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Coma By Tom Hayes
Copyright © 2008 Tom Hayes
All Rights Reserved
Royova 27


Black screen, then a quote from Pablo Picasso appears, "Everything you can imagine is real."

We hear the lead-in drum licks from the LEONARD COHEN song, In My Secret Life. The song begins. Show title and roll credits.

Slam cut to: Two pairs of feet walking side by side on a tile floor in a corridor. On the left, a pair of white nurse shoes and white stockings. On the right, brown wingtips and dress pants.

Credits roll and the camera begins to pan up as Cohen begins to sing. Throughout this scene, there is no dialog, only song.

LEONARD COHEN (V.O.) (singing)
I saw you this morning. You were moving so fast. Can’t seem to loosen my grip on the past. And I miss you so much. There’s no one in sight. And we’re still making love

In My Secret Life....

Song continues as credits roll and camera pans up to reveal DR. PETER ZITTERAAL and NURSE 1 walking down the hallway. Nurse is dressed in standard white nurse’s dress and Zitteraal is wearing dress clothes and a neatly pressed white lab coat, carrying a clipboard. Zitteraal, early 30s, is tall with a crewcut, clean shaven, wearing tight wire-rim glasses. He has flinty green eyes, pale skin, looks rather like a fish of some sort.

They pass an old woman struggling along with the assistance of a walker. She seems to be chattering angrily, points an accusatory finger at Zitteraal as he passes. They ignore her and pass on, turn a corner.

LEONARD COHEN (V.O.) (singing)
I’ll be marching through the morning, marching through the night, moving cross the borders of my secret life ....

Zitteraal and Nurse 1 pass an old man sitting alone in a chair. He seems almost like a statue. Close in and hold on the vacuous stare in his eyes as they pass him without stopping.
They pass an old woman having a pleasant conversation with herself. She is smiling and laughing, gesturing in an animated way.

They come to another turn and go to the right.

LEONARD COHEN (V.O.) Looked through the paper, makes you want to cry. Nobody cares if the people live or die. And the dealer wants you thinking that it’s either black or white. Thank God, it’s not that simple in My Secret Life....

The two of them come to a door with a sign that reads SECTION 7 COMA WARD. They press a button and the door slowly opens. Credits end, song fades.


A spartan room in a nursing home, dimly lit, sterile white walls, a crucifix on one wall, an adjustable hospital bed against another with an empty nightstand to one side.

JOHN WEST, about 40, lies in the bed, covered to his waist by a sheet. His robust frame shows he was once muscular, but now his arms are emaciated, his chest wasted away, his cheeks hollow.

Equipment on a second nightstand on the other side of the bed beeps occasionally, monitoring his heartbeat, blood pressure and other vital signs. A bit of sunlight streams in through some ratty, beat-up blinds hanging in front of a window opposite the equipment.

The door to the room swings open lighting the room briefly. Zitteraal flips on the light. Next to him is Nurse 1. John does not move, does not open his eyes.

Zitteraal stands next to John’s bed, looks through some papers on his clipboard, turns his head halfway to the nurse behind him.

ZITTERAAL And this one?

He makes notes on a file. (detached)
Six years ago. Head trauma. Hit by a car on the Santa Monica Freeway. He was at St. Marks for a month or two.

A beat. The nurse inspects one of her fingernails.

No ID, no money ... nothing. No one
ever came to ask about him. They
sent him to us about the time I
started working here.

Zitteraal puts the file down on the empty nightstand, takes out a small penlight, bends over John, opens one of his eyes, takes a brief look.

Cut to John’s POV: We vaguely see the penlight, then the light from the penlight grows in size until we can see nothing else, then, suddenly, darkness again.

Cut back to: Room in nursing home. Zitteraal turns off the penlight, stands up straight, takes out a hospital lancet from his coat pocket, opens the package, starts to gently prick the ends of John’s fingers. John doesn’t move. He tries another spot. No response.

Zitteraal drops the lancet in a nearby waste can, picks up the clipboard, makes a notation. He takes a final look at John.

No one knows anything about him? The nurse shakes her head.

No, doctor. After the accident, no one came to ask about him. That’s why they brought him here.

Zitteraal cocks his head quizzically.

A human being disappears from the face of the earth. Strange.

He turns to look at the nurse. The nurse shrugs, obviously not interested.

After a few hundred ... you get used to it.

Zitteraal nods, turns back to John.

