a bit of grace

The random musings of Kate Grace

My Week as Bea Arthur

It was my third day spent lying in the hospital bed, the white curtain in the white room separating me from Ms. Stuydevant. She was always quiet when a nurse or intern was in the room, more often to see me than her.

“Dammit, someone took my favorite vein!”

That was the nurse. For the whole of my life I have gotten compliments on one particular vein from anyone trying to draw blood or place an IV. It’s on my right arm and its almost-as-attractive twin (made completely unattractive by direct comparison) is in the same spot on my left arm, which was also taken.

“Dammit! Who took that one?!?!”

I shrugged. No one ever introduced themselves before they put an IV in me. Most waited until the Ambien had fully dissolved in my belly to even attempt. There weren’t a lot of conversationalists walking those halls. Just scrub ensembles and white lab coats roaming in and out of my Ambien-induced state. Shapes without names or stories.

By the third day I had given in to the purgatory and stopped asking for names. None of them cared to know mine.

“I’ll have to draw from your foot.”

That was one I had never heard, but then again I had never been on two separate drips before with the need for blood to be drawn. I then knew the second runner up vein is in the top of my right foot. That knowledge may come in handy one day.

She had what she needed and then left. There were no visitors that day, and one call from my mother. I was in a hospital sitting directly on the border between Morningside Heights and Harlem in Manhattan, and release wasn’t even a faint hope at that point.

From the other side of the white privacy curtain I heard the door click as the latch nearly caught, but didn’t, behind the nurse.

That’s when she came to life. A low, gravely voice as if rising out of a long-forgotten mildewy well echoing from behind the curtain.

“Bea. Bea Arthur… you don’t bring no visitors in my house.”

“Yes, Ms. Stuydevant.”

“Bea. You hear me, Bea? This is my house. Don’t you bring no visitors into my house, Bea Arthur.”

I had stopped trying to convince Ms. Stuydevant of my actual name at some point during day two. She was a dementia patient. She was probably in her 90s. She was belted into her bed. She was my roommate that week.

I had actually assumed she was a man. It was hard to tell by looking at her at first. It was a mistake her niece corrected when she called the phone I had paid to activate next to my bed looking for her aunt.

The previous few days had felt like my life had somehow slipped out from under the direction of God and into the hands of David Lynch. I didn’t know it at the time but I had a horrible case of mono. Apparently 1 in 1000 cases get it that badly. I was lucky number 1000!

On the Monday I went to a clinic knowing full well I should go to an ER but trying desperately to avoid the higher copay. The clinic would be $30. An ER visit was $150. I was swearing the entire way when the clinic doctor had me rushed to the ER.

Here’s the thing about Manhattan hospitals, particularly the one they sent me to – there’s no room at the Inn. I remember coming in and out of consciousness whenever someone would ask me to pee in a cup. I was on the floor leaning against the nurses station. I was in a chair. I was in the bathroom. Someone was pounding on the door.

At some point my sass-a-frass roommate got sick of sitting in the waiting room and somehow got back into the ER and started knocking some heads. She must have, I assume, cause the next time I came to I was in bed in a makeshift room with a others.

The old Eastern European man to my right was happy. He had found something to pee in, which he did… inches from my face. I rolled my head over the pillow to the left and listened in as the woman in that bed used her cell phone to order delivery… to be delivered to her in the ER. And my personal favorite, across from me down by my feet, I heard a woman arguing with a nurse: “It was the expired Orange Juice I drank that gave me the heart attack, not the crack I smoked,” her logic being that she ALWAYS smokes crack but only that once had drank expired orange juice.

I was wheeled into the room I would call home for the next week much later that night, to the delight of my new roommate. The nurses drew the curtain and left us each in the dark and I fell asleep.

That night I dreamt of a woman crying and screaming somewhere off in the distance, but I could never find her. Finally, the screams built to a commotion of other voices and squeaking bed springs. I woke me up and I realized it was all coming from the other side of the curtain. My roommate suffered night terrors and would wake up in the darkened hospital room not knowing where she was and not remembering how she got there.

This scene played out at least a few times a night for most of the week.

