Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.
Her eyes opened slowly. She squinted up at me. As if the light was too much for her tired body.
She seemed to have grown accustomed to the darkness. She had been gone a long time.
She covered her face with her hands.
I shut the blinds, and stripes of dim light fell over the room. Noticing the change, she slowly revealed her eyes again. Steadily, she turned her head right. Then left.
She shifted her focus to me.
Time passed. She continued to cast her gaze, looking me up and down with inquisitive scrutiny.
But in her eyes there was not even a glimmer of familiarity. Her lack of recognition after looking directly at me confirmed what I already knew.
I was not prepared.
“Good,” I said, “you’re awake. Can you speak?”
She cleared her throat. “Wh-where am I?”
“Urban Hospital. After your accident you were brought here. You were out for three weeks. I’ll have to do further checks, but you seem to be on the road to physical recovery,” I said, looking down at my chart.
“Accident? Who are you?”
I paused. Should I tell her? Would she remember it? Or would her memory fail her once again.
Carefully, I answered. “I- I’m Doctor Fields. Winifred Fields.”
She paused and contemplated, squinting at my face, trying to recognise. “Fields? Have we met before?”
She looked down at her hospital bracelet and saw her name inscribed in clear print. She frowned more and continued to fiddle with it as she shifted her eyes back to me.
“You said Fields, right?”
Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump.
I felt my heart pound in my chest.
I swallowed and timidly asked, “Do you know who I am?”
“You’re my doctor. Coincidence how we have the same last name, isn't it?”
“Not quite,” I said as I felt the ball of guilt rise in my throat.
She tried to laugh but a fit of coughs rose instead.
Years before, I knew this woman. She was caring and beautiful. Now the creases and crinkles framed her face, and the large purple bump on her forehead along with her withered appearance made me realize how many years had passed.
She didn’t deserve what happened to her, but in many ways she brought it on herself.
“Your memory appears to be suffering. You hit your head pretty hard. We wanted to wait until you woke up to the see the full extent of your brain damage.” I took a deep breath. “I-It appears that the years of alcohol consumption combined with the fall have taken a toll on your memory.”
Her expression was blank and confused. “Alcohol? But I’ve never had more than one drink at a time in my life.”
“Liar.” I whispered, appalled at her absurd claim that she had never drank in her life. There were too many broken promises
The truth was she had always had a problem. For years I took care of her. I stood faithfully by her side and nursed her out of every mistake she made. After each accident she had she would promise me that she would stop drinking. She never did.
I stared at the purple bump on her forehead.
“Ms. Fields you have been an alcoholic for years.” I raised my voice. “It’s time to face the facts. I don’t want to hear your damn excuses again! I won’t stand for it.” I huffed and felt my face grow red.
“You have been a drinker for years, and at the rate you’re going, an alcoholic is all you’ll ever be!”
Her eyes widened in shock. “Dr. Fields what are you talking about. This is no way for a doctor to speak to her patient! How unprofessional. Shame on you.”
Remembering that she only recognised me as her doctor in an unfamiliar hospital, I tried to regain my composure. “What I am trying to say is that your liver damage is extensive, and your alcohol levels were through the roof when the paramedics found you in your home after the fall.”
“What? No. That can’t be possible. My daughter lives near me. She wouldn’t have let me fall. And as I have made clear, I don’t drink.” She huffed and scanned the room for her purse. “Let me call my daughter. She’ll come sort all of this out.”
Like I always do, I thought.
“Dr. Fields, I need my daughter to come here now! I need to get OUT of here! I-I…” She grabbed her chest and breathed in sharply.
She let go of her chest and looked at me for what felt like an eternity.
Something in her eyes began to change. They shifted back and forth, up and down frantically. There was something new in her eyes.
“Winifred?” she questioned as her eyes widened.
“Where am I, what’s going on? Why are you wearing a lab coat?”
Stunned at her sudden memory of me, I coldly explained the situation to her. That she had once again taken a few too many swigs. Once again she had gotten hurt. And once again, here I was to clean up the mess.
She started to cry as I laid all my pain on her, the years of suffering that I went through to try and help her, and the years of guilt I felt once I finally left.
“Winifred, I’m sorry. I’m so so sorry. I-I-I’m”
She breathed sharply in again, and grabbed her chest once more.
Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.Beep.Beep.
The heart monitor began to flash uncontrollably. Her head fell limp on the pillow.
I ran to the wall and pushed the blue button marked CODE.
“She’s tachycardic!” I shouted. “Heart rate is at 140!”
Dozens of medical personnel rushed in the room.
“No heart rate!” someone shouted.
The world began to spin.
“Dr. Fields, are you ok?” the nurse said.
I felt like I was going to pass out, or vomit, or both.
I breathed in sharply. “I’m fine. Help the patient.”
“Get out of the way, Dr. Fields!”
“No.” I shook my head to clear my vision. She remembered! I would not let that woman have her way and die without finishing the apology I deserved.
“No, I need to do CPR... I need to help my mother!”
The ceiling turned into the floor and I wobbled sideways.
The nurse, surprised that I had called her my mother, helped me up and led me out of the room.
“Dr. Fields, you know it’s not ethical to treat family members.”
She’s not family, I thought. She gave up being family a long time ago.