CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FIFTY-THREE
Wednesday morning — 10:05 a.m.
Hospital Intensive Care Unit
“Are you Tanesha?” the attending physician asked.
“Yes, ma’am,” Tanesha said.
Intimidated by the woman, Tanesha looked down. She’d just gotten to the ICU floor.
“Doctor,” the attending physician said.
“Yes, ma’am,” Tanesha said.
“Yes, doctor,” the attending physician said.
“Oh.” Tanesha looked up and blushed. She looked up to see the woman grinning at her. “Sorry, I. . .”
“I don’t really care,” the attending physician said. “But the lead doc is a stickler for this kind of crap. Since this is your first day on rotation here, I figure you’d better learn the right way before some asshole. . .”
She grinned at Tanesha.
“You of all people know assholes,” the attending physician said.
Tanesha snorted a laugh.
“You’re ‘Miss T’?” the attending physician asked.
“Tanesha,” she said. “Everyone calls me, Tanesha. Except my husband and my dad. My mother has her own private name for me. I won’t burden you with that.”
“My mom has a nickname for me too.” The attending physician nodded.
“I wondered,” the attending physician said. “I’m Margaret Vierns. ‘Meg.’”
“Yes, doctor,” Tanesha said.
“You were already warned?” Dr. Vierns asked.
“My first day last spring,” Tanesha said. “‘Doctors will give you their first names, but stick with Dr. until you know that if you want to even know them better.’”
“Who are you quoting?” Dr. Vierns asked.
“Dr. John Drayson,” Tanesha said.
“Vascular surgeon?” Dr. Vierns asked. “English? Handsome?”
“He’s a family friend,” Tanesha said.
Dr. Vierns looked as if she were reassessing Tanesha.
“Anyway, the lead nurse said that you worked Covid ICU since the pandemic started,” Dr. Vierns said.
“My cousin and I got jobs almost immediately,” Tanesha said. “We didn’t want to miss the opportunity to learn as much as we could during this event. Pandemics are a new thing for people, but this won’t be the last pandemic in my lifetime.”
Dr. Vierns nodded.
“Why do you ask?” Tanesha asked.
“I was pregnant,” Dr. Vierns said. “They sent me home in March. Then I was on maternity. Today’s my first day back.”
“So you’re stuck with the newbies and the med students,” Tanesha said with a nod.
“Yeah,” Dr. Vierns said with a sigh. “Anyway, no one on this morning has your experience.”
“How can I help?” Tanesha asked.
“We were hoping that you could walk us through the best way to intubate,” Dr. Vierns said. “I mean, we can all do it in our sleep, but I wondered if there were any tricks or. . . I thought I’d ask.”
“Does someone need it?” Tanesha asked.
“Yes,” Dr. Vierns said. “But. . .”
Tanesha watched the woman work through what she was going to say.
“The patient doesn’t believe they had Covid?” Tanesha asked.
The doctor nodded.
“Whatever,” Tanesha said. “It’s not the first time I’ve seen this.”
The doctor sighed to indicate her agreement.
“Where?” Tanesha asked.
“I’ll lead you there,” Dr. Vierns said.
They were wearing white paper coveralls, double gloves, and these amazing respirators with a clear plastic front and a machine they carried on their backs. Their heads were covered in a hood. Their shoes were covered in booties. Tanesha had had to help her fellow medical student into their outfits.
Even with all the gear on, Tanesha could hear a man gasping for breath. She picked up her pace. But as she neared the bed, the man began to shake his head. His arm was out and he was gasping out the word, “No!”
As she approached, the man continued to say, “No, no, no, no, no, no!” to the ventilation technician.
“Sir,” Tanesha said, reaching the bed. “Your oxygen level is too low. We need to put you on a ventilator to save your life.”
“I don’t have no Covid,” the man croaked. “You can’t pull no hoax on me. I’m too smart for that.”
“Okay, we won’t ‘hoax’ you,” Tanesha said with a shrug. “I still need to put you on a ventilator.”
“I don’t want no monkey doing nothing to me,” the man said quickly switching from venting his anguished rage to his racism.
Dr. Vierns moved to get past Tanesha, but Tanesha stood firm.
“You are injuring your brain,” Tanesha said. “Every moment you go without oxygen, you kill off more of your brain.”
Tanesha crossed her arms.
“Now, you can let me save your life,” Tanesha said. “Or you can continue to make yourself a vegetable. If you’re lucky, you’ll die before you have to live with a severely compromised brain.”
