Important Small Talk This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

January 13, 2012
Phones ring, buzzers sound, lights flash while white tennis shoes rush down the linoleum floor. Shrieking patients restrained to their beds startle visitors passing in the hall. Ann’s second home, Milford Hospital, with its white walls, exhausted nurses, and new construction needs volunteers to maintain the personal contact with its patients. After a year of constant hospital stays, Ann feels the isolation and depression settle.

“I only have one brother left. I live alone in my apartment with no reason to leave my bed,” said Ann, when I returned with her water pitcher. This dismal statement doesn’t represent Ann; she’s full of life. Her spirit lives as a child’s, but inside under all the choking sorrows, which overflow in her lap. The inner child can’t speak, sing, or dance, when everything around it decays.

After standing on my feet all day, I sit on the empty bed across from her. Inhaling seems second nature to me, but Ann struggles with violent coughs, wheezing for oxygen. A clear cord connects her to life. Thirty years of smoking has burned Ann’s lungs into blackened ashes, causing emphysema. A machine-operated human, Ann breathes, excretes, and digests food by tubes.

Initially, I feared spending my afternoon with this old woman, since my grumbling stomach informed me of the hunger that needed satisfaction. I’ve spent many afternoons with patients who needed attention; even I’d appreciate someone listening to me, when I’m isolated in my room. Today, I wanted some peace and quiet with my food, but it didn’t happen.

Ann told me intimate details about her family history and her marriage. Unfortunately, she’s now a lonely widow with one brother who lives in Connecticut.

She spends her days in her apartment, never leaving: her groceries are delivered, doctors make house calls, and her associates are dead. Sympathy fills my heart as tears enter my eyes, picturing Ann’s frail body in a shabby apartment without a soul. Ann smiles profusely in my presence, and I wonder how long it has been since she’s enjoyed a simple conversation with anyone – who would spare the time?

In my four years, I have had many responsibilities as a Milford Hospital volunteer: providing information to visitors, running from one department to another delivering mail, changing restriction information, feeding patients, answering questions, and making “small talk” with patients. Today’s “small talk” reminded me how easily a person blends into the background. Ann thanked me many times for spending an hour with her, sharing my time when the busy world forgot her.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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