It is late at night and the kidney ward is electric with energy. The lights of the nurses station are on but there is nobody at the desk. My own roommates are sleeping soundly with their curtains drawn around their beds. I am lying down with my sheet and light weight blanket clutched in my hands as I listen to the drama.
There is an old man with diabetes and llate stage renal failure. He is missing a boot. He is shouting loudly at his nurse. She is a woman in her late 30s and is from India. He will not let her near his bedside. ‘’Get away from me, you black cunt.’’ He keeps shouting at her. I do not hear her responses clearly. She is not shouting back him. Hew tone is even and calm. I lay in my bed and feel hateful rage for the man well inside my chest. The nurse needs to take blood. The old man will not let her. I imagine he is flailing his arm around. Eventually the nurse who is being yelled at has to retreat and the nurse in charge, a white woman, has to step in and take the man’s blood.
Meanwhile at the same time, there is an old woman called Angela, in bed 86 who is wailing in an Italian accent. ‘’PEACE.’’ She keeps wailing over and over. It feels like the land of lost souls and invisible demons. Not all of them invisible though, some just buried deep under the skin, slowly deteriorating, decomposing and killing.
Everyone here is in differing stages of fight. I think. I loosen my grip on my blankets and begin to fall asleep.
I am awoken at 6am by my favorite nurse. A grad student with long blonde hair always pulled back in a ponytail and tattoos. Including one of the great mythological sea creature the Kraken on her left elbow. I squint up into her smiling face. ‘’Lucy.’’ I say sleepy still but happy. ‘’Hi, matey.’’ She says back, ‘’Mind if I do your obs?’’
‘’No, that’s fine.’’ I say sitting up slowly. I feel dizzy whenever I get up. Lucy takes my blood pressure whilst I sit and then she takes it as I am standing. Every morning this happens. Every morning I feel the like I am about to collapse to the ground or it feels like the room is tilting onto me. You cannot hold anything for support when getting the standing blood pressure. I use all my will power to not fall down. Lucy gets the weighing chair and I do what I always do. I go to sit in it to quickly before she even has a chance to set it up or turn it on. It is actually quite an effort to stand waiting for the short moments it takes for Lucy to set up the weighing chair. Im very dizzy and want to sleep more. I sit on the edge of my bed as I wait for her. My weight turns out to be the same as it is every morning, 31 kilograms. The date is the 24th of march. It is two sleeps until my kidney transplant. Kidney transplant date number 3 or 4. I have lost count at this stage. It still seems unlikely that it will go ahead. In my mind anyway. Things have gone wrong so much that it is impossible for me to get excited about it. It is impossible for me to even hope. I am at the mercy of circumstance. I am laying myself at the feet of the giant beast that is in charge of how my body responds to anything that happens within these walls. It is not like my body has been playing nice.
There is a sense of community inside my current hospital room. My two hospital bed peeps or compatriots and I are getting on famously.
There is Karen from a dairy farm in Leongatha region. She says ‘’Awesome’’ a great deal and is very very good natured. She accepts what the doctors tell her. Though her reason for being in here is worrying to me. Karen received a kidney transplant 18 years ago. Around Christmas time she started to feel unwell and was flown to Royal Melbourne Hospital. It was found that her kidney transplant kidney was no longer functional. Dialysis was the only option. She was in the hospital this time because her fistula had become infected and she needed a new one. She did not seem angry or upset about this. I was upset. Especially when I eaves dropped on a phone conversation she had with her sister.
‘’Oh you wont get 18 years out of a kidney these days.’’ I hear her say.
This is not a cure. I think as tears prick my eyes. It simply buys me time. When she kindly promises to me that the transplant will be an awesome thing. I smile but I do not believe her entirely. There is doubt and no amount of convincing alleviates the tick that is buried inside so deel my heart has a tunnel dug all the way through by the little bastard tick of doubt.
