A Hospital Story



From my bed looking forward I can only see my feet and the darkness outside. Mom is by my side. The light from the lamp is behind her; I see only a shadow. She has her hands clasped in front her lips and an empty pail between her legs. When the cold air fills the room I can breathe. Exhausted, I lie back down. Twenty minutes later, I throw up, and then lie back down. Dad comes in with some clothes. I vomit again. We struggle to put the clothes on. Even though there is nothing to throw up, I do it again. My stomach hurts and I have a terrible taste in my mouth.

"Can you walk?" Dad helps me up.

"Yes." He and I walk to our neighbor's car, a tiny, white hatchback. The car's motor is running, and the front doors are open. I feel that I have to throw up again, but the feeling vanishes in the crisp outside air.

The car ride takes a quarter of an hour. My dad jokes with me by swerving the car left, then right, then left again. It's very enjoyable and I smile weakly from the back seat. The streets are deserted and we even run some red lights, stopping suddenly in back of a gray Dacia, just outside the hospital.

Dad asks me if I can walk.

"Yes." We walk for three minutes and I say, "No" and throw my arms up. He picks me up.

When we get to admission I vomit. There's only bile and spit to throw up. I'm left gagging with a bitter taste.

I take the same bed I always take. Before I fall asleep, I vomit twice more. A nurse comes in and hooks up my IV.

***


Usually, I was admitted to the same hospital in Bucharest. It was a large complex where each type of disease had its own room somewhere. My disease's room was buried in a one story building, on the outskirts of the complex. My disease's room had thin, high beige walls and windows that didn't open anymore. It had a once shiny floor and a medicine cupboard with medicine near the door. It had a hole in the wall over the bed next to mine where we could see in the other room. A rusty, light green metal nightstand accompanied every one of its twelve, rusty green, one mattress beds. Despite its nauseating amonia and bleech odor, it was obvious janitors had long since given up cleaning this section's bathroom.

The group of rooms that I was in didn't have doctors on call, just nurses. Doctors visited them every morning at seven before they went to work. Otherwise, the nurses were our only glimmer of medical attention. We saw them four times a day: In the morning when they escorted the doctors in and bullied us up from our sleep. At eleven when they came around with fries for those of us who got them. At two when they served lunch and lastly at five when they gave us our pills. Otherwise unless we wandered outside of the room, we didn't really see much of them.

***


The nurse wakes me up. "Come on! Get up, big boy like you, you should be up by now. Come on." The light pours through the big windows and makes me squint. In the bed on my right there's a girl about sixteen. Two beds down and across there is an unshaven older boy, about eighteen. There is a nurse by his bed also.

The girl gets up, stretches and bids everyone a good morning. She yawns. She's wearing a nightgown, the sheets are still covering her legs. The doctor comes in with a stethoscope hanging loosely around his neck and a clipboard in one hand. He stops first at the girl's bed. I sit up and turn around and hear the girl lift her nightgown. The unshaven boy is also facing the windows. His mom probably told him also to turn around when doctors come to check on girls.

"Does this hurt? How about this? Mm-hmm... cough." She feigns a cough. "Stronger." She coughs again. "Okay, well, I'll just sign the release. You're out of here today." The bed squeaks and there is a shuffling of feet. The doctor slowly comes around to me and sists down on my bed. I'm still looking away from the girl, examing the rust on the iron part of the bed facing me. I lift up my pajama top and wait for him. "Right, how are you Alex?" he flips through some papers. "How was the attack? Pretty bad?"

"No."

"Okay. Hmm..." He looks at his pen and hands it to the nurse standing behind him. She takes it. After a little bit of searching she hands him another one back. "Do you have a black one? Just that I started in black and-- Oh, thank you." He takes the other pen. "Okay let's see here." He puts his stethoscope on, wets his lips and proceedes. It's cold, and I shrink back. "Cold, huh? Breathe." I breathe heavily. "All right." He writes something and then gets up. I let go of the pajama top. The doctor goes on to the boy who was lying down with his shirt off.

I lay back down. Dad didn't take anything for me to do, and it is seven. The sun floods the room and I watch a cloud ease past the window. The doctor leaves. The girl leaves. I look after them and fall asleep.

***


Two nurses come in, each carrying two plates of fries. One of them waits by the door, and looks around. She comes up to me. "Where's Iacovici?" She barks at me.

"I don't know." I shrug. The boy is sleeping. The nurses leave and I fall back asleep.

***


I wake up and look around. Outside it's beautiful. There are no clouds in the sky. Two men walk beneath the window talking about forgein cars. I can't tell what the time is, but I'm sure it's past twelve. Except for a fly buzzing around, everything is still. The girl didn't make her bed before she left. I wish I could get up. I wish for food. I never get food the first day I'm here; I'm get food through the I.V.. I decide to just go back to sleep. It takes a long time for sleep to come, and I think about the soccer game on Saturday and what was going to happen to Remi in my book.

***


The door creaks open. It's mom. "Hi dear. I'm sorry, work wouldn't let me go." They never let her go anymore. Because of me, she has to leave early too much, so they don't usually let her go. She is carrying a black bag. She gives me a hug and a kiss. She takes out two squares of chocolate and smiles. I devour the chocolate. "This is your book, right? I also brought you this," she says taking out another book, ciresarii. "Thank you." I say taking the two books and putting them on the nightstand.

"How are you doing?" She says, taking my hand. "What did the doctor say?"

"I'm OK. Bored. He didn't say anything."

