She tossed and turned, finally managing to block out all of the noise and sounds that were lurking in the night around Kitty's apartment. Footsteps overhead from upstairs neighbors, an engine revving all too late at night, bits and pieces of a telephone conversation that she picked up as another one of Boston's residents walked by outside. It wasn't anything more than your average city noise, and nothing that Charlie was unaccustomed to, but she still didn't feel well and all of this was making her all the more hypervigilant. This ‘other consciousness' business, the way that she and Nora seemed to have found a way to coexist, at least for now despite that neither of them were actually happy, the fact that no one could sufficiently explain exactly what was happening and why and how and by whom, all of it made her anxious and antsy and she felt helpless knowing that she could do nothing about it, that it seemed as if there was nothing that anyone she knew could do about it. And so she did her best to not think about it, and so did Nora, whose only interest seemed to be scraping through her day unscathed and without any suspicion that something very, very strange was going on in her head.
She rolled over onto her back and willed herself to fall asleep, but to no avail. It had never been that easy for Charlie. At the very least, it seemed as if her stomach had started to calm down enough, and she hoped that she wouldn't be seeing her dinner again for the third time that night. Tossing and turning a few more times, she forced herself to lay still, as the constant movement and shuffling wasn't helping with her whole 'I can't sleep' problem. After a few minutes, she breathed easy. It seemed that she had finally settled into a comfortable position on the couch, and Charlie hoped that she could sleep for a few more hours, well aware that Nora had work in the morning and needed a few hours of good rest in order to be able to function and do her job well. As she fluffed up her pillow again and burrowed further underneath the blanket, she felt her eyelids get heavier and heavier, and soon enough she was asleep.
Her eyes fluttered open again and she groaned, feeling as if she had only just managed to fall asleep just mere moments ago. Her pager was beeping in the vicinity of her head, and even though she was barely awake, Nora reached out and grabbed the device like a reflex, skimming the tiny screen to see who needed her and for what. She frowned, confused. The small plastic device was motionless and silent, yet the beeping sound continued. She rolled over onto her side and looked at the Spectralink phone that was resting on the desk next to her. That too was silent, its green battery light blinking to let the world know that it was still alive and kicking even if it wasn't making any sound. Finally, she found the source of the ringing and fumbled with her own personal cell phone, trying to figure out what she had to do to get it shut up in her bleary-eyed haze. ‘Mom' flashed across the screen and she sat up suddenly; a call this late in the night was never a good sign. She noted the time before sliding her thumb across the answer button on her phone: 2:54 AM. "Hello?" she answered. The usually warm voice on the other end sounded tired, exhausted even, as it relayed every last detail to the young surgeon who sat alone in the middle of the on call room. Nora could hear the words that her mother was saying but they were barely registering with her. She suddenly felt as if her head was swimming in something, drowning even, in a thick, viscous liquid that refused to let her free no matter how hard she fought against it and tried to focus. She had managed to make out the words "grandmother" and "ambulance" and "stroke," but nothing was clicking until suddenly it did and she felt her stomach drop.
In an instant, she was wide awake and it was morning.
She stood by the hospital bed like she had a million times before and like she would a million times still to come. The monitors were so familiar and the beeps and other sounds that came from them were like the never-ending soundtrack to her life. Nora studied the screen and frowned, dissatisfied with some of the numbers she was seeing. She looked at the patient for any signs of discomfort and nearly jumped out of her skin. This wasn't just any patient. Like she had been so many times throughout the day already, Nora was startled to see her grandmother's familiar heart-shaped face. She lay there expressionless as if she were in a deep, peaceful sleep where nothing could hurt her or cause her pain. Lying in a hospital bed, the woman who Nora once believed could take on the world empty-handed and win suddenly seemed so small and frail to her. The arms that had held so many grandbabies suddenly seemed so thin and wrinkly, the hands that had tended to so many summer gardens and soothed countless nightmares and fears so spindly and bony. The comforting smile was gone for now, the mouth that had cooed so many words of encouragement and sang so many lullabies dry and motionless. Her body seemed so fragile under the layers of blankets and she had aged considerably since Nora had seen her last. She reached out and placed her hand on her grandmother's brow as if doing so would soothe the worry lines away. It did nothing, of course, and she let out a quiet, exasperated sigh and resigned herself to the chair in the corner, helpless and unable to do anything but wait.
She picked up her Kindle and mumbled to herself, remembering a mantra that she had spoken to so many of her patients' family members over and over again. "One hour at a time."