"Please order in chart of 718: IVF to consume then shift to heplock." - my batchmate Diva texted me this afternoon, on a quiet Sunday while I was on duty.
For some weird reason, I could not bring myself to 718. Not yet. The memories are just so fresh, the images so vivid, that I could not even walk across that wing without a tinge of sadness tugging at my stupid, overly emotional heart.
I could still remember her - that frail, jaundiced woman, who can barely open her eyes. Her lips were sore and swollen from her chemotherapy, her arms edematous and punctured all over by my unsuccessful attempts at cannulating her veins. She couldn't even drink water without using a straw. She hasn't eaten anything in days. Her BP was 40 palpatory when I first received her. She was dying and I knew it. And there was nothing I could do.
But she smiled each time, during those last mornings of her life, when I visited her. I made it a point to spend a few minutes with her as soon as daylight came, when I was sure there was no one else in the room except for the quiet and unassuming Maria. More familiar eyes would have seen through me and would dread my utter lack of professional detachment. More familiar eyes would have shed tears, and I wouldn't have wanted that.
On the morning of the day she left, she still smiled. Though her forehead was locked in a perpetual frown of pain, and her eyes were too heavy to be opened, she still nodded when she recognized my voice, and gave me a fleeting smile. I hummed her Sinatra's As Time Goes By and Andy Williams' Moon River - a scene that must have been reserved only for her children, something that I boldly and shamelessly claimed, and she hummed along, until she fell asleep.
She died later that night. And I was there, standing beside her children, in my spotless white coat, making sure she had no pain. But I wished I could take off that coat and hug her. The rest of the family cried. I could not. I had no right to.
After long hours of procrastinating, I trudged along to Room 718, but didn't make it past the nurses' station. I looked at the chart. The room was already occupied by a different patient, of course. And his attending, who made rounds a few hours prior, already wrote down the latest orders. Heaving a sigh of relief, I went back to the callroom to brood.
Room 718 is just one room in this big hospital. The patient who stayed in that room almost three weeks ago is just one out of the thousands I've handled. But in my silly, contraband way, I have loved her. And I still do. A contraband affection, where contraband is the operative word. I guess it's just another one of those illegal secret stuff doctors like me try to cover up with their white coats. And in my absurd case, this type of contraband is getting to be a family affair.
Later in the morning, as my duty was about to end, the duty phone beeped. "Referring Mr. X for SVT on cardiac monitor. Room 509." Aaaarghh! Room 509! Of all the patients in the hospital who could have an SVT, why does it have to be Room 509!?! I hastily grabbed my white coat and my dilapidated stethoscope and dragged my feet to that room. Room 509 - I can almost smell her there. She had her last birthday there, and her last new year's eve, when the blue moon was brightest. And the scent of the wine that we smuggled into the room during one of those nights still tickles my nostrils that I could barely breathe. Room 509 is just another one of those rooms filled with memories of contraband affection. Oh well, I just had to do my job. Indeed, the new patient, a grouchy old man I do not even know, was having an SVT. Sigh, being in that room was giving me a contraband SVT too.