Day 1 — Sunday
It was 5:59 a.m. when my cellphone rang. On my day off. Sure, I was off duty, but I was still on call. Not for very long. My black iPhone 4S was always right there on my night table for when duty called in the middle of the night. I had been in Port Hope merely a few weeks and had only been working at Mount Hope Trauma Center for a week and a half as a trauma nurse. I’d been flown some 3000 miles just to get the position as part of a new initiative to hire new staff for a new section of the treatment center. I’d been out of nursing school for a couple of years, had worked as a nurse for a few more years, had recently gotten married, bought my first new car, was still in debt beyond words, yet work is what ruled my life. I spent most of my days in the hospital, basically nursing the dead back to life.
“Yes?” I answered the phone, already knowing what I was about to be told.
I knew all about being called at all hours of the night, doing grocery shopping and having to leave everything in the cart right there in the middle of the aisle, having to speed through traffic like a madman to get to work to save someone’s life. But at the end of the day it was all worth it.
“There’s an emergency at the hospital,” my boss spoke urgently, “you need to come right away.”
“Count on me,” I muttered, “I’ll be right there.”
My husband Corey turned to look at me when I grunted loudly and momentarily let my head flop on the pillow for just one more minute. When I opened my eyes again it was six o’clock. And so I got up in a jiffy, stripped off my pajamas making them fly all over the little room and putting on my scrubs, grabbing my car keys and bolting out the door without anything else. It might’ve been October, but Port Hope had a cold northern climate and without a coat even the ten second journey to my Pontiac was frigid. I hadn’t even said bye to my husband before I barged out the door. A light blue sky illuminated everything in the neighborhood. A considerable amount of traffic was already flooding the streets, mostly people who had to open something up for seven o’clock. After having extensively studied science and nursing as well as having only worked in hospitals during my adult years, there was no thinking required on my behalf to mentally prepare myself for whatever I was about to face at work.
I’d seen people be shot, lose limbs, be in incredible car crashes and still miraculously survive unsurvivable circumstances. I was indeed a believer in miracles; I helped make them happen. I loved seeing a patient smile at me, seeing them wave as they walk out of the hospital alive and kicking, and being told that I had helped them through a difficult time. My mother had always told me that the magnitude of a job could only be measured by the depths of its rewards and the only thing I could say about that was that my job was definitely one of the most fulfilling things in my life. Being around tragedy all day wasn’t that bad after all. I had peace of mind knowing that at the end of the day I could go home and tell my husband that I had saved someone’s life.
York Avenue was rather clogged up, with mostly police cars, journalists, and people with a multitude of tense looks on their faces. Something had obviously went down since I had last turned on the news, turned on the radio or opened up a newspaper. I parked the red Pontiac in the staff parking lot and barged in through the door. I was immediately greeted by just under a dozen police officers with some intense looks on their faces like they meant business. I swallowed hard and walked up to them, waiting for them to tell me what was going on or instruct me on what to do next.
“Are you Lina Anna?” one cop asked me in a stern tone of voice.
“Yes,” I spoke softly, having completely transformed into meek and compassionate nurse since walking through the doors.
“Please show us some identification, then Sgt. Murdoch will search you and you can go through.”
“Alright, here you go.”
I showed the officers my identification, and let them pat me down quickly before they let me go through and meet up with Dr. Allen so he could give me a little heads up on what was all the commotion and heightened security. Shortly after the officers were finished with me, some of the other new nurses walked in behind me, having been called around the same time I had. For the first time in my career I felt a surge of anxiety. What had gone on that was so bad, that was so horrible? I swallowed hard again before meeting up with the doctors and the other nurses in the meeting room down the hallway. Dr. Eric Allen handed me a cup of coffee as he closed the door behind me, also with a very serious look on his face.
“As some of you might’ve heard, there was a shooting at the Lakeside Mall yesterday,” he spoke in a slow voice, “and subsequently there was a shootout between the police and the suspect in which multiple were injured.”
I had missed that on the news obviously, because it was the first time I’d heard of such a thing. I gulped down my cup of coffee in just a few sips and quickly got ready to relieve the overnight nurses of their duties. I take it they had been called some twelve hours prior, when the shooting had originally occurred.
“Nikki, Lina, Phil and Robyn, y’all are on the sixth floor,” Dr. Eric said softly, “everyone else on the eighth floor. Dr. Roberto Ng will be arriving at any moment to replace me.”
The elevator made a ding noise as I stepped out on the sixth floor. Just down the hallway there were eight police officers guarding a single door. The other nurses and I approached quickly as the trauma nurses about to finish their shifts were going to fill us in on what to expect since we had yet to be running into the emergency room and stitching up gunshot wounds.
“Come here Lina,” Maxine, the head nurse, instructed me as he led me through the door with heavy police presence.
I followed her in silence, nodding at the officers on my way in. Two more officers were in the room, slouched against the wall and looking at the young man laying limp in the bed. Most of his face was bandaged up and most of all available hospital machines were hooked up to him. He was even cuffed to the bed even though it seemed like he wasn’t even still alive at that point. Maxine told me that he’d just come out of surgery and was in a deep coma; one that nobody knew if he was going to get out of. Obviously the young man was the suspect of all the violence in Port Hope, a generally very quiet community, but he looked like he was just a kid quite frankly. So far six people had been confirmed dead in the commotion, with another seven in critical condition. That was at Mount Hope Trauma Center; there were three other hospitals in the city, and I didn’t know how many people they had.
“As you can see he’s barely alive,” Maxine spoke in a tired voice, “you won’t be doing much other than watching him and taking his vitals and giving him more medication every hour until he wakes up. You’ll have to change the bandages on his neck and abdomen as well as clean the wound every three hours.”