(back to business)
OK, see that he gets 50 milligrams, twice daily.

Yes, Doctor Zitteraal.

He flips the papers on his clipboard back into place and the two leave, turning out the dim light just before closing the door.

John opens one of his eyes slightly. John’s POV: We see sunlight streaming through a blind, then John closes his eye.

A large, airy, well-lit bedroom with pastel blue walls and a white, vaulted ceiling, tasteful antique furniture, a canopy bed in the center of the room on a small dais. On one side of the bedroom, white lace curtains flutter lazily in the open doorway to a balcony, where a wind chime tinkles softly in the breeze.

John, lying on one side of the bed, wakes with a start. His eyes shift nervously about, then he relaxes, puts his hand on his forehead. Next to him is CLARISSE, late-20s, her long raven hair spilling over her pillow and John’s arm on which she is resting. She stirs, mumbles sleepily, snuggles against him. He runs his fingers down her arm, then her thigh, pulls her closer to him, inspects her hair, kisses it.

He removes his arm gently, turns away, rubs his face, props himself on one arm, looks around the bedroom. The sun is streaming through the doors leading to the balcony. Outside he sees the tops of some palm trees.
He pulls off the sheet covering him, sits on the edge of the bed, puts his feet on the dais, stares at the wall in front of him.

Cut to: John again sees the light of the penlight approaching, the light growing in size until he can see nothing else.

Cut back to: The bedroom. John rubs his face again, shakes his head, tries to forget it, rubs his arm, then looks at it. He is muscular. He feels his bicep, lets his hand slide across his well-developed chest, gives a small smile of satisfaction.

Hey, looking good, Superman. John turns back to her. She is smiling. He scoops her gently into his arms.

You’re not so bad yourself, Wonderwoman.

She runs one hand across his chest, lets it linger there, sighs.

Do you really have to fly over to Texas today?

Back tomorrow, baby.
She pouts.
Yeah, but what about tonight? She pats her hand softly on the bed.

Maybe you can get a guest husband. This is LA, you know.

She gives his chest a playful slap.

Maybe I will. That would shut you up.

You could kiss me and that would shut me up.
She kisses him on the lips, a little peck, lets her head fall back on her pillow.
CLARISSE (teasing)
Shut up.
He leans down, gives her a good kiss, pulls away slowly. CLARISSE (CONT’D) (still teasing)
I said, "Shut up."

She takes his face in her hands, gives him a long passionate kiss. He holds her close and covers them both with the sheet with his free hand as they continue to kiss.

INT. BATHROOM - MOMENTS LATER A spacious master bathroom just off of the bedroom from the last scene.

John and Clarisse are in the bathroom, she in the shower, he in front of the mirror, dressing, adjusting his tie. The bathroom door is ajar, but the room is a little steamy. He pushes the door open some more, wipes the mirror with a small towel. He turns to look at Clarisse’s body through the frosted glass of the shower door, watches her a few moments as she washes her hair.

Who did you say you were going to interview?

Marvin Wilcox, one of Bush’s advisers ....

He watches as she begins to shave her long, sultry legs in the shower. John turns back to the mirror, feels of his cheeks.

Marvin Wilcox ... about as exciting as watching a hedge grow. We’re doing an analysis piece on the war and we want to get some juicy stuff


JOHN (CONT’D) (cont’d) from a few "unnamed sources close to the president."

He makes little quotation marks in the air with his fingers. Clarisse is not really listening.
He turns, leans against the sink, watches her shave her legs through the glass. She turns the water back on.

Pretty desperate if you ask me. Wilcox is about as likely to say something interesting as our couch.

A beat. Clarisse turns off the shower, slides the shower door back, stands there dripping wet and stunningly naked. She winks at him, wags her finger.

Oooh, but if that couch could only talk ....


John drives on the expressway, a travel mug of coffee in one hand. He takes a sip, puts the cup in a holder, reaches over and turns on the radio, catches a NEWS ANCHOR in the middle of his broadcast.

... sunny and 81 degrees.

(a beat)
In Major League Baseball, in the National League, the Los Angeles Dodgers edged the Atlanta Braves, 2-1, when Jose Valasquez was beaned with bases loaded in the 13th inning to force in the game-ending run....

John drinks from his coffee cup. 8.

John pulls into a parking garage. He stops the car in front of a parking gate, puts a card into a slot and the gate opens. He drives through.


