November 16 2012
The hospital was so sanitary, so lonely. It was an old building, made of cheap brick and dusty mortar. The rooms were small, each decorated by one solitary window in the corner. It held the feeling of a prison more than a hospital, and to many patients their room was no more than a cell. Room 142 was no exception. Fluorescent lights hummed above the bed, illuminating the pale room. The walls were splashed a sterile white, and the lights only amplified the clinical feeling. There was scarcely room for one bed, let alone two, and the window did little to alleviate the feeling of imprisonment. The floors were a harsh hue of grey, and the shiny tiles reflected the buzzing lights. Any footstep on these floors echoed down the hallway, and one could often hear the sharp click of a nurse’s shoes as she scuttled from room to room.
Few guests ever passed through the hospital’s doors in the run of day, and nighttime was even lonelier. One by one, the day’s sparse visitors would leave. Paperwork was filed, and the doctor’s too made their way home. As the sun set it seemed that all life left the building. Only the night nurses stayed behind, standing guard. The hallways grew quiet, and an odd sense of calm gripped the place. It was an eerie calm, nothing like that of a newborn baby sleeping. There was nothing peaceful about it. No, it was the calm of a graveyard, a calm that gave rise to the notion that things were not as they should be. The sunlight faded, and silence gripped the place as night set in. Doctor’s left. Nurses arrived. Patients slept. Everyone was where they should be. Everyone, except him.
He didn’t even have a name (though it was certain he did, and Nathan just couldn’t remember it). It was he, the man in the bed under the window, that was out of place. He was the one guest who would not leave, and he was the sole object disturbing the peace of Room 142. Oh, how Nathan loathed him. How Nathan had come to be here was his own terrible misfortune, some cruel twist of fate. He should have known better, that’s for sure. Yet he didn’t know how this burden fell upon him; why was he, someone so young, was doomed to spend his days haunted by the body of an old man. Truthfully, Nathan didn’t know much of anything anymore. This was his life now. This was his bed, his room, his window. It all he had left. And all he knew was that he hated the man in his bed.
But maybe that’s being a little too presumptuous. In fact, Nathan hardly knew the man in the bed. He had never even spoken a word since he had gotten here. He could barely even open his eyes. He had simply appeared one morning, like the first snowfall of the year. There was no consultation on Nathan’s part. Just one morning, he was there.
Perhaps it was hasty of Nathan to hate this man. Really, why should he hate him? Nathan knew that accidents happen, in fact they happen all the time. His hatred wasn’t because of the accident, for that would have just been cruel. What Nathan hated him for was that now he was part of this wicked little game. He had once had all the peace and quiet in the world, but now this decrepit old man had taken that from him. All he had wanted was peace and quiet. But no.
The man could barely breathe, yet day and night he plundered on, gasping for air with deep, shallow breaths. He could no longer eat, and whirring machines delivered him his daily bread with a steady electric rumble. His vitals, monitored at all times, were displayed on the machine by his bed. Whenever these numbers dropped too low, the alarm would sound, and nurses would rush to his aid. The beeping, the whirring, the gasping, had become too much for Nathan. His world had become filled with noise. When the nurses rushed in for the second time that morning, Nathan was fed up. “Just pull the plug” he said to the nurses “put us both out of our misery”. He felt guilty for saying it. It was such a cruel thing to say. Nathan didn’t really mean it. He was just frustrated. Luckily, no one heard him.
Day in and day out Nathan sat in silence, hating the man in the bed. He hated the noise. He hated the machines. He hated his life. He hated it all. The man grew weaker, and more and more machines were brought in. Nurses came and went by the hour. They must have been so tired, working all night like that. There was no rest. No calm, no quiet. Only noise. The noise kept Nathan awake; sleep had become a thing of the past. This gave him time to think. He had lots of time. His thoughts drifted here and there, but always they returned to the same dusty thought. Just pull the plug, put us both out of our misery. Nathan didn’t really mean it. It was crazy talk. But still… it would be so easy. Just unplug the machine, and be done with it. All he really wanted was quiet. He was just so weak.
