By Bob Liter
Nurse Linda Hayes sighed as she sat on the edge of a bed in Central City’s Methodist Hospital applying pressure to the inside of the man’s groin. He was back from an angiogram.
For twenty minutes she could stop hurrying from one task to another while preventing the small wound from bleeding.
The patient was quiet. Like Billy. Now what made her think of that? It was twelve years since Billy Canfield, her fiance, was killed in Kuwait. Now, at night, before she slept, she'd remember the feel of his lips, the feel of his touch. But sometimes she couldn't bring up an image of his face.
Often, the next morning, when she had time, she studied the photographs of him she kept in the living room.
Coming back to the present, she asked the patient, "You doing all right?"
He turned his lined face toward her and said, "Yeah, sure. How much longer do I have to stay here?"
"We've got to make sure you don't bleed where the catheter was inserted. That's why I'm applying pressure. So the opening can seal itself. It’ll only take another ten minutes or so. But you'll stay for at least three hours. Keep your leg still and straight please.”
The man, a Mister Andrews, sighed and said, "I'm too weak from lack of food to move anything."
Fifteen more minutes and her shift would be over. Linda looked at the bed, a bed like all the others in the hospital. White sheets, sideboards, levers to elevate and lower the patient. The bandage she would put on the wound when she stopped apply pressure was on a portable table, safe in its sterile package.
She heard activity in the hallway behind her occasionally but no sound in the room except her breathing and the man's. How many times had she sat on the edge of a hospital bed and leaned her hand on a patient’s inner thigh? Her life had become limited to going to work, returning to her silent apartment, going to work.
Sure, she had friends at the hospital, mostly nurses, mostly married. But they had stopped inviting her to join them for a girls' night out. She’d refused too many times.
"Hi Danny," the patient said as he looked over her shoulder.
A deep, strong voice behind her said, "Jean called me. Asked me to take you home. How come I find out you're in the hospital from my sister?"
The patient moved. "No, no, Mister Andrews. You must lie still, keep your leg flat until . . ."
He settled down and said, "I had a chance to get this done today when the doctor had an opening. They told me not to eat or drink anything. Now I'm starving. What time is it?"
"Nearly five," the younger man said. His blue eyes and strong chin a younger version of the patient.
"I'm sure something to eat will be here soon," Linda said. "Please lie still."
“My son, Danny,” Mr. Andrews said.
The son nodded toward Linda, leaned over and patted his father’s hand. The son straightened. His eyes focused on hers.
Her free hand went to her hair, pushed a bit of it off her forehead. I should have put on some makeup, a little eye shadow or something, she thought. At least she had washed her hair the night before. She had combed and arranged the unruly brown waves that morning, but knew they were out of control by now.
Dirt smudges marked the son's white T-shirt. It was wet, as though he'd been sweating, and his muscular chest might as well have been naked, the way it revealed itself through the shirt.
He grabbed a heavy, cushioned chair from the corner and flipped it to beside the bed. His eyes engaged hers again. It was like a caress.
"So tell me what's going on," he said to his father.
"Just an angiogram. Gonna get something done about my leg cramps. Can't even mow the yard without stopping to ease the pain."
"What's an angiogram?"
Linda kept the pressure on Mr. Andrew's groin and said, "An angiogram is a series of x-ray pictures to show the doctor where the circulation blockage is. That’s what causes the pain. Dye is injected through a catheter into the blood vessels to enhance the pictures. You should ask the doctor."
"You all right, Pop?"
"Sure, I'm fine. Warm now. It was colder than hell in that place where they took me. All kinds of machines, kind of a scary place. They said they had to keep it cool for the machinery. What about the patients?"
"Didn't they put a warmed blanket over you?" Linda said.
"Yeah, they did do that."
The son, with his close-cropped brown hair and expressive lips that curled often over white, even teeth, smiled at her. His eyes twinkled like the patient’s. What did he think she would do, swoon?
"You got a girl yet?” the patient asked his son.
“You’re worse than mom used to be. You’ll get your grandchild sooner or later. I just haven’t had time to meet the right woman.”
“You should take the time. You’re not getting any younger, you know.”
“Yes, mother,” the young man said with love in his voice.
"I'm sure your food will be here soon," Linda said. She released the pressure on her patient's groin. She opened the bandage package, applied the bandage to the wound and taped it in place. She patted the patient's hand and continued, "I'll check on the food to make sure."
She glanced at the younger man, Danny. Must be what his father called him since he was a little boy. She couldn't think of him as anything but Dan. Why should she think of him at all?
"How's the construction business?" Mister Andrews said.
"Still constructing," Dan said. "Building a retaining wall now at one of those fancy homes out in Peoria Heights."
She was on her way out of the room when she heard Dan say, "Since you're going to be here awhile guess I'll find the cafeteria and get something to eat."
Linda turned at the doorway and said, "The cafeteria's on the third floor. There's an elevator down the hall to the right."
"Thanks," Dan said. She was still seeing his smile when she reached the nurse's station.
Rose Caar, the head nurse on the floor, said, "Well, why the mysterious smile? Time for you to get off already?"
"Yeah, already," Linda said. "I've been here since seven this morning as you well know."
"Go on then," Rose said. "I'll see you Thursday."
Linda got her purse from the locker and hurried to the elevator. She pushed the down button but when the elevator arrived she shook her head even though no one was there. She pushed the up button. When another elevator arrived she entered it and pushed the third-floor button.
Alone in the elevator, she said aloud, "What am I doing? I've got food at home."
She'd just go right back down, down to the first floor and out to her old Chevy. She'd go home and eat another TV dinner.
The elevator stopped at the third floor. The door slid open. She didn't move. Her hand shot out and stopped the door before it closed. Outside she hesitated, walked to the right past the Image Department and entered the long hallway that led to the cafeteria. Still time to turn back. But why? She had a right to eat in the cafeteria if she wanted.
She took a tray and moved slowly down the cafeteria line. So much to choose from. All kinds of goodies. You'd think, in a hospital, where they're telling patients to stick to a proper diet, they wouldn't offer so much fattening food. A salad, that's what she'd have. And maybe a piece of cake. No, no cake. Why not? She hadn't had a piece of cake for a week. And the chocolate cake looked so good.
She added a cup of coffee to her tray, nodded to the checkout girl, paid her, and stepped away. Only a few of the several tables were unoccupied. Dan sat alone near the picture window that looked out on the street below.
He jumped up, covered the distance between them in a few strides, and said, "Here, let me take your tray. I hate eating alone."
He snatched it, turned and walked back to his table. She followed, hesitated, and sat down.
“My name’s Linda,” she said.
Her body relaxed. She looked at this handsome man, this man who seemed interested in her, and smiled.
“Nice smile," Dan said.
"Thanks," Linda said.
"I'm thinking of asking you out," he added.
After a few seconds of indecision, Linda said, 'If you ask me, I'm thinking of saying yes."