Actually, It's Jesus, 3: Valley

The San Joaquin Valley of California has long been one of the most productive areas of farmland on Earth. While nobody alive today would remember, it was once possible, with only a few short portages, to canoe from Tulare Lake in the south, all the way north to the Sacramento Delta, out through the San Francisco Bay, and into the Pacific Ocean. The land reclaimed from these marshes consists of extremely rich soil, and the near-absence of frost in most of the Valley make it possible for farmers to grow three and sometimes four crops in a year. And grow the farmers do: cotton, corn, citrus of all kinds, wheat, alfalfa, grapes, and increasingly almonds. When you drive through the Valley, a region geologically flatter than Kansas, the biggest things around are grain silos and the water towers marking the location of small, dusty towns scattered along intersections here and there. Navigating the backroads of the area generally means remembering that roads running north to south are given a number and the name “Road” and those running east to west are designated “Avenue.” Most blocks in the area measure a neat 40 acres exactly.

Home to Grapes of Wrath and Hank Williams, there’s more than a little bit of country there – it’s still common to hear people talk with a slight Oklahoma drawl, especially in the oilfields around Bakersfield. The summers are hot by anyone’s notion of hot: highs in the hundred-teens, lows in the eighties, dry but unrelenting. Wintertime is rarely cold, but the dreaded tule fog is lethal. It’s not at all uncommon for a driver to see the hood ornament of their car disappear in the mist. An old joke is that when the tule fog sets in you send your passengers out with machetes to slice through the fog and push it off the side of the road so you can see. Unfortunately this also means there are terrible wrecks on the highways every year. If you get caught in this fog, get off the road and wait somewhere safe until it passes.

Before he even opened his eyes, Jesus knew he was in a hospital due to the sound of ventilation systems working hard, beeping equipment, people talking, and the particular odor resulting from the combination of strong antiseptics and sepsis. Remembering Jason talking to him on the road, he wasn’t surprised to be in a hospital, although some part of him wondered if he was there because some bikers had kicked the shit out of him or because of a boulder that should have turned him into paste. The more he thought things through, the more he figured he was there because of the bikers. He decided that the rock kicked down a hill by elephants in a land he never learned the name of must have been the most whacked out dream he’d ever had. If only.

Jesus briefly opened his eyes and immediately closed them against acute spinning. After a time he experimented with just opening his left eye, which worked out OK – the world was still trying to spin but it would only get about a quarter turn counterclockwise and then snap back to where it started. He found he could handle this for a few seconds at a time, and after a while a few seconds turned into a few seconds more until eventually he was able to open both eyes at the same time.

It was awful though – his head hurt, his body hurt, and his stomach was as sour as a pile of lemons. Eventually he felt the need to pee, which was enough to get him to shift around in hopes of getting up. This must have wiggled something loose as a machine in the room began beeping loudly, doing nothing good for Jesus’s headache.

A nurse came in and saw Jesus sitting up. She asked “Where are we planning to go here?” and pressed a button to silence the beeping.

“Bathroom,” Jesus tried to say, although the actual sound coming from his mouth was a sort of rasping gurgle. He looked startled, but the nurse was unfazed.

“No, you’re staying right there for now, and if you think you need the bathroom that’s probably just the catheter. Please don’t move – I’m going to fetch the doctor.” She left the room, and Jesus confirmed the presence of a tube where none should be. He tried fiddling with it, once, and was quickly disabused of the idea of doing anything else with it.

After a few minutes the nurse returned followed by a thin man in a doctor’s coat. He introduced himself as Dr. Skiff. He handed Jesus a small cup of water and encouraged him to take a few small sips, watching him closely as he did. Jesus could feel things in his throat moving around in response to the water and found his voice. Before he could say much Dr. Skiff cut him off. “I’ll answer as many of my questions as I can but first we need to run a few tests. You’ve been through a lot.” Dr. Skiff was neither friendly nor rude. Jesus was reminded of Mr. Spock, the science officer from the Enterprise, only Dr. Skiff had wavy hair and no bangs. Other than that and the pointy ears they were pretty much the same guy.

Jesus was subjected to a long series of tests involving being able to feel and move every part of him there was. Everything worked, which was nice to know even if it was painful to learn. Then Dr. Skiff asked him a series of questions – his name (Jesus saw a double-take from the nurse when he said his name although the doctor didn’t react), where he lived, what year it was, who the current President was, and so on. When he asked Jesus if he knew where he was he said, “Last thing I remember I was at a hamburger stand outside Strathmore.”