He couldn’t have done it if he tried. There was no way he could ever reach that machine. He tried to put the thought out of his head, to think of other things. But always it crept back slowly, sneakily, into his mind. As much as he tried to push it away, deep inside he savoured the thought. He chewed it over, until finally resolution came. He couldn’t fight it any longer. Yes! He would do it. He would take matters into his own hands. Those machines were making him suffer. He hated the noise. If only he could reach.
Nathan’s mind spun as he contemplated what he had resolved to do. Voices echoed in his head. The machines couldn’t drown out his thoughts any longer. He heard the nurses approach as they came in for their hourly round to check the machines. He could hardly mask his earnestness. They approached as usual: sharp clicking heels, clipboard in hand. Their focus was never on the man in the bed, but simply on the machine that kept him alive. They fretted over the numbers, playing with the knobs and dials. They never said a word to him. The machine had become more human than the patient. It was almost unbearable. Nathan could wait no longer, and it was he who broke the mechanical silence. “Excuse me… ma’am. Please…” he rasped “if you could… just a glass of water”. It was all his voice could manage. He was so tired of it all. His voice was so quiet, and the machines had grown louder at the nurse’s prompting. The nurses were focused on their clipboard, and needed to concentrate. They had no time for distractions. Luckily, no one heard him.
The nurses finished their measurements and left the room. They wouldn’t be back for another hour. Nathan hated the sight of them. His mind returned to the task before him, and his thoughts raced: Who would ever miss a sick old man who never has any visitors anyway? The nurses… he would be doing them a favour. His conscience was no longer with him; his resolve was strong. It seemed so clear to him now. It was for the best. He had to do it. Just pull the plug! But how?! The machine was so far away, and Nathan was so tired. He hadn’t been out of his bed in days. It seemed simply impossible. And the nurses… what if they found out? They would stop him. He’d be a criminal. He’d never get his peace. None of that mattered anymore. He had made his decision.
He surveyed his surroundings. The light from the lone window shone into the room, illuminating the stainless steel machine. It cast a stark contrast to the frail body lying on the bed. He was such an embarrassment. A wasted life! Nathan couldn’t understand how he had let things get so bad. Why didn’t he get help? Such a tired old man! Worthless! He hated the sight of the withered body before him. This was his chance. He was so tired! Carefully, cautiously, he slid his feet over the edge of the bed. His entire body shook, and he wheezed at the effort. Luckily, the machine’s never-ending whirs and beeps muffled the sounds of his breathing. The hallway remained silent. Determination gripped him, and he realized his goal was in sight. His feet tenderly touched the floor, and he grasped tightly to the rails of the bed as he uncertainly found his balance. He was really going to do it. The machine stood so close to the bed. He took a few shaky steps, balancing himself on the bedside. He reached the machine, and grasped the cool metal in his hands. It loomed over him, an ominous presence. Nathan couldn’t help but laugh. He stooped, ever so carefully, to reach the plug in the wall, and rested his hands on the cord. He hesitated a mere moment, and then, with a sense of satisfaction, pulled the plug from the wall.
The machine grew dark, and a brief gasp escaped his lips as he contemplated what he had just done. A smile of satisfaction spread across his face as he dizzily staggered back into bed. The whirring died down, the beeping stopped, and the room grew silent. Nathan lay down on his bed and revelled in his new found silence. It was as if the change was immediate. Peace was with him now. This was how it was meant to be.
The silence was broken only by a few choppy breaths as life began to escape from the old man’s lips. For an instant guilt gripped him, but he shook it off easily, revelling in the moment. This was what he had wanted. Death had come swiftly, it was no surprise. Nathan didn’t care anymore. He felt no remorse. He knew this would happen. Finally he would have his peace. The gasps grew faster and more stressed, more desperate. The old man’s body shook violently as all life escaped it. His skin grew pale, and his eyes grew heavy. Darkness overcame him, and a sense of cold fell upon him. The fluorescent lights hummed above. One last gasp escaped his mouth, and silence finally fell over the room. Luckily, no one heard him.
The nurses returned for their hourly rounds, and were shocked to find the old man lying dead in his bed. The machine had been unplugged. How could it have happened? If only he had called for help, something could have been done. Sadly, no one heard him. But the nurses were busy; they had no time to remorse. Nathan’s body was covered with a sheet, and his bed was wheeled out of the room.