I counted each ceiling tile in my head.
One. Two. Three. Four. Five.
I got to twenty and then Shauna starting screaming. I looked over, irritated, then lost my place and had to start over.
Fucking Shauna, I thought.
I was interrupted again at fifteen by a large nurse wearing a nametag that read “Christina.” Her hair was an intricate mess of tightly bound knots that pulled at her temples.
“Name?” she said, without looking at me.
“Ellen, Ellen Oppenheim,” I whispered, unwilling to make eye contact myself.
Two white and waxy paper cups, decorated with tiny blue flowers, were slapped in front of me by Christina’s lacquered fuchsia nails.
“Next,” she snapped and flipped the pages on her clipboard.
The cup splashed onto the plastic counter, leaving a pool. The other cup contained four pills. I didn’t ask what they were for. Under the flickering florescent light above the nurse’s station, I poured half the cup of cold water into my parched mouth. There were two red, a white, and a blue pill.
Here’s to America, I thought.
I tossed them back with the remaining water, the cold biting at my teeth. I turned around and started walking towards my cement-walled room. There were no windows, but my roommate had taped pictures she had colored on the walls. Like a five-year-olds proud art; Superman, daisies, and Dora the Explorer were scribbled with a mess of crayon. As I walked toward my bed I felt a crunch under my foot. The remains of a cockroach were spread between the rubber pads of my yellow hospital socks. I wiped the exoskeleton and innards off with a pair of itchy hospital underwear the staff had laid out on my bed. I rolled them up and tossed them in the paper grocery bag that was meant to be a hamper.
The overwhelming stench of urine wafted through the air. Outside my door Shauna was squatting above the linoleum, a puddle spreading across her gray sweatpants. Her bright pink belly shirt showed off her large pregnant baby bump and her bald head was covered up with a yellow, sparkling scarf. Coarse, recently shaved hairs poked out and looked itchy and irritated with razor burn. She stared at me with such a ferocity while she peed that I shuddered. This intimate human moment turned into her personal side show. Her dark eyes darted from my face to my feet as she worked out the personal vendetta against me that she had created in her head. The orderlies, in their maroon scrubs, picked her up by the elbows and carried her away. A trail of yellow followed their path.
My roommate was murmuring to herself about the slugs in her stomach and rolling from one side of the bed to the other. Her white hospital gown was stained with what looked like oatmeal and a long string of drool was falling from her mouth.
Is her name Darlene? Dana? Diane?
I touched my own stomach, contemplating what it would feel like if slugs lived in there, and left her to her conversation. I wandered to the main sitting area. Carrie was working on a puzzle that was missing at least nine pieces and would smack her head with her palm whenever she couldn’t find a match. I sat down on a red plastic couch – the arms were rounded off to ensure no sharp corners. I looked at my wrists. On one hand, a tight plastic bracelet with a bar code was digging into my skin. Ellen Oppenheim, patient number 0006739, was printed in bold black letters. On the other wrist a white and tattered bandage that was fraying from my constant picking, covering half-hearted slices in my flesh. The room was silent besides the typing of nurses at their portable rolling computers and the buzz of Hannah Montana on the television.
With nothing to do and lots of time, I began counting the porous ceiling tiles again.
One. Two. Three. Four. Five.