The entrance to a hospital ward at the former Prince Henry Hospital. Little Bay, NSW
We were on the way to the funeral of a friend of ours. Someone had asked us to stop by the hospital were the friend spent the last weeks of his, in the end painful, life and pick up some of his possessions that were left behind. We had enough time on our hand and agreed to do it.
After parking the car we went up to the ward to see the matron. While my wife went with a nurse to a store room I was waiting near the sister’s desk. Nosy as I am, I looked around the ward.
To my surprise, I saw in a corner a “wooden tank”, which I knew had the function of an iron lung, such as our daughter used to spend her nights in while she was still alive. As I stepped closer to investigate I became aware of an open door to a room in which two nurses prepared a female patient for the day and were in the process of transferring her into her wheelchair.
There was something familiar in the way the body of the female patient looked against the bright background of the window at the end of the room. Normally I would not enter a hospital room with an unknown patient in it. But, I was intrigued, to say the least.
The young female patient looked up to me as I stepped closer. She was not surprised and gave me a cheery, “Hi”. I have no idea what she thought as she saw me. But I was surprised and shocked to my bones. She looked like a younger version of our late daughter who had passed away suddenly more than four years ago. That could not be, that she was alive. We had seen her body and had been to her funeral. We had grieved for a long time and carried her memory in our hearts.
As she did not seem to recognise me I did not call her by her name. I was fascinated by the situation and looked around for any clue that could help me to clarify the terrible dilemma I found myself in. People don’t come back from the death.
Close to the wall was a chair on which was a handbag that had spilt some of its content. I could see an open envelope, as our daughter often carried with her, with some printed photos. Some of those photos were from a funeral and to my shock, I could see myself, on one of the pictures, at my daughter’s graveside.
The girl, who was by now sitting in the wheelchair did not seem to make a connection with what she should have known from the picture and with the man who was standing in front of her. She just started to chat with me in the same easy-going manner as my daughter would have done.
I don’t remember much what we talked about, but I remember that I asked her her age. She seemed to be young, more a teenager than a young woman, and she was able to use her arms and hand in contrast to our late daughter who could not. The nurses were fussing about her hair by now.
“That depends on when I start counting,” she said and continued, “my whole life or when I started to be like this.” She was nodding her head down to her body to indicate her predicament.
“I am like this for thirty-three years. What happened before, I have no memory of and I regard my life started again when I became a paraplegic. That is why I’m saying, I’m thirty-three.” She smiled at me, not the least embarrassed to talk about herself. There was no self-pity in her voice. I felt she was used to talking about herself in a not self-conscious way, the same as our daughter was. The similarities were uncanny. Still, they could not be the same person.
In the mean time my wife, who was looking for me, entered the room. I took her to the side and told her what I had seen. She wasn’t surprised at all.
“I knew about the girl,” she said, “but did not dare to tell you about her.”
I knew something was not right. My daughter seemed to be alive after dying four years earlier. But she did not recognise us.
My wife stepped out of the room and was calling me out too…
She called me by my name , “Peter, it is seven. It is time to get up!”
I woke up and saw her drawing back the curtains to let the spring sun in.