“Good,” said Dr. Skiff. “You suffered a brain injury, but based on what I see so far I’m optimistic about your recovery. To answer the most obvious question, you’re in Fresno Community Hospital. You were transferred here from Visalia due to the extent of your injuries. We have conducted a minor surgery to relieve pressure on your brain and to monitor your intracranial pressure – the amount of pressure between your brain and the inside of your skull. Fortunately that seems to have subsided – gotten better – and we have removed the subdural screw – what we used to monitor the pressure. In addition to that you have fractures – small breaks – to the ribs on your right side and a lot of contusions – bruising.” Jesus noticed a pattern in the way Dr. Skiff spoke – he’d use a medical term and then follow that up with the same thing in layman’s terms, always with kind of an embarrassed expression on his face. The effort was appreciated.

“How long was I out?”

Dr. Skiff checked his watch. “Just over three days.” Jesus sat stunned, but Dr. Skiff wasn’t done. “We’d like to keep you here for a few more days to monitor your ICP – the amount of pressure on your brain. It’s likely that this may increase in the next day or so but we have very effective medications to treat that. Please be very careful moving about – although I think when you try to move you’ll be reminded of that. Try to get as much rest as you can. Nurse Cardoza and her colleagues will be happy to answer any other questions you have for now.” He turned to walk out of the room.

“Wait,” said Jesus. “Can you take out… you know…”

“Your catheter?” Dr. Skiff gazed at Jesus for a few seconds before deciding. “That’s fine. Maria, can you take care of that?” He left the room without waiting for an answer.

Maria Cardoza stared at the whiteboard on the wall, trying to let go of the slight. She had worked with Dr. Skiff for the past five years and knew he wasn’t being intentionally rude – he never was. Still, the fact that it was unintentional didn’t mean it wasn’t frustrating to deal with. She shrugged it off and wrote her name on the whiteboard before turning to her patient. There were a couple of things she was curious about.

Starting with his name – she had met many people named Jesus but few of them resembled her patient in any way, and none had pronounced their name the way he did. In her years working in the hospital she had met more than a few people with psychiatric issues who had believed themselves to be God, Satan, a Klingon, several wild animals, etc. But this patient didn’t appear to fall under that category. From what she could see, he was a perfectly ordinary 24-year-old Anglo male, six feet tall with a thin but not slight build, blonde hair, blue eyes. Also, what was he doing in Strathmore? His home was hours away, and the place he was hurt wasn’t exactly a town people flocked to for vacations. Maybe he had family there. She shrugged internally. Not her business to know.

“Hi there,” she said brightly. “Please call me Maria.”

“Jesus.” She looked at him quizzically. He added, “I’m not crazy, it’s just the name my mom gave me. It’s on my ID and everything.” Suddenly Jesus realized he didn’t know where any of his clothes were.

Maria chuckled. “I saw your name on your chart and just thought it was Jesus like people normally say it around here. Well, nice to meet you, Jesus.” There was a definite sparkle in her eyes when she pronounced his name the right way. Jesus had watched people react a lot of different ways to his name, and was happy at her amused reaction.

“Anyhow, before we remove your catheter I need to get your medical history. Are you allergic to any medications?” Maria went through the list quickly. There wasn’t much to discuss: no known allergies or any medical history to speak of, health good aside from his injury. Nothing in his answers provided any clue to his background.

“Where are my things?” Jesus asked.

“The paramedics cut your clothing off while you were in the ambulance. We never saw them – most likely they were disposed of in Visalia. Your wallet is on the table there along with a a photograph and a letter from someone named Jason.” No last name, she thought.

“Why did I have to get a catheter?” It’s good to avoid whining but some things are a lot to deal with.

“What, you think we want you peeing all over our nice sheets? We pay good money for those!” she said, laughing. “Seriously, you were out for several days and we had no way to know when you were going to wake up. This is no big deal, we’ll have it out before you know it. I’ll go get somebody to help and be right back.”

Maria breezed cheerfully out of the room. Watching her go, Jesus wondered how she did it. Being a nurse meant literally helping people with their piss and shit (he tried not to think about his own situation in that regard), not to mention horrible injuries – car wrecks and gunshots and hurt kids and who knows what. He would never stop being happy that some people want to do that work and are good at it.

Maria returned with another woman who introduced herself as Christine. They helped him lay back on the bed, and Jesus learned that the lights in the room can get very bright. He tried not to think about any of what was going on and ignore the sensations he was experiencing, but within a couple of minutes they were done, leaving him feeling raw and somewhat put upon. Christine carried the bag full of urine through a doorway Jesus hadn’t noticed before which turned out to be the bathroom.

“See?” said Maria. “Nothing to it!” She quickly changed the subject: “You’re not supposed to have any food yet but are you thirsty? You can have water or apple juice, and there’s ice if you want that instead.”

Jesus asked for some water which Maria brought along with some magazines. “Hope you like Better Homes and Gardens. We have Soap Digest if that’s your thing.” Jesus looked at her with a slightly horrified expression. She showed him how to work the bed and TV controls and where the call button was, and then left.

