Shadow of the IV

I remember how it felt to move, to lift a finger or swing an arm. I can recall clearly how the wind felt against my face when I walked across campus on a brisk autumn day, how the sun warmed my back when I rested on my towel at the beach. Most of all, I recollect the soft feeling of my husband’s kiss as our lips met and the comfort of his arms around me.

Memory is all I have now. I cannot move, except to open my eyes. The only senses left to me are seeing and hearing, and I don’t think my caregivers credit me with that much. I hear them talk as though I am deaf; they speak of my “unseeing stare,” the horror of my injuries and the good fortune that I don’t realize my husband is gone. If only they knew! I hear them and my heart aches for all that I’ve lost.

When I open my eyes, I see a limited area because I cannot turn my head. The one constant in my field of vision is the IV bag, or rather the shadow of the IV bag on the ceiling. Sometimes the shadow is plump – a newly hung pouch of liquid nutrition or medication. I can watch it deflate as the contents flow into my veins until it appears more line than bag. Soon a bell rings and someone comes to replace it with another pillow-like bag.

Today the aide who came to bathe me must have forgotten that I was presumed deaf. She talked to me as though we were having a conversation, one-sided as it was.

“Now, Missus Phillips, you sure do look nice today. I see you got your hair washed. I’ll bet that felt good, to have your hair clean and fresh again.” She paused to do something out of my line of sight before continuing.

“Sure is something that they caught the fellow that was driving the car that hit you. It’s all over the news. Just a kid, you know? Now his whole life is ruined because he did something stupid.” I heard water sloshing before she spoke again.

“Did I ever tell you that I’m a mother? Yeah, got me just one, a boy. He’s a good kid, but he doesn’t always think before he does, ya know what I mean? I guess you know all about that, being a college professor and all. Kids can do some tom-fool things and get themselves into trouble in a heartbeat.”

Her shadow moved up and down the length of the bed as she continued her ministrations. For a moment, I had a glimpse of her as she leaned over me. She seemed to be an older woman, perhaps 45 or 50 years old. There were streaks of white in her ash brown hair and lines etched into her face that indicated a none-too-easy life. But at least she was speaking to me, not talking about me. For a moment I felt like a human being again, instead of a thing. I wished I could thank her for her consideration, but nothing came out of my mouth.

“Anyway, my boy, he’s a smart boy, gonna have himself a future. Got himself a decent job and he’s gonna make something of himself. He’s all set to go to night school so he can get ahead, but see, here’s the thing. I don’t make a lot of money so I can’t help him. He’s got to pay for it himself.”

She was moving again. I heard rustling and a clicking sound, as if she put something down on the bedside stand.

“Missus Phillips, I bet you’re a nice lady. You wouldn’t ever want to hold someone back from making a better life, would you? But that’s what you’re doing. My boy, he’s been told he has to pay to take care of you for as long as you live.”

She moved until she was looking me directly in the eyes. I could see a syringe in her hand.

“That’s right, Missus Phillips, my boy was the other driver. He knows now that he shouldn’t have been trying to send a text message to his buddy while he was driving, but that’s too late to help you. So I’m gonna help him. He’s gonna carry the scars of what he did for the rest of his life, but I can’t let him suffer financially, too.

“You don’t have any kind of a life now, and you know it. You’re trapped in that broken body. So I’ve got a way to set you and him free. It’ll just be a moment or two and you’ll be with your husband. My boy will be free of the bills for years to come. I’m sorry it has to be this way, but I have to take care of him.”

The shadow of the IV bag shivered as she performed her self-appointed task. Then it was still and the darkness spread from the shadow across my vision until everything was black.

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