by Daniel A. Lovell
I’d already been in bed four hours before I found out what the mattress pad was for. You don’t ask too many questions about hospital beds, in general, and I didn’t ask any about this one. They let me have a laptop, and the hospital has free wifi. My assumption is those things are supposed to make up for the horror I’m sitting on right now, just barely covered by the ratty mattress pad. To be honest, I’m not sure why I’m here. I mean, generally speaking I understand there’s some degree of imminent danger when your blood pressure is roughly equivalent to your car tire pressure, but I haven’t been admitted to a hospital before. I don’t know what I’m supposed to expect them to do for me here that I can’t do for myself. I’ve been treated like a pincushion or a lab rat. I have needles and tubes stuck into me. I have wires stuck to my chest, and beeping in the hallway corresponds to my heart rate. I distinctly heard it speed up when the mattress pad slipped and I saw what was beneath. I pee in a plastic pitcher in the bathroom. They claim they’re measuring my output, but every two hours a nurse assistant comes to my room and pours the pitcher into the toilet. Nobody is in there long enough to write anything down. Speaking of the toilet, I’m pretty certain random passersby are using my bathroom while I’m in bed. The room – it’s a private room in the cardiac care unit – is set up so I cannot see the bathroom door from my bed and its mattress pad. And with the tubes and wires attached, I can’t get up quickly enough to check. I’m drifting between wake and sleep; sometimes I think I’m imagining there’s anyone there at all.
They brought me a cheeseburger for dinner. The alternative was a concoction they called macaroni and cheese. They brought a tiny carton of milk, some apple juice, water, and hot tea -- decaffeinated. I’ve been told caffeine and salt are to be avoided now, along with fats and cholesterol. They have given me a list of things I can’t eat or drink anymore. Coffee is on that list, along with steak, pepperoni, bacon and sausage. They’ve run a lot of tests. I have had CT scans on my brain and my guts. I’ve had my heart x-rayed. I’ve had EKGs, echocardiograms. They’ve drawn blood three times today. They’ve given me a lot of pills.
In the next room, an elderly lady can’t figure out how to use the call button to summon the nurse. She has been yelling for 10 minutes. “Nurse! Nurse!” She’s done this off and on most of the evening. They’ve told her to use the button on the wand attached to her bed. They’ve called the button a “bell,” which seems to confuse the elderly patient. She says she pushed the button but heard no bell. I silently thank God that her button isn’t attached to a fire-alarm-style bell. Her voice is grating enough. I bet she’s not a quarter of an inch from a mysterious horror. I bet she doesn’t have a mattress pad and her imagination separating her from the unspeakable. I bet she doesn’t feel like a prisoner in a third-world country, forced to repose in others’ sickness. I turn my mind away from the mattress pad and turn up the volume of the Yankees game. “Nurse! Nurse!” Edith has to use the bathroom again, I wager.
I’ve learned that Advil is designed to increase bliss through ignorance. The theory, apparently, is if it doesn’t hurt, it’s not a problem. Well, Advil stopped my head from throbbing. And I attributed the headaches to brown liquor anyway. I thought I was taking Advil to forget about the extra glass of Scotch from the night before. I was really covering up something else: My blood pressure had crept so high that I was like a zit ready to pop. In truth, I count myself lucky. I hate doctors, so I don’t visit them. I haven’t had a proper checkup since college, and I’ve only been to a doctor at all twice since then – once in the emergency room and once at the clinic because I had bronchitis. I always thought I knew my body well enough to know if I was sick. In truth, it was a good theory; so far, doctors and nurses alike say I appear perfectly healthy. The cute dietician who visited me this morning seemed uncomfortable telling me to change my eating habits. Levels of everything in my blood were fine, she said. There was nothing shocking there. Just the same, she said, she felt compelled to advise that I limit my salt intake. No more salt on the table, avoid packaged baked goods. Start reading food labels and cut back sodium as much as possible. She also told me to limit my cholesterol and fats. Every cardiac patient should eat less fat and cholesterol. She told me grains should make up the bulk of my diet. I wanted to talk to her about how the human body works. I wanted to ask her to sit down and explain to me how cholesterol gets into the human blood stream. I wanted to point out it was stress that caused my cholesterol level to be high – not cheeseburgers. But, frankly, I felt it in poor form to lecture anyone from atop this mattress pad and what it covers. And what if I shift and she smelled what I smell when I move? I would look like another crazy old man with crazy old man ideas. I won’t start eating more grains. Of that I can assure you. I’m willing to cut down on my salt and even cut down my caffeine. But Katie is recommending change for change’s sake; she doesn’t know what I eat or why. She knows I’m a cardiac patient. And that means cutting my cholesterol. Katie is the first attractive person I’ve seen here. They are all friendly in their way, but in