By K. S. Nikhil Kumar
Unless you arrive in an ambulance, you reach Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center’s Emergency Room through a labyrinth of corridor. Four people lie in stretchers that are visible from the available seating in the ER. The first one is Jessica. She is wearing a headscarf. She is fast asleep. Several empty stretchers line the corridor to the right. Doctors hurry through the waiting area. The ambience is eerie with whirring machines coupled with emotionless announcements for doctors. Jessica awakes and props herself up against the pillows.
An older woman with blood-shot eyes is the sole incumbent of the seats in the corridor. She is Jessica’s mother. “What are they saying?” she asks Jessica after a nurse had whispers something into the latter’s ear. She walks up to her stretcher and the two speak in hushed tones. She sits back down in a bit.
The mother’s phone breaks the eeriness with a hip-hop ringer. It’s a short call. She pops some gum into her mouth and counts the change in her wallet. She walks back to the stretcher and more discussion ensues. Jessica helps herself to water on a tray attached to her stretcher. Her mother fetches her a towel. They talk on, tense.
After a brief silence, Jessica asks her mother to hand her the packet of drips that are injected into her left wrist on one end and hanging on the stretcher at the other. A male nurse comes up to them and lowers one side of the railing on the stretcher. Jessica gets up and starts to walk around in her blue socks. She smiles at the floor. Her mother sits rubbing her palms and asks her not to exert herself too much. Jessica rolls her eyes and gets back into the stretcher.
Jessica and her mother laugh a little. A lady in a white coat walks up and says, “You gotta go back.” The two women look at each other and Jessica drops her head into her mother’s bosom. They hug. The mother sits back down in her chair, leaving Jessica be. Her phone rings again. She answers and tells the caller about the situation. There’s uncertainty in her voice. She hands the phone to Jessica.
Jessica, still talking on the phone, looks around nervously at the blue curtains that surround her and the other patients. Another patient is wheeled past on a stretcher. “That’s my daughter,” says the mother, pointing to Jessica. The patient turns with difficulty and smiles at her. Jessica tries to smile back. She hangs up.
An old woman with a hat and a walking stick approaches. Jessica’s mother seems to know her. “How’s your foot?” asks Jessica’s mother. She sits down next to the new visitor and the two talk.
But Jessica starts to cry. Her mother walks over to her. She’s shaking heavily and seems inconsolable. The doctors have asked her to “get ready.” They pull her away towards one of the curtained areas. She’s holding her mother tight. Her mother pats her shoulder.
Jessica regains composure and takes a few deep breaths. A doctor and nurse take her into a curtained area as her mother looks on. They pull the curtains closed with a sharp movement. Another nurse pulls away the mother, whose cheeks suddenly become wet with fresh tears.