Michelle Morouse is a Detroit area pediatrician. Her work has appeared in Dogzplot, The Poetry Superhighway and 50 to 1.
I can't leave. Twelve hours on duty already but my replacement won't even start out until the plows make it to these godforsaken outskirts of Almont. All of southeast Michigan was hit.
Esther's beyond it all, tiny and cozy under a handmade quilt. We don't usually sit with the patient, but her sister had a stroke two days ago, still in ICU. Between the two of them, Esther’s the one who had a kid, a daughter, estranged. I'd like to believe it's the daughter's fault, of course. No one looks hateful when they're dying.
Time to change her and roll her on her other side. These Gregorian Chants are putting me to sleep. The families like that sort of thing. Sometimes, it's livelier, the patient’s old favorites: Benny Goodman, Johnny Cash or Etta James. Sometimes, it's the offspring's favorites. I already told my grandkids, none of that hippety-hop stuff if I end up in hospice.
I rummage through the CDs. Here, this is more like it, the Queen—Aretha’s Gospel album. Esther’s restless after I move her. I dribble the morphine in her mouth. It's the only thing we've been able to give her by mouth for days now. We're doing it drop by drop, so she doesn't choke.
I forgot to take my medicine last night, rushing out to beat the storm, and I'll miss my morning dose, too. I could be looking at a migraine in a few hours. Inderal's a common medication. I'm holding my breath, for some reason, as I open the medicine cabinet. Both sisters were on it. I take a couple of Esther's. I could tell my supervisor that I did it, of course, but that could involve a pile of paperwork, or worse.
I eat breakfast, finish the crossword, sit and think a little. I'm no athlete, but sometimes, when I'm at a bedside, I feel like running hard. Not from something, to something.
At least I don't have to worry about Reverend James showing up. Skinny, antsy guy. It's not that, though. It's his smugness, the certitude that gets me.
Her breathing shifts from a cute little snore to a ragged murmur. They do that near the end. Of course, she did the same thing yesterday, then went back to "normal.” I hope she doesn't go before the plow comes through.
I swab her mouth, thick with secretions that she has trouble swallowing. I go to the picture window. The sun rises over a white mess that looks like cookbook-perfect meringue, “stiff but not dry,” and Aretha is singing "You Grow Closer.” I can't leave.