“What’s his name?” I asked, puzzled more than anything else.
“It’s Vadim Pushkin,” she replied, “he’s six days shy of his eighteenth birthday, one that he might not even see because the police shot him.”
Maxine saluted me before walking out. I pulled up a chair and sat next to the bed. On the table there was a medical file for him but it was incomplete as the boy had been admitted a few hours ago and had just come out of life saving surgery. Dr. Ng was supposed to come in and run some tests on him once he arrived. Although I couldn’t see much of his face, Vadim Pushkin looked young for his age. He was quite frankly just a kid. He’d been shot in the neck by police in a firefight that ultimately put him in the state he was in. His left eye was sutured shut, if there was even an eye left under there, and multiple tubes were in his mouth. His left arm was in a cast from the elbow up to the fingers and had multiple gunshot wounds to the abdomen and right leg. His skin was depleted of color, with only his thick black overgrown hair left to contrast against it and the bandages turning red.
The two officers in the room looked bored as they both paced around the room. They wanted to question Vadim but nobody knew for sure if he was even going to wake up. For the first couple of hours there was no activity at all. I cleaned up Vadim and changed his bandages when the time came but he was still deep in a coma. I hadn’t spoken to the two officers and they hadn’t even spoken to each other except for when it came time to switch shifts. A single officer came in and had much of the same face as the other two had. When my shift came to an end I nodded at the young green-eyed cop and went on my way. I grabbed another cup of coffee before making a brief stop to the washroom, grabbing my things, and walking back to my car. Outside the weather had gotten much warmer, but the whole day had gone by and I hadn’t even seen it at all.
Back at the apartment Corey was gone. He’d left a note on the kitchen table saying that he’d be picking up food for the two of us if I got home before he came back. Generally I told him about how my days went, without mentioning specific people due to confidentiality of course, but if I sewed up someone who had been shot I’d tell him how it went. But not tonight, I thought to myself. I had a hard time digesting what I had seen during my day. The kid who was in critical condition who had to be monitored 24/7 had went on a shooting rampage. Lucky me, I had arrived home at around the same time that the news started. And of course, the tragedy was the only thing consuming the airways. I quickly turned it off, me who usually liked to watch the news when I had the chance, but that chance was often rare.
“Hey there!” Corey greeted me joyfully as he walked in through the door with a large deluxe pizza (with no mushrooms!) and came to sit down next to me, “You aren’t watching the news, what’s up with that?”
“Oh, I’m just tired,” I dismissed the question, “it’s been a long day.”
“I take it you treated some of them,” he spoke in a low voice, obviously referring to the shooting.
I simply nodded. I had treated him, and I didn’t want to talk about it. That brief exchange concluded the communication between my husband and I for the rest of the evening.
Day 2 — Monday
Monday mornings. I never met a single person who liked those. On the bright side though, my brain had remained in work mode from the day before. It wasn’t like having spent two days laying on the couch and eating pizza and then having to give it all you got for a shift that lasted twelve hours and sometimes more. That was hard, I will not lie about that. Because of the crisis the hospital was running short on staff and I’d be working irregular hours until things calmed down, however long that was going to take. It wasn’t uncommon for nurses and even though I hadn’t been one for eternity, it didn’t particularly bother me. There was nothing that a good cup of coffee, or a few, couldn’t fix in the morning!
At the hospital that morning it was much of the same routine. Different officers, same procedures. Of course the media had gotten a hold of the news story that the gunman was in the same hospital as some of his victims and that had prompted backlash to some degree, but there were more reporters in the parking lot than I had ever seen at one time. I had been strictly told to ignore them, so I did. I walked up to the staff lounge, grabbed an overly large cup of coffee, did my little routine as I quickly gulped down the java and went to my post, still Vadim’s bedside. I had seen terrible things working as a trauma nurse but I had never previously seen someone in such awful shape in such a deep coma. I didn’t quite know what to make of that yet. No patient of mine had ever died. I knew I couldn’t save all of them, but the first cut was always the deepest.
To my surprise Maxine was still wandering the halls upstairs looking exhausted, like she hadn’t slept in over a century. She greeted me and briefly stopped me in the hallway, telling me that there would be free counseling sessions for nurses for a couple of weeks if I was interested. I had probably seen the paper advertising it in the staff lounge but had overlooked it with my regular routine. It was pretty much always the same. It had gotten to the point that it did itself. I also crossed Dr. Ng in the hallway who was finally going home after working more than twenty hours straight but he had concluded that Vadim Pushkin should wake up, and soon, because he was young and he was healthy. If it was the case, I’d probably be the first one to get to talk to him. As a nurse I always tried to remain optimistic, but in the back of my mind I knew too well that not everything turns out the way they are supposed to.
Certain things are supposed to turn out certain ways, but sometimes they don’t. You can only hope that they do. Sometimes the things that happen are out of our control, and sometimes the only reason why something happened was because it seemed like a good idea to the person who set it in motion at the time, no matter what the end result may be. Sometimes the reason behind something isn’t a reason at all, but an illusion, a facade, one that we cannot see past so we must try to make sense of it the best we can under the circumstances. All one can really do in life is do what they can with what they have to get where they want to go, and enjoy the ride along the way, because life might as well end in an unforeseen blink of an eye. And just like that, it’s gone, and you can never get it back again.
“Wow, no more tubes,” I exclaimed somewhat optimistically as I entered Vadim’s room and noticed that the apparatus inserted into his mouth had been removed.
“I don’t know what you did Lina,” the nurse said to me as she was leaving, “but his condition improved a whole lot.”
“I’m telling you that I didn’t do anything,” I muttered, slightly taken aback by the sudden progress in his condition.
“Then you must have magic powers,” she replied, “the boy should be dead.”
