decompression

Last night, I dreamt of the roads. It was the rainy season, and I was back in town. Another Australian volunteer was back too, and he had his car–an old, beaten up sedan–and we were driving around the city, trying to find our way to the clinic.

He drove right through a river of muddy water. It must have been six feet deep, and the car got completely submerged. But somehow, it came out the other side, and he grinned at me from the driver’s seat, flashing a waterlogged thumbs up.

We were going to stay in a hotel. After all, we didn’t tell our homestay family we’d be coming. I didn’t know when we had arrived, or when we had decided to come. We just showed up. I wonder if anybody knew we were here.

We decided that we would stay at Dili Beach Hotel. Or if it was too expensive, at one of the other hotels in Colmera. We had to find something to eat, too. But where to go? It was so muddy outside. The roads didn’t look familiar anymore.
___

We ate our first meal in Bali with gusto–at McDonald’s, of course. “No matter where you are in the world, it’s always the same. It’s fantastic,” an Australian man told us. I was inclined to agree. It was the first time in months that my taste buds felt genuinely American again. All thanks to this fast food franchise.

The Big Mac was delicious; the fries tasted just the way they did back home. And the ketchup–they had such good ketchup here. I went back for more, ordering a $2 McChicken–ignoring the fact that there was no Dollar Menu. I ate because it was delicious–not just because I was hungry. I hadn’t eaten all day; we were too busy rushing to the airport to have time for lunch.
___

We were both amazed at the parking lot outside the Bali airport. So many cars, arranged so neatly on the smooth, black asphalt. The largest parking lot I’d seen in Timor had been at Dili National Hospital. And that was only 20 cars or so. The Dili airport’s parking lot was just a mishmash of U.N. SUVs and taxis; it was nothing compared to this.
___

Nobody spoke Tetun. The last Tetun we heard had been a group behind us at customs–two men and one woman, brandishing maroon Timorese passports, mutteringly quietly to each other. We had only left Timor a few hours ago, but already it felt like days.
___

The sidewalks around Bali weren’t all beautiful black asphalt like the airport; some were made of no more than wobbly concrete squares spread over drainage gutters, with bags of cement spread in between the gaps. It wasn’t quite the reassuring pavement I walked on back home, but it wasn’t the comforting reddish brown soil of Timor, either. My feet longed for the familiar, fine layer of dust that had covered everything for months–tires, flip-flops, shorts, backpacks. But here there was only concrete–and beyond it, the dirty grey sand of Kuta beach.
___

The people here–good Lord, there were so, so many people. It was disorienting at times. Even at malae hotspots, like Kafe Aroma and Dili Beach Hotel, you needed only to walk twenty meters in any direction before you were greeted with warm Timorese faces and the beautiful sound of Tetun. Here, you couldn’t escape the steady stream of Westerners. They flooded in from every direction. And the funniest part was that I was one of them too. I wore Reefs, Levi’s work shorts, Puma boxer briefs, and a Wong Fu Productions “Nice Guy” t-shirt. I was the epitome of American consumerism. And yet I just wanted to escape from it all.
___

I found a place that served nasi goreng ayam. It was nestled in a quiet alley, between a massive upscale seafood restaurant and a ritzy Western place with a stage where exotic dancers shook their bodies to a pulsating beat. It was 32,000 Rupiah for my dish–almost twice what I was used to paying–but it was the best I could find. They served Indian food too, apparently–they had blurbs about lassi, cumin, northern Indian spices; it was a blissful respite from the flashing neon lights of the street.

