'Til Life Do I part
It was a gorgeous Saturday night and the black sky was filled with an endless amount of glittering stars. People below scurried across the roads and into their homes to join loved ones and friends. Unfortunately, inside the white washed room - on the third story of the hospital - things weren't as peaceful or serene. The room smelt of stale medicine, newly washed bed linens and medical induced vomit. In the middle, sleeping in a long and narrow white hospital bed was a middle-aged man named Oliver.
I walked into the middle-aged man's room; B16 - a room I'd come to know quite well. From the potted plant in the corner to the constant rhythmic beats of Oliver's heart monitor. Every heart beat differently. Some were quicker in pace, others slower. Oliver's - sadly - was one of the slower heartbeats I heard on a daily basis. He was a sweet man though, and definitely didn't deserve this life. He'd begun to go a bit senile. The doctors declared it was his illness taking over. I myself couldn't decide if it was the cancer or from being in the hospital for as long as he was.
I remembered the day he arrived. He only walked in thinking he'd leave with a prescription for some painkillers, and although he walked out of the building that day, he never fully left it behind.
It was around midnight when I walked into his room to deliver his hourly medications and sedative to help him sleep. He was tossing and turning as I tiptoed beside his bed and inserted the morphine into the IV line that looked as though it had grown into the pale flabs of skin on the underside of his wrist. Within ten minutes his movements slowed and took on an almost drunken quality. His eyelids drooped open and landed on me. I could see the pupils dilate from the sudden burst of artificial light. I made a shushing noise in hopes to keep him calm.
"You're here," he slurred, a sloppy grin on his face, "you're finally here to end the pain." I patted his bony hand, hoping it would comfort him enough to send him to sleep, but judging by his lazy expression, I could tell the morphine was starting to work as it should.
"Yes, Oliver, if you're still feeling pain, it should disappear soon." I couldn't stay with him, I had many other patients who needed their medication, but for some reason, I couldn't tear myself away from him.
Who knew lying down could hurt so much. My arms twitched uncontrollably as a pain so indescribable covered all my muscles and the outer area of my skull. My legs constricted under the scratchy material of the hospital blanket. I couldn't bear the thought of opening my eyes; it was just too much for one person of my age to handle. Unfortunately, you could say this was a daily endurance for me.
I took in a heavy breath - ignoring the sharp pain that followed - and tried to remember the life before this goddamn hospital. I'd spent almost a quarter of my life here. I'd spent nearly fifteen years inside these white walls. That was enough time to drive a sane person crazy.
When I first found out that I had cancer, I wasn't admitted into the hospital permanently. I was admitted for a couple of days strictly for testing. I remember that night. I was nearly forty-five years old, and terrified. I didn't sleep at all. The sounds of the heart monitor and cries from the patient in the room beside me had kept me awake for hours. As well as the nurses coming in every three hours to check my blood pressure.
Anyways, for the first year or so I thought I could survive this thing. I had a family who supported me and came with me to my appointments, and at the time, that was the only hope I needed.
My mind was swimming through the memories of my past, to the point where I didn't even hear someone come in the room. Whoever they were, they were trying really hard to be quiet.
The pain started creeping back into my head as I lost my concentration and a whimper escaped my mouth.
"Shh," I heard as a slow numbing feeling slithered over me. It over-rid the pain, but I knew it was still there hiding beneath my nerves and tendons. My head became too heavy to lift and my arms and legs felt like 100lbs weights. I took a chance, not so afraid anymore, and let my eyes flutter open. The light blinded me for a few minutes, but adjusted eventually.
A woman stood over me, bathed in white light. Her hair was a deep blonde and flowing down to her shoulders and she had bright clear skin that lit up the room.
"You're here," I managed, with much difficulty, every word felt like a piece of sandpaper being scraped up my throat. She touched my hand and I smiled meekly at her. "You're finally here to end the pain." Her skin was so soft, so alive. I felt ashamed of my current condition. She whispered encouraging words to me, telling me that the pain would disappear soon.
I rested my head against the pillow while the image of my angel illuminated the undersides of my eyelids.
Oliver was sleeping relatively soundlessly, and I didn't feel as bad leaving him knowing the morphine was pumping through him. Throughout my entire nightly routine, Oliver hovered over every thought. I couldn't stop thinking about his visits, and the unfortunate things that have happened to him over the last couple of decades.
