Jo-Anne Vandermeulen

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Excerpt: Opening of Chapter 1 "Conquer All Obstacles"




“Conquer All Obstacles” is a contemporary single title: Women’s Fiction.

A woman who wants to find love…will do whatever it takes for a ‘happily-ever-after’…even tangling with a Psychopath…

Re: Excerpt: Opening of Chapter 1
Conquer All Obstacles
Author: Jo-Anne Vandermeulen


Gladstone Central Hospital
Mental Health Division
Gladstone, Saskatchewan


NOW

The needle scribbled over the paper near Tara Robstead’s right ear. The sound reminded her of fingernails scraping down a chalkboard. Engulfed in total darkness and feeling tape pinching her forehead, she pictured a machine hooked to her scalp recording vital ­information.

Turn that damn machine off, she yelled from the confines of her mind. Her pulse hammered inside her head like an air pump expanding her skull, but her body was like an unresponsive carcass.

Could use some blankets in here. Can anyone hear me? Hey, fellas, you trying to conserve heat in this building, or what? Her body remained motionless, strapped to the stark white hospital bed.

The door creaked open, as if pushing against the silence. Soft footsteps advanced, then stopped.

A sheet covers nothing. Might as well be naked. Guys, I feel like a specimen here. Eyes, I command you to open. Open now!

Nothing.

So dark.

Why am I here? Hello?

A soft hum came from above her that seemed to be growing louder. Would somebody please fix that annoying light?

Answer me, damn it! Who are you? The machine by Tara’s left ear took on an extra beat.

I need to see who this person is. I need to be prepared.

What if it’s him? Beads of sweat formed above her upper lip.

Why don’t you speak, so I’ll know who you are? Not that I can distinguish voices.

All of the voices sounded muffled, as if caught in the tunnel of a lead pipe.

I want to contribute to the conversation he must be having with himself. That is, if it is him.

The needle stopped. A rhythmic beat pulsed. The door creaked open again.

I should give that door a name. Anything that makes that much noise ­deserves a name.

The confident click of not one but two pairs of shoes announced their entrance.
I know, I’ll make this a game and call it “Blind Woman’s Trivia.” I’ll get more points for guessing the identities of people who enter my domain—my castle. Yes, I like that much better. Appear before the drawbridge, and you shall enter on my command. You are allowed to play the game only if I can properly identify you.

“Any change, Doctor Frances?” a deep voice asked.

No. NO! You have to play by the rules. Can’t use names unless you are ready to quit. Okay, Doctor Frances, you’re out of here. You must now only watch us having fun.

“I am afraid it doesn’t look good,” Doctor Frances responded. “If she fails to respond in the next few hours, we will have to try her on some other mood ­stabilizers. If increasing the valproic acid is ineffective, we will have to try electro­convulsive therapy.”

Come on, guys! You said that the last time you came in here. Don’t sound so pessimistic. I’m going to have to deduct points if I don’t get some good news here.

“You’re going to shock her brain? But she looks like she’s just sleeping,” the third voice, a new visitor, responded.

“Some patients don’t appear sick even though their illness is severe.” Papers rattled near her right ear as Doctor Frances examined the data on the accordion stack of paper accumulating neatly under the printer. “It’s what makes this form of mental illness so difficult. Patients can go on living what appears to be a productive, happy life while masking the true anguish that fights constantly in their mind. We will increase her medication before we apply any electroconvulsive therapy.”

“I just would never have guessed that her moods were associated with a mental illness,” the new visitor added, a tinge of bewilderment in his voice.

Tara heard footsteps, then shuffling steps around her bed. She caught a whiff of Brut cologne and knew it belonged to the man with the deep voice. He had been there often. He raised his arms, stretching over her head. Must be checking on intravenous bags or tubes, or something like that, Tara mused.

Guys, you know you can talk to me. I’m right here. As for Doctor Frances, you can’t play anymore. And as for the other man, my new visitor, I’ll have to give you ten points for remaining anonymous. You sound like a nice man, but I’ve been wrong before. In fact, that’s what got me here in the first place. I’m always wrong.

“I feel I never paid enough attention. I should’ve been there for her,” the new visitor spoke. She felt her blankets tighten, as if his fists curled around the end of the layered cotton sheets. Then there was a slow release as the fabric tucked evenly around her shoulders. “I should have seen it coming.”

Her arm was lifted. Pressure cuffed around her wrist.

