Streisand’s in the Waiting Room

The nurses called Ward 12 the ‘Waiting Room’. Not because patients sat waiting to be seen but because it was a stop off point between this and the afterlife. Ward 12, The Mavery Critical Care Unit, named after its benefactor, was a layby for twelve very sick people with twelve sets of striped curtains shrouding each bed.

Megan was a nurse. In the staff room she was called Streisand as she sang from the moment she walked through the double doors right up until the second they swung closed behind her. Megan had wanted to be a nurse since her fifth birthday when she was given a nurse’s costume. More than anything Megan had wanted to help sick people to get better. To watch them grow stronger. To see them pack up their belongings, put them in a suitcase and leave the hospital holding onto the arm of their loved one.

Apart from Megan’s voice, the only energy present in Ward 12 was the constancy of the machinery and monitors, wires, tubes and pipes that kept her patients alive. They beeped and hummed, chimed and drummed in an effort to jump-start a pulse. That and the drips that slowly and obliviously fed an essence of life force back into limp veins.

Even if Barbra Streisand was given a nurse’s uniform as a child it did not inspire her to follow the same light as Megan. Instead Streisand’s voice led to her following the stars shining over Broadway and amassing a mantelpiece where Academy Awards and Emmys jostled with the Tonys and Grammys. She didn’t even know that Ward 12 existed, that Megan had chosen her as her agent of survival on a ward where patients leave on trolleys, a thin sheet only just disguising their facial features beneath.

‘What’s it to be today Meg?’ asked Sister Wendy, her voice adopting a motherly tone as she looked over at her junior nurse.
‘Sorry?’ said Megan. She was singing away to herself, her voice quiet to those around her but loud enough to roll around and fill her own head. She was deep in thought, looking out the window at a couple arguing in the hospital car park. He, using his car keys to add a spike to his accusatory finger, she looking frantically about her, embarrassed at such an outburst in public.
‘What song are you going to sing us love? We haven’t had Evergreen for a while…’ Megan’s head nudged further towards the window until it pressed against the cold window pane. The words of Don’t Rain on My Parade fogging up the glass until it looked like a heavy mist had suffocated the unhappy couple. Inside Ward 12 everything and everyone was trapped, Megan thought. They were cocooned in a silence and stillness, in pre-mournful respect to visitors and the nearly departed. ‘Megan,’ began Sister Wendy, rising up from her chair and making her to way to join her at the window ‘It’s OK, you know?’
‘Huh?’ she replied, her fascination in the arguing couple broken, the rain and the parade immediately erased. She turned to look at Sister Wendy.‘It’s OK to admit that this isn’t right for you. I mean Ward 12. It’s tough. I can see it’s beginning to wear you down. If you like I could ask the HR team about a move?’ she began.
‘No, no, I don’t want to move from here,’ jolted Megan. ‘I just need to, to sing, that’ll make me feel better,’ she said unravelling her crossed legs and jumping down from the window ledge, patting down her blue uniform and decreasing her plastic apron. ‘Evergreen, you said?’
‘Yes love, Evergreen,’ replied Sister Wendy, spinning on her toes to quickly find a front row seat.
Megan walked towards the office door and opened it ajar, checking to see that all the visitors were seated, that nobody was at that moment facing the inevitable news and that the beeps hadn’t changed into a solitary tone to toll the demise of another life.

Megan cleared her throat and glanced back at Sister Wendy who gave her an approving nod.
‘Ok’ said Megan and she began…

‘Love soft as an easy chair
Love fresh as the morning air
One love that is shared by two
I have found with you’

As the lyrics took flight from Megan’s lips and ascended to the ceiling lights, swooped down on the bent heads, fluttered past the drying lips and perched on curtain rails, Ward 12’s air became lighter, the smell of slow decay evaporated and a streak of life took its place. Just for those moments the visitors lifted their heads and turned to offer a grateful smile to Megan. She continued.

‘Two lives that shine as one
Morning glory and midnight sun
Time we’ve learned to sail above
Time won’t change the meaning of one love
Ageless and ever evergreen’

In Bed 3, Mr Watson, victim of an aggressive cancer that had greedily eaten away at him from the insides out, lifted his skeletal index finger that lay cupped in his daughter’s hand. She squeezed his hand yet looked on at Megan, her eyes blurred by tears.

Finishing, Megan began to close the office door, checking as she did so that the beeps and pips were keeping double time. Finally, clicking the door shut carefully behind her, Megan turned and pressed her back into the door, closing her eyes and inhaling deeply.

So you see that was why Megan had to sing. If she didn’t she would be swallowed into the void of tears and sighs, moans and howls. She would be dragged along with the pleas and sobs of grieving relatives as they were huddled into a corner room, the door closed carefully behind them, the blind pulled down. If she allowed herself to see beyond the crumpled skin and crumbling bones that lay in the beds she would sink into each and every story until her heart was torn into fillets. Numbing every pore in her body Megan chose to sing Streisand.

Michelle Hubbard
online creative writing school