INT. – DAY – KINGSTON HOSPITAL – ROOM 205 The hospital room is divided in two by a curtain. The side closer to the door has the bed of ALEX, a 32-year-old woman with long, dishevelled blond pigtails who is lying half upright and holding her phone. The side closer to the window has the bed of VERA, a 99-year-old woman who is propped up fully upright in bed, her jaw opening and closing continuously from a neurological condition. Two nurses, MO and ROSE, stand next to VERA trying to get her to eat from the tray of food in front of her. The sound of medical machines beeping and nurses talking in the hallway fill the fluorescent lit room. Extra chairs stand in a row opposite the beds, causing the room’s walkway to be crowded. ALEX is staring blankly ahead from her bed, then looks at the phone in her hands and dials her sister. CAROLINE answers right away. ALEX: Haaaay Liney. CAROLINE: Hey Nanners, how’s it going? The sound of VERA’S voice fills the room. VERA: I’m so. I’m so. I’m so. I’m so. I’m so. I’m so. I’m so. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. ROSE, a female nurse with a mischievous smile, leans forward over VERA and holds a piece of bread near VERA’s mouth. ROSE speaks loudly. ROSE: VERA!!! You don’t need to apologize! Eat your food! Eat, Vera! ALEX turns her head away from the curtain. ALEX: It’s, you know, it’s fine and weird. They just gave me some more morphine so that’s good. CAROLINE: Oh yeah, that sounds nice. When are you going into surgery? ROSE puts down the bread and picks up a little plastic cup. ROSE: Here’s some apple juice, Vera! Drink some juice! VERA: I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m sooo sorry. ROSE: YOU DON’T NEED TO APOLOGIZE! ALEX: Um, they said before noon…so it’s 11:30 right now, probably really soon. Yeah. VERA: I’m so sorry. CAROLINE: What did you say? ALEX cups her hand around the phone and her mouth and leans further away from the curtain, trying to escape the noise. ALEX: I said, like really soon. Before noon. VERA: I’m sooo sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so. I’m so. CAROLINE: What’s going on there? Is there someone like, yelling or something? ALEX: Ummm…yeah. My roommate…the old lady in the bed next to me. She’s freaking out. She’s like 99. ROSE: DRINK YOUR JUICE VERA!! YOU NEED TO EAT! CAROLINE: Ok, wow. ALEX: Yeah, it’s…. VERA: AhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhHHHHH. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. ALEX: ...fun. ROSE: Oh Jesus. She can’t hear me! She’s deaf! The other nurse, MO, a smallish woman with a jolly smoker’s face, waves ROSE aside and steps towards VERA. MO: She can hear me. She could hear me before. Vera? Vera! You need to eat something! VERA: I’m... ALEX: Actually, I needed to ask you about something. Talk it through a bit. CAROLINE: Sure! What is it? MO: I think she can hear me. VERA: I’m... ALEX: I need to pick a person to, like…if something were to happen to me in surgery, not that this surgery is very intense or anything, I mean it’s just basic, well not basic but you know what I’m saying. CAROLINE: Yep. VERA: Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Ahhhhhhh. Ahhhhhhhhhhhh. Ahhhhhhhh. ROSE: VERA!!!! ALEX: They want me to have a representative to make decisions for me, just in case I’m like in a coma or the surgery gets fucked up or something. I was trying to think of who I should pick for that. CAROLINE: Oh! Oh. Yep. I can do that, yep. I’m the right one to pick for that. VERA: I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. ALEX: Ok, cool…right. I was trying to pick between you and mom and dad. MO: You’ve got to eat something. You’ve just got to try. CAROLINE: What Nan? VERA: Ahhhhhh so sorry. ALEX: I said I was just trying to decide who to pick…I thought maybe dad because well, he’s good at making decisions under pressure. CAROLINE: Yep. Yep. Definitely. He’s the best. VERA: So so so so so so so so. Aaahh so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. ROSE shifts to a shouting stance and directs herself towards VERA. ROSE: STOP APOLOGIZING VERA YOU HAVE NOTHING TO APOLOGIZE FOR YOU ARE IN A HOSPITAL AND WE ARE SUPPOSED TO TAKE CARE OF YOU SO STOP THERE’S NO NEED TO APOLOGIZE! She can’t hear me. My voice isn’t getting through to her. ALEX shifts her body a bit to the right, away from the curtain, and winces. She holds the bottom of the phone so close to her mouth that it is touching her lips. ALEX: For sure, yeah. Well, will you do it then? I’ve just got to fill out some paperwork. CAROLINE: Yep, put me down. Sign me up. VERA: I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. MO: The pitch of your voice or something, it’s not getting through to her. ALEX: Ok great. Well, yeah, not great. But you know. So… if I’m like, in a coma or I’m gonna spend the rest of my life unconscious as a vegetable, please don’t give me the feeding tube. MO picks up a spoonful of mashed potatoes and holds it by VERA’s mouth. VERA moves her head away and continues her talking. MO: Here Vera! Try this! Eat this! CAROLINE: Right. VERA: I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. ALEX: You never know like, when people are unconscious and lying in bed and they can’t talk or move…what are they thinking? Are they thinking? They could be alive in there and paralyzed and in a ton of pain and no one would ever know and we are keeping them alive. It sounds so fucked up. Just pull the plug on me, ok? A woman with bangs and a jacket enters the room, passing through ALEX’s side without a glance and continuing to VERA’s bed. She goes to the far side of the bed and touches VERA’s arm. GRANDDAUGHTER: Grandma? Grandma! It’s me, your granddaughter. It’s me. MO: I think she can hear you. VERA: Mmm CAROLINE: I got it, yeah. That’s messed up. ALEX: What? CAROLINE: That’s messed up. I won’t do that. Just sign me up. GRANDDAUGHTER: Hi. I love you! I love you? VERA: I’m so sorry. The SURGICAL NURSE, a tattooed man with a ponytail, enters the room and stands at the end of ALEX’S bed, leaning towards her. SURGICAL NURSE: Hi Alexandra. I’m just finishing up some final paperwork and then I’ll be back in a bit to bring you upstairs. ALEX: Oh, ok. CAROLINE: What? VERA: I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. ALEX: They are taking me to surgery soon. ROSE: NO NEED VERA NO NEED! CAROLINE: Ok. Well Nan, you will be fine. Text us when you can, when you’re out. VERA: I’m soooooo sorry. GRANDDAUGHTER: What are you sorry for? ALEX: Cat’s going to text you. CAROLINE: Ok good. I love you. This will be easy. ALEX: Thank you, I love you too. Bye Liney. CAROLINE: Bye Nan. ALEX ends the call and puts the phone on her lap, then reaches over for a purple folder and pen on the bedside table. She pulls out a packet of paper and begins flipping through it. VERA continues shouting.
‘The Health Proxy Conversation’ is an excerpt from ‘Appendix’ first published in The New Manifesto, Issue 13. You can find out more about this quarterly zine here.
Alexandra Bildsoe writes, draws, and makes zines in the Hudson Valley of New York. She studied studio art at Beloit College, authorial illustration at Falmouth University, and storytelling/story listening/potion making at The Miracles of Everyday Life. Alexandra will send you zines, if you subscribe! Alexandrabildsoe.com for details!