A ten

The nurses wheel her bed onto the ward. My first thought is that she must have come up from surgery. But she hadn’t been here before. She greets me cheerfully: a round Creole face, casually pinned up graying hair, a gold ring in her nostril, gold earrings, and gold rings on her fingers.

“Oh yes, I told them I need the surgery this afternoon, not tomorrow!” she assures the nurse emphatically. From the fragments of conversation, I piece together that she fell from a stepladder at home, hanging up Christmas decorations, and broke her ankle. “Yes, I live alone.  My daughter is on her way over; you can use her as my contact person.”

As the nurse goes through the intake questionnaire, the woman’s white mobile phone keeps jangling, and she flips it open to answer.  She chatters rapidly in Papiamento, the patois of Suriname, hangs up and continues with the interview, a never-ending stream of words.

“Yes, I need these meds for my diabetes and those for my thyroid condition.” The nurse enters all the information in her computer. The phone jangles again. This time she speaks Dutch, “I can’t talk, my battery’s almost gone. My daughter’s on her way over. Could you go to my place and find my phone charger? My battery’s almost gone!”

Mevrouw!” I look up and meet her eyes. “Mevrouw, may I use your phone charger? My battery’s almost gone.” I ask her if she has an iPhone, but she has a Samsung, so I can’t help her. In the meantime, a nurse is trying to put her in a hospital gown. Behind the bed curtain, she continues to talk to me. “I have two daughters in Suriname, and they keep trying to call. They’re so worried about their Momma!”

The aids come in to wheel her to surgery. As she leaves the room, she calls out, “If a woman in a headscarf comes, tell her to put my phone on the charger!”

Five hours later, her bed is wheeled back into the room. She waves to me, but when I ask her how it went, she groans. A nurse tries to explain how the morphine pump works and asks her how bad the pain is on a scale of 1 to 10. “Oh, a 10! I’ve never felt pain this bad in my life!” “You can take a dose of morphine every seven minutes… or less often if you need it less often,” the nurse says. I hear the morphine buzzer go off every seven minutes. After about an hour, she calls a nurse, “I feel so dizzy and nauseous!” The nurse patiently explains that she has probably dosed herself too heavily on morphine.

An attractive young woman – her daughter – arrives with a small boy and an armload of bags. The boy starts running around the room, uttering small shrieks instead of words. His mother picks him up and puts him on Granny’s bed, where he immediately tries to climb over her legs. His mother removes him to the ground, and he runs around noisily again.

In the meantime, the bags are unloaded. They’re filled with food and drinks from McDonald’s. The old woman props herself up and starts gobbling fries and Coke, talking incessantly on her phone (which is now on a charger) and with her daughter. A nurse comes in with meds and comments “If you’re planning to drink that Coke, you really should take your diabetes meds.” The woman shrugs.

The evening shift is taking over. A nurse asks the woman to give the pain a score. “A 10, I’m in terrible pain!” The nurse starts to explain how the morphine pump works. She waves the nurse away. “I can’t take that stuff! It makes me dizzy and nauseous.”

I get up in the middle of the night to use the toilet. She calls to me, “Mevrouw, I think the morphine pump is broken. It’s not working.” I suggest gently that she use the call button to call a nurse. She doesn’t respond. Five minutes later I hear her snoring.

When the doctor does his morning rounds he reassures her, “We won’t send you home until your pain medication is working properly. And we’ll arrange for home care to take care of you.” An hour later I hear her discussing her return home with her friend in headscarf (a woman with sad eyes whose scarf is obviously covering a hairless head). “Maybe I can get around if I use the walker. The stairs will be a problem.”

My son comes to pick me up. As I say goodbye, she asks, “How long were you here, mevrouw?” “Two nights,” I answer. “I had surgery on Monday.” She smiles, but the smile doesn’t touch her eyes. As I leave, I hear her describe the pain to a nurse. “A 10. Definitely a 10. I didn’t sleep a wink because of the pain.”


  1. Wonderful as usual. Great characterization Maddi!

  2. Thank you for sharing

  3. Mary-Lou Gillette

    Dear Maddi,
    I will bet home has never looked so good! Sending you every good wish for healthy healing!

  4. As usual, well written & I know this woman’s character. Oh, I’ve had patients like that (and families too). It can be very rough on the other patients in the room. To be honest, we do know she slept just fine most of the night & we know exactly how often the PCA (Patient Controlled Analgesia) was used. I am sure you were thrilled to get home to your & the quiet & privacy. I remain amazed at how quickly people are discharged from the hospital following major illnesses & surgeries.

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