Hospitals can be wonderful, or horrible - Editor
For One Night Only
by James A. Stewart
I listen to the beep-beep-beep of the monitors, their constant metronome giving comfort to those wearing the plethora of wires and straps that reach out from the tooting sentinel next to their bed. I don’t want to be here. But I am.
Laughter rises from the room next door: a family happy at grandpa’s recovery? Perhaps. I wish them ill, for their joy is in contrast to my anguish. There will be no recovery in this room; the odours of urine and disinfectant mix to give this sterile cubby-hole the stench of near death. The wilting flowers only add to the bleakness of the surroundings. I bat them away with my hand and they drop to the floor with nil ceremony. They’re lifeless. I look at them lying with pathetic limpness on the floor and give an ironic laugh. The snort causes me to gag and I retch up putrid bile. It burns the back of my throat and leaves behind the tang of a hundred hangovers.
I’ve lost track of how long I have been here, in the place I don’t want to be. He’s a fickle character is old Death. He works to his own timescales, not mine; nor anyone else’s, for that matter. When your business is expiring people you’re your own boss.
I lift a grape. They’re soft and soggy. I feel the heat in the room. No wonder the fruit and flowers are past their best. They’ve only been here two days, brought by my sister. She’s a good woman. I insisted she stay away tonight. I told her to get along to her aerobics, sang her Fergal Sharkey’s ‘Good Heart’. I am not sure she appreciated the joke but I am certain she respected my attempt at putting a brave face on things.
Using the remote on the bed, I dim the lights in the room as I have a migraine coming on. Stress is my enemy. Up in the corner I catch sight of a red LED light. It blinks at me. Then it blinks again. I blink back, as if to communicate. It blinks again. The light’s uncomplicated existence makes me jealous. The LED’s half-life will outlast most living people. In its unrelenting primacy it has everything I want; a long life without complication. I throw a grape at it; it is no longer my friend.
Without warning, I start humming Johnny Cash’s 25 Seconds to Go. It seems entirely inappropriate and I am cut short by more laughter from next door. They really are in high spirits – old Mr. Whatshisface must be getting out, either that or he is having a bed bath and the nurses have found something all the family can laugh at.
This thought brings long since purged memories rushing back to me. Of the abuse, the torture and beatings doled out to me by my father. ‘He’s a disciplinarian,’ my mother would explain, ‘He only wants the best for you’, she would implore. If the best meant black eyes and a fear of the dark, he succeeded.
My reverie is interrupted by a flatlining screech. I look immediately at the monitor next to me. Alas, the stay goes on. I look through glass door to see where the nurses are rushing to. Nowhere, that’s where. It’s Mr. Old Man Happy and the Happy-ettes. His equipment is unplugged and his is ready to go. His son, I presume, is helping him to the door. They smile and look perfectly comfortable in each other’s arms. The bastards. I curse them and vow to hate them forever there and then. I know I’ll never hold my father like that.
Thinking about my father again, I recall the mental abuse being much worse than the physical. Bruises heal. When I told him I was dating a black man he beat me in to a coma and I still refused to press charges. We’ve never talked since. I have spoken to him on loads of occasions, especially in the last month since his heart attack, but for obvious reasons he has never answered.
Outside the room I hear the visitors leaving. Only the beeps and my breath are audible in this confined space. I know there won’t be a nurse around for another hour. They check to make sure the bed is dry and the beeps are beeping. I sit there motionless, like I have every night for weeks now and wonder if I have the strength to go on. I urge myself to do it. Death will not come alone. He, no, they, Death and Dad, will mock me and my weaknesses. I need to be strong. What am I waiting for? Is it permission? There is no one to say yes, no one to say no. There is only me and my needle. I am in charge. Death can bite me. I can do better than he, the scythe wielding myth. Does he have a stranglehold on expirations? No I say. I am taking over, I will be fate’s cruel hand for one night only.
I look at him lying there pathetic. His heart attack has rendered him a vegetable; only machines and TLC from over-worked and under-appreciated hospital angels keep him alive. I lift the sleeve on his pajama top and slowly pull back the needle’s plunger with my teeth. I caress it in my mouth and it feels electric. With deliberate slowness I put the needle in the same vein his drip is in. The Demerol will get to work and in an hour he’ll be dead. There will be no post-mortem; heart attack patient dying of a heart attack? The perfect murder. A tear drops onto his forehead as I lean over to kiss him. ‘Goodbye, Dad.’ I say.
I head off to the hospital canteen for a coffee. There is no point in driving all the way home when I’ll be here back in an hour. The waiting is almost over. I am glad I came.