That was rather accurate. Not a whole lot of people survive a blast of bullets like that. It takes only one to be fatal, yet some people survive two dozens at once. In a certain way, it’s not always a bad thing that life doesn’t necessarily turn out the way it’s supposed to be. But in a case such as that the moral dilemma between him and his victims still remained. Why should he live and not them? I did not know the answer to that question. What I did know, however, was that I had taken and oath in which I stated that I would treat all my patients equally, regardless of what they had done to land themselves in my unit. It didn’t matter if a person was the victim or the perpetrator, in an establishment such as a hospital, everyone had the same right to life. No questions asked. No points to prove. And I agreed with that.
The majority of the late morning and early afternoon was highly uneventful. I did my regular duties and watched the cops come and go as they switched shifts. One young guy that came in later on was particularly talkative. He spoke at length about everything ranging from the aging infrastructure to the different cloud formations in the sky to what kind of music he and his colleagues listened to in the police cruisers while they were on patrol last week near the shipping docks to each particular marking on the calico cat he had waiting for him at home. I smiled at him as he went on and on but his partner looked rather annoyed. I figured the young officer did that constantly. After days and days of that, yeah, I’d be annoyed too. But for me it was a welcomed distraction since my patient was pretty much mute.
The only thing that interrupted the young officer’s upbeat chatter was Vadim’s heart monitor that started beeping out of control. All the cops lurking around the doorway seemed to panic at the sound. They wanted that guy alive no matter what that consisted of. They wouldn’t accept we did the best we could as an answer. Immediately Vadim was administered medication to bring his blood pressure down. His condition had stabilized a considerable amount overnight but he still wasn’t awake. After a few more hours Dr. Kelly came in to look at Vadim’s wounds when I cleaned them. His jaw wound was no longer bleeding which was a big bonus because he had lost so much blood and an urgent appeal was sent out for more blood donations in the area since many of his victims had also badly needed blood transfusions. Vadim’s face looked peaceful in the midst of his otherworldly sleep.
“So, Karla isn’t exactly fond of that new cat food recipe,” the officer hesitantly resumed talking after an extended silence, “so I switched to buying the organic kind from the store down on Main Street.”
It wasn’t long before the chatter resumed in full swing. I grinned at the cop’s comments but his partner sighed loudly, purposely to make his exasperation known to his chatty coworker. Unfortunately for him the young officer didn’t seem to take notice and kept going on and on. I aimlessly paced around the room since I had been ordered to not leave Vadim without medical supervision at all times. Even on his way out when his shift ended he kept on talking on and on much to the displeasure of the other officer. Two other officers entered the room next and did much of the same sitting around since Vadim wasn’t moving. One officer asked me about his condition since they had barely been briefed on what they were heading into when they arrived. I answered as best as I could since nobody really know how the living dead boy was feeling since he couldn’t tell us.
I anxiously paced around the room for a while as I looked at the clock. My shift was almost over. I was hoping to have a chat with my husband. It seemed that in recent weeks we had barely spoken at all. The police officers seemed to want to get on with their lives too but at the same time we were only answering to the needs of the jobs we had sworn to do consistently and with conviction. A whole lot of things were going on through my mind as I thought about coffee among a multitude of other things but my moment was interrupted much like the young chatty officer’s had; by Vadim needing attention. He had grunted and exhaled loudly, like someone who was in deep pain. Both the police officers and I rushed to his bedside to see if he was conscious or not. Sure enough, he was waking up.
“He’s waking up!” one officer shouted loudly to the people down the hallway.
Two doctors and an army of nurses came running into the small room. It was a few moments before Vadim opened his one eye that wasn’t sutured shut and looked around the room. Dr. Kelly examined him and asked him questions but the boy didn’t respond at all. He didn’t seem to be quite lucid just yet. His eye wandered back and forth around the room, seemingly searching for something familiar but not quite being able to process everything in the state he was currently in. The doctor had barely finished speaking when the officers started interrogating a Vadim that was still in a daze, mainly asking him if there was still a threat to the public since there had been some reports of a second shooter opening fire but nobody knew if it was someone associated with Vadim or a copycat shooter or a completely separate incident. Vadim wasn’t able to speak nor had he been read his rights prior to the cops beginning their tirade of accusations against him.
“Guys, stop immediately!” Dr. Kelly angrily shouted in a loud tone of voice, “He’s on some strong painkillers and cannot even speak at this point! Save this for the morning! Let him rest!”
But the cops didn’t leave him alone. They continued to probe the young man despite the fact that he obviously had no idea what was going on around him. Vadim was handed a pen a pad of paper so he could write the answers to the questions because his jaw injury still prevented him from speaking. For a little while, a confused and disoriented Vadim scribbled aimlessly and incoherently before finding the right words to say that he wanted to rest. He badly wanted to sleep, he even went as far as circling the sentence rest please but he didn’t appear to fully understand the rest of the questions. I don’t think he even knew he was in the hospital or why he was there. He asked why his right hand was cuffed to the bed but he didn’t seem to understand the answer he was given. Before I left my shift I had to sign yet another confidentiality agreement stating that whatever confession or other word coming out of Vadim’s mouth could not be repeated under any circumstances whatsoever. I had no choice but to agree.
And then I went home after doing about an hour of overtime until the police let Vadim rest indefinitely before attempting to question him again. Corey seemed to have figured out that the gunman was the person I was treating because he was overly soft compared to the way he usually was with me once I got home from work. He asked me if I wanted to talk about it as soon as I sat down at the kitchen table to have a snack and some coffee. No, I did not want to talk about it because I still hadn’t digested the whole thing. As a nurse I was a very compassionate person who loved to nurse the needy back to health but I was facing a moral dilemma in not only treating someone who had committed a horrible act but I also had to think about the fact that he might as well face execution if convicted.
