Coma - short story
Coma was published in December 2014 in the anthology GialloMilanese 2014 from ExCogita Publisher. The original story is in Italian, and this is the official English language version.
Dr. Phillip Milanesi was in the emergency room one day when an ambulance brought in a woman who had had an accident on the job. As he examined her that day, he asked the paramedic where they had found her.
“On the floor of the museum exhibition room. Her name is Rosemary Briarwood and she works at the Science and Technology Museum in Via San Vittore,” explained the paramedic. “They found her at around 10:30 this morning next to a fallen ladder. We think she hit her head when she fell, and she also has an incised wound on one hand.”
Phillip turned Rosa’s hand over. The cut was about an inch long, originating at the tip of the right index finger, and blood had stained the side of her forearm. “It looks deep. What did she cut herself on?”
“They don’t know,” said the paramedic.
Phillip examined her forehead. “So, you said she fell off a ladder?” he asked.
“Yes, that’s right. She was trying to hang a loom from the ceiling.”
“A loom?” asked Phillip.
“Yeah, she was setting up an exhibition. She fell on some old wooden tools, and frankly, after seeing the mess of broken wood all over the floor, I think it's a wonder she wasn’t hurt worse.”
Phillip loves his job. Healthcare means everything for him: he wants to be an example for his patients, so he swims when he can and always eats right. After all, why should a patient trust a doctor who's out of shape? He keeps himself in good health and tries to do the same for his patients, but in all this time, he has not been able to make Rosemary better.
Three weeks after Rosemary entered the hospital, Phillip met with her mother to discuss her care. He preferred not to talk about such things in her room because her brain activity was good and there was a possibility that she could hear and understand what was happening around her. Her tests showed she was in a prolonged state of sleep with a REM cycle every five hours. They had adopted an IV to keep her hydrated and a feeding tube for nutrition, but Rosemary did not require any other particular care. She was even breathing on her own: twice each minute ever since the moment she was brought into the hospital.
The problem, at this point, was that the hospital had decided to release Rosemary for financial reasons. Her mother was not in good health and could not take of her at home, and so she had asked Phillip to find a long term care facility. Eventually, Rosemary was assigned to a room at the top of a tower at a facility known as "The Fortress" because it had been built as a fortified house a few centuries back. The small yellow room was very picturesque, though a bit inconvenient because the elevator and the fire escape had been built on the outside of the original wall. There was a breathtaking view from the only window in the room, and marvelous frescoes still covered the walls. Rosemary's mother spent many hours there reading aloud because Rose loved romantic stories and classic fairy tales.
Over the next few years, Phillip became quite famous for his research and the medical journals published a lot about his “special patient”. In fact, Rosemary was in the exact same condition as when she first was brought into the ER. The EEG continued to confirm that her sleep cycle was almost normal, and her skin and muscle tone was still healthy. Her comprehensive metabolic panel proved that she did not really need to be artificially fed, and so they removed her feeding tube to save money. Rosemary's mother had insisted they keep the IV, but Phillip was very sure that she really didn't need that either. There had never been a case like this before!
The Museum of Science and Technology of Milan organized a press conference to announce the new exhibition commemorating the fifth anniversary of Rosemary's accident. Phillip went, and he was very happy to get the chance to say hello to Rosemary's mother. The poor lady seemed twenty years older instead of five. They both took seats in the front row.
The exhibition curator, Flora Rossi, was a cheerful middle-aged woman with a melodic voice. She welcomed the crowd and started her presentation by telling everyone how she had found Rosemary that fateful morning five years earlier. At the end of her introduction, she sighed, shook her head, and said, “Rosemary is a beautiful person, and a pleasure to work with. Really, we all love her very much.”
An elderly journalist raised his hand, “And how is Miss Briarwood now?”
“The same as the past five years,” sighed Flora. “Her condition is stable, but there are no signs of recovery.” Everyone started whispering.
“Could you tell us something about the new exhibition?” asked a journalist with a mustard yellow jacket.
Flora smiled. “Why, certainly.! It's called 'Working in a Fairy Tale'. Visitors will be able to see Italian and foreign tools and farm implements from the 1700s, the 1600s, and a plow from the 1500s, but our oldest piece is a German spinning wheel that was made before 1400. It was discovered 15 years ago in a bricked up room in an ancient castle, and we presented it in our last exhibition. In fact, it was right where Rosemary fell, and it was a miracle that she didn't fall on it and smash it to bits!”
As the whispering started again, Phillip sat straight up in his chair, his eyes wide with surprise.
Flora continued, “Rose was an expert in ancient artisan work methods and she had found about 120 pieces for her exhibition. There were exhibits with looms, plows, blacksmithing tools, tanning equipment, and many other things. She had had copies made of the more interesting pieces to let visitors try … for example … how to weave fabric or how to spin wool. This exhibition will feature those same models for the public to try out, and there will also be something new!”
Yes, Phillip was a logical person, but he had been looking for an answer for five long years and all his scientific knowledge had not helped at all. Wasn't it true that when only one answer remains, no matter how illogical it seems, it has to be the right solution? And now here he was. He approached Rosemary slowly, with an air of hopeful disbelief.
How many hours had he spent in this chair, gazing at her lovely face and long blond braid, trying to find a way to make her open her eyes? Her mother had told him they were blue, the color of the sky. Several times, he had imagined waking her up, but never like this. Could it really be that easy?
Suddenly Phillip leaned over and kissed Rosemary on the lips, and immediately he felt a wave of warmth spread through the room. Startled, he backed up as she began to inhale, slowly, for a whole minute. Her lips parted slightly when she exhaled, and then her eyes opened and, at last, she blinked. Phillip sat down on the side of the bed, dumbfounded.
“Well,” said Rosemary with a smile, “I thought you'd never figure it out!”