyes for a few seconds, then blinked his eyes and looked around again, turning his head from side to side. An odd expression, uncomprehending and fearful at the same time, crossed his face. He held his hands in front of his face, then began feeling around his eyes with his fingertips.

Christie watched him with a growing feeling of dread. Trying to control the trembling in her voice, she said, "Jimmy? What's wrong?" His mouth moved soundlessly, as if he was trying to speak. "No, no," she told him hurriedly, "you've got a tube in your throat, don't try to talk." His lips continued to move, as if he was trying to mouth words, but she couldn't make them out.

Christie stared at him, bewildered, then rushed to the doorway, calling for help. Joanne and Dr. Jaffrey turned the corner at the end of the hall and sprinted toward her.

"Something's wrong!" Christie exclaimed as they entered the room. By that time, Jim had taken his hands away from his eyes and started to thrash around in the bed, turning his head rapidly from side to side.

"Don't worry," Jaffrey said soothingly as he crossed the room to the bed. "He's just fighting the breathing tube."

"No, no," Christie insisted, "that's not it. It's – "

Jaffrey spoke across her, in the same calm voice. "It's all right, Detective – Jim – you're in the hospital, I'm Dr. Jaffrey," he said. "We're going to get that tube out of your throat so you can talk. Just relax and try not to fight it. OK?"

Jim turned his head in Jaffrey's direction. Then he frowned, gave a little nod, and lay still. Christie looked at him, but couldn't make eye contact. His eyes still looked – wrong. She felt a stab of fear. She stood silently at the foot of the bed, her heart pounding, as Jaffrey and Joanne removed the breathing tube. When it was out, Jim coughed several times, then took a deep breath and tried to speak. Joanne said, "Here you go," and placed a moist swab in his mouth. Jim looked startled. "Just suck on it," Joanne explained, "it will help with that dry mouth."

After a moment, Jim took the swab out of his mouth and swallowed hard. Then he whispered, "Eyes."

"What did you say, Jim?" Jaffrey asked.

"Eyes," Jim croaked, then added, "Can't . . . see."

Christie felt the blood drain from her face. Her knees buckled, but she caught herself, holding onto the bed's footboard for support. She stared at Jim, speechless with shock. For the past two days, she'd thought waiting for Jim to wake up would be the hardest part. But now she realized the hard part was just beginning.

The End