I asked for a seat nearest to the lights; I had brought a book–a novel co-written by Michael Crichton and Richard Preston, named “Micro.” I would end up finishing it in just 24 hours, intent on losing myself in the wonderfully written science fiction. It was amazing how quickly one could forget where they were going, what they were doing, just by picking up a book. But soon, I had to walk back to the hotel.
___

They called out to me with every step that I took; every one of them spoke decent English, and some even tried their hand at Cantonese. I suppose that’s what I looked like to them–a Chinese tourist, maybe from Hong Kong, taking a couple weeks off of work to relax in Bali. In Timor, I had looked like a Chinese man too–but there, everyone had assumed that I was a doctor. If not a doctor, then part of an NGO; and if not that, then at least a shop-keeper. But definitely not a tourist.

It was hard to explain my identity as a Chinese-American. Eventually, I just said that I was an American, but that my parents were Chinese. That made the most sense to them, and it was true after all–if not still a bit confusing.

They asked me to take a look–just a look–into their shops. They had sunglasses, t-shirts, running shoes, scooter rentals. Maybe I would end up buying another pair of Onitsuka Tigers. The shoes looked real enough, even though I knew that they weren’t. I hadn’t really had time to do any tourist shopping in Timor.
___

They stood up immediately as I began to walk by. Four of them–all young, all beautiful–all wearing identical, slender green dresses. One of them smiled at me, and even in the dim light I could see the spark in her eyes. If Greek sirens were real, they might live on this road; her voice was sweet–in the cool evening air, it could almost pass as loving. “Massage? Would you like a massage?”

If I were a few years younger, I might have once broken my stride for them; if I had just flown from anywhere else, I might have at least stopped to smile back. She started to walked beside me, and her hand found the small of my back; she ran it down my side, as if grasping for a connection. But her fingers found nothing, and she soon fell behind. The darkness swallowed them up, and a minute later, I was back at my hotel.
___

I never thought I’d miss the cries of children shouting, “hello mister!” at me–that the chirps of, “malae! malae!” might make me feel at home. But as I sit on my comfortable hotel bed–swathed in clean sheets, with breakfast delivered to me by a beautiful, smiling young lady–I can’t help but miss the mosquito net hanging over the tiny bed in my homestay. I miss the sound of Timorese children laughing–the sense of wonder that washes over you when a baby opens its eyes for the first time. I know that this feeling will fade in time–that by the time I step off the plane into Logan airport, I’ll be well on my way back to the mindset of college life and Western society. But for now, it’s all so fresh–the people, the sounds, the food, the atmosphere. For now, the feeling lingers; pulses; glows. For now, it’s still real.

Advertisements

ami

On the road to Beehau. Natto has questionable photography skills sometimes…but this time, he managed to accidentally catch some awesome lens flare. Yay sunsets!

Looking cool a caterpillar. You know, if a caterpillar in East Timor could ever be cool.

Mana Amoe loitering on the benches after work, hah.

A five year old with acute myeloid leukemia, right before he boarded a plane to Jakarta for 20 months of treatment.

Dr. Dan and Pinky on morning rounds.

Inacia DOTS-ing it up with TB meds.

Teresa is as sassy as can be.

Meanwhile, Emma is happy at Larry.

Smile for the camera. The horde of Asians in the back sure is.

Oh, Mana Aida. So much awesome embodied in such a tiny woman!

An eleven year old girl with a heart so pure and a smile so sweet.

The crew from Portugal.

Walking down Mandarin Road. Quite deer-in-the-headlights’ed here, derp.

Lisbeth and our beloved Tio Angola.

I wish my Tetun was better so that I could interview these two old-school ballers. Maybe one day.

oh hay dere you two.

The most adorable couple of the trip.

Looking studious!
…Oh wait, that’s a restaurant menu.

“Hey Jake, what are you guys lookin’ at? Can we see?”
“…It’s a video I took at the cockfighting ring. LOOK AT ALL THE BLOOD!”

“NO, LOOK AWAY, IT’S BAD! AHH!”

Not even close to everyone, but this is the best we could do before we got whisked off to the airport!

consultation

He’s one year, one month old. Runny nose, watery eyes. He’s number 8. Mom is 40 years old, but looks much older. The mountains have not been kind to her old, worn-out body.

