The buffet visited her in her dreams last night. It must have known she craved Wonder. She hesitated, then let it in. She had no choice. All other beds were taken. She consumed greedily. Perhaps because she had not eaten during the day. Perhaps because she could. ER shifts and shifting needs always pressing. The hearty bowl of alphabet soup (sodium unmonitored) warmed her bare bones and Musilax-soaked muscles. The serving (and servers) also warned – SOS. PSA. FLU. RSV. Why so many warnings – and in strings of three, she asked as if she needed to make dinner conversation, all while already knowing. Tensions tender. The soup pot continued to boil. The spareribs – barbecued flavor – formed an impressive tower. The buffet tag read BBQ. More acronym-soup. Perhaps she was still dreaming. The ribs tasted divine – flavorful and firm. Fatty with no chance of clogged arteries. Five stars. Stats undenied. More than anything, the ribs offered fresh meat to chew – there is always more thinking to do. A child turned server (he could not have been any more than three, more likely two) monitored temperatures. Stuck small plastic sticks in butterball turkeys and hard-boiled eggs. Perfected perimeters of Jello bricks on ice. Diced vegetables – peppers, carrots, corn. Heat always rises. Even the nights offer no respite. She was no longer concerned about MSG. She consumed the General TSO’s chicken in a state of blatant glee (borderline delirium). No need for Valium. Then she moved on to the BLTs – fresh lettuce, crisp bacon, ripe tomatoes – stacked on metal trays. A toothpick stood upright. Determined not to admit defeat. Its red cellophane tinsel waved. Her belly then full. Thirst undenied. A nearby fountain promised Sprite. Un-caffeinated fizz. She opened her mouth and consumed it as is. She didn’t ask about buffet pricing. No need for two-for-one deals. Sweat gathered. In elastic bands and cotton creases. The turkey shed its skin. Perhaps she should have skipped the main meal. She craved sweeteners. Artificial fine. She also craved time. Yearned for unextraordinary days in extraordinary times. Amidst daily deliverances of pudgy arms to poke and needles that craved delay. More acronyms. In three letter dings: EKG. DNA. RNA. The dessert bar softens blows. Creme Brulé. Cheesecake. Macaroons in pastel hues. Souffles comfort sniffles. Strawberry shortcake suffices no matter the price. Maraschino cherries. Red dye No. 3 no longer the threat pressing. If only she could dive headfirst into the mac and cheese. Kraft, carefully crafted. Extra butter a sure way to temporarily silence fears. There’s no time. A Tripledemic dines. Too many babies and families in tears. All souls need sleep. And a respite. Her alarm rang. Mickey Mouse beeped. Triple-set. Stuffed and plumped. Plucked and tucked. All sheets made. Triple-decked. She craved sleep. No time to snooze. She never found the loaf of Wonder. Too late. It was urgent. Her load. Her beeper. She was needed. STAT. On floor three.
About the Poem
As children’s hospitals crowd and on-call healthcare providers stretch limits, I wonder if, when, and how the staff and caregivers eat and sleep. I hope they remember to inhale, exhale, breathe. I hope their dreams bring some peace. Godspeed.
About the Author
Jen Schneider is an educator who lives, works, and writes in small spaces throughout Pennsylvania.