Things Happen Fast
Margret tightened her scarf and pushed uphill against a sharp northerly wind that tugged viciously at her short black hair. It was unusually cold for the end of October making Margret turn up the collar on her winter coat. Dark heavy clouds hung low in the evening sky. Mercy Medical Center was just a few blocks away. The familiar Gothic styled Wheaton Building stood out against the more modern additions made to the hospital over the decades. Margret picked up the pace as visiting hours were close to being over for the day. It was only days ago that her friend Juli laid inches from death in the Intensive Care Unit.
A warm inviting glow from the main entrance quickly pulled Margret inside bringing a pleasant relief from the bitter night air. The glass doors slid closed behind her. As she moved on down the hallway, Margret noticed a little old white haired lady sitting behind the information. Probably a volunteer, Margret thought.
Still shivering from the cold, “I’m not too late to visit am I?” asked Margret seeing that Maude was written on her volunteer name tag.
The white haired lady peered up from the patient log. Seeming to recognize Margret, she adjusted her eyeglasses and smiled.
“Oh, hi sweetie. No you’re not too late. You’re right on time.”
“Wonderful,” said Margret. “I thought I was cutting it close.”
“No not at all. Enjoy your visit,” said the little old lady as she handed Margret a pass to room 624. “Glad to see you again.”
Margret accepted the card with a slight hesitation. She had not remembered seeing the kindly old lady before. Margret found a front pocket on her purse and tucked the little rectangle card inside as she moved to call for the elevator. The up button was already lit so Margret loosened her scarf and unbuttoned her coat as she waited. A short moment later, the bell sounded and the doors slid open.
Noticing that the elevator was empty, Margret took a quick look around to see if anyone else was boarding. No one was waiting so she stepped inside just before the warning bell sounded and pushed the tiny oval button next to the number six. The doors hissed shut and the elevator swiftly transplanted Margret to her friend’s floor.
The bell sounded once again and the doors slid open revealing an abandoned nurse’s station. The overhead fluorescent lights were dim and flickered with a faint buzz casting odd shadows against the walls. Margret drifted over to the desk as she peered down the dimly lit hallway in the direction of Juli’s room. She slowed and looked around noticing that the doors to the patient’s rooms were closed on this wing of the floor. Maybe the nurses are with a patient, thought Margret as she continued on past the nurse’s station. Realizing that her boot heels were echoing throughout the corridor, Margret tip toed the rest of the way to Juli’s room.
The room was cool and one light burned over the bed. She gently tapped on the door to rouse Juli’s attention. Her friend slowly turned in the direction of the tapping and was pleased to see Margret standing in the doorway.
“Hi sweetie, sorry I’m late. I got held up at work”
“That’s ok. I waited for you,” said Juli with a slight grin.
Margret made her way to Juli’s bedside. She draped her coat and scarf over the back of the chair and laid her purse on the bed.
“What’s going on with the nurses?” asked Margret as she sat down.
“I think someone must have coded earlier. All kinds of ruckus was going on out in the hall.”
“Oh, ok. So, you look good.” Margret said smiling. “How do you feel?”
Juli turned away briefly, closing her eyes for a moment and allowing a small smile to touch her lips.
“Actually I feel pretty good.”
Margret leaned forward reaching out to gently grasp her friend’s hand. A single tear eased from the corner of Juli’s right eye trailing down the side of her face. Margret moved closer to try to soothe Juli’s fears. It was only just four days ago while at work that she had collapsed for no apparent reason. She spent the next two days in the ICU fighting for her young life. Finally Juli exhaled and turned to look at her friend.
“I think I’ll be home soon,” said Juli.
“Really?” asked Margret, with a bit of skepticism.
“No. I guess its wishful thinking”
“Did they ever tell you what caused all this?”
“No, I guess they didn’t have a chance.”
The two friends visited for a while longer. Talking about when they were young girls and how their lives had turned out to be just as they had predicted. Each exchanged hilarious tales of their middle school and high school years until visiting hours were close to ending. Margret had wrestled with her coat and scarf until they were buttoned and wrapped just right to protect her from the frigid night air.
