The Last Patient (Covid Story #10)

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Sophie leaned over the bed, “Ready to go home, Pete?”

The elderly man slowly raised his steady gaze, meeting Sophie’s deep blue eyes head on.

“Couldn’t be more ready,” he said without a trace of emotion.

“Well, let’s get you out of here then.” Sophie retrieved her stethoscope and listened to Pete’s rhythmic breathing.

“Wiggle your toes,” she commanded.

“You mean my once purple toes?” Pete asked as he vigorously followed Sophie’s instructions.

“Good. Now stick out your tongue.”

“You’re an awfully demanding nurse, ya know,” he said in the same dry tone.

“I’ve brought your favorite shirt.” Appearing suddenly in the open doorframe, a snowy white-haired full-figured woman held up a Chicago Bears long-sleeved t-shirt.

“Clara, are you prepared to deal with this cantankerous man?” Sophie said as she wrote on the clipboard.

“No. But I have no choice now do I?” Clara smiled as she walked to the bedside and smoothed back Pete’s thick gray hair. “Besides, I can’t leave him here. You nurses would kill me!”

“Okay, that’s enough. And ironically, you are quite wrong. They tried to kill ME!” A slow smile crept across Pete’s face.

“I think it’s the other way around, dear. They did everything in their power to save you. And, thank God, it worked.” Clara said as she smiled down at Pete.

“Well, Pete, are you ready to go home?” A tall, gangly man strode in, his white coat fluttering in time with the briskness of his walk.

“Dr. Regada, please tell these women to get off my back.”

“I promise to do just that, after I examine you.”

Dr. Regada pulled the curtain around the bed as Clara and Sophie left the room and stood outside the door.

“I’d better make my rounds.” Sophie said to Clara. “Pete will be fine now.”

She patted the older woman’s hand. “He’s a real stinker, but I am going to miss him.”

As she started to leave, Clara took her arm, “Sophie, wait.”

“I wanted to thank you—“

“I’m just doing my—“

“No. You are doing more than your job, and under such difficult circumstances. I’m so glad for you and the other medical staff that Pete is the last one.”

 Clara gave Sophie a tight-lipped smile. “When Pete was so bad, well, you know how it was, all I could do was wait. And for some reason this one thought kept running through my mind.”

Sophie’s interest was piqued. “What was it Clara?”

“I kept thinking I wasn’t going to have that spumoni date ever again.”

Sophie gave her a puzzled look, “Spumoni date?”

Clara laughed, “We had a recurring date, first Friday of the month. We went to our favorite Italian restaurant and had spumoni. Oh, sometimes we had dinner, too, though not always. But we never missed our spumoni nights and most of the time we sat in the same little booth in the corner.”

“Anyway, I realize it’s just a stupid little thing, but I couldn’t keep the image out of my mind, the two of us sitting in our booth eating that wonderful dessert! I think that image was subconsciously planted in my head to keep me from thinking about all the other moments I might not get a chance to share with the old coot. Spumoni, huh? Crazy!”

Sophie tilted her head, smiled, and grasped Clara’s arm with a firm hold, “No, Clara, it’s not crazy. Crazy would be if you didn’t have more spumoni moments with him. Now, go back in there and get that man ready to go home before he starts bellowing loud enough that the noise echoes down the hallway again.”

“Okay, you take care, ya hear?

“Most definitely.”

Sophie walked to the nurse’s station. Her coworker and friend, Marnie, looked up from the computer screen as Sophie approached.

“Did you know that Pete and Clara have a spumoni date every first Friday of the month?” Sophie asked as she laid down her clipboard and stretched her neck.

“Yes, as a matter of fact, I did.  Pete told me. Why?”

“Clara just told me.”

“What’s up, you two?” Another nurse, Beth, walked briskly up to the desk.

“Pete. He and his wife have a spumoni date every— “

“Yeah, Pete told me.”

“Why didn’t I know that?” Sophie asked with a slightly annoyed tone.

“I’m sure he told you. Or, he’s quite a jabberer, maybe he jabbered on about other things to you.” Beth replied.

“You’re right, he did. He told me stories from his days working at the post office and said he still attends retiree breakfasts. He relayed a story he heard there about a fellow mail lady and a cat.”

“And he mentioned that his granddaughter works in some newsroom. Oh, and his other daughter is working from home and slowly going crazy, what with family always under her thumb.”

Beth laughed. “That’s Pete.  He was here a long time. I’m going to miss him. But I’m glad he is going home.”

After a few laughs about their last critical patient in C-Ward, the nurses quieted down as they worked separately, reviewing new patient information, and gathering more supplies. As a welcome change, these new patients arrived with familiar issues of old routine illnesses and injuries such as flu, bronchitis issues, or mending of bones.

The silence allowed the sound of the waiting room TV news. Newscasters announcing the latest catastrophes, crime, and a few random acts of kindness.

“Too bad we don’t know each other’s spumoni stories.”

“What?”

“Well… if we did, maybe we’d realize we’re all a part of the same story and maybe this world wouldn’t seem so cold.”

Marnie laughed. “Like spumoni?”

Sophie’s name came over the loudspeaker with instructions to visit Room 221.

“That’s Emily Bellows. She’s in with some kind of blockage that no one can figure out. Better get going. As my mom would say, making hay while the sun shines or something along that line.”

Marnie laughed, “Ellie would have said that and more. The doctor in her, ya know.”

As Sophie walked to Room 221 she met Clara and Pete coming down the hallway.

“Goodbye, you two. I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but I’m glad to see our last C -Ward patient leave.” “You and me, both, Sophie!” Pete hollered. “You and me both!” As he passed, he threw his arm up in a salute. She heard his laughter until the elevator doors shut.

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