Doctor Frances continued, “I really think we have to be careful not to place blame. Instead, it would be more productive to understand bipolar disorder. Symptoms are not always obvious. The patient may appear to be relatively asymptomatic—or normal, if you will—or the patient may experience the more recognizable manic episodes, where they experience a soar of high energy one minute and dive to an extreme low mood the next. Unless the patient chooses to reveal their honest feelings and thoughts, the severity of their mental state can go undiagnosed for years. They may appear healthy and actually be quite ill. They may take on denial as a form of reality and refuse to admit anything is wrong.
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How come I can’t seem to see it coming? I try so hard to look for clues, anything that would indicate danger. But, no, I just walk right in and sit right down. Hey, I think there’s a song about that.

“Walk right in, sit right down.”

Damn, I can never remember the words. Can always get the tune though.

“In Tara’s case,” Doctor Frances continued, “her negative test results lead us to conclude that she has been in mental denial. In her mind, she detects danger most of the time. She learned to hide her true inner state as a coping mechanism.”

“But for her to just be lying there for no apparent reason. I don’t understand why she doesn’t snap out of it.” The new visitor’s voice quivered as he spoke.

“At times, it only takes a single terrifying event to trigger deep depression at a level this severe, especially if one is already suffering from post-traumatic syndrome.”

“How long will she be like this?”

“I cannot give you an answer right now. As doctors, we are often left perplexed. When the EEG results don’t correspond with the symptoms, it is very difficult to determine the severity of the condition; it is truly trial and error finding the proper treatment. We have started Tara on a low dose of valproic acid, which is a mood stabilizer. If there is no improvement, we will increase the dosage as the day proceeds.”

There was a long pause and a heavy sigh.

“I have to be honest with you. Recovery lies in the will of the patient. It is up to her if she wants to get better or not,” Doctor Frances said.

You mean I have all the control? You seem to think I’m sick. Well, I am. I’m sick and tired of living with all these psychos in my life.

Rick? Is that you? Are you my visitor? Tara swallowed hard, the action causing the tape to ­tighten across her forehead.

It better not be … Oh, my God! I thought he was dead. Devin? Her heart rattled in her chest like a drum roll before a hanging. I can’t do this again. Don’t make me. I can’t. I have nothing left.

Her limp hand dropped, and there was the click of a pen, some scribbling, and then a blunt object jabbed her eye and pulled the eyelid upward, forcing it to open. “Without a proper diagnosis, there is no treatment. With no treatment, there is no cure,” Doctor Frances explained.

Well, if that’s all it takes, I can tell you everything right now. But, first, where did that light go? I think I know who my visitor is, but I can’t be sure. If you’d just pry up these heavy lids for a second more, I know I could identify my mystery visitor. As for what’s wrong with me, I can tell you everything you need to know. You just need to listen to me. I can recall everything that ­happened. But, no, that’s not what you want to hear, is it?

The wand screeched wildly on the machine beside her head, the needle scraping faster than before.

“Is there anything I can do?” the new visitor questioned.

“You had better leave now,” Doctor Frances said with a firm tone. She imagined his handsome head cranked toward the monitor, watching the needle tracing madly up and down the page. “Later, when we get Tara settled, I will need you to come back and talk to her.”

You want to know how I’m feeling! God, I hate that word—feeling!

Suddenly, what sounded like running sneakers pounded the tiled floor. Great, now my castle is a gymnasium? The basketball player is going in for a lay-up before the net. He shoots, and the orange orbit remains suspended in the air …

My new visitor is leaving already? I thought you wanted to know how I was feeling. Come back. Come back! I need to tell you what happened to me. You need to take some of the blame. This isn’t all my fault!

“We need some help in here,” Doctor Frances’ stern voice called loudly, along with some garbled and incoherent words.

Get the whistle out of your mouth so I can understand you. And stop blowing it, I’m right here.

“Code sixty-six,” Doctor Frances yelled.

You want me to talk to you? How can I speak when I can’t wake up?


^^^^^^^^^^

SIX MONTHS EARLIER

Tara Robstead’s lungs fought for air as she watched the man she loved slump in defeat. The meeting had ended ten minutes ago when the twenty-five teachers they worked with had stomped out of the library. She chose to stay. Tara wouldn’t see it any other way after what Josh Henderson had done for her. But did he realize she was still there, sitting in her faithful position front row center?

“I’m here for you if you need to talk,” she spoke from across the empty room. Her loud voice bounced off the pasty cinderblock walls lined with bookshelves…



1 comments:

Cheryl said...

Great!

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