But little folk who will not climb
Into bed at the proper time
Get acquainted by-and-by
With Sleep’s big brother Hushabye.
“Ssssh,” says Hush to girls and boys,
“Go to sleep, and don’t make a noise.”
As he occasionally does, Stille Quiete looks up from the book—The Raibow Book by Samuil Marshak—toward his sister sleeping soundly on her hospital bed, the head section raised a little to her comfort. The transparent IV solution is dripping from the plastic bag hung from its hanger hook into the drip chamber slowly and regularly, and from there it curls down the tube through the roller clamp, takes a few circular turns where the tube lies in a few casual coils, flows through the needle and finally enters her body. She is recovering from a bad cardiac arrest.
“Eeeyouch!” This time the groan from the other ward is disturbing, both in loudness and the anguish it is filled with. “Mama! Aaaaugh! Somebody kill me please!”
The loud cry, cursing and howling in sharp pain continues in the hospital ward in the wee hour of the night when nobody—no patients and no attendants—makes a noise except for the whizzing of breathing and the rustles of shifting in bed once in a while and an occasional cough or two here and there. His sharp cry rings clearly in the silence and many wake up and sit up without complaining but worried.
“Something is really wrong with this guy.” Toiler Hard, husband of Lina Hard, the patient, turns in the cushioned divan on Stille’s left, which he has turned into a makeshift bed.
The sound disturbing to the others does not disquiet Stille, whose thresholds of the intensity of silence and noise are off the chart. But he quietly puts the open book face down on the steel bedside table with cabinets, walks out the door without a leaf, continues for a while in the corridor and disappears into the long ward on the other side.
With all lights out, the ward is semi-dark, lit only by the cold light from the lamps along the gravel path in the hospital campus on the other side that is thrown on the walls along with the skewed shadows of the windows. The man’s cry and cursing makes it easy for Stille to locate him in the semi-dark.
When Stille sees and approaches him, he finds the reduced, sixtyish-year old body of the man in agony from which the loud, high-pitched cry originates, and he restlessly tosses and turns in his bed in the semi-darkness attended only by a confused pre-teen boy who, at a loss, only keeps readjusting the blanket that keeps slipping off as the man writhes, and an old withered woman in head scarf seated on the naked floor (hospital floors—kneaded by restless shoes with dirt and floor cleaner and smelling of medicines and phthalates, triclosan, ammonia, chlorine and other chemicals—are a dreadful paradox of cleanliness and dirtiness) curled up and leaning on a wall near the foot of the bed, her forehead resting on a palm and the hand supported on the folded knees. A pathetic picture of utter confusion, hopelessness and resignation.
Stille rushes to the staff nurses’ station. In the low light of a power-saving night bulb, the place lies still, the swivel chairs and stainless steel stools empty; the several piles of files, record and register books ranged neatly on the desk, with a couple of medicine boxes lying in the spaces in between; and the visible corners of the open station harboring some unnamable dire-looking light pieces of hospital equipment and a couple of oxygen tanks clamped onto their carts leaning on the wall; a squattish off-white fridge humming at 40 Hz, quite peskily uncomfortable if you continually hear it in the silence.
They must be asleep, Stille thinks. He turns and looks around as he steps slowly, reading the door signs legible from this distance—Nurse Changing Room, Sterilization Room, and here is the Sister on Duty.
A nurse answers his knock and opens the door, her eyes crumpled from lack of sleep. Stille does not have to say much to identify the patient and his problem—she guesses it right and fast, which feels like there being something about it more than years of experience.
When they are back, Stille finds the light on.
“The sedative isn’t working?” She asks when they are at the man’s bedside, looking at the man and then at the empty tube attached to his hand and the plastic IV bag shaking caught on the hanger hook. Her control and casualness could not cover her irritation. The old woman on the floor turns and looks toward the nurse.
“Relax. You are on a sedative.” The nurse hates it that the emaciated man has so high a threshold or is refractory to α-2 adrenergic agonists. She goes round the bed to the other side, removes the connector from the cannula luer lock, caps the lock, casually coils the tube up and hangs the coil on the hook after capping the connector.
She must have been so fed up with that man that she then slips into scolding him loudly in the silence of the night. With a grimace he turns his head to the left and wearily stares at the wall, and his noisy complaints, cries, restless toss and turn stop all of a sudden as if an insensitive reproach were more effective than a sedative. Is he angry with the nurse? Or is he rather thankful that the nurse’s reproach pulls him back out of a dark abyss he has plunged into, like a 200–1000-volt shock defibrillates an arrested heart quivering into a final rest.
She swings the doors of the two cabinets on the bedside table one after another and looks casually into them. Then as she rises, she pushes the doors back in listlessly just to leave them half-open and leaves without a word further. A newcomer, who arrived the last evening just a few hours ago, Stille cannot not understand a thing about it.
“What’s he suffering from?” Stille asks the boy.
“I don’t know,” he says innocently.
The old woman has retreated into her somber silence.
The light goes out a few seconds after the nurse’s departure, and turning round to see any sign of who may be doing that, Stille catches, three beds away, a grainy glimpse of a black figure in the dark move from the wall and it fades into the pervasive darkness below the level of the beds. Used to gloomy rooms and finding the cold light reflected from the wall in this part end of the ward sufficient, he does not complain. The old woman and the boy also seem to be accustomed to darkness.
Stille turns to the agonizing man, ready to do something about him. But the man confuses him—he complains his chest is burning and Stille attends, and almost at the same moment he says his feet are icy cold. Stille checks and they are not, but he removes the blanket from over the man’s chest to fold it up and cover his feet. Then the complaints pile up–“This head is frozen. Oh, my feet–burning. My chest–something pierces me. Ah, cold chest. Cold feet. Hot head.” All almost simultaneously–he just takes time to give words to what is happening to him, it seems. It is like ice, fire and pain are running here and there all over his body, taking turns to occupy different parts of the body momentarily. Stille shifts the blanket very fast and massages the muscles as the pains ghost around.
Despite all Stille’s sweating, the man’s complaint does not subside. Amid his breathless moaning, he asks for water. Stille looks at the boy who is standing still and confused on the other side of the bed opposite him—he does not move in response to “water,” the man’s thirst.
“Water!” Stille says.
“Run out of it,” he replies resignedly.
The woman on the floor shifts in response and glances slightly toward us, apparently apologetically. The weak light through the windows from the hospital campus thrown on the walls cannot light up her face enough, but it seems she is wiping a few drops of fresh tear off her cheeks.
Stille tosses off a twenty rupees note from his pocket and gives it to the boy.
“Go run. Fast as you can.”
The boy disappears and Stille continues to help the man as he keeps rolling and complaining, but not so terribly as he did before.
Go the Of God and Men (Part 2)