Early nurse’s aide collected blood. Patient to the right of me moaned all night begged mercy. Still dark. The usually pleasant semi-noise of pre-dawn amplified to unpleasant by the wheeling of stretchers and machines; insistent patients buzzing the nurses’ station. I was not clear enough to know exactly where I was in terms of life’s journey as I waited for the sun, but it sure as hell wasn’t Egypt.
Proximity of the machine my worst enemy. Dials, bags, sound-monitored drug-infusions, blinking lights. Had to unplug myself to get up and pee and wheel machine gently lest I set off an alarm.
By actual sunrise I was wiped. Out. I was wiped-out. Nobody had to wipe my ass, thank God-man.
Nurse Stephanie checked my “vitals” and attached a fresh bag of something to the machine.
“What is that stuff?” I asked.
“The Solution. It’s for your blood. We have to get that blood count up. You’ll be receiving a unit each day. Takes about two hours to get into your system.”
“Two hours. Then why am I hooked to this machine all day?”
“It’s pumping antibiotics and vitamins into your system. We have to challenge The Condition. I just started my shift, so I’ll be here all day. You just call if you need me.”
“Call” meant push the red button at bed-side.
Right-side Patient, the high-decibel moaner, put himself out of our misery. A Doctor declared him. Orderlies wheeled him far. No trace next morning. No mourning. Bleached sheets clean blankets absorb prayers fluids the next guy.
The replacement for the departed Right Side Patient was a pale, twig-thin, intestinal. Terminal. Shat constant. Foul yellow-brown-ooze-squirt hourly. Everywhere, everywhere, everywhere despite rubber pants and diapers. Nurses’ aides, orderlies cleaned his mess, impatient despite the patient’s pain — months round-the-clock fudge-squirts burned his ass like a bullet wound. Each cleaning he squealed like an infant shocked to sudden knowing: the import and finality of pain, life’s inexorable “condition.”
Long, high-pitched, terrified.
Nicknamed “Old Faithful,” such were the frequency of his eruptions. Stink deep fishy overpowered even programmatic vomiting of the chemo guys across the room.
“Look at you, a grown man messing himself like a baby,” frustrated nurse’s aide said one night. “Dear God-man in heaven, what a mess.”
“I can’t help myself. Do you think I chose this? This has been going on for months. I’m defecating myself to death. This is a terrible way to die. I’m shitting out my soul. Have you no compassion?”
Nurse’s Aide softened.
“Well, the doctors will make you better. You’ll see. But you should ring for us,” she said, pointed the button near his bed. “Ring when you feel a poopie coming on, so we can catch it.”
Snatching motion her right hand.
“It just comes,” he wept. “It just comes.”
Nurse’s Aid cleaned him.
“Old Faithful” groaned squealed through clenched teeth.
“It’s unhealthy, that’s all,” as she passed me. “It’s not fair to the other patients.”