I’m in the Emergency Department in a 4-bedded room partitioned with long grey curtains … I followed the ambulance here that came to collect my dad.

Dad is in a lot of pain… and despite the buzz in here, everything is moving frustratingly slowly.

The bed beside us has a lady. She is my mother’s age. Short brown-grey hair with magenta streaks and slippers with holes in the toe. She has come in because she blacked out and fell splitting her head open. She blacked out because she has a drug addiction … Endone… Oxycontin and whatever else she can manage to swing a script for. There was a valid reason she started down this road. A fall left her damaged..but now she’s hooked. The meds have swallowed her up. She’s crying because her partner has left in a huff. Probably over it. She fell just now trying to get out of bed and is so high she can’t stand properly or speak in full sentences … She’s got this high pitched breathy cry…Like a soft wail from someone who’s totally given up the fight.No light in those eyes… Bloodshot red-ringed melancholy. Sunken behind heavy lids. The social worker notices a slit across her wrist. The lady doesn’t know how it got there.

In the bed across from her is a diabetic lady. My age or maybe a little older.Pretty rounded face. Dark skin. She’s hooked up to something pumping life back into her arm and is silently resting in the bed. Her feet are visible between the gap in the curtains… One shoe on, one off. Her toes on the barefoot are swollen and there are sores visible around the nails. The nurses ask her when she last checked her sugar levels? Her feet? How is her diet? She can’t remember. She doesn’t bother with that stuff. She’s vacant and distracted. I wonder if she realizes what she’s risking by not paying attention? Or maybe she doesn’t care? Shes a frequent flyer here it seems.

The next bed held an old homeless man. Somewhat deaf. Incontinent, no shoes… Cellulitis, gangrene and coming off a high…His legs were thinner than my 7-year-olds. No shoes. No shirt. It is cool out tonight. I wonder if anyone is missing him? He hurts a lot…I know this cause he moaned a lot… He’s gone now moved to another bed.

A man my father’s age has slid into his spot. Well dressed but unkept. He is chatty but slurring heavily. Hes had a night of binge drinking. He is an epileptic and has had several seizures since being brought in …..when he is conscious he tries hard to sweet talk the nurses…They all know him it seems. Perhaps this is a regular Midweek evening for him? The nurses are kind and respectful. But when they leave his expression shifts to one of blank emptiness…More dark eyes.

Another hour passes and this beds resident changes again. This time a man a little older than me. Bone cancer. He is here because he has server pain…He’s also an epileptic..a drug addict and homeless. His “friends” stole his pain meds and seizure meds so he’s been a few days without them… and judging by the look of it its been even longer between a bed and a meal. He asks the nurses to please leave the lights on and not pull the curtains, he is afraid of the dark. He needs tranquilizers to sleep and fights the heavy eyes until the medications kick in and he’s out cold, unconscious but it doesn’t last long. These are the darkest eyes in this place. He holds my gaze once or twice before looking away. I see the darkness that he fears isn’t caused by the night outside but the haunting that’s happening inside his mind. He cuts a ghoulish figure. All angles, and no color. It is hard to believe there is life there at all. Just a boney frame draped in the white hospital blanket.

Then there’s Dad. We came in at just the right time. He went down quickly. They have taken blood and the usual barrage of testing that leukemia patients are given when they have a crisis. The tests have been sent to the lab and now we wait. It took 2 hrs for the pain relief to take the edge off enough so he could lay still and he has finally stopped vomiting unless he has to move and then it starts again. The last two bags were stained brown and red. He saw and tried to tell me it was the lamb he ate yesterday so I wouldn’t worry… But it’s blood and stomach lining. His temps up a bit but the fluids are running now and while its buzzing in here with machines and nurses exhaustion wins and he has finally fallen into a light sleep. Only to be woken by screaming in the next cubicle along.

A young girl screams and then two men’s voices and running footsteps fill the air as the cavalry arrives. It seems her boyfriend has flipped. The drugs override his humanity and he lashed out a stabbed a security guard. He’s screaming now as they struggle to restrain him. He screams that he is a victim. He needs water. He’s having a stroke- according to him, he can’t breathe. But yet can still scream for what feels like close to an hour ..promises not to spit on them again.. Just “please let me go” he begs over and over. Oh God, please don’t let them untie him!

She, the girl, is sobbing onto the shoulder of a nurse who consoles her. She is very young and looks pregnant but I could be mistaken. I want to tell her to run. Leave and don’t look back. She’s scared of her man that’s easy to see. A lot of us are tonight as he rages and rants. For someone who is breathless, he’s sure got some lungs.

They decide to keep dad in and call upstairs for a bed. More tests and scans. He will stay in this place until a bed opens up on the ward. That might not be until tomorrow.

I stay a little longer.

It’s pushing 3 am now and my car is a billion miles away in the carpark. Dad insists I go and get some sleep. I’m told I’ll need an escort to my car but I’ll have to wait a while as security is “busy” out front. “Best stay inside a bit longer,” they say.

Security stays busy and two wardsmen are asked to take me out the back way. I ask these men if this is the norm. “It is” they reply. They are eager to share the frustrations with me. The guard who was stabbed tonight was attacked last week too. This hospital, a Cancer Center, is also the home for Mental health and toxicology. The demand on the ED vast outways its resources and the staff bear the brunt of the issues.

I drive home in the early morning hours. The streets are empty save a few rough sleepers and I’m weighed down by the helplessness I feel for my father and the dark eyes that held mine tonight. This is my definition of hell… A place without hope, a total absence of light….and I wonder how this story ends? How do you inject hope into hopelessness… What’s the solution?

More money? Will more awareness and a better funding packet be enough to rescue this humanity? Has it ever been enough before?

What drives us to chase escape? What lie do we believe so wholeheartedly that it consumes us until there is nothing left? What is it that blinds our eyes and seals our hearts closed to each other’s plight. Each to their hand to hold to pull us through and up and out again.

What has to be broken in us for us to accept this as all there is? Dark eyes hold no hope of freedom, no escape.

I won’t accept this fate. This lie that says this is all life holds. That we can’t change our fate or even change our very stars.

There is more. I know this. I’ve walked these halls before and even amongst the darkness tasted and seen the beauty that calls us to come out of the shadows. The whisper that calls us by name to hunt down that light that will chase out our dark.

The only way to beat this hopelessness is with hope itself. To overrun darkness with light.

To walk as light bearers arms stretched out wide. All-embracing, outrageously loving…to offer hands of grace to the falling and speak life over the graves.

I’ve realized that courage to brave foolishness is what’s required..its not steely resolve but surrended vulnerability that breeds connection…births hope .

Hope is a life raft that promises a better tomorrow.Love is the only ransom that buys back the stolen.

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