Walter Holland

Down this hallway, my past: vacant lounges, family rooms, the familiar destinations
of loss. The tiny plastic upholstered chairs, the paucity of relatives, friends, parents,
harshest light. A monitor beeping, shades drawn, an emaciated arm, the rise and fall

of a bony chest, the tangled leads with tubes. So much of it, seen daily, knocking on
a patient's door, to give them treatment, help them turn in bed, feverish, soiled,
flailing legs shooting out combatively as they struggled, cried; the call button

useless even if I tried. Shouting for an aide, but none coming, to help me position them
frightened on their side — that smell of sweat and stench of skin; cool wetness of
armpits beside protruding ribs. No matter how much I percussed: resistance, moaning,

screaming, and when they coughed so little came freely. And how I'd wonder what
they'd looked like before, what handsome features had they shown? Childlike, hardy —
lovers to whom? Who'd touched or held or caressed them? Lying there cadaverous.

Novice on my first rotation, pretender to all–knowingness. Joking doctor,
harried nurse, gowns and latex gloves, afraid of a needle stick or spill. Invincible in
my filtered mask, invincible to falling ill — so I felt and so I went rushing through

my days. Filling forms, signing my name, recording each sign and symptom. One face
and then another, flared nostrils, sterile tube, weak battles that ensued — bleeding,
turning bright red. Scant secretions, only air. Vast, continuous assembly – line for those

irrevocably stricken; hearing myself routinely explain how suctioning ameliorates pain;
brings an ease to anxious breathing — red carts, ward after ward, "isolation" signs on
every door, reading charts page after page: "male homosexual, PCP, diagnosis: AIDS."