This happened towards the end of the two weeks I spent in hospital, mostly at Kutvolgy korhaz. So I was getting physically a bit stronger, though the fact that the two older ladies I was sharing a room with both spoke no English meant I could only communicate with big smiles and a few Hungarian words. We bonded over the godawful food, though.
She came in the middle of the night, probably two or three in the morning. There was a sense that she was a nuisance, certainly the nurse who received her gave that impression, She couldn’t talk though sometimes she would make “mamama” noises and sometimes she would hide her face on the pillow and sometimes she would make violent unco-ordinated movements. These meant she fell out of bed which the nurses seemed to think was deliberate.
At the time she arrived, the nurse on duty immediately tried to attach bed-rails, neither of which were the right size, so she compromised by putting the little bedside table in the way. There were four full beds in a room just big enough for them.
Sometimes she would sleep, sometimes she’d stare impassively at me, or the other women. They set up a drip for her, into which another nurse came and injected a dose of something I suppose was a sedative.
They knew her name, she had a bag of street clothes, but there was a sense that she was in the wrong place, waiting for a bed on a more high-dependency ward which was currently full. Occasionally nurses would come and give her commands or suggestions in Hungarian (her native language) to no obvious effect.
Later that morning, she fell out of bed again, then sat there until a strapping lad could come and give us a hand to get her back again. They hauled her around disrespectfully to get her back to bed in the cramped space, but her expression never altered: there was nobody at home, as far as I could see.
I went off for another CT scan and when I came back she had gone. I caught one glimpse of her, sitting in a wheelchair, being trundled along by the two young men in white, wearing only a hospital gown, her bag of street clothes gone missing. There was no expression on her face at all.
I wish I had been kinder to her. I wish I had felt able to support her weight when she fell out of bed until help could come. Aggie, one of my other roomies, did that, the most able-bodied among us despite terminal cancer.
I wish I had sat beside her, maybe hummed to her, maybe got something out of her apart from “mamama”. I wish I had had the gumption to ask where she came from, what had happened to her, despite not knowing the language . Nobody had a moment of kindness for her except Aggie, who supported her while she sat there staring as if the last thing she could have expected was to end up on the floor.
Of course I was afraid of her, sullenly and unconsciously. She was what I could have been. Perhaps…perhaps she’d had a stroke like mine but one that robbed her of everything, not just words but sense as well. One that destroyed her as a person. I’ve no idea, only the bag of street clothes said something like that might have happened. She didn’t seem old – perhaps early 60s.
I wish I’d held her hand.