The imperfection of the flesh

By : Alberto Palacios
Jefe del Departamento de Inmunología y Reumatología del Hospital de los Angeles Pedregal en CDMX

11 March, 2021

"Lauro finds his wife Amelia at home, the next scene is in a hospital and at the end, a reflection of what could have been."

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Amelia gets up from her bed with a severe stomachache and violently vomits the spoiled dinner that she would have much enjoyed the night before had it not been for this discomfort that had not ceased. The light enters through the edge of the window, making it clear it is still early dawn. Dogs bark incessantly in the dark, and this, in addition to disturbing her sleep, increases her feeling of disgust.

Her husband snores, indifferent, and she finds a bit of saliva on the pillow. Nausea again and a vomit of bitter drool, the bitter taste of bile, she murmurs.

When she goes to the toilet, the spasms increase, and she feels the urge to have a diarrheal bowel movement.

“How the hell did I get this?” she wonders, this time out loud, holding her abdomen to alleviate the pain.

As soon as the tenesmus has passed, she stands in front of the mirror and sees the aftermath. Two-day-old dark circles, wild hair, dry mouth and fetid breath; she looks like a ghost.

Opens up the medicine drawer and can't find anything for this predicament. She will have to wake up the useless Lauro or call after hours to ask for an antiemetic, but in her confusion doesn´t remember the number of the drugstore.

Her husband finds her several minutes later shaking, sweaty and delirious, lying on the bathroom floor with her nightgown pulled down and stained with feces. The image is alarmingly squalid; so much so that for a moment he fears she is dead. He walks over to take her pulse and runs to call 911 for help.

He cleans her as best he can, paying attention to those genitals that he has kissed and adored, which today he wants to leave clean, free of infection and filth. He is about to put some panties on her - the first one he can find and that are unfamiliar- when suddenly he hears the siren of the ambulance very close, almost deafening, more as a threat than a relief.

At his doorstep arrive two men dressed in blue, beardless but exact in their questions and movements. They take note of the patient's condition and prepare to carry her on a stretcher to the vehicle.

“Would you like to accompany her?” Asked the youngest, to Lauro's stupor.

"No, I don't know," the man hesitated, still in his pajamas, dirty with feces and vomit.

"Well, make up your mind sir," says the driver in an imperative tone, "because this lady is dying."

The journey to the hospital is marked by a painful silence, barely broken by the maneuvers and the conversations of the paramedics, who cannulated (awkward term) his wife, placed a mask on her, and shamelessly uncovered her breasts to place electrodes. For Lauro, that breast that has embraced him so many times before now seems insubstantial, the deformed nipples, the flaccidity of that distant and foreign flesh.

Once at the clinic, Amelia who is still in a coma and breathes with obvious difficulty, is received by a team of characters dressed as astronauts who act and respond under mechanical orders.

“On the count of three, one! two! three!” he watches in amazement as his wife is thrown and transferred like a bundle.

They stop him from entering and he watches her go away amid hurried, amorphous bodies.

“Are you a family member?” asks another, also clad in a plastic suit with inquisitive eyes peeking out from under the mask.

“Yes,” Lauro answers, looking down the hallway. “Where are they taking her?”

"They'll soon tell you, sir, for the time being come with me.”

Lauro seems lost, following this anonymous woman without understanding the clinical or legal or morbid order that prevails in this hospital. There are people sleeping, crying, whispering, or eating a sandwich reluctantly with a lifeless stare. He wonders if he too will become part of this army of ghosts who await news of their survivors or their deceased.

They ask him things that he doesn´t know or doesn´t remember: if Amelia has cancer or secretly drinks alcohol, if her in-laws are diabetic or hypertensive, if she consumes narcotics or home remedies.

Everything is confusing for our main character, who suddenly feels embarrassed by his appearance and the stench he exudes. He has no one to call, because he did not bring the notebook where he writes everything down since he began to lose his memory. At this point, he doesn't know where he is, how he got to this inhospitable place, full of strange people. He misses Amelia so much, “she knows everything and solves everything! Where is she hiding?” he wonders. “How dare she leave him alone among strangers!”

Someone gives him a seat, hard as stone, and he snoozes for several hours in that sordid nightmare of people and noise that confuses him more and more. Nothing makes sense, even if at times they offer him water or a cell phone in case he wants to call someone.

“No thank you,” he says, “I´m waiting for my wife, she will arrive any time soon.”

After several inconsistent hours, he hears his wife´s name being mentioned over a loudspeaker and sits up a little bit numb, but relieved that they are finally going to get out of this odyssey.

“Mr. Dominguez, I have bad news for you,” says a chubby woman, dressed as a nurse, with a cap and all, just like in the movies.

Lauro looks at her strangely, “Where is my wife, miss?” Why are you retaining her?”

“They had to intubate her,” she replies with a firm expression to make sure that the man has understood.

“What did you just say? In an incubator? How?”

“No, excuse me, I didn't express myself correctly, your wife stopped breathing and a plastic tube was put into her windpipe to connect her to a ventilator, it is very serious.”

This explanation was too much for Lauro who collapses in the middle of two ladies who manage to barely mitigate the fall.

He awakes lying in a narrow bed surrounded by medical assistants and nurses, pumping air into his nostrils with a band that repeatedly squeezes his biceps.

“Are you okay, Lauro?” asks a bearded doctor, with an irritating familiarity.”

“What am I doing here?” he abruptly responds annoyed by the abuse, “and where is my wife? let us go home! It´s enough!”

Several weeks have passed since Amelia left him, and Lauro still doesn´t understand what led her to give up a good marriage like the one they shared for more than forty years. They had their disagreements, it´s true, his infertility could have been a cause of unhappiness and anger, but they could have talked about it, even consider adopting a child.

The retirement home where he has lived for a long time (how long, nobody knows) is pleasant, and he begins to meet some residents who greet him by his name. He wishes he could return the greeting with the same cordiality, but sometimes he doesn´t recognize their faces and seems to forget details. He looks at himself in the mirror in his room, where he keeps a photo of his wife, sitting on a bench in a park. She seems to observe something in the distance. Thus, distracted as the camera captures her image, she displays freshness and beauty; it is her best angle, without a doubt.

“Who put that black ribbon on her picture frame? It looks so ugly!”

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