About the Author
What Can We Do For You, Mrs. Ross?
At first it wasn’t that I put off worrying, I just didn’t. I was brought here to the hospital and they operated so quickly that I hardly had time to worry. I was dying, but I didn’t have time to wonder whether I would. And now that I have time to worry, there doesn’t seem to be anything really worth worrying about. I should feel carefree now that I know that nothing is worth worrying about, but it’s just that now nothing seems worth caring about either. It is as if everything has become flat. Something has happened here, everything has been levelled.
I know, you want me to be my old self again. And you want me to hurry up being it. But that may be impossible. Something happens to people here.
Take Mrs. Ross, for example. She is confused. The nurse in charge has a way of indicating confusion by moving her fingers around her ear. With one hand carrying a tray, her other hand is indicating confusion. “You know,” she lowered her voice confidentially, “the way older women get confused. She was like this even before she came here. She does this every day. She moans and then she whimpers and cries like a child.”
It was on the first morning I was here that I heard Mrs. Ross moan, loud moans as if her heart were being torn apart and I heard the nurse call down the hall, “What can we do for you, Mrs. Ross?” and then the sound of feet moving toward the noise. I asked the nurse, “What is that?” and it was then that she told me about Mrs. Ross, and how her two breasts were cut off, but it wasn’t that, the nurse hastened to explain, which had made her confused, it was something before she came here, that there is no difference between her old self and her new self. The nurse moved her fingers around her ear and spoke as if we were in instant complicity.
I began to watch Mrs. Ross. She has a routine. In the afternoons, the nurse takes her down to the end of the hall, where there are large windows and magazines and an ashtray or two. Usually Mrs. Ross sits there alone in her wheelchair, pulling a pink blanket around her knees. But yesterday a man, someone’s visitor, was sitting in one of the chairs, smoking distractedly. Mrs. Ross was mumbling to herself loudly but the man was not listening. “The rules,” she was saying, “there are so many rules here. The nights are long and the days are longer.” She was waiting for her daughter, who, she complained, was late. Her hands shook as she tucked and retucked the pink blanket around her knees. It was then that I noticed for the first time that Mrs. Ross is orange, her hair orange, the skin of her neck and face orange. And even the buckle on the strap that holds her into the chair like an infant in a carseat, is orange.
Her daughter finally arrived and pulled a chair over in front of her mother. They sat face to face, her daughter leaning over occasionally and adjusting the pink blanket, tucking it in more firmly around her mother’s knees. They talked about nothing in particular.
“Mother, now you must rest,” her daughter said after awhile, retucking the blanket for a last time before she left. “You sit here and the nurse will come soon and take you back to your room. I will see you tomorrow.”
Mrs. Ross watched her daughter leave without saying a word to her. For a moment she was still and then her orange hands reached behind her to try to unbuckle the strap around her waist, which she couldn’t quite reach. It was then that the smoking man noticed her movement and anxiously stood up to help her.
“Thank you so much,” Mrs. Ross said. “It’s just over here. My room is just over here.” She leaned on his arm and they began to slowly walk to the first room on the right.
There was the sound of feet moving. The nurse appeared and took Mrs. Ross off the arm of the man saying, “Mrs. Ross, you know you are not supposed to get up by yourself,” and gave the man such a look of disapproval that he was hurt. “She wanted to get up,” was all he could say.
I don’t know why I watch Mrs. Ross. At first I just saw her, I didn’t watch, like I just heard, rather than listen. But then I began to watch, and to listen. And to listen to what the nurses and doctors say to her. They are always telling her to be calm.
They tell me to be calm too, especially the doctor. The doctor is two different people. You probably think I am confused, but I am not. Sometimes he is wearing white and sometimes he is wearing black. He comes in so quietly and sits at the end of my bed and asks me how I am doing and tells me to be calm. I don’t know why he tells me to be calm. I am almost always calm because I have nothing left to worry or care about.
I am telling you this so that you understand that something has happened here. I don’t think that the doctor understands. And yet when he is wearing white and bends over me with his blue eyes he looks as though he can understand anything. He asks me how I feel and runs his finger along my incision. He tells me how lucky I am to have missed the “Grim Reaper” with such emphasis. And tells me that when I am my old self again I will not feel this way anymore.
The first time he came in to see me after the operation, he was wearing black and his eyes were orange and he removed the staples used to close the incision with a small instrument, like the type used to remove staples from paper. I felt like paper and told him so and he seemed to understand the transience of paper. It did not hurt when he took out the staples, but it seemed so strange to have been closed up that way. All he said was that I was thinking too much, and that if I imagined myself as paper, I would know that paper does not mind being stapled.
What I really wanted to know was precisely what he took out. I asked him if it were one tube or if it were both. He said one, but I couldn’t remember what he had said, there were so many drugs in me, so that the next time he came in I asked twice, or three times, “What have you taken out, are you sure it was only one?” and he said to please be calm, it was only one, but I asked him at least a fourth time, “Are you sure it was only one?”
He assured me that it was and that I had another which would work perfectly fine and that when I am calm and am my old self again I will be able to put everything into perspective.
I am trying to tell you that it will take time for me to put things into perspective, to be my old self again. You brought me here and the needle went in and I had just a short moment to think about anything, just a moment when the doctor’s voice was telling me to think about something nice and I was not thinking about you and me, only about something that happened far in the past. His voice told me to think of a nice place and I thought of a certain island and that was the last thought I thought. The blue sky and the green trees and the white sand and the people I knew there were the last thoughts I thought. The doctor was hovering over me, a nice man dressed in white who had nice blue eyes like the ocean and he was saying simply, “Now just think of some place nice,” and I answered, “I am,” and that is all I remember.
On that island, once I had seen the moon set and the sun rise at the same time. I was riding a bicycle, when suddenly in the dark sky two orange blobs were there together. I was with someone who was riding a bicycle too, and I turned to him and said, “See,” and he surely saw what I did. I do not remember the man’s particulars as much as that for one moment when we happened to be together, the sun rose and the moon set at the same time, and that he saw what I saw, and that it made us feel very happy.
Perhaps you think I am confused, but I’m not. It’s just that you and I do not see the same things. When this trouble first started you would ask kindly if I was feeling alright, but then after awhile you became another person, less kind, as if you wanted me here in some strange way. I was doing this to you, you said, putting your face close to mine. And your face changed because I had done this to you.
I know, you want me to be my old self again and to hurry up being it. When you take me home tomorrow you want everything to be like it was before. Mrs. Ross will be going home tomorrow too. I heard her daughter say that tomorrow Mrs. Ross will be going down the peninsula to be nearer to her. I would like to go home and be nearer to you, like before.
I will think of Mrs. Ross sometimes after I’ve left here. She is hard to forget. The “Grim Reaper” missed her too, I suppose, although sometimes when I watch her I am not so sure, and whenever I hear a voice shout down the hall, as it continually does, “What can we do for you, Mrs. Ross?”—where a week ago I could imagine any number of answers to that question, today I can’t think of a thing.
|© Laura Beausoleil, 2010|