That’s what time the bottom of my computer screen read as I charted my current patient. Just a few more minutes until the descent of the solar eclipse that everyone had been talking about for days will begin.
“Okay Mrs. Peebly, do you have any other symptoms besides pain in your lower abdomen?”
She was a sweet old woman who had just turned 81 a week before. This would make her third visit to the doctor in the past month. I suspected that she kept coming in for attention. She lived alone in the outskirts of Nashville, Tennessee, and by the way she talked about her family, I could tell they didn’t make the trip out to see her often. She lifted her wrinkled finger to her glasses that fell to the tip of her nose. She wiggled the glasses up her nose as she made a pierced pout with her lips.
“Oh, no. That would be it dear.”
I gave her a grin and nodded. “The doctor will be right in then.”
Work had been exhausting lately—emotionally and physically. I work on the geriatric unit of the hospital, and we deal with death quite often. This is the intensive care unit dedicated to the management of critically ill elderly. I don’t know what it is about working so close with death, but it can be draining. I never know my patients long enough to build a bond, but their last stay still takes a toll on your overall mental health.
There had been nothing but chatter from the nurses all morning as they circled around the nurse’s station. I made my way past the station when I heard Martinez shout my name.
“Jana! Heads up!”
I twirled around just in time to catch a flimsy pair of paper glasses. Martinez winked at me.
“They are for the eclipse. You don’t want to burn your retinas out.”
I rolled my eyes as Martinez and the rest of the nurses joked around and started placing bets on how many patients would come in the next day thinking they had gone blind.
I shoved them in the pocket of my scrubs and grabbed a Styrofoam cup from the cup tower. A gentle stream of cool water filled my cup as the last few bubbles rose to the top of the water cooler. Before I could manage a sip, I could feel a tap on my back – it was Martinez again.
“Hey, it’s 1 o’clock, you know what that means – right?”
I gave him a grin. I was trying to hide my enthusiasm; I had been secretly researching this solar eclipse every night for the past week. This was going to be one of the coolest phenomena I would see in my lifetime, and our hospital just so happened to be right in the path of totality. I gently shoved Martinez’s shoulder and rolled my eyes.
“We should be about 30 minutes out from totality, right?”
Martinez eagerly grinned back at me.
The sun was glaring down on us in the hospital parking lot. It had to be at least 90 degrees and humid. I could feel the droplets of sweat forming on the nape of my neck. I looked to Martinez, he looked like a such a dork with the paper glasses on. The glasses read, “THE GREAT SOLAR ECLIPSE 2017” across the bridge of the nose, and on the sides of the glasses it read when the next solar eclipse would appear, “APRIL 8, 2024 WILL BE THE NEXT SPECTACULAR SOLAR ECLIPSE!”
I pulled the fragile glasses out of my pocket. The lenses looked like they were made from tinfoil. I opened the flap to the inside of the glasses and looked for the bar code that the health management team sent to all the nurses and doctors; I guess they thought it would be smart to let health professionals know what to look for in fake glasses. In small font, the bar code read, ISO 12312-2:2015, perfect – these were legit.
I put the glasses on and could see – nothing, everything was pitch black. Martinez starts yanking on my arm.
“Jana, look up!”
I look up, and that’s when I see it, a full black circle with just a sliver of orange on the left side. It was remarkable, and the best was still yet to come.
Just then, I heard one of the doctor’s shout at everyone to take their glasses off. I slowly removed my glasses, and everything was dark around us. It looked like it was 8:30pm at night. I looked around and saw everyone dumbfounded looking up at the sky. I turn my head up and instantly had this feeling I cannot explain. I felt in complete line with the universe. I could feel a magnetic string running through my body, connected to the moon and anchored by the sun. I was in a trance that was orchestrated by the universe. The only thing I could think about in that moment was how I felt so in tune with every single gravitational force and energy on the planet at that time.
I gazed up at the black hole in the sky. So dark, I kept thinking in my head. The glow of the remaining sun rays shined around the darkness. Stars were twinkling around us, and the temperature had dropped to where the humidity was nonexistent. Then, just like that, it was over.
“Safety glasses back on!” I heard the same doctor yell.
This is where my story begins. You see, something strange happened to me out in that parking lot. The solar eclipse only lasted about 48 seconds, but something powerful happened in that short time span.
Two weeks had gone by since the eclipse appeared. As I walked down the hospital hallway, I swore I saw a patient wandering the halls. Except, I hadn’t remembered checking them in. The first time it happened, I went over to the nursing station and double checked my charts for the day. Just as I had thought, I only had three patients checked in that morning.
Was I losing my mind?
I went to the lady’s room, and splashed some water on my face. The cool water running down my cheeks gave me the second wind I needed. Was the exhaustion of this job finally getting to me? Just then, I heard a faint voice in my ear. I couldn’t make out what was said. I turned around and checked underneath each stall – I was alone. I blotted my face dry with a paper towel, and then I heard it again, louder.
