Sounds which haunt me

This is a piece written in response to a prompt from a writers website I love, The Red Dress Club.
The challenged offered: “Give me a memory of the color red. Do not write the word ‘red’ but use words that engender the color red when you hear them. For example: a ruby, a tomato, fire, blood.”
Walking down the sterile hallway I didn’t register the catastrophe of sound assaulting my ears, it was not shocking anymore. No longer did my heart race at the sound of a frantic cry for help, nor did the more commonly heard sound of anguished wailing. Normally each of the sounds of human suffering echoed here in the span of an eight hour shift and my brain had learned to filter them out.
As my soundless sneakers carried me towards the nurse’s station I smiled greetings at the residents while I deftly avoided hands reaching out from wheelchair bound bodies.
Reaching the station, I didn’t bother greeting the attending nurse who was busily taking notes from a doctor on the phone and would certainly not appreciate my attempt at pleasantry.
I had retrieved the bedding cart and was leaving the station when the attending nurse called my name. She informed me that I would be on palliative care that evening with Mrs. Ross. Responding in an acceptably professional manner I listened and took notes as the Nurse reviewed Mrs. Ross’ current state with me.
Mrs. Ross had lived in D wing which had been my assigned wing for the past 2 years. During this time I’d gotten to know both her and her husband very well, so much so that she insisted I call her Ella. Ella was 88 years old and was lucid, that alone was a rare achievement within this setting.
Ella was an artist; she would often tell me she was amazed that people would pay money for her work. She explained that to her it was an outpouring of her emotions and had never expected people to appreciate it.
Ella was someone very special to me, humble and sassy she inspired me. She cheered me on when I made the decision to return to college the following September. Feeling insecure about the male dominated field I’d chosen, Ella was one of the people I discussed my choice with. This wonderful white haired woman looked directly at me with her clear blue eyes and asked me what I was scared of? In her mind nothing was more frightening than not trying. She challenged me to succeed by living life fully with no regrets.
On that night as I entered the palliative care room, for the first time in 2 years those blue eyes weren’t clear. I didn’t hear her lively laugh, Ella wouldn’t be verbally challenging me tonight.
She lay prone upon the hospital bed, her emaciated frame visible through the light blanket. Her ribcage seemed to heave with each breath, her chest and throat emitting a horrible sound full of effort. The sound which was commonly known as the death rattle in that room.
Tears filled my eyes as I recalled how vital Ella had been, my breath caught in my throat as I stifled a sob. In my head I heard Ella talk about God, her imminent death, her gratitude for the life she’d led. I knew that Ella would expect me to step up to the plate and face this challenge.
With a deep breath I went to the bathroom and filled a basin with her fragrant body wash and warm water, returned to the room and speaking to her in normal tones I gave Ella the most loving bed bath I’d ever given. I smoothed her blankets, brushed her hair and applied moisturizer to her hands and face.
The last thing I ever did for my dear friend Ella was to apply her favorite raspberry lipstick, telling her that Mr. Ross would arrive soon and he’d find her looking as ravishing as always.  

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26 Responses

  1. This was a very moving piece, beginning with a professional who is adept at avoiding "hands reaching out from wheelchair bound bodies." then showing that this professional really does care deeply for someone. There are several places where a comma would help the reader interpret the natural pauses, such as "Reaching the station, I didn’t bother…". The phrase "I’d gotten to know both she…" should read "her" instead of "she", and the word "doctor" is not capitalized unless you are saying a name such as "Doctor Smith".My favorite part was the fact that the "red" was kept for the ending, but it was a very cherished red that meant something to the patient.A beautiful post!

  2. what an emotional piece. thank you so much for giving this window into your life, and introducing your readers to Ella. What a sweet woman you had the opportunity to know.

  3. This is so beautiful. It hurts my heart. So beautifully written. I would personally have ended it at the lipstick. That last paragraph seems somewhat out of place there, honestly. If you do keep it you're missing a "d" at the end of hear in this sentence … the more commonly hear sound It was perfectly put, and I was right there with you. No critique except that last para part. Thanks for sharing this memory with us.

  4. I completely connected with this post because I am a nurse…People don't realize how much our patient's impact our souls to the core. They see us robotically moving through motions because we have to…we have to block them out sometimes in order to protect ourselve. But there are ones that touch us so much that we always carry their memory with us. Love this piece.

  5. What a bittersweet memory! She reminds me much of my own grandmother! How wonderful you found such strength in her! What a wonderful heart you have to give her that last bit of love! And thanks for making me cry! =)It's amazing what kind of memories one word can conjure up!

  6. This is haunting and heartbreaking. Yet, I feel that she would be so pleased with having her favorite lip color on to greet her husband. Well written.

  7. I was hoping this wasn't going to be sad after I read, "She cheered me on when I’d decided to return to college the following September." Normally I take "following" to mean it will be coming and not something that happened in the past. Maybe that's just me.I thought you did a great job recalling this memory and sharing it. I also love that you saved the red for the end because it kept me looking for it and wondering when it would show up. I think it was very touching that it was something special to your friend.

  8. I hung to every word here. After my mother's final weeks in the hospital, this really touches me. I saw that kind of care and love from the nurses. I liked the Mr. Ross coming at the end of the story…I understood why it was there. Great piece, so thankful you shared it.

  9. What a touching story and what an impact she had on your life. I have similar concrit as the first commenter about grammar, so I will not add on! ;)

  10. I like how you gave us some background on her and then transitioned into knowing that she was not doing so well… Lovely post. I like how the memory rounded out with her lipstick. Very nice.

  11. I really loved this piece. I came over from TRDC… you visited my blog and I just love your avatar :)This is a beautifully written piece, and I too love that you saved the red for a most special moment. & my heart broke. Thank you for touching my heart.Bobbie

  12. This was a lovely post. I think you did a nice job describing Ella in life, the strength and vitality that made her uniquely her. The tenderness and respect you showed her in those last two paragraphs was incredibly touching without overdoing it. The raspberry lipstick tied it all together perfectly.

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