___

Can you go to the hospital? Can you drive the car? A patient needs a referral. We need to get more blood. Can you get us an x-ray?

Going to the hospital is always tremendously frustrating. Such a beautiful campus–a beautiful, thrumming, $5 million hive of activity, but with next to no efficiency. Do you really care about your patients? I know that some of you do. A Timorese doctor in Emergency. A Cuban doctor who chuckled at me for being such a stubborn disciple of Dr. Dan’s. A Nepalese woman in Maternity who’s impossibly hard to track down. A British surgeon who looks like a 21 year old professional SC2 player. I know all of your faces, but not all of your names. I know a few of your numbers, but none of your schedules. I wish that we could work together. I wish that we had an x-ray machine at the clinic. I wish you guys had a PCR machine too. I wish that there weren’t so many politics muddling things up. I wish that we could just focus on saving lives.

___

Registration takes forever. “We’re closed,” she says. She doesn’t seem like she’s in a good mood. But it’s only 10:45AM. We were specifically told to come in today. The specialist said so yesterday over the phone. We’re from the clinic.

I’m not some stupid high school dropout, you know. I’m a trained nurse. Even though I’m new here, don’t look down on me.

I don’t know why you’re telling me this. I haven’t even said anything to you. She’s so defensive.

We just want to get a referral, ma’am. That’s all we want. Thank you, ma’am. Okay, thank you.

___

Is this OPD? Is this where we go? I’ve only been to urology before. I don’t know if this is it.

___

There are other kids here, but our kid is special. He came all the way from the mountains–from hours away. He was here last year; he was only three days old. His file is huge, with x-rays and post-op exams. He’s so, so small. How has he been through so much already?

I reach out to poke him, and he grasps my finger. His grip is strong. His fingers are chubby. He smiles at me with those watery eyes—ears sticking out, hair swaying in the breeze.

“Hello, baby. Hello there, baby.”

___

“No, she’s not here yet. Her flight just landed,” they say. “She was a bit ambitious with her schedule. She’ll be a bit late.” From New Zealand, they tell me. A doctor who cares. We could use a doctor who cares—we’ve been waiting here for over an hour at this point.

___

“How old are you?” He replies with a blank stare. “What is your name?” He doesn’t understand. “Do you eat well? You have to eat well. Please eat well. I want you to live.”

I’m singing to him now. His mother rocks him in her sling. The music comes through my phone, soft and soothing. Nothing too loud, but loud enough to sing to. There are three other families here—three other families that have come to a consult. One baby has Hirschprungs. The other has polyps. They’re so damn cute. It’s such a damn shame.

I hope she arrives soon. I can’t sing forever. The longer I sit here, the sadder I get. The mom is sitting beside me, but the baby is slung facing away from me. I’m glad he can’t see my face. I’m not singing happy songs today. It feels like I’m singing a farewell.

___

She’s finally here. An enthusiastic, talkative, grey-haired woman. She’s wearing eyeliner, with a dab of blue by the tear ducts. Her energy is contagious; I shake her hand enthusiastically.

We take our seats, and she begins explaining the nutrition supplements. 24 bottles of 200mL each. They look like Frusion smoothies. 300 kcals per bottle, with four bottles per child. A bit of a bottle every few hours. Drink with a straw, or feed with a spoon. If you breastfeed, then breastfeed first. Do not stop breastfeeding. Do not wean yourself. If you start relying on the nutritional supplement, it won’t work. It’s very important that you don’t stop breastfeeding.

The Tetun rolls off my tongue. It’s been over six weeks, and I surprise even myself sometimes. The families stare at me as I instruct them how to take care of their children. They probably think I’m a doctor too.

___

“Are you from Ermera too?” No, no, I’m just here from the clinic.

“Are you a doctor?” No, I’m just a volunteer.

