COG Page to Screen Awards finalist Anne Vinsel's employment history includes teaching medical students to draw roasting chickens, putting makeup on dead people, working with encarcerated rapists/murders, doing surgical photography and wrangling bureaucracy for 75 medical residency programs at a large academic medical center. Her mother was an opera singer and embalmer, leading to the formative experience of her early years, which was being asked to draw what her mother did, and creating chaos when her kindergarten teacher interpreted her drawing as portraying a screaming (actually, singing) serial killer (actually, embalming a naked male). It gave her great respect for the power of art and hysteria.
A little after seven, when the day shift finishes and light begins to fail, the bravest chemo stands sneak out the door by the employee entrance.
Rattling as little as possible, almost-empty bags shriveled, clear tubing wrapped around poles, they joggle the glass oncology ward door until it lets them out. The infusion stands ramble down toward the goldfish pond into which the nurses dump leftover chemo. They position themselves around the pink granite ledge edging the pond and sneak their tubing into the water, among the two-headed koi and the little goldfish with stunted tails, the blind black and white spotted Dalmatian goldfish and the one-finned koi who can swim only in tight circles.
The stands are largely unobserved.
Employees avoid the goldfish pond as a rule. The maroon and silver lily pads glowing like basement mushrooms make them uneasy, and the mutated goldfish are vaguely worrisome to walk by. Female employees place a hand over their lower bellies, shielding some imaginary fetus as they pass. The chemo bags suck up chemo pond water to the full marking line on their plastic bodies. Occasionally a baby goldfish swims up the tubing and quickly goes belly up.
The pond water is strong.
Then, like patients skirting their hospital gowns around them to cover their naked backs, the infusion stands huddle together waiting for a night employee to card them in.
Someone always does, usually a pair of gossips engrossed in colleagues’ scandals.
The stands sneak carefully past drowsing night nurses. Each chooses a patient's room in which to spend the rest of their night.
These are the lucky patients. They will be very sick from their pond water infusions, but if they are also very lucky, they will get better. The stands know how not to be merciful, which is what the crab disease requires. They are implacable, ignoring ribs sore from constant vomiting, paper-thin bruised arms, infusion ports perilously erupting from bony chests.
Each stand plugs itself in and begins the night flow. A few nurses suspect what the stands are doing, especially those who have noticed the occasional little dead goldfish in depleted infusion bags. They say nothing, it not being their place.
Most of the nurses and all the doctors are oblivious. When they notice a bag is already filled before morning, they assume someone else did it. Even the night nurses, less exhausted than the day shift, walk around stands in the rooms at night to take vitals looking only at the small spot of light on the patient's arm. The infusion stands fade into the background; no one really sees them. They are dedicated medical equipment, 1C426 on the order form, and are only noticed in their inconvenient absence.
The stands have their favorites. A teenager who uses her stand like a skateboard gets chemo pond water every night. She is snarky and crabby to humans, but always gives her bag an affectionate pat and runs her hand lightly along the tubing as she gets out of bed.
She will go home next week.