“Room 35?” Father Edward replied, one breath in, one breath out. “Okay. Okay.” He turned to Father Karol, whose puppy-like enthusiasm had subsided for the moment. “Follow me, Karol.”
They made their way through the blue curtain dividers of the emergency room, entered a white double door, and steadily marched down a typical hospital corridor. They passed an old woman in a wheelchair, an oxygen tube taped under her nose, and a small family speaking loudly and with such a strong Southern accent Father Edward could not understand a single word. Finally, Edward stopped in front of a door. It did not resemble any of the clean white doors they had passed along the way. This door was metal. Strips of paint were missing from its surface, and somehow it had been dented repeatedly over the years. On the outside. Which made no sense. A brass plate above the door read simply “35.”
Father Edward knocked on the door. Presently, from within, there was the sound of locks being unlatched. A male nurse opened the door. Young, muscular, morose, he ushered them in.
The walls were padded in rubber. Not in a flat, smooth layer, but with upholstered pillows. The color of the entire room was a pale, sickly yellow. In the center was a large bed supported by a single, thick, metal base. There was a thin, worn mattress and stretched across this, her wrists and ankles bound in leather straps, lay a young woman of about thirty five. Her hair was long, brown and unkempt. Father Edward walked up beside her so he could look into her face. Her eyes were closed. Her skin was creamy white and she looked entirely peaceful. The male nurse said nothing at all.
Father Edward walked round the bed to take a look at the patient’s chart. Then he walked back round so he stood again where her head lay on a thin pillow.
“Candice,” he said in a calm voice. “Candice?”
The young woman slowly opened her eyes and smiled. She seemed entirely untroubled. She might have just opened the door of her home to find Edward standing there. She looked as though she might offer him a fresh baked cookie.
“Father Edward,” she said in a plain, normal voice. “I’m so glad you came.”
Father Karol stepped forward. “Hello, Candice,” he said with his slight accent. “I am Father Karol. I’m new here. Why are you in the hospital today?”
“Hi, Karol!” Candice said with such energy that Edward glanced at the male nurse with alarm. “Well, to tell you the truth, I’m here because I am the Antichrist,” Candice explained with simple candor. “Before they strapped me down, I had a chance to call my husband. I explained to him as best I could that I am the Antichrist and I suggested we should probably get a divorce. It’s a sad, sad thing, but it’s just not fair to him. To be married to the Antichrist, I mean.”
Without a hitch, Father Edward replied. “That was very thoughtful, Candice. Where is your husband now?”
“Ummm, right now...?” She thought for a moment. “Right now, he is taking care of our new baby, Nicholas. He visited me about a half hour ago. Joseph, I mean. Not Nicholas. He can’t even walk yet!” she laughed. “Anyhow, you just missed him. He’ll be sorry he missed you, Father Edward.” She turned her head slightly and smiled at Father Karol. “And you, too! Welcome to our parish!” she said.
Father Edward turned to Father Karol. Silently, they took a few steps away from Candice. Edward whispered, “Post-partum depression. Well, worse than that, I’m afraid. They started her on Zoloft, then went straight to Haldol. I suppose that means this is actually post-partum psychosis. I know her husband, Joseph. He must be out of his mind with worry.”
“Let’s pray for her,” Father Karol replied.
“Alright,” Father Edward said. But he took a step back as though to give Father Karol room to work. “Go ahead.”
Father Karol straightened, stepped forward and spoke to Candice. “Candice,” he said in a pleasant, unassuming tone. “Do you mind if I pray for you?”
She laughed. “If you think it will help to pray for the Antichrist, go right ahead.”
Father Karol turned to Father Edward. “Do you have the oil for annointing the sick?” he asked.
“Of course.” Father Edward produced a small metal vial, perhaps twice the size of a thimble. He handed the container to Father Karol who twisted the top off and dipped his index finger inside. He then proceeded to annoint Candice’s forehead with the sign of the cross. Systematically, he opened each of her hands and made the same mark in oil on her palms. Candice did not object or move a muscle.
Father Karol spoke. “Father God, I pray for this child of yours who suffers under the yoke of the enemy. Free. Heal. Forgive. If there is any demonic presence, I pray, Lord Jesus, that you rebuke it in your own Holy Name and by the power of Your Blood, shed on the Cross for the sins of humanity. Please, Lord Jesus, heal her mind quickly, grant her the help of fully qualified medical assistance, so she may return to Joseph and little Nicholas to create a loving family. Blessed Mother pray for us. Saint Dymphna pray for us.” Father Karol stopped and placed both his hands on Candice’s forehead. She closed her eyes. Father Karol prayed again, but quickly and quietly, such that Edward could not understand what was said.
Suddenly, there was a pounding on the door. Once again the male nurse disengaged the latches and opened it. A female nurse stood there, a pained expression on her face. “The seventh floor is full,” she said. She spoke to the male nurse, ignoring the others. “We’ve found room at Coliseum Hospital, but, because she is a risk, she has to be escorted.” She blinked, masking a quick glance at Candice and the priests. “By these officers.”
Two policemen stepped into view behind the nurse. One was holding what looked like a long chain. Both effortlessly maintained an emotional distance, unmoved by the horrid room, by the sight of Candice strapped to the bed, or by the two priests who stood beside her. The priests were staring in open disbelief.