some cases, they are too friendly. At 3 o’clock this morning, the nurse on duty came to take my vitals. Her visit turned into 15 minutes of chatter about her own high blood pressure, her divorce, and the fact that she had to babysit after work. Hospitals are not for resting, a friend tells me. So far it’s an adage proved correct. First, I was told I shouldn’t try to go to sleep before 11 p.m., as the nurses who come on during the shift change at that time will wake me to take vitals. So last night I waited for them to come until 12:45. I fell asleep at 1:15. I awoke in a state of terror around 2. I don’t know what happened; I woke just in time to see two nurses leaving my room, turning off the lights behind them. It scared me to realize I didn’t know how long they’d been there, or what they’d done whilst there. I allowed myself to dwell on those possibilities until sleep overtook me again. They woke me up about once per hour last night. Because I’m a particularly bad sleeper, that means I slept in 45-minute bursts all night. It felt like a sleep deprivation study. They drew my blood again at 5 a.m. They came by at 6 a.m. to drop off the day’s menu. At 7 they were back for vitals. By that time, I had finished trying to sleep – Edith was yelling for the nurse already. I haven’t used the bell to call the nurse yet. I keep trying to think of reasons to do so, but nothing seems important enough that I need to talk to anybody about it with any urgency. When I arrived, it took four hours just to get access to the wifi connection, but by that time I’d already looked under the mattress pad, rendering the happy discovery of free wifi almost worthless. The worst part of what’s under the mattress pad is I don’t know what it is. Part of me is embarrassed to mention it to a nurse. What if they think it came from me? I assume someone crapped the bed. Perhaps they died in this bed. All I know is that it isn’t just a stain.
When I stood up to pee in that plastic pitcher, the mattress pad slipped. And that’s when I saw the dark brown spot, soaked from the mattress through the sheet, and into the mattress pad. I was immediately struck by it – I was scared that I’d done it. After examining the “pajama pants” they gave me when I first came in, I determined it wasn’t mine. I ran my knuckles across. It was wet. I hurriedly threw the mattress pad over it again. I dropped my heart rate monitor to the floor and tripped over the wheeled stand holding my IV drip. I needed to get to the bathroom. Inside, I washed my hands and splashed water on my face. Who would do this? Why do this at a hospital? I grappled with the possibilities, with the implications.
What kind of hospital is this anyway? I wanted to call a nurse and scream. Instead, I erased it from my head. I carefully replaced the mattress pad. I covered the whole mess with a sheet. Then a blanket. I climbed back into bed. I could smell it. Whatever it was, I could smell it. It’s a fluke that I’m even here. I’ve gutted out every cold, flu and sinus infection I’ve had for 10 years. I even devised my own bronchitis cure, which works in less than 24 hours. It consists of lemon juice, hot sauce, honey and guaifenesin pills, all mixed with coffee. You have to drink it fast, or else you’ll taste it. If you taste it, you’ll throw up. It’s disgusting, but one or two doses of that and your body will give up being sick out of pure fear of having to drink more. So it was uncharacteristic for me to go to the clinic when I thought I had strep. The aching bones, the headache, the fatigue were things I’d dealt with. I felt the swollen glands. I decided it would be smart to get an antibiotic and be done. I’d be better in three days, I figured. Instead, a simple check of my blood pressure set off this unfortunate series of events. I had to actually find a real doctor. Then there were tests and prescriptions and more prescriptions. And then the “consultation” with the cardiologist when the prescriptions didn’t work. When I heard “consultation,” it sounded like I was going to get a stern talking to about my diet, my exercise regimen. Instead, I ended up here. The kindly Middle Eastern doctor told me I had a choice: I could go to the hospital or have a stroke. I couldn’t go home; he wouldn’t let me. So here I sit. In a bed with a stained mattress pad. I didn’t make the stain. Nothing I did caused the stain. I can’t get rid of the stain. But it bothers me. It torments me. It nags at me and won’t let me forget it’s there. I wonder if it will kill me, whatever that stain is. I wonder if it was the last thing that exited the last occupant of this bed. He said his final words and shat his final shit. Then they moved him out on some type of death conveyor belt to make room for the new meat. I figure there’s a metaphor here. I haven’t done a thing with my degree in literature, save for seeking out metaphors in life. So maybe, just maybe, that stain is like whatever sickness this is that threatens to kill me. A vile, creeping, stinking death that has hidden just under the surface, waiting to destroy me. I catch its scent on the air and know it’s hiding, but I don’t know what it is or why. I can’t change it. Or maybe that stain is a metaphor for something else inside me, covered just superficially. Just a peek under the surface would reveal Dorian Gray’s visage. Or maybe it’s life and the whole world and infinite time. Maybe I’m just the king of a shit empire, sitting on a shit throne in a shit palace.
