“Hiya, Steve! How’s your day been?”
That’s Dana. She’s my night nurse, and I’m glad to see her. I’ve only been here three days, and she’s been my overnight nurse for the last two. She’s way nicer than the first one.
“I’m doin’ okay Dana, how about you?”
“Oh, the usual. Kids had a big day, lots of school stuff. It’s almost restful coming here for a while.” She laughs. Dana laughs a lot, actually. She seems like she’s just happy all the time. She’s in her late twenties, blond, with blue dyed tips, hair down about mid back. She’s got green eyes and kinda ruddy skin. She’s married, has two kids. I know more about her than I do about some of my friends at work. But being in a hospital is kind of a special situation.
“Well, we’ll see about that. Okay, I need to see how you’re really doing. Don’t be a hero.”
I guess this means it’s been three days since my operation. I don’t want to talk about it, not even now. The operation went well; the doctor is a good surgeon. But apparently I formed a seroma and if you don’t know what that is you’re lucky. In my case it means that in addition to all the other things I’m recovering from now I have a wound around waist level that gets packed with gauze every few hours. Dana covers me with a sheet and goes about changing the gauze and we both try to act like this is a normal human interaction. I try not to sweat or whimper and she says encouraging things like “this will close up soon, don’t you worry.”
And then the worst part is over and she starts putting my medications in my IV, conscientiously beeping each one and beeping my bracelet to make sure I’m getting the right drugs and that my insurance is getting billed for them. And while she does this we talk.
There aren’t many lies in hospitals. Some of the talk is very clinical, discussing the state of my digestive system after the surgery and how and where I’m hurting. But mostly we talk about life. She loves being a mom and loves being a nurse. She wants to have one more kid, her husband wants to finish his degree before they do.
Normally I’m very passive, socially. I don’t like answering questions about myself and my life. But Dana won’t have it and has drawn me out. She knows all about my less than wonderful breakup and my music and degree. And she always seems to actually be interested. Even though I know I’m just one of many patients she works with right now, and one of many more she’ll work with this year, she makes me feel like I matter.
“You’re a good guy, Steve, and I like talking to you.” is all she says when I comment on this.
the night passes and I’m only dimly aware of those hours. I try to sleep and Dana tries to let me sleep.
“Hey, sorry. Daniel will be here soon. I just need to change out that dressing one more time today…” and she’s back into the routine and I’m trying to be brave. She doesn’t comment on my gasps much, just apologizing that this happened to me and saying that it’s healing up well.
I can’t decide if it’s more embarrassing that Dana changes my gauze every time, or if it’d be worse to have Daniel do it.
Daniel is my day nurse. He’s tall, taller than me, black haired and blue eyed, and looks like an outdoor model who is slumming a bit as a nurse. he’s also endlessly friendly, but it’s different. Daniel’s job is mostly to get me to move around as much as possible, and to act like I’ve done something amazing every time I do. When he’s not working in the hospital he’s out “crawling over rocks” as he puts it, doing a lot of backpacking and some jeeping. I work out a bit, but I’m a city boy and he doesn’t make me feel bad about this.
“Hey we all do our own thing, yeah?” He says when, in a morphine haze, I mention this. “If you’re having fun, taking care of yourself and not hurting anyone, who cares what you do for fun, yeah?”
Daniel says “yeah” a lot.
It’s now my fourth day here and apparently I’m “making a lot of progress”, meaning I can walk to the bathroom and occasionally stumble around in a small circuit of the “block” here in the hospital. Daniel walks with me, talking about how awesome I’m doing and that I’ll be back home in no time.
On this day we also run into Doctor Jewell, the doctor that operated on me. This is the first time I’ve seen him where I wasn’t on an exam table or an operating table, or in a hospital bed. I’m amazed at how short he actually is when we’re both standing up.
Doctor Jewell is a likable guy, and he and Daniel get along well. He’s also optimistic about my progress, and calls me “sports fan”. Even Daniel winces a little. But it’s just his way.
I don’t have any family in town, so I’m mostly just in the hospital with the nurses and the books I brought with me. It’s hard to focus when you’re in pain, but I manage to get some reading done in the days when I’m more awake. I’ve been here for about five days when there’s a disturbance outside, in the hall. Something loud or rather louder than the usual quiet of the hospital. There isn’t any shouting, but there are people moving around, lots of feet, and lots of people using their serious voices. I can’t tell you much more about what happened. After a few minutes the main bustle seemed to die down and then there were fewer voices, but they’re all still very serious. It’s only when you hear everyone being serious that you realize how light they usually keep the tone here.
An hour later Daniel comes in with my pain medications. “Hey Steve. How’s it going?” His voice is light, cheerful and affable as ever. But his eyes don’t look happy. “Daniel, what happened out there?”
He looks sad for a moment. “Yeah, got kinda noisy out there for a while didn’t it? Sorry man, it’s nothing you need to worry about. Listen, once I get these meds in you we’ve gotta get you out of that bed. You’re making good progress, yeah? We don’t want to waste that.” And he scans my wrist tag and scans my medicine and makes sure the right meds are going to the right patient and in a few minutes I’m walking around the ward again. Everyone who sees me smiles. A few remark on how much progress I’m making. But nobody seems very happy.
I don’t see Daniel again that shift, except for a few minutes right before he leaves. After he leaves I decide I’m going to show Dana that I’m making an effort, and by myself I get out of bed and walk over to the chair in my room. It’s surprisingly painful, but I wait there with my phone for almost an hour before she comes in. When she finally enters her face is drawn and sad, until she sees me.
“What are you doing over there? Did Daniel leave you in a chair?” She asks.
“No, I came over here by myself,” I answer.
“What on earth for? Were you getting bored maybe?”
I’m visibly sweating and shaking; turns out I wasn’t meant to do this for another day or two for a reason. I try to sum up my rationale in a way that would make sense to a sane human being.
“It seemed like a good idea at the time,” Is the best I come up with.
She laughs, but there’s not a lot of humor in it. “What did I tell you about trying to be a hero? You could have at least waited until after you got your next dose of pain medication.”
“Dana, what’s wrong?” I ask as she gets close. She holds very still for a moment. Then shakes her head and smiles. “It’s nothing, don’t worry.”
“Someone died today, didn’t they? Someone you and Daniel take care of?”
“I can’t talk about other patients, you know that,” She says. But her eyes and face tell me all I need to know, “Come on, let’s get you up out of that chair and back into bed and get you some overdue pain meds.” She says, her voice mostly cheerful again. And she helps me up and holds onto me and I put my arm around her shoulders for support and make the long, slow, four-foot trip back to my bed.
And for a moment, just a millisecond my arm around her shoulders isn’t for support, it’s telling her I’m sorry for her loss.
And just for a millisecond her arm around my waist is saying “thanks.”