My patient is perched on the arm of the chair in her isolation room, looking out the window. I’m making her bed and having a well-controlled inner tantrum with the sheets, which are sticking to my gloves and making my hospital corners look like, well, not hospital corners. As I’m in an isolation room, I’m also wrapped head to foot in blue plastic, which turns me into a human greenhouse.
“Yappa, what’s that thing over there?”
I turn around, exasperated. It’s 11 o’clock. I’ve got medications due, all five of my patients are diabetic and need their blood sugars done in the next hour and I’ve still got two bed-bound patients that need to be washed before handover.
I look to where my patient is looking, out over the car park, toward the trees that line the beach.
She looks at me and then back out the window. “Is that the ocean, yappa?” She asks.
I’m confused. I point to the long sliver of ocean we can see just after the trees and below the clear blue of the sky, “The blue? Yeah, that’s the sea.”
She smiles at me and looks back out the window.
“Yappa, have you never seen the ocean?”
She shakes her head. “I was wondering what that bit there was, couldn’t work it out.”
I can’t quite believe it, “Are you from the desert or something?”
Yes, she says, from a community somewhere outside Alice.
I stand there for a moment, staring at my patient, who’s turned back to the window.
She’s lived all her life in central Australia, and at 40-something is seeing the coastline of her country for the first time. From the window of her isolation hospital room.
My brain is scrambling to make sense of what it means. Not because I had no idea there were people in Australia who haven’t seen the sea; but because the only reason this woman is in Darwin is because she’s sick. If she were healthy, she probably would have stayed in her country her whole life, and never laid eyes on that blue bit over there.
She also wouldn’t have this big, white Bondiite dressed in blue standing at her bedside gawking at her.
I’ve forgotten how hot and bothered I am. I push the mountain of tasks I have to complete out of my mind, and for a couple of minutes sit to talk to this woman about her country and the ocean she’d never seen. It’s going to make me late, and there are probably loads of buzzers going off outside. But I’m in this negative pressure room and I can’t hear them, so they can wait.
“Are you going to go to the beach and stick your feet in when you leave hospital?” I ask her.
“Maybe,” she says.