It was perhaps 1 A.M. when we sat in the dark together. Mary and I could hear a trolley clatter by on the track outside. A few late night, rowdy college students piled out of the transport and slogged through the snow on their way back to the near by dorms. They chatter away filling the night with youthful laughter. I listened to their voices and wondered at a life that was so free. I felt Mary's hand flutter. She was impossibly thin. The translucent skin with its blue veins covered delicate nearly weightless finger bones. She tapped her finger impatiently...little rain drops on my palm. "The medicine isn't working. I hurt awful". My heart sank. I knew it wouldn't work, couldn't work. She had a soft Irish accent (that sound, an intonation, a lilt, I came to love as a year turned into decades of living in Boston and other parts of New England). "Will you let the Doctor know this medicine isn't helping me Dearie?" I reassured her I would tell the morning nurse (again) and that I had documented the lack of relief. The morning nurse and Mary's doctor thought Mary was malingering. She had endless diarrhea and was so thin that she could have blown away in a stiff wind. Her condition had been written off to 'drug seeking' and living a hard life. Mary was in her 40's, single and lived unmarried with a man. He visited her often and wept at her bed side from missing her. Their relationship met with sharp disapproval from the staff. When did the medical and nursing staff stop seeing her? Stop seeing her plight? I was too young and inexperienced and not yet the 'bossy nurse' who learned over time to speak up and demand someone do their job for their patient. Sadly, Mary was one of the women who helped me learn to do just that. It was too little and too late for her. My heart aches just a bit now as I remember her. That night as we shared a moment, her room filled once again with the acrid odor of loose stool. She winced and began to apologize for the 'mess'. As I worked to clean her up I realized that the feces was pouring out of her vagina. The sick odor was cancer. It is, as I well know now, unmistakable. Mary lasted several more weeks. Our moments of chatting were brief. She told me about her girlhood in Ireland and working in factories north of Boston. She spoke through a haze of morphine. The last week of her life, her man never left her side. I'll never know why they never married. I simply remember that thin delicate hand of hers laying in his huge hard working bear-paw of a hand.
Rest in peace Mary W.