Beyond the frames of the glass windows of Davao Medical Center was the cold hard rain. I glanced at the wall clock: 3:05. Time for endorsement call; but I could not free myself from lingering thoughts and the sound of a familiar name. The ceiling fan was not working again. Sweat trickled down my forehead down to my nose and lips; some droplets on my neck glided towards my nape. I felt sweat from my chin trickle down to my throat onto the sides of my breasts and, after finding the main freeway, explore my navel: I had already bathed.
The sharp blend of odors in the Nurses’ station was shaking my consciousness: the scent of oranges, a nearby diabetic’s necrotic foot, an open bottle of rubbing alcohol, the smell of fresh blood expelled from a womb contracting from the neighboring Delivery Room, and spilled urine on the floor from a patient’s urobag. It was exhausting.
Or, perhaps, it was creating a different kind of delusion.
What’s the name again? The diagnosis?
“Divinagracia, Maria Ana.”
I looked at him. He called my name. Dayaganon, K.M. was my Practicing Clinical Instructor.
His eyebrows rose and threatened to disappear into his hairline. His voice was stern and cold, commanding an immediate response. He was a skinny guy with islands of pricked pimple scars, wrinkles and lines all over his bony face; hair not gray, but he was almost bald anyway, so he wouldn’t care; his eyes, like his brother’s, garishly black.
Twenty-one years old, I assumed, approximately two years older than me. In the Department, he was well-known for having a peculiar character of preaching the non-existence of the Divine Creator by tearing the pages of the Bible apart, right in front of shocked and appalled nursing students and faculty. And he was my PCI. I knew his brother, Kith; but I didn’t even know him at all. All I knew was that I had to follow him. Only that lingered in my mind – a hostile stare and—
“Go to the O.B ward and…Are you with me, Ma’am?”
“Have you been aware that I was talking?”
“About the Endorsement Call, Sir?”
“I suppose you know that this isn’t a joke right?”
“I’m sorry, Sir. I’m just not…“
“Sorry isn’t our business here. I hope you know that.”
His voice was low, but it reverberated with a sting of indifference, of cool sarcasm. It was less than cordial, but it sounded professional, which was what I expected of him. He shoved the endorsement note toward my chest and walked away. He took fast, edgy strides to the O. B. ward and left me stupefied and still gazing at his stiff back. From afar, his silhouette looked like an Intravenous stand being pulled away by someone. I wonder who was pulling him and to where.
The sound of footsteps and the noisy chatter at the O.B ward rang in my ears — a sort-of music, of which I was already fond of and, I suppose, was expected to hear as a student nurse. The sound; it was like hearing the beating waves of an electrocardiogram singing a melancholy tale for the first time. The notes were the P, QRS, and T waves – oh, like P waves under pressure to conquer the right atrium, and QRS waves having already preceded them, then a contraction from the left ventricle, a complication and a crisis. Finally, through the help of God, T waves push forward and perform ventricular repolarization, the falling action and the resolution (I think my high school teacher called it denouement). The sound in both an ECG machine and a piece of literature — they are one and the same. Things perceived to collide can also be as beautiful in motion, creating a split-second unison. Or it could be that the interrelatedness of two different worlds is caused by the irreconcilable collisions of their science, of their meaning, and of their beliefs? What a joke! Like him, now, being my instructor, and I, his student. A joke. A bad one. I didn’t know enough; and maybe I did.
Nursing. It had been Mamang, minus Papang, who urged me to pursue the field. Well, I thought, this was just practical. After Graduation, pass the board exam. After the board exam, find a job. After two years of working in God-forsaken hospitals, fly abroad and earn thousands of dollars. Find a husband and be a beautiful millionaire — a husband who will play the piano instead of the guitar, who will wear leather shoes instead of a dog-eared sneakers and who will refuse to wear a faded black shirt with print screaming “I am an EMO.” A guy whose eyes would penetrate my thoughts. A guy who has hands not big enough to numb a girl’s reflexes, but not weak enough to calm her passions. A guy who kisses a sweaty forehead instead of bruising an innocent lip. A guy who doesn’t own me, but possesses me. A guy different from his brother Kith.
