Halloween is just around the corner, and it seems the perfect time to share a spooky story that I've only hinted about in the past several weeks of hospital tales: The Horrible Thing I Saw On The Seventh Floor.
When Kathy first entered the hospital with a terrifying diagnosis, I was in a constant state of panic. Every day felt quite literally like a matter of life and death. And I displayed pretty much every symptom of stress that bodies are capable of: shortness of breath, speeding heartbeat, chest pain and...and...the screaming trots.
I'm not talking regular diarrhea here, friends. No, this was noxious, still-bubbling green stomach acid which burned like a blow torch. And when it was time to go to the bathroom, every second counted.
Mind you, I couldn't use the bathroom in Kathy's room because everything that came out of her was being weighed, measured, and analyzed. So I'd have to hotfoot it to the only public bathroom on the 8th floor - a single-seater unisex bathroom which was first come, first served.
On Wednesday, September 29th, I felt the stirrings of blazing doom rumbling in my bowels and left Kathy's side to hit the bathroom. But the bathroom door was locked from the inside. I could hear someone else in there, shuffling around. So I waited. And waited. And waited.
Beads of sweat appeared on my brow. I was getting stomach cramps. The urgency got worse and worse. And then...there was a flush from behind the door!
I waited...and waited...and no one emerged. I heard more stirring from the bathroom and realized that someone was camped out for the duration, perhaps giving birth, having a heart attack, or enjoying a picnic lunch on the cool tile floor.
In desperation, I decided to make a run for the elevators so I could go to the 7th floor, hoping that the layout would be the same as the 8th. The elevator came, the door opened on the 7th floor (which was the same as the 8th except for dimmer lighting, fewer people, and everyone wearing gowns, masks, and hair coverings), and I bolted for the bathroom. It was open! Oh, sweet joy of joys! Blessed, scalding relief!
My business finished, I washed up and headed back through the dim hallway towards the elevators. And then I saw The Horrible Thing On The Seventh Floor.
It was a sign. A sign tilted in such a way that you couldn't read it when coming from the elevator, but was perfectly legible when going the other way. A sign that said: "COVID-19 Floor. Do Not Enter Without Authorization."
The bowels which had so recently held a reservoir of lava were suddenly packed with ice.
In a daze, I returned to the 8th floor and went to Kathy's room. I told her that I might have been exposed and so had to leave immediately because of her weakened immune system. But she wouldn't hear of it and wanted me to stay with her in that frightening environment. And so I did, for two more hours.
It was on my way home that the full horror of what I'd done hit me: if Kathy died of COVID-19, it would be because I'd been too tired and confused to do the only logical thing and leave immediately. Instead, I'd taken leave of my senses and suddenly turned into Typhoid Mary.
I thought I had killed my wife. It felt like one of those awful nightmares in which you do something horrible and completely out of character, making you grateful to wake up to the realization that it didn't happen. Only it did happen and there was no waking up from it. I didn't know that I could feel even worse than I'd been feeling before, but I could and did.
A subsequent COVID test showed I didn't have the virus. And the month that has passed since that awful day showed that Kathy didn't have it, either - no thanks to me.
So you can have your Halloween ghosts, ghouls and things that go bump in the night. But none of them can ever be even vaguely as scary as The Horrible Thing On The Seventh Floor.
HALLOWEEN BONUS: ARS GRATIA ARGH...
Need a little last-minute decorating for a Halloween party or a really uncomfortable Thanksgiving? Then print out this painting by my Dad to hang on your wall! (Click this link to download a 20MB printable version)