Convergence: Hers

The sound of rumbling, a gurney swathed in white, caused her to start suddenly.  She’d fallen asleep in the chair while holding his hand.  Eyes flickered, moving swiftly from side to side under lids in a face pale and gaunt.  Twitching, all too familiar now, rippled erratically throughout his body causing it to jerk and spasm.  What time was it?  It was morning when they had come into the hospital.  A grating electronic beeping sound from an overhead monitor broke her train of thought.  Her neck was stiff.  10:30am.  It was 10:30am.

”We’ll insert that cannula now,” a faceless voice echoed.  She rubbed her eyes.  His hand reached out to her.  He hated needles.  The doctor was gentle, steadily plumping the vein, and then just as steadily, slowly, slowly, inserting the needle.  His grip tightened, fingers digging into and compressing her skin.

He lay back when it was over, exhausted.  Voices echoed along the corridor.  Conversational snippets intruded into the room that had become their world yet again.  “I’ll be here for four days,” he said.  She wondered how long that would be.  It was hot; there was no window.  Laughter burst in upon them.  “Lunches are here!”  A whole world existed in this place, this bed with curtains drawn, and both of them were a part of it.  “We have a bed for him.”  “Kenneth?”  “Number 5.”  Number 5.  Number 5.  Number 5.  Number 5; it reverberated in her mind.  “How do you cope?” a kind voice asked her as they had walked down the corridor.  “Sometimes I don’t,” she had responded.

A-Bay Ward.  Sickening stifling heat.  Where were the windows?  God they were all old, horrible old men.  Sick and wrinkled and crabbed.  Suffocating, she felt like she was suffocating.  Dead, she felt like he was already dead and she was standing in a cemetery.  She pulled the curtain around the bed trying to block it all out, to shield him.  Or was it to shield herself?  Both.  More faces peering into theirs.  More intrusive, nameless voices.  When would she wake up, when would they both wake up from this nightmare that never seemed to end?

She wondered what went through his mind as he lay there, shrunken and small.  He never really spoke about it very much.  What did he think about during the long hours?  His eyes flickered, his breathing paced, fingers touching one another as if to seek assurance.  “Would the owner of car number NSB 448 contact the switchboard please?”  Beads of perspiration were forming slowly on his forehead.  An intake of breath, cool air flowing around her ankles.  “How do you spell origami?” a woman’s voice boomed into their space.  “Crippled, if you’re crippled you are…?”  “Does it mean you’re lame?”  The voices droned on around them, the woman’s loud, raucous; the man’s muted, barely audible.

Through a slit in the curtain she could see that the man sitting opposite was asleep holding his cup.  Would it fall she wondered?  She needed to touch up her lipstick, perfume too.  The ritualistic behaviour was calming, normal, something that made sense in a world that illness had manufactured for them.  It was a world where there was no sense anymore because everything had fallen in upon itself until reality had blurred.  He moved.  She wiped the sweat off his brow.

He was sleeping now.

She remembered that she had to pay the rent.  She had seen a jumper that she liked, perhaps she would buy it.  Voices.  “Are you going to the cafeteria?”  “No, I’m going downstairs.”  It might make her feel better if she bought something.  She felt her emotions rising to the surface.  She hated that happening.  She turned to check on him.  He seemed peaceful, silent.  It was so quiet at home without him.  She slept alone with a pillow in her arms.

She looked at him again.  She never really knew what he was thinking.  Was he dreaming as he lay there she wondered?  She must ring friend number one, and then friend number two.  Had she eaten today, yes at breakfast, some fruit, coffee.  Maybe she would buy that jumper, maybe.  “What we’ll do is get Beverly to bring your own frame in, if you can manage with this …”  Their voices drifted down the corridor as they walked past the room.  “Would the owner of a black Golf, registration number NSB 448 contact reception please.”

The cleaner emptied the bin next to his bed.  The man sitting in the chair opposite dozed.  Life went along in this world within a world as surely as it did out of it.  He coughed, twice, and was still again, his breathing regular.  She didn’t ask why any more, she just accepted that at this time it was this way.  Somebody had asked her once if she thought it was Karma that he had sickened in such a way.  Voices intruded.  “So which one is better, we have to decide which one you’ll be taking home.”  No it wasn’t Karma, it was just life.  Voices intruded.  “What about the pain, does it make a difference?”  No it wasn’t Karma, it was just life.  Voices intruded.  “That’s it, that’s the one!”  No, it wasn’t Karma.  It was just life.  Just life.  Just life.  Just life.  She blinked her eyes, her nose was running.

When would they wake up?  When would they both wake up from this agonising moment that seemed to make a mockery of eternity?  He coughed, gently this time.  It was early afternoon.  The light had softened.  She had to go.  She tried not to feel sorry for herself.  She thought of what he was going through.  What colour was that jumper again?  How awful he must feel.  But he kept so much from her.  She never really knew, she had never really known.  Another intrusion. “Hello, I’m Peggy; I’ll be looking after Ken.”  So terribly pleasant in a world that was anything but.

The sun was low when she walked outside.  Something caught her eye.  A shaft of sunlight fell on a single cluster of daffodils surrounded by the large leaves of the mother plant.  In the midst of this sprawled a large, fat, ugly, prickly nettle.  The juxtaposition of the daffodil and the nettle seemed significant to her in some way.  She stood there pondering, and then she suddenly understood that what she was looking at was the reflection of a manufactured life which was as achingly beautiful as it was painfully ugly.

Michele T Knight Written by:

Dr Michele Knight is a Social Worker, Social Scientist, researcher and independent scholar. Her interest and research in the end-of-life has its origin in the lived experiences of her own bereavements, her near-death and shared-death events, the returning deceased and attitudinal responses to those experiences. Since 2006, she has been extensively involved in community development, support and advocacy in both a professional and community services/voluntary capacity in the areas of bereavement and grief, hospital pastoral care, and academic lecturing/tutoring. Her PhD, Ways of Being: The alchemy of bereavement and communique, explores the lived experience of bereavement, grief, spirituality and unsought encounters with the returning deceased.

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