“Oh, that’s wonderful!” Well, I’m just here for my patient. I just want to make sure they’re okay. I just want to make sure they don’t get lost. I don’t mind staying, and I don’t mind translating for you. The other staff should translate too, though. They’re Timorese after all. This is their language, not mine. I’m just here to help.

___

We’ll come back on Monday. Well, they’ll come back on Monday. I go home in two days. I won’t see it happen. It’s okay, they’re admitted at the clinic. We’ll make special note for them to have plumpynut, since the mom needs nutrients too. Cassava. Water spinach. Corn. Rice. How do you live off of carbs and vegetables? He needs fat. He needs protein and fat. He needs to grow.

___

He doesn’t like the smoothie. The nutritional supplement must taste awful. I feel bad, because the mom is trying so hard. She tries to get him to feed, but he just cries and cries. At least he’s not vomiting. At least he’s responsive. Not like the other baby, the one who came in yesterday. We can’t let that happen again. We need to do better next time. We need to do our best. Because it’s our job. We volunteered to do this, not to have a vacation. I don’t know what I’m doing, but it’s still my job to do it. 

partu, continued

  him: ?
  me: mother came in
  from like
  30 minutes away
  waddled in
  with our help
  we checked her out
  baby was still 5cm away
  so we were like
  k nap time
  i pass out
  for TWO HOURS LOL
  wake up
  mother is moaning and groaning
  him: 5cm away roflrofl
  me: we suit up
  then
  it becomes apparent
  she’s wicked exhausted
  and not feeling it
  she’s 34
  this is her fourth baby
  the dad is like
  nope
  not going in there
  rofl
  so her mother
  who’s like
  in her sixties
  is the one who helps her slightly
  however she still pushes
  pretty weakly
  and it takes
  forever
  eventually
  baby crowns
  pretty blue
  adorable child though
  very pretty eyes
  we have to suction him though
  because he decided to get a face full of blood
  oops
  but yeah
  dressed him up all nice
  antibiotic’d his eyes
  nurse gave the mom a nice shot of oxytocin
  bam bam
  thank you ma’am
  *wham bam
  breastfed normally
  i scrubbed down
  and now it’s 4am
  huzzah.
  him: dayum.
  me: well maternity is
  special
  lulz
  sometimes you show up
  a baby comes at 8pm
  you can sleep soundly
  sometimes
  like my friend
  you go in
  wake up
  and the damn baby
  has slid out
  of the mom
  in the bed
  because it’s her tenth child
  and i’ll be damned if that tissue
  isn’t as new as it used to be
  rofl
  him:  brrrrr
  me: lul

partu

“Let the dad do it. You know, bonding and stuff.”

I looked up at her and nodded—tiny pink mitten in one hand, the baby’s left arm in the other.

“Right, right. Sure. Okay, baby. Bye-bye, baby.”

I turned around slowly, motioning silently for the dad to come over. He was still at the side of the delivery table, clutching his wife’s hand. He looked unsure. I would be unsure too. After all, this was a real, living, breathing baby. Technically their third, but the only one alive. A sudden death at age 2; a miscarriage; and today. Today was going to be different. Today, they were going to start doing everything right: exclusive breastfeeding, immunizations, regular checkups.

___

She was so beautiful. Her big, watery eyes shined up at us like stars. The midwife had instructed me to dress the baby instead.

I fussed around with the baby’s clothes. I buttoned up her blouse wrong; it took forever to get the chloramphenicol dabbed into her eyes; one of her booties kept falling off. But still, somehow, she was remarkably peaceful the entire time. Grasping at my fingers with a strong, healthy grip; cooing softly at me from beneath the incubator. She was only minutes old, too. Minutes.

___

We were both washing our hands thoroughly at the sink. The blood that had splashed onto the floor during the mother’s afterbirth had been mopped up, and the midwives were cleaning the rest of the room. This was my third delivery, but she had seen at least five. And we had both witnessed twins—premature, fragile, heart-breaking twins. One of hers had lived though, fighting for life, stubbornly gaining 25g each day. So she too remained stubborn, monitoring the baby and the mother all day and night. She slept at the clinic more than she did at home. She would be a fantastic doctor one day.