I held my record book and pen and started to examine the patient’s diagnosis.
Women here in the O. B. ward had to and did share many things, apart from the stale air that pervaded their space. From bed spaces they were forced to share (if there is an overflowing number of mothers who have just given birth, one bed for two patients is mandatory), to pillows, IV stands, blankets, and even personal things like mugs, utensils, and pacifiers — all are being shared between and among them. The ward smelled of blood, fetid; it even reminded me of my first menstruation in second year high. K.M.’s brother, Kith, was witness to the first red stain on my uniform. His black handkerchief brought some relief. The bloodstain wasn’t evident; it hardly existed at all. But the feeling, knowing it was there, bothered me to no end.
“Dayaganon, Leah.” I said.
The patient’s name was familiar. I believe she was a classmate. She was not a best friend, not a friend, not a confidante. She was just a meter from where I was standing; lying supine in a bed she shared this with an old woman whom I knew nothing about, save for the fact that she had just given birth.
“Maayong Hapon, Ma’am. I’m student nurse Maria Ana. I’m here to assist your needs. How are you right now?” I flashed a wide smile.
She was my age. Nineteen. Yet, visibly, she was a paradox — bony from neck to foot. She had long and rumpled hair that veiled her eyes, which were shifting restlessly, staring in countless directions, failing to meet my own. Her face was as pale as the sheet where she lay. Her cheekbones were stretched tight like white cloth over a frame. Her lips were bruised and parched. Her face was waxed with the forced growth of a young mother, not for the better but for a hard to define experience, none of which was really my business anymore. They had, however, bothered me for the most of five minutes.
“Miss Dayaganon, have you been drinking your antibiotics every 12 hours?”
“Yes,” was her cautious reply.
None of my business; but I wanted to know what led her here. What happened? She had this petite cheerleader body, a sunny smile, a warm face; too different from what I was seeing before me — the exact opposite. What happened to her and Kith? She had aged more than what was clinically expected. Unprecedented growth, maybe; I wasn’t sure. I wanted to know.
She breaks the silence. “You look good in your uniform.”
“Salamat. How have you been for the last five years? I haven’t heard of you or Kith since I transferred to a different school.” I said, full of interest.
“Kith’s my husband.”
My Husband. The phrase injected into me the same way a tuberculin syringe is stabbed into the epithelium for skin testing. Piercing; very painful.
“Ah, I see.”
“You’re graduating next year?”
“If God permits.” I managed a toothy smile.
“He will. I’m sure He will. But never for me. And…” Her gaze rested on me; her mystery from years back, I saw, had remained.
Her eyes grimaced with the silent scream of illness, filled with deep frustration and bitterness, of which I probably could not nurse. It was as if she had suffered throbbing pangs of pain, not from labor, but, I presume, from invisible stab wounds cloaked beneath what had become of her life in the five years that passed.
“…even for Kith…”
Having finished regulating her I.V, I jotted down information about her physical appearance. I just shrugged and watched her.
I didn’t know what she meant. I wanted her to voluntarily spill details, but my mouth was already numb. I couldn’t say anything more or even ask her another question. From afar, K.M. again gave that hostile stare, which meant I was not allowed to chat with patients on a too personal level.
“Just remember to extend care; but always reserve something for yourself”
I remembered his words. Don’t inquire much.
Nursing, a duty, a profession, a job. There is a huge difference between a nurse saying “How are you, and what do you feel right now?” and a person, compassionate enough, wanting to know how someone really feels. Service will always be mandatory. I don’t get to choose my patient. The task chooses me. The job was comparable to what Mamang did when she knew about Kith. A break-up was mandatory. She didn’t like the idea that he, a known gangster, would have an intimate relationship with me. “He might ruin our dream of you of becoming a nurse. Listen to me, I am your mother.”
Soon I was busy chatting with Leah. Rapt in our bond as former classmates and for our common infatuation towards Kith; I was astounded that K.M. was already doing his rounds. A knife-like stare fled from him and…
“What time is it Ma’am?”
I could see he was wearing your watch; and even if he forgot to wear it, there were plenty of huge wall clocks hanging on the walls of nurse’s station.
