May 12, 2000
Meri Vayne's legs are strapped to the hospital bed; the rest of her body is partially immobile from the morphine drip through an intravenous needle taped to the top of her left hand. The bruise at the needle's base is dull yellow-orange with a light green perimeter. The skin itself is wafer thin and has the effect, when moved, of a dried mud flat after a long hot summer.
The air is cold, and the walls are sterile white. A thermostat is attached to the wall opposite the oversized metal door, but it has a clear plastic encasement with a lock facing the ceiling. The large door has a lock on the outside. The floors are white, tiled, with prudently placed light gray flecks. Every furnishing is mobile, except the sink that is attached to the wall at a noticeably low level.
She arrived four days earlier. She is waking for the first time since being admitted. Her head wobbles slightly, and one drowsy eyelid opens. The rest of her body remains motionless. After a few seconds of fighting each other, the left and right eyelids move in unison, laboriously up, then down, and up again.
Awake. Meri's hand moves strenuously toward her face, immediately landing on her nose, although aimed for her mouth. It finds the lower lip. She had dreamt about that lip. It had a nagging itch that, even after being scratched, continued to itch. The thing doesn't feel natural to her hand; it is abnormally large and has what appears to be some type of apparatus attached to it. She can't quite make it out. As her fingers investigate the lip, they find foreign objects with uneven, scab-like features.
She stops feeling her lips and sniffs the air with quick, short breaths. The antiseptic smell slightly burns her nose; it's a combination of ammonia and toilet bowl cleaner. She looks at her surroundings: a tall narrow cart in the right corner housing a TV and three hand-towels, a round black and white clock-built into the wall directly in front of her, and a cot-folded with a large black elastic band to keep it together-leaning against the wall under the clock. She pauses and tries to remember why she is here. The medication that runs through her veins inhibits her ability to recall recent events, although the fuzzy intercom announcements remind her of being there as a child.
Awaiting the birth of her younger brother, she sat in a sticky black vinyl chair connected to a line of other chairs. Her feet dangled over the edge of the seat bottom, her short legs not long enough to allow her calves the comfort of reaching over the end of the seat bottom.
The image becomes cloudy as the squeaking door draws her attention toward the far side of the room. Someone peeks in the door and, just as quickly, vanishes. The door is closed and latched from the outside.
Meri moves her hands up to her face with a quick jerk to cover her sores. She believes it must be hideous, and then realizes that there will soon be visitors: her friends, co-workers, her mom and dad-and brother. She must know the extent of her deformity before anyone arrives!
She continues examining her face, both hands now, all eight fingers hover around her lips with her thumbs dangling on either cheek. The sores cover part of the top lip, all of the bottom lip, and patches of the chin, ending on the right side of the neck, just above the collarbone. The left side is partially clear. The sores continue down her esophagus, although not visible or even apparent to her yet. She attempts to speak, "grgllggllrll."
She is unable to form any words, only gurgle-type hisses. The sores down her throat have invaded her larynx. She is unable to speak. She stops investigating her face and begins to cry, silently; small tears roll down her cheeks, landing on her hospital gown. The iron taste in her mouth grows as her crying breaks the psoriatic skin on her lips. Her sobs turn to uncontrollable whaling, apparent only by the sound of gasps for air.
Meri's body covers a good portion of the standard-issue hospital bed. At her normal strength, she can move the bed to the other side of the room, even with no wheels. But just now, she occupies it and has only enough strength to continue feeling the foreign mass on her face and neck.
Above the mounds of scabbing tissue surrounding her mouth, although not visible to Meri, is light skin speckled with auburn freckles, a small perky nose, and light eyes that, when in the direct light of the sun, are fresh crystal green. Her short brown hair, usually neatly parted on the right side, now stands up straight in the front and is matted to her head above each ear, somewhat resembling an old wig at a thrift store.