___

“Look at the dad,” she said. She poked me lightly in the ribs. The midwives had instructed the father to wash his hands, then finally let him approach the incubator. He was standing there silently, beaming from ear to ear. The joy was infectious.

“He’s so damn happy right now,” she giggled. “He’s just so, so happy.”

Cristo Rei

The Cristo Rei statue is…kind of huge. In terms of height, it’s second only to the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

He stands atop a huge metal globe. Kind of a weird interpretation of “He’s got the whole world in His hands,” lawl.

The view as you walk towards Cristo Rei

A family was herding their goats on the hill that morning. Iha bibi barak, yo.

The family looking on at Bidau

The view from Jesus’ backside.

The road to Cristo Rei

Towards Arturo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

173

On House, M.D., there was a character named Wilson. He was an oncologist.

I remember an episode from season one. It was the season finale, or at least pretty darn close to the end. The episode is called “Three Stories.”

There’s a scene where House is standing at the front of a lecture hall, twirling his cane. He’s addressing a room full of med students. They must be in their first or second year, since in the U.S., I’m told that you don’t start seeing patients until your third year. House is talking about an patient of his. The patient is dying.
___

“I have a friend. He’s an oncologist. He’s so good at his job, that when he tells a patient that they’re dying, they thank him. Can you believe that? They say “thank you” when he tells them that they’re gonna die. “I’m sorry, but we’ve done everything we can. You’re going to die.’”

I can’t help but think of Wilson. What’s it like, to tell someone they’re going to die? What’s it like to carry that weight—the burden of someone’s life? What’s it like, knowing that you did everything you could, but still, somehow, some way, no matter how hard you tried, you failed them? That you were somehow complicit, responsible, guilty? Do you remember the name? The room where you broke the news? Do you remember their face? Do you remember the look in their eyes, when you told them that the end was coming, and that there was nothing they could do about it?
___

It’s her first day at the clinic. Well, technically, she flew in from Bali yesterday, but this is her first full day. Her orientation, in more ways than one.

I don’t remember how my morning routine when that morning. I think I said good morning—drank some freshly brewed Timorese coffee, ate a roll smeared with jelly; maybe Senora made eggs that morning. I remember waking up at 6:59AM to my cell phone alarm. I remember actually hopping out of bed instead of just rolling over and going back to sleep like I do most mornings. I remember us walking—my roommate, me, and the new girl—we walked the thirty minutes to the clinic.
___

She was clearly exhausted from the chaos of adjusting to a new environment. We all were, in some small way. Some of us were just more used to the chaos than others. But through the layers of exhaustion and jetlag, I glimpsed excitement. It was there, and it was real: she was excited for her first full day here. She was excited for 8AM rounds, for meeting all the patients—for real, authentic, hands-on clinical experience. Nothing like med school, no sir. This was Timor. It was real.

When we walked through the gates of Bairo Pite Clinic thirty minutes later, our smiles were huge. It was only 8AM, and I already had sweat dripping down my back, but the new girl’s excitement was infectious. “Bon dia,” we chirped. “Diak ka lae?” Our smiles faltered when a nurse ran up to us. “Douter?” she asked. She was wearing a face mask. But it was 8AM. Who wears a face mask at 8AM? Even the grounds crew doesn’t put on their face masks until around 9AM, and that’s for sweeping the TB wards. How odd a greeting—a nurse in a respirator mask.

We followed the nurse to general wards. To the isolation room off on the right—bed number one. I think that’s what the bed is numbered. Bed One. Right next to the nursing station. I know who’s there. My roommate knows who’s there. The new girl doesn’t. She’s barely spent an hour on the clinic grounds yet. What kind of welcome is this? It’s not even fair.
___

His vitals. He’s not breathing right. It’s not chain-stoking, it’s different. It’s like he’s breathing in slow motion. His eyes are open. There’s a breathing tube in his nose. I haven’t seen him in two days. I should have checked on him yesterday. I didn’t know he was this bad. Nobody knew he was this bad..