About forteen years ago, a little over a year after he found out about his illness, and only about six months into my newly formed career, Oliver had just come into the hospital for another chemo treatment. Tagging along behind him was his wife - June - a slender woman who seemed to age fairly gracefully, and his daughter - Lena - who was eighteen was just finishing up high school. You could tell she was Oliver's daughter, she had the same deep chestnut color hair as him – hers being much thicker of course – and deep hazel eyes that pulled you into a trance every time you looked into them.
Every week Oliver would march through the hospital doors and up to oncology to start his treatment process. June and Lena would wait in the cafeteria for the duration and when it was all finished they would all leave together. This continued for the first year and a bit. Then one day Oliver came in alone, and again the next day and again the next. At some point the nurses who had grown fond of Oliver greatly, just kind of stopped hoping to see his family following along behind him as he marched up to face another few hours of unbelievable sickness. He had spent the majority of his illness alone, just coming in every week for chemo treatment, trying out new medications to help reduce some of the pain, and then even more medications to help him cope with the side effects of the last medication. He didn't get omitted permanently into the hospital until he was into his late fifties, fifteen years of just visits and the occasional overnight, but by then the hospital was practically his second home.
I finished the rest of my nightly medication distribution, took a quick coffee break, and then began my morning routine of handing out breakfast and visiting those who needed more sedative. Oliver was my third patient on my list. He was awake when I walked through the door to his room. I could tell immediately that he was in pain again. He twitched under the sheets, moving his body in sickly motions.
"You're back; you told me the pain would go away!" He screamed at me, but his face remained relatively statue like. He winced a little at the pain in his throat, but that was about it. For a second I thought he was feeling better today, until I reminded myself of the awful position he'd put his body into.
"When did the pain come back?" I asked him, setting down a tray of rubbery pancakes and pulpy cups of orange juice. He whimpered into his pillow, his head now gone astray from his body. I didn't know what to do, and the thought of sedating him again made my stomach turn. It wasn't fair to him - a grown man in so much pain that he couldn't even control his own body.
"Please don't lie to me. Too much lying, you aren't allowed to lie; you're too good and pure to be like any of them." He began to cry, big fat teardrops falling from his eyes and soaking into the cotton pillow beneath him.
He didn't know what he was talking about. I was nowhere near good and pure. In fact, aside from the fact that I did help people every day, I was the complete opposite. When I was a teenager, I hated my parents, especially my father. He was a military officer, and always left us to join his troops and fight. My life was always filled with a constant worry and a fear of answering the door one day to two police officers there to deliver bad news. Then one day my dad became quite ill, but I wanted nothing to do with him or his illness, and decided to abandon him like he did to us for so many years. Never in my life would I have thought that something other than his job would kill him. I was seventeen.
I brought myself back to Oliver and his writhing figure on the bed. I couldn't take watching him anymore. I extracted another syringe and pushed the clear liquid into the IV line. Once again, within ten minutes, Oliver went limb, breathing evenly again. The heart monitor beeped steadily behind me.
It was back. The fire that could not be extinguished. It flashed and engulfed me everywhere. There was no escape.
I'd only felt like this once in my life, but that time I'd embraced it, I'd deserved it. That was the day I had come home from work and saw my wife's suitcase piled up on the front porch, and her in the kitchen calling a cab to take her away.
I'd had a lot of bad days in my life, but nothing compared to this one. Not only was reality sitting on my shoulders and making me realize that my family was no longer together and there for me, but my belief in any hope of recovering was slowly disintegrating as well. She couldn't take it anymore, she had said to me. The constant worrying and the smell of medical induced vomit and clumps of hair in the drain after every shower. She didn't know what to do anymore. So she was leaving me to die alone.
I had another appointment that night, only this time I walked in with my head held high, hoping - if someone loved me out there - that I would die that day.
But now, I don't deserve this. It's been almost twenty years and I'm still being drugged up, tested on and prodded like a lab rat.
Some shuffling around the room brought me back to the present.
"You're back," I spoke to my angel. The fire burned more, making me angry, reminding me what my angel had told me yesterday.
"You told me the pain would go away," I yelled at her, regretting it slightly, but so sick of being lied to. An unbearable ache zapped through my neck. I tried to get away from it, moving my head as far from it as possible, but it wouldn't go away.
