She died last night at about two in the morning. There was no music, no last second visitors offering redemption. Her oxygen kept going off and I listened hard to separate the sound of the oxygen coming out the little plugs in her nose and the sound of her faint breathing. There was a slight difference and when the oxygen stopped, I’d go get the nurse and she would fiddle with the controls and the oxygen would come back on. Then I’d start listening again and eventually it would stop and I’d have to get the nurse and for several hours it went like that.
This was the kind of hospital that required friends and relatives to stay with the patient for 24 hours a day until the patient either died or left the hospital. Budget cuts had hit the public hospitals hard and then there was the corruption and inefficiency and general malaise one finds in the lower climes, so friends and family were essential if a person was to recover from illness or accident.
The hospital room where she died was shadowy and had five other beds. Each little cubicle was filled with family members. There were no chairs, so people sat on the floor or used plastic stools they brought from the outside world where everything moved with light and life. We were in the last space by the door. I’d walked down the hall and found a slightly cracked chair and put it beside her bed. She had elected a long time ago not to return to America. Her birthplace was Nevada and she had been raised on a trailer park by prostitutes. Her mother had died when she was five and her somewhat eradicate aunt had agreed to raise her. My friend had edema in her feet and legs and the doctors said it appeared she had congestive heart failure, even though the x-ray machine had produced only a partial picture of her heart. The x-ray machine had broken a few months ago and the hospital technician lacked parts to properly repair it. Whatever the case might have been, she was in pain and they had given her a large shot of morphine, which was unusual, since the doctors in this town didn’t like to give pain medications.
I dozed off and when I awoke, she was still and both the oxygen and her breathing had stopped. I touched her face and it was cold. The other people in the hospital room were either asleep or quiet. In the corner was a cat. The fur was dark with white stripes. It was also asleep and, in my mind, I moved down upon the fur and I could feel the rise and fall of the cat’s lungs as it pushed against the conviction that it shouldn’t be in the room. Here I am, with every breath, here I am, despite the rules. What would you like to know? Ask me anything and so I did, in my own way. I convinced myself that the cat represented this world, this spot in the room where people mostly came to die. I was proud that I knew the cat in this way, that I alone could hear its words and then I sat back down in the broken chair and waited. I didn’t get the nurse. I didn’t disturb the soundless walls. I only listened to the cat. I watched it smile and laugh, and so I passed the moments with questions and answers until the light moved across the floor and the nurse came into the room and immediately shooed the cat out into the hall and yelled for someone to come and get the thing and how did it slip into the hospital anyway?
My friend, oxygen, breathing, the dying, the cat, a broken chair, waiting, families, shadows, a new day, and my thoughts here in this confused night far from anyone or anything that might understand.
The cat … my mentor, and then I left the room and the hospital and went home to build a fire against the cold and have a few early morning drinks.
Dedicated to Aaron and Jan.