A sign on a wall in front of a parking space reads, "Reserved for No. 287." John finds his parking space, pulls in, turns off his car. He gets out, travel mug in one hand, shuts the door, flips his keys around in his other hand, catches them, pushes the button on his key fob and the car beeps, head lights flash momentarily. John puts the keys in his pants pocket, seems to stumble. He puts one hand on the car to support himself, puts his other hand over his eyes, slumps forward as if he were in pain.

He drops his travel mug.

John’s POV: John sees a small round light growing in size and intensity in his field of vision until he can see nothing else. The light fades suddenly.

Shaken, John supports himself against the car. He straightens slowly, then leans back against the car, rubs his eyes, takes a deep breath.


Typical newsroom at a big-city daily. Reporters type away at terminals in individual cubicles, some speak on the telephone, a couple of them shoot the shit and drink coffee in another reporter’s cubicle. John walks into the newsroom, travel mug in hand, checks his mailbox, starts leafing through some papers as he walks along. His editor, JAY COBB, grizzled, unshaven, bald and 50-something, glances up from his computer as John crosses the newsroom.

(while typing)
He motions for John to come over. Cobb watches him as he walks closer, but continues to type.

You look like shit. Still having
those headaches?

John nods, Cobb leers at a pretty reporter, TAMMY, as she passes his cubicle. He stands up.
COBB (CONT’D) Hey, Tammy.
She looks up, smiles. TAMMY Hey, Jay.
She gives him a little wink.

(to John, still watching Tammy)

You should go to a doctor.
He hands John a piece of paper. John reads it. JOHN
What’s this?

(looks back at John)
A doctor. Want you to go over and interview him before you fly down to Waco.

JOHN (annoyed) Why?

Because I told you to. Also because he just came on staff at Serenity East and they’ve started a new therapy program.

Whoa, stop the presses. Can’t you get one of the interns to do this? That’s why they hang around here, isn’t it?

Cobb glances at his screen, starts to type again, looks back at John while continuing to type.

What devotion to duty. Look it’s on the way to the airport and ... the old man wants it.
He nods at a corner office, stops typing. John glances behind him at the office. A man about 70 is looking straight at him through the glass door of the office, upon which is written, "Managing Editor DON HERBERT FARR." Farr smiles smugly at John, holds up his coffee cup.

Serenity East ... Farr’s favorite charity.

John sighs. JOHN (CONT’D) Can’t you get Nabakov ...? Cobb shakes his head, starts to type again while talking to/looking at John.
COBB You, John.
You. The old man wants you. Cobb stops typing, hands John an envelop, smiles, winks.

Hey, he likes you. You should be happy.

JOHN What’s this?

Tickets to Waco, Texas. You’ll be staying in the luxurious Motel 6 Downtown. I was there once. Great ice machine! Rental Car is waiting for you at the Avis counter at the airport.

Cobb grins, starts typing again. Tammy walks back past and his eyes follow her butt while he talks to John. She stops to talk to a reporter near Cobb’ desk. He watches her ass as she bends slightly forward to talk to the reporter.

A beat, Cobb drifts away, turns back to John suddenly, stops typing.

Ah, and here’s some more good news, my friend: Bush has consented to an interview with us.

JOHN No shit?
Sheer desperation, man.

Cobb follows Tammy’s with his eyes as she walks away. A beat. He looks back at John, starts typing again, his eyes on John.

You’re going to interview him. JOHN (excited) You’re kidding.

You the man. We’ve got 30 minutes arranged for you ... still
tentative, but it looks like it’s going to happen.

What about the Wilcox interview?
Cobb scoffs, stops typing, makes a dismissive gesture. He stands.

Ah, if you got time, give him a few minutes. This is A1, son, Front Page for Sunday. You got as much space as you want.

He shoos John away from his desk, sits back down and begins to type again.
COBB (CONT’D) Now, go forth and conquer.

INT. NEWSROOM BREAKROOM - MOMENTS LATER Standard company breakroom: coffee machine, sandwich machine, cola machine, etc., a microwave and coffee maker, a few tables and plastic chairs. Two reporters, ANDY and KEVIN, are sitting at a table. Andy is eating a sandwich and Kevin is having a cup of coffee. John enters, travel mug in hand.

Hey ... mighty Zeus descendeth from Olympus. How does it feel to walk among the mortals, oh god of thunder?

About like you’d imagine. KEVIN
You really going to interview Bush? John grins, nods, begins to fill his travel mug at the coffee maker.
JOHN Looks that way.