“$80,000,” the voice said, with clear precision.
My eyes darted to the side of my head, and in my peripheral vision I could see in the mirror, a little old woman about 95 standing behind me. She had white-short curly hair, dark grey wrinkled skin, and a hospital gown on with white socks that came up to the bottom of her knee caps. Surprisingly, I remembered working her case about 4 years ago, she had a horrible case of pneumonia. I whipped around and covered my mouth with my hand. I couldn’t tell if I was more scared that there was a ghost standing in front of me, or of the fact that I might be losing my mind. I stuttered to say something, anything.
“Are, are…you a…a ghost?”
The old woman looked back at me, her dark brown eyes piercing into my soul.
“$80,000,” is all that came out of her mouth, once again. Then, she was gone.
I ran out of the bathroom in a panic and hit Martinez head on.
“Woah, Jana, what’s the rush?”
I rubbed the top of my forehead.
“Oh nothing, something just startled me.”
Martinez gave me that look like he always does when he knows I’m keeping information from him. I ignored his silent questioning and continued to my computer.
I sat down and started pulling up my charts from 4 months ago, I was on a mission.
Helen Baker, April 24th, 2013.
I clicked open the file, and just as I had thought, it was the woman I had seen in the bathroom.
I scrolled through her billing information and it looked like her insurance had covered most everything during her stay here, besides, the accumulated bill was much less than $80,000.
Helen Baker only lasted about a week on our unit. She had left with a family member to be taken care of at home because we honestly didn’t think she would have much longer.
What did she mean by $80,000?
A buzz rattled along my left hip, my pager was going off. I clicked out of the screen, and tended to my next patient.
I laid awake that night staring at the ceiling. My body was battling exhaustion, but my mind was running a million miles a minute. What could she have possibly meant by saying, $80,000? She didn’t even have many visitors while in our stay. In fact, I remember just one girl coming into the room during her last couple of days. I took a big yawn and decided to let it be for tonight. I rolled over, clicked my beside lamp off, and let the exhaustion drift me away into a deep slumber.
That was the fever I was running the next morning. Not too high to stay home, but high enough to make me feel lousy. I grabbed some peppermint candies from the check-in desk, and unwrapped the clear plastic wrapper. I popped the round mint into my mouth, and went to dispose the sheets from room 111. We had dismissed Allen Ray from his stay with us to go home with his family on hospice.
I pulled the light blue curtain to the side and immediately felt nauseous. I could feel the saliva in my mouth start to water, and I had a tight knot in my stomach. Standing before me yet again, was Helen Baker.
She was laying in the bed that I had to clean; her arms folded perfectly in her lap with her fingers interlaced and her eyes shut. I slowly walked up to her as the fear built inside me. My fingers trembled as I reached for her. The tips of my fingers were a couple inches away from touching her arm, I could feel the cold radiating off her. It felt like I was about to stick my hand in a freezer. My middle finger first, then my pointer finger grazed her icy skin.
Just then, her head jolts 90 degrees and she looks me straight into the eyes.
“$80,000, in hole.”
I jumped back in a panic, and turned to run out of the room. I could feel the heat in my cheeks as all the other nurses looked at me. I ran straight for the bathroom, and locked myself in a stall.
I sat on the toilet and put my head into my hands, tears soaked the palms of my hands.
Why is this happening to me?
I heard footsteps on the bathroom floor coming towards me. I sat in silence and held my breath as I prepared for the embrace of Helen.
Bang-bang-bang. Three hard knocks on the stall door. I inhaled a deep breath, and didn’t say a word. Maybe if I sat here in silence, she would go away. Bang-bang-bang. Another round of knocks ensued.
“Jana, is that you in there?”
I heard a male voice on the other side – it was Martinez.
“Jana, what is going on with you? I think you freaked everyone out just now.”
I unlocked the bathroom stall and came out, Martinez held out his arms and gave me a big hug.
“I’m, I’m seeing things – I’m seeing, people.” Martinez gave me a crossed expression, I could tell he thought I was losing it.
“What do you mean? I see a lot of people too, Jana.”
I could feel the heat on my cheeks coming back, “No, I’m seeing patients we have had, patients who are dead.”
His crossed expression faded to an empathetic look. “Jana, are you at all religious?”
I shrugged, “I go to church on Christmas and Easter, but I wouldn’t call myself a devoted Christian.”
Martinez closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He reached out to me and put both hands on my shoulders and looked me in the eyes.
“Look, I don’t know what is going on with you, you shouldn’t mess with people who have crossed over.”
My eyebrows scrunched together.
“I’m serious Jana, we aren’t meant to talk to those who have passed. Promise me you won’t try and communicate with her anymore? Tell her to leave.”
With those last words, Martinez turned and left the bathroom.
Had Martinez experienced this before? I found it odd that he wasn’t concerned with the fact that I was seeing dead people.