“That don’t happen,” the man said.
“I have seen it before,” Tanesha said. “I’ve worked on these wards since March. There are lot of people who thought just like you. That is, until they couldn’t think anymore.”
The man gawked at her. Tanesha shrugged.
“Can’t she do it?” the man pointed to an ivory skinned medical assistant.
“No,” Tanesha said.
“Tanesha is the most experienced person here right now,” Dr. Vierns said.
“And she’s famous,” the nurse said with a nod.
“How is that famous?” the man asked, gesturing to Tanesha.
“I have put in the most ventilators and had the most patients live,” Tanesha lied. “We have a contest to see who has the most surviving patients.”
“Is that true?” the man asked.
“Absolutely,” Dr. Vierns said with a nod.
The man was silent for a long moment. A set of fat tears rolled down his face.
“Every minute counts,” Tanesha said.
He gave her a soft nod.
“My dad has dementia,” the man said. “I. . .”
Tanesha nodded to the nurse, and she injected pain meds into the man’s IV. The man drifted.
“This is our chance,” Tanesha said.
Tanesha pointed to the ventilation tech. Together with the nurses, Tanesha got the ventilator tube down the man’s inflamed throat with practiced ease. Because he was heavy, it took all of them to roll him onto his stomach where his lungs were free to make the best use the ventilator.
“Rest now,” Tanesha said. She squeezed his hand. “You are loved.”
For the briefest second, Tanesha lit up from the inside. The light disappeared before anyone noticed. Tanesha let go of the man.
“Does he have family?” Tanesha asked. She turned to Dr. Vierns. “That’s your next step.”
“They have been arguing with him all morning,” the nurse said.
“Let’s go talk to them,” Dr. Vierns said.
The nurse left the bedside, and Tanesha began to follow the nurse. But Dr. Vierns grabbed the back of Tanesha’s coverall.
“With me,” Dr. Vierns said.
Tanesha turned and followed Dr. Vierns.
“Did you work in a restaurant?” Tanesha asked, as they walked toward the desk.
It was tricky to talk to anyone through all of the gear, but they both had enough experience to know how to speak and listen.
“Through high school and college,” Dr. Vierns said. “How’d you know?”
“My friend, Jill, says, ‘With me,’” Tanesha said. “She says it’s a restaurant thing.”
Dr. Vierns nodded.
“Best experience in the world,” Dr. Vierns said. “I liked how you didn’t rise to all of his. . . issues. I get so mad that. . .”
Dr. Vierns nodded.
“I couldn’t handle racist jerks in restaurants,” Dr. Vierns said.
“It’s not the first time I’ve been called a monkey,” Tanesha said. “I guess. . . I know what it feels like to be vulnerable and out of control. People don’t want the pandemic to be true because they don’t want to believe that they don’t have total control of their lives. No one wants to go on a ventilator because of the same reason.”
Dr. Vierns nodded.
“Don’t you believe some crazy something?” Tanesha asked.
“Like what?” Dr. Vierns asked.
“I believe in Big Foot,” Tanesha said. “Psychics, ghosts. I believe that goddesses walk among us.”
“I see what you mean,” Dr. Vierns said. She thought for a moment. “I have this crazy belief that people are inherently good.”
“Crazy stuff, I know,” Dr. Vierns said. They were almost to the desk when the doctor asked, “Have you seen any goddesses walking among us?”
“Of course,” Tanesha said with a grin. “Haven’t you?”
At that moment, the nurse at the desk handed Dr. Vierns the handset to a telephone. Dr. Vierns took the receiver to speak with the family of the man they’d just intubated. The ICU head nurse got Tanesha and directed her toward the section she would be working in that day.
Wednesday morning — 12:05 a.m.
Jeraine took a breath and thought of Tanesha. She had just started her third year of medical school. He grinned. He was so proud of her accomplishments.
He looked down at Jabari.
“I’m okay, Daddy,” Jabari said. “You?”
“I’m good,” Jeraine said. “I was thinking of Mommy.”
Jabari gave his father a bright smile, and Jeraine grinned back at this boy. He held out his hand, and Jabari took it.
“You know what to do?” Jeraine asked.
They were sitting inside a limousine outside the “Celebration of Life” for Jabari’s birth mother, Annette. The event was put on by the reality television show that had been such a big part of Annette’s life.