“State law requires that she wear shackles to the transport vehicle,” the nurse said quietly. Then she grimaced as if she expected someone to hit her.
“I’m not a risk to myself or others,” Candice said in a conversational tone. “Now, I did write down that one day I had a thought about hurting myself. But it was just one sangle thought. I never hurt myself. I never hurt anybody.”
Sangle, Edward thought.
Father Karol turned away from the policemen and the door and continued to pray despite the interruption. When he finished, he turned, his body swinging with one motion as though all his muscles were tensed.
“Shackles?” he said then. He looked from nurse to policemen. The indignation in his voice seemed to defy the various safeguards of Room 35, reaching even into the hall. “Does this young woman look like she needs shackles? Does she sound like she needs shackles? Can’t you simply judge this situation by what you see in front of you?”
Edward lay a hand on Karol’s shoulder. “It’s the perp walk, Karol. It has to be done any time anyone has indicated they may hurt themselves. It’s the law and, unfortunately, it doesn’t allow for exceptions.”
Father Karol looked down at Candice, a rim of tears forming in his eyes.
“It’s okay, Karol,” Candice replied calmly, soothingly. “It’s not like it’s going to hurt. And I like the Coliseum. They’re good people.”
Father Karol turned fiercely to the nurse and the policeman. “I will ride with her!” he barked at them. He put his arms forward, placing both wrists together. “And put the cuffs on me as well. I assume this is some kind of police van? Reinforced windows?”
The two policemen gave each other an appraising glance. “Sir,” one of them replied. “it’s really not necessary for you to accompany Mrs. Dougherty.”
The nurse looked as though she would faint.
“No, it’s not necessary, but it might help her remain calm. And she won’t be alone,” Father Karol replied. “Please... Indulge me.” He stretched his wrists toward them.
The policeman who had spoken sighed and said, “Sure. What the hell.” He removed a pair of handcuffs from the rear of his belt and affixed them round Karol’s wrists.
Karol turned to Candice. “You see? I’m coming with you. Nothing to be afraid of.”
Edward did not realize his mouth was hanging open. He watched in silence as the male nurse unbuckled the leather straps on the metal slab, helped Candice to her feet, and, holding one of her arms in the crook of his own, escorted her to the policemen, who proceeded in their methodical, professional manner to shackle Candice’s wrists and ankles. A single length of thick chain joined the constraints on her wrists to those on her ankles. “You coming?” she said, smiling at Karol, and began making tiny, inhibited steps down the white, featureless corridor, one officer behind her and one officer in front.
Father Karol stepped in directly behind Candice, and Father Edward followed the group at a slight distance. The nurse had simply disappeared. The antiseptic smell of the hospital greeted them as they paraded down the hall. “So, this is the perp walk,” Edward heard Karol say. It was a cheerful remark. It sounded genuine. Not at all forced or fake. His puppylike enthusiasm had returned. At once, something in Edward snapped – grief, terror, he could not say. Thoughts began to enter into his mind. They were unbidden. And they were directed at each and every person he passed in the hall. Hateful. Violent. Images of murder – toward absolute strangers. An uncaged, destructive impulse poured continually from some part of himself he had never known.
He saw himself strangling an old woman in her wheelchair, twisting an oxygen tube around her neck.
He saw a passing intern and something in his mind said to the man, Go fuck yourself and die.
A man with a long black beard and a large gut lay on a gurney, his hair and face bloodied from, Edward could only guess, a car accident. In Edward's mind, his two hands snatched the pillow from under the man’s head and smothered him.
As Edward felt deep, pervasive, implacable horror for the first time in his life, as a physical wave of panic rose from his chest to touch each and every follicle of hair on his head, a little boy, bald and thin from chemotherapy, peered out of his room.
Roll over and die, something spat.
The pattern continued, the thing in his head urging violence on every single person, willing them to die, until Edward finally exited the sliding doors. Cool air buffeted him, tossing his hair, actually pushing him back a step. He was blubbering and leaned forward, hands on his knees, to hide his face from everyone. The very breeze, the steady contact with Nature seemed to insist, This is real. This is really happening. It’s inside your head, but it is just as real as the wind and the rain. “I’m going crazy,” he said aloud, but only in a whisper, only to himself.
Risking a glance up, he watched the police officers assist Candice and then Karol into the back of a white police van. He watched and flinched as they slammed shut the double doors. He watched as the officers climbed into the front seat. He said to himself, I have to function. The challenge was simple: walk back up the hill to the church, get in his car, drive to the Coliseum Hospital, and collect Karol. Never, in his entire life, had his own mind turned against him. Never had a thought entered his mind which was in some sense not his own.
A psychiatrist. He would have to see a psychiatrist. Was this PTSD? No. There would be flashbacks of that night in the Burger King. Was this something worse? He might be hospitalized. Like Candice. Room 35.
Panic seized him and he reached desperately for the first mental support he could find. What he found was the phrase, Glory to God and not to me. He said it in his mind. It was the only thing he could think to do. Glory to God and not to me, he said again. And he repeated this mantra, building a wall, blocking any other intrusive thoughts, as he went to get his car at the church.
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