A Celestial Discharge.
When I entered the doors of the new hospital in our town I was struck in awe by the wide hallways and large windows. Light streamed in from all directions. Tall white walls loomed around me like that of a grande temple. The voice of the tour guide was muted in the front row of people I followed. I was too busy being mesmerized. The building was beautiful. The stark difference between the older hospital to the new one was equivalent to the comparison between an old shed and a new shop. No more yellow wall paper pealed itself slowly off the walls.
As the tour proceeded, we walked onto one of the units. I do not recall which one exactly. I was delighted by the long hallways, wide actually wheelchair accessible doorways, and large windows with window coverings that functioned in every room. Memories of using bed sheets to cover the window flashed back in my mind. We would use plastic knives to hold them in place of the old broken blinds. Everything was fresh and new. The equipment was modern and untouched.
As I stood in one of the doorways to a patient room I realized that it was empty. I am not talking about being empty in the physical sense. I am talking about it being empty in memory. There were no patients lying on the bed, no memories of interactions with other staff, no memories of the white plastic zipper of a morgue bag. It was a clean slate, a room not yet stained by moments in the past.
As the hospital opened and patients started to fill the spaces. Memories started to fill the spaces. Our minds began thinking of people according to room numbers. “Remember 17?” We now say to one another.
I have a room like that in my mind. I was working the evening shift. My shift started at 3 pm and would end around 11:15 pm. When I arrived, after placing my personal items into the staff lockers, I looked at the slate to see where I was set to work. I was extra for four hours. I wandered out into the hallways to ask each team if there was anything I could do to help. One nurse asked me if I could give her patient a shower. The patient was doing much better and was going home. Without hesitation I said yes.
When I went in to introduce myself the patient was alert and friendly. She opened herself up to me warmly. She verbalized that she was delighted to have a shower. I helped her wash her short hair. As I washed her body she chatted about her life. She told me about her father. She said she loved her mother, but that her father was her greatest love. She described a relationship of openness and of sharing. She said she would run off the school bus to see him in the field. She would work along side him and he would teach her. She expressed to me how much she missed him. She felt lonely in her older age and missed that time of being a child. She told me more about her life but this one element stuck out most. She helped me dry herself off. I rubbed lotion onto her skin and rubbed her lower legs. She expressed her appreciation as I tucked her back into her bed.
Later that evening as I received my patient assignment she became part of my care load. I went in to see her and told her so. During a later interaction she started to feel cold suddenly. Her hands turned blue as fleshy bumps spread themselves liberally over her body. I placed warm blankets around her to keep her warm. I took her vitals and notified the doctor of her condition. I was worried about her. She was so close to going home, and almost free. I was worried she had acquired a pneumonia.
Later that evening towards the end of my shift I went in to see her. She grasped my hands with hers and asked me a question.
“What is it like to die?” She asked me desperately looking into my eyes. She held my gaze, and waited for a response. She expected an answer.
As she spoke I saw a picture in my mind of her father standing in the frame of an old wooden door called to her. I saw the image of a young girl turning to go through the door joyfully, smoothly and without effort. She just went in. Her perfect love and trust for her father beckoned her.
I shifted my weight on my feet nervously as my back arched over her from the bedside. I could feel the weight of what I should say upon me. Statements like “I don’t know, but I am here with you” came to mind. After all, I have never fully died before so how was I to know. This is a controversial topic, but somewhere inside of myself I let go of the performance because it was not about me. What did she need? So I just spoke out of the image I saw in my mind, and out of the previous conversations. So I said “I guess it is kinda like your Dad calling you in for supper. He stands at the door. You hear his voice and you just go because it’s time.”
She seemed to fill with peace. Something of her change in disposition communicated to me a satisfaction with the answer. I let go of her hands and tucked her fully into her bed. As I rubbed hand sanitizer onto my hands I knew I could not wash off that moment. I took it out the door and sat holding it at the desk.
This interaction left me contemplating what it is to die? I wonder if we feel it as we pass through the door? Is our body simply shed off of us like a costume? Is it a way made for us into the eternal by the voice of love that draws us in? Is it a voice that we know? Do we know this voice by the relationships we have formed through out our time on this earth? Maybe love calls to us in everything everyday. Maybe when we look out our windows and see the leaves shaped like hearts they tell us of a love story that’s yet to be fully known.
Could it be that death is in some way better than birth? That maybe the struggle in the body leads to a place we have no way of fully understanding until we arrive? A fetus before it leaves the womb only knows the sounds from within, until it enters into the light, and touches its mother or father does it fully experience the love that awaits it. My heart holds onto a hope that there is something far grander awaiting us on the other side of the door? I settle into the peace of not knowing, and hold lightly onto what I do. For one day in the hopefully distant future I will touch the face of love and see the light on the other side. I now stand in the doorway of that room and think of her for she has filled the spaces with her memory. She had travelled home after all, although not in the way any of us had originally anticipated, on a celestial discharge.
Beautifully written and thought-provoking. The comparison between the old and new hospital was vividly described and the memories of patients and interactions were poignant. The reflection on death and the hope for something greater was inspirational.
Civic Edge Lifestyle