Eglė Mėlinauskienė. Diagnozis
Sudarytoja ir dailininkė Rima Kiubaraitė-Sutkienė
Lietuvos fotomenininkų sąjungos fotografijos fondas
Bright sun behind the window animates the Christmas commotion even more. In all operating theatres, the running battle against disease and death is going on. I am walking along the sun-lit corridor. I can't escape so easily to the festive hustle when I see the confrontation with death. At the end of the corridor, in twilight, a nurse is pointing at a black bag lying on a trolley. A bad feeling suddenly pierces me. I freeze with the realisation of transience, which will, perhaps, never wear off. Everything lasts just a few moments. Two strapping gloved men appear in the doorway. I gaze sadly at the receding black bag hiding one more loss of life, another one who passed away in silence at the Christmas Eve. I am completely disassociated from festive moods more and more full-blowing behind the hospital's window, the pleasantly warming sun does not prevent me from sinking deep into myself for a long time, to perceive the thread of life vibrating in the air, which, it seems, will snap in a moment. I hold my breath afraid to violate the space filled with high tension. The struggle for life does not end here even during the greatest festivities of the year. It is here that I am forced again to think of the meaning of Christmas, which we forget while hurrying and rushing to finish unfinished jobs, to buy Christmas presents, because nothing stops us. I was stopped by a huge black bag with its implied contents and, perhaps, the soul that has not had time to separate yet. I discover something every day. On the other hand, maybe I would have lost a lot as well. There has to be a balance somewhere. I have felt the joy of Christmas many times already, but I have discovered its deepest meaning for the first time. I cannot grieve for the entire world, but I cannot also be happy when there is so much poverty and pain around me. I resist with all my might the raging Christmas nightmare and all good feelings expressed in purchasing power. I wish to escape to a corner and hide myself, until everybody turns into a Christmas turkey and calms down.
Back home. I am getting under the shower trying to wash off the dirt of the whole year. My body becomes fresh and clean, but who will wash the dirt off my soul that has been accumulating for more than one year. I repent. I do not know how I should help to purify myself. Perhaps, it is not possible to empty all inside in one day. However, there has to be a beginning some time.
I remember everybody who has lied like crucified on this narrow black table. I especially cannot forget their eyes where fear was mixed with hope. I do not notice the viscera turned inside on the table, I am thinking about the painful experience of this particular person. I cannot think what he did wrong, but I have an opportunity to think of myself. His life has been stopped. The brigade of six people is doing everything to prevent this life from ceasing. Sometimes I find myself thinking what would happen if, suddenly, all those doctors left. Shudders run along my back. No, it cannot be. I chase away my thoughts; I feel something above my head. Interesting, how many souls that have left their bodies in this room have never returned. Those things I see every day allow my soul to free itself little by little; I do not appreciate many earthly links any more. I am not saying that I do not like comfortable life or despise it, but now I am not striving blindly for it. I keep feeling that I am just a guest on this earth and I start pondering over my temporary purpose. Sometimes I think whether my constantly swarming thoughts about temporality would not turn me into a sexless being, losing all my femininity. Those who find themselves on this table as if loose their gender. For me they are just people; I look at them and analyse. I have a rare opportunity to observe people encompassed by doubt and hesitation, at the crossroads of their lives. One can get used to viscera turned inside out, a head cut up if seen every day; but never to human pain. What is it all like? Very seldom, like theatre, rather like life. Sometimes I feel the spiritual suffering of some young man who has not yet started his independent life, sometimes, the physical pain of some old woman floating in the air, knocking about among those four walls and being not able to find its place.
