Intensive Care

You are 24, I am 20. I sit on a chair at the foot of your bed. I’m your nurse for the night shift, but my job tonight isn’t to help cure you. It’s to watch over you as you die.

On the bench between us is a sheet of paper, next to that, a pen. I look at the monitors above your head and copy the numbers. Your pulse and blood pressure – unsteady. Your temperature – very high and rising. It’s not possible to remain alive for long at this many degrees. I move to your side, ease open each of your eyes, shine my torch into them, then return to my seat and write ‘fixed and dilated’ once more.

You look fit, apart from not being able to breathe on your own. A machine does this for you, the bellows airing their robotic soundtrack through the room. “Pfftt” every six seconds, pushing breath deep into your lungs, your chest rising and falling.

In the bed next to yours is an old woman. She’s expected to make it. At her feet sits another nurse, my age. We work together, help each other. Behind us in the windowed nurses’ station, the senior staff watch on, ready to come if the monitors signal alarm.

Your people don’t know yet. Strangers are trying to find them as I sit here with you. A doctor comes over and tells me this is what happens sometimes with an overdose. That the drug’s ability to alter you will continue, taking every perception you ever had with it, rolling you on, faster and faster, until it burns you out.

I go to the linen trolley and flick through the sheets, find the thinnest one, worn white cotton, lightest of touch on your skin. I dip a washcloth in cold water, squeeze it out and hold it to your brow, dab the corners of your closed eyes. I rinse the cloth and wrap each of your hands in its cool dampness. For your dry mouth, ice chips wrapped in gauze held softly against your lips.

I sit again at your feet and ask silent questions. What’s happening deep inside you, to your spirit, your soul? When does it leave? Is this just your shell, or are you still all here, body and soul in a soundless struggle?

Finally your heart stops. The doctor disconnects you from the machine. We wash you, the other nurse and I, first your front, then we ease you over to your side, lean you against me, hold you steady while my colleague sponges your back. Your skin is still hot. She and I talk quietly, sad for the loss, the waste, the parents, the brother, the sister, the lover, the others. We wrap you in a shroud, secure it with pins. I go to the nurses’ station, ring the orderlies, request a patient transfer to the morgue, then return and sit at your feet one last time.