Tuesday, April 24, 2012




Local Hero
Al Lamanda

Copyright by Al Lamanda


I opened my eyes.
My vision was a blur of white mixed with some color.
Slowly it cleared.
There was a two or three second delay before the crown of pain around my skull set in and then it felt like an elephant was sitting on my head. A really big elephant. There was an IV tube in my left arm. My right thumb was clipped to an EKG machine that displayed my vital signs on a monitor above my head. There was a raided guard rail on either side of me.
I was in a hospital bed. A room for one.
I had no idea why.
I had no idea how I got here.
I had no idea where here was.
Or when for that matter.
Clipped to the guard rail on my left was a call button. I reached for it and pressed the button and held it for a count of three. Twenty seconds or so later, a plump nurse with a bright smile opened the door and entered the room. She walked to the bed and showed me that smile.
“The doctor said you might come around today,” the nurse said.
“Around from what?” I said.
“You’ve been unconscious for almost four days now,” the nurse said.
“My head is splitting,” I said.
“I’ll bet,” the nurse said. “I’ll get the doctor on duty.”
“Wait,” I said.
“Be right back,” the nurse said and dashed out of the room.
I wiggled a bit in the bed and tried and sit up. I didn’t get very far. That slight exertion increased the pain in my head from severe ache to intense migraine. I was gasping from the hot needles in my eyes when the doctor came in and rushed to my side.
“Hold still,” he said.
“My head!” I cried.
“I’ll give you something for the pain in a moment,” he said. He reached for something below the bed and produced a clear, plastic mask and placed it over my nose and mouth. “Breath deep,” he said.
It was pure oxygen. After about ten deep breaths, the pain in my head started to subside. “That’s it,” the doctor said. “A bit more.”
I kept breathing in the pure oxygen. It smelled sweet. Then the pain was nearly gone and I nodded to the doctor.
He removed the mask from my nose and mouth. “Better?”
“Yes, much,” I said.
“Let’s sit up a bit,” the doctor said and helped me to a sitting position against the pillows.
“Why am I…?” I said.
“In a moment,” the doctor said. He had a small flashlight in his hand and used it to examine my eyes. He clicked off the light and held up a finger. “Follow my finger,” he said and moved it left to right and back.
Satisfied, he lowered the finger.
“Why am I here?” I said. “And for that matter, where is here?”
The doctor smiled at me. “You were in a boating accident and here is Bay Island, off the southern coast of Maine.”
“A boating accident?” I said.
“A pretty bad one from what I hear,” the doctor said.
The nurse returned. “I paged Doctor Gifford,” she said. “She’s not in the hospital. I left at message at her home.”
“Okay,” the doctor said. He looked at me. “How is the headache?”
“Dull,” I said. “Like a crown around my head, but nothing severe.”
“Nurse, bring some extra strength IB for him,” the doctor said.
“Right away,” the nurse said.
“Oh, and call Sheriff Lee and tell him he’s awake,” the doctor said.
“Yes, doctor,” the nurse said and dashed away for the second time.
“Who is Doctor Gifford and what’s the sheriff for?” I said.
“Doctor Gifford is the head trauma specialist on staff here at the hospital,” the doctor said. “And the sheriff is because you were involved in a serious accident where two people died.”
“Who?” I said. “Who died?”
“We don’t know, Mr.…” the doctor said.
The doctor waited for me to answer, to tell him my name.
I didn’t answer him.
I didn’t answer him because I had no idea what my name was.


I was drifting in and out of sleep when a noise caused me to open my eyes. Standing before me was a very attractive blonde woman in a white hospital coat. She had deep blue eyes and her dirty blonde hair was pulled back in a ponytail. Standing to her left was a large man of about fifty, dressed in a sheriff’s uniform.
“I’m Doctor Jane Gifford and this is Sheriff Scott Lee,” Gifford said.
“I have about a hundred questions that…” Lee said.
“That can wait, Scott,” Gifford said.
