Department of English

Spring 2008 Edition

It was Death

Wendy Bulloch
Expressive 1010 2nd Place
Professor: Charles Cuthbertson

The first time I saw someone die, I was surprised by my own reaction.  I thought it would scare me or shake me up a little more than it did.  I watched my friend cry and suffer for days, but in the end, I was relieved to see her go.

My job was great. I loved it. My co-workers were awesome, and the patients were wonderful. It was my dream job, at least for just being out of high school. The pay was good, and I had worked my way up to a supervisor position.

Since this was an assisted living home there wasn’t as much ‘dirty work’ as there would have been at a rest home, which was a huge plus. The patients were more independent here; we had daily activities and exercise groups, and everyone was very social. At a rest home they seemed to be glued to their beds, and the patients mostly secluded themselves.

I became close friends with a patient named Ella. We were “bosom friends” as she called it. Ella was from the small town of Tropic. She was always so cheerful and kind. We could laugh and joke about anything. I don’t know why Ella and I clicked; we just did. Who would have thought I’d make friends with an old lady? After only a week we knew each other inside and out. I told her everything, and she told me the same.  After so long, I didn’t even notice her wrinkles or grandma clothes anymore. I hung out in her room any time I had a chance. I would even go see her on my days off. I loved walking into her room. It smelt like the same cinnamon perfume my grandma used to wear. Ella and I would go shopping and take long walks together. I thought I knew what a real, true, honest friend was until I met Ella. I then realized I‘d never really had one before. I could really trust Ella and completely just be myself with her. I knew she would keep all my secrets just like I would keep hers.

Ella became sick, but not too sick. She threw up a few times and stayed in bed.  After a few days of staying in bed turned into a week, I took Ella to the doctor. The doctor said she was fine; there was nothing wrong. He prescribed some pain pills. Ella said not to worry; she just didn’t seem to have as much energy right then. That’s fine. I knew it took longer for older people to recover when they had been sick.

After a month, I could count on my hands the number of times Ella had been out of bed. I told her to stop being lazy. She laughed at me and said she wasn’t trying to be.  She was weak, and when she tried to walk around, she would get dizzy. She didn’t want to fall. It’s true that when older people fall, it can be pretty traumatic! I remembered the gentleman down the hall who had fallen and broken his hip. All he did was fall, and then he was stuck in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. I remember how bad that scared Ella. She didn’t want to end up in a wheelchair. I completely understood.

At work I finished with my usual routine; then went up to see Ella. As I walked over to her bed, she looked terrible. Her face was whiter than usual, and her baby blue eyes looked gray. She smiled at me and took my hand. “Don’t worry. I’m just having an off day,” Ella told me. I stayed with her the rest of the day.

A few days went by. As I walked into work, the lady at the front desk looked at me with too much sympathy. It sent me running to Ella’s room. I walked over to her bed like I had every day. She was crying. She suddenly looked small and frail to me. Ella, a usually large and happily plump woman, now was unrecognizable. She looked old, frail, and even a little mean. Her smile was gone, and she glared at everyone entering her room.  She barely moved anymore. It’s like she had been chained to that bed. I didn’t even recognize her eyes. They were not glowing like they used to. They were watery and sad.  I just stared at her. Who is this person that had taken over Ella’s body? Ella cried in pain when she tried to reach for my hand. I sat by her and took her hand in mine. “Don’t worry, Ella. You’re just having an off day. It will be ok,” I told her. She tried to smile back at me, “I know, I’m just being lazy.” I forced a laugh. This was it. The other nurses told me this was how it started. I was hoping this wasn’t it, but it was, and it was death. Ella was fading, and it was happening fast. That night I went home and just sat there. I’d never actually stared at a wall until that night. I think a year went by. I was numb. Was this really happening? Ella couldn’t die! The thought had hit me like a brick wall. I knew she was old, but why?

The next day I called the doctor to come and see Ella. He said there was really not much he could do. It was just her age. Her body was slowly shutting down. He prescribed more pain medication. Stupid doctor, is that all you do for the elderly? Here, just take more pills! I swear she was already taking 10 a day! I glanced at Ella, she rolled her eyes, and I knew she was biting her tongue. She has never taken half those pills anyway. “It’s all in your head” she used to say.

