Jonathan Tyne regains consciousness after emergency surgery – revised
Several of my long-term readers complained in private e-mails that the scene from my novel Affirmative Action, previously published herein, in which Jonathan Tyne wakes in the hospital after surviving a near-fatal gunshot wound, is not believable. Not that I got the medical stuff wrong… I didn’t, except for the type of catheter installed in Tyne. No, what was unbelievable to those readers was that Tyne could wake and after seeing the enchanting Catherine Duvall, be alert enough and horny enough to encourage her to remove his catheter and give him a handjob. Good writing, perhaps, but a bad idea.
Of course, I adhere to the Fiction Writers Bill of Rights, which states unequivocally that I can make up whatever I want as I go. If I need a building in a certain place and it’s not there I can put a fictional building there and no one can say I can’t. For example, I needed a floating restaurant in the Oakland Estuary that isn’t there so I picked one up on the Sacramento River and transported it ninety miles south. In the process I added a floating ramp I’d seen on a similar building near Sidney on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. Whatever is needed to make the story work is part of the fiction writer’s craft and sanctioned by that aforementioned Bill of Rights.
Well, I thought about those critiques and decided they were right. I wrote that scene precisely because I wanted to depict adult sex between two mature people very much taken with each other. Alas, what I got was a great deal of attention from the wrong crowd. It seems that many, many surfers are fascinated with handjobs. Those looking for porn videos visit my site, so say my web analysis tools. Not that there is anything wrong with Internet porn or handjobs per se; it’s just that folks looking for such fare will be unimpressed by my telling of Catherine getting Jonathan off, without the benefit of accompanying video. Furthermore, it no longer works in the context of the story since I have changed the facts between Catherine and Jonathan. They have yet to become lovers; it is not until early in Rogue Elephants, the second book in the series, that they do. In point of fact, a day prior to the shooting at her condominium she rejected his proposal of either marriage or an exclusive commitment and informed him she was returning to her ex-husband.
So, no handjob in his hospital room after removing a Robinson catheter. They would not have used a Robinson; they would have used a Foley, which contains a balloon inflated with saline to keep it locked in place. I chose to use a Robinson precisely so that she could remove it. And he would have been so groggy from all the drugs with which they have been infusing him to make an erection impossible, other than in my imagination.
So, I rewrote that scene and several others, for reasons of continuity. I could take the earlier version down but it serves a purpose, to show my editing skills… that I can accept constructive criticism and rework a scene or scenes to make them better. Editors and agents please take note. Here then is:
Jonathan Tyne survives near-fatal shooting and receives a splendid reward – redux.
Feel free to say which you prefer.
It was mid-afternoon when Tyne woke. His first awareness of his surroundings was the steady, reassuring pinging of his own heartbeat coming from the monitor on the left side of his bed. A thick cable snaked down from it to somewhere under the sheet and blanket that covered him to his chest. He raised his right hand and saw the electrode attached to his wrist. Glancing down he saw another on his left wrist. He followed the cable to a concentrator on his chest and counted ten thin leads in and one thick one out. One by one he touched the six electrodes attached to his chest. They had him hooked up for electrocardiography, he concluded. He touched the bandage on his stomach, tentatively at first. He was tender but the pain was bearable. They must have doped me up with painkillers, he thought. Then he saw the IV needle embedded in the back of his left hand and he was sure. He pushed the blanket down and the sudden chill told him he was naked under the sheet. They had not gowned him. He drew the blanket back up to his chin.
His nose itched and when he brushed his hand across his face dislodged the nasal cannula; felt the cool air on his upper lip coming from the prongs. He twisted his head around and followed the clear tube to where it was connected to a port on the wall behind him. Glancing down at his hands he saw the device clamped to his right index finger. He could not remember the name of the finger clamp but knew it measured blood oxygen saturation. He guessed that while he was asleep his breathing had become shallow and they supplemented with oxygen to avoid hypoxemia. He pushed the prongs back into his nostrils and made a conscious effort to breath deeply.
