The movement has stopped now and things seem more normal. The only noises I can hear are quiet and reassuring. I daren’t open my eyes at all but this doesn’t feel like the same room, and not just because it feels safer here. Somehow it sounds bigger and less clinical. I shift slightly and suddenly realise that I am not restrained anymore. I can move freely but my body hates me for it. I grunt softly as I realise just how sore I am feeling. A quiet conversation stops immediately and I hear footsteps coming towards me.
“Miss Harper? Kerry? Can you hear me?” I open my eyes, the light is painful and I have to blink several times before I can focus. The ugly man is the first thing I see; Nurse Bourne, I now notice from his name tag. A shudder goes through me and I try to roll away from him, to hide my face. Why do I feel ashamed? I’ve done nothing wrong, they need subjects for their study and I need to pay my rent.
Why am I ashamed? Because I am terrified. I never imagined it would be so awful; I am afraid and I feel stupid and naïve. I want to cry, want the privacy to cry but he won’t let me have it. He lays a giant paw on my arm and gently pulls me back to face him. His voice is soft and concerned as he asks me how I feel.
I look past him. Not at him; I don’t want to see him right now, I can’t take it. There are 2 rows of beds in the room, but only one that I can see is occupied. A man is in it, his face turned towards me in sleep. He looks rough and I feel a stab of empathy. Other than the staff, there doesn’t seem to be anyone else in the room.
“I thought this was a big study?” I croak at Nurse Bourne. He looks over at the man and then back at me.
“There were 140 participants altogether. You and that man over there were right at the end so most of the other participants would have left anyway by the time you made it into here. Unfortunately, you have both reacted very strongly to the experience and your recovery has taken longer than anticipated.” He held up a hand, smiling as I tried to interrupt. “Now there’s nothing to worry about. You were only asleep for a few hours and the doctors have been and had a good look at you. You are fine, you just had a harder time than we expected, that’s all. Your hormone levels and brain activity have returned to normal and there is no sign of any physical damage. Of course, if you are worried about anything, you can always visit your own doctor in a month or so to check; but there really doesn’t seem to be any cause for alarm.”
No cause for alarm?! Now there was a phrase guaranteed to cause alarm if ever I heard one. I lick my lips, trying to make them feel more like my lips.
“What do you mean, a bad reaction?” my voice is croaky and hoarse. Nurse Bourne gently pushes me back against the bed. I hadn’t even realised I was trying to rise, but he is right. I’m not ready. I slump back into my pillow and look blearily up at him.
“Why my own doctor?” I ask as his words finally sink in. “Why not come here for help?”
“I’m sorry” His eyes cloud as he speaks and his head drops forward. “The funding for this project doesn’t extend to after care. Don’t you remember? You signed the disclaimer to say that you understood the risks and that there would be no comeback if anything did go wrong.” He can’t meet my eyes. For the first time since we met he looks uncomfortable. My heart would go out to him, except that his problem is really my problem, besides, he can walk away whenever he wants. It must be easy to get work as a nurse, right?
Across the room, the sleeping man begins to toss and turn. Nurse Bourne excuses himself and quickly moves over to his bed. He is speaking really quietly and gently. I can’t make out much of what he is saying, but I do catch a name. It seems his name is Lee. Well whoop-di-do for that little gem of information, I think bitterly as I let sleep reclaim me.