Jan/Feb 2007 Nonfiction

The Coma Room

by Memphis Saltos

Artwork by Ira Joel Haber

The Herrick Hospital where my daughter takes speech therapy is a mishmash of services. One old building provides social work, speech pathology, mental health, physical therapy, etc. One of its services, sub-acute care, resides right next to the children's speech therapy waiting area. Between the colored blocks, Highlight magazines and squeaky toys is a door that leads to, yup, the coma ward.

I sit in the waiting area for 45 minutes. Most of the time I read or draw while sitting on their uncomfortable haven't-been-cleaned-in-10-years chairs. The room is a big and worn room; children have tortured it. Coke stains bleed on the rubbed down rugs and the gray walls have toddler sized kick marks. I am there, in that mess, but my mind is always on the people in the room next to me—all those still people in their peaceful dreamless sleep, not alive but not really dead. How did they get that way? Cerebral hypoxia from a heart attack? Stroke? Car accident? Allergic reaction? Sometimes I hear a beeping noise coming from the other side. I'm told this is to alert the nurses when something goes wrong with one of the many things that keeps the comatose fed and alive. I sit there nervously waiting for someone to notice the beeping noise and hoping no one is slowing dying of anoxia. Hurry up and stop the beeping!

Every now and then the sub-acute doors fly open and reveal a place of eerie sterile whiteness that bluntly contrasts the yellowed old area from where I sit. The room glows out at me like the hinterland—the door to an alternate universe. The doors open for the visitors who don't bring flowers, rather tote family pets or mementos. I had never seen dogs in hospital before this. I know I should be reading, I know I should be drawing, but I keep my eye on the room until the door closes. I want to catch a glimpse of them, I think, but I never do.


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