Another glance at the monitor told him it was 2:47 P.M., but was it Sunday or some other day? And where was he? The blinking time-display had caught his eye. He scanned the display and found the date. It was Sunday, which meant he’d been unconscious for almost twelve hours. He wondered why he didn’t have an urge to pee. He reached for his willy and found the catheter protruding from its tip. With his fingers he counted the ports. There were three, which meant it was an indwelling Foley. He was very familiar with these; as part of his military medical training he’d been taught how to insert and inflate them in the field and after he was wounded he’d worn them for weeks when he was non‑ambulatory. He hated them with a passion.
Why do I need one, he thought? He could not see the collection bag. When he tried to sit up the pain was sharp, almost excrutiating, so he raised himself up on his elbows. His eyes followed the clear PVC tube to the bag hanging on the bedframe near his feet. It looked like it held about 400 ml of urine, the color of red wine. So, just what I need, blood in my urine. Well, kidneys or bladder, but which is it?
He again pushed himself up on his elbows, one at a time, and used the other hand to probe his lower back. He doubted he would find a bandage or a wound since the bullet fragments had all been under the skin of his abdomen and the wood splinter was too short to penetrate to his kidneys, but he checked just the same. So, whatever is causing the bleeding must be to my bladder.
A barely audible hissing sound now caught his attention. It sounded like a pump running, on and off, on and off, every thirty seconds or so. He listened through several cycles and then it came to him; his calves were wrapped from ankles to knees with some type of cuff that were being inflated, first the left, then the right. Something to do with clot prevention, he mused.
The first reassuring thing he saw was Catherine Duvall wearing sweats and partially covered by a blanket, sitting in a chair next to his bed, apparently asleep, her legs drawn up under her, her chin resting on her fist, an open book in her lap. He couldn’t resist reaching out and touching her thigh, the cable just long enough. She immediately opened her eyes and smiling, said, “Well, copping a feel are we? That’s surely a good sign. Quick, how much is 9 times 37?”
Tyne took only a second or two and then said, “Three hundred thirty-three. Why?”
“How about 179 divided by 14?”
Doing division in his head took a little longer but Tyne said, “Twelve and 11/14ths.”
“The surgeon who worked on you said your blood pressure had dropped so low there was a remote chance you suffered brain damage. I was doing my own quick and dirty test.”
“I wasn’t copping a feel. Under better circumstances I might… but you belong to someone else now… or am I mistaken?”
“No, you’re not mistaken.”
“It hurts to swallow… and to speak. I have no idea why… so I was trying to get your attention.”
“After they brought you here from the recovery room the surgeon who worked on you came to see how you are. She asked if I was your wife and I said I was, to get her to answer my questions. They had some trouble inserting an airway down your throat and since you were unconscious they opted for speed rather than gentleness. They split your lip too. You’ve got a couple of stitches in it, the kind that are absorbed.”
“Dr. Conejo, very attractive Hispanic woman. I sure wouldn’t want to be on that one’s bad side. Doctors… they think they run the world.”
“Did she tell you why I’m pissing blood?”
“The wood splinter punctured your bladder. Not the initial stick but more likely, when you were moving around, or when they were transporting you.”
“Where am I?”
“In a semi-private room at St. Charles Medical Center. You’re sharing the room with a young gentleman of exactly ten and a half years named Zachary. Zachary has just had his tonsils removed and is simply amazed, his words, that they are giving him ice cream three times a day.”
“How long have you been here?”
“Well, you were still in surgery when I arrived.”
“Were you able to sleep?”
“After a fashion.”
“Did my heart stop?”
“Dr. Conejo said not.”
“The last thing I remember is being helped into a car.”
“No ambulance ever came. They brought you here in a patrol car. I guess that training you had in the Navy wasn’t all that good, huh? Or maybe it was too long ago?”
“I guess. Did they give me blood?”
“Shit. Now I have to worry about HIV.”
“I asked. They assured me they have the risk of contaminated blood under control.”
“Famous last words.”
“You didn’t tell me you speak French?”
“Vietnamese and Spanish, but not French.”
“Sorry, I thought I had.”
“You said the Navy taught you Vietnamese. Is that where you learned French?”
“No, high school and college.”
“Figures. Your accent is awful.”
