Art by Kristie Wu
Issue: Kalopsia (Spring 2017)
His family is here now. The boy in the blue jacket—grandson?—almost tripped over the breathing tube on the way. In sync, I tell myself, in sync. I draw the curtains, let the room look a little brighter. The view here in B110 is not bad; his window points east, and the warmth of the sunlight spills through the windows as if the sun acknowledged his need for comfort. In either case, it is one of the most soothing medleys I have seen in a while. I’m glad that his eyes open a crack at that moment, too, though I’m not sure if he caught the start of the day or his staggering family. Hopefully, both.
I need lunch, but she needs it even more. Her zone of consciousness—the period of time when she is aware of the people surrounding her—is diminishing. I press the red emergency button and dictate IV tubing to B111. The little ones are drawing pictures on our “about palliative care” magazine, now. A big red truck stands on the dark corner of her drawer, like the fire engines you see on channel 11 cartoons.4:34 am. The light in the corner of the wall blinks off and on, off and on, over and over in short spasms of green. This is good, this means everything is okay. I poke around near his bed, make sure that the rhythmic haa-huffs coming out of his wrinkled lips are in sync. Strained, perhaps, but in sync.
A rush of sirens wail in the corner. I wake myself up, pull myself ready into active mode. The normal sea of panicking faces float past me until I see her, foot bandaged into a red mess as doctors are already swarming her with tubes and an oxygen mask. I turn back to my front desk and try to get a couple more minutes of sleep. I will be needed later, but not now.
Time for his check-in. The breathing sounds a little more strained than normal, so I pluck a suction tube off the wall and force it through his sealed light pink lips. I watch the mucus stream through the PVC tubes, away into the hazards container that I know it’ll go into. I see the wrinkles around his eyes twitch for a brief second, and wonder if he knows I’m there. But they collapse back too soon, and B110 is gone again. In sync, though. In sync.
Shrouded beneath the darkness of bandages and gauze, she’s doing okay, better than her family members, at least. They are doing the usual: the father and the mother holding each other in the corner, trembling. Something about drunk driving and cars. The little ones are using our “guest comfort unit” hot chocolate making machine in the lobby, scattering skinny red straws and ripped bits of wrapping everywhere. I do not know whether the warmth spills all over the room or not, but I sure hope so. It’s one of those cold days.
Time to turn him around again. His family is still there, and they watch, with defeated eyes, as I stack up the tablet-white pillows on the right, pull out a couple from the left, and lean them against the bed rail. They won’t be needed anymore. As I pat down the fluffs around him, his daughter tells me about his Alzheimer’s, when he forgot the way to the bathroom, the photo album, the pillowcase where he keeps his Seiko watch, then her name…and finally, his own name. The daughter’s voice is crackly, but stable. His eyes are closed, I think he’s comfortable. Breathing to his heartbeat, slow, but in sync, at least. I update the board, too; “diet: regular—for pleasure.” Though we know that at this stage, “pleasure” is no longer in the dictionary, we try to keep things as far from morbid as possible.
In and out of consciousness, in and out. Does it mean anything, though? The way this girl dies? Whether in peaceful spasms of wake leading to a long sleep or a sudden descent? Probably nothing means anything to her herself, but her family… The big red truck still needs an admirer. I’m not sure how long she’ll last, but I still give her the antibiotics and anesthesia. Added on with a couple different types of morphine, she is loaded with drugs.
His family have left, and they have left their phone number on the board. This might be important, I fear—he hasn’t opened his eyes in a while. He looks so serene, though, as if he could hear everything going about him, but politely chose not to interject. In case he was, I whispered, “Everything’s all right, sir. I’m here for you. Just press this red button, and that light at the corner of the wall will light up, and I’ll be here.” He startles me with a grunt—more mucus?—before lapsing back in sync.
Her face is turning a frightening combination of red and purple, like the color of an angry night. It could be the morphine, or perhaps the Alzani, another pain killer. I count more than seven different tubes attached at her fragile lips, ears, nose, and every single opening possible. Her family is gone, leaving only the big red truck behind. All too well, I know that they’re probably arguing about who’s to blame the entire way home.
The sun has set, so I draw the curtains. He is just as peaceful as before, but the doctor has unplugged the IV. No more vitamins, glucose, or water for him. Comfort care, the doctor said. Palliative. I brush up the table stand in the corner; the boy in the blue jacket left a note, “Dear Grandpa, I just wanted to tell you that I left our game of chess on top of your drawer. I think that you might have forgotten this, but it’s your turn to move. Get well soon, —M.” I fold it and place it next to him before leaving. B110 is in sync, for now at least. My eyes are beginning to droop, so I go back to my desk to catch a power nap.
A scream pierces me, as if it were breaking from inside. Somehow I just know, it’s B111. The red warning flags were everywhere, a struggle. There are complications with her death, and I realize that her eyes are open…
I pop my eyes open. A glaring red light, blinking the rhythm of a heartbeat plagued my dreams. Wait, no. I hear a siren in the distance. Another emergency? I walk past B110 and stop. I retreat back to the door and see the light. On and off, red. And yet the flash is almost elegant, as if it were waltzing with the green. He can’t be well enough to press the button, can he? Perhaps he has taken a turn for the better and needs something. Just in case, my trembling fingers punch in the number on the board before entering the room and the ring of the connecting call bursts into my eardrums. My hands are shaking so hard that it takes me a while to lift off his blankets to listen to his heart. At first, I think I hear the sync breathing, but it fades away. Perhaps it was just my hope. And then all at once, I realize his mucus tube has had no sputum production for the past three hours.
She’s gone, but the room still feels so cluttered. Maybe it’s all the tablets and pills containers and disconnected tubes lying around. Or the blame reeking through.
He has been taken away. I helped his family dress him in his funeral clothes, which glow against the sunlight. It’s the kind of color for a beach trip with a chess set and a little boy in a blue jacket. Perhaps he’s there right now, taking steps in sync with life, with death.