Penny is the woman in the bed next to mine. She situated nearest the door. That is my least favorite bed position. Penny is an Aboriginal woman from Mildura. She was flown in to the hospital because of illness and has just found out she has renal failure and needs to decide on what type of dialysis she would have. I find her whinging annoying at first, even though I understand it and where it is coming from. Having to go on dialysis is terrible. You don’t feel better it just keeps you alive. Also you are on a diet that is called the Renal Diet and it is as rubbish as it sounds. You cannot drink all you want and eat what you want. The diet is fairly restrictive. ‘’I love my salt and coke.’’ She says sadly. ‘’I miss avocado, tomatoes and juice.’’ I add from my bed. Her husband and eldest daughter come and visit her every day. On this particular day I am particularly excited as Ace is coming to visit. He will be my first visitoe apart from my parents.
There is something you learn when you are chronically ill and need to go into hospital more then once for long periods of time. The attention spans of healthy people are not that great. It is not their fault. I am also sick of it, that’s why I did not really broadcast the fact of my re hospitalization. If someone texted, I told them. But really I was content to while the time away alone, reading and watching shows/ listening to music through headphones, on my laptop. I did not get free wifi either, so no internet while in hospital.
I consistently refuse to pay the daily fee of 7$ for the television. You got the television and wifi for free only if you had private health insurance. I only know this because my father told me. He gets that and cheaper parking. Considering he is going into hospital to donate a kidney to me, I feel he should get more perks. Like a gift basket on arrival with all the type of things that would make him happy: agriculture magazines, new socks and underwear and pajamas, keys to a new car, a replacement clone kidney as good and functional as the one he is giving up and chocolate and Kirks Portello flavoured soft drink. Oh and last but not least, the unconditional patience of his eldest daughter, the receiver of his kidney. I wish that last one could be a possibility. I wish I had it in me to be patient and never raise my voice.
Ace was one of the few who visited me multiple times. I tried not to think it was only because it was on his tram rout home. This what I do, I always think there is another reason other than myself that people do nice things. Especially when it comes to him. It is like I cannot fathom him doing something nice simply because he wants too and thinks I am worth it based on my character or personality.
I spent the majority of this day in my dressing gown reading from my two main positions; on my bed, on top of the unmade covers, or sitting in the armchair under the window that looked out onto another building. Sometimes I read in silence and eaves dropped on Penny and Karen. Other times I put in my head phones and listened to the music on my laptop on shuffle.
The nephrology team come to visit in the afternoon after lunch. There was Peter Hughs and Sarah and the quiet doctor who said nothing but wrote everything that was said with a blue pen on paper clipped to a red clipboard. Sarah was my favorite a tall Asian woman who always wore bright white lace up Plimsolls. When the stand around the end of my bed, I put my book down and remove my earphones. Dave is wearing a blue and white pinstrip shirt with the very top button undone and his stethoscope around his neck. They all have stethoscopes around their necks. This time there is a laptop on a desk with wheels so it can be wheeled from bed to bed. It must all my blood and antibodies levels on it. I wait for one of them to tell me my antibodies are still fighting and the transplant will be postponed again.
‘’Hello, Jess. How are you today?’’ Peter asks me.
‘’O.K.’’ I say waiting for the bad news to drop on top of me. Willing it to, almost. Do I really need the kidney after all? I think. Cant I just see how fast this thing can go before it and I crash and burn? I have been doing it for long enough now; Feeling sick and angry. I am asked if I would mind moving from the arm chair to the bed so I can be examined. I comply and climb onto the bed. I even shake out of my dressing gown so the doctor can place the cold stethoscope to my back, over the white cotton of my singlet. They do this in order to make sure my lungs are clear and my airways are clear.
I feel the round metal placed gently on the left of my spine, below my shoulder blade.
‘’A deep breath in and out.’’ Peter says.
I breath in deeply but not too deeply as I have perfected the breathing in and out over many practices. I am also careful to not be too fast either. I breath in as if I am standing beneath a dark stormy sky on the cusp of rain. I hold it for a couple of seconds and then gently exhale as if purging myself of all the nasty and bitter thoughts I have throughout the day. Sick people are not filled with good will and a passive acceptance of their plight. I have a bad attitude at times.
