A bucket in one hand, a pillow under my arm, and a fan balanced on my hip. I enter the door of the oncology hospital and the backpack over my shoulder blocks the custodian from seeing my face. It’s of little importance because the man is used to the fact that the patients’ families must bring everything, so my Baroque structure of fans, bucket and pillowcase doesn’t surprise him. He doesn’t know it yet but, in a bag hanging off me somewhere, I’ve brought him an omelet sandwich so he’ll let me stay after visiting hours.
I come into the room and Mónica is holding the hand of her mother, whose face is increasingly haggard. She has cancer of the esophagus and there is little that can be done, although the woman still doesn’t know it. I’ve never understood doctors’ refusals to inform one, directly, how little time is left before the end; but I respect the decision of the family, although I don’t join in the lie that she will soon be well.
The room has a thin light and the air smells of pain. I begin to unpack what I’ve brought. I take out the little sack of detergent and the aromatic with which I’ll clean the bath; its aroma floods everything. With the bucket we can bathe the lady, using the cup to pour, because the water faucet doesn’t work. For the great scrubbing I brought a pair of yellow gloves, afraid of the germs that spread in a hospital. Mónica tells me to continue unpacking and I extract the package of food and a puree especially for the sick. The pillow has been a wonder and the set of clean sheets manages to cover the mattress, stained with successive effluvia.
The most welcome is the fan, which I connect to two peeled wires hanging from the wall. I continue to unpack and come to the little bag of medical supplies. I have obtained some needles appropriate for the IV, because the one in her arm is very thick and causes pain. I also bought some gauze and cotton on the black market. The most difficult thing—which cost me days and incredible swaps—is the suture thread for the surgery they are going to do tomorrow. I also brought a box of disposable syringes since she yells to high heaven when she sees the nurse with a glass one.
To distract her, I’ve come loaded with a radio, and a nearby patient has brought a television. My friend and her mom can watch the soap opera, while I look for the doctor and give him a gift sent by the sick woman’s husband. When bedtime comes a cockroach crosses the wall near the bed and I remember that I also brought some insect spray. In the backpack I still have some medicines and a little gift for the girl in the lab. I have money in my pocket, because ambulances are for the most critical cases and when they send her home, evicted, we will need to take a Panataxi.
In front of our bed there’s an old woman who eats the watery soup she’s been given by the hospital staff. Around her bed there’s no bag brought by her family and she doesn’t have a pillow for her head. I position the fan so that she will also get the cool air and talk about the arrival of another hurricane. Without her realizing it I touch the wood of the door frame, whether to expel the fear of disease or in horror at the conditions in the hospital, I don’t really know. A woman passes by shouting that she has bread and ham for sale for the visitors and I lock myself in the bathroom which smells like jasmine after my cleaning.