Time to Go
His silvery hair, neatly trimmed only a few weeks ago, was falling out in clumps. His scalp, usually pink, now had a slight greenish cast to it. His right wrist was raw and enflamed from the silver handcuff that encircled it. The other end of the handcuff was connected to the frame of the bed. It jangled with every yank.
“I’ll sue, you know,” he shouted again, yanking the chain. His voice was thin and hoarse from hours of yelling. His midnight blue pajamas were made of silk and edged with white. The letters ‘Jake,’ also in white, were comprised of elongated letters in a diamond pattern. Elegant but very hard to read.
“And I’ve got the best attorney in the state. Never lost a case. Never,” Jake shouted. “And he won’t lose this one either. I’ll see to that.”
The constant thrashing had loosened even the fitted sheet. The top sheet had twisted itself into rope-like coils that hung from the bed. One crumpled pillow was still wedged behind the man’s neck. The other pillow still lay in the far corner of the room, where it had been hurled that morning.
“I’m not sick!” Jake bellowed. “Get a doctor in here. He’ll tell you.”
Jake’s loud voice was just one among many that clashed with the moans and the cries and the ceaseless pleas that were coming from nearly every room, from the hallways of Jake’s wing, and from every other hallway in the building. Each hallway was now crowded with beds and IV poles. There was barely enough room for the nurses to scurry, sometimes sideways, from one room to another, from one bed to another, from one body to another.
The removers had an even harder time. They not only had to sidle themselves through the narrow openings between the beds. They also had to maneuver the collapsed empty stretchers in, and then the body-filled and sagging stretchers out, through those same narrow openings. And always the hands of the patients; reaching out, clutching whatever they could reach; scrubs, sheets, pajamas, hospital gowns, even the IV poles with their dangling tubes and empty bags.
“It’s a mistake, I tell you!” Jake shouted again. Then he glanced at the man in the other bed, a bed that had somehow been shoe-horned into the tiny room. There was barely enough space between the two beds for a nurse to squeeze through. If a nurse ever came.
“It’s a mistake,” Jake said again. His eyes took in the other man’s torn and dirty jeans, the dingy undershirt that was plastered to the boney chest, the shoes that were scuffed and lace-less. There were no sox. The other man’s ankle skin looked paper thin and very pale, except for the greenish cast.
“You belong here,” Jake said to the man. “Anyone can see that. But I don’t.” He grunted and looked away. “And why the hell they put me in here with someone like you I don’t know. But sure as hell, I’m going to find out. And I’m going to get out.”
He pressed the call button again and then flopped back on the bed. The movement yanked the silver cuff around his wrist and brought another grunt, this one of pain. He glared at his roommate again. “And why the hell do I have one of these and you don’t?” He rattled the chain and gave it another yank. Pain seared uphis arm.
The roommate raised his boney shoulders. “Don’t need one, I guess. I ain’t going nowhere.”
“That’s the trouble with people like you,” Jake grumbled. “You’re nothing but a bunch of goddam sheep. Not me. Nobody leads me around by the nose.”
“Somebody musta led you here,” the other man said. His giggle turned into a gut-wrenching cough.
“Like hell they did,” Jake said. “Somebody drugged me, that’s what they did. Knocked me out. That’s the only way they could have gotten me in here. And when I find out who did it I’ll sue the hell out of them.”
“We’re all in the same boat, my friend,” the other man said. “Might as well accept it.”
“I will not accept it,” Jake said. “Because it’s a mistake. There’s nothing wrong with me.” He raked his fingers impatiently through his silvery hair. Another clump came loose in his hand.