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The International Writers Magazine: Life Moments

The Elastic Always Gives Up
Marcia Dumler

I had gathered up a garment bag of clothing and shoes for my friend and neighbor who had wrecked her car. It was a terrible, one-car accident leaving my neighbor hospitalized with a broken back and concussion. While driving to the hospital, I was thinking of the feeling of absolute aloneness in that hospital bed. My friend’s family was far away and elderly. I was her only lifeline to her home. The responsibility was daunting and the delivery of the clothing was not a simple task.

I relayed a bit of the phone conversation I’d had with her that morning…."the blue checked top that is hanging in the blue bedroom closet, the navy blue slacks that are hanging in the study closet,…" Very precise definite easy to follow. I’d taken a garment bag and overstuffed it as was habitual with me. Not it was sliding around in the backseat of my car. I couldn’t wait to get rid of that bag, couldn’t wait to pretend things were normal, usual. The Christmas spirit didn’t urge me to spend time in a hospital. I could almost smell that invasive antiseptic colorless smell, hear the starched uniforms’ rustle.

Not present day, I was back to that most memorable of all my past Christmases. I was ten. Emergency surgery had not prevented my appendix from rupturing. This was meaningless to a 10-year-old. All I was aware of was four people holding me down while a foul smelling black rubber mask was held over my face and green smoke swirled in front of my eyes.
Four days I had spent in a sort of twilight sleep only waking to be put back to sleep. Though barely conscious, my memory of the hospital smells, the hushed voices of visitors, and a crying child were indelibly inscribed on memory and would pop into my consciousness at unsuspected moments.

This was a moment I expected the memories and I wasn’t surprised. The automatic doors whooshed open and I was in the lobby totally empty of people, information desk—empty—elevator—empty. I pushed "7" and silently hoped I was on the correct side of the four sided area.

Amazingly, I walked straight to my friend’s room, without guidance. I adjusted the garment bag and fixed the smile on my face. Briefly, those grim faces and heads shaking from side to side flashed through my memory like an electric shock. Grim looks did not belong in the hospital.

The room was tiny. I scarcely had room to step inside. The bed in the center of the room held my friend, her blonde hair waving through the shampoo. A nurse’s aide in pink smock was squeezed behind the bed, washing my friend’s hair.
"Hi!" I smiled brightly. "Bonnie, scoot over a little, I need a shampoo, too." I joked.
"Jessie, I’m glad to see you. Did you have trouble finding everything?" Bonnie asked. I knew she hated to bother me.
"I think so, you’ll have to look to be sure."
"Thank you so much," Bonnie said squinting as a glop of bubbles ran over her forehead. "This is my friend, Jessie, who has brought me some clothes."
"Oh-h-h, such a good friend," said the aide with a Spanish accent.
"Can you stay a while?" Bonnie asked.
"No, not this time, Bonnie. I have to go home to rescue my underwear from my husband. He’s helping me by doing the laundry, but he always puts my underwear in the drier and ruins the elastic. Most of the underwear I have now, has no elastic and it sometimes falls down."
Bonnie and the nurse’s aide laughed loudly. "There, see I’m already making you laugh and upsetting you."
"No, it’s good to laugh," the nurse’s aide said.
"Well, I promise to be back soon," I meant it at that moment.
"I’m going to the re-hab hospital tomorrow." Bonnie said it matter of factly.
"Don’t they think that’s soon?" I asked.
"No, they say not."
"That must mean you’re on the mend! I’m glad, but I’ve got to go now. Rest as much as you can."
"Bye, Jessie."

I turned on my heels and walked quickly down the long hall retracing my steps. Outside, the doors, I took a deep breath. Could I have been holding my breath so long? Of course not, I would have passed out long ago. The cold air felt good on the exposed skin: my cheeks, hands, ankles. I felt like walking for a long time because I could. I no longer meant to revisit. Too painful, too difficult, too memorable, too ----.

Two weeks later, I received a call from the hospital social worker. My friend had taken a turn for the worse, her family had been called in. Once again I made the hospital trip. This time to the critical care unit.

A different experience awaited me. The critical care unit was arranged in a semi-circle around a large nurses’ station. The fourteen rooms, or cubicles, had curtains instead of doors. Most of the areas had a single straight wooden chair, many filled with a person reading or silently watching.

Area 10 was assigned to Bonnie. She was asleep on the narrow bed. Her right hand made small jerks. I watched for a while. The nurse approached from behind me. "Her infection seems to be responding to medication now and I think she will be moved to another room tomorrow."
"I’m glad to hear that," I mumbled.
"Do you want to wake her?"
"No, no. Let her rest." Once again I was released. This time there was no joking about the ruined elastic on my underwear, no laughs or fun –just reality.

That move to another room did not happen. When I returned to the critical care unit, I found the cubicle with the curtain drawn. The young male nurse’s aide cleared his throat when asked about Bonnie. He finally told me she’d "passed away 15 minutes ago." I stood there, stunned, not knowing what to say. Then I turned to leave. There was nothing else to do.
No more funny stories to tell, no more laughs. Now only memories of the elastic that always gave up in the heat of the drier of the day to day life.
Marcia Dumler March 2008>

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