I am in the hospital my father died in. I had been visiting him with my six year old son during an early evening in a budding spring, and Dad coded as we arrived.
But that was a long time ago, and now I find myself in hospital for the first time since my son arrived, trailing clouds of glory, 30 years ago; a drastically different experience from this one.
I’ve got a nasty autoimmune disease, which will not kill me, but I’ll have it for life. It has proven over the two years since diagnosis to test my endurance almost daily. I am here for what is called a “flare-up,” and it feels as though the whole damn house is burning down.
A hospital is a restless place, full of noise and intrusions and constant loudspeaker calls for Rapid Response, Code Blue. “Sleep is the doorway to death,” I think, my father’s pallid drawn face so indelible in memory it almost seems as if he is in the very room I toss and turn in sweatily.
Sabon works away with little effort to hush the attendant clanks and slams and chatter on her headset. She sees she has startled me awake. I am desperately nauseated, stricken by the kind of dizzy sick that makes the peace of death seem almost attractive.
I try to gather myself, as sleep has fled so far as to seem impossible to attain again, ever. I ask Sabon why she left her sunny palm-fringed country for a gritty city with long grim winters.
“You do what you have to do,” she answers. She is very young to know such things. She has a round, child-like face. She does not smile. “Things are hard where I come from. I have kids to feed.” She notices the flat coke I am sipping with visible disapproval. “You have to drink hot water for the belly sickness,” she tells me.
Then she softens, and digs in her pockets for a moment, pulls out a wrapped candy, proffers it. “It’s ginger,” she informs me. “Ginger candy. Try it. It’s from my country. It helped me when I was sick with my babies.”
I take it from her, touched, unwrap it, pop it in my mouth. Its flavor is exotic and I can see how it might yield relief were I not past the point where only heavy pharmaceuticals via IV will do: the explosive flavor is too much for me, and I quickly slip it back into its wrapper, swallowing back the bittersweet taste.
“Thank you,” I tell her. “I will finish it tomorrow.” She smiles then for the first time, and her dark-complected face lights up like a lamp.
“Feel better,” she says. Soon I am asleep again, a miracle it seems, adrift in dreams and slow motion fractured memories. Then from the darkness my father emerges, whole again, young and handsome, and though I cannot clearly see him in the vaporous shadows, I know this to be true. “Are you OK?” he asks.
“Yes,” I say, and he is real as real can be. “Are you OK?”
“Yes,” he answers simply. “OK.”
And then he is gone, dissolved back into memory, to dreamtime. A great peace fills me and if I dream more this night, I cannot recall.