Prologue to Blind Luck
He had thought, on the day he killed her, that she would stay dead. But she didn’t.
She came back for the first time a mere two days after he had buried her. He had been asleep when something awoke him and he sensed another presence in the bedroom. He lay still for several minutes, waiting to see if his eyes would adjust to the darkness, but the room was totally black. As usual, the window shades were down, and the murmur of a steady rain hitting the roof told him there would be no moon or stars to light the night. He listened intently, but heard no sound. Still, he wanted to turn on a light and see for himself that no one else was there.
Maybe then he’d be able to get back to sleep.
He raised himself on one elbow and was reaching for the bedside lamp when she said, “No need to get up, honey. It’s just me.”
He froze, his hand inches from the light switch. This was a voice he had never expected to hear again. It was a voice he couldn’t believe he was hearing now. Maybe he was dreaming. Or maybe the pint of Jim Beam he’d polished off right before going to bed was causing hallucinations. The bourbon hadn’t been the only alcohol he had consumed that day. It had merely been a nightcap, ending a typical Sunday drinking schedule that had started around nine in the morning. It had to be a hallucination. He’d had them before after heavy drinking days. But they had always been visual—spiders on the walls, snakes crawling up his leg, or something like that. He’d never heard voices before.
He took a deep, shuddering breath and continued to feel for the lamp switch. He had sobered up enough to know that the voice couldn’t be real. Maybe he’d still been partially asleep and it had been part of a dream—nightmare, actually. Or maybe it had been an alcohol-induced fantasy. Either way, he had to turn on a light and convince himself that he was alone in the room.
He touched the lamp shade and felt his way underneath and then down the base to find the switch. He grasped it between his thumb and forefinger and started to twist it, knowing that if the light came on and he saw her sitting in her reading chair by the window he would absolutely shit himself. But he did…and he did.
“Look at the mess you’ve made,” she said. “You’re going to have to clean that up yourself, you know. I can’t do it.”
He squeezed his eyes so tightly shut that they hurt, willing the apparition to be gone when he opened them again. But she was still there, staring at him with that condescending glare that she had always used whenever he drank too much. Which was almost every day. He told himself he had to be dreaming, that this couldn’t be real. But the horrific odor wafting from under the covers was real, so this must be too.
He swallowed, his throat feeling like it had been worked over with sandpaper, and managed to croak, “You can’t be here,”
She smiled and nodded slightly. “Oh, but I am.”
“Dead?” she finished for him. “Yes, I am. Thanks to you.”
He squeezed his eyes shut again. “Is that why you’re here? To haunt me?”
“I’m not here to haunt you, sweetie. I’m here to help you.”
“Help me? Help me do what?”
“Why, to help you right all the wrongs you’ve suffered. That’s what you’ve always said you wanted, isn’t it?”
“Yes, but there’s nothing you can do. You’re…” He opened his eyes, but she was gone. “Dead,” he whispered, finishing the thought.
He stared at the empty chair for a long time before climbing carefully out of bed and peeling off his soiled undershorts. He dropped them on the bed and rolled up the sheets and threw the entire bundle in the kitchen trash can. He then stepped into the shower and turned the water on as hot as he could stand it, trying in vain to stop his body from shivering. He stood there a good ten minutes, but still couldn’t stop shaking. Finally he got out, dried himself, and got out clean sheets and a blanket for the bed. He climbed under the covers, but didn’t turn out the light. He couldn’t even make himself close his eyes, afraid of what he might see when he opened them.
He lay like that for several hours, until the rain finally stopped and a gray dawn began to creep around the sides of the window shades. By then he thought he understood what had happened. He had not been dreaming. The alcohol had finally driven him insane.
THE DOCTORS SAID I was lucky. Perhaps that should’ve been my first clue that this wasn’t a group of guys who sat by the phone every Saturday night waiting for a call from the Nobel committee. Granted, they kept me alive—actually, they didn’t kill me, which isn’t quite the same thing—but I’m not convinced my injuries were life threatening in the first place. Serious, but not life threatening. I know about these things. I’m a doctor myself.
The accident was three years ago on May eighth. It’s easy to remember the date, because it also happens to be my wedding anniversary. It had been our fourth. I was a senior resident in cardiovascular surgery at NYU, and had spent the afternoon as a guest observer of a promising new procedure at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. As new procedures are apt to do, this one encountered some unexpected complications, and the surgery lasted almost two hours longer than expected. Anxious to get home in time to change clothes and still make our dinner reservation at Lutèce, I was speeding down the West Side Highway on a proverbial dark and stormy night when traffic came to a screeching halt. Literally.
I remember I was listening to one of my all-time favorite CDs—Robert Cray was calling his baby from a phone booth—and I suppose it’s possible I had the volume cranked up a little too loud. Or maybe I was replaying in my mind the intricate steps of the amazing surgical procedure I had just witnessed. Or visualizing the equally intricate steps of undressing my wife when we got home after our anniversary dinner.
