The doctor standing above my body was smiling. It was all I could notice in the first moments of coming back into consciousness. There was a dull pain in the back of my head, sending waves of agony to the back of my eyes.
I closed my eyes again and felt the world around me begin to fade back into darkness. There was a shuffling of papers at the end of my bed.
The next time I woke up, the doctor was gone. In his place was a tall nurse. Her hair was pulled back and I could see the blinding light above my bed glisten on her gray hairs. My eyes shut again, and I focused on trying to stop the spinning in my skull. The pain was still there. I couldn’t get it to go away.
I didn’t remember why I was there.
When I woke up a third time, the nurse was next to my head, kneeling.
She spoke softly “Can you hear me?”
I glanced at her, unmoving. My mouth drooped open, but I couldn’t speak. I shut my lips and nodded slowly.
“The doctor will be in soon.” She looked at me and asked, “Do you want to go back to sleep for a while?”
I watched as the nurse walked around to the side of my bed. I tried to turn my head to watch her but found the pain in my neck prohibiting me to do so. Something brushed against my arm. I saw the little clear tube that stuck out of my skin. Was she added more pain killers? God, I hope.
I faded back into the darkness and felt myself go weightless. I could hear her stand up and stride out of the room, her sneakers squeaking.
“How are you feeling?” He asked me, a clipboard in his hands. The doctor smiled down at me and nodded as I spoke. When he came back to my bedside was a blurred memory now, but I was glad he was there. He scribbled down notes and muttering to himself, “Disoriented… pain… can you rate your pain for me? One to ten? Seven? Okay, I’ll write that down.”
The blonde nurse stood on the other side of my bed. I felt a gentle tug on my arm as she pulled on the IV attached to me.
“How about your drowsiness? Is that better now?”
I shook my head. It was difficult for me to even keep my eyes open. They would flutter shut and snap open every other second. Anytime I woke up from my inevitable slip into a nap, my head would be pounding. I thought I was dying each time. I would press the alert button over and over again. The nurses were sick of me at this point.
“Do you remember where you are?” The doctor asked. He pushed his glasses further up on the bridge of his nose.
I knew I was in the hospital. It wasn’t a normal hospital.
I didn’t have my own room, which I thought was strange at this point. I had been here for almost as long as my memory would allow me to know. The only thing separating me from the other patients was a thin beige curtain on either side of my bed. The one at the foot of the bed was pulled open so that the doctors could watch me. I didn’t know why they wanted to do that. I didn’t know much.
“So, you’re saying that you don’t remember much? Do you remember what procedure we performed?”
“Not at all? Do you remember your name?”
No. Maybe something that started with a C?
“What is today’s date?”
February 23rd? Judging by the way he is looking at me, I must be wrong.
“It’s February 29th.”
There aren’t 29 days in February. Unless I can’t remember that either.
“Do you know what time it is?”
There’s no clock in the room. How am I supposed to know?
“It’s 9:30 PM.” The doctor scribbled something down on the clipboard and said without looking at me “You’re going to be staying overnight for observations.”
The nurse came around to the other side of the bed, standing next to the doctor. She had her hair tied up as if it was a cinnamon bun on her head. God, when will they feed me?
“Your name is Cadence, dear,” Her voice was like honey. Specifically, honey used as a sweetener in tea. Why is my throat so dry? “Cadence Rockland.”
The nurse turned around and opened a neon green bag. I watched with half-lidded eyes as she proceeded to pull out what looked like a wallet. She slid out a card and handed it to the doctor, saying “Show her this.”
The doctor turned the card around for me to see.
The name of the girl was Cadence Rockland. She had black hair cut in a bob. Her eyes, though they were fuzzy, reminded me of chestnuts. She wasn’t smiling and her nose looked curved. I didn’t know why she wasn’t happy in the photo. Those pictures stay on your license for years, you should at least try to look nice. I didn’t know why she had that haircut either – it wasn’t flattering in the slightest.
The one this I did know was that the girl in that picture was not me.
The nurse gave me a funny look when I stared at the photo. “What?”
“That’s not me.”
“Very funny, Ms. Rockland,” the Doctor rolled his eyes and scribbled away on his pad.
“That’s not me. That’s not me.” I felt myself getting frantic. I knew that wasn’t me in the photo.
“Hmm…” the doctor rubbed his chin, turning to the license, and then he looked back at me. “You must be experiencing some side effects from the surgery.”
“It happens all the time, dear.” The blonde nurse came back over to my side. “Once you’re feeling better, you’ll start to remember.”
“That’s not me.” I looked up at the nurse. They had to have grabbed the wrong bag.
“This is your license,” The doctor said, examining me out of the corner of his eye. “On this paper, it says that your name is Cadence Rockland. Is that you?”
“That’s not me.” I didn’t know if the name was right or not. I only knew that it was not me.
“You seem to be experiencing amnesia, Ms. Rockland,” the doctor explained, “this is you. This is your license. It is in the bag that you put your things in before the surgery. You are the one who put that wallet in that bag. No one else.” His voice was beginning to slide. Or was it always that deep?
“That’s not me. It isn’t.”
