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Nick was sick, that much is true, but so were his ward-mates—the mastectomy, the hernia and the cancerous kidney gone bye-bye. They were all making valiant attempts to be good patients, everyone that is, except Nick.
In the past four months I’ve been in-and-out of five different hospitals, serving as a patient valet to various family members. As the self-acclaimed Ulysses of the health-care system, I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly.
Out of all the people I have encountered during my travels, Nick— who had bed “D” across from my mother this past Easter weekend—epitomized the bad patient: unable to communicate effectively; intolerant of and belligerent toward the female staff; and, most egregiously, unwilling to follow doctors’ orders and be part of the solution to his problems.
They were battle-scarred and beleaguered but everyone’s spirits were high... everyone except for Nick.
“That guy had a bad night,” whispered my mom, nodding in Nick’s direction. As the day wore on, and with only curtains for walls, we were a captive audience to several more acts of the Greek tragedy as it unfolded—Nick being difficult and combative with his nurses, even going so far as to spit on one of them.
I was chatting with Mrs. B., the evangelical Christian in bed “C”, when the spitting incident occurred. I’d brought her a medium double-double and she reciprocated by giving me a package of Queen Wilhelmina peppermints from the Dutch store in Acton. I was admiring the box, which bears an image of the beloved Dutch monarch, when I heard a loogie being hocked one bed over. (I told Mrs. B. I’d save the mints for later.)
“Why did you do that?!” Nick’s nurse demanded, in shock and outrage.
Nick didn’t have a good explanation and his lukewarm apology left me considering the implications for men like him who have “issues” with women and are unable even to fake a sick-bed attitude adjustment. (As an aside, anyone who’s kind of a misogynist should be prepared for a hospital stay to be a hell of his own design given that women still dominate the ranks of the caring professions.)
As I came and went from the room that day, fetching ice chips, chicken soup and other creature comforts for my mom, I felt sorry for Nick. He had no visitors and just lay on his bed moaning and being ornery. He had a large, flat face, like a frying pan, and big, rough, working-man’s hands that looked as though they’d seen the business end of a jack hammer, or something like it, for more than a few years. No doubt there was a world in which Nick excelled, but this wasn’t it.
The holiday weekend had left the hospital short-staffed and customer service was waning. For compassion’s sake I braved the wall of angry defiance that Nick had built around himself. “Can I get you something?” I asked.
I don’t speak Greek, so Nick and I communicated through broken English and some nodding and pointing. He wanted Ginger ale and the patient kitchen was well-stocked with 2-litre plastic bottles of the stuff. I filled a Styrofoam tumbler and made it my mission to keep him topped-up throughout the day.
Of course, what I didn’t know was that Nick was Diabetic. Presumably he was aware of this, though, since he was in hospital for complications due to Diabetes, which I only found out after having administered a near-lethal dose of Canada Dry.
“He ought to have known better than to ask for sugary drinks!” This was the defence I had formulated in my mind while toying with the notion of being charged with Involuntary Manslaughter. I’d never almost killed someone before and it was very unsettling.
I listened as the nurses interrogated him about the sugar spike. Like an addict remaining loyal to his dealer, Nick ran through a partial list of things he’d consumed, making no mention of the steady stream of Ginger Ale with which I had stupidly supplied him.
Later that evening, as I kissed my mother goodnight and headed out the door I saw Nick nudge his empty Styrofoam cup in my direction. He was like a little boy and Tennyson’s “gray spirit yearning in desire” wrapped into one.
The look in his eyes said it all: It was the ‘what-the-hell-everybody’s-got -to-die-of-something’ look. Would I be his enabler and give him one last cup of the fizzy, contraband nectar?
In the end I brought him some fresh water. There really was nothing else I, or anyone, could do.
Michelle Hauser is a former professional fundraiser turned humorist and freelance writer. She lives in Eastern Ontario (Canada) with her husband Mark and their son Joseph. Please click here to sign up for her monthly Newsletter.