Web Exclusive

Jane Doe

Major Ed Forster shares his first installment of “Others,” stories highlighting actual events that occurred during more than four decades of officership. by Major Ed Forster

Her green plastic hospital wristband seemed to shout it: “Jane Doe.” 

She had been admitted to the hospital at midnight with a head injury. They called her Jane Doe because she had no identification or personal recollections.

Nurses had put her to bed with the hope that all would be well in the morning. When the sun rose, it brought the police, with a bundle of questions. The inquiries fell helplessly into the chasm of a real identity crisis. The woman was declared to be a “true amnesia victim.”

The auburn-haired, hazel-eyed Jane could only supply two tiny fragments from her past. She remembered the name Captain Kirk. She also remembered the name of a city a hundred miles away from where she had slipped on icy pavement and struck her head the night before. 

The police department in the town whose name she had supplied couldn’t shed any light on Jane’s identity. They had no report of a missing person of her description, but they had found Captain Kirk.  He was the local Salvation Army corps officer there.

The police in my area called me at 7 o’clock that Saturday morning. Soon, I was standing beside Jane’s bed. It was surrounded by curtains, but because of crowded conditions in the hospital it was in the hallway.

I introduced myself as I extended my hand. The woman’s grip and her expression were both filled with questions. The police thought that she was a member of the Army.

Even though I was in full uniform, which I’d hoped she’d recognize, I said, “I’m from the Salvation Army,” After a moment’s pause, which seemed much longer to me, I asked, “Do you know about the Army?”

She searched the darkened closets of her mind, then said, “No. I don’t think so.”

I considered asking her other questions, but I could see her energy had already been drained by police inquiries. A tear trickled down her cheek and she didn’t brush it away. Perhaps she was hoping I wouldn’t notice.

“Someone must be looking for me,” she said. There must be a family I belong to.” Her wedding ring suggested this was true.

Even though I had hoped my Salvation Army uniform would bring a flicker of recognition, my assumption that she was a Salvationist was wrong. A phone call to Captain Kirk brought me no closer to a solution because neither he nor his wife knew the woman I described.

The hospital cafeteria was nearly empty at that hour of the morning. I had oatmeal with brown sugar and deep thoughts. “What is it like to wonder who you are? How would I feel if my wife had an accident, and no one knew who she was?”

I went back upstairs resolved to help Jane Doe find her identity. “Lord,” I prayed, “help me put together the pieces of Jane’s life that have been cut up by this amnesia jigsaw. Lead me to the people she loves.”

“A gift,” she said, as I came back to her bedside. It was time for me to wear a confused expression.

“My family got a thank-you card from someone for a Christmas gift we gave them,” she said. “I remember the postmark on the envelope. Will it help?”

“I’m sure it will,” I said. My heart didn’t hold the confidence of my words. “Let’s pray it will.” 

“There’s something else I remember.  The return address was, “In care of Captain Kirk.”

I held her hand as we prayed.

We discovered that a young woman from our town was working with Captain Kirk. She might prove to be our link. I immediately tried to call her, but I learned that she had gone away for the day. I was given a number where she could possibly be reached. After two phone calls and lengthy delays, I spoke to her and explained our dilemma. Her only guess was that Jane might be a woman she used to work with in a local laundry. She gave me the name of another woman who had worked there with them. 

At my request, the local woman agreed to come to the hospital to help identify Jane Doe. My excitement and joy nearly turned to despair when she told me, “I’ve never seen this woman in my life.”

The woman from the laundry gave me the name of another woman who had been friendly with Valerie, the young woman who was now working with Captain Kirk. She had never met the woman personally, but she knew that Valerie had been friendly with their family.

The woman we tried to reach was sick with the flu. She told me that she knew Valerie, but had no idea who Jane Doe might be, from the description I gave her. 

I was supposed to be home by noon for my daughter’s birthday party. It was now 12:25. My 11-year old daughter and my wife were very understanding. They knew I couldn’t possibly settle into a party atmosphere, until Jane recovered her own name. 

I called Valerie again. She was anxious to help me solve the mystery, but she didn’t have any other ideas.

“Do you have an address book in your purse?” I asked. 

“Yes,” she said. “Why?”

“Please open it,” I said, “and thumb through it. Give me the names, addresses and phone numbers of anyone who might remotely resemble Jane’s description.”

“I don’t know if it will do any good, but I’ll try,” she said. She gave me six names, but she had little or no confidence in any of them.

“Have you gotten all the way through the alphabet,” I asked.

“No, but I’ve only got a few letters left and I can’t think of anyone that it might be.”

“As long as it’s only a few letters, let’s finish the address book,” I said.

When she gave me the final name from her book, she said, “I don’t think she could possibly be the person you’re looking for because I haven’t had contact with her in more than a year.”

I was still on the phone, making my way through the list of “possibles” when the birthday party ended that afternoon. Each time someone on the list answered the phone, I breathed a sigh of relief and explained my reason for calling. All were sympathetic, but none could offer any further clues.

“Anything yet?” my wife asked me on the phone when I called home.

“Just two more names, dear, and then I’ll be through. One place I called has been disconnected and another didn’t answer, but I’m hoping and praying that something will come of these last two calls.

The next to the last call I made rang a long time, and I finally had to hang up without an answer. I decided then that if the last call didn’t work, I’d have to track down the disconnects and the two no answers I’d had, through their street addresses.

The nurse at the hospital had told me that state investigators would have to be called in if the answer hadn’t been found by the end of the day. As I picked up the phone again, I prayed, “Lord, please let this be the one.”

A teenage girl answered the phone. I introduced myself, then asked, “Is your mom at home?”

“No, she isn’t,” the girl said.

“Do you know where she is?” I asked.

“No, we don’t” she said with a trembling voice.

I paused before I asked the next question. “Did your mom come home last night?” 

The girl was near tears. “No. She didn’t. We thought she went to visit a friend, but none of her friends know where she is.” She began to weep in earnest.

“Your mom’s okay,” I said. “Tell your dad to meet me at the medical center as soon as he can. Tell him to look for a man in a Salvation Army uniform.”

A man I’d never met before, anxiously approached me in the hospital lobby. He could hardly wait to go upstairs with me to have a reunion with his wife after a very troubling, sleepless night of wondering where she was.

When we walked into the hospital room that had now been secured for Jane, she looked directly at me. She didn’t seem to know her husband at all.

He reached for her, but she pulled back and screamed. Her scream startled him, and he jumped away from her bed.

After a few moments, during which she frightfully stared at him, he patiently retook her hand and patted it gently. She became calmer. The quietness continued for several minutes as the attending nurse and I watched and waited for something to happen.

Suddenly, the woman burst into tears and reached out to embrace her husband. The light had returned to her darkened memory. The “Jane Doe” wristband could be discarded. She was back in the arms of someone she loved, and someone who loved her. 

The nurse and I left the room quietly. We spent a few moments in the hallway praising God and rejoicing over one who had been lost, but now was found.