Caution: The views, emotions and language used may cause offence.
THE HOSPITAL WAS nowhere near as generally squalid as I remember. The last time I had seen him in a hospital bed was years ago, before the billions of cutbacks had been reversed. After his fall, he had been bedridden, I had stood vigil, and now I was here. Again at his bedside.
His limbs were like sticks, and since I had last seen him, he had declined even further. His skin was beginning to sallow and become thin; his hair thinner and clinging ghost-like to his skull and his eyes dimming. The urine bag by the side of the bed was filled with strong, nearly orange waste fluids, and the drip administered fresh fluids. There was also an artificial injection point by the entry needle for it.
Scrunched over to his left, and still managing to curl up almost foetalish, he was dozing when we arrived, my mother and I, and we woke him gently. For a short time he was slightly confused – but only upon waking and only momentarily. He had no real voice, and could only whisper, so we had to crowd him to hear. Water; he wanted water. My mother – herself somewhat confused – could not find the double-handled baby/old-person lidded mug… but I did. Weakly, he took it from me and kept trying to find his mouth, failing each time. Waves of desperation radiated from him like heat, as he kept trying and somehow he could not accept the help my mother was trying to give him.
I could see why. He had impregnated her, provided for her, taken care of her and seen her do for their children what she was trying to do for him, and still – as weak as he was – he was unwilling to accept it. He knew I was there, and who I was, and finally I gently took the cup from both sets of hands, flailing in pitiable slow-motion: I could bear no more of it.
Here was my shock and surprise.
Instead of a howl of rage at the situation, without impatience at their combined inability, I simply said,
“You’re getting tangled up,” and even I was shocked at the gentleness in my tone. “Here, let me pass it to you from here.” They relinquished their slightly comical wrestling over the mug, and as our positions were reversed from him bearing the chalice at our many communion services, I administered to him. His right hand found mine and softly floated on it; this served to guide my hand’s speed of approach. Gently, together, we edged the hard plastic nozzle to his mouth; I told him he needed to suck on the straw – he accepted this as a premise. His left hand flailed in the air languidly trying to find some place to be, and I was aware that I was being watched by just about everyone present in the small side-ward.
The image that came to mind was of a giraffe. A giraffe trying to find the opening of a carafe. His lips became very mobile as they sought the spout, then found it and pulled inwards; only then did I begin to raise the mug and watch as he sucked and drew the liquid into his dry mouth. Finally, his left hand found one handle, and I let his right take the handle I was holding; I simply supported the receptacle. As his jaw worked, I could feel small impacts with his lower teeth.
NOW I was screaming inside.