Goodnight, Harry

Goodnight, Harry

From Chicken Soup for the Nurse's Soul Second Dose

Goodnight, Harry

Therefore, comfort each other and edify one another, just as you are doing.

1 Thessalonians 5:11

My name is Harry. When I was forty-two, I was dynamic and distinguished, independent in life as I worked or traveled. Travel was my passion. By the time I was forty-five, I looked sixty. And now, at age forty-seven, I look ninety.

What robbed me of vitality, dignity, and very life was AIDS and several of its henchmen—the worst of which is an aggressive cancerlike disease named Kaposi’s sarcoma.

My travels are now limited to being rolled on my side, and back to the other side, while lying in bed in an inpatient hospice. I have come here to die and will oblige fate by doing so.

Kind, gentle hands care for me, but unfortunately their kindness cannot stop the pain of wood-hard legs, rotting from within from the sarcoma. Being turned is now a major agony, even with the narcotics I’m given.

Often I am uncertain of who is caring for me, even though through the medicinal haze the voices are familiar and sometimes I can connect them fleetingly to a name of a friend or a nurse or an aide. Two weeks ago, I joked with them all.

Now I would trade my life for a moment of laughter and relief.

“Harry. Harry. How are you tonight?”

I recognize the voice as that of a woman who works the evening shift, although I could not have told you until a second ago if it was day or night. Her name comes and goes with an ebb and surge of pain.

I try to respond to her question, but all that I can manage is a low sound. I am not sure myself if it is the greeting I meant to say, or a low moan. Even though it is of my creation, I do not recognize the sound.

I know she is going to pat me on my shoulder, like always. And she does. And I smile what must be an internal smile.

I can hear the stretching of latex as she gloves her hands and the low click of the pump that pushes steady but now not-so-small doses of morphine into my welcoming veins. I can feel the pressure of her fingers as she checks the IV site in my right arm, and all the while she talks to me softly.

Suddenly what attention I can muster is filled with the image of fruit, the smell of fruit; probably her scented shampoo because they discourage perfume here. The smell of berries is subtle, distant, yet pleasing, comforting.

There is a pause. I know she is clasping the head of the stethoscope in her hand to warm it. I know this because she always does this. She is both methodical and kind. It comforts me and I begin to drift.

Then an almost shocking damp coolness is against my face. I turn my head away because of the surprise of the sensation. I should have remembered. She always gently wipes my face with a cool washcloth. How could I forget something that feels so good?

The changing of the bandages on my legs is the opposite. It sends pain shooting up my calves, thighs, and throughout my body. No amount of morphine helps. No amount of gentleness helps. It is always an agony. I am sure it is horrible for her, too, because there are times when I can smell the rotting flesh. Still, she performs this mutually horrible task, not because she is paid to, but because she cares.

I can hear the sounds of instruments being placed in a tray, plastic bags opened and tied shut, and all the while she continues to talk softly. I am not lucid enough to understand all that she says, but the words and her tone comfort me as the intense pain from my legs subsides slightly.

There is another snap of latex and the running of water as she washes her hands across the room. And then, once again, a calm, quiet, reassuring voice comes to me above the dullness of my senses.

“Goodnight, Harry.” I feel a pat on the shoulder and the softest of kisses on my forehead. I try to discern which side of life and death derived that kiss. There is an angel there. I know.

Harry J. as told to Daniel James

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