There was always a certain amount of love and affection involved in caring for others. Healing someone and then watch then be injected with poison was a bizarre thing to contemplate and despite that Vadim definitely deserved a harsh sentence for his actions I did not believe in capital punishment. I never had, and Vadim Pushkin did not change my opinion about that. Everyone had a right to life in this country, even him. Maybe treating him made me want him to live so much more but I also had to deal with my feelings of guilt regarding treating him after also witnessing the destruction that he caused. Maybe telling Corey about my feelings without going into specifics would’ve been a positive thing for me as my thoughts weighed deeply on me after spending the large majority of my day in the middle of what was bothering me.
Day 3 — Tuesday
Another early morning shift. At least I possibly had a conversation with Vadim to look forward to. Or maybe not. Maybe he wouldn’t be able to talk, or maybe he wouldn’t want to. Maybe he’d tell me that he was proud of what he’d done or tell me to go screw myself. Or maybe we’d have a nice long chat since both me and another nurse were assigned to him now that he was awake. I got the day started early so I could actually taste my coffee as I drank it but also to catch up on what was going on before I actually had to start working in the middle of it. I hadn’t spoken to Corey much and hadn’t said a word about work to him. He hadn’t said much to me either. He knew that when I remained silent it was because I wanted the silence.
At the hospital there were now five officers in Vadim’s room. A skinny teenage boy that was tied to his bed and suffering from multiple gunshot wounds didn’t need a truckload of cops surrounding him at all times. When I walked into the room he was still sleeping and another young nurse named Adrienne was already at his bedside. I got the impression that he had slept all night and hadn’t said a word by the look on the officers’ faces. Their demeanors were intimidating since many of them frowned angrily as they silently looked at each other. I greeted everyone by nodding my head and continued on with what I was supposed to do. There was an eerie quiet in the room with only the sound of my footsteps as I walked around and more noise down the hallway. At around eight that morning the doctor on call came in and checked on Vadim before any of his other patients.
Vadim woke up once the doctor began to speak loudly and unlike the first time he woke up after being heavily sedated and in a coma, he looked scared and nervous. His eye darted across the room, only seeing police officers no matter where his gaze landed. His blood pressure went through the roof again and he had to be given medication to relax so he didn’t go into cardiac arrest after all the trauma he had recently been through. The doctor must’ve had a harsh word with the police at some point because they didn’t attack him with questions as soon as that tired brown eye opened up. They gave Vadim the chance to speak first but he kept looking around the room not knowing what was going on.
“You should have died,” the doctor told Vadim.
That was probably not the best thing you could tell someone who was just regaining consciousness but the shocked and terrified expression on Vadim’s face didn’t change at the words the doctor spoke to him.
“Do you know where you are?” the doctor asked.
Vadim looked around a little and then nodded his head slightly before bursting into tears. It was quite a disheartening sight to see. It didn’t matter if that person was the victim or the perpetrator; that person was my patient and it was my duty to be kind and compassionate to them. I sat by his bedside and held his little hand in mine in hopes to comfort him a little bit but to no avail. He was crying so hysterically that he had to be sedated again for a while. The cops had wanted to ask him some questions about public safety again but they weren’t about to. They only seemed to be angrier that the suspect needed healing of his own. The intense police presence all around me began to make me nervous after a while of them lurking around the place. Less than two hours later Vadim woke up again, and began crying again. The officers weren’t about to waste any more time though, they immediately got on his back.
“Were you the only shooter?”
He nodded his head as he was unable to speak.
“Are there any other threats to public safety?”
He shook his head.
“Are you sure?”
“Here’s a pen and a pad of paper if you’d like to tell us anything.”
I held the pad of paper in place for Vadim to attempt to write as best as he could considering he was nearly immobile in his bed, not to mention cuffed to it. His writings weren’t very coherent but you could clearly make out the words lawyer, vomit, rest, I’m sorry and why? He scribbled all over the page as he tried to write something that wasn’t quite coming out the way he wanted. Eventually he dropped the pen and let out a loud sigh of exasperation.
“You need to vomit?” I asked him.
He nodded his head slightly with an urgent look in his eye.
“Well,” I said in a low and almost embarrassed tone of voice, “you can’t puke because your jaw is wired shut. But I’ll get you something for that, it’s just a side effect of the strong painkillers you’re on.”
“I’ll go get something,” Adrienne almost cut me off as she got up and stormed out the room, “I’ll be right back.”
She was much more anxious than I was around the police trying to nurse the suspect back to life. She came in less than a minute later and gave Vadim yet another cocktail of drugs to take away the side effects of the previous drugs. She barely had time to sit down again before the police started grilling the invalid boy with questions again. LAWYER Vadim wrote on a piece of paper and even circled it when the police kept asking him things, which he didn’t reply to.
“He wants a lawyer,” I said in a mousy voice as the police didn’t seem to get the message, “I think he’s entitled to one during this kind of questioning.”
None of the officers responded to my remark but two of them looked at me menacingly. Then Vadim kept on writing that he wanted to rest; he was tired and beat up and quite frankly wasn’t supposed to be alive after something like that. The cops let him sleep for a while but as soon as he woke up the same routine started up again. He began to cry, the cops switched shifts and the young talkative officer was back. He more than happily officially read Vadim his rights before telling him, probably with more words than was necessary, that he could have a court-appointed lawyer to represent him. I wanted to grin as I thoughts back to all the other things he had previously said the day before. To let go of some anxiety I felt like asking him what Karla thought of the organic cat food, but it was not the time or the place so I kept the thought to myself.
