Some fans have been asking about my latest novel, so I wanted to put a sneak peek on here. Update? I’m still waiting on a few publishers to decide. As soon as I know, you’ll know. Premise: Dr. Phil meets the TV show Fringe. Ava narrates her amazing experience from her hospital bed after being in a coma for almost two years. Did Newman really gain the power to remove humans’ painful memories? Or is it all simply the power of her extraordinary imagination?
CLEAR with NEWMAN JONES
I’m borrowing my mom’s computer to email you because she says maybe you can help me forget I’m 11 years old now but when I was like 7 my stupid brother dressed up like some scary person named Freddie for Halloween. I woke up in the middle of the night and he was laying in bed with me with a knife. Now I have nightmares every night about someone trying to hurt me and no doctors have been able to help me. So like I was wondering if you could maybe let me be on your show and you could cure me mom says you can call her cell phone if you wanna or contact my dad at work. My friends think I’m crazy but they want me to feel better too. Can you please take away my bad dreams? I make bead bracelets and I can make one for you if you help me. mom says to keep the letter short even though I still have alot to say. I’m supposed to end the letter with a funny word but I don’t remember what it is. So like I hope you call. I need some sleep. Here are the phone numbers. 330-215-9313 dads work- 330-992-8671
Some memories escaped as tears. Others departed without permission. Luckily, I have a few thoughts left to tell my story. I testify on this hot, oh, what month is it? July, yeah, July New York City morning that every millisecond of every second of every minute is the truth as I recall it. Mother said my experience might be a candidate for the Ripley’s Museum, but how on Earth could it be displayed? For now, let me make myself clear, which isn’t always a perfect science, not when I’m scratching to cling to ten minutes ago, let alone the past two years.
Come on, Ava. Pull yourself together. You’ve crushed the odds before. Why not now?
“Could you spare us the dramatics and get right to it? I realize you’ve been incapacitated for a long while, but time is of the essence.”
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to sound like a writer. Could I have some water or juice? My mouth tastes like sewer.”
“Of course. Nurse Jackson? Can you bring us a pitcher of juice and some coffee for me? Would you like to sit up more?”
“Sure. How long have I been out of it? Feels like weeks.”
“That’s not important now. You’re alive and free from your coma. That’s all that matters. On with the story?”
“It might take a while. You sure you wanna hear all of it?”
“Every bit. Just hearing your voice makes me optimistic.”
Well, the mélange of reality and the bizarre surfaced during a routine emergency. Paramedic school 101 prepared me for nearly everything from tornado disasters to massive shootings, but nothing readied me for this. Maybe the inexplicable should stay that way, but if I don’t share it, I may go nuts. And who’s going to want a crazy EMT trying to bandage their arm?
My partner, Newman Jones, had a rare gift but grew to abhor it. Why? He never asked for it. A blistering hot summer day in Yuma, Arizona, he reacted to the EMT call like he always did. Cracked a couple of jokes and swallowed two Aleve for his periodic aching back. I anticipated a long weekend off, but he never flinched. Three straight weekends, or was it four, on-call wasn’t anything unusual for Newman. Work-a-holic was his middle name, claiming traumas didn’t take the weekends off, so why should he?
At first, the emergency call appeared normal enough. Elderly male with heart attack symptoms. Blood pressure 70/40 and a weakening pulse. An upscale condo with a loft, well-maintained and clean. A handful of dishes in the sink, and a neighbor-lady fretting over his distressed frame on the floor. A few staccato gasps and rumblings from his throat, and in minutes the patient was in cardiac arrest.
“Get the pads,” Newman shouted as the neighbor lady broke into irrepressible tears, but I questioned her vested interest. Was she hiding something? Her striped pajamas looked a bit juvenile for her age, but it was more than that. I failed to put a finger on it exactly, though I supposed a relationship with the man wasn’t out of the realm of possibility.
I yanked the manual defibrillator from my backpack, grabbed the handles, and fixed the pads to the guy’s chest. I’d done this over a hundred times; you’d think I’d get used to it. Coming from a line of medical professionals, I learned a long time ago that real-life avatars don’t always come with five lives.
The neighbor slowed her tears, enabling her to speak without sobbing. In ways, she reminded me of my grandma, just not as ancient. “I was in the middle of cooking dinner when he called. I heard a scream and a loud thud. Doc Riggins has lived next to me for the past five years.”
