Friday, May 30, 2008

The Coroner's Omission

The Coroner's Omission by Anna Couzet.

It is all he could do. The coroner was drunk.

The picture looked black and white, if it were not for the trickle of clotted and almost dried blood around the toe. A dangling foot from a gurney, delicate, lean and young. Dead, though. A little bit of a leg follows, not much muscle, bony, rigid. It might be a female, no hair so far, or it could be a young boy barely out of childhood. I found this picture on my way out from the hospital. It might have slipped from a medical file. There was no name attached, only a number. The white square tiles on the floor and walls as a background, make this image strong and appealing. Almost a Michelangelo Pieta. The diaphanous shine of the skin, once flushed with pulsating and throbbing life, seems to have taken on the purity and smoothness of a Carrara polished marble. Now, its rests, incognito in the hands of death, once putrid, eaten away, will be forgotten implacably.

I approach a nurse passing by. She is in a hurry; the Christmas party at the doctors' quarters is in full swing. She cannot be bothered. And with a few polite words, she tells me to redirect my enquiry at the desk in charge of guarding the house while everybody is merry. As she pushes a door a few steps away, a maelstrom of sounds, voices, laughs and carols comes rushing into the empty corridor. I am left with the anonymous picture, an unidentified corpse, a body vacant of its soul in my hands. On the spur of the moment, tired of having gone through another chemo, I am almost ready to leave this picture where I had found it: on the bare, cold, sanitized and spotless floor of this hospital. It is Christmas, or soon it will be. I have lost touch with the celebrations of life. Too much pain lately, with this crab eating away at me. Thoughts of happier times come flooding into my mind as if life's resiliency wanted to intrude into this gloomy moment. I sigh. It is not over yet. Not for me. I push back a few tears, hold the picture still in front of me, and silently make a promise: I will bring you back to where you belong. Life is not finished with you too.

The front desk of that section of the hospital is hidden behind a huge board holding seasons greeting cards. A blinking cord of tiny bulbs snakes its way around words of praise and good will. I hear muffled sounds coming from behind. A young nurse and what seems to be an intern are looking through a hardcore magazine. Nudes, fleshy body parts, suggestive positions, butts, oversized breasts, hairy cunts, enlarged penises, makes me shriek at the sole view of this outrageous display. Life is for the living. And I am in between. They gather themselves at once.

'May I help you,' the young, embarrassed nurse says. I gather the little strength I have left, and bring forward the picture. 'I found this in the corridor on my way out the chemo ward.' She does not seem to be much concerned at first; I guess she has not recovered yet from that shameful moment. Indeed, I look aghast, lost, demeaned, drained, exhausted. Too many emotions have shaken this broken body. The male intern grabs the picture from my hand as if he wanted to take away from me a big burden. He hopes I will show some improving signs. I am not in the pink of health, for sure. My face is the colour of ashes. 'Where did you find this?' he enquires as if he had not heard when I spoke to the nurse. I guess he too needs to adjust. 'On the floor,' I reply dryly. 'Ah, I see ... Poor boy, another one, another victim of a drug overdose. I am sorry if this has caused you any trouble. I may have lost this picture while bringing the file to my boss.' He seems to be sincerely concerned. I dare to ask for more: 'What happened? Do you know the boy? Where is he now?' He comes out from behind the desk and takes me gently by the elbow. 'Let's have a seat over there. Shall we?' I let him guide me as if I were without will, unable to choose any direction. I take some time before picking up a seat, split between the black and dark blue chairs. He does not hesitate. Black, blue or any other colour is not a priority to him. Unlike me, anguish has not planted its claws into his brain. 'Well, we are waiting for the next of kin to claim his body. I took this picture while my boss, the coroner was trying to assess the cause of death. We get those overdosed bodies on a regular basis. I am still not comfortable around them. Something is not right. To die so young, this way, while we try incessantly to save lives hanging by a thread.' 'Yes' I say, 'I understand.'

I feel empty as if life had decided to take a stroll while I try to make up my mind about this strange and awkward situation. We are in a hospital, I remind myself. It is time for you to go home. I am not in a hurry to go home. There is no one waiting for me. I look into the intern eyes whom by now has reconciled himself to the fact that life has its own ways. In a flash, without knowing why, I grab the picture from his hand. 'Can I keep it?' I almost beg him. He looks puzzled. 'Uh ... why? Is there anything else that I can help you with?' He gets up, disappears for a while and brings me back a paper cup full of water. I take a few sips, and I slowly get up. 'Let me assist you to your car,' he offers. 'Yes, please.' We walk silently, side by side. There is not much to say. The pain is mine to bear.

I notice, on the way to the taxi stand, signs of hope, shreds of despair, torn faces in pain, shattered hope, shrieks of a child holding a colourful batch of balloons, a mother smile.

As a taxi alights by the entrance, I seize the intern's hand. 'Thank you,' I say 'for the picture. This is my Pieta.'