Whatever the reason, I must have been distracted, because I didn’t see the taillights of the stalled flatbed truck until about two seconds before they came through my windshield. That was enough time to move my right foot to the brake pedal and push, but not enough time for the tires to get a grip on the wet asphalt. The next thing I remember was a sound reminiscent of one of the screeching dinosaurs in Jurassic Park—I later realized it was the Jaws of Life cutting my car from around me—followed a few minutes later by the sensation of being drawn and quartered as I was lifted from the wreckage. The paramedics were being none too gentle, and would have been in for a serious tongue-lashing if I hadn’t lost consciousness. Luckily for them, and for me, I was out cold until they wheeled me into the emergency room of St. Luke’s.
One significant downside to being an intern or resident is that, when circumstances force you to be the patient, you are fully cognizant of just how little they know. Especially in the ER. Sometimes I think that’s why certain doctors gravitate to that specialty. It’s a simple matter of risk minimization. See, as a cardiovascular surgeon, I’m expected to always save the patient. I have time to study the patient’s history, plan the surgery and consider contingencies. I walk into the operating room knowing exactly what to expect, and everything I will require to work my magic is right there on a tray, ready to be slapped into my outstretched hand by a suitably awestruck surgical nurse. But in the ER, you aren’t expected to anticipate anything. Who knows what situation could roll through the doors? Nobody plans emergencies, right? So, nobody expects the ER doctors to be successful one hundred per cent of the time. That’s what was on my fuzzy, semi-conscious mind as they rolled me into a trauma treatment cubicle.
I didn’t seem to be able to open my eyes and I kept floating in and out of consciousness, but little snippets of conversation got through now and then. When the sense of motion stopped, I heard a voice that seemed familiar. I realized it was the same voice that had talked to me calmly and reassuringly between orders barked to other paramedics as they were cutting me out of my car.
“He’s all yours, doc,” the voice was saying. “He’s banged up pretty bad, but his vital signs look okay.”
“Yeah. Ran up the rear of a flatbed truck. Turned his car into a convertible. Couple of inches lower and it would’ve taken his head off. This is one lucky bastard.”
Lucky. That was the first time I heard the term. It wouldn’t be the last.
I passed out again when they lifted me from the gurney to a table. I must not have been out too long, because I remember the guy in charge giving orders like he’d apparently seen ER doctors doing on his favorite television show
when he was in med school. “Cut these clothes away and let’s see what we’ve got under all this blood.”
I could feel something cold on my chest and hands moving all over my body. “Get me a chest X-ray,” the voice said.
“Sounds like his left lung is collapsed.” More probing and pricking, as IV needles were thrust into both arms.
“And run a CBC and crit. We need to see if there’s any internal bleeding.”
I floated off again, and when I came back I could tell they had run tubes down my nose and my throat. I heard one of the women say, “Hey, this ID card in his wallet says he’s a doctor over at NYU. Jonathan Worthy. Anybody know him?”
“Not me,” the male voice said.
“Let me see what else I can find out about him,” the woman said. I started to complain about her going through my wallet—I have a wife for that, thank you very much—but the tubes in my throat and the lack of muscular response that I attributed to a broken jaw kept me mute.
I again strained to open my eyes but still couldn’t. I then tried to motion with my arms, and realized they were strapped to the side of the table. I wanted desperately to communicate with these people, to tell them they had to try and reach my wife, that we needed to reschedule our reservation at Lutèce—it takes forever to get into that place, you know—and that a little jolt of morphine would be greatly appreciated. But nothing seemed to be working.
I was trapped in a broken, ravaged body, completely at the mercy of people I didn’t know, whose credentials I hadn’t reviewed. It was a terrifying thought.
One of the nurses must have noticed my eyelids fluttering or my lips trying to move, because she suddenly stopped jabbing something into my arm and said, “I think he’s regaining consciousness.”
There was the sound of movement around my head, and then I felt warm breath on my face. The voice was the same one I’d heard earlier—the Patrick Dempsey wanna-be. “Dr. Worthy, can you hear me?”
I tried to indicate that I could, but again, nothing seemed to be responding the way it should. All I could do was attempt a nod, but that sent explosions of pain reverberating through my head that almost knocked me out again.
“Don’t try to speak, and don’t move,” Dempsey said. “You’re in the emergency room of St. Luke’s Hospital. You were in a traffic accident, but you’re in good hands now. You have a lot of injuries, but none are life threatening. Judging from what the paramedics said about your car, it could’ve been much worse. You’re a very lucky man, Dr. Worthy.”
If I’d known at that moment what I would know later, I would’ve sued that medical Neanderthal for malpractice. Or, at least, stupidity. Oh, yeah, I was lucky all right. Lucky to have compound fractures in both legs. Lucky to have the excruciating torture of six months of rehab in my future. To have four sessions of plastic surgery to reconstruct my hamburger-meat face.
To be blind.