A Common Day At The Hospital
by Juan Carlos Catala
It's nearly the end of the year. Wind screams from the north, dropping the temperature rapidly. Birds glide with the currents around the treetops. Water from the bay reflects the azure sky spotted with a few puffy clouds. The natural elements blend with the major highway, clogged with traffic. A hospital sits nearby. Cars, taxis and valets swarm into the driveway and parking lot. A siren pierces the air as an ambulance arrives. Double glass doors open and close automatically as people, some of whom carry gifts and balloons, scurry into and out of the seven-story structure. A few wheelchairs are spotted. Medical outfits in various colors navigate in different directions. Urgency fills the air.
Although it's three o'clock in the afternoon and the sun is still shining, the room is shrouded in darkness. The window shades don't permit a single ray to enter. The door is cracked open, allowing a small shaft of light. Concrete silence keeps everything frozen. The sterile smell wafts through the air. A beeping sound pulses as steadily as a heartbeat. Monitors around the patient cast an eerie, blue glow.
The vital signs of Arturo Gonzalez, who appears to be in his late sixties, are vigilantly scrutinized. So is his identification card, which shows an already-deceased person. This has the medical staff and a police officer baffled.
Arturo lies in bed, in a coma due to toxic substances that built up in his blood, affecting his brain function.
The machines are his only companions, casting some light on his yellowish, sunken face. Straw-like gray hair is scattered across the top of his head. The dark shadows under his crepe-like eyelids are surrounded by prominent cheekbones while his skin seems to liquefy over his facial foundation. His porous nose allows two rubber tubes to penetrate it, administering the vital oxygen that keeps him alive.
Both of his jaundiced, bruised arms lie next to his body. A large IV line protrudes from a vein in each one, blending with another that is attached to a bag full of plasma hanging on a stand near his bed. A wide rubber band wraps around his left bicep and occasionally fills with air, squeezing slowly and gradually letting go. The monitor doesn't wait to display his blood pressure reading. On his right arm's index finger is a sensor with adhesive tape which leads to a thin, orange cable that blends with five others emerging from various parts of his skeletal chest. In contrast, his belly, enlarged with body fluids coming from leaks on the surfaces of his liver and intestine, looks gigantic. The skin is stretched to its limit, becoming more transparent. Blue veins and red dots are drawn on its surface, as Arturo's blood pressure increases and blood accumulates in the principal veins. His blood must find new ways back to the heart, filling up the tiniest vein. A small catheter hangs from his belly. It is used to perform paracentesis, a procedure that connects it to a system which slowly drains the accumulated fluids into bottles. His legs, covered by a light blanket, are also swollen with fluid.
Gonzalez is homeless and was found lying in the street, gravely ill due to his liver, which was diagnosed with a very advanced case of cirrhosis. An illness provoked by overindulgence in alcohol, which injures and kills the cells in that organ. As testimony to the diagnosis, a half-liter of whiskey was still near him. Every time the organ's cells reproduce, scar tissue replaces normal liver tissue. The scar tissue damages the vital organ's normal structure, which upsets the normal flow of blood through it. Also, less protein than normal is produced, leading to water buildup. With the filter blocked, his whole system is clogged.
An ambulance took him to the hospital, thanks to a good Samaritan who called authorities. His doctors, after performing several tests, aren't even considering a transplant because of its complications with other organs. They have exhausted all other options. They are worried; their hands are tied. In other words, he's terminal…and alone.
Time stands still, waiting to move forward again. But there's no sign to continue. Silence still seizes it. His respiration is heard as a quiet reprimand to a loud noise. Softly…softly…it stops.
In the middle of this emptiness, slowly a bright light appears in front of his bed, piercing through his eyelids and provoking a sense of discomfort in his eyes, enough to wake him. He tries to open them but the brightness doesn't allow it. Through his eyelashes, he can observe a figure standing near his bed, watching him. A great fear possesses him but instantly he hears a smooth voice saying, "Don't be afraid."
The light diminishes slightly, allowing him to fully open his eyes to see who's standing at the foot of his bed. Shocked by what he sees, he trembles from head to toes. He exclaims: "My God!"
Again the light brightens, blinding him. He hears the voice again. "Are you tired?"
"Yes, sir, very tired," he responds.
"Come with me, I want to show you something," the voice says.
He sees a hand in front of his face, and with real effort he stretches his body, reaching out to grasp the hand. When he comes into contact with skin, he gets a strong grip, and something very strange happens. The whole room lights up, and he moves easily to sit at the edge of the bed. The pain has vanished. But the machines in the room start to sound louder. As the hand pulls him from the bed, he finds himself with both feet on the floor, slowly standing up. Tentatively he puts one foot in front of the other.
With every step he takes away from the bed, the monitors' sounds sharpen and increase their speed. Although he has his eyes open and everything in the room is lit, he can't see his companion. He can only feel the hand guiding him. When he walks through the door out of the room, the sensors and monitors are already out of control. They immediately fuse into just one drawn-out "beeeeeeeeeep."
Now he's in the hallway. Several medical assistants and nurses are racing down the hallway, passing by him. They look alarmed. He jumps to the side to avoid being trampled. "Whew," he exhales.
He watches where they are running to. He sees a police officer standing at the nurses' station. He asks: "What is happening? A fire?" But there's no answer, although the officer moves his head to the left and right with curiosity on his face.
Still pulled by his companion, Arturo continues to shuffle down the hall. He has no time to watch the medical staff enter his room. He slowly disappears around the next corner.