EL CENTRO — At an anticipated, odd hour in the evening, I find myself in the intensive care unit, behind a faded green window, watching Nana and wondering, what will I say? I always have trouble here. I am a nurse but I'm not at work, and I am not inhuman.
That is my Nana in the dreaded ICU; suddenly, we are synonymous: critical. There is an icebox aura in this circular impasse, seemingly no exit. What will I say to Nana? How are you doing? We all know the answer--in a place such as this.
I remember when the ward clerk let me in. I stood out in the hallway, pushed this button, waited, bit my cuticles, glance inside the "regular-floor" rooms around me. You know, as if I really weren't looking in those rooms but was just nervous about going into the ICU and had to keep my eyes occupied, until finally, someone would come, let me in that dim-lighted cul-de-sac of death. The whole routine is too much.
And no one came. So I started to imagine all kinds of dreaded thoughts. Is she still there? Is she still alive? Were they too busy? Did I ring hard enough? Maybe it is me. Maybe when they come, they won't allow me in. They'll look at me with suspicion and think, "All right! What is this one trying to pull?" Or "Is this one really who she claims to be?" But why else would I want to be in this terminal place? For fun? No thanks.
I stood there several minutes. I quickly scanned the dreaded door with the dreaded rules attached; I'm a genius at confusing them, and there could be that one I missed, disqualifying me.
I started to ring the buzzer again. I stopped. A sign, in red marker, states . . . RING ONCE ONLY! It startled me. I stepped back. Then, the big door swung open, the pin on the woman standing there reads, "Ward Clerk." Good, I could act cool.
"Yes, may I help you?" she queries. God! What is this? Burger King? Of course I needed help.
I cleared my throat, tried to act legitimate. "Yes," I said. "I would like to see Delilah Wilson, please."
"Just one moment please," she said and shut that door.
The fear was planted once more. Now what the H-E-L-L (as Nana would say) was going on in there? Maybe they just had to check Nana. She could have stopped breathing--her face may be blue. Perhaps they had to clean her up? Or change the sheets? I didn't know but had to wonder.
The door opened; it was the ward clerk again. "You may come in now."
At last! But I hesitate. Somehow I operated my feet into motion; I got beyond the dreaded door, no rules to rule me.
And here I am, inside. I have stopped here at this window, in the center cul-de-sac, where I can see Nana at a distance. I can see her little chest rise and fall, rapidly . . . nasal cannula affixed, but aiding her not. Maybe it wouldn't look so bad if I were ignorant. I doubt it.
She doesn't look good. Her hands are mittened, her chest is wired, her seamed face sags to one side, and she anxiously moves about under the sheet. She holds on to her life. She has always been a stubborn lady; she has a strong will and has forgotten it is time to go. I walk over to her, my steps in rhythm with the heart-beeping monitor.
I gently touch her. "Nana," I say. "Nana?"
"What?!" she says. Her frail body relaxes backward; she could take a break now that she had a diversion. She looked at me, straight through me in fact. Her blue eyes still clear but empty.
"It's Margo," I say. No reply. "M-A-R-G-O!"
She does not answer. The problem of what to say is not a problem anymore. I see the monitors. Nothing wrong, vitals are strong. I move my body to the side of her and her eyes still see me in the other position. Or do they?
"Nana?" I say. I shake her a bit. "NANA!"
What is it? Coma? I don't know. I look over to the counter behind the bed. Kleenex, extra tubes, ointments. No flowers, no cards. We don't give her things she doesn't know about. Suddenly, it looks like no one cares. Why then should she answer?
I stroke her white hair back on her forehead. She is helpless, like a baby; someone must take total care of her. The ICU nurses are here somewhere, with yet others, even more critical, to tend to. Nana's entire family and friends are gone and buried. But her little body is tough, even though her brain cells are gone. Her sons are looking forward to their own retirement. I am her granddaughter. I am her mother. She is mine now.
"I love you, Nana," I whisper in her ear. I kiss her. I will go now. I will be back tomorrow and the day after that.
I stop by the nursery window on my uninspired path, aimlessly. The newborns are like Nana, some with, some without tubes. I recite, "There is a season to be born, and a season to die . . . "
And I see their little wrinkled faces. How wonderful it is . . . for all those going home.