I turn the light on in the patient’s room.
Already sweating under my isolation gown. Breath fogging my goggles. I feel heavy. Dead in my shoes. Dead woman walking.
My hair is in a messy bun, though it doesn’t matter since it is under a homemade surgical cap. Magda gave me one. We find distracting ways to cope. Especially since employee health just notified me I was exposed again. Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry.
The afternoon light from the window is unfazed by the lack of life in here. A sunbeam illuminates the dinamap, now quiet. No blood pressure, no need for the pulse-ox. The television is still on. Muted. Fox, news of the worst kind. The counter is littered with the remnants of end of life caregiving. Empty saline flushes, adult diapers, washcloths, dirty towels. And, the unused extra supplies that pile up in covid rooms. The unheard of amount of waste a hospital produces, now tripled.
Evidence, too, that this is a person, not just a patient. A small bag of belongings, a flip phone, a pair of socks, boxer shorts. Uneaten container of yogurt, warm on the table. A watch.
If the room smells of death I wouldn’t know, my 14 hour shifts are lessons in the proper use of breath mints. Each expiration of a patient carries weight. Dead fucking weight. I am so glad I am not the person who notifies family. His mouth is open, as are his eyes, slight. His family. His family will never see him again.
Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry.
The plastic gown is sticking to my forearms. I swear I saw the patient’s chest move. Still a death grip in my own chest. Alone here. He died alone. The grip has inched up into my throat. Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry.
I set down the body bag and look out the window.