She’s freaking out. She takes his vitals, stares at the machine. She’s not tapping her feet or wringing her hands, but her eyes are wide. There are still bags under her eyes. She’s weary from traveling. And now this. Her first day at the clinic, and the very first minute, she’s greeted with this.

There are no doctors around. Just a few worried nurses. The nurse who called us over is standing in the doorway, unsure of what to do. I’m just an undergrad, damn it. I don’t know what to do. I don’t even know what the numbers on the machine mean. My roommate is a year younger than me. We don’t even have stethoscopes hanging around our necks.

Her eyes are frantic. They dart around the room, searching for answers. She’s the fourth year med student, after all. She’s supposed to know what she’s doing.

“Should I call Dr. Dan? I’ll call Dr. Dan.” He’ll know what to do. He’s been here for so long. But before I can even unlock my phone, he’s at the door. He must have been standing outside of Maternity, waiting to start rounds. I wonder who called him over. He says hello, but his face is grim. I plaster myself against the wall, trying to stay out of his way. He takes the patient’s vitals with his stethoscope. He ignores the machine. He shakes his head. The patient’s family speaks English. They hear what Dr. Dan is saying. They understand what he’s saying, but they don’t get it. Nobody gets it, it’s happening too fast. It can’t even be a quarter past eight.
___

“No, no, no. I don’t understand. He was fine ten minutes ago.”

He’s gesturing wildly, stabbing the air with his finger.

“No, look, I took a nap. It was 7AM, and I just woke up ten minutes ago. You know, to feed him some more rice, to make him eat. And then suddenly, suddenly, this! He is breathing, breathing like this. Like this. Like this.”

He mimics his brother’s pained raspy breathing. “It jumped to 173! Wh-what is this mean?”

Dr. Dan shakes his head. He says something to him—something in English. I don’t remember what he said. I just remember pieces. I remember, “I’m sorry.”

The brother is almost shouting now—shouting at no one in particular. He’s shouting at Dr. Dan, shouting at his comatose brother. “He was fine yesterday! Talking, eating, all fine!”

“I’m sorry. I have to get back to rounds. Max, would you stay with them?” Suddenly, I’m not useless.
___

It’s always hot in the general wards. The brother and his brother in law brought a fan in, but it doesn’t help much. Four people are crammed in there, but I’m the one who’s supposed to know what’s going on.. It’s only been a week since the twins; I can’t do this again. His eyes are open, staring at the ceiling. He’s staring at the ceiling fan, asking it to start working again. The awful, raspy breathing has stopped. His heart beat is still at sixty, but in a few minutes, it’ll be at forty. Then twenty. Then nothing. Soon his heart will stop beating. There’s no oxygen going into his lungs. We can do nothing.
___

I wish I had a stethoscope. The machine still says 173; 173 over something. It beeps every twenty seconds. I don’t know what it means.

Please, please stop looking at me. I’m sorry, I don’t know. There’s no air going on. No, it’s not. Yes, he might have a very faint heartbeat, but it’s going to stop soon. The blood that is bleeding into his brain, it’s stopped his breathing. His lungs no longer work. His heart will stop pumping blood to the rest of his body soon.

I’m speaking to them slowly. I always speak too fast. I always mumble. Everyone says my English is too confusing, too American, too low. I’m speaking deliberately. The two men standing in front of me, they speak excellent English. They both went to university. I spent an hour talking with them last week on their first day here. They flew two thousand miles to be here. They really care a lot about him.

