I come in the room and you are naked and raving, restrained to the bed. Of course you have the half of the room by the door. Your roommate’s wife is waiting for him to come back from an MRI and she pretends not to notice. The people in the hallway pretend not to notice. I notice. Gone are the days of averted eyes. I pull the curtains, cover you, and hoist you up in the bed so you can breathe better. You immediately kick the covers off and try to leave but the restraints hold you back. I don’t want you to fall, please don’t do that, I say and you tell me getmethefuckoutofhere. This is the last coherent thing I hear you say for the rest of the shift. I know this is the cancer that has metastasized to your brain. I know this is not you, but I don’t know the real you. All I know is that I want you to please, for the love of God, stop trying to rip out your port and try and keep your penis covered. You are dying and the real you might already be gone. I cover you again. You throw the covers off.
I’ve seen people die before coming here, but there is a strange intimacy in the dying process of a stranger. I feel it at births as well—seconds that extend into lifetimes. I know what to do with pregnant women, but you are a mystery. I should be able to make this easier but instead you are stuck paying tuition for my education with your body. Before you I didn’t know that trying to inject someone with old skin was harder than with young skin. I did a flu clinic. Everyone was 24. I’m sorry. The only way I can thank you is to be better for the next patient.
Your wife comes. I tell her that I can see how much you must love her because you immediately calmed down when she came in and she begins to cry. This is so hard she says. You were working full-time in the summer and now you are dying. I hold her hand. I tell her what it a pleasure it was to get to know you and care for you today. And I surprise myself when I say it because I realize I am not lying.