“That’s because it’s the accent of Cochin China… Nam Kỳ, southern French Indochina. Sister Linh, my French teacher at St. Ignatius was from a Dominican order near Can Tho. It served me well when I was over there but I know it sounds strange anywhere else. If I lived in France or French Canada… heard it spoken every day, it’d get better. In a year I’d be fluent again but with a more traditional accent. My Spanish is much better… because I have Mexican friends in John Day.”
He paused for a couple of beats and was about to say, “If you come with me we could go to France instead of Spain?” but thought better of it and didn’t.
“Why did you want me to hide your backpack from the police?”
“Of course, but why?”
“I’d prefer they not know my birth name. Were you asked to show ID?”
“Not yet.” Catherine moved her chair closer to Michael’s bed and gripped his hand, fiercely. She leaned close and whispered, “There’s a cop outside who wants me to tell him when you’re awake and can talk. Also, your nurse made the same request. Can you talk?”
She laid her head on his chest and listened to his heart. “Lub dub, lub dub, lub dub… sounds pretty strong now but we almost lost you. Oh Michael, life with you is such a challenge but life without you would be unspeakable.” Tyne saw her squeeze her eyelids tightly closed but not before a tear escaped and trickled down her cheek.
He wanted to tangle his fingers in her hair and pull her face close enough to be kissed, but didn’t. Instead, he said, “Are you forgetting Michael’s rule number one; I don’t fool around with married women?”
“I’m not married.”
“A di-vorced woman who returns to her ex-husband amounts to the same thing.”
“I’ll never marry again.”
“A distinction without a difference.”
“You once tried to explain to me why you claim you won’t fool around with a married woman… but I didn’t buy what you were selling. Care to try again?”
He stared at her for a moment without speaking. I wonder, he thought, if she has any idea how offensive that question is in the current context? She’s wearing her smug, self-righteous face, which means what’s coming is either patronizing or a put-down. Well babe, two can play at that game.
Despite his anger he admitted to himself he was glad she was there with him, wanted her to stay but wanted her to go, too. He could not shake the notion of how vulnerable they both were, him flat on his back, defenseless, without any kind of weapon. So he said, “I don’t like sloppy seconds. I don’t mind swallowing my own spunk but I especially object to eating someone else’s.”
He thought he heard her gasp. She blinked several times and sucked her lower lip between her teeth and then she sat back stiffly in her chair. “Is there any limit to how crude you can be?”
“No, there isn’t… since you didn’t get it the first time. I’ve found if I want someone to remember something I said they’ve apparently forgotten, when I say it again I’m deliberately offensive, crude, tasteless and vulgar. It seems to work.”
“It does… but I don’t deserve that.”
“Depends on your point of view.”
“Aren’t you the di-vorced man who said you’d go back to Madeleine in a heartbeat if she’d take you back? Smart girl… that she won’t.”
“True… but only until I fell for you… since Kah-Nee-Ta, to be exact. And there’s one big difference between us.”
“Oh, what’s that?”
“You’ve been divorced from him twice as long as I’ve been divorced from her. I guess it’s like the Christine Lavin song says… ‘the kind of love you never recover from.’”
“Do you want me to leave?”
Before he could answer the door opened and a nurse with a business-like look on her face and a brisk manner entered the room. “Hello Mrs. Ware. I need to check your husband’s vitals. It will only take a moment.”
The nurse, a woman of about Catherine’s age – her nametag said she was Marjorie – moved to the side of the bed and pressed a stethoscope to her patient’s chest. Next she took his temperature with a digital thermometer. She then lowered the blanket and sheet exposing the bandage covering his incision.
“She’s not Mrs. Ware. There is no Mrs. Ware. This lady is my friend. You have my permission to speak freely in her presence and answer any of her questions.”
The nurse momentarily looked up from what she was doing, then looking daggers at Catherine she said, “It was inappropriate to tell Dr. Conejo you were the patient’s wife. A lie like that can get you banned from the hospital.”
Before Catherine could answer Tyne said, “She knew the doc would not answer her questions if she said she was just a friend. She has a right to know whatever I know and I approve.”
“It’s still wrong whether you approve or not. I’ll have to report this to Dr. Conejo. You both have probably not heard the last of this.”