The nurse leaned over to the doctor and whispered something into his ear. The doctor rolled his eyes, but he nodded. He placed down the clipboard on the tray furthest from my bed, and he said: “I will be back in a few minutes.” He left the ‘room’ quickly after, the nurse following him.
How did I get here? I don’t remember putting my stuff down. Where the hell did that green bag come from? And who the hell was that woman on the card? I could feel the pounding in my skull get louder, deafening my senses as I clutched the sides of my head. Who the hell was I? Why were the doctors lying to me?
They were supposed to be helping me, why the hell would they suddenly hide my actual identity from me? There had to have been a mistake. This isn’t how hospitals are supposed to be. I knew who I was, they didn’t.
I sat myself up and rubbed my temples, trying to alleviate some of the pain that was radiating through every inch of my body. The white blanket fell off the bed as I stood up, collecting in a pile on the floor. The thin yellow socks were barely protecting my toes from the shiver-inducing tile floor as I stumbled towards the green bag.
I looked at the ID in the wallet, again. Maybe I was crazy, and maybe I just could not remember what my face looked like. Maybe I was reacting poorly to the anesthetic that they used for the surgery. Yeah, that had to be it. It had to be that I just didn’t remember. Hospitals are supposed to help people, not hurt them. It must be a side effect, just like the good doctor said.
The picture still sent my stomach into a knot. I knew, deep down, that wasn’t me.
I gripped the edge of the bed and stared at the photo. They looked nothing like me. I knew they didn’t. If that was me, which it wasn’t, I hadn’t looked like that in a long, long time.
“Hon, how come you’re standing? The doctor said that you were barely able to get your eyes open.” I turned my head as the old nurse spoke. Her eyes matched her vibrant blue scrubs. She stepped towards me. “Do you need to go to the bathroom?”
I nodded. I needed to know who I was. I needed to remember.
“Well, let me help you walk, then.” The nurse came over and took my arm in her hand. Her palm was gentle, but her spidery fingers wrapped around tightly like she was suffocating me. The grip of her hand led me between the curtains.
I squinted my eyes and scanned the perimeter, keeping an eye out as to where my doctor could be. Or, whatever he is. I wasn’t sure he was a doctor anymore, or that this was a hospital. Why would they let me walk free like this if it was a hospital? Why wouldn’t they show me my actual ID, and show me someone who was trying to pretend to be me? None of this made sense.
The old woman pushed the bathroom door open and flipped on the light switch. She looked at me and said “Do you need any help? Or do you think you’ll be okay?”
I didn’t give her an answer as I stepped in past the threshold of the door, closing it behind me. I turned and faced the mirror at the sink.
The person staring back at me had gaunt-looking eyes. Their collarbone could be seen through the baby blue hospital gown. Their hair, while dark, was shaved and spiky along the top of the head. The look they were giving me sent chills down my spine. It was hopeless, with any sign of life drained away. Behind them, in the mirror, was a wall of swirling red water. I could only call it a river to hell. I was in hell.
I stumbled back, bumping into the wall behind me as I stared. I gasped, sinking down on the ground. I’m in hell. Oh, fuck, I am in hell.
“Everything okay in there?” I heard the old woman say. She knocked on the door.
After a few minutes, I heard another familiar voice on the other side of the door. “Cadence, you shouldn’t be up. You need to come back to your bed.” The doctor sounded like an angry now. I leaned my body up against the door to try and keep him away. If I was in hell, then I didn’t want him anywhere near me.
“Ms. Rockland, open the door. Don’t make me ask again.”
I could hear them whispering through the door. Bits and pieces of their conversation came to me.
“-them and get them here, now.”
“But won’t that upset-”
“I don’t care anymore. She is a danger to herself and the staff.”
My heart pounded against my chest. I was shaking and breathing heavily, finding it difficult to hold the air in. My throat and lungs burned. My arms began to tingle, radiating through my body until I was having my own mini earthquake.
It wasn’t hard for them to open the door once the key was placed in. The door was able to sweep me away towards the wall. The old nurse knelt down in front of me and looked into my eyes, asking “Are you ready to go back to your bed?”
“That’s not me.” I couldn’t stop shaking.
The two nurses, old and young, lifted me to my feet. My legs were like jelly beneath me, and the feeling of walking made it nearly impossible for the shaking to cease. I needed to run. I needed to get far away from this place, and they wouldn’t let me.
They brought me back to the curtained room. I lied in bed, and the nurses pulled the white blanket back over my body. The doctor stood at the foot of my bed, watching my every move.
“Now, Ms. Rockland, you need to relax.” He sounded like a father speaking to their toddler. “Further action will be taken if needed to ensure your safety.”
“That isn’t me.” I looked at the doctor and repeated it to him. “That wasn’t me. This isn’t me.”
The doctor smiled, with his pearly white teeth hiding a venomous snake behind them, and he stated: “You’re just having a bad reaction.”
I didn’t realize that the blonde nurse had placed a clear surgical mask on my mouth and nose. The last thing I saw before fading away into the comforting black abyss was his bright white smile.
*This piece, though stemming from a true nightmare, is a work of fiction.*