book cover for "Kirkwood"

An excerpt fom, "Kirkwood"


There was blackness all around me and voices, many voices,
murmuring softly and blending together⎯one steady buzzing
sound as you might hear in a crowded theater while waiting for a show to begin.
     A steady beeping, actually several steady beepings,
penetrated the murmuring, some nearby and some farther away. Occasionally there was a clatter of metal, like tin plates being hit against one another. Something moved by on wheels in dire need of lubrication. Squeak...squeak...squeak.
     The air was cool, almost chilly. It wasn't cold or particularly
uncomfortable, yet I felt that the air should be clearing my head enough for my sight to return. I felt something cool and wet dab at my forehead.
     There was an odor of rubber and plastic and... something
antiseptic. The odor was familiar; I knew that I had been here
before. I began to get vaguely angry with myself. I knew where I was, dammit, why couldn't I supply a name to go with this
strange, dark place?
     What was wrong with my eyes? Why couldn't I see? I felt as
if they should work. I felt that I knew the picture that explained the incessant din that seemed to be coming from within my head. Though I was sure that it was not inside my head, or was I? What twist of fate had caused me to arrive in this fuzzy, confused, unexplained state?
     I began to take stock of what I could discern. I was lying on
something hard and cold and I wasn't sure why, but I felt that I
was elevated above the ground. How far above it I didn't know.
Was I just floating in midair? Or was I on some sort of petrified
magic carpet on some other planet? I didn't know, and I was
starting to feel agitated because of it. I felt the cool dampness
touch my forehead once again. It felt good and I clung to the
feeling, reaching out with my mind as best I could, hoping that
the answers would follow.
     "Jay, Jay are you with us ?" The soft, feminine voice was
familiar. I had heard it before, but where?
     "Come back to us, Jay, come on." The voice had taken on a
mild urgency, and it made me more desperate to know what was happening. I felt the coolness on my forehead again as the voice continued to plead with me. I tried to speak to the voice, tried to open some line of communication, but my mouth did not seem to work any better than my eyes. I continued to float in this void, this nonexistence that flowed through and around me in a sort of continuous circle.
     The voice was now joined by a second voice. The second
voice was male but carried the same sense of barely suppressed concern. "Any reaction yet?"
     "No, he's still unresponsive."
     "That was quite a hit he took. Do you know what it was set
     "Three hundred, sixty joules."
     "Three sixty! He's lucky to be alive."
     Well at least I was alive. That was good news. But what had
happened to me? The female voice had said three hundred, sixty joules... and then, from the depths of my brain, burned into my memory, I saw the spark. Spark really wasn't accurate; it was more like a fireball. Brilliant orange, completely unexpected, and then... dark. Suddenly I knew where I was! The emergency room! The female voice belonged to a pretty young nurse named Debbie Farrell, and the male voice belonged to an ER doctor named Craig Scott.
     The ER! How many hours had I spent there putting the
machines through their paces, hooking them up to my various
pieces of test equipment and making them beep their little
electronic hearts out? I felt like a drowning man that had been
thrown a life preserver. My slow, groggy brain began to piece
together the events that had brought me here.
     I had been in one of the medical−surgical units inspecting a
defibrillator that must have had a bad paddle cable. So that was what it was like being 'defibbed.' One of my worst nightmares had suddenly been realized!
     I heard Dr. Scott again, "How does his ECG look?"
     "Stable now."
     "Any sign of V-tach?" Oh god, I thought. V-tach was short
for ventricular tachycardia, a rapid ventricular beat, a state the heart can enter just before ventricular fibrillation when it stops pumping effectively, and the only way to deal with fibrillation was with a defibrillator. There was no way that I was going to get zapped again if I could help it.
     I decided that it was time to try harder to respond. I tried to
open my eyes, to no avail. They felt as if they had been taped
shut. I tried to move my arms, but they felt as if they had been
weighted down with lead. I tried to speak, but my mouth felt as if it was filled with cement. Jay, I said to myself, if you don't do something soon they may use a defib on you. I had worked on enough of these machines to know how they functioned. I knew them inside and out, and I also knew that I wanted no more close encounters with them from this perspective. After all, once was enough. With Herculean effort I attempted to scream. All that managed to escape my parched lips was a moan, but it was enough, because I heard Debbie's voice again.
     "Dr. Scott, he's coming around!"
     I felt a finger gently prying my eyelid open, and then a beam
of brilliant light assaulted my blurred vision. It seemed to burn
right through my brain to the back of my skull. That eyelid was
released and then the other one was opened and the light came again. Oh, please leave me alone and let me just lie here, I thought.

