6 [1]

By Elizabeth Argall








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There is a certain fraternity that develops.  The ways become known and there are connections, meanings just beneath the surface.  Floor six. Look at the faces that get on the elevator at floor six, pinched or puffy and red, jaws tightly clenched or dabbing at their nose with a powder blue piece of tissue paper.  Yes I know you, we have a secret brotherhood, I know where you’ve been, waiting in those plastic chairs, walking down the squeaking linoleum to the place where hands are carefully washed to the hissing and creaking of ins and outs, respirators and unevenly chuckling monitors.  Ground floor, press button six, going up.  Sixth floor, you must be scared, maybe you’ve never walked down that corridor before, what brought you to the sixth floor, was it the screech of breaks? The hysteria of a mugging or bashing or some sick rebellion of the body?  Who have you come to see?

The sixth floor contains secrets, sad soft murmurs, so many clenched jaws, so many unspoken screams and cries.  Again and again the same question drifting into a familiar refrain, why, why, why?  It would be nice to scream why, grab the orderly, grab the body make it stop, stop this nightmare that is only just beginning or ending.  Some have been here before, dry chuckles, droll humour, yes we’ve been here before, and you?

This is a secret community, drawn together by the pain of love, of connections, who are you praying for?  Down the squeaking hall to the place where machines breathe and people don’t.  Burns, breaks, concussions, beating hearts, broken bodies from surgery, critical but stable, stable.  Whoosh goes the elevator, dinging three floors before it stops.  Time to get off the ride now.

Even when she’s out, back in her own ward in a place not so full of teetering hysteria and morphine, I look at the people, my sisters, my brothers, riding the lift, riding to the sixth floor.  I know where you’re going, I know where you’ve been, looking the reaper in the face, but he’s not come for you, not yet, not as far as you can tell, although it puts everything into question don’t it... tears for the mothers, wrapped in shawls of black, for the sisters, the fathers, the brothers, the men who would like to tear down the walls in their grief, shake the universe to its knees only don’t make it so.  And all constrained.  Hushed whispers in the waiting room, idle chitchat, what are you in for? Like it’s a sentence, what are you in for?  Life?  Car crash, brain swollen, it’ll be a long time, an aching time if he opens his eyes again, burly lad, looks whole except the bandages on his head and the hissing of the tube down his throat muttering breathe, breathe.  Bandaged heads, lined up in a row, two to a nurse who jokes and heckles, what else can you do?

What are you in for? Serve the term and be free? Spine, head, will he walk again? Fuck that, will he think again?  Will she wake?  They can graft anything these days, even new dura for the brain, the old one got eaten away which is strange, we’ve been here before, we’ll probably leave, but you? What will become of your boy, brother, lover, son? Will he open his eyes?  So many men, young men, boys of youth, flying to their car crashes, again and again.  See you on the sixth floor. 

[1] The Sixth Floor is Intensive Care at Sydney Royal North Shore Hospital



© Elizabeth Argall 2003-2004
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