I went to sleep tonight on a bed that someone died in. I have no doubt about the fact. All the machinery I have been connected to, all the nurses and doctors have all seen men and women in my position and have watched them die.
So this is a kind of between-place, extending the promise of cure, or of ease or of relief yet each fragile face masks a world of disappointment. Behind freshly starched tunics and well-worn comfortable shoes, the taxpayer bargains for the life of the nation as administrators bargain between ministers who are looking for bargains.
In a different world a middle aged man’s padding steps accompany the rumble of metal-on-lino. He wheels a machine through burnt orange halls as sun’s first rays stir the birds outside. That’s beyond the window, though. An elderly gentleman, with a splendid mustache drooped through neglect, is tapped awake by the man with the machine.
It is 6 AM and time for blood pressure tests.
Girl in blue tunic pushes a trolly with pills down the aisle. She is seeing a few fewer patients today. Not all of them left through discharge. A shot of life arrives on each bedside cabinet: Expert cocktails mixed behind this bar-on-wheels. Why would the woman who took her medicines the night before be missing from the morning light?
Behind the desk at the end of the ward, a cleaning contractor tells the porter about his holiday with the family. Amongst the family photos and bags of sweets and office in-jokes between team members, are the treatment routines for a dozen people. These are the working lives of young students, colliding with the living deaths of incapacitated octogenarians.
What time is there to recognise the Reaper when he comes down the hall? When do the nurses get to mourn the loss they suffer? Did they ever know their patients enough to grieve for them?
Between the lines of the newspaper columns it is easy to forget the people who spend their working lives in this system. These are people who spend their whole lives proving that ‘natural selection’ isn’t god enough for human beings. These are people who prove we are not beasts.
As for me, I need faith to make sense of this reality. The story of humanity made good is the one thing which makes sense of the human desire to do good to the other, the stranger, even in the face of death.
I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts. For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth? So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him?