Helen was such a sweet old lady, she would tell me jokes each time I entered her room. I couldn’t imagine her wanting to do me any harm. She was trying to give me a message, an important one at that. I needed to help her; if I could do that, maybe she would leave me alone.
I fired up my computer and pulled open Helen’s chart. I scrolled through her emergency contact information and found just one relative listed. Maura Johnson. This must have been the young girl that came to see her. I typed the phone number into my cell phone, and patiently listened to the dial tone. No answer. I decided to leave a message.
“Hi Maura, I know this may come off as odd, but I am the nurse that handled Helen. I need to ask you a few questions, please give me a call back.”
I clicked the end button and realized how silly that voicemail would sound to her.
My eyes circled around the nursing station, everyone was carrying on with their day, delivering medicine to rooms, sipping on their morning coffee, high-fiving each other for discharging their patients. I saw Helen in the corner of the room staring at me intently. I knew she could tell that I was trying to help her, but I still felt uneasy every time I made eye contact with her. My stomach gurgled; I grabbed the small trashcan from under the desk. The contents in my stomach filled the bag. Helen stared back at me, looking at me pitifully.
I wiped my mouth with a nearby napkin, and continued with my charting. The exhaustion I had been facing lately was getting to be unbearable, but I didn’t want to take a day off now. Not with all of this going on, I had to get to the bottom of this.
I had nightmarish dreams that night. I could see Helen, but she was much younger – probably around 60. She had on red crocks, capris blue jeans, and a floral button down shirt. She wore a straw hat, and had on red gardening gloves. She was kneeling in the grass near a big brown fence. She looked to be fiddling with something in the yard, possibly planting something. Her head slowly turned to me, and she was sporting a huge grin with bright red lips. Her smile started to fade into a frown, and the color immediately left her. I ran towards her to try and help, but by the time I arrived she was gone.
I woke up the next morning to a blood-stained pillow case. I must have gotten a nose bleed in the middle of the night, the blood was crusted under my nose, and I had dried red flakes stuck to my hair. I rolled out of bed to splash some water on my face; I threw on some scrubs, and ran out the door.
I tossed my hair in a sloppy bun as I walked through the sliding glass doors of the geriatric unit. I was just a couple feet away from my computer screen when I felt a tap on my back, I swung around to see Martinez eyeing me down.
“Jana, you look terrible. Maybe you should take the day off.”
He lifted the back side of his hand up to my forehead, “Oh my gosh, you are burning up!”
I had forgotten how bad I was truly feeling, the only thing I could focus on lately was the message Helen was trying to send me. I looked Martinez in the eye, I knew he would know I was lying if I told him I was fine.
“Ok, I just need to check something on my computer. Then I’ll be out of your hair for today.”
Martinez gave me a scowled look, “Hurry Jana, you are in no shape to be around patients today.”
I fired up my computer and clicked open Helen’s file. I scrolled down to Maura Johnson’s information and jotted down her address on the inside of my hand.
The wheels on my tires squeaked as I pulled down the windy roads leading to Maura’s house. I parked my car a few houses down from Ms. Johnson’s, just to be safe. I slowly crept up to the house, and the first thing I noticed was a big brown picket fence surrounding the backyard. My dream of Helen digging in the backyard immediately popped into my head. I stared down the front door, I thought twice about knocking.
This is crazy.
Why am I doing this?
I gave three hard knocks on the door – no answer. I rang the doorbell twice – no answer. I looked around the neighborhood to see if anyone had been paying attention to me, it seemed like everyone was either at work or at school. I tip toed to the back of the house, and opened the back gate to the fence. Hell, I knew I would seem crazy for doing this, but I already was going crazy; who cared at this point?
I ran to the edge of the fence where I had seen Helen digging in my vision. I fell to my knees and started digging. Mud and dirt filled my finger nails as I pulled apart the Earth, one hand at a time. My nail broke as I came across something hard in the ground. I took a deep breath, this was it, this is what Helen had taken me to. I sat on my knees in the dirt, my muddied fingers tips rested on each knee. I closed my eyes and looked up to the sky. I took a deep breath in, and in my head, counted to three. I let the air escape my lips slowly as I tried to focus.
A few more handfuls of mud later, I peered down into the hole, and saw a skull. Tears welled up in my eyes. I clasped both hands in front of my mouth, a sigh of angst and relief escaped. The last thing I remember seeing were stars, and then blackness overtook me.
The cops later identified the body as Helen Baker’s. After a long and tedious investigation, it turns out that Maura had buried Helen’s dead body in the back yard. She had been collecting her social security checks each month. The sum of the checks Maura had collected – $80,000.
I’m glad that I could help put Helen Baker to rest, peacefully.
As for myself, my health has been declining since I first saw Helen. I’m not sure how communicating with the dead has led to the rapid decrease of my health, but three new visitors stand before me, I feel compelled to help these people.
They need me.