Mind you, this is an early draft. All comments and observations are welcome.
Hilary Van had been a Nurse’s Assistant on the graveyard shift for three years in Memorial’s Post-Intensive Care Unit. She had started out as a Candy-Striper when she was thirteen, and now, at twenty-one, she was in her second year of the three year Nursing Program at Hawthorn Valley Community College. Her mother was a nurse at Memorial as well. She was named after her mother, Hilary Marie, and since her mother used Marie, she was called Hilary from the start. Her name pretty much described her, as one might determine how a ‘Hilary’ might look, even though it may be a bit unfair to make such an observation. Her hair was naturally blonde and fine. If she had to describe her face, she would say it was too boyish, too squared off and would say nothing about her complexion for it was rarely, monthly, a minor issue. If asked to describe her body, she would first say that she wished she were taller than her five-foot-one. She did not publicly talk about her boob size or hips, even when friends were commiserating about their own, looking for assurances all the while. But one could not say it was because she was modest, for she rarely crossed her arms when she felt a sudden chill and she did not worry about wearing a swimsuit, although preferred a one-piece. In high school, she had been the swim-team captain and still loved all water sports. Yet she never had a tan. She had the same boyfriend throughout high school, and when he went away to college, she wrote to him once a month. The letters were discreet and informational. They had agreed to see others, and he had informed her that he in fact was dating someone. She was not and wished him all the best. She studied and went to work. She spent her school vacations catching up with friends who still lived nearby. Everyone in her family and all family friends said she would make an excellent nurse, and as such a consensus was usually on the mark, so it would be for Hilary; and if she worried about anything, it was that many of her co-workers did not share this sentiment.
Hospitals are a lot like restaurants. Hilary had made this observation when in high school she went from Candy-striping to working part-time at the local cafe, “Puss’s.” (If people knew what went on in the kitchen, they would not order the liver and onions.) She had returned to the hospital as a Nursing Assistant with the expressed goal of becoming a nurse. Both her mother and father had encouraged her to become a doctor instead, and she hadn’t ruled out that possibility; but first things first. She could work her way up to med school after nursing.
But to be quite honest, while perhaps others thought of doctors having a sexy occupation, she believed that nursing not only did the patients a world of good better than prescribing and diagnosing, it was a more intimate, and therefore sexier and more sensual than being a physician. Doctors never spent much time with the day-to-day, body pains and functions. They never cleaned a patient, swabbed the upper quadrant of a butt cheek for an intramuscular injection. And the surgeon, while he or she can claim intimacy in a sort of violating manner, for the most part still did their thing while the patient was anesthetized.
In a way, it also took her a bit by surprise that her parents would encourage her to be an M.D. Both had advanced degrees, her mother an M.S. and her father a PhD., but both had few nice things to say about doctors as a whole. Mom always complained about their attitude toward the nursing staff, especially the male physicians (the gynecologists were the worst). And Hilary knew her Dad felt the rift between the status given to psychiatrists over psychologists. By and large she felt the same way about most doctors she had to work with as well.
The stories she could tell! The stories her mother told over dinner each night! The surgeon coming into ICU with horse shit on his boots. The post-op abdominal bleed that the Chief of Surgery allowed to go on so long that another doctor finally stepped in and took over the case. The liquor on the breath, the messed-up meds, the misdiagnoses, the list of complaints she took to the Administrator, only to see them diplomatically put aside with a casual admonishment of the offender.
Word came to Marie during a very similar administrative meeting that the ambulance was bringing her husband into the ER. “Unconscious” was all the information she could get from the nurse who paged her. She beat the paramedics and her husband to the Emergency Room doors. Once outside, she unconsciously took out a cigarette and lit it, for this is what she and the rest of the smokers at the hospital did when they went outside. It was a matter of efficiency because who knew when she’d get another chance to smoke.
Marie had been smoking since she was twelve, as did all of her friends who still lived in the area. Mistakenly, she sometimes thought it was a rural thing, but just like teenage pregnancy, she knew it really wasn’t. It went much deeper. Her parents smoked; but it went still deeper than that. Perhaps she hadn’t been breast fed. She had never worked up the nerve to ask before her mother passed. Eggie and Hilary did not smoke, and as grateful as she was for that, she could not see herself as a non. Besides, the smoking still kept her weight down, which she knew was probably a fallacy, and now in her early forties, even if it were to help, she also saw that it was beginning to lose its efficacy. She couldn’t help the tits sagging but her stomach and thighs were filling out despite her running around at work and pack-a-day habit. But there comfort was to be found. As long as she was putting on a few pounds each year, she used the weight gain as a sign that the smoking had not yet brought on cancer.
Someday, she had mused, when cancer is curable, people will use the disease as a weight loss program, letting the disease cells multiply to the point where a certain degree of emaciation occurs, say twenty or forty pounds, and then the cure kills off the bad cells. People will have cancer injected instead of liposuction. As absurd as it seemed, she saw the feasibility and also thought it humorous in a manner that is unique to medical personnel, social workers and cops.
Surrounded by death that much each day, she knew she had grown calloused and protected her humanity with the sick jokes. One just had to survive the suffering, the mourning and idiocy she was subjected to on a daily basis. And, perhaps because she saw death daily, she did not fear her own: and because she controlled her emotional responses to the smells, blood and other assorted horrors she had to relieve or remedy. Yet she knew she would not be prepared for her husband’s imminent arrival and, although still unclear as to what had actually happened, his physical condition.
She and Eggie had talked about how they imagined their deaths. It was a bit of an indulgence that had become more common since they had each turned forty. Eggie saw the consideration a natural, almost logical phase in life and the aging process. He had said, “When I can multiply my age times two and know that the odds are I won’t be alive when that number of years since my birth has passed, it is time to resolve that the second half will be better spent, and I will endeavor to live a fuller life. Marie, on the other hand, tended to think less about her own death and more about that of her loved ones. These were the people she knew without a doubt loved her as well, and she prayed to spare them the grief of her demise; instead she hoped that both Hilary and Eggie died before she. She could handle it better.
As the ambulance came up the drive, it turned off its siren but left its lights going. Marie thought that maybe today would be the beginning of the wish fulfilled. Yet, with the potential so close, she found that she was forced to revise. Hilary would be devastated if she lost her father. As the ambulance backed up to the entrance, she flicked her cigarette into its path and the back left tire smudged it out. If Eggie would have seen that gesture, she thought, he would have wondered if she was mad at one of the vehicle’s occupants. For a moment, she entertained the fantasy of having to kill her daughter.
The ER staff were ready for Eggie. Taylor V. Van, a forty-seven-year-old white male with what appeared to be snake bite wounds to the right leg and hand would be wheeled into cubicle four, and after vital signs and airway established, would be administered venom anti-toxin. This was the plan based on additional information they had received since Marie had been out on the ramp smoking and waiting. Stationed in North Carolina in the Navy, one of the EMTs had seen this sort of thing before. Otherwise, what Marie saw and was not prepared for, what she saw when the back of the ambulance was opened would have been misdiagnosed as a histamine reaction, perhaps to a wasp sting. Eggie was partly covered with a sheet, his clothes cut off and in a pile on the ambulance floor. His right leg swelled out over the boot top like a big shiny, dark eggplant. An IV had been started in the top of his left foot. His face was swollen with a succulent’s transparent stem of an endotrachial tube sticking between equally swollen, cracked and bleeding lips. The air bag was attached to an oxygen tank. Marie knew this scene indicated that the paramedics thought Eggie, although near death, was salvageable. What they really thought was that this was Marie’s husband and they therefore would go all out for one of their own.