Once, somebody asked me "what do you need this for?" I am trying to define the essence of my purpose. I cannot explain everything thoroughly because every day is different; something keeps changing. Every time I discover something new both in myself and in my relationships with those present here. Every time I observe unique relationship that an individual person has with his or her death and life. Most often, it is a quiet monologue, which you could feel, with each cell of your body. A brigade of medical people is busying around; somebody asks something, makes a joke. Moreover, I feel the ringing solitude, the solitude of a lying lonely man and the sentence hanging in the air and waiting for him, the only one. Once I was looking at a tiny body of indefinite sex and asked doctors, if it was worth doing anything. The answer was only one: it is worthwhile, always worthwhile. I see how difficult the struggle is here. In that terrible chaos of struggle for life, I feel the looming shadow of death. Those who speak about the negligence of doctors are wrong; their negligence in the place where everything is done for the sake of human life. Day after day observing this struggle for life, I am thinking where these people get their strength when they stand concentrated at the operating table for four, five, or even more hours. Mistakes are unforgivable here, and sometimes doctors are accused because of the patient's unwillingness to fight the disease.
Today is the last day of the year. Finally, we got the New Year snow we dreamt about, even if wet, but still creating a more elevated mood. I am rushing to work. I am still not sure where that pull comes from, what is luring me so much here: is it relationships full of human goodness and simplicity, or photography itself. I think everything at once. Perhaps, here like everywhere you could find underwater reefs, but I am not looking for them consciously; I have no wish to rummage in trivia. I am interested and happy about the relationships between the medics, medics and patients, and medics themselves as personalities. They accept me to this family naturally and warmly. I love these people for their patience, dedication and tolerance. Even grey days without sun and extreme situations at work do not destroy their relationships. Complicated operations are being carried out the last day of the year. I am thinking, is it so important to do them now, is it not possible to postpone them for the next year? If it is happening, perhaps, it is not possible to stop this train because for somebody this might be the last chance to catch up. One might not live until the other one. In some surgery room, I hear conversations about academic papers planned for next year. The faces of most operating surgeons are still very young, but they know that only practical work without scientific studies is nothing. Beside that, oncology is the area of medicine where new findings are crucial. It is good to know that we have such young people in Lithuania, only will they have strength and will to improve their skills, inquire into the issues of science by giving themselves entirely to patients and… to the whims of bureaucrats.
I am observing the end of an operation. I see only the surgeon's eyes filled with joy over the successful operation and a perfectly finished seam. For a moment, we both admire this beautiful smooth seam. I imagine the little scar in a year when it will get smaller and difficult to notice. This is the merit of the surgeon's long and patient work, movements of hands and fingers trained to perfection. Does anybody think of the value of those hands? Sometimes I even have not enough patience to stand and look at the beautifully diminishing cut, because this work is endlessly long and meticulous, equal to most elaborate embroidery of our mothers. In another operating theatre, a face is being sown up. Here the seam is advancing with the precision of microns. With every mistake it returns and everything starts from the beginning again. Everybody understands that life should not be just prolonged; it should become unimpeachable. I have never thought that after having cut out a huge piece of tumourous skin on a patient's head the surgeon uses all imagination and arranges unbelievable "drawing-curves" of cut patterns so that the patient did not have to get skin transplanted from another part of his or her body, which would remain hairless. Sceptics would say that it is not an advantage to die beautiful. However, if the operation goes on normally, surgical aesthetics is its equally valued part.
Midday. The last planned operation is taking place this year. An elderly woman is being operated on a tumour in her mouth and jaw. Noisy laughter could be heard from other operating theatres. I stick my head through the door; the work is being finished, they are tidying up. The mood of New Year's Eve. Not everywhere. It is quiet and not very cosy in the intensive care ward; one could only hear the hum of the life supporting machinery, monotonous and incessant. There are no holidays in here; those who are lying here are not conscious of them, but they are still able to feel. Here the fight for life is going on. In each case, nobody could say how long it might take or whether there would be enough power to win. While the life supporting machinery is working, the human being is resting, accumulating strength for the last and most important decision: to be or not to be. A lonely Christmas tree at the end of the corridor is telling a sad New Year's tale. I enter the ward; I see a woman lying in a corner. I have seen her before Christmas. Today is the last day of the year. Her eyes are closed; when I talk to her, she opens her eyes only with greatest effort. I observe - she understands everything, which means she is conscious. Today this is her greatest achievement. It is too difficult for her to breathe on her own. I leave the ward. My heart is filled with enormous joy. The joy for that woman who, although with such difficulty, but is clutching at life. Perhaps, on the New Year morning, she will finally breathe in her first gulp of air, so long waited for, and it will call her back to life.
