I heard the sounds of squishy-soled traffic picking up outside my room; morning had arrived. One pair of squishes entered and tapped my arm. “Good morning. I’m Joyce*, and I’ll be your nurse today. I have your morning pills,” she said and shook the little cup before continuing. “Since you’re not really supposed to be sitting up for long, do you want me to help you sit to take the pills, or would you prefer I raise the head of the bed for a moment?”
I had already begun sitting up as she spoke. We both laughed. “I realize that you are probably used to assisting my roommates, but I really can sit up myself,” I said, tilting my head towards the octogenarians still snoring away across the room from me.
“I thought you couldn’t see; how do you know there are two elderly ladies in this room?” the nurse whispered.
“Process of elimination,” I said with a giggle, “unless the hospital figures if the patient can’t see, the gender of roommates doesn’t matter.”
“I suppose the harmony of their night noises let you know more than one patient occupied the other beds?”
“Exactly, but it really was easier than that; they told me their names.”
“I’m surprised to see them in your room; Dr. Roberts let it be known that he didn’t want anyone else in this room for a couple of days. Guess they needed their rooms. I hope they won’t bother you.”
“Don’t worry about it; it’s the pain, not their snoring, that’s kept me from sleeping.” I held out my palm to receive the pills. “Can’t just slip me a Demerol, I suppose?”
“I so wish I could; I know you must be hurting,” she pressed a small glass of cold water in my other hand as she spoke. “Your breakfast will be here in a minute. Hope you like rubber cubes of red stuff for breakfast?”
“Boy, this place really knows how to torture the young, doesn’t it? Jell-o for breakfast, and I suppose a cup of lukewarm beef bouillon?” I handed the empty glass to the nurse.
“Hmm? I’m not sure; it might be chicken for breakfast and beef for lunch.”
“I figure that’s my punishment for throwing up their dinner all night long, right?”
“If you’re a good little patient, and eat up your breakfast, I’ll see about getting you a better lunch,” she said. “Your plastic friend is right here, if you need it.” I felt the tap of the emesis basin against my arm. “Actually, there was a pretty blue pill in the bunch you just downed that should keep you from returning their breakfast to them in a basin. It should also help you sleep a little.”
Joyce patted my arm, moving to check on my roommates, one-by-one. I heard the light clatter of the clipboards, but the nurse didn’t disturb the ladies.
Mid-morning, my father’s voice interrupted my surface-level sleep. “Hi Honey. How are you doing this morning?”
“Hi Daddy. I’m so glad you’re here. I hope you slept better than I did.”
“The nurse told me you had a bad night. Your head hurts?”
“Like a son-of-a-gun,” I said, repeating the very words he’d said when I asked him if his chest hurt the morning after his heart attack years earlier.
Laughing, he said, “That much, huh? I suppose they didn’t give you anything for it?”
“Nope. That’s where your heart attack and my brain attack are different. They want me to feel everything, so I can tell them when something changes.” I felt my father squeeze my arm and take hold of my hand. How the feeling of that strong hand comforted me. It always had; and to Daddy’s last night on this earth, it always would.
“Mom had to work today, but she’ll be up later. Can I get you anything, Honey? Or do anything for you?”
“Well, as a matter of fact, I wonder if you can find my briefcase. They might have put it in my closet with my real clothes.”
I felt Daddy’s hand leave mine, and heard him push back the chair. The high-pitched scraping sound told me he’d opened the closet door. One more job for maintenance, I thought.
“Here it is. Do you want me to look for something in it?”
“Please, Daddy. If you’ll pull the over-the-bed table around to your side of the bed, you can lower it to make a table for you.” I heard the wheels bumping around the bed, resuming my instructions when the sound stopped. “Okay, good. Inside the briefcase, you should find a manila envelope with a stack of papers. If you’ll take out the first bundle, along with the yellow pad and a pen, please.”
“Do you want me to read the papers to you? Or is it just something you want me to find in the writing somewhere?” I heard the papers being shuffled as he spoke.
“I have the rough idea of what that first stack is, if you can just read the headline at the top and the bold print on that first page to refresh my memory, please.”
“Honey, this looks like work to me. Are you sure you should be doing this and not resting?”
“Daddy, my head hurts so much; I just have to get my mind on something else. I figured if I concentrated on work, I’d take my mind off the pain. I don’t know if it’ll work, but it’s worth a try; besides, then you can tell the Hospital Board that I kept working, even when I was in the hospital. They’ll think they got a really good deal when they hired me.”
“But, what did the doctor say about--”
“He only said I couldn’t sit up,” I interrupted my father’s protests. “I’m not sitting; I’m flat in this bed. Please, Daddy, it’s the only thing I can think of to put my mind on something else.”
Thus began the special time I shared with my father who served me well as a bedside secretary for the length of my hospital stay. I knew it had to bother him when my moans escaped in the middle of a dictated sentence, or I interrupted his reading, asking him to wait a minute; but Dad didn’t say anything. He didn’t refuse to continue, nor did He insist I stop and rest. He let me decide when to quit each session.
Nighttime continued to be hours of unrelenting agony. Finally, the nurses persuaded the doctor to give me a sleeping pill, at least. That’s when the nightmares began for my roommates.