She kicked off her shoes and danced through the meadow. The sun on her face, the warm breeze caressing her skin, the sweet perfume of wild flowers taking her breath away and transporting her to a another world. She lingered by the edge of the meadow, enjoying the heat from the noon sun , before skipping into the coolness of the woods. She caressed each tree, singing to them, adding her voice to the chorus of robins from their choir loft in the branches. She was ecstatic at the wonder of it all. She slumped in the arms of a red maple, sliding slowly to the ground resting her head against the trunk and closing her eyes.
Someone was gently shaking her shoulder.
“April, are you awake. April, time to wake up dear. Time for breakfast. Your favourite, scrambled eggs, tomatoes and toast. Here let me raise the bed a little”.
The nurse pressed the button at the foot of the bed and the head of the bed was electronically adjusted to the perfect height for April to sit and balance the breakfast tray. She started to nibble at breakfast, still half in the dream word, trying to come to grips with her surroundings.
She looked around at the other nine inhabitants of the chronic care ward. She didn’t know them well, they came and went, usually dying after only a three month stay. She had seen many empty beds and new faces in her two years at St. Brigid’s Hospice. But here she was, breathing oxygen through the tube attached to the cylinder by her bed. She had been diagnosed with COPD three years ago. Managing to survive one year at home with a portable oxygen tank, she was finally forced into chronic care, needing a constant supply of oxygen.
Later on that morning the nurse came to take her breakfast tray and cajoled her into the wheelchair for a visit to the common room where she could sit and talk to other patients. She never talked, preferring her dream world of a life lived long ago. She ate lunch by herself. After a few hours the nurse wheeled her back to bed to administer the nebulizer. She drifted off to sleep and was awakened for supper. She then drifted off to sleep again.
She was awakened by a sound in the night. Peering into the darkness, she heard someone trying to open the locker by the side of her bed.
” Who’s there ” she cried, the fear showing in her voice.
” Where do you hide your chocolate” replied a strange voice.
“I have no chocolate. Go away or I’ll buzz for the nurse” said April.
The next morning April relayed her nocturnal adventure to the nurse.
” Don’t worry about it, you must have been dreaming April. Just put it out of your mind and enjoy your breakfast”.
The nurse reported the incident and her supervisor replied . “The night nurse was probably asleep again. One of the Alzheimer patients must have been wandering around. Susan is on duty tonight, I’ll have a word with her to be extra vigilant”.
During the day April kept thinking about the incident in the night and she became increasingly apprehensive. She slept most of the day, could not be persuaded to go to the common room or eat lunch, and dozed off again after supper.
Just before dawn April rose from her bed and detached the oxygen tube. She shuffled through the ward past the night nurse, sleeping as usual at her desk. She walked through the main entrance undisturbed and noticed the golf cart used to ferry the maintenance staff around the grounds. She stumbled into the drivers seat and pushed the start button. The cart gave a whirr and jumped forward.
She guided the cart through the front gate and down the road to the meadow she knew lay two miles distant. Reaching the meadow she slid out from the seat and walked on to the grass, once more feeling the earth beneath her feet. The sun was just beginning to peak above the horizon and she gazed in awe at the dawn’s majesty. Waking slowly though the meadow she reached the sacred grove. The trees were aligned in a circle with the mother tree in the centre. She felt young again, full of life and danced around the grove acknowledging with a bow each tree she passed. She came to the mother tree in the centre and exhausted from her dance and out of breath she lay beneath the tree in deep contentment. She closed her eyes and slept.
The nurse came with April’s breakfast the next morning but failed to wake her. The nurse took April’s pulse, noted the time and immediately reported April’s death to her supervisor.