“Is he breathing?” I whispered, so as not to wake the others.
“Gimme a minute, I’ll…” She listened hard at his barrel-shaped, white chest with her pink stethoscope. Her eyes focused somewhere beyond the wall, searching for his life in a murmur, or a breeze. The flimsy curtains were pulled tight around the bed, protecting us all from nothing.
“No. He’s not,” she sighed.
We paused, simultaneously, and looked down at the man in his bed. She’d done this a thousand times. It was my first. He reminded me of my grandfather. His chart commanded in blood-coloured letters, Do Not Resuscitate, so we obeyed.
“Who calls it then?” I asked.
She looked at her watch. “Time of death eleven oh eight pm. I’ll notify the Coroner. We’ll transfer him downstairs until morning.”
I don’t care what anyone says. You never forget your first death.
I was still following her lead, my mentor, my guide, as we covered his face with the thin blanket, pulled up the bedrails, locking him in; and left him there, shrouded and alone. The other patients slept, or feigned it.
Once she had written her notes, documenting the facts, we returned to him for the transfer. It was a rackety process that should have woken the man up, were he not dead.
“Grab the bottom sheet like this.” She’d rolled it up tight against his side and had hiked her skirt to climb up on the bed for leverage. Her modesty had obviously flown out the window with the man’s soul. I leaned across the stretcher and waited for her count of three.
His head lolled while we worried about the body. I’d always imagined lifeless remains would feel weightless, but I had a lot to learn.
“Where do we take them?” I asked, as if there were more than one. I envisioned a grey, stainless room with square, numbered doors and sliding trays carrying desiccated, blue cadavers; like we’d had in the student anatomy lab. Like they have on TV.
I wanted to kiss his cold forehead. Someone should do that, shouldn’t they? But he wasn’t mine. I was new. I was inexperienced. It was my first night shift and I didn’t even know his full name. But the urge remained, and I still believe that everyone deserves to be sent into the afterlife with a tender kiss for luck.
“They go down to the maintenance room.” She must have read my look of shock. “What? It’s a forty-eight bed hospital. We don’t have a proper morgue. Besides, the coroner will come to pronounce and then the body is taken.”
We wheeled him out, rattling through the hallways like an old train on new tracks.
“It gets easier, you know.” She knew the tiles, the walls, the doors so well she didn’t need to watch where she was going; so she watched me instead. The freight elevator dinged. We manoeuvred in with the stretcher parked like truth between us.
And I wondered how long it would take me to get to where she was at that moment.
Geraldine MacDonald was born and raised in Ontario, Canada and holds a Bachelor of Nursing Science Degree from Queen’s University. She presently writes fiction in different genres and creative nonfiction in short form. Her first fiction novel for young adults, Sumac Summer, was released in December 2015 with rave reviews. Print editions are currently available through the author at www.winterwindpress.ca or in the following brick and mortar stores: Novel Idea in Kingston and Books Galore and More in Port Perry, Ontario. Digital editions area available through www.amazon.com www.amazon.ca and www.kobobooks.com in global territories. Her second novel, a YA action/adventure, is planned for release in autumn of 2016. Geraldine resides in Kingston, Ontario with her spouse, their four children, and one very spoiled dog.