The following day will be engraved in my mind forever. When I walked up to Ella’s room, I noticed the blue sticker by her name on the door.  The blue sticker meant DNR (do not resuscitate). These stickers indicate that either the patient is terminal, or they have decided they don’t want to be revived if they stop breathing. God! Was this really happening? I opened the door. I thought I was in the wrong room. The nurses had switched her fluffy queen-size bed for a sanitized hospital single. The rails were positioned up on both sides; now she was locked in. When did her room start to smell like a hospital? There were gloves, masks, and medical supplies covering the counter. A plastic catheter bag hung on the bed. IV and fluid tubes now surrounded Ella.

One of the nurses told me the pain medication had stopped working. Ella’s body was not accepting it anymore. Ella screamed in pain. “It hurts all over. Everywhere!” she cried. All she could do was just lie there and soak in the pain. “God damn it! Wendy, I can’t do this anymore! I thought I could handle this, but I can’t! It hurts too badly. There are needles pushing through my skin, they’re everywhere, make it stop! I don’t want to die! I didn’t want it to be like this. Damn it! Please make it stop hurting!”

The lump in my throat was so big; all I could do was look away from her. Why was she going through this? Ella would normally never talk like this. Why did someone so kind have to be tortured?  I don’t understand God. What is the point of being tortured just for your life to end in death anyway?

Ella pulled me towards her. “Wendy, just take my pillow and hold it over my face. Please. No one will know. You can save me from this. Please save me. Take my pain away.” Was this really happening? She had just asked me to suffocate her? The blue sticker on Ella’s door flashed through my mind. God, this was too much! I thought my heart was going to explode! I couldn’t handle this! I walked into Ella’s bathroom and closed the door. I stared at my reflection in the mirror. I saw a picture of Ella hanging on the wall behind me. She smiled so sweetly. Not a care in the world. I had forgotten how pretty she was. I wish that me and Ella could just leave all this and take a walk. I loved our walks. If there was ever peace in the world it was while we were walking. I thought of Ella’s life and everything she had learned. She loved her life; you could tell by the way her face would light up and glow when she talked. She didn’t regret anything. “All the events in my life have made me the person I am today, and I love who I am.” Ella once told me.  It was time for her to go. This was it. Why do I feel like this is ok? I hate that I had accepted this feeling; it was unwillingly. I swallowed the lump in my throat and returned to Ella’s bed side. “Ella, I’m not doing anything with that pillow, and I’m not going to leave you. I’ll stay right here.” Hours went by. She yelled at me. She yelled at everyone. She cursed under her breath. She cried and screamed in agony. I thought that day would never end.  If there was a God, could he just let this poor woman out of her misery?  I couldn’t stand to see her like that. I didn’t want to lose my friend but I just couldn’t take it anymore.  Just let her die!

I didn’t leave Ella’s room at all that day. It was a little after midnight and she had become very quiet. Her eyes were closed, and I just watched her. She clenched my hand in hers, in a surprisingly tight grasp. She didn’t look that strong.

She opened her eyes and tried to speak, but no words came out. She just looked at me. She didn‘t have to say anything. “Love you Ella.” I barely whispered. The tears swelled in my eyes, and the lump in my throat almost broke free. I just laid on the bed next to her, grasping her hand. I stared at the designs on the ceiling.

Hours crawled by. I couldn’t take my eyes off Ella’s chest. Her breathing was quiet and slow. Her chest rose up and down… up and down… and then it stopped. I held my breath. Her chest didn’t rise anymore. Moments passed. I stared at her. I could almost smell the scent of cinnamon perfume.

She was beautiful. Her curly white hair was strung across the pillow. Her face was calm and relaxed, maybe even happy. She didn’t hurt anymore. Her pain was gone, and so was mine. Minutes passed as I laid next to her. I couldn’t describe the type of presence that surrounded the room. Maybe it was emptiness.

I didn’t understand the struggle Ella had just gone through these past few weeks. It left me bitter towards death. Should I hate or welcome the feeling of relief I had now that Ella was gone? I tried to push my thoughts to the back of my mind. She had taught me so much about life and what real happiness could be. I will never forget that. I slowly released my grasp on her hand and moved off the bed. As I walked out of the room, I turned and looked at Ella once more. The sun was shining through the curtains. The rays landed on Ella perfectly. She was glowing.I let my tears fall, and for the last time, I closed the door behind me.