Once the examination is over, Peter rewraps his stethoscope around the back of his neck in one easy motion of his fine and nimble looking hands. ‘’The good news is that your antibody levels are down to a level we are happy with, which means that all is set for the transplant on Thursday. As is stands anyway. We know that your body is unpredictable.’’
I smile. Sometimes I find myself being proud by how my insides seem to be as impetuous as my outer demeanor. Which the reflection and which is the reflected? ‘’So, I should try not to get anymore life threatening infections? Noted.’’ I say with a laugh. The doctors all look at me. They do not laugh.
Penny has visitors at about 5pm, her husband and eldest daughter. Who looks about 20. Her usband is a tall man wearing a faded blue flannelette shirt and jeans. The curtain is open and when Karen gets of her phone. They start talking together from their beds. They are discussing how much they miss their country homes. They have both come a long way to be here and though they appreciate the care they are receiving, they miss the quiet and the open spaces.
‘’Our youngest is 9 and he can already track a lizard.’’ Penny is telling Karen. I am listening to them as I tidy up my hospital bedside and the table with wheels that constantly stick and make it hard to move. I collect stray pill cups and napkins. I stack the small plastic pill cups together and put them in the cuboard with my child sized blood pressure cuff. I make my bed and turn the pillow over so the purple stain does not show. Ace will be her soon and I do not want to appear completely like an invalid. I look down at ‘’Pustulio 2’’ AKA my second permacath. The tubes hang lower down this time and I had to lengthen the straps of my bonds singlet, the ones that have an inner bra . I am showing a lot of cleavage and the cleavage is anything but sexy. The first two dayswere fine. The permacath was clean and the area around the exit would was blemish free. Now, however, there was dark purple bruising under the clear bandage and all around the clear bandage. The bruising had spread from all aroung and on my right breast, and travelled left to decorate my left breast and upper chest area.
I could not let Ace see such a gruesome display. It looked like I had been beaten horribley. He has been beaten for real, in the past. I did not want to trigger anything within him that might cause distress.
Also, it looks way gross.
In order to scrub up without actually having a shower. I use wet wipes to wash under my arms and my face. I do not use the same wet wipe to wash my under arms and face. A change of underwear and my pajamas and dressing gown are changed into a green t shirt and black jegging and my leather jacket. It has become a bit chilly around my bedside. The temperature in this place is not stable. I brush my teeth and my hair. Once all is ready, I sit in my chair, with a book in my lap and observe the entire hospital room. I can see both my roommates and the entrance from my position. Penny was telling Karen how she met her husband. ‘’We were from separate tribes and he was so very handsome.’’
I finally joined the conversation and got excited. ‘’Did you have to sneak around like Romeo and Juliet?’’
Penny and her husband laughed. ‘’Yes, in the early days we did.’’ Penny said.
The conversation continued with much laughter and then in a lull, I found myself making an announcement.
‘’I am expecting a very handsome visitor soon.’’
There was a chorus of oohs and ahhhs.
‘’Your boyfriend?’’ Penny’s husband asked.
‘’No, just an attractive friend.’’ I answered. ‘’Though I may try to seduce him by the broken drinks machine near the stairs.’’
This bravado impressed nobody. Especially Penny’s husband. Who thought I had gone a bit far. Come on a bit strong, to be precise. Story of my existence. ‘’Obviosley, I am in no shape to seduce anyone. ‘’
It was literally seconds after I said this that Ace walked into the room. My heart leaped into my throat. Had he heard all that? How did he do that? Was he a time lord?
My roommates and their visitors all started laughing. It was not malitious but incredibley joyful and knowing. They were laughing because they knew who this guy was and how I felt about him. They knew that I was possibley panicking about what he had heard. The situation was delicious. How often did things like this happen on the renal ward? A ward where most people were old and weird stuff like stuff in a bad movie, stopped happening decades ago.
