The Last Rumblings of a Proud Old Man
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I think the first thing I noticed that day was the smell.

The overbearing citrus air spray and scent of freshly bleached sheets and linens wafting in the wing as soon as you walk in. God, it's a putrid smell. It clings to you, burning its way into your nose and mind by the dry 80-degree air they pump in with that half-broken AC unit. It’s enough to make anyone gag, I know I did. But it's necessary I suppose, to mask the truth of that place.

To cover the stench of the old, sick, and dying. Old husks of the people left behind to pass out of sight.

There were nine of you in that hospital wing that day. Not counting the nurses, too obsessed with their phones or ending their shift to care about the moans of pain and discomfort around them anymore. Why bother, when the student can go do it instead? I never had the chance to learn the names of the others you were with, their stories. You were the only one I was responsible for that day.

Did you know they told me stories about you? I'm sure you did, thinking about it now. The nurses hardly seemed to care you were there at all, why would they care what you heard? They swarmed me at the front desk with a plethora of warnings and snide remarks of their past encounters with you. Angry outbursts of impossible strength from a man your age that ended in bruises, cuts, and damaged equipment. A cold stare that could put the fear of death into the lifeless. Too ornery to eat your meals until they were blended and poured down your throat.

They did everything they could to make you out to be a monster, too violently out of your mind to know what you were doing. A medical practitioner's worst nightmare. And fuck me, because I believed them for a time.

I walked into that 120 square ft room and greeted you with the same patronizing introduction the hospital required all its employees to use. The one you must have heard hundreds of times over in your stay there. You were so far from what I was told to expect. Your scrawny arms, more bone than muscle, looked like they would have difficulty lifting a cardboard box, much less fend off a hoard of nurses and orderlies. You were kind enough, in your own way. You mumbled and groaned but never fought me. Never tried to interfere with any of the checkups or treatments. The only struggle to be had was lifting you out of your bed to put your new shirt on.

The nurses were right about your stare if nothing else. I spent that morning bathing you, changing your clothes, and giving you your meds but your eyes never left me once. Those eyes, brimming with contempt and seething with rage bore holes through me. I’m ashamed to say I couldn't help but look away.

By the time I was finished early that afternoon I was more scared than tired. Scared that I might have to go back and face those eyes once again. I was a student after all, on my first day in that hospital. The adjustment from the classroom to working with patients is a big one. The nurses joked about how red my face was. But I don't remember if it was from embarrassment over how I handled my first patient encounter or the heat. I don’t suppose it matters.

They took you away after I had left your room, some appointment you had in another department. And I never saw you again. At the time, I was only focused on the fact your departure gave me time to fill in your daily paperwork, another page in an enormous binder. Did you know how much they had written about you? Probably not, I’d imagine. Doctors don’t make a habit out of showing their patients their own medical histories. But there was enough there for me to understand you just that little bit better.

You. The soldier who fought in distant lands for reasons you probably didn’t understand yourself. Who watched his friends murdered and maimed before his eyes. You, who survived with a shoulder full of shrapnel after clearing a building under fire full of civilians who had no more business being in that war than you did.

A hero who sacrificed so much and saved so many, now having to rely on a boy less than a third your age to wipe your own ass.

You. The teacher who spent decades underpaid in an elementary school imparting knowledge onto the younger generations. Cherishing the opportunity to watch those bright-eyed children grow and learn, seeing the infinite possibilities of the future unfold before their eyes. Now only visited by crotchety, unfeeling nurses in too much make-up, who only saw your impending death as another number on a chart. You had so much to pass on to those around you, to share stories and experiences with those around you.

A scholar whose storytelling days were ended too soon as a stroke stole your voice and ravaged your mind.

Reading your file, the truth dawned on me. You weren't angry with me, not really. I was just a symptom of your circumstances. I think you were angry with yourself, with your situation. Your violent outbursts were nothing more than the last rumblings of a proud, old man who had given so much to the world. Now trapped in his own body, forced to watch that world slip away. You were just fighting to preserve your story in the citrus-soaked hell you found yourself in.

And those eyes. Brimming with contempt and seething with rage. That was you, staring down your demons, inside and out. The last true act of defiance you had.

I heard from the hospital that you passed not long after our time together. I hope you’re at peace now, wherever you are. Resting with the fact your story will rumble on a little longer.

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