The Doctor-Patient Relationship
The patient lies in bed quivering, a white blanket wrapped around his scrawny figure like a damp cocoon. An I.V. drip hangs loosely from his right arm; a needle has been inserted into the vein and is taped flush. I hover above him in the darkness, watching the pained expression upon his pallid face while he sleeps; it is like a gift from some dark angel of dream, or a beautiful white mare of night. Many of them have this look in the days and weeks before death comes to steal them away. My guess is that this one won't last for more than another 24-48 hours.
…I check his vitals. His skin is cold, and he barely moves when I touch him. "I'm just going to check your vitals now, Mr.-" The name is hanging from a tag, but I cannot make it out. The ink on the tag is smeared, as though someone had dripped some sort of fluid onto it. We used to laminate the seals, but the director of the hospital, in an attempt to save money from our diminished budget, now uses paper not much thicker than the sort one uses to write memos to oneself. The name isn't important. Soon, the man will be without name anyhow, as before he was born. Then the tag will be discarded, the body will be disposed of, and another will take its place in the sick bed I now tend.
I am walking down the corridor with an empty syringe in my hand. This may have happened earlier, or it may follow my visit to Room 101, Bed AB3. (I haven't written it down, so I don't know exactly.) What matters is that I am walking down the corridor with an empty syringe in my hand. The former patient's name may have been Jack or Jake or Jason, now that I think about it. I had visited his room previously, before the tag had been smeared; of this I'm fairly certain. Perhaps it was even I who had dropped liquid on it? I walk down the corridor with the syringe and nod to another of the nurses on duty. Bette, I believe. Bette Something-rather. She has a young husband, a five year-old son with Down's Syndrome, and a pet gerbil named "Blanc," or maybe it was "Blanche." Why I remember this I don't know. She's not a bad person, just a bit eccentric. Some say that I am eccentric, though I don't really think so.
Now I am in the room, this room. I can tell you that, after a while, they all start to look the same, sound the same, smell the same (both the rooms and the patients, that is). I hover above the patient in the dark. "I'm just going to check your vitals now, Mr.-" but, again, the tag is smudged and I can't read the name. In fact, I'm not even certain whether it's a "Mister." It's just a hunch I have from the way the body is crumpled up beneath the blanket (sickness tends to make a person more androgynous. It's not so much a matter of male or female as it is of "sick" or "near death" at this stage). It is dark in the room, as I've noted. The patient's name will remain a mystery to me for the time being. I don't need to know it anyway. I'm just doing my job. He (or she) hasn't got long; of this I am certain. Anyway, I…
I am walking down the corridor. I am walking in the opposite direction as before. (Or as later, as the case may be. I'll have to check my notes.) And there's Susanne, another nurse-on-duty. Widowed. No kids, no pets. Eccentric? A bit, perhaps, though I find her to be dull, mostly. Some say I'm dull, though nothing could be further from the truth! The syringe… The syringe is in my hand. It is still full of liquid, clear liquid. Room 101, Bed AB3. That is where I am headed now. Yes, I am sure of this. But then the doctor, Dr. Tremoral, stops me. He asks me where I am going. To Room 101, Bed AB3, sir. Yes, of course, he says, nodding his head. That is where they all go with their sticky syringes. Be sure you get it in the vein, and don't make a mess. Yes sir, I say.
(I think Dr. Tremoral is sleeping with Peggy, another of the on-duty nurses. She is on her third marriage, has a one-eyed epileptic cat, and smokes like a chimney.)
I enter Room 101 some moments later. I approach the bed (AB3, according to my notes) and look at the tag in the darkness of the room. There is a name there, but before I can read it a few drops from the syringe have drip-dropped onto the tag, blurring the letters. No matter. I'm here to do my job, name or no name. I lean over the bed, open my mouth to inform the patient of what I'm about to do, but the bed is empty. What happened? Did they move Jack or Jake or Jason? I can't imagine. Perhaps he got up to use the toilet and took the I.V. along with him (the bag is attached to a mobile pole, after all). I'll just have to wait until he comes back. Then I'll be sure to "get it in the vein," as Dr. Tremoral advised.
Room 101. Patient appears to be lying in bed (AB3). Difficult to tell whether it is a he or a she beneath the covers. The nametag has been torn off by someone, perhaps one of the nurses on duty.
…I am holding the syringe, which is filled with a translucent liquid. Drops of this liquid have dripped onto my pants, making it look as though I have pissed myself. I pull the thin arm from beneath the covers and tap the sickly vein. I insert the needle, inject the fluid, two fingers on the patient's pulse. The pulse slows down; I extract the needle. I am walking down the corridor, an empty syringe in my hand. One of the on-duty nurses winks at me, the word "Doctor" on her lips. I wink back, concealing the needle in my jacket pocket and readjusting my nametag.