Lindsay Diamond is a freelance writer and novelist based in Buena Vista, Colorado. She writes travel and short fiction and recently published her first novel, Wrapped in Color and Light. Learn more about Lindsay at www.Lindsay-Diamond.com.
The wash room is covered in tile. The complete whiteness makes me dizzy, and I can’t tell where the ceiling meets the wall or the wall meets the floor. I wish there was some differentiation in color, but in this hospital, where the most desperate cases are sent, total disinfection is a must. White is not affected by bleach, but I am. My eyes water and my nose stings.
Exhausted from my previous healing, I massage my eyelids with my thumb and forefinger, thanking god it was only a child. Children tend to heal faster and don’t take nearly as much energy away from me. Whereas adults, especially those with advanced diseases, can knock me out for days. I scrub my hands and pull my white coat on over my scrubs, which appear to be the only clothes I own. After slipping on a pair of sterile gloves, I study my face in the mirror and cringe.
The sun is a stranger to me, and my skin is pasty and white. Because I sleep in short, fitful bursts, I have wrinkles on my forehead and bags under my eyes. Though I’m only thirty-seven, I could pass for fifty. It’s as though a rain cloud follows me, throwing its shattered pieces upon my head.
As I walk down the hall, my rubber shoes are as silent as day giving way to night. I note the familiar yellow flag over room twelve, which signals where I’ll find my next patient. The patient’s chart is in a holder fastened to the wall. Cheryl Elliot is typed in large letters across the top. I scan the notes, worrying about what I read. She has a stage four cancer in her lungs, and more discouragingly, in her bones. She no longer responds to sound and is barely breathing on her own. Without morphine, she would be in tremendous pain.
Before I realize it, my fist slams against the wall. “Damn it.” Anger swells within me. Not because of the assignment, but because there is nothing I can do to avoid it. No form of protest will yield any result. It’s in moments like these that I feel most like a slave.
Why would the committee choose such a patient? For a group of elected healers, they have little sympathy for the rest of us—those who must endure the pain, who sacrifice their body and mind to take afflictions away from the ailing. But then I read the notes. Cheryl is a single mother of three. Now I understand. They can’t be left alone. The committee won’t allow it.
I take a deep breath and enter Cheryl’s room, which is just large enough for a bed, a small couch, a sink, and the machines that administer morphine. This room is also tiled in white. A picture window is covered by a shade, casting a shadow over everything and everyone in the room.
My assistant is already there, setting up the few things I need—a water bottle and a cool, damp cloth stored in ice.
“Hello Doctor,” she says with a feeble smile, which tells me she’s read the chart, too.
I nod, knowing she’s as worried as I am. “Are you ready?”
“As ready as you are.” She lifts her chin toward the bed, giving another pathetic smile. “Last one for today.”
I appreciate her attempt at levity. But when I turn to face my patient, I realize it’s no use. Cheryl’s skin, which has already begun to grey, stretches over protruding bones. Her mouth hangs open and her eyes stay closed. But, I know her mind is awake and that she hears everything we say.
I check her vitals, pull off my gloves, and lean toward her. “I’m going to begin now, Cheryl. Don’t worry. It won’t hurt.”
For you, I think, tucking a loose strand behind my ears. I fill my lungs to capacity and close my eyes.
My hands tremble as I place them upon Cheryl’s chest, over her damaged lungs. My touch is hard, my fingers sinking as deep as they can. Her skin whitens in places where I press it down. She doesn’t even flinch.
My gift for healing was revealed when a friend fell and cut his shin. As I rolled up his pant leg to take a look, his pain transferred into my hands and arms, and his wound sealed shut as though it hadn’t existed at all. I instantly knew what it meant. Shuddering, I pulled my hands away and tried to shake the power from them. I screamed so loud, trees shook and leaves came loose from their branches. Nineteen years later, I still despise my ability. My body and mind are shackled to death until the day I’m released from duty.
The transfer is slow to begin. My hands and arms numb first, followed by my shoulders, neck, chest, and waist. My body is attacked by pins and needles, and I wiggle, thinking it will shake away the discomfort. Then, I sigh. It never works.
My muscles warm before turning hot, as though I’m a boiling kettle and my blood is water. I breathe slowly and deeply, trying to ignore the surge of heat. I focus on the rise and fall of Cheryl’s chest, careful not to take too much of the disease at once.
It’s impossible to have a life outside of healing. My days lack laughter, the company of friends, and leisurely walks along the river. Rather, images of the sick terrorize me. I hear their moans in the wind and feel the coolness of their skin on everything I touch. To not heal is to suffer from immense guilt, like having a burning iron pressed upon my chest until the beating of my heart slows to a deadly pace. Yet, to heal is to dive into a pool of unbearable affliction.
The first stab of pain I pull from Cheryl surprises me, and I jump like a knife has pierced my shoulder. The feeling, however, comes from the tumor pressing against bones and nerves. I struggle to remain calm as I strip more tumors from her and take them for myself.
The cancer transfers at an alarming rate, more than I’ve ever experienced before. Suddenly, it’s as though I am the one dying. I imagine my body thinning and my cheeks gaunt, though I know I look the same.
I’m haunted as I consider those I won’t be able to help while I recover from this healing—lives left to perish. It’s as though night has shattered, the stars have fallen, and the sun will never rise again.
Willing myself to keep my hands on her, I cry out. “I can’t do it. There’s too much!”
I want this to be the last time. I can’t take it anymore. But I know the nightmares will never go away and that the committee will never allow it.
My assistant runs to cool my face with the damp cloth and hold me upright.
“You’re almost done,” she assures me.
Cheryl’s face turns pink and her lips and cheeks fill with flesh. I see less of her bones and more of her muscle. The pain I experience is still strong, but it becomes easier to bear. I steady myself, pressing harder into her chest.
I’m about to collapse when Cheryl opens her eyes and blinks. She stares at me in alarm, and then her expression calms. She smiles weakly.
I allow myself no celebration but fall upon the ground, my strength stripped. The bags under my eyes push against my skull, and I am surrounded by silence. Death, as familiar as a family member, stands by my side. But, I know it will not act and lament its omission as black seeps into my vision until the light is no more.