Death has a smell.
When you confront it the odor is unmistakable. And when you retreat from it, it pursues you and harries you. Clings to your clothes and sticks in your nostrils like that Clorox you used to bleach out the kitchen sink hours ago.
Soldiers in battle know it; policemen, firemen, EMT’s, emergency room and hospice workers. ICU nurses and staff know it. Doctors and loved ones of the dying know it, too.
That same smell hung in Miss Hattie’s ICU room at old Joan Glancy Hospital many years ago. Ancient, wrinkled, sparkly and sweet Miss Hattie who, well into her eighties, came to church each Sunday. Giggled like a schoolgirl when she saw me and treated me like a rock star. She was a prayer warrior, as they say. Loved Jesus, loved her family, loved her church. Loved me and my kids (we had planted pansies in her garden for a couple of years.) And really loved her husband.
But this time she’d had to leave him at home under the watchful eye of another. He’d had a stroke some time before and she had devoted herself to taking good care of him. But she’d had to go to the hospital with a case of gallstones obstructing her bile ducts. This had evolved into a big liver abscess and now had landed her at death’s door, on life support, tubes from every orifice.
Each morning I’d make my rounds in the ICU, and, coming to her room, would expect to find Miss Hattie’s bed empty. But she hung on, the heavy aroma of the grave still oppressive. It constricted you from all sides.
Did I say she really loved her husband? Yes, I believe I did.
Miss Hattie, old and frail, dangling limp and nearly lifeless like a tasty barely wriggling morsel ready to be swallowed by the gaping maw of death…. got well.
Who are my most memorable characters?
To this day, the sickest person I have ever seen recover. No one will ever convince me that anything other than the power of love raised her from that bed. She went home to care for husband until he died. And a few years later, so did she.