     Then I remembered my motivation⎯the avoidance of
that white-cased machine with its coil-corded paddles and
gleaming metal contacts. I thought that maybe I might be able to try opening my eyes again. Little by little I managed to open my lids, until I was looking up at white ceiling tiles. I've done it! I thought with triumph. Suddenly, the tiles started to melt into each other, and then they started to turn around and around. I was hit by a wave of nausea that literally raised me partially up from the gurney on which I had been lying.
     A metal pan appeared as I retched again and again, until
there just wasn't anything left and my insides ached from the strain. I lay back down, exhausted, and then once more I floated
into unconsciousness.
     A rushing sound woke me. How much time had passed? The
sound was a medic team pushing a patient along on a gurney as they ran beside it. It seemed like they were far away, though I knew somewhere in the back of my mind that they were really only a few feet in front of me. I could see the paramedics and the nurses busily working on the person as they headed for the first trauma room. Their actions were frantic at this point, but it seemed as if they moved in slow motion and were borne on some strange cushion of air that both supported and soundlessly propelled them in the direction that they were going. They didn't even need to move their feet. I lay watching, fascinated. How could they float like that? And then darkness came again…
     Someone was being wheeled into the bay next to mine.
Something told me it was a woman, at least it looked like a
woman. She seemed to be thrashing around a lot, her body was thrashing around anyway; her arms were strapped down. She was moaning and whimpering as they wheeled her into place, but they pulled the curtain around the bed, and soon she quieted down, and again darkness came...
     After what seemed like hours of this on again off again
consciousness, I came to a reasonably stable state of mind. I
became aware of Debbie standing over me, again mopping my
brow with a wet cloth. The coolness felt good on my forehead,
which was starting to ache with a dull throb. Her face held a
look of concentrated concern, and, headache or not, I was
beginning to relish the attention. I lay mesmerized by the swell of her breasts against the white fabric of her uniform. They were not particularly large; they fit her frame very well. If she was aware of my attention she gave no indication.
     "If you want my opinion, electrocution is a lousy way to try
and kill yourself," she said.
     My voice still didn't seem to be connected to my brain yet,
so I tried to smile as I looked up at her face. This girl wasn't just pretty she was very pretty. Why hadn't I noticed before? Her hair was dark brown and cut in a pixie style that I was
particularly fond of. Her face was round, and her eyes were large and blue. Her hands felt soft as she caressed my forehead. She had abandoned the damp cloth, and I lay clinging to the touch of her hand.
     After several tries I was able to speak. "Tylenol!" I croaked.
     "Headache?" she asked and I nodded. "I'm not surprised."
She brought me two tablets and a cup of water, and then helped me sit up enough to swallow them. I lay back down and she stroked my forehead a little longer until sleep overcame me once more.
     I awoke to the sound of a crash and a commotion in the next bed. I looked over to see an IV pump lying sideways on the floor. It was still attached to its pole and still had plastic tubing attached to it. The IV bag had broken open, and there was solution everywhere. From the grunts and groans that could be heard on the other side of the curtain, I surmised that there was quite a wrestling match going on.
     Debbie appeared at my side once again, "Hi, how are you
feeling?" I tried my voice again and was relieved to find that it
still worked; though my throat hurt and the sound that emanated from it was raspy.
     "Better, thanks. What's going on over there?" I indicated the next bed, where there could still be heard the sounds of a

     She looked at me reassuringly, as if everything were
perfectly normal. "Let's just say that you have a very lively next door neighbor."
     "It certainly sounds like it."
     She looked at me curiously. "How in the world did you do
this to yourself?"
     I tried to recollect the events that had taken place before I
had arrived here. "I remember I was checking a defib on one of the units. I guess that the connection between the cables and one of the paddles was bad; I've never seen anything like it. I remember charging the unit, hitting the buttons, and... that's about all I remember."
     "I heard that it was spectacular."
     "Well, that all depends on your point of view." There was a

loud grunt, and the curtain billowed out as someone next door
was pushed against it. Debbie seemed not to notice; just another 'day at the office'. My head was beginning to ache rather badly again.

​     "You're lucky that you weren't more seriously hurt. As it is you're going to have to stay here for a while under observation."


     ​"I can't stay here, it’s a heavy inspection month and I already have several machines waiting for my attention on the bench."
     "Well, the hospital is just going to have to do without one of its mechanical marvels for a little while." She smiled at me, a smile that I felt all the way down to my toes.
     "Electronic marvels, thank you very much." There was another crash from next door, and I glanced down in time to see a suction regulator hit the floor. Debbie again seemed not to notice.
     "Whatever. Anyway, the verdict is the same. Here you are and here you stay until Dr. Scott says differently. You're just going to have to put up with me for a while." The prospect didn't seem at all unappealing, but pride prevented me from giving in too easily.
     "Honestly, Debbie, I have a lot to do."
     Dr. Scott's face appeared around the curtain. "Is he complaining already? They're usually awake in here for at least an hour before this starts."
     "He says he has too much work to do to be here," explained Debbie.
     "Let's not forget that your work is what put you here. We want to make sure that you're okay before we send you back to the front lines," Dr. Scott said ironically.
     There was a stifled growl from next door, and the white trousered legs of an orderly suddenly poked straight through the curtain, directly between Debbie and Dr. Scott, as he tackled someone on the gurney. Dr. Scott ignored the interruption. "How do you feel?"
     "I have felt better... not to mention more dignified." Debbie laughed lightly and I smiled at her.
     Dr. Scott shined his light in my eyes again. "Any more nausea?"
     "Not since I finished puking my guts out."
     "No, not now."
     "Well, I'll tell you what," he said, sounding as if he knew that I wasn't going to like the news. "You took quite a hit from that defib, and I want to keep an eye on you for a while."
     "Meaning I want to check you into a room overnight." Dr. Scott had been right; I definitely did not want to hear this no matter how bad I felt.
     "Doc, please, the guys in my department are never going to let me live this down as it is. Couldn't I just go home and go to bed?" I pleaded.
     "You live alone?"
     "I'm sorry, I just don't want to take the chance. I want you under a nurse's watchful eye for the night."
     I felt dejected. I believed that the hospital offered first class care, but I definitely did not want to be a patient in it. After all, I thought, who would want to have to spend the night at work? I must have looked as dejected as I felt, because Debbie did not leave right away.
     "Is there anything that I can do?" There was genuine concern in her voice and in her eyes.
     "I'm getting kind of tired of looking at the ceiling," I said.
     "Well, that's no problem," she said, as she readjusted the gurney so that my head was raised. I realized that my stomach had begun rumbling.
     "Would something to eat be a problem? I feel kind of empty."
     "Sure, I'll take care of it. I'm on 'til eleven. We'll get you a room and I'll stop up later to see how you're doing."
     "It's all part of the friendly service," she said with a smile. She gave my hand a little squeeze and then was off to tend to other patients.