At the end of my shift I reluctantly left. Believe me, I was happy to get away from the huge police presence but I also had to admit to myself that I was worried about Vadim. I was worried about what they might do to him. I knew I could take good care of him, and not that I didn’t trust the other nurses because after all they’d gotten that job because they were competent enough to do it, but I saw the coldness in their faces when they looked at him. I knew thinking too much wasn’t good for me so I did my best to brush off the thought, well knowing that I’d be back in the morning for another round of that. I’d get to care for him again. Soon. I took my time to go back home dreading facing Corey whom I knew wanted to talk to me. Once I walked through the door I was immediately greeted by him waiting for me.
“You’re treating him aren’t you?” he asked immediately, “The shooter?” “Yes,” I admitted.
“I sorta figured that because you get all mousy and shy when you feel guilty.”
I sighed loudly, almost on the verge of tears.
“I don’t know how to reconcile this inside my head,” I muttered out with another loud sigh, “when you see a kid hurt like that you can’t help but feel sorry for him, but then I walk out of that room and see all the pain he caused others. When I look at him I don’t see a mass murderer, a teenage killer, a terrorist, or even the bad guy. And then I walk out of there and ask myself if people would be grateful to me for helping save his life or if they’d be angry.”
Then I put my hand over my face and began to cry. Corey walked towards me slowly not wanting to upset me more, and then wrapped his arms around me.
“At work I don’t think about it because it’s my job,” I went on, “but then when it’s over I’m left to ponder what I did for the past twelve hours. I ask myself why I give him painkillers, why I clean his wounds and why he’s allowed to live but some of his victims aren’t. And then I wonder why I pour my heart out into my job to save him when he might as well be executed.”
Corey squeezed me tighter and attempted to comfort me but in that moment I wasn’t sure anything could be done for me. I contemplated maybe going for those free counselling sessions while they were available if my feelings didn’t go away in the near future.
“You have to treat him Lina,” Corey whispered to me, “you have to.”
“Deep inside my heart I know it’s the right thing to do,” I replied in an exasperated tone of voice, “but I can’t help having second thoughts or anxiety about it.”
“Never forget that I am proud of you Lina and that I look up to you for your service.” “Thanks darling, I really needed to hear that right about now.”
Day 4 — Wednesday
I was already tired when I woke up. Corey and I had stayed up late, just talking about anything that was on our mind. he was still sleeping soundly when I walked out the door. The morning was particularly frigid for the time of the year. It wouldn’t’ve surprised me if there was snow in the forecast for the day. At work it was much of the same police security checkpoints. I was almost getting used to it. I felt a great deal less of stress regarding my job but I felt much more emotional than usual. In the lounge as I had my regular coffee Maxine was telling me that such feelings were normal for the current circumstances we were facing. Some of the other nurses who had treated Vadim and watched over him all night — there were eleven of us including me — had said that they’d had dreams of the nightmarish things they saw when he and some of the victims were rushed in with multiple gunshot wounds. Thus far I had bee lucky to maintain an undisturbed sleep.
Only two officers were in Vadim’s room when I arrived to take over the shift. There was, however, an incredibly heavy police presence in the hallway outside his room. I figured Adrienne hadn’t reacted too well to having to nurse the shooter back to life since she wasn’t the one who assisted me despite that it was the two of us who had been assigned to him. My new partner of a nurse was an older lady named Terese who had never done anything else than be a nurse her entire life. I admired such dedication. I had always wished be able to be at least half the nurse she was at some point during my career. She was very calm compared to Adrienne, but not talkative at all. She barely spoke to me as we both tended to Vadim who seemed annoyed more than anything.
“In just about an hour and a half you’re going to get that apparatus taken out of your mouth so you’ll be able to speak again,” I told him hoping that it would cheer him up.
His face showed no emotion when I spoke. I smiled softly at him in the hope of giving him a bit of encouragement considering he still had a long road to recovery ahead of him without counting the endless legal hurdles he’d have to go through. There was no doubt in my mind that he was doing the best he could to enjoy, if such a thing could be done, his time in the hospital because it would probably be the last time he’d be outside concrete walls and barbwire fences.
“Are you in pain honey?” I asked him.
He shook his head. He did however attempt to make gestures with the hand that was tied to the railing of the bed. His other hand was bandaged up and limp so it wasn’t of much use. I handed him the pen and paper but that wasn’t what he wanted.
“He wants your hand,” Terese told me in her usual soft voice.
Not knowing what else to do I slipped my hand into his and he squeezed it lightly. He let out a light sigh, seemingly one of relief, as I put my other hand over it as well. Where was that kid’s mom? His dad? Anyone? He was completely alone. Nobody had come for him. The nurses were probably the only motherly figures around to comfort him. I sat next to his bed speaking to him softly until the doctor arrived to perform minor surgery on his jaw. The wires were removed and all of the bandages remaining on his face were history as well. I’d still have to clean the multiple stitches on the side of his face but at least I could rest easy knowing another one of my patients would walk out of the hospital alive and well. The sutures were removed from his eye as well revealing a blue eye next to the brown one.
“Here you go young man,” Dr. Ng said pleasantly once the job was over, “almost as good as new! Your jaw will be sore for quite a while so don’t try to put too much pressure on it right now but your prognosis is excellent. You will make a full recovery.”
Vadim seemed unfazed upon hearing that he was expected to recover well. Occasionally he would try to rub his bottom jaw or slightly stick out his tongue but he appeared to be apathetic to everything else. He’d held on to my hand the entire time but he hadn’t spoken to me, or anyone, and the severity of the situation didn’t seem to bother him very much. He hadn’t asked to look at himself in the mirror to see if he was disfigured or plead with the police to call his parents. At first I had thought that maybe he didn’t love them, but on second thoughts maybe they didn’t love him. Whichever it was, I couldn’t help feeling slightly protective of him.
