It’s something they don’t tell you before you’re admitted to the hospital, something that, despite being an invariable and necessary part of life, patients and doctors alike easily forget to mention because the former are either overwhelmed with joy at the prospect of leaving or they’re deceased and aren’t quite capable of speaking, and the latter forget because they’re either relieved at saving a human being without too much incident or they’re putting the whole matter behind them because this is their job, and it is, quite simply, a part of life.
But what nobody tells you is, the hospital is no place for sleep.
Hospital visitors, laden with balloons and teddy bears and flowers, laugh and tease their bedridden loved ones with terms like lazybones and couch-potato because, though they’ll deny it if anyone asks, there’s usually a twinge of jealousy of what a luxury it must be, to be forced to stay in bed. But then they frown as a nurse pushes past them for vitals check, and from the second their eyes catch the glint of fluorescent light off the needle, they remind themselves, better that guy than me.
But they don’t realize that the person confined to that bed is well and truly confined, with no chance of relief.
The air conditioning, in these big hospitals, is loud, thunderous, as it beats along a network of vents as complicated as the human vascular system. Every machine has its own chorus of beeps, chirps, screams, and wails. The track lighting overhead, whose garish light almost always makes the room’s occupant appear to be at least three sheets further into the wind than doctors would have many believe, buzzes and hums at uneven intervals. The IV drip, which snakes up every patient’s arm, leg, or chest, is usually silent, save for the occasional alarm from the pump itself, as it demands a new bag of whatever shade of fluid the doctor prescribes.
If the fluid is saline, she knows now that she’ll be up peeing all night. If the fluid is blood, then she’ll be watched over constantly while someone monitors the successful transfusion; the doctor doesn’t even bother with iron pills because she vomits them back up, whole, in minutes. If the fluid is dark yellow, it’s the cisplatin, and she knows her joints will be aching for the next few days; not the ache she used to feel after a long run—oh, how she missed that—but a pain that she can only describe as the bones themselves crunching against each other. She knows now that she’ll be nauseous, too, and will probably spend the evening sitting in one corner on the cold tile of the bathroom, so she can reach the toilet quickly, because she knows she’ll be too dizzy to safely cross from her bed to the bathroom and still make it in time. Her stomach will churn in furious attempts to expel all the nothingness. Her eyes will burn, open or closed. She’ll bruise from sitting in one position for too long. Her nose will bleed if she retches too hard. And she will continue to be exhausted, no matter how many blood transfusions they give her.
What nobody tells you is, sleep is a luxury.
So when Helena takes a seat beside the bed, silent, heart pounding furiously in her chest, taking a moment to glare at the IV bag of dark yellow fluid, and sees Myka—impossibly pale, with fewer curls than the last time they saw each other—with her eyes closed, Helena says nothing. Because sleep is what Myka needs most right now, what she has always needed but was always willing to forgo in the name of her job, in the name of her warehouse family, in the name of whoever needed her. And Helena needed her. Oh, how she needed her.
But, more importantly, she needed Myka to be alive. So if the doctor said Myka needed sleep, then Helena would be her silent sentinel, and Myka would sleep for as long as her body would allow her.
And Helena vowed, from now on, that this, the space by Myka’s side, was right where she belonged.