July 3, 2011

The Right Words

I slip on a yellow paper gown over my clothes, snap on purple gloves: the protocol in this hospital room.

My friend is there in the bed, her hair cut very short, to minimize what will be falling out. I chat with her husband. He gives me brief instructions before leaving: make sure she eats something. He has been running on empty for weeks.

The room is filled with pictures of family and friends. A hydrangea is on the table. I wish I had brought something pretty; last time we were not allowed. I add the tabloid magazines I brought to the stack already on the table.

On the wall, I notice a bio-hazard container. The warning shouts "Chemotherapy drugs. Incinerate! Incinerate!" This poison that they inject is too potent for the standard needle receptacle.

I sit in the chair. I don't know what to say. She pages the nurse for nausea and pain meds, but the nurses are slow. She pages again. Eventually the pills arrive. The nurse draws more blood.

I remove my gown and fetch a Popsicle. I fill a pitcher with water and ice.

We take a walk in a garden too beautiful to be in a hospital. She looks better when we're outside.

I give a brief tutorial on the iPad. I can be useful that way.

We tell stories of the past, of how we met our husbands. We talk about vacation plans for the summer. Neither of us have any, for entirely different reasons.

We run into an acquaintance who is there visiting her brother. Colon cancer, but it is spreading. I cannot remember her name, and I make an awkward introduction.

She is tired and we return to the room. I pause to put on another gown and gloves. She pages the nurse to reattach the IV. She asks for more pain meds; they will need to page the doctor.

I rub her back a bit. It is awkward with the gloves on. I arrange blankets as she settles in to sleep.

I take the gown and gloves off, text her husband that I am leaving. Give him the status of the pain meds. He'll be back for the overnight shift.

From the doorway I say goodbye. Promise to come back soon. I search for the right words.

Do they exist?

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