“You have beautiful eyes,” I told him as he glanced in my direction for the first time since the doctor had been finished with him.
“Thank you,” he said as he smirked at me slightly, it was also the first time that I heard his voice, “it’s also good to be able to speak again. That was more frustrating than I can say right now.”
“I can relate, I broke my jaw when I was fourteen, and subsequently I needed two surgeries to correct that.”
“For me it wasn’t so much about the pain, I just wanted to tell that cop to stop talking. God, I never thought he was going to shut up!”
I couldn’t help myself. I cracked up laughing. I covered my mouth with my hand so my outburst wouldn’t attract attention. Vadim chuckled slightly but then winced in pain so I got him some more meds for that. He hesitantly took them orally but thanked me for them afterwards. His jaw was sore that was understandable, but neither his physical injuries nor the impending legal case against him seemed to be what was bothering him. Part of me wanted so badly to be able to help him but I knew that once I got home I’d have to deal with incredible feelings of guilt. Guilt for just going my job; helping someone who needed healing. And that created even more conflict inside my head. Why should I even feel guilty for helping someone, regardless of who they were?
“You look like you’ve got a storm going on inside your head,” Vadim muttered after a few moments of silence on my behalf.
“That’s putting it mildly hon,” I replied sweetly, with a warm smile on my face.
“It’s not gonna kill me to hear what you have to say, plus you only have to spend two more days with me.”
“You’re already getting moved so quickly?”
“Well, that’s what the police want. Of course I have no say in that. I’m going to federal prison on my eighteenth birthday, but I deserve that.”
“I’m so sorry dear. It doesn’t matter what you deserve or don’t deserve, when I see someone in your situation I can’t help but show them compassion.”
“You’re a nice nurse.”
I gently and affectionately squeezed his arm. He definitely wasn’t going to get any of that from the correctional officers in prison. If there was even a slight chance of preserving some form of humanity in that young man, the responsibility fell on my shoulders.
“Do you think I’m troubled?” Vadim asked me out of the blue. The question caught me off-guard.
“Troubled?” I asked again.
“Yeah, like messed up,” he said, “and no offense to you lady but you seem to be really distraught.”
I took a deep breath and let out an overly loud sigh.
“I’m going to tell you the truth Vadim,” I spoke gently after a few moments, “it’s hard to see a patient get better so quickly and then have to think about their execution in a couple of years.”
“I’m sorry that my presence makes you feel that way.”
“Life is so precious, and as a nurse I am definitely a lover of life, and the worst possible thing that can happen to a caretaker is see one of their patients… die.”
“I hear ya.”
“But don’t you worry about me. My job is to take care of you and I will, no matter what.”
I went about my business for the rest of the day without a hitch. Terese and I took turns sitting with the young man and talking to him. Terese seemed to really soothe him while I paced around the room anxiously. The young talkative officer returned. He didn’t come back to guard Vadim though, but nonetheless you could hear him somewhere down the hallway. Vadim cracked up laughing but soon complained of jaw pain again and Terese decided to get the doctor to look at him prior to his routine patient checks. Unfortunately for the boy, he had suffered some nerve damage from being shot and the doctor had to perform another mini surgery on him and wire his jaw shut for the rest of the night until the following morning. That put an abrupt end to the chatter and had me bored for the rest of the shift since I had been looking forward to not just sitting in a chair and watching a patient sleep.
The police had requested that Vadim be in the constant eye of a medical professional since they wanted him alive at all costs. Alive so the State could kill him instead? He had been a trooper throughout his treatment but his condition seemed to slightly deteriorate before my shift ended that night. He came up with a mild fever and some of the stitches in his mouth were bleeding. You could see it in his eyes that he wanted all of that over with. I did my regular nurse duties and cleaned him up before calling it a night. There would be no overtime. I’d actually have a night to spend with Corey for the first time this past week. While I couldn’t really talk about the specifics that went on at work with him due to patient confidentiality, I could at least use a moral boost and unwind from all the stress. Just as I was ready to walk out the door of Vadim’s room he began making loud grunting noises to get my attention drawn back to him.
“What’s wrong hon?” I asked him even though he couldn’t speak, “Are you in pain?”
I then handed him the pad of paper and a pen so he could tell me what was up. Kiss goodnight he wrote simply before the pen trailed off the page. I leaned over and smooched him on the forehead before smiling sweetly at him.
“Good to go?” I asked before leaving.
He nodded his head. I then closed the lights, closed the door behind me and walked out into a snowstorm. As I inhaled and exhaled loudly out in the merciless wind, the air burned my lungs. I felt numb inside, still struggling to reconcile unreconcilable things inside my mind. There were always going to be people who leave traces on your soul, and for me Vadim Pushkin was one of them. It really didn’t matter how much you loved and cared for a person or wanted for them to get well, there was nothing you could do to stop them from causing harm, and much less undoing it.
Day 5 — Thursday
By the time I got through the clogged up traffic, I arrived at work almost two hours late. A tanker truck had flipped and spilled fuel all over the road and the environmental cleanup people had blocked it off only leaving one lane that each side had to share. When I walked into Vadim’s room he didn’t look happy.
“I didn’t think you were coming,” he sternly said to me as he was able to speak again.
“I’m sorry, I got caught in traffic,” I replied softly, “you might’ve heard people gossiping about it, but there’s a big spill on one of the main roads.”
“I don’t like the dude they sent to replace you.”
“Like you actually need all these people to watch over you.”
He smirked at my remark. Then I noticed Brandon, the newest and only male nurse in my unit. Officer I-Can’t-Keep-My-Mouth-Shut was in the room with another frail-looking police officer that was old enough to be his great-grandfather. He too seemed annoyed and unhappy.
“Please talk to me!” Vadim grumbled as I sat next to his bed.
