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“I think disease is such an ugly word.”
Her whisper was barely audible as I filled the syringe with the same murky yellow liquid. The needle glinted in the sunlight peeking through the curtains.
I pretended I didn’t hear her. What could you say in response to that? I utilized the word disease almost every day in this hospital. Diagnosis. Illness. Affliction. The typical vocabulary of a nurse wasn’t that expansive. I mean, it wasn’t like I knew how she felt. I had been healthy almost one hundred percent of my life.
She spoke up louder this time as I snapped on my gloves and walked to her bedside.
“I shouldn’t be defined as a diseased person, Christa. I’m more than that. We all are here, don’t you think?”
I nodded and gingerly rubbed alcohol on her forearm. She was right, after all.
I forced my eyes to lock with her grey ones, webbed around the edges with wrinkles. Her translucent, vein ridden hand rested on mine. She was pale; I knew she hated the injections.
“You’ve looked after me for a while now. If I asked you to define me, what would you say?”
I sighed pensively, and with my free hand, lifted the syringe to her skin.
“I would say you are,” the medicine invaded her bloodstream, “Brave. Very brave.”
She scoffed and then sucked in a breath, fingers gripping mine. Her voice came out urgent as the medicine seared her veins.
“Look at me, Christa. I can barely even walk on my own. Brave, no. You only say that because I’m sick. Having a disability does not mean I’m brave. There’s more. Much, much more.”
“Very true.” I slipped the needle out of her skin and applied pressure with a cotton ball. “You’re done with your shots for today,” I added gently.
As silence overwhelmed, (I usually left the room by now), I asked, “Well, how would you describe yourself, Mrs. Jones?”
Her eyes clouded suddenly and looked beyond me. “I don’t know.” Chuckling, she added, “Henry would call me stubborn. And, I suppose he’s right. I’m sure as hell not leaving this world just yet.”
I suppressed a smile and sat on the hospital bed beside her and peeled off my gloves, suddenly interested. “Henry, Ma’am?”
“My husband. Oh, he’s long gone now. Was labeled with that awful definition you people give, ‘diseased.’ It stole him, you see, as it does many. Death isn’t choosy, sweetie. It’ll snatch whoever’s throats it can wrap its grimy hands around. Remember that, and you won’t be disappointed.”
I cocked my head and observed her for a moment. Her wispy grey hair fanned out like cobwebs and cotton candy, her warm set eyes glimmering before me. Her hands folded gently across her lap against crinkled white sheets.
She looked frail to any ordinary person, but within her, I knew there was something deeper, something I could potentially learn from.
Without thinking I questioned, “Do you have any family, Mrs. Jones?” I’d never seen anyone visit her while I was on shift. But it wasn’t any of my business, was it?
Instead of shutting me out as I’d expected, she openly answered my question.
“My son. He would like you very much.” She waved her hand in dismissal. “But he lives ages away. You’re probably the closest I have to family, anyway.”
“Me?” Closest to family? A nurse who is forced to inject her patient with shots every day?
“You see hon, people are like a field of flowers.” She sat up straighter in bed. “Some stand out more than others. White petals among sea of black. Roses among thorns. And, quite frankly, I believe you’re one of them.”
I couldn’t do much in response instead mumble a simple thank you. No one had ever said something like that to me before.
A voice rang from the other room. “Nurse Christa, room four oh two!”
I smiled apologetically. “That’s my cue. See you same time tomorrow?”
“Same time tomorrow, Christa.”
I turned to leave, but stopped myself in the doorway.
“Oh, and Mrs. Jones?” I said without turning around. “White petals. That’s how I would describe you.”
I didn’t look back, but I could feel her smile growing as I left the room.
Hackettstown, New Jersey
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A certain darkness is needed to see the stars.