Nocturne from the Respiratory Ward
Though it doesn’t feel like night with the lights still on low, I keep my eyes closed and earplugs in. As the cylinders of red foam expand in my ears, the sounds of the ward sink into quietness. The fan’s undulating whir reduces to a vibrating insect as its cool air helps allay fever. If my fever comes back, the sweats start, the sheets stick, and I won’t sleep. The doctors said sleeping is important. The bed is bent upright to help me breathe; all the beds are like this, facing one another so we spend all day avoiding each other’s stares. With my eyes closed and my earplugs in, I try to pretend that nobody is watching me. But machines beep, slippers slap, and nurses’ voices creep through. A ventilator whooshes loudly beside me. I open my eyes. A new girl is wheeled in, her body heavy with pipes and tubes. I turn over. Find sleep. Some time later I open my eyes to the half-light and through the earplugs’ red foam I realise a weak voice has been calling out, “Help me”. I don’t know for how long.
Joanna Nissel begins Bath Spa University’s MA in Creative Writing in September, having just graduated from the undergraduate degree where she won the Les Arnold Prize for the most outstanding second year student. Joanna was first published in Irisi magazine in March 2017. She lives near Brighton and interned with Tears in the Fence magazine. Her poems tend to lean towards themes of grief, family, and religion, with occasional lilts towards the environmental.