Her hair is curly and blonde, reaching to her shoulders if it were untethered. The uniform is white and crisp, like a matt board framing a painting, making each nurse easy to identify. Krankenschwester is the designation in German, ‘illness sister” maybe. You travel daily to the seventh floor, across egg yellow tiles, past dusty indoor plants and IV stands herded like ostrich in random corners. Here a stack of empty clipboards, or a bed, stripped and empty, revealing an absence, like the mark a picture leaves when it is removed from the wall. You make your way past these things and look for the white uniform, before you disturb the occupants in the large room.
You will understand how slow dying can be, waiting sometimes in the open visitors room. A few books on a shelf, a variety of chairs and tables, mustard browns and wood paneling, coffee and tea station, a three day old newspaper. If you sit at the edge of the room, parallel to the television, you can look out the window. What do you see?
Spires and twisting little streets, cobbled and ancient, green forests fading to a uniform blue of pine forests on the hills. And beyond the alps in gray glass and the promise of a swift running stream, and the promise of snow. Reducible now to layers of flat colour, and trace the curving path that leads through the valleys to the high lonely places, where the stone walls don’t huddle from the winter, but are inured to it the way that you may only notice birdsong when it ceases, or the sound of rain when it stops suddenly.
Look out as you wait in that little room, and know that you sat in this place yesterday, and the day before, that you have found routine in even this time of distress and change. You will notice the way you tend to brush your fingers against objects when passing, tree trunks, grass and the textured walls in the carpark; as though to verify that you are here, that this is happening, that the surreal dream state of your days is no longer a nightmare for the waking. Your days have become uniform, with the dull ache of sadness the key in which this lament is sung.
And yet…you can hear the whisper of the forest and mountains, of fields and winding little paths; asking you to come out and play, to breathe their air and feel their texture under your feet. The cathedral beckons with its deep steady boom of God’s caress in every shuffled foot magnified, every whisper amplified to the gothic arches. There is water to be tasted and rain that is waiting to wet your skin, the sound of rustling leaves to be heard and the smell of new mown hay that needs to be inhaled like Shalimar. Because if dying is to be slow, then every moment will be filled with living.
The touch of the nurses’ hand on your shoulder lifts you from this reverie, and you see her blue and gray irises looking to you, those eyes that have seen this scene played out so often it is as much a part of her life as the uniform hiss of ventilators and monitors. The bag of gifts and food you brought nearly tumbles from your lap, and as you catch it she says, “He is ready to see you now.”