Gifford and I did the flashlight, follow the finger thing again. Then she examined my throat, felt around my neck and jaw and tested my nerves with needles in my fingertips. She looked at my vitals on the monitor. “I’m going to ask you to sit up, and then stand up,” she said, and removed the IV and EKG monitor, then lowered the guard rail. “But, take it slowly.”
“You don’t want to check my teeth and gums?” I cracked. “See maybe how old I am?”
Gifford grinned and took a step backward. “Sit and stand first,” she said.
Lee stepped back with her a couple of feet. I shifted my weight and sat up.
“Now stand,” Gifford said.
“You forgot one,” I said.
“So I did,” Gifford said and reached under my gown to remove the catheter from my penis. “This may sting a bit.”
She slid the tube out and I winced. “It did.”
I swung my legs over the side of the bed, placed my feet on the floor and slowly stood up. Gifford backed up about ten feet.
“Walk to me,” Gifford said. “Slowly.”
I walked to her.
“Put your right finger to your nose, then the left,” Gifford said.
“Have I been drinking?” I said, but did as she asked.
“Up on one foot, then the other,” Gifford said.
I stood on my left foot, then my right.
“Turn around and walk back to bed,” Gifford said.
I turned and retraced my steps to the bed, turned back around and looked at Gifford.
“Sit,” she said and walked to me.
I sat on the bed. “Do I get a treat now?”
“The on call doctor said that you don’t remember your name,” Gifford said with a grin. She had a beautiful smile.
“After he left, I started thinking about that,” I said.
“And?” Gifford said.
“I can’t seem to remember anything,” I said. “Not my name, not who I am, where I’m from, nothing.”
Gifford glanced at Lee.
“Least of all, a boating accident,” I said.
“You suffered a severe blow to the head,” Gifford said. “And were half drowned when the Coast Guard pulled you out of the water.”
“The other doctor said two men drowned,” I said. “They were with me?”
Gifford looked at Lee. “Scott, why don’t you talk with him now,” she said. “I’ll be back in a while. I want to review his MRI again.”
“Okay,” Scott said. As he pulled up the chair next to the bed, Gifford turned and left the room.
“Do you know about this accident?” I said.
Scott nodded. Up close, his face had the worn, leathery look of a Marine Corps recruitment poster. He had wide shoulders, powerful arms and a slim waist. He was probably fifty years old or more judging by the thick creases around the eyes and specs of gray in his dark hair, but he kept himself in excellent shape.
“There was a severe flash storm that blew in from the ocean,” Lee said. “We get them this time of year. They come in quick, dump a ton of rain, cause gale winds and rough swells and then blow out. You and two men were caught in an eighteen foot sailboat about a half mile off the Coast of Bay Island when the storm hit at about nine PM. It’s assumed you were anchored, possible for the night. You may not have had the radio on and heard the Coast Guard warning. In any event, your boat was caught in the worst of it and capsized. The mast broke in two and that’s what the Coast Guard rescue swimmer believes hit you in the head. You were wearing a life vest, which probably saved your life. The other two men were not. The swimmer towed you to a line and you were pulled aboard a rescue vessel and taken here. By the time the swimmer returned to the boat, it was sinking and the two men were gone.”
“Gone where?” I said.
“Somewhere at the bottom of the ocean,” Lee said. “Along with the sailboat by now. It’s doubtful it or they will surface. The Coast Guard conducted salvage runs for the past three days with little results. Currents could have carried the bodies and salvage a mile out by now. What’s been recovered is mostly floating junk.”
“I wore a life vest,” I said. “Did I have ID, a wallet in my clothes, something?”
“You wore Chinos, a teal polo shirt, tan loafers and had twenty-five hundred dollars wound in a rubber band in your left pants pocket,” Lee said. “In your right pocket we found a gold Zippo cigarette lighter. No wallet or ID was recovered.”
“So you don’t know who I am, either,” I said.