“I’m wearing my mask,” Jabari said. He reached up to touch the face mask covering Jeraine’s face. “I’m going to. . . What am I going to do?”
“Be yourself,” Jeraine said. “Stay with me. No matter what anyone says, you are coming home with me.”
Jabari leaned into his father. The last time Jabari had been in Annette’s house, he’d returned home with deep bruises and welts not to mention a case of Covid-19 which left him in the hospital for a week. Jeraine and Jabari leaned in to each other for comfort and support. They were dressed in matching designer suits.
“Glasses?” Jeraine asked.
Jabari placed the prescription glasses over his eyes.
“You too, Daddy,” Jabari said. “No headaches.”
“No headaches,” Jeraine said putting his glasses on.
They startled when their door opened. Jabari jumped onto Jeraine’s lap and hid his face. Jeraine looked out into the bright world. His agent and friend James “Jammy” Schmidt V leaned into the limousine.
“Hey little man,” Jammy said.
Jammy held his arms out. Jabari threw himself into Jammy’s arms. Jammy stood up with Jabari in his arms. Jeraine slid out of the limousine seat. Jammy leaned over to speak to the driver.
Looking around, Jeraine straightened his suit and stood up. There were cameras everywhere. Jeraine counted five handheld television cameras as well as two stationary cameras.
Jeraine heard a white man yell his name. He had enough experience with people calling his name that he didn’t turn. He felt an arm over his shoulder and looked to see who would dare to touch him.
The casino owner was standing next to him. The man leaned in.
“We’re your buffer,” the casino owner said in his ear. “My wife’s here. Leslie, too. We’ll run interference.”
Jeraine smiled and hoped that he remembered the man’s name before the day was out.
“What’s our agreement with the television show?” the casino owner asked.
“They can video Jeraine from a distance,” Jammy said.
“Not the boy?” the casino owner asked.
“They weren’t willing to pay for his face or anything he said,” Jammy said.
“How much did you ask for?” the casino owner asked.
“Three million,” Jammy said.
The casino owner laughed.
“Keep an eye on Jabari,” Jeraine said.
“They’ve lost all custody, but we’ve heard that they are going to try to take him,” Jammy said.
“Jabari is coming home with me,” Jeraine said. In a low voice, he added, “He’s terrified of being stuck here.”
“Got it,” the casino owner said.
A beautiful white woman came and tucked herself into the casino owner. She smiled at Jeraine and held out her hand.
“Helen,” she said. “I’m delighted to meet you, Jeraine. Your shows have been real life savers for us. We dance and laugh and. . .”
“Make a lot of money,” the casino owner said.
Helen rolled her eyes at her husband. Jeraine remembered that the casino owner’s name was Matt. Proud of himself for remembering, he smiled.
“That’s more like it,” Helen said.
Jeraine closed his eyes for the briefest of moments. When he opened them, Gando Peaches and Hecate had appeared. Gando was wearing ceremonial Navajo wear — a simple velvet maroon top and pants with turquoise and silver conch belt, earrings and a long turquoise necklace. Hecate wore a fawn leather dress with extensive turquois blue and green beading on the front. They looked like Native American royalty.
“Hey, that’s pretty obvious,” Jammy said to Hecate. He smiled to temper his criticism. “There are cameras everywhere.”
“Huh,” Hecate said.
A moment later three cameras began to smoke. Shaking his head, Jammy grinned at her.
“You must be Hecate,” Leslie, Seth’s daughter and Jammy’s wife, said as she approached. “My father has told me so much about you.”
“Leslie! Nice to meet you,” Hecate said. “May I introduce my beloved, Gando Peaches?”
Gando nodded to Leslie and gave her a big smile. He wasn’t sure if it was some Hecate magic or just time, but Jeraine’s brain shifted into gear. Jeraine took Jabari from Jammy. He hugged the boy tight and set him down.
“We should head inside,” Jammy said.
Jeraine held out his hand, and Jabari clung onto it. Gando Peaches took the child’s other hand.
“How are you feeling?” Jeraine asked Gando.
“Good,” Gando said with a grin. “So much better than I was. I’m so grateful for everyone’s help with me and with our people. They are suffering so much.”
“Sorry, man,” Jeraine said.
“That fundraiser you did for us really helped,” Gando said. He looked at Matt, the casino owner. “I appreciate all you did for us.”
“Happy to do it,” Matt said.
Gando nodded in answer.