“I’m right here,” I assured him as I held his little hand in mine, “how’s your jaw doing this morning?”
“They finally fixed it right apparently. Right now I’m pretty buzzed up on morphine, but I’m disfigured.”
“Disfigured?! Where? So you’ve got a few stitches on your pretty face where the bullets went in but there’s nothing abnormal about it.”
Yes, Vadim’s face was badly beat up, but there was nothing indicating that it wouldn’t return to normal.
“Here,” he said pointing somewhere around his mouth and his cheek, “the side of my mouth. It looks like I’m always grinning evilly even when I’m not.”
“Well, that’s definitely not the worst disfiguration I’ve ever seen,” I replied blandly.
While Vadim and I both laughed at my remark, it was indeed true. As a trauma nurse I had seen people come out of life-saving surgery missing a couple of pieces including eyes and ears and such and needing multiple reconstructive surgeries afterwards. So a patient who got a permanent smile on one side of his face definitely wasn’t the worst disfiguration I had ever seen.
“It’s a result of nerve damage honey,” I said in a more serious tone of voice, “from being shot in the temporormandibular joint area.”
“Say again?” he muttered, somewhat alarmed like I had just told him he had terminal cancer.
“TMJ, for short.”
“I have a headache just thinking about words like that.” “Nursing school gave me many headaches, believe me!” “Police officers give me headaches.”
It was so hard not to burst out laughing at that point but a few giggles escaped anyway. Vadim cracked up laughing but soon winced in pain since laughing like that put strain on his fragile and swollen jaw.
“What’s so funny?” the young talkative cop asked once he heard the laughter.
“Our patient here has quite the sense of humor,” I replied as I turned back to look at the officer, but then spoke on a more serious note, “but why is it that we need so many people to be with him around the clock? He can’t even get out of his bed!”
“It’s just orders from the big guys,” the chatty one went on, “we just gotta do what we’re told and not ask why I guess.”
And then of course came a lengthy speech. I rubbed Vadim’s hand to relax him since I knew he hated that kind of chatter. The cop’s partner had an enormous frown on his face and so did Brandon. I knew that he’d heard Vadim say that he didn’t like the dude they sent to replace me. I had never previously worked alongside Brandon but I knew that he didn’t sit down at the bedside of a teenage killer to hold his hand for hours at a time. It was hard to switch in and out of nurse mode all the time. At home you have to cringe at violent crime but at work but you have to be very affectionate and caring towards the very people who make you cringe like that. During the day you have to revive the killer and when you go home at night you have to agree with giving him the death penalty. I guess in a way it was just business as usual for me despite that in an ignored part of my conscious it weighed on me heavily.
“They’re sending me to a federal medical center tomorrow,” Vadim said after a few moments of listening to the chatter, “I’ll even get to meet my cheap ass lawyer that your taxes are paying for.”
“I know, you told me earlier and the doctor was doing some paperwork for you to be transferred when I arrived,” I replied in a gentle tone of voice in hopes to comfort him even just a little bit, “but don’t you worry. They’ll take very good care of you at McGraw Prison. Some of the nurses here get sent there sometimes too when there’s a shortage of staff so you might see me again.”
Contrary to what I had hoped to accomplish, Vadim grumbled and sighed loudly at my comment. Vadim’s face fell and he frankly looked like he was about to cry.
“After this crap is over I never want to see you again,” I muttered in a low voice.
I didn’t know how to respond to that. The young man saw that I was taken aback by his comment so he squeezed my hand; the gesture that I usually used on him to comfort him.
“I’m not saying this to hurt you,” he went on in a shaky voice, “I’m saying this because I love you.”
“I love you too,” I replied softly also squeezing his hand in return, “and I understand that it would hurt you to have me around because then you would long for me. I know what that feels like. It’s probably better that I don’t get too attached to you either, because if you receive a death sentence for this it will rip me up inside too since I got to know you the way that I did.”
I bowed my head down and pursed my lips. I thought a couple of tears were going to come out of my eyes but none did; it was Vadim who had tears rolling down his cheeks. I grabbed a tissue and gently wiped them away, being extra careful not to irritate the surgical cuts that had just started healing. For the first time since I had walked into the hospital that morning everyone in the room was silent. The young talkative officer looked like he wanted to cry too. Everyone else still had their frowns but their faces seemed to have softened up too. I couldn’t help by wonder, where were this boy’s parents? Anyone? Corey and I didn’t have children but I couldn’t imagine having a son — regardless of what he might’ve done — lie in a hospital bed critically wounded and then facing execution once his trial got under way. That was someone’s child, but it seemed like somewhere along the line the responsibility of being a mother to him had fallen on my shoulders.
“It’s going to be okay,” I attempted to reassure him.
“That’s what she said,” he replied dryly before a little smirk appeared on the other side of his face.
“God takes care of all His creation,” I spoke softly to him as I rubbed the top of his hand.
“Not a believer. If there was indeed a god things like this wouldn’t happen. I hate it when people tell me that this is all just a phase or that I’m having a bad day when they don’t see that I’m slowly dying inside. Really? Do you think this was just a phase? It’s a little too late for me to be taken care of now.”
“When I was your age my older brother shot himself. I’m the one who found his body in the garage. Back then I felt much of the same way you’re feeling now but there came a time where the reasons why I didn’t believe turned into the reasons I did believe.”
“My faith gave me purpose. For the first time I felt as if my suffering hadn’t all been in vain; it hadn’t all been for nothing. I have no idea why that happened, or why this happened, but I simply must trust that somewhere in the order of the universe it will have served something. Otherwise life is utterly cheap and meaningless. I don’t have all the pieces or all the answers, but I trust that God does. When it seems like I’m trying to put all the Cornflakes together to make the rooster on the box to no avail, I trust that God is paving a few more miles of my journey.”
