hospital 003“Sleep is the doorway to death,” the night orderly tells me, in her lilting West Indian patois.  Her name is Sabon, and she is from Kingston, Jamaica.

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 hospital 011Rapid 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.

hospital 005“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.

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