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.
Megan cleared her throat and glanced back at Sister Wendy who gave her an approving nod.
‘Love soft as an easy chair
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
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.