They were worried. They got a phone call, and that was it. They were told, “he’s not well. He is very sick.” And just like that, they flew over. Jobs on the line, lives on hold. All the way here, just for this. They bought him a plane ticket home, for crying out loud. For July 3rd. We thought he’d be better by then. We thought he was faking the numbness. I mean, he was ashamed. I would be ashamed too. But no, you can’t fake some things. You can’t fake bleeding in the brain. He can’t be 30,000 up in the air, he’ll die. Come on, guys, please be reasonable. We don’t know if he’ll be ready by July 3rd, we just have to wait and see.

The machine still reads 173. Why doesn’t the mute button work? It says “SOUND: OFF” in bright green letters. I check for a pulse on his wrist. Of course I can’t feel anything. But I don’t know for sure. I don’t know anything. I’m as useless as this damned machine.

He starts crying. I don’t know what to say. His brother is dying, and he’s thousands of miles from home. He seemed so determined when I first met him. He’s short, and walks with a blustery air about him. I remember the first time I met him on rounds. He spoke confidently; matter of factly. They sat in the office with me, and I explained what little I knew. It was an idle Sunday, and I was confident too. I remember that I was confident that he would make the July 3rd flight.

He’s starts sobbing. Wailing, into both of his hands. He seems so broken, so defeated. How do I even begin to empathize? His brother in law walks over, and stands there beside him. He places a hand on one shoulder, and stares off into the distance. His eyes are dry, and his mouth is thin. Unlike his brother in law, he’s tall and thin. He hasn’t said a word; he hasn’t made a noise in ages. I ask him if he wants some time alone with his family. He nods.
___

I feel like a doorman. A security guard. A guard dog. I pace back and forth in the lobby outside the nursing station. There’s a candle and a statue of Mother Mary just next to me. There’s bright sunlight streaming in through the open doorway. And behind me, there’s wailing, crying, sobbing. He’s speaking in a language that I don’t understand.

Patients and their families drift by me. A little girl looks cautiously at me. She can tell something is wrong. I wonder if she thinks that I look sad because of her. I hope she doesn’t think that. She hasn’t done anything wrong.

I try to smile back at her. She usually smiles back. She has the cutest damn smile when she smiles. Please smile. Please don’t be afraid of me. Please don’t be afraid. I know you don’t understand, and I know you can’t hear me, but please don’t be afraid.
___

One of the second year med students walks slowly towards me. I nod silently to him. He has a stethoscope. He always has one around his neck. He’s been here for almost two months. He knocks on the door, and we enter the room together. The brother has stopped crying.

He asks us to tell him what is wrong with his brother. He’s still in denial, asking questions we’ve already answered. The second year med student checks for a heartbeat. He checks his chest. He shakes his head.
“I’m sorry. He’s gone.”

A nurse comes in to take away the machine. To pull out the breathing tube. To take out the IV. Blood still comes out. There’s still blood in his veins. We close his eyelids. He stopped blinking long ago. The brother wants a picture. He wants a picture for their family. We help him sit the patient up, and his back is still warm. It’s hot and sticky. The bed is drenched in sweat. A gasp of air escapes his throat. His head lolls to the side. It makes me jump a little. I hope they didn’t see me jump. I feel bad that I jumped. We clean him up a little, wipe the blood off his arm. We clean the sweat off his brow. We straighten up his pillow, and sit him good and proper.
___

I pass by him an hour later. The brother is sitting outside the general ward. Around him mill his late brother’s friends. They’re talking to his brother in law. They’re sorting out the proceedings.

“A box to put him in?” they say. “A place to bury him?” they ask. The brother just sits there on the bench. He’s not asking any questions. He’s just gazing out into the distance.

His eyes are dry now, and he doesn’t say a word when I walk by him. He has that vacant, far-off look in his eyes.
___

I wonder if it gets easier. I wonder if it gets better. Because right now, I’m just so tired. It was so, so difficult, and I didn’t even do anything. I couldn’t do ANYTHING. I just stood there. Silent. With the easiest job in the world.