“Not at this point,” Lee said. “So far all we know is you dress well, roll your money and are probably a smoker. Not a lot to go on.”
I looked at my fingers. There were no markings of a ring. “I guess I’m not married,” I said.
“The accident has been on the news,” Lee said. “No one has stepped forward to claim you, or the other two men for that matter.”
“The sailboat,” I said. “Don’t they have registration numbers?”
“They do, but the Coast Guard wasn’t able to read them by the time they got to you,” Lee said. “They posted a link to any missing sailboats, stolen, rented or otherwise.”
“Stolen?” I said.
“You never know,” Lee said. “So, is this for real? The memory loss, or are you just trying to get out of a massive hospital bill?”
“You said I had two grand in my pocket,” I said.
“Twenty-five hundred,” Lee said. “And I was joking about the bill.”
“But serious about the amnesia?”
“So am I,” I said. “I’ve been awake a few hours now, and have been thinking, trying to remember something, anything, but it’s like…like there’s a wall there blocking things out.”
“I won’t pretend to be anything but a small town sheriff,” Lee said. “I’ll leave the medical stuff to Doctor Gifford. However, I’d like your permission to fingerprint you and circulate your prints to the FBI databank for a possible ID match.”
“What if I’ve never been arrested?” I said.
“Your prints could be on file for other reasons,” Lee said. “Say you’re a hunter with a pistol permit, a teacher, or have a government job, they’d be on file.”
“Sure,” I said. “If it helps give me a name.”
“I’ll be back in a while with a print kit,” Lee said. “And a camera.”
“Camera?” I said.
“Face match,” Lee said. “Faces are kept on record as well, not to mention the internet, Facebook, Twitter and all that other narcissistic crap. We might get lucky.”
“Sure,” I said.
I was alone for a few minutes after Lee left the room. I thought about what he said. Face match. It occurred to me I had no idea what I looked like. I stood up and walked into the bathroom and clicked on the light.
I stood before the mirror over the sink.
The face that looked back at me was worn like leather. I had thick creases around the eyes, a broad nose, thick, black eyebrows to match the color of my eyes, heavyset lips and a chin like a boxer. My hair was black, with specs of gray, and in need of trimming. If I had to guess my age, I would put me at around forty-five or so, but no more than fifty.
I stared at my reflection, hoping to trigger something, a memory, a flashback, a split second of recognition.
There was nothing.
I was looking in the mirror at a stranger and a stranger looked back.
I turned around and closed the door. There was a full length dressing mirror mounted on the back of it. I was wearing a hospital gown with the open back. If I had to guess my height, it would be around six feet two, maybe an inch more. My weight, I had no idea. Over two hundred pounds, probably more.
I stripped off the gown.
I was surprised at how muscular I appeared. I looked at my hands. The palms were calloused and hard, the knuckles large when I made a fist. I spent a lot of time in a gym somewhere, but for what reason? Was I vain? Did I stay in shape for my profession, such as military or police work? I ruled out military. My hair was too long and messy for a military cut, and my age ruled out active service. I didn’t have a comb or brush and used my fingers to pat it down a bit.
When I raised my hands over my head, I noticed a thin sliver of a scar between the third and fourth ribs on my left side. It was about an inch long and maybe an eighth of an inch thick. A knife scar, possibly?
I heard the door to the room open, then shut.
“It’s Doctor Gifford,” I heard Gifford say.
“I’ll be right out,” I said and slipped back into the hospital gown.


I sat with Doctor Gifford at the tiny, round table in my room. We drank hospital coffee from Styrofoam cups. She had my chart and perched reading glasses on her nose as she studied it closely.
She nibbled on her lower lip, which somehow made her even more desirable.
I thought she was the most attractive woman I had ever seen. However, without a memory, the field of attractive women in my life was kind of narrow. Still, she was a stargazer.
I sipped my lukewarm coffee and waited.