The next few days were uneventful. Thanks to the constant drip from the IV, Jesus had to pee often, which involved hitting the call button and waiting for a nurse to help him with the IV pole. Thankfully they left him alone in the bathroom. He was given increasingly thick liquids and then eventually soft food. On the second day his headache got worse and Dr. Skiff was brought in, but after an examination declared himself “currently unconcerned – not worried” and left.

He was brought down to the basement for a CT scan once a day. There was a little cartoon guy on the CT machine that would light up with different faces for “Breathe in,” “Hold… your breath,” “Breathe now.” Jesus thought the cartoon guy was funny, and the CT technician thought he heard that from his patients a lot.

The “letter” from Jason turned out to hold an actual letter along with $1400 in cash. Long and short of that was the hospital people told Jason that they didn’t know how long Jesus was going to be out, so Jason dumped the shit off to a wholesaler after all and gave Jesus his half. The letter was signed, “Thanks for nothing, Jason.”

“Why,” thought Jesus, “is every single Jason I know a complete asshole?” At least Jason paid Jesus his share.

Clothes turned out to be a small problem – all Jesus had to wear was a hospital gown and some booties. He asked Maria about that and she wondered aloud if he had anybody that he could call to bring clothes. Jesus told her there wasn’t anybody.

“What about your parents?” she asked.

Jesus shook his head. “Mom’s gone, and Dad… I don’t have any idea.”

“But you’re so young.”

“Long story.” Jesus tried and failed to not remember, or let it show on his face.

Maria mumbled something quiet and made the sign of the cross. “I’ll get a volunteer to bring you something before you leave.”


Maria paused. She’d been working with this patient for several days and he seemed relaxed to deal with. “Your name,” she began. “I have cousins named Jesus but I haven’t ever met any… anyone who looks like you do and pronounces your name in the way you do. Is it normal in the place you came from to do this?”

Jesus smiled. “No, it’s not normal in any part of the country to be named Jesus. That’s why I’m here – the guys who attacked me thought I was trying to be a smartass – sorry!” Maria waved away the language. “The thing is, people always get weird with me about my name. They always have.”

“Why don’t you change your name? What’s your middle name? You could go by that.”

“Hector,” he said, locking eyes.

After a few seconds she got it. “Oh, Jesus H. Christ... if my abuela ever heard someone make such a blasphemous joke she’d have her slipper off and, oh! So bad!” she cried. They laughed together until his ribs hurt and he had to stop.

The next day an old woman with a candy-striped uniform came in, introduced herself, pretended not to be offended at his name, and after looking him up and down promised to return shortly with something “decent” to wear. This proved to be a pair of brown polyester slacks, an earth-toned, floral-print polyester shirt with pearl snaps, a pair of brown penny loafers, and a package each of new socks and underwear. Jesus thanked her politely and promised to try the clothes on before he left. He could smell the mothballs from across the room, and wondered what sort of moth ate clothes like that.

By the fourth day the nurses removed his IV and he ate solid food for the first time. It only tumbled around in his stomach a little, but he was grateful to be able to sink his teeth into something, even if it was salisbury steak, one of the least favorite and most-eaten dishes of his teenage years

On the fifth day Dr. Skiff came to visit him after his CT scan. “I’ve ordered your release. You will need to refrain from strenuous physical activity – like working out or running – for at least a month. Additionally I’ll be sending you home with a course of antibiotics. Please take every last pill on schedule – it’s very important. You may take Tylenol for headaches, but do not take aspirin. Maria will be around shortly to help you get ready.” As abruptly as ever, he left.

Before Maria arrived, someone named Ger from the business office arrived with a small stack of paperwork to go over. Most of it was discharge instructions, which were briefly described. More attention was paid to the parts concerning billing. Jesus didn’t have steady employment and wasn’t about to tell the hospital how he earned most of his money. Ger entered “unemployed” in the requisite field, and then fished out a list of community aid organizations which might be able to help with some of the bill, which had a bottom-line figure that was enough to buy a luxury car with all the trimmings. Both Jesus and Ger knew full well that this bill was never going to be paid, but they said nothing of it.

Maria came in and asked Jesus if he needed any help getting dressed. He declined and she stepped outside to let him take care of the task. Once dressed he went into the bathroom and looked at himself in the mirror. Yep, somebody’s grandpa last wore this outfit in 1975. He was sure not to attract any attention looking the way he did.

Maria came in with a wheelchair and when Jesus tried to object she played the “policy” card, so down he sat. As the chair wheeled into and out of two elevators and what seemed like half a mile of hallways, he decided it was a good thing after all – he was still pretty weak and in a lot of pain.

In the lobby Maria had the receptionist call a cab, and transferred Jesus to a regular chair. “I hope you get better and find yourself some people for next time,” she said, looked at him for a moment, and then left with the wheelchair. It was only after she’d gone around the corner that Jesus realized he had forgotten to thank Maria for everything she had done for him.

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