Vitals

Carla had been watching the monitors, so she was already dashing toward her patient’s room when the code blue announcement came on overhead. Aurelio was coming from the opposite direction with the crash cart, but she was the first to reach the room. What she found was a panicked tech alongside a very awake and alert patient. What she couldn’t find however, and what none of the other doctors, nurses, or other clinicans could find were any vital signs. No pulse, no respiration, no blood pressure, and a temp slightly above room temperature.

“Is something wrong?” the elderly man would ask.

Carla would look to whichever practioner was fumbling to assess the patient, and when they avoided eye contact, she would answer, “Just some trouble with our equipment.”

He was still apparently fine the next day, though his appetite had vanished with his heartbeat. Security was posted outside the room to keep away the curious, leaving Carla even more uncertain what to tell the visitor who had shown up asking about him.

“Are you family?” Carla asked.

“Not quite,” the old woman answered. “He broke a promise, see? And he doesn’t get to die until I get what I’m owed.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Dimple

As soon as Maren stepped into the room, my pain started to lessen. “Alright Dell,” she said flashing a quick, radiant smile, “let me just scan that bracelet.”

Maren moved with brisk efficiency, but I still had opportunities to note the playful bounce of her short natural curls, the shifting muscles in her forearms as she typed, and the dimple that emerged in her cheek when she grinned. It almost made being in the hospital feel tolerable.

“Three pills and a shot this time,” my nurse announced.

Immediately my vision started clouding, and I felt beads of sweat on my neck. “I . . . I don’t really like needles,” I admitted, looking down at my hands.

“That’s alright,” she said handing me the pills. “I’ll see what we can do.”

I felt relieved, but still shaky. Maren waited patiently while I forced down the meds, then asked, “May I see your hand?”

“O-okay.”

She placed two fingers on my wrist as though to check my pulse, but instead of checking a watch or clock, her eyes shifted to mine. Perfect lips asked, “Will you marry me?”

“W-what? OW!”

A dimple in her cheek. “Sorry!” And Maren walked away with an empty syringe.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Gift

“I don’t know what I did to deserve this as a gift,” she says in her seat beside the hospital bed. She presses his hand into hers, though the bony fingers remain limp in her grip. A life, faint and fading.

A life is ending.

She had never felt more scared than when she realized she was sitting in the room where her husband would die. She would have to say goodbye to him alone.

“On Christmas, of all days.”

Two floors above, another woman wipes a tear from the corner of her eye. “A gift,” she whispers. “Such a beautiful gift. And on Christmas of all days.”

She had welcomed him into the world alone, never before feeling as relieved as she did when her son was born and she held him for the first time.

A life is beginning. A life, so fragile, so hopeful.

She cradles his head to her chest, lets tiny fingers grip her thumb. “I don’t know what I did to deserve this as a gift.”

Two floors below, a woman says goodbye to the love of her life with tears in her eyes. “A gift,” she whispers. “You were such a beautiful gift.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox
Photo by Sandy Torchon from Pexels

Shield

Shauna had always hated working holidays at the hospital, but Christmas during a pandemic made everything worse. Usually patients could at least have visitors; they could celebrate in some small way, letting their ailments fade into the background, but this year the loneliness and misery of the hospital were harder to escape.

She found her next patient standing up in the room and looking out the window. “It’s nice to see you up on your feet,” Shauna said in her nurse voice, more upbeat than she felt.

“I wanted to watch the angels,” the patient, an elderly woman with bad lungs, replied.

Shauna was grateful for the N95 and face shield which masked her cynical expression. Great, she thought, now she’s showing signs of dementia too. “Let’s get you back into bed,” she offered, not wanting to stay late on Christmas documenting about a patient fall.

“Just a minute longer,” the patient answered as Shauna stepped up beside her. After a moment, Shauna finally followed the woman’s gaze out into the night’s darkness. From their fourth floor vantage, they could look down on city streets resplendent with twinkling Christmas lights. “Beautiful, aren’t they?” the patient whispered. “Joy to the world.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox