I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t pushed the nurses’ call button that night. What if I had been in the bathroom when he crashed and gotten back too late to help him? Or what if I had just waited for the nurses to heed the alarms that they seemed to ignore. Would everything have been different then?
As it was, even though I knew by then that he was a mean drunk, that he had few redeeming qualities, I pushed the button. I called for help, terrified of the idea of watching a man die, no matter how much he deserved it.
There was a flurry of activity as suddenly this man that they had been ignoring for hours proved to be more interesting than a case of drunken flu. Nurses flew in, looking at the vital signs that beeped slowly next to the bed. A doctor arrived, then two more. The vital signs flattened for a moment, a steady beep, and I breathed a sigh of relief. I had done what I could.
But the doctors and nurses had not. “Chest compressions!”
“1, 2, 3!”
A gurgle, then a cough, and his eyes fluttered. The machines began beeping again. “60 over 35! Hang a unit of O-!”
I kept quiet. Nobody had to know that I could open my veins to him, with my precious blood that was always in demand. Maybe they would run out. I already regretted my decision to push that button, but it was too late now.
One of the doctors looked up and noticed me in the corner. “You, out!” Glad for any excuse to leave the room, I grabbed my sweater and my purse and slipped out as they wheeled even more machines in. The nurse at the desk caught my eye. “He’s in good hands. You can go to the waiting room or grab some dinner now. Everything will be all right.”
Relieved to get away, I walked out to the parking garage and sat in my car for a moment. Tears came to my eyes. There is no better place to cry than the parking lot of a hospital. People look at you with knowing eyes if they look at you at all. There are legitimate reasons to cry at a hospital. But even with that permissive atmosphere, I could not let them fall. Weakness is not one of my sins.
The bruise on my arm ached. It had turned purple, with green around the edges. No, I thought, it would not be all right. Not like this. I started the car and headed toward the mall. I needed to eat or I would not be able to plan.