Noise filtered into my consciousness, rousing me from sleep. It was the middle of January. The dark room gave little clue to the hour, since there are not many hours of daylight during a Pacific Northwest winter. I eventually realized the noise I heard was the front doorbell. In the middle of the night, someone at the door is never the bearer of good news.
When I turned on the entry light and peered through the glass, I was stunned. Deloris sat on the bench outside the front door, her face covered with blood! I opened the door, and the stranger ringing my doorbell wordlessly turned, walked back to his pickup truck, and drove away.
“My God. What happened?” Panic mixed with concern as I moved to where Deloris was sitting.
“I fell,” she said. “When I woke up, I wanted to work the crossword puzzle, so I went out to the mailbox to get the newspaper. It was really dark, and I couldn’t see very well. I was worried that I would fall off the side of the driveway.” I didn’t remind her that the driveway is flat. “I got out to the street and the paper wasn’t there.”
“That’s ‘cause it usually doesn’t come until around seven. You were out there hours too early.”
“I didn’t know,” she said. “Somehow I tripped and fell on my face. I couldn’t get up. I sat there in the middle of the street for hours. It was really cold, wet, and dark. I was scared. When I heard a car coming up the hill, I waved my hands. This man saw me and stopped. I told him I was trying to get to my husband who lived in the house over here. He put me in his truck and drove here. I was scared And cold.”
I shuddered, thinking of Deloris sitting in the middle of a darkened road, dressed in a dark coat, dark pants, hat, and gloves, appropriate clothes given the weather. No one driving up the hill quickly would have seen her. The truck must have been slow, because, as Deloris told me later, the driver didn’t have his lights on.
I helped my wife to her feet and into the house. In the bathroom, I began to wash off the blood and inspected the damage. It was obvious her condition warranted a trip to the emergency room. I felt relieved she was lucid enough to explain what happened since she looked like a domestic violence victim. Funny, the thoughts that go through your mind in times of stress.
“Why did you do that? You could have been seriously hurt or even killed.” I knew this was not a useful line of discussion, but I couldn’t help myself. I kept thinking of the what if’s and was annoyed and terrified.
“I couldn’t sleep and wanted to work the puzzle. I was so cold sitting in the road. I tried to stand up, but I couldn’t. I sat there, hoping you would help me up and back into the house. It was so cold; I was really scared.”
“I can imagine—well, no. I really can’t imagine. I need to take you to the ER. The cuts are too deep for me to deal with. Do you want anything to eat or drink before we go?”
“No. I’m okay. Just let me get a bit warm first.”
We drove twenty minutes to the hospital as the sun was beginning to make its presence known.
“That was pretty stupid what I did,” Deloris acknowledged.
Conflicting emotions swirled around in my head. Concern about whether Deloris had suffered any lasting damage fought for space with wondering if I could have done anything to prevent the accident. My main reaction was one of disbelief; I couldn’t comprehend what had made Deloris decide to go outside in the middle of the night without a flashlight. She’d said she was scared sitting in the middle of a cold, dark road, unable to stand up. She must have been scared. I know I would have been.
“I should have taken a flashlight. Then I could have seen the way better. Of course, if I had my car keys, I would have driven, very slowly, to my 7:00 a.m. meeting.”
“What meeting?” I asked, knowing there wasn’t one.
“I can’t remember,” Deloris said. A few minutes later, she added, “Driving would have been pretty foolish, wouldn’t it?”
“Yep. Sure would’ve.” It was hard to consider Deloris driving.
An exam and a CAT scan in the ER indicated she had a broken nose as well as lacerations on her forehead, eye, and the inside of her lower lip. No other damage, physical or neurological, was noted.
The doctor told Deloris, “Your forehead looks shredded. I’m going to give you some local anesthesia to deaden the pain and then clean out the cuts and stitch you up.” He told her the injections might hurt a little because they would be made directly into the cuts, and that turned out to be an understatement.
Deloris howled as the needle was inserted into her forehead. Writhing on the exam table, she repeatedly pleaded, “STOP! THAT HURTS! OW! STOP.”
“Easy, hon. Take deep breaths. I’m here. Hold onto my hand and squeeze it when you hurt.” I attempted to calm her as the nurse and I held her steady and the doctor completed the injections. As the anesthesia took effect, Deloris calmed down and relaxed enough to allow herself to be cleaned and sutured. Her face black and blue, she was given prescriptions for some oral antibiotics. We returned home. She went to bed. A cup of coffee in hand, I sat pondering the morning’s events and wondering how to keep something like that from happening ever again.
After examining her the next day, Dr. Gehrke confirmed that Deloris had not suffered any new seizures, strokes, or other neurological damage. Aside from some contusions and lacerations, her only injury was a broken nose. The trauma probably slowed the progress of her neurological recovery.
Hallucinations followed the incident as well as a noticeable increase in confabulations. Deloris was sure other people were living in the house. In fact, she was convinced we were actually living in someone else’s house, although it looked very much like ours. “I can’t believe you were able to move all our stuff to this house and set it up like it was at home,” she said. “I’m really impressed. But whose house is it? How did you get them to let us live here?”
“It’s our house, hon. We live here.”
Deloris refused to believe my assurances. Since it didn’t seem to bother her to be living in what she thought was a “cloned house,” I let it go.
Along with increased mobility, as she recovered from her fall, Deloris experienced a shift in her sleeping habits. One night I was sitting at my computer about 1:30 a.m., doing some writing, when Deloris came down the stairs. She seemed confused. “Why is it so dark?” she asked. “It’s 1:30 in the afternoon.”
“Actually, hon, it’s 1:30 in the morning. That’s why it’s dark. You should probably be in bed. So should I, truth be told.”
“I’m hungry. And I want to watch some TV.”
I got her some cookies and a cup of tea, helped her get situated in front of the TV, locked up the house, and went to bed. Several hours later, glaring lights in the bedroom woke me up; Deloris had apparently turned on the overhead lights in the bedroom and was saying something about Queen Nefertiti’s mummy that, in my more-asleep-than-awake state, I did not understand. She got back into bed then and promptly fell asleep, leaving me wide awake and wondering how to get our sleep patterns back in sync, and what Queen Nefertiti had to do with anything.
When her nose was set and her face began to heal, she no longer looked like the victim of vicious domestic abuse. Rather, her face looked like a cross between a Japanese Kabuki mask and a raccoon. Having the stitches removed improved her spirits. Her pain was manageable with Tylenol, which allowed her to return to writing and a desire to do more around the house. Although I had to keep her focused in both activities, as she tended to become distracted, I was relieved that she was once again progressing.