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Beep – beep – beeeeeeeeep, the sudden sound piercing the silence. A sound to make the blood curdle, that no doctor, no person wants to hear. A sound that once heard, will repeat in your head over and over and over. I am no doctor though. I am a patient just like the elderly man now lying beside me, motionless, lifeless, and oblivious to what has happened to him. A man loved instantly by everyone he met and who changed my perception of the world. The perception that happiness wasn’t real unless created through the affects of drugs and alcohol. That my life wasn’t important enough to overcome these addictions. But it was. This man proved that to me.
Instantly, shock ran through me, creating gut wrenching emotions that flowed through my entire body. ‘What can I do?’ I stammered to myself. Despite the pain I reached to the panel next to my bed, fumbling for the emergency buzzer. ‘HELP’, I screamed, ‘HELP’. Struggling, I escaped from the tight sheets constricting my body and hobbled over to the corpse, eyes still open, unconsciously watching the 7pm news, too peaceful compared to the situations horror. ‘DOCTOR. NURSE. ANYONE. HELP. THIS MAN ISNT BREATHING’, I yelled impatiently. Suddenly a young nurse arrived frantically in the small hospital room calling deafeningly for extra assistance. ‘He isn’t breathing’, I croaked. She ran over to the lifeless man, pushing me aside, and started compressions on his frail chest. ‘One, two, three…..’ she counted before attempting to breathe life back into his lungs. I stood by the closed window, watching, waiting for any sign of movement from my friend. Nothing. After what seemed like a millennium a male doctor briskly entered the room; his face stricken with anxious determination. Unexpectedly, he shot a worried look straight in my direction, giving me the impression that I was to leave the room. Even if I had wanted to move, I couldn’t, my entire body was glued to the floor’s very surface. Chhhhhhh. The blue curtain was quickly drawn around the nearby bed, excluding me from the scene, enhancing the fear and adrenaline now running wildly around my pained body. Then the words I dreaded to hear were uttered by a quiet but trembling voice from behind the blue curtain, ‘Time of death, 13:23’.
I sat, too weak to stand up any longer. I had never experienced anything so horrible before. Never witnessed the death of someone close to me, or anyone for that matter. What could I do? How could I make this all go away like a bad dream? My heart was now thumping hard and fast, it felt as though it might break through my skin in its attempt to escape. As though once my heart was free, these intense feelings of loss would end. I wanted to burst out crying, but I couldn’t. I just sat, thinking, remembering. Remembering that this man who is now gone had shown me what the world could offer, and now what it could also take away. Suddenly the first words this man ever spoke to me entered my head. It was the first day I was omitted, I was angry and scared and had no one to call or visit. I think he could tell I needed help, or even just a friend to get me out of the situations I had caused myself. After a few hours and tears on my behalf the man tilted his head and said, ‘Have you ever been overseas son? I’ve been all over. Just got back from Italy, so beautiful.’ With no reaction, he paused then after a few moments quietly and sympathetically said, ‘It will be ok son. It will get better’. This was the beginning of what led to hope, realisation and the chance for freedom from my addiction. It was the beginning of a friendship I would always remember and cherish.
But death had overtaken this man. The man who was chatting away as usual just hours ago about his countless thrilling exhibitions around the world emphasising how he managed to achieve a fulfilling life from what seemed like nothing. I needed to make a change now so I could have accomplishments that were worth sharing with others like this educated man had. To avoid being taken over by the rapidity of death before I had the chance to improve my life and make a difference. I had to change.
The blue curtain cut me off from my friend like a great blue barrier. It taunted me as it rippled with the various movements of the medical staff. I continued to sit on my gurney, forgotten. Not able to deal with the situation anymore, I clasped my face with my hands and leaning over, began to sob, hoping that the pain would drain out of me like a bathroom tap. Hoping that when I lifted my head these emotions would all be a dream. My friend would be eating his lunch, not leaving a single crumb. He would be in his bed watching TV or sharing some proud past memory with whomever would listen. I always listened. I loved to listen. Suddenly noises from behind the curtain brought me back to the situations reality. My friend was dead. I knew that I was not dreaming. It felt too real.
