Skin hangs from his skeleton. Hips, ribs, and elbows protrude angrily. His eyes, sunken deep in his skull, stare up at the sterile, white ceiling. His chart claims him to be forty-one, but his body appears aged beyond an incomprehensible length of time. He lies silent as the obese nurse bathes his legs with a sponge. Precisely, she navigates the tubes and wires attached to his arms and chest. Seated beside the bed is a pretty blonde, sections of the newspaper spread before her. Dark moons encircle her eyes. Her wedding band glints in the Sunday morning sunlight.
I am on neurology consult. This man, dying of chronic myelogenous leukemia, complains of uncontrolled leg movements. He is short with my questions, his words mumbled unintelligibly. His skin is papery under my fingers. Every few minutes, the nurse dabs chapstick on his parched lips. As I test his ocular muscles and facial sensation, I am captivated by his eyes. They overwhelm his emaciated face. They are the most alive part of his wasting body. I see his hatred toward me for invading his already defeated body. I see the physical pain evoking soundless screams.
I turn to his wife, who is pleasant and soft-spoken. She is precise with her words and equally attentive to mine. She has his medication dosages committed to memory as well as the date of every significant event in his long medical history. She speaks without emotion, glancing at her husband occasionally.
I drive home from the hospital that afternoon, sobbing, inconsolable. The grief provoked by this tragic glimpse suffocates me. I want my lover to wrap me in his arms and whisper “forever.”