It was where the elderly came to fade away.
September 15, 2013
A VG Serial: Dark Continent Continental
Nurse Pennypacker walked silently into room 210, of Charity Hospital, on nurse-friendly crepe soles. The bony bundle tilted up in the bed did not open its eyes. Charity Hospital of New Orleans was known as the Hospital of St. John in the old days. The ward would have been a frightening scene to someone not acclimated to working on it. All of the bodies in the beds had ashen faces, blue lips, closed eyelids and seemed more like mausoleum residents than living beings. The only sound in their rooms was the clicking, whooshing and rattling of the machines at work to keep them among the living for a few minutes, hours or days longer.
Nurse Pennypacker went to the window and adjusted the blinds. A murky mist was rising up over the Crescent City. It did, in fact, resemble a steaming croissant, with busy piss ants crawling over it, absorbed in tasks or just looking about. New Orleans was a city of beauty and mystique, but at times it could take on a sinister light.
As the nurse knelt by the bed she took a secretive peek at the wee death’s head on the pillow. One beady little eye popped open and did a scan of the room. Nurse Pennypacker undid the clamp on the catheter bag, emptied the contents into a container, then re-fastened the clamp.
“850 cc! That’s pretty good, Laroux. Let’s go for 1200 next time.” She rose and went into the bathroom to dump the contents of the container. When she did, both eyes in the little head popped wide open, then closed quickly, before the nurse came back into the room.
Laroux Dimitri was getting Lasix to take the fluid off her lungs, and Digoxin for her heart along with a bushel basket of pharmacopeia, including replacement potassium. The wicked IVs going into the frail little arm looked surreal. Nurse Pennypacker grasped the control and raised the head of the bed some more, despite barely audible groans of protest. She wheeled the over-the-bed tray table into place. The little eyes opened again and squinched into a frown.
“Laroux! Laroux Dimitri!” Nurse Pennypacker sing-songed. “Why am I putting your tray table here? Is that what you are asking yourself? Because…..because….I have a surprise for you.” Then Nurse Pennypacker left the room.
When the nurse returned in a few minutes, Laroux came back to life, almost imperceptibly. She watched through half-opened eyes as Nurse Pennypacker put a glass globe the size of a basketball on the tray table. It was on an ebony pedestal. Attached to the globe was a gift card with a bow and a tiny pink rose in a water tube.
“Want me to read the card?” The nurse asked.
The head nodded slightly.
“Your future looks rosy. Please get well soon. We have work to do. Angus and Skeeter, Austin PD.”
There was a half-smile on the elfin face. Nurse Pennypacker moved the globe closer to her patient. Laroux strained to see the delightful things inside.
“It looks like a giant crystal ball. Clever idea.” The nurse commented.
Louise Pennypacker had much to do yet, on the ward, but she lingered a short while longer. Laroux stared and stared into the terrarium. Her bony fingers slid over the gift card.
“Can I get you anything?”
“The remote.” Laroux squeaked and gasped.
“What do you want to watch? I’ll get it for you.”
“Passions.” Laroux squeaked, again. Most people would have drawn a blank, but not Louise Pennypacker. Ninety percent of all the little old ladies she had had on her ward were addicted to the show. The soap opera had been canceled years before, but there was a cable station in New Orleans that carried re-runs of it, twenty-four hours a day, and Louise Pennypacker knew the channel number by heart.
Laroux’s eyes sparkled when she saw her favorite characters, Timmy, Tabitha and the talented orang emoting on the screen. She would turn her head toward the screen for a moment, then turn and gawk at the contents of the glass globe. It was like she was on some kind of a weird loop.
Nurse Pennypacker poured a glass of cool water from the pitcher. “I want you to drink this whole thing before I come back in here again, okay?” Laroux was too pre-occupied to respond verbally.
I love it when they turn the corner! Louise Pennypacker thought as she left the room. Angus and Skeeter, whoever you are, I thank you. It did the trick.
Chapters of Dark Continental by Sara Marie Hogg will be published on Saturday and Sunday.