Ghost Touched

Quiet, clean; never soundless. My own breathing. The shick of the curtain closing around my bed. Fluorescent lights hum. The mask hurts my nose where the pliable metal rib presses against the bridge. Curtains patterned like a old dixie cup. Even quiet voices echo off the tiles. Eavesdropping is inescapable. Everyone is masked for the first time in forever. A succession of doctors or nurses whose names all begin with a A sound, but only one of which begins with an actual A. Buzz of clippers. Warmth of the conductive gel. Pinch of the IV needle, then the mild tightness of it under the skin.

An out of body experience. Mind not blank but not thinking, either. Temperature neutral; maybe a little chilly in the thin hospital gown. The body is an object. Professional warmth, but no connection. Not a person, but a puzzle. How many have died here? How many caught COVID and died later? No one is here with anyone, and you can feel that absence; all the conversations you can’t help but hear through the curtain are with caregivers, staff, not family, not friends, not partners or children.

Palms slick with sweat. Sweat from every angle, arms, chest, knees, neck. Dizziness. Anticipatory dread; pre-stage jitters.