“ Why haven’t you recorded your patient’s vital signs on the logbook? You don’t want an I.R. right?”
He cut my reply before I had even begun.
I.R. or Incident Report is the equivalent being labeled “oplok”. “Oplok” meant stupid; and it meant a serious blunder for student nurses. Even the letter I or R, or jumbled R.I could create seizures and palpitations. Getting an I.R,, on my part, meant more than “oplok” — it meant committing a sin: an approximation of enduring the fires of Satan’s hell.
5:56 p.m. He assessed that the IV tubing inserted into my patient’s right metacarpal vein was swelling. That finding stirred anxiety within me. I.R. The letters. They were gulping me down. The letters.
“ Sir, I was still writing my sample charting and I still have to…” I was already clothed with sweat. I tried to reason but I got only a sharp reply.
“Does that mean the objective data is already excluded from your sample charting?”
“Sir? I was just writing the subjective part. The…”
“Again, Ma’am, what time is it?” He pointed his index finger to your watch.
“5: 56.” I looked at the wall clock by the nurses’ station, and bowed my head out of respect and in shame.
“At what time do we need the sample charting?”
“Make an I .R. now.”
Incident Report. The fear was real. K.M. headed toward our Clinical Instructor to report my mistake. For the second time, he left me stunned while gaping at his angular back, bewildered at the twist of events and his manner. How could he be so offensive? I.R. and “oplok”, they’re just words; but they stung. Again, his outline was that of an Intravenous stand being pulled away by someone. Now I was sure who was pulling him: my mistake.
The clock ticked 5:59 and I saw him coming back under his own steam, now with more conviction. He was audibly panting.
“C.I. De Jesus has advised that you should perform KSS immediately. I suppose you know what that means. Keep The Set Sterile. Okay?”
He commanded as though I were a five year old.
“Prepare your plaster, and alcohol, and cotton balls, and needle, and… what is the appropriate gauge?”
“Sir, I haven’t prepared the…”
“Then, what? Waiting for the resurrection of the dead or your God?”
Jittery, I took the stairs three at a time to retrieve my paraphernalia bag at the sepia colored Affiliates room.
Inside, I looked closely at the wooden floor, the brown walls, the ceiling, and the dirty curtain. The rain was still pounding; the world looked daunting. I looked for the materials inside the bag hastily and cluttered things I didn’t need. Unfortunately, fate still wasn’t on my side.
God, is this the accidental interrelatedness of fate? Or the forced collision of the irreconcilable? Or just one of your several plain jokes? I muttered.
“Where are your materials?” His lips twitched.
His cunning eyes transfixed on mine.
“Sir…ah…actually, I don’t have any cotton balls. But I have the other materials.” I said almost inaudibly while showing him the materials.
“Do you really want this course?” He gave me skeptical look.
“Of course, Sir. Nursing is my first choice.” I tried to put up a diplomatic front, but I really wasn’t sure.
“ Liar.” You abruptly uttered.
“Sir, this is my first choice.’ I retorted firmly, unable to stand it all, but also afraid that people around would notice the tension.
“ Fine; but let me remind you, Nursing is not playschool.” His voice was low, but it was enough to make the crowd curious.
People from the O.B ward eyed us as if we were worth the attention. I was helpless in this condition. In the end, I moved towards Leah, my patient, and told her I was going to perform KSS. I cupped her hand and held it. I took some cotton balls damp with alcohol and made several circular strokes around her right hand; slowly, I peeled off the wet and already dirty plaster as I searched for the location of the I.V. cannula. When my eyes alighted on it, I softly pulled out the cannula from the outlines of the metacarpal vein. I was off somewhere in the clouds, far far away to apply the requisite pressure. The blood spurted out like water from a raging pipeline. Unfortunately, it spattered to his white uniform.
“Divinagracia.” He fixed his eyes on me.
Resistance stage. My lungs took in more air and my heart began beating faster and harder. — to circulate a highly oxygenated and nourished blood to my muscles to prepare my body for a fight, flight, or freeze behavior, as Sir De Jesus would define it. I believe this is the freeze stage.
K.M’s eyes were sporting fiery red halos. Or maybe I was having a delusion of some sort, again? Maybe. Maybe not.