While she was inspecting his incision he complained about the catheter. Said he’d prefer it be removed. If he needed to pee, even bloody urine, he wanted to get out of bed and pee standing up. And what’s more, gesturing at Catherine, how the hell could he get an erection with that tube stuck up his penis, he said. Also, he told her, he wanted to be up off his ass and able to walk around the halls and corridors so that he was less likely to throw an embolism.
“I can rig it so you can walk and still wear the collection bag?” No, he insisted; unless you’re continuously analyzing the stuff he didn’t need it. She listened to this tirade but chose not to respond. Instead, she loosened the adhesive and checked his stitches. When she finished redressing the wound she dumped the urine bag’s content into a bedpan and then said, “Please remember, you’re not in a private room. There’s another patient present.”
“What’s in that drip?” said Tyne.
“An antibiotic, a mild sedative, apparently not strong enough, pain killers and an anticoagulant, warfarin. Your blood has a very high clotting factor. You also need twice-daily injections of enoxaparin, another blood thinner that works in consort with warfarin. Either I or one of the other nurses will teach you and your…” looking sideways at Catherine, “a responsible adult… how to give those shots. Your vitals are good but with surgery like you had, there’s always a possibility of pulmonary thrombosis. We don’t want that,” glaring at Catherine, “now do we?”
“Please go easy on the pain killers. I have a pretty high pain threshold and I’d just as lief not have to deal with any hospital-induced dependency.”
“I’ll let the doctor know.”
She started to leave and Tyne said, “nurse, how much blood was I given?”
“One unit of packed red blood cells and one unit of fresh frozen plasma.”
“From the same donor?”
She examined his chart and said, “Yes.”
“What are the chances it was infected with the HIV virus?”
“About one in one-and-a-half million. We don’t use blood that hasn’t been tested for both the HIV virus and Hepatitis-C.”
“But isn’t it true that blood products from a donor infected immediately prior to giving that donation could contain the virus at a concentration level too small to be detected?”
“You’re very well informed? Yes, it’s possible… but very unlikely.”
“Does my chart show the date of that donation?”
The nurse again checked his chart and said, “Yes, it does; August 4th in Seattle.”
“So, that means if it was infected a blood test today would reveal the presence of the HIV virus that might have been undetectable in August; isn’t that right?”
“Yes, it would.”
“Would you mind drawing blood and this woman has a right to know the results… don’t you agree?”
“And would you bring him some water? He has a sore throat made, as I understand it, by you people forcing an airway down his throat,” said Catherine.
“I’ll just be a moment.” She left, muttering under her breadth but loud enough to be heard: “The arrogant nerve of some…”
. . .
Tyne had been trying to keep a straight face through the nurse’s inspection. Now he broke out laughing and Catherine did too. Then, in all seriousness again he said, “Yes, I want you to leave and no, I hope you don’t.”
It seemed to take her a moment to recall what they had been talking about when the nurse walked in. “I don’t understand. Is there an English translation available?”
“Every moment you’re with me you’re in danger. I want you to leave… to get as far away from me as you can, as quickly as you can. Go back to Canada or go back to your ex. He’s rich enough to be able to provide security for you. I certainly can’t. But if you leave, and I really want you to leave, I’ll miss you, desperately, more than I can say.”
She paused a beat and then changed the subject. “You’re not really worried about the blood, are you?”
“We have to be sure… don’t you agree?”
She sighed and finally said, “You’re right… we have to be sure.”
The same nurse returned with a pitcher of ice water and some foam cups and quickly and efficiently drew a sample of Tyne’s blood. As she left she winked at Catherine and said, “don’t worry dear, he’s not infected.”
Catherine kissed him on the mouth, and it was not the kiss of just a friend. “To be continued,” she said, and went to the door and spoke briefly with officer Prater. Glancing on the other side of the curtain Catherine noted the boy in the next bed was paying close attention to the adult happenings on Michael’s side of the divider. The cop made a call and thirty minutes later the Hispanic cop who had shown them Nick Parma’s body arrived to question him. Before he arrived a different nurse, a candy striper, came in pushing a wheel chair and she hustled the other patient out of the room. The cop, now dressed in a well-cut dark blue suit and maroon tie, knocked on the door but entered without waiting for permission and got right down to business.