“My diagnosis is Retrograde Amnesia,” Gifford said. “The type of amnesia where you can’t recall events from the past, but can remember clearly from the present or recent past from the time the amnesia began. Generally caused by blunt force trauma, or simply put, a blow to the head. It results from damage to the temporal lobes, especially the hippocampus. In most cases, the condition is temporary and memory returns slowly as things start to heal.”
“I got about half of that,” I said. “How many types of amnesia are there?”
“With sub-classifications, about sixteen or so,” Gifford said. “But, yours appears to be limited to Post-traumatic, or retrograde. However, as you progress, you might experience Source Amnesia, where you can recall events and memories, but have no idea of the source of those memories.”
I took a sip of coffee as I thought about that. “How long are we talking about here?” I said. “Before I start to remember, I mean. Days, weeks?”
“I wish I could give you a definitive answer,” Gifford said. “I can’t. There are documented cases as little as four hours to as long as twenty-three years or longer. There is no one answer as no two cases are alike.”
“How old would you say I am?” I said.
Gifford studied my face for a few seconds. “As young as forty-two, as old as fifty,” she finally said. “All tests results indicate that you’re in perfect health and excellent physical condition. Well, except for the amnesia thing,” she grinned.
I returned the grin. “Yeah, except for that pesky thing.”
“Are you hungry?” Gifford said.
“All I’ve had for three days is IV and this tepid coffee,” I said.
“It is pretty bad, isn’t it,” Gifford said. “What would you like? I’ll have it sent up special.”
I thought for a moment. “Steak, with baked potato okay?”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Gifford said.
“Before you go, could you take a look at this?” I said. “I noticed it in the bathroom.”
I stood up and lowered the top half of the hospital gown and tied it around my waist. “Left side, third and fourth ribs,” I said and raised my arm. “What do you think?”
Gifford removed the glasses and leaned in close. She touched the scar with a finger and wiggled it around. “Hurt at all?”
Her fingers were warm against my skin.
“It isn’t new,” Gifford said. “It was probably much thicker and time has shrunk it down a bit.”
She removed her fingers and the warmth faded.
“Caused by?”
Gifford raised her eyes and looked up at me. “It appears to me that at some time in your past, you were stabbed with a knife,” she said.
“That’s what I thought,” I said.
I replaced the hospital gown as Gifford stood up.
“As long as it doesn’t hurt and the tiny scar doesn’t bother you, I wouldn’t worry about it,” she said.
“The scar is the least of my worries at the moment,” I said.
Gifford nodded at me. “I’ll see you a bit later,” she said.
After Gifford left, I went to the window and opened the blinds. I was high up, at least on the sixth floor or higher. The view was the Atlantic Ocean, sailboats, powerboats, a long stretch of beach, a lighthouse in the distance, and some surfers that looked like tiny seals bobbing in the water.
I watched the panoramic view for a while and thought about the knife scar. Somebody stabbed me. Why? Was I mugged? In a bar fight? Did someone try to murder me, and if so, why? Money? Maybe I was a cheating louse and was caught by an angry husband, or the wife I no longer had? Or…?
The door opened and Sheriff Lee walked in with a thick leather briefcase in his right hand.
“I see you’re up and about,” Lee said and set the briefcase on the table.
“How tall would you say I am?” I said.
Lee moved closer to me and looked me in the eye. “I’m six foot two, and we’re eye to eye,” he said.
“How do you think this happened?” I said, and lowered the hospital gown to my waist, then lifted my left arm to reveal the scar.
Lee studied the thin sliver of a scar for a moment. “You were stabbed by someone your own height,” he said. “The scar tissue is even with no upward or downward angle. They aimed for the area between the third and fourth rib for a kill shot to the heart. They missed because the knife went in on a slice from the side instead of head on. You were either fighting it off, or they were out of position when they struck.”
I pulled the gown back over my head. “I’ve been thinking about it since I noticed it in the bathroom,” I said. “I have no idea how I came by it.”
“Let me see your hands,” Lee said.
I started to walk to the table where I assumed Lee would fingerprint me.