She inches her body toward the right side of the bed, then extends her right arm off the bed to the metal nightstand. Unable to lift her torso to see into the top drawer, she relies on the message from her hand. The hand tugs the drawer handle outward until it opens to the capacity allowable by her reach. Her hand is saying, as it fumbles through the front portion of the drawer's contents, that it can't feel anything that reminds it of the round makeup case it recalls having opened each morning for the last several years. She stops the hand. Slowly and deliberately, reaching her left arm across her body, she grasps the bed railing with her left hand, the feeding tube dangling across her belly with the needle tugging at her vein. Holding her body at a 45-degree angle with neither the side nor the back totally touching the bed, she uses her right hand to further analyze the contents toward the back of the drawer: a small plastic bottle, box of tissues, hair brush, a long narrow string-like item. Yes, she feels something familiar. Her dried lips form a smile. Soft suede kisses her fingertips as they pass over this lovely surface: her very own handbag. Although her hand can only reach the front right portion of the draw, she walks her middle finger further into the drawer to inch the strap toward the center of her hand. When her palm feels the tickle, she grips it tightly and tugs the thing toward her.
As she pulls the strap, the small brown zippered bag flips up and over the drawer lip and lands on the white tiled floor, sending a snappy echo through the small room. With the strap still in her hand, she begins to pull it up the side of the bed toward her. It stops.
The bag is caught on the call-box, which is attached with a clothes-pin-like clamping device to the bed's hydraulic lift. She tugs upward again. The bag remains trapped. She lowers it by extending her arm outward, away from her body. She pulls the bag again by bending her arm at the elbow toward her body, the bag moving toward the bed, then up. It stops again. Breathing rapidly, she stops her movements and looks around the room, but she cannot align herself to enable a view along the side of the bed. She extends her arm, straight now at the elbow, and allows it to pivot away from the bed, forming an invisible half-circle contrail.
Keeping the arm straight and distant from the bed, she raises it toward the ceiling. The architecture of the arm's position now makes the purse's weight multiply, but she continues to raise the arm straight up into the air.
The purse is free from the call-box.
She allows the arm to bend. She pulls again. Still caught.
She struggles to shift her weight, pushing her 210 pounds from its current position, so that she is lying on her right side, face in the railing. Her legs are separated and slightly contorted due to the straps that keep them in their original positions. Her left arm now hangs over the right side of the bed, and her right arm is partially under her body but with the hand extended just above the railing- still holding onto the banding. She carefully passes the bag's strap from the right hand to the left. Secure in the left palm, she pulls again. It's up. The bag falls between the steel railing and her body. She allows herself to roll onto her back. The purse stays nudged in the side of the bed. She gently pulls it and moves it to her belly.
The handbag lies limply on her belly; she pulls it onto her chest so she can open it. The bag comes alive: up, down, up, down, with each breath. She rests and watches the bag breathe. The struggle has taken all the energy she'd stored during the last four days, asleep on the metal bed with wheels.
She takes short, shallow breaths, lazily watching the brown bag, now wobbling slightly over toward her stomach with each exhale. Each time, it touches a small pink flower on her hospital gown as it lands back on her chest. The hypnotic rhythm lulls her until she can no longer keep her eyes open. The lids close her up again, with the help of the dope running through the clear tube attached to her own body at one end and an upside down bottle with unintelligible print at the other. She thinks about the purse; it will be there when she regains her energy. She will check the extent of the damage to her face then. For now, she can only rest.
A sturdy nurse's aid enters the room at 10:35 p.m. She pulls a full cart of laundry supplies behind her. The front wheel of the cart has a swab jammed between the wheel and its inner wall; as it rolls, the scraping of the cardboard stick pulls the wheel inward making the cart turn unnoticeably to the right.
The woman can change bed sheets in less than three minutes-with the patient in the bed. The matter is quite simple and only requires a strong arm:
But now, a small brown suede bag lay on Meri's chest. The nurse's aid knows the drill without looking in her procedure booklet:
The aid leaves the room with a clipboard and black ballpoint pen. In the hall, just outside the room, she speaks to someone. "Bed 14 got a pocketbook on it. I need a signoff. Know where Casandra is?"
"She helpin' down at the far end of Psych. They got a crazy one over there tonight," the voice replies.
She returns to the room at 10:51 p.m. and places a piece of paper from her clipboard into Meri's room chart, laying it face up, on top of all the other pieces of paper in the chart. She closes it and returns to the bed.
The nurse's aid takes the bag, and with no effort, opens the nightstand drawer and drops it in, pushes it toward the back, and closes the drawer. She changes the sheets and exits the room at 10:56 p.m.