"How are his vitals? Any change?"
Nurse Barnes handed the chart to Mel. The doctor quickly scanned the most recent entry. So far, the John Doe's condition showed some improvement.
"Do you need anything else?" the nurse asked.
Mel shook her head. "Thanks."
The door swung close upon the nurse's exit. Mel dropped the chart into the slot at the end of the patient's bed. Her fingers toyed with the stethoscope that hung around her neck as she moved to the head of the bed.
The patient's bandages revealed little about him except that he was Caucasian. He apparently was the victim of a fire. Since he hadn't regained consciousness, the staff had little to go on. Notices had been sent to police departments across the nation. No one had responded, but Mel hoped that would change soon. Surely, someone missed this man. He had to have family somewhere.
She checked his heart and pulse. Confident that both were fine, she moved to examine his pupils. She poised the penlight at his eyes and gently placed her hand on his forehead. She leaned in for a good look.
"Please, don't," came the creaky voice of her patient. "The light hurts."
Mel reared back in surprise. She snapped the light off and moved her hand to his shoulder. "Can you open your eyes?"
A moment later, his eyelids fluttered open. He blinked once and then squeezed his eyes closed. "Could you dim the lights?"
"Sure." Mel turned off the light beside his bed. The florescent globe near the door cast a dim glow in the room. "How is this?"
He carefully opened his eyes again. He blinked a few times. "This is fine. Where am I?"
"You're at Cedars Hospital in Springfield, Illinois," she stated slowly. She didn't want to alarm him. "You've been a patient here for the last few days. Do you remember anything about your accident?"
"Cedars," he repeated. "I'm in Springfield."
"Yes. Have you been here before?"
"How's my wife?" he asked. He turned his head and winced.
"Be careful. The burns to your shoulders and arms are second degree. Are you in pain?"
"My wife?" He tried to sit up. "Where is she? Where is Gilly?"
After the rush of words, he fell back hard against the pillows. His chest heaved. The monitor beeped. Mel glanced at the monitor. His blood pressure had increased, but not alarmingly. If he remembered his wife's name, she wondered what he else he knew. But she hesitated at pressing him for more.
"You have to t-tell me where sh-she is," he stammered, breathlessly.
"I will," she reassured. "Can you tell me your name?"
The effort seemed to exert him, but he managed to croak out, "Alan-Michael."
Mel started to ask him more when her name was called over the intercom. "Okay, Alan-Michael, I'll see what I can do about finding Gilly. Do you need anything? I can have a nurse come in and see about you."
He shook his head. Pain reflected in his dark brown eyes. "Just find my wife."
She nodded once and left the room. As she entered the hallway, her name was announced again. She rushed to the nurse's station.
"Mel!" Maureen appeared at her side. "I was hoping you'd still be here."
"I'm here. Maureen…" Mel's heart lurched. "Oh, my God. It's Rick! What happened? Where is he?"
"They took him back there."
Mel patted Maureen's arm. "Okay. I'll see what's going on. Wait here."
Mel did not return quickly. She stood in the corner, watching in agony as her colleagues pushed her aside and worked on the man she loved. Just from where she stood, she knew his condition wasn't good. They performed the usual procedures to stabilize him. Once they got his heart beat back to normal, they allowed her to talk to him. But just for a few minutes.
"Oh, Rick," she said, taking his hand. "You should have told me. Oh, baby."
He opened his eyes. A faint smile cracked his lips. "Mel. I'm sorry."
"What were you thinking?"
Pain streaked across his pale features. She immediately became contrite. She rubbed his hand. "I'm sorry. Just rest. We can continue this discussion when you're feeling better."
"Thanks." A moment passed. Their gazes locked and so much passed between them. Finally, he said, "I'm tired. Stay with me."
She leaned forward and kissed his forehead. "Nothing could tear me away."