The hospital hall: a flock of white coats. Peeking from beneath, neatly tied ties on the men, crisp button-down blouses on the women. A swan, hugged by shiny metal stethoscopes, speckled with brown clipboards – and the uniform clack of heels as it swarms through the hospital halls. Well-groomed, well-meaning. Inquisitive young minds and idealistic young hearts.
Room 10-625: a 72-year-old Caucasian female. Presented with shortness of breath, chest pain. Past medical history: Diabetes Mellitus, hypertension, history of cigarette smoking, stage 4 kidney disease. First differential diagnosis: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Second differential diagnosis: hospital-acquired pneumonia. Unofficial prognosis: not good.
The elevator devours the swan, and up it swims, up, up, ten floors up. Right, left, right again, through the halls it flutters and fleets. Internal idleness. Did you notice how there’s no more frozen yogurt in the cafeteria? How about that bulging vein in Dr. X’s neck! Shh now, this is the room. A knock on the door, and a trickle of white inside.
The dance of sheets, enveloping a frail body. Wrinkled sheets; wrinkled gown; wrinkled skin; a person dissolved, into an indistinguishable mass of crinkled beige. Tubing from her nose, tubing from her mouth, it webs. A trail of drool, culminating in a patch of crust on her gown. Creased eyelids covering the windows to her soul. Where is her soul? A body: attenuated by time, atrophied by pain.
Around her, the drip of dialysis. The rhythmic beep of the EKG. The hum and whirr of machinery, looming arrogantly. We are keeping you alive.
A single hiccup and the coats descend, encasing their prey. They pound on her, inject into her; a scuffle of syringes and solutions. The barking of orders, and a mist of multisyllabic words. A few castaways fly free and paste themselves against a wall, shuffling desperately through clipboards. You won’t find the answers there, cygnets.
From beneath the scuffle, two pale feet leak out. They pray; then a twitch; and finally resignation.
The drip of dialysis. The hum and whirr of machinery, cowering shamefully. All we can do is postpone death. A flat line.
The tender swan reassembles. Injured – but not slain. Off-white coats, and the fresh stain of heartache.
“I will… never do harm to anyone…. If I keep this oath faithfully, may I enjoy my life and practice my art, respected by all men [and women] and in all times; but if I swerve from it or violate it, may the reverse be my lot.”