Vassar Student Review

Vassar Student Review

In St. Elizabeth Hospital, Room 589

By Leah Cates

Mom sits on the left edge of Aunt Daisy’s cot. I’ve scooched a synthetic-leather recliner close to the opposite side. Uncle George lolls on a vinyl couch a few feet away. A mounted TV screen displays nature scenes on endless loop: Sprawling meadow of lavender and Georgedelions––Spotted deer with leaf-shaped ears––Sunlit lake––Barren pine trees in hazy forest… Quiet classical music flows through a ceiling speaker, and dim lighting casts shadows on the walls’ soothing seafoam paint. We’re on the fifth floor of St. Elizabeth Hospital in Lincoln, Nebraska. 

Aunt Daisy lies in the bed at the head of the room. Her arms peek out from underneath crinkly white blankets. Daisy’s emaciated limbs are pasty, save for blue-magenta-maroon coin-sized splotches across her forearms. The insides of Daisy’s elbows are blood-blistered. So are the backs of her hands. I want to gag when I think of IV-needle-after-IV-needle nestled under her veins, until they begin to swell, form bruised blotches. 

There’s no IV in Daisy now. She’s hooked up to heart monitors. She’s wearing pasty circular patches on her chest. There’s one above her right breast and one above her left. But there’s no IV. 

The doctors are giving up. It’s only humane.

Mom strokes her big sister’s hair with a fine-tooth plastic comb, restoring aesthetic order to the wispy black strands that spiked in all directions. Daisy and Mom share the same hair. Thin. Wispy. Feather-like. Dark. Onyx. The same. I’ve never noticed before.

Mom asks Daisy, “Why were you upset this morning?” 

Daisys says, “All of it…the people…the…the group…man…Them…six o’clock of it…didn’t like…ffff.” 

The TV scene changes to crimson and amber leaves scattered across an empty, tree-lined path. Now it’s fall. Just like outside, in the real world, where the month is late October. 

Daisy giggles, says “Ka-pow!” Punches the air, then frowns and shakes her head.

Mom finger-combs Daisy’s bangs, smooths them out, parts them with her thumb and index finger, then pushes them back together again. “Daisy, do you not like some of the help here? Is that it? The male nursing assistant…You don’t like him?” 

Aunt Daisy claps four times, rolls her eyes, frowns again. “The men! Six o’clock of it! And orange!”

Mom nods. “Right, you don’t like the male employees. Some of the help here is bad, I know.” 

Mom stops combing and settles her hand on Daisy’s forehead. An image of foamy, white water crashing on coastline flashes across the screen. Beach time. 

George slaps his right leg. His shirt is magenta, the same shade as the bruise in the center of Daisy’s left hand. “Now Angie, that’s just not true! The help here is excellent, right, Daisy? Angie, I don’t know why you put ideas like that in Daisy’s head.” 

Daisy flicks the air. Giggles. Her cracked, anemic lips turn upward into a grin. Mom grins back, says, “I like it when you smile.” 

George claps his wrinkled hands together. “I see her smile every morning when I walk in. I say, ‘hello, dear,’ then she smiles a big smile––I love to see that smile––Then I smile, and then we’re all smiling and happy.” 

The nature scene shifts to a snow-capped mountain. Welcome to winter.

Daisy reaches up toward her forehead, where Mom’s hand rests, and grabs the diamond on Mom’s finger. Mom lets Daisy cling to the ring. “That’s my wedding band. It’s pretty, isn’t it? Very shiny.”

George smooths his khakis, strokes his protruding belly and says, “So happy. We’re just so happy to see each other! We eat lunch and breakfast together every day. Yes, we enjoy two meals, and we talk. We have conversations.” He pats the thick paperback on his lap. The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allen Poe. “Daisy really understands much more than everyone thinks she does.” 

Daisy inhales. The noise is raspy. She coughs and coughs, hacking into the open air. Her sallow skin momentarily fills with crimson color. She releases Mom’s ring and says, “And it all was…and it all was not…and they…yes! Wonderful!” 

Mom tucks a flyaway hair behind Daisy’s ear.

George clicks the heels of his oxford lace-ups. 

The screen changes again. Back to the meadow. A repeat picture. Endless cycle.

Daisy closes her eyes.

George reclines on the couch. “Angie, aren’t these nature scenes lovely? You can get ones just like them on your television at home. All you need to do is––”

Mom leans over Daisy, toward George. “You need to put her on ‘do-not-resuscitate.’”

“Now Angie, Daisy and I talked it over just this morning––Daisy really can communicate a great deal––and we concluded that Daisy should remain on ‘code blue.’ Our medical decisions are between us, as a couple. They’re personal. Stay out of this, Angie.” 

“Daisy needs to be on ‘do not resuscitate.’ She has 20% of her heart functioning left, and she weighs 100 pounds, maybe less. If the doctors perform CPR, they’ll break every one of her ribs. They’ll kill her. When her heart stops, we just need to accept––”

“Angie, if you want these scenes on your home television, all you need to do is go to––”

A scream bursts from the neighboring room. Blaring. Shrill. Crackly.

Daisy’s eyes fly open. They’re deep brown. Just like Mom’s.

“Oh dear!”

George nods. “Yes, dear, someone screamed.” 

Daisy points to the television. “No. Deer!” 

George smacks the couch. Thwack. “Yes! It’s a deer on the screen! Very good, dear!”

Another scream. Raucous. Shrieky. Wild. 

Mom stands up. 

“It doesn’t sound like anyone’s going to help. I’m grabbing a nurse.”

George stands up, too.

“Now Angie, will you stop suggesting that the help here isn’t very good? I don’t know where you’re getting ideas like that, and I don’t know why you’re planting them in Daisy’s head. I’m sure the nurses have it all under control. Isn’t that right, dear?”

Daisy doesn’t respond. Her eyes are closed again.

Mom bends down and plants a kiss on Daisy’s bangs. “I’ll be right back, Daisy. You…you stay right here. Don’t go anywhere, now.”

George chuckles. Mom doesn’t.

The screen still displays a deer, gawking at us with its triangle head and round nose. The snout is dark, the same shade as Daisy and Mom’s hair. Light reflects through the deer’s leaf-shaped ears, which are pink, so pink. The deer stares us down.

It must be odd for...

I kick around the dust...

There is a horrendous roar...

if the mountains call for...

when you’re at the bottom...

I love you mint chocolate...

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