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  • Writer's pictureRachel Levy

Getting Well Soon

A balloon floats in uselessness in the corner, slowly twisting back and forth at a mesmerizingly slow pace. Back and forth, back and forth; as I sit here bedridden for hours on end it gets me into a state of hypnosis. One side reads Get well soon!, the other Feel Better. One half is brown and the other light blue; a color combination that has irritated me for my entire life. Brown splotches on the blue side resemble something in-between a sun with circular rays and a COVID molecule to make for an unsettling and vaguely threatening design. The balloon provokes me from its corner and I don’t know why.

In another corner my wheelchair and walker are tucked neatly against the wall. They’re far enough away from my bed so that I don’t make an attempt to move without supervision. The third corner has the mirror I cried in front of the first time I saw myself after two weeks of immobility. The shock of seeing the weight loss to my face scared me into tears.

I sit in the fourth corner of my rectangular room, directly in front of the balloon and far away from the wheelchair.

A few orchids sit in the window next to a stuffed dog with hearts on its paws; I notice the dog has a better view than I do. It strikes me as unnatural to pot an orchid; it makes me feel the same shame I have when I see a toucan in a cage at the zoo. It’s a visual novelty but also a thing in a cage and it makes me sad. The tags still hang off the stems but, alas, they face the window so I’m not sure the price of the caged plant.

For institutions built to keep people alive, and one that has likely saved my life, hospitals are perfectly dead spaces. They have to be. In many cases, and certainly mine, the way they keep someone alive is by killing the thing trying to kill the person. Death is central to life in a hospital.

Friends come by and sit in a sterile, stiff chair and talk to me as I lay in bed. Hold on, I say as they first creep in. With a monotone buzz and painfully slow pace, the back of the mechanical bed raises to help me sit upright to face the person who will be staring at me for the next 45 minutes.

A few of them ask if I got the COVID vaccine with superstition in their eyes. This is Florida, after all. I relay the message that the vaccine at this time seems to be unrelated to Staph Aureus in the bloodstream and agonizing nerve pain. Eventually, yes, I’ll relent through gritted teeth, I do guess anything is possible.

It is true, after all. Anything is possible. Like transitioning from able-bodied 23-year-old to bedridden in a matter of hours.

Briefly, and barely, a hospital room can take on a romantic quality. It happens rarely and certainly not daily, or even weekly for that matter, but at the right hour sometimes things get extremely quiet and the sun shines through the window at such an angle as to cast long shadows across the room of various medical equipment and restricted botanicals. Shadows extending from the wires hanging down from an IV intermingle with the linoleum floors and steel piping of the in-room sink to make for a brief show of contrasting light and darkness.

It seems like something too nice to happen here. Like life is reminding me it throbs on just past the membrane of the window. Maybe it’s a show that even when encapsulated within the sterile ferocity of the hospital system, life pervades. Life pervades on the floor within the flowing shadows in the same way life pervades in my sick blood: both my own life and the life of a bacteria trying to kill me.

Life pervades in the eyes of my nurse as she hands me my plastic cup of painkillers at 10 o’clock at night as she settles into her 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift. I tell her I’ll skip my 4 a.m. dose of medication and she laughs, telling me she’d want the sleep too. She works two jobs: one during the day, and then this one all night.

Life pervades in the eyes of the nurse assistant, too, who was a lawyer in Mexico when one of her twin boys was kidnapped for ransom. After turning over her everything she had, he was killed anyway. Now she helps me walk to the bathroom and clears my tray of food when I’m done eating.

Life pervades in a hospital in more ways than one. The bacteria pervades the same way the orchid pervades the same way the nurse pervades the same way I pervade.

Fighting on: it’s a natural instinct, even in a place as cruelly unnatural as this.


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