“How old is he?” Newman inquired. “You say he’s a doctor?”
He took his temperature and peeked at his pupils. A small puddle of blood formed under Riggins’ head staining his long grey hair, but his wound was the least of our concern.
“PHD from Yale. Not a medical doctor, but he’s such a lovely man. Can you save him?” Her voice grew stronger now, almost as if keeping her friend alive was critical to her own existence.
“We’ll do our best, but he’s in bad shape,” Newman said, taking over and readjusting the pads for a more effective shock.
“Clear!” he yelled, but the unit misfired. “I thought I told Simmons to replace the battery in this thing. Crank it up. We’ll hit him again.” I questioned his decision. Increasing the joules was a huge risk, but he was in charge.
The luxury condo reeked of agoraphobia, but nothing compared to the fried skin fog from jolting the good doctor with three-times the amount of electricity required for his rhythm. He awoke with a start, eyes bugged, and a cough-riddled whisper. A slow rasp seeped from his quivering mouth. Hollowed cheeks were drenched with sweat and tears.
“I’m so sorry. I never meant to harm anyone. Thought I’d possess it until I died, then it’d go with me,” Riggins said.
Newman and I shared a quick glance, wishing the neighbor lady would have told us he was delusional. Before we could lift him to the gurney, he went into V-fib again. A line of blood trickled from his nose and mouth. Please don’t shock him again. He’s been through enough.
Newman readjusted the defibrillator one final time, but I stopped him cold. What was the guy, around 85-90 years old? He sounded like he was ready to go.
“Wait! Pulse is non-existent. First, do no harm, remember? You burned the shit outta him already,” I begged Newman to give up.
Following orders again, Newman and I continued CPR over his fragile chest for several more minutes with little response, other than occasional stomach gurgles. Nearly breathless from fatigue, Newman shoved me out of the way screaming “clear” one last time, and that’s when it happened. Investigators deemed it a battery malfunction, but whatever caused it, Newman shot five-feet into the air and landed with a skull-crunching thud.
A fit of anger threatened to strangle my state of panic. Newman’s cheek swelled green and purple, and his lips were blue. I told you to stop. You never listened to me. I raced to Newman’s side expecting the worst only to be met with his uneasy laughter. His way of calming my fears. It didn’t work. Turning him over and avoiding eye contact, I refused to fall for his unbefitting charm. Totally pissed versus inherent compassion, but he knew I was soft. Like always, private Nurse Ava Kelly reported for duty.
Nathaniel Riggins, PHD, passed on to the afterlife a lonely old man, but his legacy would live on, thanks to Newman. You see, I’d suspected it for a while, but there wasn’t a malfunction in the defibrillator battery.
I apologize for repeating myself. The enigmatic archaeologist from Manhattan kept his secret until his dying day. Newman just happened to be in the wrong place at the right time.
“Let me get this straight. You had no idea you suffered the effects as well as Newman?” The kind doctor’s lab coat says Malcolm Angel. And although I’m quite cloudy still, I suspend my narration to gulp another glass of juice then answer.
“That’s my understanding, and my heart briefly stopped. Radiant shock caused my concussion and coma. Remember? You wrote it down for me before I could speak.”
I point to the scribbles on the legal pad near my leftover breakfast dishes.
“I’m ready to continue. I’ve so much to tell.”
“Yes, of course. Your story is fascinating.” He flips through the pad, revealing more than one written response from me.
“You okay?” I pressed Newman over and over again as the coroner examined the dead body, and I followed protocol with my assessment. “You took one helluva shock. It’s like the codger swallowed a transformer or something. BP’s a little high, but your EKG’s normal. Looks like you’re gonna live.”
Fixating on a lone fly in the window changes my focus. I feel silly sharing my make-believe hallucinations.
“Ava? You still with me? Can’t leave me hanging.”
“Oh, my bad. I’ll owe you something after this. I’m sure you have patients worse than me.”
“No worries. I’m a patient soul.” I ignore his “time is of the essence” contradiction from before as he fills my glass and wipes my sweaty brow. My hospital cave brightens the more I speak. Malcolm ends the fly’s incessant buzzing with a magazine swat.
I flashed Newman a cautious grin, knowing he’d argue with me about seeing a doctor. We packed up, and at least he was smart enough to ask me to drive. He shivered himself into the ambulance, though it was 90 degrees plus outside.
