I slide through the door swung open by the janitor. It closes with a metallic shudder.
I scurry into the staff room, leaving my hand on the cold of the door handle until I hear the lock catch. One week and it has become second nature. We all do our part to make sure no one gets out of here.
My pockets are stuffed with the usual — blank printer paper, a favorite pen, my notebook. I smooth my flyaways and my coat — the weight of medical accessories keeps it militarily starched. I pull the door closed and enter the main unit.
Debbie will be there, her lips smacking against one another, her tongue unable to find the back of her teeth. She doesn’t approach me. I walk up to her and the matching wall, both drained of vibrancy.
“How are you today? Sleep alright?”
“I… I… can you help me?”
I don’t know why I thought today would be different. She and I face one another each morning, like clockwork.
The smell of eggs and toast expands around me as residents file into the dining area. I can see Susie, the buff woman admitted for a manic episode, a bandana tying up her moussed hair. She leans back easily, her long arms slung over the back of her chair. Through the window’s glare, I catch Greg’s eyes, though he doesn’t toss anything back.
Debbie heaves and sighs; her splotched pullover mirrors her unsettled mouth. Her arms push and pull the air, the pulsations of her veiny hands ebb and flow.
I cross my arms. My white coat is crisp. It feels how fresh feels.
“I’m sorry it’s not any better today.”
The attending catches my eye and tilts his head toward Unit 2. I lift mine to give Debbie a forlorn smile. I don’t know what other expression I should make.
He gets a call and slips into the office. The unmistakable click of a door on the inpatient psych unit punctuates those of his Oxfords walking away. I turn back to Debbie.
“So you’re not feeling too much better?”
Her eyes are melted pools of wax, quivering and wet. I swivel the ball of my foot into the carpet. Chris, a regular who rotates through the psych unit each winter, is already done with his food and asks the staff in the doorway for seconds. They don’t say no.
“Can you help me?”
Her mouth works around the contour of each word, an actor in a play, in the moment that hinges on the answer.
I fiddle with my fingers, still chilled from the walk to the building. I drop my patient list, its folds skimming the wall and landing onto the tiles. She clasps my forearm in her hands as I bend down. I suck in a stunted breath.
“Can I help you?” I ask.
Her lips stop moving and so do her eyes.