Hayley, an outgoing eight-year-old girl is in California visiting her newly engaged father. Her soon-to-be stepmom is taking her to visit one of her patients at the hospital where she is a nurse.
The car ride to the hospital was not as awkward as I thought it was going to be with just me and Liz in the car. Liz made a good attempt at small talk, and I answered with simple responses. When we walked through the big glass sliding doors, I immediately noticed the smell. The hospital smelled like rubbing alcohol and green Jell-O and was lit with dim bluish lights that occasionally flickered.
“Well, this is pretty much my second home!” Liz laughed, gesturing at the wide-open waiting room. The thing was that Liz did not look like a nurse at all. She looked more like someone who would work at a store selling perfumes and candy-flavored lip glosses or maybe even a model because she was almost perfect looking. But, according to my dad, she was very smart and caring, so I guess being a nurse was the right job for her.
I trailed behind Liz as she weaved through hallway after hallway and rode up a few floors on an elevator. Finally, she stopped in front of one of many white doors.
“This is Bill’s room,” she said, nodding toward the door. “I’ll go in first and tell him he has a visitor, and then come out and get you when he is ready. Does that sound okay?” she asked.
“Yeah, that’s fine.” I waited as she slid through the white door. I couldn’t make out the conversation they were having inside.
All I could hear was, “Hi, Bill, how are you feeling today?” But then the door was pushed shut. After a few minutes of waiting outside the door, straining to hear what the adults were talking about, the barrier between us was pulled open and Liz walked back into the hallway.
“Come on in, Hailey! Bill is very excited to meet you.”
I stepped in through the archway of the door and saw a man lying on an uncomfortable looking bed that was slightly bent in the middle so the man could sit upright. He had on a blue short-sleeved nightgown so I could see his full arms. His wrinkly arms had needles stuck in them that were attached to long tubes leading to a pouch of clear liquid hanging on a wheeled post. He had white hair that was nicely combed toward the back of his head.
“Hello misses!” He smiled at me, his blue eyes twinkling. His eyes were the only part of him that did not look sick or old.
“Hi,” I said shyly, keeping my distance.
“Oh now don’t be shy, sit down.” He motioned for me towards the wooden desk chair. “Now, tell me, what is your name?”
“Hailey.” I slowly walked toward the chair and took a seat.
“Hailey,” he repeated slowly, “Now, that is a very pretty name.”
I smiled. “Thanks.”
“So, Hailey, tell me why you are here?”
I was unsure what he meant so I asked, “You mean here in California? Or here in your hospital room?”
He chuckled. “How about both?”
“Well, I am here in California to visit my dad… And Liz,” adding the last bit quickly, as I suddenly remembered that she was in the room as well.
“You know what, Bill, it is almost time for your lunch. Would you like me to go get it for you from the cafeteria?”
“Oh, Elizabeth, that would be great. Thank you,: he said gratefully.
“You guys have fun talking,” she said smiling at me, as she walked through the door back into the rubbing-alcohol scented hallway.
“So you came here to visit your father,” Bill said, urging me to go on. I ended up telling him the whole story about the divorce, my mother, and Liz. I felt very comfortable telling him about my family life; I could tell that he would never judge me or my family and would never tell a soul if I asked him to.
“Now that you have told me the reason for your trip to California, how about you tell me what brought you here to my hospital room.”
“Well, this morning at breakfast Liz told me that I should come meet you because you are a very inspirational man,” I answered him, trying to remember exactly what Liz had said to me over the breakfast table.
“Ah. Inspirational. Well I am very flattered!” he laughed. If he were not lying in a hospital bed I would not have thought that Bill was sick at all, he seemed to be very happy.
“Yes. Inspirational. In what way?” I wondered.
“I’m not quite sure,” he said, “I am just your average old man! I fought in the Vietnam War, got married, and had kids.”
“You fought in the Vietnam War?” I asked. That sounded pretty inspirational to me!
“Oh, yes! That’s how I got this scar.” He showed me a slightly discolored circle on his left shoulder. “I got hit by a bullet in my shoulder. I would have died if I had not gotten help from a beautiful nurse who later became my wife.”
“Wow, really?” I was intrigued. He told me a very inspirational story about fighting in the war, meeting his wife, who he is still married to today, and raising his children. We spent a few hours talking, with Liz occasionally popping in and out, bringing Bill whatever he needed. Finally, at two in the afternoon, Liz told me her shift was up and that it was time to go home. I promised Bill that I would come visit him again as we left his room. Once we stepped out of the big glass doors of the hospital, the same ones that we had entered hours before, fresh air overpowered me. The warm sun and California air was so different from the fake lighting and cold, smelly oxygen that was inside the hospital.
When Liz and I had got into her little red convertible and were driving down the road she said, “So, i was thinking that today we could take a little drive over to Los Angeles and visit some of the landmarks you have probably been looking forward to seeing! How does that sound?”
“Oh yeah! That sounds so fun!” I really had been looking forward to visiting LA on this trip.
“Great! We will stop by the house to get a few things and pick up Carly and your father, then we can go!” Already, this trip was turning out to be as good as I expected it to be.