(First in a three part sequence)

by Michael Levan

Wake up. Check phone for messages: does she need / new earplugs? a clean pillow case? her prayers answered? / Have some orange juice with an apple and savor it, eat down to the core, / gnaw away every bit of white flesh because the next meal is / in twelve hours. Dawdle on the computer; the world will be / cut off soon. Shower, dress, check, and double-check all faucets and stove dials are off. / (Thank Mom for passing on this touch / of OCD.) Get in the car, / make a U-turn, head north. Take a left / at the stop sign, then a right at the light. Stay in the left lane— / the right will become turn-only—through two more lights, past the Fellini Kroger / where old men talk to strangers in the dairy section, / peeing themselves all the while, and shirtless men in shitkicker boots and camo cutoffs have silent arguments / with the Customer Service staff. Turn left at the next light, / drive up the hill, then right for the Women’s and Children’s Center. Park. Breathe / deeply five times and head inside, locking the car behind. / Enter the elevator and push 3. Find her room, knock,  / go in and take her hand. Ask her how today is, / if there’s any relief, which nurse is on shift, what she needs done. / Unplug the infusion pump and lift her / from bed. Walk her, slowly, gently, to the bathroom. Wait / at the door, make sure she does not fall, ending / what’s barely even started. Pretend not to hear her / peeing or throwing up, to see in the door crack her / broken body hunched on the toilet. Tuck her back in bed, / blanket off her feet, which have always been too warm, / even in all her Michigan winters. Plug the pump in again, and pull the blinds down as far as they’ll go. / Tuck them inside the window jambs to keep / every slant of light out. Return to the bathroom: / if she threw up, rinse the green bile from the bucket and down the drain. Give it back; / she will need it soon. If she peed, / check the specimen collection hat perched in the bowl. / Full means a nurse must be called to record / intake versus output. Not full means wait. / Lay on the loveseat but do not fall / asleep; she will need to be taken to the bathroom many more times today. Read a book / by her monitors’ lights or play the handheld Tetris set / bought and brought to while away these empty hours. Try to beat yesterday’s record. / Answer nurses’ questions (re: times vomited and peed, / medications which have fared better than others, when Dr. E was last in). Locate nurses / when nausea’s wave crashes down / and she’s writhing and moaning for it all to stop. / Be patient with her. Know this / isn’t a hero’s job; it’s meant for a steady hand. / When she takes the Ambien, kiss her goodnight and tell her, / This will be over soon enough. / Leave the hospital, the parking garage, and find something to eat. / Feel helpless. Give in to the dark thoughts / for a moment. —This isn’t fair; how could anyone not be angry?—But let that pass; it’s not healthy. / Drink another Maker’s Mark / to drown the noise, to help sleep come. / Get ready for the same / tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

Also by Michael Levan:

2. Telling #2
3. The Rabbit Hole

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