I get to know the names and stories of all the people in my ward, either through what their friends and family tell me, or what I make up in the privacy of my own head. For example, there's Maggie Dillard, a pretty young woman in 338 with half her face caved in by the baseball bat her boyfriend used on her. He's in prison now, or so the young lady's mother told me, but that won't bring her daughter back. Mama Dillard's visits have become increasingly infrequent as the weeks go by, but I still spend the same amount of time with Maggie as ever.
Then there's Robert Yonkers in 330. I call him "Bert", since I find it hard to believe such a pleasant-looking gentleman such as he would willingly pair a serious first name with a whimsical-sounding surname like "Yonkers". No one comes to see Bert, not even on holidays or his birthday, so the two of us have a quiet little celebration of our own. Bert's chart says he had a stroke, so I don't have to imagine what brought him here two years ago.
Patients on my ward are all long-term care. Most are in "persistent vegetative states" with little-to-no chance of recovery, but a handful are in comas. The comatose ones are the most likely to have frequent visitors even after the first few months have passed, if only because any day could bring a change, and hopefully for the better. I prefer the happy endings myself.
Then there are the lucky ones. Bert and Maggie have plenty of blood relations, but few if any visitors. Across the hall from Maggie is young Daniel Jackson, and while his records don't mention any living relatives, he almost always has a friend at his side. They take him in shifts, but it's usually the gorgeous gray-haired man with the warm brown eyes. If he can't be there, then Daniel gets a pretty blonde, an enormous colored man, or any one of a number of other people who sit and hold his hand or talk to him. One time, it was a two-star general from a local base, and doesn't that say something about how special this boy is?
I say "boy" because he's the same age as my youngest, but looks even younger. He's actually a PhD of some sort, but I can't bear to call anyone who looks that young "doctor". Jack, the silver-haired hunk, calls him "Danny", but since no one else does, I don't either.
It was a car accident, Jack told me once when I lingered in the door a little over-long. Jack and Daniel had had a fight at work—Jack says he started it, but Daniel wouldn't let it go—and stormed off to their respective residences. Sometime during the evening, the boy took a notion to head over to Jack's place with beer and pizzas.
It was raining cats and dogs, and the police say the semi never slowed as it raced down the exit ramp from the highway, slamming into Daniel's little foreign car and smashing it against the underpass wall. He's lucky to have lived at all, and every time I see Jack's fingers carding through the boy's hair, I mentally order Daniel to wake up and let his friend apologize to his heart's content.
I don't know if it was my stern command or the sixteen hour-a-day watch, but Daniel woke up not five hours after Bert went to his maker. As luck would have it, Jack, the blonde, and the colored man were all in there, observing some sort of private anniversary—some inside-joke about saving the planet again. Jack yelled, and I came running, surprised and delighted beyond all measure to see the boy blinking confusedly at everyone with brilliant blue eyes. I called the doctor, and before the end of the day, Daniel was whisked away to another part of the hospital.
Life went on as it always did. Maggie finally passed on after eight months on the ward, and poor Mama Dillard was upset by the relief she felt. I understood perfectly, having been in her shoes when my late husband Bill finally lost his long fight with lung cancer. I mourned his passing about a month before it actually happened, and I had my brood of five and my grand-babies to stand by me through it all.
A few weeks after Maggie departed, I stepped into the ward for my usual shift when a tall, well-dressed man rose from a chair near the entrance. "Nurse Barbie?" he called.
Now most folks call me Barb, but I always introduce myself to my patients as "Barbie". That caught my ear right quick. Turning and looking up, I felt my old heart flutter.
"Daniel Jackson! Sure is nice to see you up and about on your own two legs."
He smiled and ducked his head. "It's good to be up and about. I just got cleared for full duty yesterday."
"Congratulations, sugar," I smiled. "So what can I do for ya?"
"Well, first I wanted to thank you," he began. "You know, for taking care of me—"
"Seein' you upright and compos is enough thanks, hon," I assured him, though his words sure warmed me.
Then he got real nervous-like and wrapped his arms around himself. "The second thing... well, I've had stranger things happen to me, but..." He trailed off, spun around, and picked up the white box that had been resting on the chair next to his. "It's peach pie, with brown sugar. A man I met while I was here said you told him it was your favorite. He... also told me to tell you his friends called him 'Bertie', and to thank you... you know, for being there."
Now, I can't even begin to guess how that young man could have known what he did except to have had an out-of-body experience communing with Bert... Bertie Yonkers down the hall. I'd told Bertie about my mother's pies from when I was young girl in Georgia, and he must have passed it on to Daniel before he passed on himself.
"Having a friend there," Daniel continued, his fidgeting beginning to subside. "He said it helped."
I'm certain now Daniel's recovery had nothing to do with my silly order. Friends and family being there? That's what made all the difference.