When the terrible incident cleared, it was already 7:05 p.m. The first and the last. I mumbled and sighed with much exasperation. I could hear people whispering about the incident and me. And if I were about to pen a story, this would be the last thing I would write about. I sat down in shame. I had never been insulted like this all my life; and like so many other times, I had to swallow my pride. I must eat dinner with him. And if, again, this was interrelatedness, I didn’t know why God had been pushing us together, though it seems that we were both repelling each other.
K.M. and me sat across each other on a bench full of graffiti inside the hospital‘s cafeteria.
“Miss, you want a Bible?” An old woman wearing a white veil approached me.
“No thanks. I already have one.” I smiled.
The old woman walked way, and I saw him smirk.
“Religion. Investing faith in someone not even seen.” He started while filling his mouth with spoonfuls of rice.
“What’s wrong with you?” It took a staggering amount of courage to ask him such.
“Could you ask yourself that instead?”
“Yeah. But don’t you have any diplomacy, at all?“
“In order to please other people? It’s not my thing.”
“But could you at least be cordial? You’ve been saying nursing is an act of extending care, and you’re acting like that?”
“It’s a heavy job. And I know I have to extend care over and over again. That’s why I don’t want to give all. I still have myself, and — Leah.”
“Leah? You mean my patient?”
“Yeah, Leah. She’s not my girlfriend but I have to take care of her. She’s my brother’s widow for almost a month now.”
Kith was my first love. It had been five years since we broke up. But I could not understand why the word “widow” was more piercing than “broke-up”. I felt cold sweat enveloping my body. I was weakening as little by little. I didn’t know.
He eyed me, curious of my sudden silence.
“You know my brother Kith?”
“He’s my ex.”
My ex. It was the safest thing to say. Interrelatedness. I knew it.
It was 9:00 when we returned to Affiliates room, as commanded by our clinical instructor for the endorsement report. No one was there except us. The light bulb flickered, giving an impression that the room was really haunted. It didn’t scare me at all. We sat together on a narrow wooden bench and talked about everything. He talked about how unfortunate it was for him to take all the responsibility his brother left behind, and how religion was brainwashing the minds of people about the existence of a God, and how it would be difficult for him to find a woman to marry without encountering the trouble of a woman mistaking Leah for his wife, and I was holding onto my patience just to give you an idea what cordiality was.
“You know what interrelatedness means?”
“Interrelatedness? From the word itself, I guess it’s the sense of being related. Like you, once related to my brother. Why?” Puzzled by the sudden shift of my conversation, you looked up.
“Nothing. You know what, Kith and you have the same eyes and lips. But different from him.” I gazed with much confidence.
“Of course. I am more manly. Imagine, he died and left his family without even…
“You know how to kiss?”
“I never had a girlfriend before, so it’s safe to say that I don’t know. And…”
“You must know. You know almost everything, right?”
“But not kissing.”
I fixed a stare at him; and it came to me that at this moment I would overpower him. My eyes were all set, not for vengeance, not even for cordiality, but for the urge to transform into reality the religion of what-could’ve-beens if I was still with Kith now. His garishly black eyes were starting to turn uneasy and pale. I stroked his chest and I could feel his heart pounding. I touched his hands; they were sweaty, cold and trembling. Unmistakably, my arms clasped around his neck. He was shocked. My caresses and gestures seemed to weaken him. I didn’t know where my convictions were coming from, but I knew it was more than faith. My warm lips were pressed first to his forehead, then down to his nose, then to his lips. At first, I managed to be gentle, but I saw Kith in him, and then I came to realize I must let go. Our kiss transformed the world around us. Subtle, eventually, passionate. I consumed him before he could even consume me. The chilly and tingling sensation was entirely different from what I had before with Kith. Exciting. His innocent lips, I didn’t want to nurse it. I wanted to bruise it over and over again.
Our kiss. It was interrelatedness, an initiation of something addictive, something more profound than Divine intervention. Carnal. More carnal.
I didn’t know this would happen.
In my heart, his name was Dayaganon, Kith. Always would be.
Henrietta de Guzman is a Creative Writing student of UP Mindanao.