“Thanks. I’m fine. Let’s get back to base. I promise I’ll make an appointment in the morning.” He smiled back, but I knew him too well. Co-workers deemed it a thing, but I vowed I’d never date a younger man again. Still, I’d call what we had a few hugs and kisses more than what I first allowed, and I knew he’d make excuses.
“Tomorrow’s Saturday. Why don’t I just make one for you right now?” We motored down the highway as I swiped my phone to our insurance app, locating his primary care doctor’s number. I realized it was an invitation for trouble, not waiting until we were idle, but I knew his reputation for procrastination. The time thief and I were well-acquainted too. I hated myself, but my heart was in the right place, and traffic was light. Yeah, that’s what all the accident victims claimed.
A quick tap and a pause later, and Newman’s steel gray eyes froze me solid. He had a bit of a temper, but nothing like this.
“Stop,” he screamed, and I thought he was talking about my nagging or maybe my cell phone use while driving.
I never saw the semi turning right in front of me. I jerked the wheel and swung the ambulance hard to the left, just missing the tractor trailer, leaving a patch of tire marks behind us. Thankfully, no oncoming vehicle occupied that lane, and we escaped with a small scrape this time. I vowed there’d be no next time if I was driving.
“Can we pause again, doctor? Are you sure that none of this actually happened? Where’s Newman? Why hasn’t anyone come to see me?”
“They did. You just don’t remember. You’ll progress more with less distractions. We’ve been keeping them updated. Every experiment—never mind.” He peeks at his watch, rises, and glares at the ceiling. “Trust me. You’ll heal faster. Patients waking from comas all concur and have one thing in common. Dreamlike events play out like a movie and are as real as, well, this laptop here. You don’t mind if I take notes?” He sits again, crossing his legs and ready for me to continue.
“And this is going to help me heal? Telling a bedtime story to a shrink?” The doctor calms my shaky hands. There’s warmth in his touch and voice. Sudden guilt strikes me. I’m to blame for his puffy eyes.
“Your swelling was significant, affecting your temporal lobe, your emotions. This is exactly what you need. I promise we’ve had tons of success with other coma patients. Go at your own pace.” He nods, and I go on.
I drove him to his appointment that Monday, and talk about strange. Standing room only in the waiting room. It resembled an airport terminal more than a doctor’s office. Young and old glared at the examination entry door, pleading to be next. Newman batted his eyes a few times but never said a word. I knew what he was hoping.
“You’re staying. I don’t care if it takes all day. Jimmy has extra coverage with three new trainees. We can work the night shift. Besides, you were talking in your sleep all weekend. You’re a snorer not a talker.”
“Cut the shit. I don’t talk in my sleep.”
“Exactly. You snore. Like an old dog.”
“What’d I say? I hope I didn’t reveal any secrets.”
Embarrassment was unnatural for Newman, the life of the party on most occasions. But who rattles off numbers like secret codes and technical jargon way beyond his intelligence? There may have been a genius in there somewhere, but I hadn’t seen it yet. Shocked by enough electricity to light a small town had to be the culprit.
An elderly woman with long braids and a flowered sundress was the next patient called, so Newman offered me the seat, accidentally stumbling into her path. He caught himself on her walker, gripping her arm to prevent her from falling.
“I’m so sorry. My girlfriend pushed me,” he said, grunting a laugh.
I shrank, but part of me enjoyed the sound of it. I hadn’t been anyone’s girlfriend in months. Sharing a house with Newman for financial reasons had transformed into random intimacy, so I guess it made sense. He probably only said it because he didn’t know what else to call me.
The lady groaned her disapproval, considering he was acting like a teenager, but without warning she melted. Not like the Wicked Witch of the West, but her entire countenance changed. It was like Newman just finished her one-hour backrub, and she felt the relief in her aching muscles and joints.
“Thank you, young man.” She raised her weak hand up to his face and sighed once again. Thank you could have meant a number of things, but she had no time to elaborate. The place was jam-packed with sick bodies. Watery-eyed senior citizens, young adults with their heads in their hands, and a chorus of impatient kids drumming their feet against their chairs.
“For what?” Newman wasn’t trying to be stupid this time. Was she flirting? He was easy on the eyes, if you liked thick auburn hair and blue-grey eyes. Tall enough for me but not a giant and a precious twinkle in his smile.
