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About More Voices

Every month More Voices invites readers to contribute short nonfiction prose pieces of 40 to 400 words on a healthcare theme.


The Middle of the Night

The Center of Everything


The call came at midnight. “He died,” the voice on the other end said. No emotion.

“How are you, Alice?” I asked.

“Ok,” she answered, “Will you come?”

“On my way.” Clothes back on, I grabbed my nursing bag, ran out the door.

I remember my first day at the Van Roker cottage. Alice and I sat on metal and red vinyl kitchen chairs.

“He don’t know he got cancer,” she said, “Should I tell him?”

“Has he asked?” I countered.

She thought. “No, he tole me he don’t wanna know what’s wrong with him.”

In nursing school, we practiced "open-ended" communication. I had tried with Homer. It just wasn’t his way. He was polite, but no extra words. Never. “When he wants to know, he’ll ask. Be honest with him, though. Be gentle, but honest.”

They were an old-fashioned couple, Alice and Homer. They did what was expected--he worked at the factory, she raised the kids, kept the home neat. Both were stoic, especially Alice. She attended to Homer’s needs matter-of-factly. She asked practical questions. “Should he be sitting up?” “Which is better for him, chicken soup or meatballs?” She took my word as gospel truth. They would bicker, but Alice did what she needed to do, and told Homer what he needed to do, and that was that.

With every visit, Homer looked weaker, his legs and abdomen became more swollen, till the skin was so stretched, the fluid leaked out. No pain, thankfully. On one visit, Alice took me to the kitchen. “He finally asked,” she said. “I told him yes. You got cancer.”

“And what did he say?”

“He said ‘I wish you hadn’t told me that!’”  

Shortly after that, I got the call. At the door, I was admitted by a middle-aged man in a flannel shirt and jeans bearing a plate of cheese and crackers. In surprise, I looked around the living room. Despite the late hour, fifteen people were gathered there, sharing juice and crackers. I could hear Alice in the kitchen, smell of fresh-baked cookies wafting. I was offered refreshments and ushered to a seat, introduced to neighbors, the children and grands. I looked around at all the faces – all serene, no tears, all quietly conversing. It felt like a Sunday-home-from-meeting gathering.

Then I spotted him. He had been more comfortable sitting up at the end.

There he was, on the couch, eyes open, looking on at the gathering. This was his place, at the center of everything.

His family and friends didn’t look at all uncomfortable with him there--it was as if this situation was totally natural. In that instant I saw that he loved, and was loved. Words, or lack of them, didn’t change that. I caught my breath, validated that he didn’t have his, and made myself part of the group. Time enough to call the funeral home later.

Jutta Braun
Stockholm, New Jersey 

...perchance to dream

It’s the middle of the night as I write this since I can’t sleep. I have spent too much time on Facebook, alternating between taking heart that so many people seem to feel as I do about the recent election and being dismayed to the point of nausea by some of the vitriol being spewed. Often it is both, as a writer describes some abuse or hatred aimed at her or, an epithet spat at him – but then refuted by a stranger or grandmother or teacher.

Holiday Night Shift

My hospital's Vice President for Nursing usually wore beautiful designer suits and stayed close to her office; but she was standing before me, in the ICU, dressed in a crisp, white uniform and nurse's cap. I wondered why she was on my unit at 1:00 a.m. after the holiday. No surprise, there was a staffing crisis, and she was politely begging nurses on six floors of units to work a little extra.

Speeding Ticket

I'm an ob-gyn, so the middle of the night is like a normal workday for me. I view the drive in at 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. as my transition time from interrupted sleep to an important moment for my patient and spend it reminding myself to make the shift from fulfilling my needs to theirs.

Another Night in the ER

The November snowstorm is a surprise. The ER will be full of cold and homeless, coming for a meal and a place to rest.

I see the ones who say they are suicidal. That claim guarantees an overnight: a metal bed with a black foam pad, a clean sheet, turkey on white wrapped in cellophane and, if there’s any left, a precious six-pack of Oreos.

What If I Die Now?

The mood was grim in our house on this night, as it always was when my mother was at her sickest. My mother was suffering at the hands of what I know now to be systemic rheumatoid arthritis: the pain was clearly eating up her soul and body alike.

I looked at her as I helped with her evening pills, hoping they would bring some magic to lift the cloud hanging above us. I looked at her hands, so deformed by this monster of a disease, and I feared I might cry in front of her. I knew she wouldn't like this at all but I couldn't shake the voice of her saying that she thought she would die tonight. Or did she say "wished"?

I was twelve years old at the time and the meaning was probably lost to me. She did in fact catch the teary look on my face, and truly like a mother she knew what was on my mind. "What if I die now, would it be so bad?" she asked. I mumbled something to the effect that this was not happening but of course evaded the real question.

We Got the Call

Note to reader: The following is a verbatim transcription of what I posted to my blog the night we got the call from the liver team that they'd found a viable donor for my 11-year-old daughter who, at the time, had a 24 cm tumor which spread from her portal vein to her liver. 

Halloween Heartache

It was one hour past midnight, late enough that even the college students who lived in the apartment building across the street had changed their Halloween costumes for pajamas, turned off their lights and fallen into a sugar-induced sleep. I lay in bed, remembering the Halloweens of my youth when Dad and I had gone trick-or-treating together. He had protected me from the goblins, witches and ghosts that had roamed the streets of our neighborhood, and I had shared with him some of the candy I accumulated.

His Favorite Time

I had known since the beginning that it would happen at night, his favorite time. He had always preferred the peace of darkness to the bustle of day. How many times had I woken up to find him still working at his desk? How many times had I left for work in the morning shortly after giving him a good-sleep kiss?

All Kinds of Dark

4 a.m.

If I wake up in the middle of the night, that’s what time it will be, give or take 15 minutes: 4 a.m. No matter what the season, it’s dark at that time of night, it’s lonely, even the cats are snoring. If a window is open, I can hear if an owl, a coyote or, rarely, a whippoorwill or chuck-will’s-widow is crying into the night. If it’s a warm autumn night, I can hear if passing whitetail bucks grunt or click while tracking does.

The People a Doctor Worries About

The middle of the night is when I worry about a patient like Olevia, whose oldest son was shot and killed at the age of 23. He left behind his baby mama and his two baby girls. Olevia didn't have enough money for his funeral expenses, so she had to promise to pay in installments over the course of the next two years. So she gets a reminder of his death every month in the form of a bill.

The Baby Monitor

My parents slept together in the room next to mine for the last three years. They passed away this spring within three weeks of each other.
I invaded their privacy at night because I was so afraid I'd miss them gasping for breath or crying out in pain. I bought a baby monitor. 

The Stroke of Midnight

As a member of a youth ministry team, I was sleeping on the floor of a church gym. My brothers knew I was in there, but they couldn't find a way into the building. They went from door to door without a flashlight, using the building's limited exterior lighting and finally locating a door that someone, by chance, had forgotten to pull tight and lock. Whether by stroke of luck or stroke of Providence, they were just as surprised as the chaperone sitting by the door when they pulled on the handle and the door swung open with a rush of cold November air.