He was wearing black jeans and a bulky jumper with a large floral pattern all over it. A thick red scarf was wrapped around his neck. It indicated that though it may get chilly inside the hospital, outside the summer weather was turning into the crispness of autumn. I bolt up onto my feet as the laughter continues.
‘’Lets go for a walk.’’ I say in greeting. I am already walking towards the door and past him. I get to the doorway and turn around. Ace is standing in the middle of the room and smiling. ‘’But, everyone seems so nice here.’’ He says.
‘’They are too rowdy.’’ I say.
This inspires another wave of laughter. ‘’I will take you to my special place.’’ I promise him. ‘’If it is open.’’
I tell him to leave his bag on my chair and follow me. We leave my hospital peeps as they are still laughing. My heart is hammering inside my chest with adrenalin.
As we are walking to the staircase I start talking to drown out the sound of my mortified heart. ‘’There is this small Asian inspired garden that you can only get to via the entrance to Department of Gastroenterology & Clinical Nutrition. Its on the third floor.’’
We came to the stairs and started descending together. I gripped the hand rail and walked down as swiftly as I could. You could see the garden from the hospital corridor as the windows were waist level and rose up high. The door to the clinic was shut for the evening. No way to get out into the fake plastic glory.
‘’Its really cold outside anyway.’’ Ace said. ‘’I may be coming down with something.’’
I stared at him wide eyed and gaping. ‘’But, if I get sick they will cancel my transplant again.’’
‘’I should go.’’ He says.
‘’No! No, its fine.’’ I assure him. I’m just being paranoid.’’ Or am I just willing to take the risk in order to simply hang out? I think back over out time knowing each other. I never contracted his illnesses. Even when in extreme close proximity during one of his fevers.
There are a bunch of white balloons tied to the stair rail. They catch my eye and I walk over to them. Ace and I stand there and I notice the balloons have a word written on them. The word is ‘Astounding,’
And it has been printed on the balloons in blue. To our left is a set of elevators and directly behind us is a row of orange plastic chairs, held together by metal poles. Above these chairs there is a huge cork board covered in posters and notices that relate to medical administration and information. Medical administrative staff, have no eye for creative poster design. There is a poster for THE POLICY OF THE WEEK. The font looks like it is from the Back To The Future films. Only in 2D and printed on a crap colour printer.
Ace unties the balloons from the rail for me.
I hold them as we stand there. ‘’I am not sure what worries me more.’’ I tell him. ‘The fact I am missing out on so much going on outside. Or, the fact I do not care.’’
‘’No, enjoy being here.’’ He says. ‘’I loved it when I was in hospital.’’
Really?’’ I said. ‘’Were you getting blood tests all the time and constantly being screwed over by your own body?’’
‘’No, sorry.’’ He said. ‘’That was the wrong thing to say.’’
He had been hospitalized as a teenager for Golden staf. He had nearly died. That is an awful thing to experience. But I have been in and out of hospital since I was born. My body has constantly played the precocious child; flailing its arms about and screaming for attention.
I led us away from the stars and sat on one of the orange plastic chairs, the one that was in the middle of the row. He sat next to me on my right.
‘’What was it like when you were in hospital, ages ago?’’
‘’It was fun.’’ He told me. ‘’I flirted with the nurses and even had a hospital girlfriend.’’
Of Course he did.
‘’ Well, the choices for hospital boyfriend, are limited on the kidney ward.’ I say. ‘’Unless I want to cozy up with the racist old man in bed 73.’’
‘What?’’ He says. I explain about the nightmarish night and what the old men had yelled at a poor nurse.
‘’And they still keep him alive?’
We sit in silence for a moment and I want to sit there for a long long time. It occurs to me that this maybe the last time I see him. How many doctors have told me how risky my particular transplant is? So many. How many things had gone wrong already? I feel the fear and it gets hard to keep my head up. I place my head on his shoulder and leave it there. I take a deep breath in and exhale. He does not rest his head on my resting head. Even though I wanted him too. It would have shown he understood why I was scared. But, how could he know if I did not tell him.