Vadim chuckled slightly at my metaphor but the look on his face soon returned to being serious.
“Do you believe in miracles?” he asked me after a short moment of silence.
“As a nurse, I have seen miracles,” I retorted, “you were supposed to die but by a power beyond anything in medicine you didn’t, and I trust that that wasn’t just a coincidence or all for nothing.”
“I bet I’m a Cornflake in your box.”
“The circumstances surrounding this is the Cornflakes factory, but you have made me hold on so much tighter to what I believe in. And I know how crazy all of this sounds to you, it sounded insane to me once upon a time too.”
“I’m sorry that your brother died like that.”
“One thing I don’t understand is why my whole life has been nothing but pure crap and now, now that it’s basically over, there’s some pretty Cornflakes lady who sits at my bedside holding my hand the whole damn day.”
“Sometimes I wonder if this isn’t a test of my own convictions, or maybe it’s what will make the rest of your life change course, but on most days I simply do my best and let God do the rest because otherwise I’m a complete mess.”
“Have you ever prayed to touch the heart of another person?”
“Of course! I think everyone prays to leave a good kind of scar on another person at some point in their lives.”
“Then consider your prayer to have been answered.”
Before I could respond, the doctor walked in to check up on his patients before going home for the day. He seemed to be surprised at how quiet everyone in the room was.
“So how’s your jaw?” he asked Vadim in an upbeat tone of voice.
“He had quite a lot to say today,” I replied before he could speak.
“That’s certainly a sure sign of healing! But you also don’t want to put too much stress on it right away.”
After the doctor finished with him it was also time for me to call it quits for the night. I kissed him goodnight like I usually did and walked out. My body, mind and soul had been worn out from the day’s emotions. At work there were always plenty of distractions and sounding alarms and bandages to be changed, but when it was all over I was left with the remnants of the subconscious impact that all had on me. Yes, I wanted justice to be served, but I was also worried about him. I didn’t know where that worry came from, but it was there.
Day 6 — Friday
I had barely slept at all. I was somewhat ashamed to admit it, but I had cried. I had been particularly cold to Corey and had also left for work too early so I wouldn’t arrive late and risk making Brandon and Vadim deal with each other until I got there. Since I had plenty of time to spare I went into the staff cafeteria where I got a mini box of Cornflakes to give to my patient, be it that he probably wouldn’t be able to eat them. Some of the other staff members were talking about how he would be moved just before noon.
“I won’t mind seeing the death penalty.”
“One thing I’ll never understand is how people can feel bad for monsters like that. How can he just shoot up some place like that? That’s just crazy!”
I didn’t blame them for their opinions. I felt a chill run down my spine as well. Was I insane to feel compassion for someone like that? But who was I to let his monstrous actions get the best of me? Unlike him, I chose love.
“I know I’ll breathe easier when I don’t see all the cops loitering around here.”
With my box of Cornflakes in hand I walked into Vadim’s room. The other nurses were still there since I was still about ten minutes early for my shift but they all smiled at me when I walked in. The smile on the now eighteen-year-old’s face stretched from ear to ear, as much as possible at least, since one side of his face was stitched up and still in pretty bad shape. When I showed him the box of Cornflakes it’s like his whole world was made complete.
“Happy birthday!” I told him as joyfully as possible.
The others in the room didn’t seem to be aware that it was his birthday, but once it was brought to their attention we all sang him the good ole happy birthday to you blah blah up until we had to get everything under wrap and make sure he was ready to be moved. For the first time at work I felt an intense wave of emotion. That usual disconnection, that it’s a job mentality, left me for the first time. It almost frightened me. There’s a certain form of zoning out you have to go through in order to be able to cut people up and sew them back together at work. But then again, maybe that sort of disconnection is what had happened to Vadim in order for him to be able to shoot dozens of people. That was something I wasn’t sure I wanted to contemplate.
“You didn’t forget about me,” he muttered in a hoarse voice, seemingly not wanting to cry.
“I’ll never be able to forget about you,” I reassured him as I grabbed his hand possibly for the last time, “even if I tried.”
After he was given a mostly clean bill of health considering the condition he was currently in, I fed him dry Cornflakes one by one until the the prison officials who were in charge of moving him arrived. I’ll reluctantly admit that I was sad to see him go because I knew he wasn’t going home; he was probably going to await his eventual execution on death row. I felt like asking him about his parents but I decided to go against it because I didn’t want to ruin his birthday mood. He probably wouldn’t have anything nice to say about them anyway.
“Is there anything you want before you go?” I asked him, trying to keep my own voice from cracking.
“I ask for your forgiveness,” he said blandly, “and I ask that you pray for me.”
I was caught off-guard by his request and it took a moment for me to respond.
“Of course honey, I can certainly do that for you.” “Thank you.”
As the correctional officers approached I had to try hard not to give into my nurse instincts of coddling the patient. Be careful! He’s hurt! He’s just a kid! Take good care of him! But I kept my mouth shut. It was erroneous to react as if the police were the danger; the danger had been tied to the hospital bed for a week.
“One last kiss Vadim?” “Yes please.”
The kiss got a mixed reaction. Some of the many individuals in the room understood that I was just taking care of the kid, but some of the officers frowned at the gesture. Vadim was stone-faced as they led him away into a police van just before noon. My heart was aching in my chest when I walked outside during my lunch break into puffy snowflakes coming down from the sky. I leaned against the side of the building and looked at the scenery before me. Most of the journalist were gone, trailing behind the multitude of police vehicles, including two helicopters, who wanted a shot of the perpetrator. I was relieved that he was gone, but I still contemplated what would become of the boy I had once come to love. I’ll admit a little less reluctantly that part of me was worried about him.
I still am.