The Nurses of My Dengue Fever

Jason Nemec

They were all so young. The youngest looked like she’d just passed her driving test, the oldest as if he was about to graduate college. Kris, in ER, was beautiful. Full lips, average height, ponytail, good English. She’d push me to the bathroom in a wheelchair, and I’d pray she couldn’t hear the violent splash of my insides through the door. RJ, in Infectious Diseases, was kind and competent. He once flushed my pick-line without water or saline, merely working his fingers over it, coaxing my veins to re-inhale the thin wave of blood caught in the tube. He always smelled musky, like he’d put deodorant on without showering. He offered to give me a sponge bath the first night, but I said my chills were too bad to leave the bed. Iza was newscaster pretty. She asked me about the States and told me she hoped to get there some day. I told her she should go. She would fly from the islands and fall in love with a white boy like me, start a family, get lost in a medium-sized Midwestern city. JM, the tall one, looked more Indian than Filipino. I didn’t like him. One time I told him my pain level was at a 9 out of 10 and he said a 9 is a really excruciating amount of pain you know that sir yes? and I said oh yes, I know, my pain ticking up towards a 10, everything in my guts coiled as he avoided my gaze and I imagined myself strong, throwing dimple-cheeked, probably-still-a-virgin JM out the window, his long body falling sixteen floors before crashing through the chrome roof of a moving jeepney. Leah wore a heavy mask of makeup. She smelled fantastic. She wore layers of body lotion like the kind from one of those stores in the mall. I wanted her to give me a sponge bath, not RJ. But I was on the toilet so much, it felt like my body was trying to turn itself inside out. In bed, half-asleep in the blue-gray dark, I could tell which nurse was on third shift by the smell of their skin. When Leah leaned over me in the night to check my pulse, even though her thumb was cold on my wrist, she left behind a thread of coconut or mango or passionfruit that once or twice made it into my dreams. And while it was less pleasing to the nose when RJ came in at 2:00 a.m. to administer antibiotics, I have to admit, from a purely technical standpoint, he was the best nurse. I trusted him to inject the medicine into the port with assassin precision. Under RJ’s care, my IV hand wouldn’t swell into a balloon of pain, and I loved him for that. I loved them all. Even JM, who I’d wanted to throw out the window. They coaxed my scalding fever down and my dwindling platelet count up. They dispersed the bees that were crawling inside my bones. I still occasionally witness them on this side of the world, ghosting in through certain smells and gestures, the nurses of my dengue fever.