I was wheeled out of the room on Day 2 for multiple tests. It was November 4, 2008. I remember this perfectly because of the hour I spent in the MRI machine holding my breath until the attendant announced over the speaker “Virginia went to Obama,” “Michigan went to Obama,” and so on.

That, and also breathing blurs the image. It was the longest hour of my life.

Ms. Stuydevant was relieved to see me wheeled back in. Her expression never changed. Her face was frozen in a hybrid expression of surprise and terror all the time, as if scratched from wax. But I could tell by her breathing or her muffled sounds. When I was returned after being gone, it was staccato hums. When she woke up and thought she was alone they were frantic grunts.

I was put back in bed and the attendant left. When the coast was clear I heard that low, desperate voice.

“Bea. Bea Arthur…”

“Yes, Ms. Stuydevant?”

“Dont’choo leave me.”

She would drift off during the day and I would just lay watching TV. By day four she wasn’t waking up with screams any longer. Instead, I would hear the crinkling of metal on metal above my head as her branchlike arm pulled back on the privacy curtain exposing her waxy expression.

“Bea Arthur. You still there?”

I stopped closing the curtain on day five. It was just easier for her.

Ms. Stuydevant and I fell into the routine of an old married couple. I would flip through channels based on her sounds. Rolling, muffled grunts for channels that didn’t interest her and quick, enthusiastic grunts for those that did. I would put the remote down and we would watch in silence.

Neither one of us had visitors most days. Which Christmas movie is that…the one with the Island of Lost Toys? Is it Rudolph? Either way, that’s what Ms. Stuydevant and I were. We were the lost toys and our hospital room balancing between two worlds in Upper Manhattan was the island.

The best I can figure is Ms. Stuydevant was watching an episode of the Golden Girls shortly before I was wheeled into her room. I noticed a pattern as her and I shared a TV for a week.

For example: Commercial breaks on the evening of day four for the particular station we were watching were dedicated to “Australia” previews. If I was a good enough judge of Ms. Stuydevant’s sounds at that point, Hugh Jackman certainly didn’t rub her wrong! Back to the program and a few minutes later a doctor walked into the room to check on her. He first turned to me.

“Do you want me to close this curtain?”

“No. It’s easier this way,” I said, never taking my eyes off the TV.

“Okay. Hello, Ms. Stuydevant. How are you today?”

(humming grunt)

“I asked how are you today.”

“She’s fine,” I said, again without turning. The curtain closed.

“Ms. Stuydevant, do you know where you are?”

(humming grunt)

“MS. STUYDEVANT, DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOU ARE?”

“…yes…”

“Where are you Ms. Stuydevant?”

“Australia…”

(guttural laugh from my side of the curtain)

He eventually left and then, just as each previous time someone pulled the curtain closed I heard the crinkling of the curtain being drawn back.

“Bea Arthur. You still there?”

“Yes, Ms. Stuydevant.”

It was at some point late on day five when I broke emotionally. My family was states away. My roommates couldn’t come see me all the time. Friends had stopped by once days ago, but they lived in Queens and Brooklyn… and frankly, I didn’t blame them. That’s a shitty commute.

The doctors still hadn’t given me the answer of Mono and were still fighting over veins and running tests and telling me to hold my breath and putting on huge metal vests or leaving the room as they left me (protected only by the guaze tunic I had sported most of the week) in front of big machines that rumbled with each radioactive image they took.

I broke. I cried. I felt helpless and hopeless. I was tired and I was sick and no one could tell me why. I stifled the gasps as much as I could focusing on the patterned rhythm of rubber souls bouncing down the hall, but eventually the gasps broke out and the tears streamed freely.

I had never in my life felt so utterly alone.

That’s when I heard the crinkling, slower this time. The curtain was drawn with hesitation and I watched, lying on my side facing the curtain, as Ms. Stuydevant’s face was revealed a centimeter at a time. She was lying on her side facing me.

We were quiet for a second, just looking at each other. Then she spoke.

“I’m here, Bea Arthur. I’m here.”

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This entry was posted on August 14, 2010 by in regular.
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