Suddenly a warm, pale hand rested softly on my shoulder, and not surprised I looked up to see a young nurse kneeling in front of me with a look of sadness. ‘Let’s take a seat outside’, she stated softly, but with a tone not giving me an option. I didn’t argue. I had no strength to argue. I stood up, not saying a word, and moved outside to listen as she compassionately explained that the man passing was caused from heart failure. It was like she thought I hadn’t heard what was happening behind the curtain. But I had. I had heard everything, every whisper, every move. I knew though, that she was only trying to make the situation less painful for me, but it didn’t work. Nothing would work. It felt as though this vivid memory would haunt my consciousness for eternity.
Abruptly the door of my hospital room opened, and, one by one, the remaining staff walked slowly out heads down, as they wheeled the gurney which contained a body-shaped bulge covered by a bleach white sheet. ‘Where are they taking him?’ I asked the nurse restlessly as they disappeared down the corridor with my friend. ‘The morgue’, the nurse replied without thought, ‘Come on and we will get u lying back down’. After a few moments I stood, and as the nurse supported me I walked slowly back into the now quiet and eerie room. They’d taken away the body and packed up the man’s few meagre belongings. All traces of him had been cleaned and removed; the bed was stripped of its linen, leaving the room clinical and cold. With no radio, no book, and nothing on TV, all there was to do was allow thoughts of this incredible man to run uncontrollably through my mind. His stories, his experiences, his life.
This man didn’t deserve to be on a gurney with a sheet covering his head, with the breath drawn out of his body. Life was oozing out of every word and movement he produced making me realise there was something more than my current life of drugs and alcohol abuse to be discovered. That my past experiences and memories that resulted in loss could be pushed aside and replaced with love and friendship and worldly adventures. I could fix the circumstances I had created. I could fix the hurt I made my family suffer. I could change.
I missed him. The old man had shared his life journeys of travel, emphasising all the amazing people he met along the way. Some were rich, some poor, but all had a story. He had shared adventurous stories from travelling to China and walking along the Great Wall to Paris and seeing the Eiffel tower. But his life hadn’t always been easy. While we were bedside neighbours he had shared amazing experiences of loss and confusion, and of how his beautiful wife and children changed his life. A life riddled with alcohol abuse and overdoses’ that often led to sticky situations not unlike my own life. Hospitalisation. Loss. But always hope. Hope that somehow there was a way to get away from the harmful circumstances that seem, at the time, inescapable. He had promised to help me, be there for me, and enable me to break out of this situation that I was entangled in. But he is gone now so I need to do this on my own. I will do this on my own.
In search of a distraction I scanned the room for anything to divert my thoughts for just a minute from the immense pain this man’s death was causing me. All of a sudden the closed, covered window in the small white-walled room unexpectedly drew my attention. It had never crossed my mind to open the curtain before. I had barely even noticed the windows existence. Not knowing what I would find, I got up and slowly hobbled towards the window, anticipating what was on the other side. My hands quickly grabbed the floral curtain and thrust it open in one sharp movement. Completely surprised I found myself looking out at a park filled with people and willow and fig trees that danced gracefully with the wind over a large and colourful lily pond. People were enjoying the day in groups of friends and family surrounded by the wildlife of the park with children sliding and swinging on the playground just metres away from me with not a care in the world. My eyes opened wide, remembering when I was that age, when I was healthy, when I wasn’t scared of where I would wake up, or if I would wake up. I was addicted to a life revolving around drugs, forcing me to lose my family, my friends, and my youth. But I will change. It was my fault my life turned out this way, and only I can move myself forward and win back the respect of those who I’ve lost.
Suddenly, as fast as a bullet, the thought of my friend shot back into my thoughts. From the minute we met there was no judgement about my life and no questions as to the decisions in life I had made. No expectations to change then and there, or even at all. It was never mentioned, but I knew the reason for him sharing his stories. So I could change. So I could be provided with some hope. I felt a connection stronger than ever with this man, and I knew there was a mutual respect. It was clear he had understood and experienced the same constant struggles to survive in a life of hardship much like me. It was clear he knew what a huge step it was to change, and it was through his stories that I realised the detrimental effects my actions could have on my sister, on my parents, on me. He made me realise that life could end in a heartbeat. That life needed to be lived and experienced to its full while the opportunity was in my grasp. He changed and so can I. My change starts now.