“Not yet,” Lee said. “Just give me your hands.”
I held out my hands. Lee inspected fingers, knuckles, palms and wrists. “I don’t see any marks or scars from defensive wounds,” he said.
“Are you saying that I didn’t try to defend myself against whoever stabbed me?” I said.
“No,” Lee said. “I’m saying I don’t see any evidence of defense wounds on your hands. You could have had a baseball bat for all I know. Okay, let’s take your prints.”
I sat at the table. Lee opened the briefcase and removed a fingerprint card, roller and ink. It took just a few minutes to print both my hands. I went to the bathroom to wash off the ink and when I returned, Lee was holding a digital camera.
“Let’s do a few face shots, then some profile,” Lee said. “Between prints and photos, we might get lucky and ID you pretty quickly.”
Lee took about ten or twelve photographs, then packed all his stuff away in the briefcase.
“How long does it take?” I said.
“Prints take usually a few minutes,” Lee said. “Photo matches can take days sometimes. We’ll see what happens.”
“Okay,” I said.
As Lee was about to open the door, it opened and Gifford came back in. She held takeout containers of coffee.
“Oh, sorry, Scott,” Gifford said.
“I was just done,” Lee said. He looked at me, then back to Gifford. “He showed me a scar on his chest.”
“I saw it,” Gifford said. “My guess is it’s at least five years old or more.”
I took a coffee from Gifford and opened the lid.
“A stab wound?” Lee said.
“That’s what I would classify it,” Gifford said. “Hospitals keep records of stabbings and shootings, but good luck trying to find something that old and obscure.”
“I wouldn’t bother,” Lee said.
“What now?” I said.
Lee looked at me again. “I’ll be back as soon as I know something.”
“I guess I’ll be here,” I said. “As soon as you know something.”
Gifford opened her coffee. We sat at the table. I sipped. She sipped. She looked at my stained fingertips.
“From the ink,” I said. “The soap in the bathroom isn’t strong enough.”
“I have some alcohol swabs sent in and a bar of surgical soap,” Gifford said.
“Along with the steak?” I said.
Gifford smiled. “Yes, along with the steak.”
“I was wondering how long I will be in here,” I said.
“Do you have somewhere to go?” Gifford said as she sipped coffee.
“Go? I don’t even know where I’ve been,” I said.
Gifford grinned. “Maybe you are a stand up comic?” she suggested.
“Do you know where my clothes are?” I said.
“I had them sent to the hospital laundry,” Gifford said. “You should have them back by tomorrow. You money and lighter are in the closet on the shelf.”
There was a knock on the door. It opened and an orderly came in with a large brown paper bag. “One steak, one bottle of ginger ale, one apple pie,” he said and set the bag on the table.
“Thank you,” Gifford said to the orderly.
The orderly nodded and left the room, closing the door.
“The television works,” Gifford said. “I’ll see you in the morning. I’d like to run some more tests and check a few things.”
“If I need something?” I said.
“Press the buzzer,” Gifford said. “A nurse will respond.”
“Thank you,” I said.
“Get some sleep,” Gifford said. “Your body needs rest to repair itself. Your mind, too.”
“I will,” I said.
The television had basic cable channels and I flipped around until I found an old John Wayne western. I ate the steak, watched the movie, finished off the pie and drank ginger ale, and watched the Duke sober up Dean Martin. The plot was the same as the other Duke western where Robert Mitchem played the drunk. In both films, Martin and Mitchem took to the bottle after falling for women who were no good. John Wayne played John Wayne in both films.
The movie ended. The Duke prevailed.
I clicked off the television with the remote.
The silence in the room was like a thick fog wrapped around me.
I set the glass of ginger ale aside and went to the buzzer beside the bed and buzzed for a nurse. One showed up after thirty seconds or so.
“Is Doctor Gifford still in the hospital?” I said the second the nurse poked her head through the door.
“Are you in pain?” the nurse said.
“No,” I said, just as the top of my head exploded.