‘’Are you melancholy?’’ He says.
‘’Don’t be.’’ He says.
I lift my head and laugh. ‘’Oh, OK. Done. Thanks so much.’’
We have both turned in our seats so we are facing each other. ‘’Sometimes I get sad.’’ He tells me. ‘’So, I say to myself. Hey, Ace. Don’t be sad.’’
I laugh and then grow silent again. I fiddle with the string that holds the four white balloons together in a bunch.
‘’I feel like we are in a mumble core indie film.’’ He says.
We should take a photo of us, frowning and looking pensive.’’ I say. I do not think he will oblige. He never seems to want any proof of our friendship in photo form. I mean, he once deleted our text history from my phone. It broke my heart. So, I am quite inwardly jubilant, when he gets up and sets his phone on a timer for a photo of us. We stare at the phone waiting for the light to indicate the photo has been taken. At the last minute I turn my frown upside down and grin.
He gets up to retrieve his phone. ‘’Hey, you smiled.’’ He says, showing me the photo. He is looking serious with one leg crossed over his other and his hands clasped in his lap. I am smiling with four white balloons obscuring my black skinny jeans.. My purple thongs on my bare feet, match my purple hair. It would make a wonderful indie film poster. As we sit together I try to think of how to say what I want to say. Finally I figure I have nothing to loose as I may never wake up from the anaesthetic I get given in tw more sleeps.
‘’If I… I mean if it doesn’t …If it all goes wrong, will you remember me?’’ I wait a few seconds and when he says nothing I continue. ‘’I mean, I know asking you to remember things is like asking an excited puppy not to fetch a stick, but, still.’’
‘’Since when did you start writing Modest Mouse lyrics? He says.
‘Erry day.’’ I say, laughing.
He has to get going so we make our way back up the stairs. I am not so good at this and after a few steps I am out of breath and breathing hard.
‘Should we take the lift?’’ He says.
‘’No, I need to move around more so I can avoid the anti blood clotting injection.’’ I say.
He takes me arm and I lean into his side as me make our slow way up the three sets stairs. My heart is pounding from the effort.
‘’I can feel your heart beat. Against my ribs.’’ He says.
When we arrive back at the room, Karen and Penny are quiet and their curtains are drawn around their beds. My night nurse is at my bedside, organizing my meds. She is getting pills out of boxes and bottles and popping them into a clear plastic pill cup. He collects his bag and goes to walk away. I stop him by wrapping my arms around his waist and pressing my cheek against the fake floral garden spreading across his chest. I hug him tight.
‘’I have to go.’’ He says. I can feel the tears start to burn in my eyes. They are pooling and ready to drop at any second. I am so very afraid.
I squeeze him one more time and release.
My nurse for the night gives me my pills. ‘take them at 8.’’
I nod and stay standing like a sad twig pushed into dirt. Another nurse comes in the room and stands at the end of my bed. She is one I have had many times. She has a tendency to be quite no nonsense and seem a bit abrasive. ‘’Is that your boyfriend?’’ She says.
Oh, so she has come to gossip. Ha ha. Wow I really am the youngest person on this ward.
‘’He is a boyfriend to someone.’’ I say. ‘’But not mine.’’
‘’You obviously like him.’’ She says.
‘’We are friends and yes I do like him. But back when I wanted him to be my boyfriend. He did not want me.’’ A bunch of doves fly out of my chest and fly away. I can tell this nurse the truth and it is freeing. He didn’t want me.
‘’I think he knows you like him.’’ The nurse says.
‘’His girlfriend is one of the most beautiful people I have ever seen.’’ I say. Both nurses get called to help with a patient and leave me alone, finally.
I sit on my bed and stare at my pills.
Hey, Jess. Don’t be sad.