Each night I kept vigil for the constipated old woman the way Catholics watch the chimney above the Vatican for signs of a new pope. On Thursday, during the hour after dinner when the hospital begins to wind down for the night, the old woman suddenly felt that she might be able to go.
“Is it time, mom?” the woman’s daughter asked.
“I think so,” said the old woman.
Maybe the woman was too weak, or maybe the nurses were afraid to leave her alone. Whatever the reason, the nurses did not put her in the bathroom, which is what I’d assumed would happen. Instead, to my horror, the nurses decided to wheel a portable toilet into the room. They parked the space-age toilet next to the woman’s bed. It looked like a robot that was being punished in a storybook. “…And PLT-9000 spent the rest of his robot life serving as a toilet in the hospital. THE END.”
The nurses pulled some curtains around the toilet, giving the woman some privacy. Then the old woman tried to shit into PLT-9000.
She was about six feet away from me. I get jumpy around people who are trying to shit. If I walk into a men’s room and someone is shitting in there, I get out as fast as I can. I’m not waiting around for the hand dryer to do its job in that situation; I leave 15 seconds earlier, with wet hands. Escape is all that matters.
I could hear the old woman behind the curtain, taking laboured, deep breaths. “Relax, mom,” her daughter whispered. “Let it happen. That’s all you have to do is let it happen. I love you, mom.” Then I heard it: ppbbbttt.
“I LOVE YOU SO MUCH!” the daughter exclaimed.
I began to breath through my mouth at this point. At least my hobbled brain still had the sense to do that. I think everyone in the room started breathing through their mouths. I closed my eyes tight. I imagined myself on a tropical beach, the sun beating down on my arms and legs, the wind coming off the ocean. A glorious seagull passed overhead…
“I’m proud of you,” the daughter said.
I was disgusted by this moment, mostly because I couldn’t flee the way that I wanted to flee. But I was also happy for the old woman. I’d witnessed her suffering. I’d listened to her moan. Her moans sounded like a crypt being opened slowly in an old vampire movie.
“THERE’S MORE! INCREDIBLE!” the daughter cried.
The moans were officially over now. The suffering was over—for the moment, anyway. The longer I stay in this goddamned room, I thought, the more it feels like I’m an orphan in a Charles Dickens story.