Maryanne was my companion in our shared hospital room. A slight figure, with short auburn hair, her soft brown eyes shone like lanterns in her kind face. The major thing we had in common was the two of us were born during World War II while German tanks rolled all over Europe.
When I hobbled past her bed, she smiled and cheered me on. When her husband and daughters visited her every day, they encouraged her to eat well so her strength would return and she’d be able to go home again. No matter what the conversation was about, Maryanne had something positive to say about it.
Perched in my bed, I listened to the night sounds of hospital life while staff members did their rounds.
A man, his voice full of pain, shouted expletives and added, “This is worse than ’Nam!”
“Honey, would ya like a pitcher of ice?”
“Only if ya put somethin’ strong in it,” answered the man, whose tattooed, hairy arms said: “I Love You Mom!”
Women patients took turns trying to flag down the aides who scurried past patients’ open doors.
“Nurse! Miss! Anyone out there? I need a bedpan! I’m gonna wet the bed,” was a nightly refrain during my lengthy hospital stay.
As the night grew dark, machines beeped and bright lights blinked on. Everyone’s name was “Honey.” Aides checked patients’ temperatures and oxygen levels, and made sure beds were dry.
Death made his rounds.
Driven by male and female registered nurses, the pharmacies on wheels came rumbling down the halls. The nurses snapped on our overhead interrogation lights, yanked our arms out and took our blood pressures. They asked us to tell them our full name, date of birth and answer some other pertinent questions. In exchange for this classified information, we received a mini paper cup full of confetti-colored pills.
As the night unfolded, people slept, watched television, read, talked on the phone, watched the dawn break and begged for more pain pills. Some older people just stared at the ceilings and walls.
On my way back from the bathroom one night, I stopped at the foot of Maryanne’s bed.
“You’re gonna make it,” she said, knowing I was recovering from a major surgical procedure that had failed. Her words of encouragement propelled me safely back to my bed. Snug in my nest, I went into a deep sleep.
At 6 a.m., the night workers did their final rounds and reports. The nurses’ stations became as animated as big city loading docks. I woke to hear a nurse whispering in my ear.
“Maryanne died peacefully in her sleep during the night,” she said. “Honey, do you want to stay in here or sit in a wheelchair out in the hall?”
“I’ll stay in my bed,” I said.
Under the cotton curtains, I watched white-clad feet walking around Maryanne’s bed. I heard water being squeezed out of washcloths. An aide brushed her hair. I sat with Maryanne in our room until noon. Then a man in a dark suit came and discreetly wheeled her remains away.
I’m honored to have been the roommate of a woman whose last spoken words of hope and encouragement eased the fear of a frightened, struggling patient like me.
Veronica Hogle, a native of rural Ireland, came to the United States in 1965 and has lived in the same house in Buffalo for more than 40 years.