She could not have known she was going to end up like this. If you had been able to tell her, you would not have wanted to. A CD player in the room was turned up and music from better times filled the room. Instrumentals from songs like “Happy Days Are Here Again” in a carnival style evoked euphoria of the celebrations after World War II. Was she a young woman then? Or maybe she had just been attracted to the fresh memory of these times in her youth. The leathery, weather worn skin on her face seemed to tell of a life fully lived, but without the cruel and bitter lines that come from overindulgence and selfishness that is sometimes seen with this type. “My young days were the best in my life and I hold on to their memory in bad times,” she seems to say through this music which fills the room. But it is all so surreal. She has just returned from abdominal surgery. Her belly lies on her frame like a puddle, its open incision covered with a brown plastic vacuum dressing. Her nurse, Dan, with his 15 years of experience, dances to her music as he urgently hangs unit after unit of blood, plasma and platelets. He has asked me to bring some supplies and I have stayed for a minute in case he needs something more. I may also learn something. I am intrigued by his dancing. I do not quite understand. Is it because the shift is almost over and he is thinking about his plans for the weekend? Is he dancing to celebrate the patient’s life? Or is it that he is resisting the misery of this place and this work by outright rebellion against it? Finishing a few steps, he turns towards me, “Take it away Leo!” he orders, friendly. I hold up the pillow I have brought for him and make it bounce to the beat a few times. “You sure are a tough one, Leo. Nothing breaks you up.” He says happily.
“She will be dead by morning.” I think to myself. One gets to know the look of a person who is never going to leave the ICU. She is pale and almost yellow. Her head is tilted back slightly and her mouth opens in an O shape. All the sedation and narcotics are not taking away the look of pure agony on her face although she is beyond seeing, beyond touch. Is she beyond sound also? No way to know.
She has not died by the next day, or by the one after that. Her family comes on some days for an hour or so. I avoid eye contact, so they will not be troubled by my thoughts. “Stop doing this to her you bastards!” is what I would like to say. But then I only know this final chapter. I do not know the rest and should not judge. Perhaps if she was my patient I could talk to them. Perhaps they do not understand what they are seeing. Perhaps they are not aware that they are the only ones who are in a position to do anything about it.
That day does not come. Her music plays for three days and is then stopped, never to be restarted. She lasts for three weeks or so, the look of agony on her frozen absent face increasing day by day. Do I need to say it? She died after that.