Ah, my oatmeal has arrived. Hail to the king.
Daniel A. Lovell
is a former investigative reporter
and editor, a musician, a songwriter
and a dad. He has won several awards
for his work in newspapers and
community leadership, and has released
several albums as a solo artist and with
his band, Nightlite Mary.
IN THIS ISSUE–––
• DAVID S. WARREN
• MICHAEL CHAPPELL
• GEORGIA E. WARREN
The Woman Who Wore My Hat
• DAVID S. WARREN
The Third Leg
• FRANKLIN CRAWFORD
Dear Diary, 10,000 B.C.
• DANIEL LOVELL
• DAVID ROLLOW
Glad To Be Unhappy
• RHIAN ELLIS
•NANCY VIEIRA COUTO
Lily, Mister Bluebird, and the Beginning and End of My Singing Career
• GABRIEL ORGREASE
Stormy Daniels, Full Disclosure
• DYLAN THOMAS Before I Knocked
• MARY GILLILAND Vertical Before Dawn Strips the East
• FRANKLIN CRAWFORD
Burn the Timeline
• CHRIS MACCORMICK Disremembrances of the Russian Twilight
• PETER FORTUNATO
• MEMORY NUTS
OREN PIERCE Memory Nuts
R. Saminora, - Paris
Before I knocked and flesh let enter,
With liquid hands tapped on the womb,
I who was as shapeless as the water
That shaped the Jordan near my home
Was brother to Mnetha's daughter
And sister to the fathering worm.
I who was deaf to spring and summer,
Who knew not sun nor moon by name,
Felt thud beneath my flesh's armour,
As yet was in a molten form
The leaden stars, the rainy hammer
Swung by my father from his dome.
(the entire poem)
by Nancy Vieira Couto
"Nancy, I want to ask you something," my cousin Lily said. By the look on her face, I could tell it was important. "How would you like to be a flower girl at my wedding?" she continued. I didn't know what a flower girl was. I had heard people talking about sweater girls, and I sort of knew what they looked like, but I didn't think I could look like that. I was only four years old. "You would wear a pretty gown," Lily said, as if she were reading my mind, "and you would carry a bouquet of flowers." I was still worried about the sweater, but I liked Lily. So I said OK.
(go to story)
by Steve Katz
I was fifteen when my father died. He’d been sick for seven years already, was rarely home, usually bed-ridden in some dreary hospital in the Bronx, or upstate at some rest home. That was treatment for a heart condition at the time — stay in bed! Had my father been around, my fate might have been different. Without a father to slap me into the future I felt like upcoming life had been placed on the far side of a high slick wall. I couldn’t bust through it, nor could I scale it, but against its unyielding concrete I constantly slammed the enigmas of my adolescence.
(go to story)
by David Rollow
The writer sulked. She wasn’t wrong. In the flush of inspiration he’d typed up a report of her most recent visit, while still at the office (he had a day job to support himself), and he had unthinkingly left by the typewriter a second sheet for all to see. He didn’t use a carbon, so to anyone not overwhelmed by curiosity it would have seemed to be only a blank sheet of rough yellow paper. (go to story)
by Annie Campbell
I had gained only five pounds during my pregnancy, but walking in that oven-like heat made me feel like I had gained two hundred. My toes were so hot and swollen they looked like red potatoes and felt like they might explode. I could hardly wait for the heat wave to be over and my mysterious baby top reveal itself.
(go to story)
Review by Gabreal Orgrease
(go to review)
Before I Knocked (go to)
Vertical Before Dawn
Strips the East (go to)
Burn the Timeline (go to)
CHRIS MACCORMICK Disremembrances of the
Russian Twilight (go to)
1984 (go to)
I’d already been in bed four hours before I found out what the mattress pad was for. You don’t ask too many questions about hospital beds, in general, and I didn’t ask any about this one. They let me have a laptop, and the hospital has free wifi. My assumption is those things are supposed to make up for the horror I’m sitting on right now, just barely covered by the ratty mattress pad. (go to story)
The focus of our next Metaphysical Times will be
"Weird Tales" (see full size)
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