Carissa became aware of voices and movement around her but nothing she heard made sense. And what was that horrible smell? Sometimes it smelled like rubbing alcohol and other times she swore it smelled like urine. But then the darkness would reclaim her before she could figure it out.
The next time she awoke, the voices were clearer. She could still smell the usual mix of chemicals. Her brain scrambled to figure out where she was. The only things she was sure of were the voices and the smells. Everything else was a mystery to her.
She struggled to open her eyes but they felt like they were weighted down by an invisible pair of hands. Eventually, she succeeded in getting them open. Everything seemed so bright to her at first. She blinked the ceiling above her into focus. It was an acoustic tile ceiling with a scattering of fluorescent lights.
None the clearer as to where she could be than she had been before opening her eyes, she next struggled to move her head to the side to get a better view of her surroundings. She cranked her head towards the left and saw a series of strange machines and tubes, most of which seemed to be connected to her. Her eyes traveled downward and she found she had an IV in her left hand. Was she in the hospital? She raised her hand a bit to get a better look at it. Why did it look so different? It looked older.
A soft movement toward the right.
Slowly moving her head in the other direction, she saw a table with a vase of colorful flowers sitting on them. Weren’t those tulips? she wondered to herself.
And then she spotted the nurse pushing the curtains aside to let the sunshine into what appeared to be a private hospital room. The nurse was tall and willowy with shoulder-length blond hair. A second later she spotted her gazing at her and a huge smile spread across her face.
“Well, hello there,” she said joyously. “Welcome back.”
Welcome back? Welcome back from where?
The nurse stepped closer. She appeared to be about fifty years old and had very friendly bright blue eyes and perfect teeth.
“I’m Flora,” she said. “It’s so good to see you awake, sweetie.” She patted her right shoulder almost affectionately.
Carissa opened her mouth to speak but found it surprisingly difficult to form any words. Instead, all that emerged from her parched lips was a hoarse sounding moan.
“Would you like a drink?”
She nodded and then Nurse Flora poured a glass of water from a nearby pitcher and gently held the cup to her lips. The water felt cool and soothing going down her throat. After a few sips, Flora put the cup down on the table.
Before she could make another attempt to get her voice to speak the words that crossed her mind, a man wearing a white coat entered the room. Clearly, this was her doctor.
“Wow, what do we have here today?” he said in a chipper voice.
“Hey, Doc, look who just woke up,” said the friendly nurse, beaming a smile.
The doctor, with a shock of blond hair and hazel eyes, leaned his tall lanky frame over her. “Hello, Miss Nacario, I’m Dr. Bates. How are you feeling?”
Carissa moaned again.
“Can you understand what I’m saying to you?”
“Do you know where you are?”
Carissa nodded again.
“Do you know how you got here?”
She shook her head.
“Well, before we talk about that, let’s check you out first, okay?”
Carissa remained motionless, not seeing what choice she had anyway. She had to figure out what was wrong with her and also how she ended up in the hospital. Did it really matter what order she learned these things in?
“Do you feel any pain right now?” the doctor asked her.
“N-no,” she managed to stammer out.
“Good. That’s very good. Now I want you to look at my fingers and follow them with your eyes as I move them while keeping your head still. Think you can do that?”
Carissa nodded, then follow the doctor’s movements, surprised to find it more difficult than she had anticipated. She assumed it was because she’d just woken up and was still a bit groggy.
The next thing the doctor asked was for her to move her arms and legs a few inches. While they seemed to weigh a ton, she managed to move them a bit.
The doctor peeled the blanket back from the foot of the hospital bed, exposing her feet. “Can you flex your toes a bit?”
She slowly managed to do this.
“Okay, how about flexing your fingers now?”
She did this as well.
“Good job. Now, who’s the president of the United States?”
Carissa thought a moment and then said, “Bill Clinton.”
The doctor and nurse exchanged glances.
Carissa was getting desperate for more information. “W- what happened? Why am I here?”
The doctor leaned on the guardrail of the bed. “Do you remember anything at all, Miss Nacario?”
Carissa frowned. “You can call me Carissa. Remember what?”
“You were in a serious car accident,” Dr. Bates told her.
Carissa took a second to digest this bit of information. She didn’t get it. She sure felt pretty good for one who had been in a serious accident of any kind. She was weak and she was tired but otherwise, she didn’t seem to have any injuries that she was aware of. “But there are no bandages or casts.”
The doctor nodded with a strange yet knowing expression on his face. “It’s been quite a while actually,” he said, breaking the news gently.
“A while? What are you talking about?” She felt the nurse, who had been standing by the other side of the bed begin to gently massage her shoulder again. Whatever news was about to be revealed to her next couldn’t be anything good.
“Carissa, you were in a coma for twenty-eight years.”