It has been a while since I spent my time
staring at the activity outside my hospital window—
a seventh-story window—
facing a parking lot below, a window that would not open
because nurses never know
when a patient will discover how they really feel.
I took long walks in short hallways lined with beige doors.
The clean walls were interrupted by neutral art—
fruit in baskets, earth tone landscapes—
calm colors captured in whitewashed frames.
In a back corner at the end of my hallway
there was always at least one cop
sitting on a folding chair outside of a patient’s door.
I never found out
which side of the law that patient was on
or what sort of secret those cops were guarding.
My constant companion was an antibiotic drip bag
that hung from a metal pole. We took walks together.
The nurses kept moving the IV needle.
One by one my veins collapsed.
I had bruises on both sides of my wrists.
One morning a nurse missed the vein
in the back of my right hand. She pierced a nerve.
The electrical current pricked a path up my arm
and stung the back of my elbow.
I sat there watching my hand puff up.
When I discovered I could no longer make a fist
I called for the nurse. She was kind to me,
she removed the needle,
she said she was going to give my veins a rest
for an hour or two.
I was no longer tied to the pole. I put on pajama pants
and a tee shirt, grabbed a five dollar bill
from the nightstand and headed for the elevator.
I rode down to the first floor
where I bought a cup of coffee at the gift shop.
I stepped outside and looked up at the building.
I stood there and felt air on my skin.
Have you gone without food for days?
Do you remember how good it felt to eat?
Standing outside was that kind of good to me.
A woman rolled up in a wheelchair. She sat there
waiting at the curb with a newborn in her arms.
She made cooing noises and adjusted a baby blanket
while an attendant stood behind her.
A young man with a Mylar balloon festooned with flowers
walked into the building. I tossed the remainder of my coffee
in a trashcan by the door and followed him inside.
I returned to the seventh floor and breezed by
the nurse’s station. I could tell things had changed.
The nurses had begun to watch me.
The nurse who had been kind to me followed me
into my room. Silently, she pushed an IV needle
into my neck vein, close to the collarbone.
Then she taped a plastic tube to my shoulder.
The bosses were working us as fast as they could.
The plant was down so we weren’t talking breaks.
We were dripping sweat and smeared with machine oil.
Four of us were disassembling the shredder.
We put a wooden pallet on a fork lift raised to knee height.
We removed steel plates from the paper shredder
and stacked them on the pallet. We could barely fit
four to a layer with one plate at each corner.
Each plate was one inch thick, the edges were sharp
and they were heavy. We dropped plates on to each layer
until the stacks were 20 plates high. I dropped a plate
and turned my back on the pallet. I heard the wood crack
as twenty greased plates slid through the air and collided
with the back of my leg. The top plate sliced my right calf.
It cut a triangular flap of meat and muscle. I was in shock.
I could see my tendons. The company doctor gave me
twenty five stitches, one bottle of pain pills and a note
which sent me back to work.
Things went from bad to worse and I left that job.
Now I talk to doctors, therapists and attorneys.
They ask about the pain, on a scale of one to ten.
They ask about my ability to perform my job.
They never ask me how it felt to stop dancing.
The woman in the next room never left her bed.
Her door was always open.
Her arms were always posed above her blue blanket.
She had a lot of visitors—
on the sixth day they came and went all day—
a parade of weepers. On Sunday morning
the bed was made and the woman was not in it.
The parking lot was empty.
I sat in my room with nothing to distract me.
I can only read books for so long.
I need to learn to sit and feel.
Now I have time to spend with my dog.
She is always sitting on my lap protecting my body,
I don’t have to tell her, she knows where I hurt.
Tonight she is sniffing the air,
keeping a careful watch over every inch of lawn.
I stare at the full moon.
I am not feeling pain.
I have a good dog;
I tell her that, several times a day.