By Bernadette Kloth & Steve Warren
A full moon was waning and the nursing staff at St. Mary’s Hospital were all on their toes. A young nurse’s white Nike sneakers squeaked as she made a u-turn into room 444 when she heard one of her patient’s moaning.
The older lady had been admitted yesterday and was scheduled to be transferred to hospice care at a local facility tomorrow. A neighbor had found the 78-year-old woman unconscious on the kitchen floor of her house and told the paramedics that as far as he knew she had no family.
“Are you Ok, Mrs. Roberts?” The nurse asked softly as she gently touched the frail woman’s shoulder. In two hours, she could give her patient another dose of Morphine.
Mrs. Roberts half-opened her hazel-colored eyes and gazed up at the girl’s rosy complexion. Not a wrinkle in sight, she sighed wondering if she had ever been this pretty? Then she turned her head toward the nightstand and her eyes opened wider. Yes, she had been pretty a long time ago.
Her neighbor had brought her most cherished picture to the hospital today, a photograph of a young couple beaming on their wedding day.
“Can you believe that’s me?” Mrs. Roberts whispered as she struggled to breathe. “My hair… she coughed; it was my crowning beauty.” Danny loved it and made me promise not to cut it while he was gone.” Her voice faded away in a series of wheezes.
“Wow, you were a beautiful bride, and the groom was quite the handsome soldier!” The petite pony-tailed nurse exclaimed. “When was the photo taken?”
“1968, she replied, inhaling and exhaling before continuing. He had to leave for Vietnam the day after we were married.”
The nurse adjusted her patient’s covers wondering if Mrs. Roberts was going to make it through the night. She had seen that glassy-eyed look before.
Then she noticed a pair of dog tags on a chain around Mrs. Roberts neck. Perhaps her neighbor had brought them to her along with the photo.
“I never saw him again.” Mrs. Roberts blurted out with tears streaming down her hollow face.
“I’m so sorry for your loss.” The girl stated sincerely.
“You can call me Carole.”
“Carole, is there anything else I can get you before I go?”
Mrs. Roberts shook her head no.
“Do you have a boyfriend?” Carole asked, looking for conversation to extend the nurse’s visit.
The girl’s face lit up and her bright blue eyes sparkled, “Yes, I do, in fact we are getting married this month.”
“Be good to each other.” The older woman pointed her index finger at the nurse before she turned to leave.
For Carole, it was an endless night of repositioning her bony bottom in this uncomfortable hospital bed. The nurses must be terribly busy, she thought as she listened to the sounds of shuffling feet and voices rising in the hallways. Yes, someone would come back in later to check on her. But really all Carole wanted was the company. She had lived a solitary life, but…life goes on… yes life goes on.
Carole never remarried, never had children of her own but she had no regrets. She dealt with the card’s life had given her. After her husband’s death she finished college and went on to become a kindergarten teacher at the local school. The joy the little ones brought overflowed and filled her empty heart with love after her husband’s death. Just watching the children interact had taught her many lessons about living in the moment.
No, she was not going to feel sorry for herself. But she wanted to go back to her little house and die there instead of this dreary hospital room.
Her neighbor had brought a bouquet of flowers from her garden in the backyard. But it was not the same. The roses in the vase were beautiful but she wanted to see and smell the cornucopia of colorful flowers dancing in the wind, hear the birds singing when the sun was rising, and smell the aroma of coffee brewing and burnt toast popping up in her toaster. Oh, what she would give to open the gate of her white picket fence and walk through her front door one more time!
The nurse returned to give her another dose of morphine and Carole’s breathing relaxed. She closed her eyes and listened to the sounds of the monitors at first and then she began to dream. She thought she saw Danny’s face hovering over her. He was smiling at her with his crooked grin.
Her eyes flew open when she felt a bolt of electricity hit her body. A strange glow surrounded the hospital bed, but she was not in her bed; she was hovering above it, looking down at the withered body below. It had been a long time since she had looked in a mirror, so she was wondering who that woman was.
Then a voice spoke to her ever so softly, “A life well lived, given the circumstances. It’s time to come back home.”
Floating next to her was a beautiful angel with long curly brown hair beckoning her to follow. Home? But her home was just down the street on 269 Sycamore Ave. She must still be dreaming.
Everything felt different now, she was as light as a feather, and free of the earth-bound body heavy with disease. She felt like a child on Christmas morning waiting to open her presents under the tree. Exhilaration rushed through her core, and then the angel scooped her up and, in a flash, they were heading into a tunnel bathed in white light.
When the staff arrived to take the body Carole’s nurse stopped at the door. “You can put the dog tags around her neck on the table. I will make sure it gets put in a bag with her other personal items. I do not think she has immediate family but perhaps a distant relative might want to save them.”
The nurse felt a twinge of pain; Carole had died alone like many of her patients. No one should have to die alone. If only she had checked on her one more time. But her shift had been a tough one and another one of her patients had coded earlier.
“Young lady, there’s nothing around her neck.” One of the attendants shrugged his shoulders.
“But she was wearing them when I came in to give her pain meds.” The nurse insisted.
“Maybe she took it off and it slipped down in her sheets?”
After they left with the stretcher, the nurse ransacked the covers and even checked under the bed.
The dog tags were nowhere in sight. She picked up the picture on the bedside table, “You are with him now… be good to each other.” She smiled.
When Carole woke up, she was lounging on a tropical beach covered with sparkling white sand. The first thing she noticed was how young her body looked. And what was this? Her hand ran through thick hair cascading down her slim back. She looked up but was partially blinded from the sun. Hovering over her was a handsome blonde-haired soldier. She must be dreaming. She pinched her arm not once but twice… no it was real.
“Danny, how did you…we get here?” Carole gasped.
Hands interlocked as he pulled her up and into his muscled arms. A long-awaited kiss lingered in the salty air.
“You still have my dog tags! He exclaimed. I have been looking for them for an exceptionally long time.”
Carole took the dog tags off and placed them around her husband’s neck.
“Oh, how I missed you.” She exclaimed as a tear ran down her cheek.
“And I you.” He answered, playfully kicking sand on her feet.
“Oh Danny, you haven’t changed a bit!” She laughed.
Carole ran down to the shoreline to let her footprint sink into the sloppy wet sand.
Danny was steps behind her, he was not going to let his wife out of his sight this time.
They held hands and frolicked up and down the beach as the foam of the surf tickled their toes.
Listening to the sound of waves gently crashing up upon the golden shore was paradise!