On Ellison 13
The bathroom tiles, if one squints and tilts one’s head, look like little hearts have been strewn on the floor in sets of three blue, purple, or green squares against the sterile white background. White dominates the rest of the thirteenth floor, and the walls, ceiling, towels, sheets. Even the view from this high up the Ellison building is misty white, sometimes snowy.
Photo by Clément M. on Unsplash
On a clear day, from the bed and through the wide, wide window, the sky appears almost piercingly blue to the patient who got that side of the room. Lucky. In it, the cold clouds typical of cold New England January days look more like ripples of ocean foam. An albatross glides across them.
Windows are no longer required to be operable in hospitals. In fact, in patient rooms, windows that open are openly discouraged. Now is not the time to think of the reason. The albatross is crossing back. That someone should ever feel so trapped in a life as to envy an ocean bird.
The blue from the sky and that of the river meet where the albatross dives, touching, not mixing, both vibrant blues of different hues. Neither remotely similar to the pathetic patient-robe blue. The cloth and its tasteless triangle print - of which endless rolls, bafflingly, exist - covers every resident of Ellison 13. The flap opens, cruelly, at the back.
As if the tubes and name bracelets and pale, pale faces were not enough of a uniform to distinguish the patients from those who lived … outside. Other uniforms on the floor are, ironically, cheerfully coloured and bright; the nurses scurry around in flaming pink and the occasional, sensational, red.
Little disrupts life on Ellison 13. The daily schedule and shifts are posted on the bulletin board. Vitals and medication at 6. Rounds at 6:30, 7 on weekends. Breakfast is served around 8, then boredom – the welcome kind in such places – till lunch at noon, then more vitals, more medication, more doctors, boredom. A nap before dinner, perhaps. The latter is at 5, ready for it or not. Then comes the hardest part: dusk. After 9 p.m., quiet time. The horror. Alone with oneself until dawn.
Except for one room: 1322. In Ellison, on Floor 13. The narrow, one-person bed nearest the window carried two people one night. Two lovers, and two foetuses in a womb. She on her right side, he behind, his arm draped protectively over all three of hearts his own was beating for.
He kissed her neck and she kissed the hand she could reach. Both stayed awake a long time, precariously perched on the narrow bed. Their main focus: not falling. Both of them grateful for the hospital-grade rails that propped his back, her abdomen. They felt like children pretending to be pirates on a pretend ship: the mattress.
They did eventually fall asleep, together, his hand on hers on her belly. For a few short hours they left Ellison 13. Until 6: medication, vitals.
He did not bother the nursing staff as they checked her temperature, blood pressure, pulse. She then lay down; it was the babies’ turn. The pink nurse turned on the monitor.
It took a few minutes of static and white noise before the first thump. Thump. Thump. Practically a gallop:
Heart rate A: 135.
They quietly cheered the gallop on.
Heart rate B:
Thump. Thump. Thump, thump, thump.
135 and 140! 135 and 140 beats per minute! Her hand found his under the covers.
Later, at 6:30, rounds began, but by then he was gone and there was just one patient in the bed on the window side of room 1322 in the Ellison building.