This is a piece written in response to a prompt from a writers website I love, The Red Dress Club.
The challenged offered: “Give me a memory of the color red. Do not write the word ‘red’ but use words that engender the color red when you hear them. For example: a ruby, a tomato, fire, blood.”
Walking down the sterile hallway I didn’t register the catastrophe of sound assaulting my ears, it was not shocking anymore. No longer did my heart race at the sound of a frantic cry for help, nor did the more commonly heard sound of anguished wailing. Normally each of the sounds of human suffering echoed here in the span of an eight hour shift and my brain had learned to filter them out.
As my soundless sneakers carried me towards the nurse’s station I smiled greetings at the residents while I deftly avoided hands reaching out from wheelchair bound bodies.
Reaching the station, I didn’t bother greeting the attending nurse who was busily taking notes from a doctor on the phone and would certainly not appreciate my attempt at pleasantry.
I had retrieved the bedding cart and was leaving the station when the attending nurse called my name. She informed me that I would be on palliative care that evening with Mrs. Ross. Responding in an acceptably professional manner I listened and took notes as the Nurse reviewed Mrs. Ross’ current state with me.
Mrs. Ross had lived in D wing which had been my assigned wing for the past 2 years. During this time I’d gotten to know both her and her husband very well, so much so that she insisted I call her Ella. Ella was 88 years old and was lucid, that alone was a rare achievement within this setting.
Ella was an artist; she would often tell me she was amazed that people would pay money for her work. She explained that to her it was an outpouring of her emotions and had never expected people to appreciate it.
Ella was someone very special to me, humble and sassy she inspired me. She cheered me on when I made the decision to return to college the following September. Feeling insecure about the male dominated field I’d chosen, Ella was one of the people I discussed my choice with. This wonderful white haired woman looked directly at me with her clear blue eyes and asked me what I was scared of? In her mind nothing was more frightening than not trying. She challenged me to succeed by living life fully with no regrets.
On that night as I entered the palliative care room, for the first time in 2 years those blue eyes weren’t clear. I didn’t hear her lively laugh, Ella wouldn’t be verbally challenging me tonight.
She lay prone upon the hospital bed, her emaciated frame visible through the light blanket. Her ribcage seemed to heave with each breath, her chest and throat emitting a horrible sound full of effort. The sound which was commonly known as the death rattle in that room.
Tears filled my eyes as I recalled how vital Ella had been, my breath caught in my throat as I stifled a sob. In my head I heard Ella talk about God, her imminent death, her gratitude for the life she’d led. I knew that Ella would expect me to step up to the plate and face this challenge.
With a deep breath I went to the bathroom and filled a basin with her fragrant body wash and warm water, returned to the room and speaking to her in normal tones I gave Ella the most loving bed bath I’d ever given. I smoothed her blankets, brushed her hair and applied moisturizer to her hands and face.
The last thing I ever did for my dear friend Ella was to apply her favorite raspberry lipstick, telling her that Mr. Ross would arrive soon and he’d find her looking as ravishing as always.