Andrea Moriah was born and raised in the great Midwest of the United States and now lives in the rolling hills outside of Jerusalem with her husband, Avner, a painter (and their dogs MeJulie and Blue). They have two grown sons, Nir and Tal, and a daughter Michal, who is a commander in the Israel Defense Forces.
The following work is copyright © 2010. All rights reserved. No distribution or reprinting in any form whatsoever without written permission from the author.
Watching Him Die
He's here in the Day Care Treatment Center of the Immunotherapy and Bone Marrow Transplant Department every time I am. And I'm here a lot.
I always take the same bed in the same four-person room – in the far dark corner away from a large picture window. My eyes can't take the strong Middle East light coming in or the lush Jerusalem landscape looking out. When I was ill I closed the curtains around my bed and shut my eyes while I waited for my treatments. Now I keep the curtains undrawn and open my eyes from time to time to take in the action.
He usually takes the bed opposite me, next to the window, the light, and the view, dumping his newspaper, water bottle and cell phone at the foot of it before stretching out on it, hands clasped behind his head, feet twitching to inaudible music. He is somewhat handsome with large dark eyes, a hawk-like nose and a full-lipped smile. He wears a short-sleeved T-shirt showing well-muscled biceps, loose-fitting khakis on a lithe frame, and flip-flops on his sockless feet. He is never cold and he is never hot. He is not old; and he is not young. He could be a father or still just a son. He always comes alone.
On my bedside table, I carefully arrange the vials of special human immunoglobins that will be dripped into my veins today to strengthen my immune system; then my cell phone and notebook, slip off my shoes (I, like him, have grown accustomed to wearing slip-ons rather than tie-ons for the convenience of getting in and out of bed to go to the nurse's rooms, bathroom, doc's office, etc.), cover myself with a hospital blanket, and settle in to wait my turn for treatment. But he…he's edgy. He can't lie still. He glances at his newspaper, swings his legs out onto the floor, sits up drumming his fingers on the day bed, and stares out the window. He gets in and out of his bed, slipping on and off his flip flops, going into and out of other patients' rooms, slamming the bathroom door open and then closed, and then open and closed. He stalks the halls while he waits for the nurses to call him in for blood tests; for the results. Once hooked up to his prescribed drips, he continues his patrols of the corridors, stopping at the nurses' station to play with their computer, sticking his head into patient exam rooms, disappearing from the ward altogether. He's playing "catch me if you can" with fate; the winning strategy is to keep moving.
There's no privacy in a hospital ward in Israel.
"What've you got?" I ask him.
"Are you in chemo?"
"They're giving me stuff."
"Have you had a transplant?" (I've had a stem cell transplant to get rid of my leukemia. Most of us in the Daycare Treatment Center have had one...or two.)
"Yes, it didn't take."
"What are they going to do now?"
"I don't know…something."
I now know something of his disease, but I don't know his name.
This goes on all winter. I get stronger. I come to the hospital less and less. Every time I do, he is here. He comes alone and paces the halls in his T-shirt and khakis and flip flops, pushing and dragging his tripod of personal drips. I don't perceive any difference in his situation.
It is suddenly soft spring, and his body has abruptly become angular and gaunt. He's wearing the same outfit as always, and I can see that his arm muscles have turned stringy under the short sleeves and his legs have become thin beneath the baggy khakis. His large eyes are surrounded by shadows and his once confident mouth is downturned and thin-lipped. He reclines, leaning back against a pillow in his day bed across from me; bare feet stacked one on the other, his left hand lifted behind his head, massaging his neck (there are lymph nodes back there), his right hand turning the pages of the newspaper he's pretending to read. In two seconds he's easing himself into a sitting position. He slides his feet into his flip flops and prepares to get up and go. He sighs first. His movements are slow.
"You're in pain?" I ask him.
"Are they giving you something for it?"
The silver-haired woman who came with him today watches his every leaden move. I do, too. His once trim abdomen is slightly protruding. He walks hunched over and studies the floor tiles instead of surveying his territory like the alert animal he once was. He is no longer dripping life-giving substances into his veins. His tubes hang out from under his T-shirt; they are draining unwanted liquids from his insides into swelling plastic bags, which he balances on one open hand as he prowls the corridors. The woman calls after him as he heads for the third time to the bathroom. "Izzy, do you want to take your newspaper?" His name is Izzy. By her face, I know he is still just a son; her son.
In the bed next to me is a man about my age. He and his wife are here whenever I am here, too. Sometimes his teenage son and his girlfriend take a turn sitting by his bedside. The man needs to be supported by one or another when he comes; they help him take off his shoes, climb into bed; they get him a blanket, fluff his pillows, hand him his water bottle. He is never hungry but is always thirsty. He has obviously been immobile for a while. His muscles have wasted to the point where his arms and legs look as if they've been hewn from pieces of wood, planed and sanded – hairless, shiny, and straight. His head and face are skin over skull, with indentations at his temples and caverns in his cheeks, heavy-lidded large eyes and a stretched, permanent smile -- an over-sized marionette. Either he or his puppet master keeps turning his smiling face rhythmically from side to side – no, no, no -- I don't know if he is smiling at me, admonishing me, or if I am just swinging into his vision from time to time. He hardly ever gets out of bed once in it. His tie–on sports shoes wait open-laced on the floor.
His wife is prematurely gray-haired. Spider-web-thin lines sprawl outward from the skin around her eyes. Other than that her face is young and she moves her body with the ease of a sportswoman. She sits and grades papers, or studies something, getting up from time to time to adjust his pillow or cover his legs, to consult the nurses or doctors about one thing or another. She is always smiling, too.
"How is he," I ask her.
"The same. The transplant didn't take. Nothing's working the way it should." She smiles brightly. I don't know if it's just my imagination that her husband is dying or her imagination that he is not.
I'm finished with my dripping. I gather my stuff, slip on my sandals and make for the elevator. I wish everyone a "full recovery." I smile at the marionette, who I think smiles back in my direction. I pass Izzy in his evasive action -- slouching through the corridor.
I wave to the secretary on my way to the elevators.
"Do you need to be here tomorrow for treatment?"
I shake my head, no, no, no.
The elevator is taking too long so I slip around the corner and duck into the stairwell, skip down the stairs, through the lobby and out the hospital doors and keep moving. Catch me if you can.