I wish I could ignore the ringing during the night. I used to be able to sleep through anything; thunderstorms, people screaming, lawnmowers, you name it. Now I’m like a mother with a newborn, instantly waking up the second I hear a cry for help. I wonder if new mothers ever have the notion to ignore their baby’s cry, like I wish I could ignore this stupid ringing phone, bursting my dream bubble and ruining my chances at staying awake during class tomorrow. But, my mother instincts are unrelenting and I attempt to pry my eyes open in the darkest hours of night and feel around blindly for my cell.
There have been few moments when I am literally speechless. When the voice on the other line is not made up of drunken slurs demanding a ride home but instead a formal, machine-like tone, I am suddenly more alert. I sit on the side of the bed and try to process it, but no clarity comes, so I pull a hoodie over my head and fumble around looking for my keys.
Condescending stares, fluorescent lights, and the overpowering smell of disinfectant: hospitals are the worst.
How is it that the place of healing is the most uncomfortable place in the world? I sit and wonder if the three other twenty-somethings in the waiting room of the ICU are thinking the same thing. We all have faint purple bags under our eyes with disheveled hair, wearing baggy mismatched clothes. The robot voice that spoke over the phone must have made it clear to all of us that it was necessary we be here tonight and not later. We haven’t talked at all yet, we just sit waiting. Either no one wants to break the silence or no one knows what to say or how to react. One of her work friend’s comes to sit next to me, resting her hand on mine for a moment, a kind gesture I suppose, but it feels awkward and she withdraws. The only real connection we have to each other is that we know her. For now, the four of us; her roommate her two work friends, and her ex; all sit, stare, and drown in our thoughts.
We all knew that she was sick. But it wasn’t just that she was hung over all the time, it was that she was LOST. She had fallen into a pit and didn’t want help out, not because she was too proud or embarrassed to ask, but because she wanted to embrace it down there, embrace culture, embrace rebellion, embrace sin. She welcomed it, welcomed the never-ending feeling of falling down the pit so she wouldn’t have to worry about climbing back up.
I had not admitted it to anyone in the room yet, but there had been a few times I had heard her come in late, sobbing downstairs. Whiny sounds that turn into howling, followed by calming deep breaths, until another wave crashed down and the cycle repeated. I could practically see her through the floor, sprawled out on the couch, her heels still on, pale face, black eye liner smudged at the corners of her red eyes. I heard the weeping; vulnerable, uncontrolled, pathetic. I didn’t move. I knew that it was cold, but I couldn’t take it anymore. I’m tired of babysitting a grown woman.
A man in dark blue scrubs holding a clipboard interrupts our thoughts to tell us we can go in. It takes a few seconds, but we all manage to gather the courage to face the ugly truth lying motionless in the hospital bed, attached to the beeping machines you always see in the movies. But this is real. And we all gather around the bed staring and trying to blink it away.
Her dark wavy hair is still gorgeous resting on the pillowcase, but her face looks so unnatural and waned. She must’ve had to get her stomach pumped. The doctor crosses his arms against the dark blue scrubs and mentions something about it, but also goes on to say that too much time had passed after the initial drug ingestion. I struggle to concentrate on what he has to say, the words fade in and out. Before he walks out to give us time alone with her, he clears his throat and encourages us to say our goodbyes.
And now the guilt creeps up and consumes all of our minds: Why didn’t we do more? We could have tried confronting her again…Part of me knows she was done listening to my concerns long ago, but part of me also wishes I could beat myself up for being so uncaring, so unsympathetic. The motionless image of her becomes blurry and the tears on my cheek make me realize my face is hot. I don’t bother to wipe them and they fall and make droplet marks on the hospital blanket. I feel like I could throw up, punch the wall, and hug her all at the same time.
I briefly turn around to look at the three others, they look the same as me, exhausted with emotion and wanting to fall to the ground. One work friend sits in the corner with fingers on her temples, the other looks out the window biting her nails and weeping softly. Her ex moves over to the bed slowly, looking tormented. He leans over and whispers something in her ear, then holds her hand for a moment, before retreating back to the white-washed wall. In the hour or two that has passed since the doctor left, I managed to say a prayer over her, but I am helpless for any other words.
We are all startled and frozen by the sudden even humming noise of the monitor and a nurse appears to turn off the horrible sound that makes us all ache. I take slow steps up to the bed and remove the oxygen mask from her delicate face. My head spins as I fix my eyes on that face. It doesn’t even look like the girl that first befriended me three years ago. I say one more prayer and try to believe that this lost girl is now at peace.