There’s an eerie silence at three o’ clock in the morning, when the only company is the blue-glow from the television, which hangs rather questionably, from the ceiling of the hospital room. It’s lonely in the middle of the night, when the painkillers wear off. You drowsily stir from that soft, billowy sleep to find yourself alone, in a room framed in cherry woodwork and adorned with pastel colored, side-of-the-road art. In the blue-light of the TV, which is on mute because you can’t stand the incessant chatter of infomercials, yet, can’t bear to lie there in complete darkness, you struggle to unwrap yourself from the knotted, waffle-knit hospital blankets. In this semi-drugged state, you hope that someone, anyone, will hear you rustle. No one does. So you search for the cord attached to the little white box with the speaker on it. Someone wrapped the cord around the raised metal bar of the hospital bed, trying to be helpful. You cannot reach the box or the little red button with the nurse’s cap etched in white, nestled below the speaker. Your arms have ceased to move of their own volition. Your body has gone on strike, refusing to work, refusing to move—your mind is the only holdout.
I don’t really mind the hospital anymore. But it’s that dead-of-the-night silence that always wakes me, even from the most peaceful, drug-induced slumber. Once awake, I suddenly, desperately, need to know that there are other people still alive and breathing somewhere down those long, pink hallways of the silent hospital floor; somewhere in the eeriness of this Twilight Zone existence. I need to know that I am not alone; that I still exist.
Tonight, I know that I am not alone, because I know that “Stuart” is not happy with the management. I know his name is Stuart because they couldn’t wake him up this morning and I heard a cacophony of panicked voices calling out his name. Stuart hollers from his room across the deep maroon-carpeted hallway. His voice is hollow and lost. It reverberates off of the walls, bouncing back and forth until it escapes his room and makes its way into mine. The choking of this call stirs me from my half-sleep and I listen to the old voice, shaky and confused.
“Help, I need some help in here.” He gurgles through the mucus pooling at the back of his throat. He growls and coughs trying to clear his airway. I imagine him reclined on a mechanical bed just like mine, fixed at a forty-five degree angle—not flat enough to block his throat completely, yet not high enough to dislodge the awful congestion. His graveled voice cries, “I’m not happy here! I need help! Somebody help me!” There’s a clang and a metallic crash from across the hall. I stare at my feet, elevated high above my head by my mechanical bed and I wonder why Stuart doesn’t push his own call button. I struggle with my rebellious elbows until I can bend one of them just enough to tap the red button with the back of my hand.
“Can I help you?” Asks a sleepy sounding, metallic voice from the speaker in the wall above my head.
“I’m not happy with the management!” Stuart shouts from across the hall, followed by another loud crash.
I lie and tell the voice in the wall that I have to use the bathroom. Then I ask for more painkillers.
“By the way,” I say. “Can someone check on Stuart? He’s not very happy.”
Suddenly, I hate Stuart. I hate him because he woke me, ripped me from the soft floatation of the last dose of meds. Though, I realize that I wasn’t really sleeping. When you lie in bed all day, true sleep is elusive and you start to depend on the scheduled naps that come along with the meds.
So Stuart ain’t happy with the management and I’m not happy because whatever time it is, Pat Robertson is beaming at me from the TV screen. I’ve seen this one before. Mr. Robertson’s asking people to phone the prayer line, promising relief, forgiveness, healing. Funny, I drifted off mid-prayer after my last codeine cocktail. I try to shift my weight from my butt to my right hip in an effort to avoid Pat’s pearly-white smile. But my paisley underwear twists in the opposite direction and I’m more uncomfortable than ever because I can’t move my shoulder to reach the horrible wedgie that has crawled up my ass.
I hear a soft voice in the hallway and hope it’s coming from Stuart’s room. He sounds so confused. I’d like to think that I’d prefer being confused like Stuart, not knowing where I was, thinking I was in some cheap hotel with mediocre room service. But then, I might sound as miserable as Stuart does. Or maybe I already am. I’m just lucid enough to push the red button when I’m not happy with the management.
The pills don’t work as well as they used to. I ask the nurse if I can have a shot instead. The shots work faster. A tiny poke, a brief sting and then a wonderful gush of warmth suddenly takes over my body, easing the throbbing, knife like pain that has moved in and immobilized all of my joints. A light fuzziness takes over my brain, shutting it off for a while, making my body relax rather than throb. The nurse stands in front of me and the television creates a blue-glow around her, like an aura, like a halo. She’s a round woman, lines frame her pursed lips, and dark circles frame her eyes. But she has a soft voice. Her dark roots lead to blond curls, which rest on her broad shoulders. Wearing a white smock with pink and blue and purple balloons, I wonder if the bright colors are supposed to have the cheering affect they have on children. Her soft voice explains that they can’t give me the shots anymore because they can’t send them home with me. Her eyes are sunken and I see her exhaustion as she places two fingers on my wrist, counting the pulsing that says I’m alive.
“Can you rate your pain from one to ten, ten being the worst?” She asks, stifling a yawn.
“Maybe a seven.” I guess because when you’ve lived with pain for so long, and keep living, you never really get to that “unbearable 10.” Ten being the worse pain you’ve ever had. When you’ve lived with pain as long as I have, it’s hard to determine a finite pain level.
She makes a note in my chart with the Scooby-Doo pen dangling from a green string around her neck. She offers me pills in a white, pleated paper cup and I lift my head so she can drop them in my mouth. I ask her something else, not wanting her to leave. I like the tremor in the air that our pleasantries create. She pats my foot and says to call if I need anything else. I fumble for the white box, which she put next to my hand, and turn up the volume. I say a prayer with Pat Robertson as Stuart reminds us again, that he’s not happy with the management.