Beep. That beep again. It sounds regularly, focusing the entire worldon one point, one crucial sound that defines the difference between life and death. It’s aharsh noise in still air, and I look at the machine with placid interest. It talks to me and tellsme “You are barely alive,” and I find it ironic that this invention runs on batteriesand calculates with numbers that dance and rearrange themselves, altering how I will come out ofthis - that all of these things are more accurate than I may ever be. And I look at it and tell itto keep talking, keep beeping in a world full of x-rays and artificial life and talk of what can bedone. Full of everything but hope.
My eyes focus on one of the seemingly hopeful figures ofthis morbid little play, my father. He has just returned from talking to the doctor, talking aboutsurgery and “the options,” with all its quotes and iciness. It’s one thingI’ve come to despise, people talking about my death in front of me as if I somehow cannotunderstand when they say things like “lung failure” and spit out lowpercentages.
With my father comes the night nurse, the beautiful one. She has blond hair andblue eyes, the poster child for someone like Hitler (which, I realize, is quite ironic in thislittle death chamber) and I know before she speaks what is about to happen. There is a needle andinstinctive terror grabs my throat and suffocates me, and I know in that moment that I would ratherdie than get that IV. I clutch my dad’s hand and plead, “Please, Dad, don’t letthem. Daddy, don’t let them hurt me.” It is then that my dad cries, and it is then thatI am truly terrified and for the first time I fear death. That little tiny mark that still showsdispels every notion I have ever had of misery being better with company.
I cannot sleep. Itis too dark, and I refuse to accept that the darkness is nowhere but inside me. Sometimes I listento the nurses talk, realizing that quite possibly this ICU ward is the thing that separates me fromHell. The nurses are different ages and talk about dating and taxes and newborn babies that remindme of the bright world that is but a memory buried under this blackness. There is one woman whoworks at the computer who is like a grandmother, telling the others about growing wise with age andmaking mistakes. The blond night nurse is always going places; one night she got dressed at thehospital and came to show me her outfit, a bright blue top and a black skirt that fluttered aroundher knees. She twirled and looked wonderful, and it made me happy to see someone so full of life.
I am always thirsty. Some nights I ask for water that I am always denied because my liverand kidneys are on strike and it is possible that if I drink I will die. So instead I sit and praydesperately for rest, for some sort of relief. One night, my father brings his iPod and I put“Slide” by Goo Goo Dolls on and there is a loud, dull boom outside the window and thenurse tells me that it is the Fourth of July, didn’t you know? And I listen to the fireworks,but cannot see the colors that must be vivid and maybe even cheerful. In the hospital, everythingis gray.
The days bleed together because I do not sleep, and on one of the 13 days I amthere, I am waiting to get an MRI when my oxygen tank runs out. Suddenly things are spinning and Iam a fish out of water, gasping for something that is not there. For a few moments, just a fewskipped heartbeats, I think of what it may be like to die, but then I am plugged into a wall andthe world comes back into focus and the beeping resumes its normal pattern.
As I lie in thisuncomfortable bed praying for sleep (either temporary or eternal), I see my parents. They aresitting at the foot of the bed in chairs that look like they would fit better in a kindergartenclassroom, cold plastic with shining metal legs. The rosary beads slip through my mother’sfingers like water, grace after grace and hope against all reason that I will come through this. Mydad sits motionless, and I can only imagine what he may be thinking about me.
There is atime, somewhere around 4 a.m., when my parents are forced to leave for an hour so that the nursescan change shifts and talk about how the patients are really doing. My weary mother promises thatthey’ll be back soon, and as I watch them walk out the door hand-in-hand I see that they areprobably as bad off as I am. Finally I sleep, but it cannot be more than 45 minutes because the daynurse (with an apologetic smile) wakes me to take my vital signs. She’s followed by the twomen who take x-rays of my lungs every morning. As they prop me up on the bed, I see mymother’s rosary beads on the chair. It is then that I utter what may be the most genuine,needy prayer of my life: God, please. Let it keep going. Please keep beeping.
Author’s Update: I spent two weeks in the hospital last summer, my bodyfighting the staph infection that had started in my shoulder and spread through my bloodstream. Bythe grace of God, I made a full recovery. The downside? Using the excuse “Coach, Ican’t swim, my shoulder hurts!” just doesn’t cut it at practice anymore.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.
This piece won the April 2006 Teen Ink Nonfiction Contest.