Just then, two women wearing absurdly tight dresses that were so short that they barely covered their crotch came up to them. The men around Jeraine shifted.
“Hi Jeraine,” the women said in near unison. “You’re looking hot today.”
They made kiss lips and leaned against each other.
“Ladies,” Jeraine said with a nod.
He walked around the women and toward the chairs for the celebration. Folding chairs were set up six feet away from each other on the wide open lawn behind Annette’s mansion. They were in the aisle when Jeraine’s old “possy” including his ex-agent came up.
“Jer!” the agent said.
The agent reached out his hand to shake Jeraine’s hand in their usual, familiar way. The agent’s hair was slicked back in a kind of smooth wave. His clothing was immaculate. The entire group reeked of weed and overpriced designer cologne. Jeraine just looked at the man’s hand.
“Hey, don’t be like that,” the agent said.
“We’re here to celebrate someone very important to my son,” Jeraine said what he’d practiced with Tanesha that morning. “And a woman I loved. I don’t have space for anything else. Have some compassion for the grieving.”
With Jeraine and Jabari in the lead, Leslie, Helen, and Gando followed leaving Jammy and Hecate to deal with the group.
“Is there something I might help you with?” Jammy asked.
“I don’ need no Jew-white-boy,” the agent said with a sniff.
Hecate hissed at the man. The man’s hair sprung up from its slicked down position to become an inch long afro.
“Have some self-respect,” Hecate said and turned in place.
Jammy raised his eyebrows at the man and followed Hecate to their seats at the front. By agreement with the television show, Jeraine was sitting on the aisle with Jabari on his lap. Hecate shooed everyone over seat so that she could sit next to him. Jammy sat down beside her.
The seats began to slowly fill until nearly half of the seats were filled with relatives of Annette’s
After a half hour of waiting, Jabari started getting antsy. Hecate started using her magic to play little games with him.
And waited some more.
An hour passed.
Jeraine’s knee started to go.
“I’m getting to a place where I can’t do this,” Jeraine said, in a soft voice to Jammy.
“Got it,” Jammy said.
Jammy got up and went down the aisle to find out what was going on.
“What did you do?” Jeraine whispered to Hecate.
“Me?” Hecate’s face was a mask of innocence. “You know that I have been on the Navajo reservation dealing with a pandemic, right?’
Jeraine gave her a disbelieving look. She gave him a wide smile.
“How do you know it was me and not that half-angel of yours?” Hecate asked.
“Miss T?” Jeraine asked. “It’s much less like her than like you.”
Hecate gave him a big smile.
“We can go now,” Hecate said.
“But. . .” Jeraine said.
“There won’t be a service today,” Hecate said. “I don’t know what they had planned, but it’s all come apart. I guess they thought that you’d be enticed by all of these half naked women and get high with your old friends.”
“That’s horrible,” Jeraine said.
“Let’s go,” Jammy said to Jeraine.
“Wait,” Jeraine said. “We don’t live here in Atlanta. I want Jabari to see where Annette was buried. We have flowers for her grave and everything.”
“We’ll go there,” Jammy said.
They got up, went down the row of chairs, and left the sparsely crowded area.
“Annette deserved a lot better than this,” Jeraine said as they left the celebration.
“It’s so sad,” Helen said. “Her poor parents.”
“And other children,” Jeraine said.
He and Jabari slipped into the limousine. Jammy and Leslie got in back and sat beside them. Jeraine put Jabari between his legs so that there was room for Matt and Helen.
“What about your. . .” Helen started. “Where did they go?”
“Hecate is a Titan,” Jammy said.
“What?” Helen asked.
“It’s complicated,” Leslie said to Helen with a smile. “Basically, they have their own method of travel.”
Helen gave Leslie a thoughtful glance and looked at her husband. He grinned at her.
“You won’t believe it,” Matt said.
“Where am I going?” the driver asked.
Jammy leaned forward and gave him the name of the cemetery where Annette was buried. By the time they arrived at the cemetery, Jabari was asleep. Alone, Jeraine carried his son to his ex-girlfriend’s grave. He left the flowers and said a soft prayer.
“I want to thank you, Annette,” Jeraine said. “Jabari is a delightful child. Thank you for having him. May you find peace.”
He walked back to the limousine. Everyone wanted to visit the ballroom, so they drove to the airport. They were in the air less than an hour later. When the wheels of the plane hit the tarmac, Jeraine gave a sigh of relief.
They were finally home.
Denver Cereal continues next week...
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