“Tomorrow is Saturday, I’ll get here earlier. I wanted to come this afternoon but something came up at work and I couldn’t get away.”
“That’s ok. Things happen and I understand. Stay home. It feels cold outside”
“It is, but I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Margret bent and gently kissed her friend on the forehead and squeezed her hand.
“Good night,” whispered Margret.
Margret glanced back as she left Juli’s room, her golden hair shimmering beneath the florescent light. She threw up a hand and left. The hallway was still quiet and the nurse’s station abandoned as Margret made her way to the elevator. “I hope Juli can get out of this place soon.” The down arrow was already lit and the bell sounded before the doors quietly slid open. Margret looked around to see if anyone else was boarding. She slipped inside just before the doors quietly slid shut.
The elevator glided to the ground floor and shuddered to a halt. The bell sounded and the doors hissed open. Margret stepped of the elevator to see that Maude had been replaced by a young gentleman with no hair. She reached for the pocket on her purse to retrieve the room pass and quickly realized that she had left her purse up in Juli’s room. She stepped back on board just before the elevator doors closed nearly catching the frays of her scarf in the process.
The bell sounded on the fifth floor. The doors opened and a nurse boarded, smiled and pushed the button for the seventh floor. Margret returned a warm smile and tightened her scarf. A short boost upward and the elevator stopped on the sixth floor. The doors parted to reveal a light so bright it made Margret throw up a hand to shield her eyes. Two nurses stood huddled together reading a patient’s chart while two others were busy at the nurse’s station. Where was all this a few minutes ago? thought Margret.
She hurried across the hallway to the nurse’s station for assistance. The nurse was young and petite with a kind face.
“Hi, excuse me,” said Margret, almost whispering.
The young lady looked up from her computer with a helpful smile. “Hello,” she said in a small child-like voice. “Visiting hours is over, I’m sorry.”
Margret shook her head. “No, no, I know. I mean I was hear visiting my friend and left my purse down in her room and was wondering if I could run down real quick and get it.”
“Oh, ok,” said the nurse realizing that she had spoken too quickly. “What’s her name and room number?”
“Juli Sprool, room 624.”
“And your name?”
A few keystrokes and a click of the mouse brought a look of confusion on the young face of Nurse Tyree. She wrinkled her forehead and asked Margret for a correct spelling of her friend’s name. A few more keystrokes and the nurse pulled out a pale blue rectangular bin from a shelf underneath the desk.
“You can look through our lost and found if you like.”
“No. You don’t understand. I was just here.”
“Oh, um, I’m sorry.”
Nurse Tyree asked Margret to wait for a moment as she disappeared through a door that led to a back office area. Moments later a tall slightly built man wearing a white coat appeared at the nurse’s station. He extended his hand.
“Hello Ms. McIntire, I’m Dr. Kessler.”
Margret shook his hand cautiously. “Hi.”
“I had been treating Ms. Sprool since she arrived here at Mercy and she had been improving. But...I regret to tell you that she passed away this afternoon.”
Margret stepped back from the desk, crossing an arm in front of her chest as if to keep her heart from plunging to the floor. “That can’t be...I was just…We talked.” Panic and disbelief surged through Margret like an electrical bolt. She snapped her head in the direction of Juli’s room. The same room she had just visited a few moments ago and now a doctor is telling her the impossible, so she thought. Margret turned back to Dr. Kessler, eyes welling with tears and utter confusion smeared across her face. She mustered the will to speak.
“How did she…?”
“Cardiac arrest,” said Dr. Kessler in his most gentle tone. “It happened fairly quickly. She didn’t suffer.”
Margret released a deeply felt sigh as she struggled to hold her composure to thank the doctor. Dr. Kessler bowed his head and disappeared inside the office behind the nurse’s station.
Margret once again turned towards Juli’s room and started down the hall. She paused momentarily at the entrance to room 624. She closed her eyes and stepped inside. The room slowly drifted into focus as Margret lifted her eyelids to witness an unoccupied area. The blinds were closed. A light burned over a neatly made bed with a single pillow at the head. At the foot of the bed, Margret saw her purse laid just as she had left it.