Can I take care of Clarisse while you’re gone?

You wish.
Andy laughs out loud.

Well, sit down, Scoop. You’ve got five minutes for your lowly brethren, haven’t you?

John sits down.
When’s your flight?

Not till three, but Jay wants me to go do a fluff piece for Farr over at Serenity East before I leave.

He snagged me last week. Did he tell you you should be happy because the "old man likes you"?

He makes quotation marks in the air with his fingers. John pretends to be hurt.
You mean it was just a lie? Andy laughs out loud again.

Farr loves everyone. Haven’t you heard? He’s like Jesus. His love is unconditional. He raineth down upon us all ... golden showers of love.

Seems like I always get to bear the cross though.

Hey, I’ve done my share of Farr stories.

He holds out one hand, palm up, fingers extended. ANDY (CONT’D)
See the nail scars?

So what’s the old man got you

Serenity East has a new director.

(munching his sandwich) Hey, I’ve done a story on him. Kind of a cold bastard, a real lizard. He came up with some new type of drug therapy ... when was that...? Eh, must’ve been a couple of months back.

It’s one of Farr’s pet charities ... so you better not fuck it up. He reads every word of those stories.

(leans forward)
To hell with that shit. What about Bush?

JOHN What about him? KEVIN
Well, you going to the ranch?

Dunno. Bush’s people are going to let me know when I get to Waco.

If he picks up his coon dogs by the ears, make sure and get some

You sure it wasn’t Carter? John nods. Andy keeps munching on his sandwich, lost in thought.

You sure you don’t want me to watch Clarisse for you?

INT. BMW - DAY John drives his car somewhere in the city. He turns on the radio and the same news announcer is blabbing away. NEWS ANCHOR
... sunny and 81 degrees.

(a beat)
In Major League Baseball, in the National League, the Los Angeles Dodgers edged the Atlanta Braves, 2-1, when Jose Ricardo was beaned with bases loaded in the 13th inning to force in the game-ending run.
The San Francisco Giants scored two runs in the eighth inning to
complete a three-game series sweep


NEWS ANCHOR (cont’d) of the San Diego Padres in a 7-4 decision. Toronto slugger Bob Wilson hit career homerun
number ....

He turns off the radio. JOHN
Damn pre-recorded shit.

He shakes his head, pulls into a parking lot next to a hospital compound. A sign on one of the buildings reads, "Serenity East, Long Term Care Facility." He parks in a spot reserved for visitors next to the building.


The main office of the long-term care facility. A counter divides the room into an office for the secretary and a small waiting area with a few chairs and a coffee table covered with magazines. A secretary, BETTY, about 60, sits behind a desk, typing away on a computer. She looks up, smiles pleasantly, when John enters.

Hello, hon! Can I help you? John looks in confusion at a scrap of paper in his hand.

I’m looking for a Doctor ....

Zitteraal. Peter Zitteraal. You
must be the nice man from the

John looks at her askance.

Well, I don’t know if I’m so nice,
but, yes, I am from the newspaper.

Betty smiles.

You’re cute. I’ll just see if the doctor is free right now.

She picks up the phone. BETTY (CONT’D) What’s your name, hon? JOHN
John ... John West. Betty dials a number, waits.

(on the phone)
Dr. Zitteraal? The man from the newspaper is here.

She listens. BETTY (CONT’D) I’ll tell him.
Betty hangs up the phone. She stands, walks over to the counter.

He said he’ll be just a minute. He’s coming over from the West Building. Why don’t you have a seat? Would you like some coffee?

John sits in a chair next to the coffee table. JOHN
I’m fine, thank you.
Betty leans against the counter.

Wow, must be exciting being a reporter.

John looks around the room.
Yeah. Real exciting.
I always wanted to be a reporter. JOHN
Betty nods.
JOHN (CONT’D) Why didn’t you then?

Got married when I was 17. Had kids and that was it. We all make our choices.

John nods. JOHN
So, how did your choices end up?

Kids are OK. One’s a lawyer, makes a ton of money. The other’s a minister in the Anglican Church.

Well ... that sure is different. Betty shrugs, rests her chin on her hands on the counter.

Everybody makes their choices. Just like you ... you chose to come here today, didn’t you?

Not exactly. So, what about your husband?

Ah, he was a bum. Finally got rid of him 20 years ago. All he wanted to do was drink.

JOHN Sorry.
Betty shrugs.

Be sorry for him, not for me. We all make our choices.

A beat, Betty watches him.

So, why did you choose to come here today, Mr. West? You didn’t have to, you know. For all you know, it might have been better had you not. John looks at her askance, unsure what she is getting at.

The door opens, Dr. Zitteraal walks into the room. It’s the same Dr. Zitteraal as in the opening scene, dressed again in the pressed white lab coat, a dress shirt and a tie, carrying his clipboard with attached files and documents. He turns to John, holds out his hand stiffly.

You’re from the newspaper, I presume.

Yeah ... West ... John West. John shakes hands. JOHN (CONT’D) Dr. Sitsenfaal?
Zitteraal cringes, smiles tightly.

It’s Zitteraal, actually. Z-I-T-T-E-R-A-A-L.

(a bit embarrassed) Sorry.

I suppose it’s not a common name. People are continually
mispronouncing it.

A beat.

ZITTERAAL (CONT’D) (somewhat coldly)
I’m happy you came. Mr. Farr, your editor, has shown a great
interest in this facility and we ...

... appreciate his support. We receive very little public funding, and many of our patients are indigent.

I’m sorry, but you’re very young to be a director, aren’t you? I expected someone a bit older. Zitteraal arches an eyebrow.

Perhaps, I am, as you put it, a bit young ... but I can assure you that I have ... all the necessary
qualifications. I had many other offers as well, but I knew I would be able to continue my research here ... and that was the deciding factor for me.

What’s your area of expertise?

Coma. Especially trauma-induced coma. Many of our patients have suffered ... severe brain injuries. They were either brought here by their families, who were no longer able or willing to care for them, or they were placed here by the state of California.

I see. Sounds kind of depressing.

(without emotion)
Yes, I suppose. Generally long-term cases of coma lapse into vegetative states and the prognosis is rarely favorable, though there have been cases in which patients have
spontaneously regained
consciousness after years in a coma. In fact, one man regained consciousness and recovered a great deal of his previous mobility after 19 years in a coma. This is usually not what one reads in the
literature though. What we
typically see is a progressive degeneration of bodily functions that leads almost certainly to death.

JOHN Sorry I asked. Zitteraal stares back, no reaction at first. ZITTERAAL

I’m sorry, Mr. West. I’m afraid I’ve gotten rather used to these things.

Must be difficult.

One learns to adapt. In any case, there is some hope. We’re beginning clinical testing on a new drug, diplomithol, that has been shown to promote regenerative cerebral cell growth in laboratory animals.

JOHN Really?
Zitteraal nods.

Yes. Anti-depressants like
fluoxetine, that is, Prozac, and cannabinoids, drugs derived from cannibas, have been shown to cause cerebral cell regeneration in laboratory mice. Diplomithol combines the effects of both a cannabinoid and a fluoxetine-class drug.

Isn’t that ... a bit dangerous, experimenting with new drugs ... on people?

The risk factors are minimal, I can assure you, Mr. West. And in any case ... our patients have little to lose. For most of them, a slow, progressive, degenerative death is certain unless some change can be effected to reverse their

A beat. ZITTERAAL (CONT’D) It’s really their last chance.

A beat. He stares at John, waits. JOHN
Have you ... had any success so far?

It’s a bit premature to make a judgment at this point.

A beat. Zitteraal looks at his watch.

ZITTERAAL (CONT’D) Might I show you around?
Familiarize you with our facility and our work, perhaps?


John and Dr. Zitteraal walk out from the administrative building into a large rectangular courtyard surrounded by other buildings. A fountain gurgles in the middle of the courtyard. There are stone benches and many large trees shading the courtyard. Residents of the facility sit on some of the benches. Some stare vacantly straight ahead. Others mutter or mumble to themselves. One lady sitting by herself chatters happily. A couple of hospital workers sit on a bench nearby, chatting, keeping an eye on things.

The hospital workers stand, looking somewhat nervous, as Zitteraal approaches. John and Dr. Zitteraal stop by the fountain. John nods to the hospital workers, but Zitteraal ignores his employees.

As you might have guessed, a portion of this facility is a long-term care facility for the elderly, mostly for patients with Alzheimer’s or other degenerative cerebral conditions.

Are these patients ... part of the experiment?

Oh, no. No, not at all. If we can show some positive results with our coma patients ... perhaps someday, but for the moment, no.
John nods. They stand and watch the patients. An old man sitting on one of the benches near

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