Bryce stared out of his hospital single-bedroom’s window, feeling plenty of sorrow for himself. Sunday’s were boring to him. Up to this point, he’d not regularly attended church services, his parents were dead, he had no other family, no friends and in general, nothing interesting seemed to happen on the ward he’d been admitted to. Each day, the diligent sanitisation staff emptied bins and enthusiastically pushed and pulled on plastic brooms in practised patterns on their rounds, while remaining taciturn throughout. Over the last week, he’d developed a longing to get to know them. And yet, had he ever managed to catch their attention, the reveal would be that they held no desire to share any detail of their lives with him. Today, following yet another series of tests and measurements last Thursay, a final analysis was due. Upon waking up earlier, staring up at the ceiling, Bryce had fully expected to be discharged.
Nurse Grübler paused in front of the corridor window that looked directly into Observation Room 3. Through her own translucent reflection she saw the silhouette of her patient, framed within the exterior window of the single room, his back to her. So far, engagement with the patient had caused a neurological irritation for her, like an itch between two toes that was hard to reach and ease. At least she could take comfort in the knowledge that within the next few hours, this sad sack of a person would be gone. All she had to do now, was hold a brief discharge interview with the patient and that would be the end of it.
‘Good morning Mr Astley,’ she said as she entered the room, ‘it’s a lovely morning out there isn’t it? Twenty-three degrees and getting warmer as we go through the week, all very nice. How are you feeling?’
Although Bryce Astley had felt startled by the nurses entrance, causing him to jump slightly, he quickly regained his composure and his static pose, and continued to gaze mournfully out of the window.
‘Well, I woke up with a slight cough this morning, which wasn’t there last night.’
‘Probably a dry throat. Look, you haven’t touched the jug of water I left here last night.’ Nurse Grübler took an upturned glass tumbler from the bedside chest of drawers, turned it over and filled the vessel with water. Her expectation that the patient would turn around and accept the drink, was predictably dashed. ‘Mr Astley, would you like this drink?’
Interpreting a shrug of the shoulders as a reply in the negative, she approached the patient and placed the glass on the window sill. Drawing level, she looked at Bryce Astley and immediately executed a double-take, examining his face more closely.
‘What’s happened to your face Mr Astley, your skin has gone bright yellow!’
‘I know, it was like this when I woke up.’
‘And down your neck – and your hands Mr Astley! Is it everywhere?’
‘I’m not sure, I haven’t looked.’
‘Your eyes are dreadfully bloodshot too. I don’t understand what’s happened, I have never seen anything like this before. I saw you yesterday – you looked fine. The latest test results arrived this morning and gave you a clean bill of health. Mr Astley, I was here to see you to agree your discharge from the hospital, but this is a very unusual turn of events. Can you described to me how you feel?’ The nurse held the patient’s wrist to check his pulse rate. ‘Have you experienced any palpitations, nausea or dizziness?’
‘No, I just feel a bit off, you-know?’
‘Right, I’m going to call the consultant. You stay here, please – don’t leave this room and I’ll be back.’
Nurse Grübler closed the door behind her, eyelids blinking. Reaching the nurses’ station, staff were moving around, busy doing what they do. She needed to compose herself, get her thoughts straight, decide what she was going to do. She flumped in a chair behind the desk and pulled off the elastic band holding the patient’s file closed. Speed-reading the report, she tried to glean a clue, perhaps something missed, but her mind was all a jumble.
‘Alright, come on, get a grip.” She said to herself under her breath. ‘I know what I’ll do, I’ll go through this report word-for-word and highlight anything that jumps out at me.’ She reached across to the pen jar on the desk and inspected the contents, but what she wanted was not apparent. Pulling out a drawer, she found a stapler, an opened pack of staples, a hardened rubber eraser, more rubber bands and an assortment of coloured paper-clips. Still, not what she was looking for. She propelled herself on her caster-wheel chair to the other side of the nurses’ station, finding two more pen jars, tipping them out onto the desk top. With still nothing found that she needed, she felt decidedly flummoxed.
‘Elaine!’ She called out to an administrative clerk who had appeared in the corridor holding a hot cup of herbal tea. ‘Elaine, have you got any highlighter pens please?’
‘Highlighter pens? They’ll be in the pen jars.”
‘They’re not,’ said Nurse Grübler, with some restraint in her voice, ‘I’ve looked.
‘Try in the desk drawer.’
‘Then we haven’t got any. I’ll order some more in, they should be with us on Thursday.’
This is madness, she thought. ‘Okay, thank you Elaine.’
‘You could try next door?’
Several minutes later, Nurse Grübler returned. Elaine was slurping on her tea, playing a card game on the computer.
‘I don’t believe this, they don’t have any yellow highlighter pens and nor does the ward next door to them, either. It’s as if.’ She stopped mid-sentence, her body froze, only her eyes moved, in the direction of Observation Room 3. ‘Some one, has stolen them all.’
‘Probably,’ said Elaine nonchalantly, ‘I had a ladybird pencil sharpener once, that disappeared.’
The door to Observation Room 3 swung open under the force of Nurse Grübler’s extending arm. She strode inside and stood behind her patient, positioned exactly where she’d left him.
Bryce half-turned, a disinterested expression begged a slap around the face. He said nothing, offering a mere raising of an eyebrow in reply.
‘It appears that we are missing all our highlighter pens, Mr Astley. All our yellow highlighter pens. Might you be able to shine a little light on this?’
Bryce Astley tried desperately to disguise a sheepish look, standing up unsteadily from the chair he’d been perched on. He couldn’t look the nurse in the eye.
‘I’m feeling a bit unwell Nurse.’ He blew his cheeks out. ‘A bit hot, a bit sick, I’m beginning to feel all funny.’
‘Funny, Mister Astley, funny? Honestly, I don’t even know how I fell for it. Look at you, you haven’t even coloured-in your face evenly and there are gaps – I can see them now, all around your neck and eyes, and by your hairline. Look – there, on the side of your nose. Mr Astley,’ the nurse placed her curled fists on her hips, ‘apart from some unfathomable need for attention and wish to waste peoples’ time, there is absolutely nothing wrong with you. Do you hear me? You are not ill!’