“Come along, Mrs. Whitney. We’ve a full house today.” The nurse hurried her along, but the lady glanced over her shoulder and winked. Her labored shuffle stabilized to a casual walk.
“This was the first indication something was wrong with Newman?” Dr. Angel interjects, handing me a couple of hair clips for my longer brown locks. He must be tired of not seeing my eyes. Normally, I keep my bangs feathered and short. There must be a year’s worth of growth or more.
“Yes, but I was unable to pinpoint his exact ability. For a minute, I saw him as a healer.”
“You mean, because of the old woman?”
Random tears begin. He leans closer, offering me a tissue.
“You shoulda seen her face. Her entire visage changed. Like Newman lifted a truck off of her.”
Newman turned back to me as if I had a clue, but I was just as confused. I would have spent a few more minutes mulling it over if his knees hadn’t buckled on his way back. I tucked my arm under his just in time.
“Whoa, what the heck? You don’t look so good.” His face flushed red like a fireball and his hands shook. “Sit down. I told you there was something wrong.” He plopped into my chair, scooting it back six inches upon landing. I knelt in front of him, checking his pulse. Other patients showed concern, but I assured them I had it under control.
Teardrops formed on both of his cheeks. “Ava, you don’t understand. Mrs. Whitney, when I touched her arm, something happened.”
“I know. I saw it. You almost hit the floor, and that’s why we’re here. Pulse is erratic.”
I felt his forehead, but it wasn’t hot. In fact, it was cold and clammy, a total paradox to his reddening face. Arizona sun could be scorching in the summer, but it was still morning. Newman looked like he’d been out all day tanning, similar to his color on Friday after he got zapped. Even his handful of freckles disappeared. Visibly shaken, he ran his trembling hand through his wet hair and shook his head side to side.
Five more patients later, and he limped into the examination room. Mrs. Whitney had yet to leave, which was weird, but no stranger than Newman’s sudden condition. My training didn’t cover any of his conflicting symptoms, so I couldn’t wait until the doctor took a stab at it.
The nurse explained that irregular pulse and clammy skin pointed toward shock, which I already knew he experienced more than any normal person. Once his pulse steadied and his pupils were responsive, he started mumbling again. Something about watching her husband die, Hurricane Alice, and Hell’s Gate. Similar but different than the nonsensical word patterns he’d spouted at various times in his sleep all weekend. Yet, I experienced no uncommon feelings or unusual attraction. I recorded some of his ramblings on my phone and played it. Her puzzled look spoke volumes as she left.
Doctor Thornton knocked on the door and entered, whistling like he always did. I needed him a few months ago because of an infected toe. He had a natural way of making a patient feel comfortable. I blamed it on his quiet demeanor and soothing voice, but Newman’s expression indicated he just wanted answers.
“What seems to be the problem?” The doctor asked, examining Newman’s chart. “Pulse seems a little fast.”
With my paramedic background, I jumped right in. “He took an unusually strong charge from a—a—defective defibrillator, at least that’s what the technicians said. Tried to revive an old man in V-fib on Friday.”
“How was he after the shock? Any fever, nervous ticks, muscle spasms, an inability to sleep?”
“No, that’s what’s crazy. I checked him myself. BP perfect, no concussion, except—”
I hesitated because I didn’t want him to think my best friend on the planet was a nutcase. Antiseptic white walls surrounded me as I struggled to find the right words.
“Except what?” The doctor pressed, ignoring my abrupt claustrophobia.
Newman came back from his daydream and answered for me. “I touched her, and she—she—changed. I think she gave me something, or I gave her something. I dunno.”
“Who? Who did you touch?” Doctor Thornton raised his voice and eyebrows. We had his attention now.
“Mrs. Whitney. One of your patients,” I explained. “She stumbled, and Newman caught her. That’s when more symptoms started.”
“You touched Mrs. Whitney, you say?” Doctor Thornton poked his head out the door and shouted. “Kelly-Anne? Can you get me Mrs. Whitney’s chart? Thanks.”
Newman exploded from the examining table toward the door like a Jack-in-the Box. I interrupted his momentum, but he felt strong again, no sign of any sickness.
“Easy does it, Mr. Jones,” Doctor Thornton warned. “I’m not sure what’s going on, but I think you need to hear this.”