"Could you speak up? I can't hear you? Who is this?" Steve Spanuolo covered his other ear as he pressed his cell phone to his head. All he heard was something that sounded like...? "Naw," he told himself in a whisper, as he shook his head slowly. Then the phone call turned crystal clear, and he immediately broke into a cold sweat.
"She's here coach! I ain't lyin' and I know she means well, but she's driving the doctors and nurses crazy. She's scaring the hell outta me too... can't you do something?" The caller's voice was replaced with one tinged with fear, "No thanks. I have enough pillows and the bed angle was set by the doc... Yeeeoww! Stop! Stop!..." Then the line went dead.
...Steve stared at the now silent phone in his hands, his mouth hanging open. Then, for a reason he couldn't explain, he began to laugh in a high pitched tone, tinged with a nervous giddiness he had never known. He'd been trying to overcome his second loss of the season to the New York Giants only a few days ago. The press and St. Louis Rams fans were already circling him like sharks would in blood tainted water. The team's owner, Stan Kroenke, had taken he and Billy Devaney aside after the last game to ask what he could do to help his team get through the brutal first half of the season's schedule. Stan had never mentioned anything about doubting he and Billy's performance or futures with the team. Yet in the NFL, anytime a team lost and the owner spoke to his coach, the media and fans threw the "possible firing" elephant in the air, and it wouldn't land till there was a win.
Steve hit a speed dial number for his friend Billy Devaney and reached for a bottle of Tylenol that was never far from his reach. He had just choked down two pills when Billy came on the line.
"I was just going to call you. I had a hilarious call from Terrel Owens agent this morning. He told me how some Korean doctor has made his client years younger and how ready T.O. was to put on a Ram uniform. Can you imagine what Jimmie Laurinaitis would do to him if he started to get all teary eyed..." He didn't get to finish his statement.
"Yeah, yeah very funny Billy. Shut up for a second. We have a problem... Scratch that, you have a problem. Bartell called to say Derinda's at the hospital playing nurse. He screamed in pain just before the line went dead. You better get over there and..."
"You want me to go alone? Fat chance shorty! I'll meet you at the hosptal in ten minutes," Billy ended the call and headed for his office door. As he ran to his car, he started to laugh in a maniacal fashion that only occured when Derinda was involved.
Their two cars screeched to a halt simultaneously under the hospital's entry canopy. They each exited their cars and ran for the front door without speaking, paying no attention to the hospital security guard's warning that they couldn't park there...
When the elevator door opened on Ron Bartell's room level, they had to fight through a crowd of hosital personel trying to get into the small space. Billy and Steve had struggled through the small crowd and both heard the same thing just as the elevator doors were almost closed behind them, "That woman is bat crap crazy!"
"Oh no, no, no," Billy said softly as he speed walked toward one of his injured players room.
Steve wanted to laugh at his friend's response to what they both knew they would find upon entering the room. Stoping in front of the closed room door, they looked at each other and shrugged before knocking softly on the door.
"Go away you buncha' quacks! Don't make me come out there... This young man needs rest, not more of your poking and needle stickin'," a determined voice from behind the door announced.
"Open the door Derinda. It's us...Billy and Steve." Billy spoke to the door in a half pleading voice. After a few seconds of silence, the door slowly opened. Billy and Steve stared at the woman before them, then began laughing so hard they couldn't speak.
Derinda stood, hands on hips, glaring at them. She was dressed in a nursing outfit circa 1920's, replete with a blue shoulder cape over a white uniform and starched high white nurses hat. She had a thermometer in her hand that she point alternately at Billy and Steve. "Where the hell have you two been? Ronny's hurt and you guys are off doin' who knows what else..." She paused for a second, then held the thermometer out for them to see. "This ain't a rectal thermo-thingy is it? If so, I might need you to help... Why are you guys laughing? This serious damnit!"
Billy and Steve gently pushed passed Derinda into the room. Just as their laughter began to subside, they turned to look at Ron Bartell, who lay ridgid in his hospital bed, a neck brace firmly afixed and the covers pulled up so only his eyes could be seen. Eyes that we're wide, wide open since Derinda had used the word "rectal". Desolveing into laughter again, Steve sank into a chair next to Ron's bed, while Billy remaining next to Derinda, who glared at him.
A mumbled, "Hi Coach," came from under the covers as Ron's eyes shifted alternately to each person in the room.
Steve began rubbing his jaw muscles with his hands, "How are you Ron? You'll have to forgive us..." he started laughing again, but stopped when he saw Ron's eye go from wide to a glare. "Ron when you called I thought ... I mean "we" thought," he pointed at Billy, "That when we got here... Never mind. I'm just glad you're alright."
Billy put an arm around Derinda's shoulder as he spoke to Ron, "How's the private nurse we arranged for you working out? Has she tried out her leaches on you yet?" Billy started laughing again, even after Derinda elbowed him in the ribs and pushed him away.
Ron lowered the sheet he'd held over most of his face. "Leaches? I don't know about leaches," he pointed at two rough hune, two foot long pieces of 2X4 pine, "but see those? Derinda said she was going to splint my neck with them. When she checked my blood pressure, she pumped the thing so hard my arm turned blue." He was smiling now as he tried to shake his head and the whole bed shook. Seeing his words had hurt Derinda, her lower lip had begun to quiver and she looked like she was about to cry, he changed tack. "I know you meant well Derinda. I do, I truly do. In fact, it's people like you that makes playing for this team so great. I know you were trying to help D, OK?" She nodded as she lowered her head and looked at the floor. "But the doctors are alright, so maybe just leave the doctoring to them and you just be family coming for a visit?"
Derinda looked up from the floor, nodded as she smiled, then made a running leap at Ron to give him a hug. Ron screamed. Billy reached for Derinda, but missed. Steve came out of his chair in a flash and tackled Derinda in mid-flight, just as she was about to land on Ron. They tumbled over the bed onto the floor at the side of the bed. Now it was Ron's turn to laugh, something he hadn't done since his injury. Seeing these three people here, in their odd and collective nutty-ness, made him feel better than he had in days. "Nice tackle coach! Get King to do that and I'll rest easy while I heal up."
Steve looked up at Billy's offered hand to help him up and shook his head. The pressure of the last couple of days drained from him. "I think I'll stay here for a while. Ron, pass me down a pillow." He took the pillow Ron had reached over the edge and hit him with, and put under his head.
Derinda crawled under the bed to the other side and stood up. Billy made a motion for Derinda to to leave and she nodded. Just before she closed the door behind her, she heard Steve say...
"You'll never know how much I need this Derinda. Thanks you wack job! I owe you one..."