"When did the pain come back?" she asked me in her melodic voice. I couldn't remember and I wasn't exactly keeping track of something like that. But that didn't matter, she was the one who told me the pain would disappear, but she lied, and angels aren't supposed to lie. She wasn't supposed to tell me it wasn't going to hurt, when really it feels like your lungs are being crushed. She was a bittersweet carving, beautiful but with so much emotion etched into her face.
"Please don't lie to me," I told her, needing to make sure that what I heard last night was actually what she said. She never denied anything, "you're not supposed to lie to me, you're too good and pure for that." Why was she prolonging things? Angels only came to visit the dying for one reason right? I was ready. I wanted to leave this place. I wanted to be able to stand up without my legs buckling underneath the weight of my body. I wanted to be able to run down a road and breath in huge lungful's of air. I wanted to die.
My mind began to blur as I was imagining myself at my daughter's graduation, the graduation I never got to see because I was too sick to get out of bed that day, no matter how hard I had tried. Little pockets of the dream began to fade and eventually everything just turned black.
"He's dying and he's in pain and he's given up." I looked over at Oliver's sleeping figure, happy for a brief moment to see him lying in peace.
"There's nothing we can do Olivia, we need family consent." Dr. Peterman, the man who did all of Oliver's testing, said.
"He has no family! His wife left him and his daughter refuses to see him."
"Why do you care so much about this one man, Olivia? People die every day."
"Because someone has to!" I felt like I'd been slapped in the face.
"He's not your father Olivia, stop treating him like he's the father you were never there for." That one felt like he'd just swung a metal crowbar against the back of my head.
"I'm sorry, there's nothing I can do." The doctor left the room, leaving me standing there bitterly.
"I'm sorry, Oliver." I whispered, slow tears running down my face. I'd been around death for almost twenty years now. I'd watched middle age women die of breast cancer; I'd watched young children suffer from leukemia. I'd seen people bleed from the inside out, but Oliver was not someone I could bare to see suffer.
"Nothing I can do." Those were the first things I heard when I'd woken up. I'd just caught the tail end of the conversation before lapsing into another deep dreamless sleep.
The next time I woke up it was night, the light of the moon shone through the cracks of the blinds. Another beautiful night that I could only imagine, but never actually be a part of.
The heart monitor beeped steadily beside me. My hands clenched the hospital blankets and my body slowly ignited again. I wasn't sure how much longer I could keep this up. It felt like someone was turning up the heat every minute that went by.
I couldn't hold it in anymore. I drew in a breath, and let out a howl. Twisting and tossing in my sheets. I was tired of being restrained and held down and sedated and controlled. I just wanted to die.
I kept screaming like a child throwing a temperament when they didn't get what they wanted, and then, as soon as it had come it was gone. Like someone had walked over and switched off a light. A calm and serene feeling spread over me. My body sagged in the white solid hospital bed, melting into every crevice of my old tired body. My head was light and felt like it was being filled with helium.
The last things I left behind were a heavenly glimmer of light walking out of the corner of my eye and the long monotone screech of the heart monitor.
"Thank you, my angel," I sucked in my last breath of air and fell into the most welcomed sleep ever.
It was chilly out, despite the comforting rays of light spilling out of the sky. The wind was soft and caressed my body as I walked along the damp over grown grasses of the local cemetery. I walked for about fifteen minutes, heading towards the back of the large area. The farther I walked, the more isolated it became and fewer graves surrounded me. I set out to find one in particular.
Once I finally found it, kneeling down in front, I read the dates engraved on the headstone. That's all there was on it, and a shot of guilt and regret flooded through me. I inhaled a shaky breath and bowed my head. After a few minutes of silence, I rose and as I turned away, I whispered softly, "I'm sorry Dad."
Close to the front of the entrance, Oliver's grave stood tall. Written on the front in fancy italics was,
Oliver Clayton Meloany
June 8, 1950 – October 21, 2011
Loving father and always fighting
My eyes stung, hoping that at some point in the numerous years that I had known Oliver, I had made him feel somewhat at a natural peace. Walking out of the graveyard, I closed my eyes, and prayed that somewhere, Oliver was running along a beach, rays of sun filtering through him and brightening up his soul, making him feel like the man he never got quite the chance to be.