"Well, now you have a book. Oh, here." From the bag she pulls out my chess pieces and a board. "There's no one to play with, but maybe there'll be other people later." She puts the pieces on the nightstand. She shifts, and the bed squeaks. She takes out a small clock and places it next to the books. She tells me about her workplace. She says later this year, Ioana and I will be able to go pick cherries. Won't that be fun? I remember picking strawberries in the mountains. We smelled of them for two days afterwards. We had strawberry jam with bread and crackers too. I tell her I look forward to picking cherries. A little while later, Mom leaves to get the bus.

***


The next day I finish my book. I'm so happy about how it turns out that I don't feel like going on to the next book. I spend most of the day in bed re--reading parts of the book I liked. Early in the morning, the unshaven older boy leaves.

***


On the third day of my stay, in the middle of the day, they were brought in. Now I would have some sort of company that was my age. Their mother was with them.

After they settled down and the mother told them to be nice and went over with them what they shouldn't do, they all moseyed over to my bed.

There was a simple greeting. The cutomary how long have you been here, and then the mother extended a piece of fried chicken. I took it without asking if they were sure. When we engaged in some sort of conversation, the mother retreated and left us alone. Mihai, Gheorghe and I hit it right off. Gheorghe was seven, about my age but the age difference didn't make Mihai stop being friendly with us. They came from the country but we all liked Steaua, the better of the three Bucharest soccer teams. They were excited about Steaua's big win yesterday. Steaua was going to win the UEFA cup that year in an exciting match with Barcelona. Although the details escaped us, we all knew this at this point.

***


There wasn't a TV or radio, and we couldn't go outside and play. All we could do is sit around and tell jokes and stories. In his fourteen years of hospitals, Mihai had amassed a tremendous amount of jokes. When no one was tellng a joke, we tried to run around the massive room. The nurse promptly came in and commanded us to stop.

On our third day together, we had dried up the well of things to do. Gheroge had saved us from boredom by spontaneously jumping on the bed, claiming he could touch the ceiling if he did long enough. He bounced high and then he bounced on the bed next to his. It seemed a lot more un than the closed chess game Mihai and I had going. Gheorge bounced towards us, across the aisle and onto the bed we occupied. The chess pieces flew off the board and I knocked the board onto the floor also. Mihai and I started jumping on the bed.

A shadow crept through the window and we froze. We scrambled down. If the nurse had looked our way when she passed by, she wouldn't have suspected a thing. We lay down on the two beds we were bouncing on. As soon as she was out of view, we resumed. Quickly the game evolved into tag across the beds. The man who was "it" was allowed to touch the floor while the other people could only touch one bed twice before they had to move onto another.

By some sort of miracle, we spot the nurse coming back with an important looking blue binder. Again we all sit down where we were and talked. Gheorghe, who was next to door panicking, sat down on the floor where he was. I was all the way across the room, next to the window. Mihai, who Gheorghe was chasing, lay on the bed. I knew that this couldn't possibly look normal, yet she passed by. We converged in the middle of the room. The door burst open and the nurse rushed in. From the middle of the room, we turned to see her.

"Humph," she said, adjusting her puffy hair and shaking her head back. She exited. When her shadow disappeared, we collapsed where we stood. After a few moments of heavy breathing, we decided that we should really stop this. It wasn't healthy, especially for us.

Soon enough, I was "it." I chased Mihai but he was older, and he could bounce across the aisle. Then he stopped. I tagged him. According to the rules he couldn't tag me right back, he had to touch two other beds first. I lay down, exhausted. Gheorghe realized that he was next and started bouncing away. Then he stopped. The both stared ahead at the nurse. She had a wicked smile, her arms folded across her chest.

Both Gheoghe and Mihai were still standing up on their respective beds. She ordered us to hand over our underwear and our pants.

We stared at each other. Mihai shook his head. Gheorge turned to the nurse, pleading. "We'll be good, I promise." She said again we were to give her our underwear.. I got under the covers and removed my underwear and pants and gave them to her. By the time she picked them up, Gheorghe had already taken off his underwear. Mihai was urging him not to do it from across the room. I suddenly realized that I didn't have to do it, but it was too late for us two. She'd taken them. Mihai, on the other hand, kept his. When she came over to pull them off of him, he bounced away. She was an old lady in her 50s and a little over--weight. Even though Mihai suffered from chroic asthma, she had no chance. After a while of chasing him, she threatened him and left the room satisfied with herself.

I spent the next few hours in agony. I'd read my book and I didn't feel much like talking. In my book, there are five main characters that are on a terrific adventure in a forgotten cave. I wish two girls would come in, then we could be like the group in the book. And we can go on an adventure, discovering the entrance to a forgotten cave. I realize there are no forgotten caves in Bucharest. Even if there were, we would be able to run for ten minutes before one of us required medical attention. Also, I had no underwear. The book mocks me for a few more pages. I put it down and went to sleep.

At night, she came to tell us to go to sleep. I had crumpled the sheet around my waist. For some reason this bothered her, so she came over to cover me whole. She picked up the sheet. I gasped at her "No!" She laughed and went to get our underwear and pajama pants. Gheroghe coughed and weezed the entire night but was fine by the time the doctor came.

***


During visits, we told Mihai's mom what the nurse did. She wasn't very impressed. Neither was my mother. We didn't tell the girl who came in the next day.

***


I kept pretty much to myself, my books and my bed for the remainder of the stay. I kept a very careeful eye out for the nurse. I spent a lot of time thinking about the nurse. Whenever I saw her in the hallway, I ran back to my bed and started reading. When I left the hospital, I lost contact with Mihai and Gheorghe. It took seven years for my new appartment to get a telephone line, and, at that time, we were both in the process of moving. Three years later, I saw Mihai briefly. He didn't recognize me, and I never worked up the courage to say to him.

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