The Bright Side
By Mark Burrow
Elaine is a northerner and she is happy when Manchester United win a football match. “How are we this morning?” she said, perkily. “We need to change these sheets, don’t we?”
She reached for the curtain. “Josephine, can you bring the hoist?” she instructed loudly, but not shouting. There was the swish as she pulled the thin plastic curtains shut. The sound of the wheels on the rail was not unpleasant.
“The weather outside’s atrocious,” she said, efficiently moving me upright, removing the tee shirt my daughter had bought me which said New York on the front. Elaine tuts at a sore on my back. “I’ll put cream on that,” she said. “We must get you that air bed.”
Across from me, muffled by the curtains, an old man cried, “Nurse, nurse.”
“I’ll be two ticks,” said Elaine.
A second nurse came in. My wife doesn’t like how this one moved me around. She’s too rough and ready, a man handler in every sense.
Elaine returned. I’m wiped with a sponge on my face, armpits, belly and down there. They brush my teeth. Pull on pants. Tracksuit bottoms. A sweatshirt I’d never seen before.
“You look dapper today,” said Elaine. The second nurse brushed my hair.
They wheel over the hoist and fasten the straps of the harness and there is a squeak as the other nurse pumps the foot pedal. Gradually, I’m hauled off the bed and the limbs willow about the trunk. Around the neck, a surgical collar keeps the head erect.
I’m suspended. The curtains are open. I blinked at the sudden brightness. The other patients in the ward could see me but I couldn’t see them as I was pushed close to a wall. I noticed the indentures, cracks, the worn beige paintwork.
“Not like that,” corrected Elaine. “Like this.”
The other nurse muttered a reply. I couldn’t understand what she said.
“You must do it right,” said Elaine.
I heard the trolley for tea and breakfast. The warm canteen aroma of the food filled the air.
They are going to try hydrotherapy on me today.
My wife was due up at four. She had an appointment with our solicitors. Lauren, our daughter, is in Malawi helping the poor. Apparently, she is flying home to visit this week.
The other nurse swivelled round the hoist. I could see the other patients in the ward. My wife said that some of them never have visitors.
An elderly man reached across to the cabinet by his bed for water. I marvelled at the signals fired from the brain, the tendons stretching and contracting, how the joints bend and straighten. He holds the plastic cup, not too loose, not too tight, and raises it with staggering precision to his mouth.
His Adam’s apple bobs in his throat as he swallows. The insides channel the water into the right cavities.
(Be amazed by these actions).
The patients swiftly disappear from view as I am pushed beside the bed . “The smell of that food is making me hungry,” said the other nurse to Elaine.
In circumstance like mine, I am told it is best to take one step at a time. That is all fine and dandy, but you have to be able to walk in the first place in order to do that.
Elaine smiled. “Could you fetch cream for his bed sores,” she said, removing the blue straps of the harness.
My wife calls Elaine a good nurse. That’s a fair description. All I know about her is that she supports Manchester United and has a daughter called Beth whom she wishes would quit smoking. This level of detail is enough for me.
Elaine rubbed the cream onto my back. I looked at the patients opposite. Some could move. Some couldn't. Others didn't want to. To a man, they were older by a decade at least.
I liked feeling the inner sensation of affection I have towards Elaine, registering the emotion.
She screwed the lid onto the tub of cream and positioned me in the bed, pulling up the metal guards at the side.
I sit there. I tell myself: Elaine is a good nurse. My wife loves me. My daughter is travelling across continents and time zones to visit me.
This too is enough.