I do not regret that I have refused New Year parties and spent the last days of the year on the ninth floor with a notice "No admittance for unauthorised persons" on the door. A life unimaginable in our mundane routine is hidden behind this door; full of emotions and feelings, but always with the same smell of burning flesh and spirit, monotony of green and red.
The Ninth Floor
Half past nine. I see the shining windows of the ninth floor from a distance. I put on pace. So it has started already. The new day of the ninth floor has started. I run towards the elevator - I still have to change from head to toe; otherwise, I would not cross to the sterile zone. I have no right to be late for the first operation. Work is in full swing everywhere; the patient is already on the operating table, but the operating doctor is nowhere in sight yet. I have made it. Everybody talking lively, saying hello. Silence will overcome us in a few minutes; smells of disinfecting materials will spread; the rustle of bands being tied up will be heard; many minuscule preparatory jobs, unchanging like a well memorised prayer. Nobody has a right to make a mistake. I have to be careful: not to touch where it is not allowed and not to interfere where I should not. When an operation is complicated, I should be neither heard nor seen. I know that this is very important both for those who operate and for the one who is lying on the table. I see concentration in the surgeon's eyes; I hear a request to start the operation. Now a life-supporting machine overwhelms all chatter, which will emit the only inimitable music. There can be no other music here: all attention is focused on the harmonious song of the patient's heart and breathing. The patient's face has been stroked; his hand has been touched - all this not from great love to him. Every tiniest change in the colour of the skin or temperature is under most vigilant surveillance. This continues all day. I wanted to say not the ordinary working day that lasts eight hours, but they spend here ten and sometimes more hours. Good, if operations are only mildly complicated during that long working day. In addition, if the day is full of the so-called extra operations and the doctor feels no better than the patient lying on the operating table, then God's grace is needed. However, nobody speaks of bad feelings and they could be perceived from the only place: the eyes.
Finally, when the New Year came, winter got bolder and showed its tricks. The city finds it hard to free from the festive marathon. I am slowly driving on the "drunken" unclean road, following the same itinerary I know by heart towards Santariškės. I still manage to find a free gap to park my car. Sometimes I have to circle around many times to find a place. The blizzard is inhuman. On the ninth floor, wind blows through the old windows full of gaps. It is cold. Look at the Soviet building - when a wind turns, we shiver with cold. The patient on the operating table has been half-undressed. Interesting, whether during the operation the anaesthesiologist will have to guess: due to the cold or, perhaps, due to the lack of oxygen the patient's lips are blue. Work goes on smoothly, although today concentration requires more effort than usual. The consequences of the festive relaxation tire almost everybody: the medical people are also humans and have weak points like everybody. They are working in two out of five operating theatres; the other three are undergoing sanitary cleaning. The man lying on the table breathes with difficulty. I glance at his x-ray: there are almost no lungs; they are inoperable. The only way to alleviate the patient's suffering is to suck out the water in the lungs. Catheters have been lead out for the liquid accumulating around his lungs to escape.
Before only men used to become the patients of the thoracic ward; now there are more and more women there. We are looking for a more comfortable life, running from ourselves and for that, we are given as a present a bouquet of new diseases, often oncological. When you get here, a Mephistopheles' clock is counting time and announcing with its sombre strokes about a new coming. And about a new departure.
The admission department is on the ground floor. It looks like all Lithuania is here. I run by past thus disturbing the air vibrating with the silence of the unknown. Bags stuffed with country goodies and most necessary things bulge with dignity at each pair of legs. I observe how people meet the disease, how they reconcile themselves with a long stay in this "home". Unpleasant. There is much despair and anxiety in perplexed faces. Some come with an escort; their eyes are brighter. The air of the narrow corridor has become foul with fear from the mass of people. If you feel this smell once, you cannot confuse it with any other. I have to hurry: I feel how it penetrates me, and I have no protection.
In my mind, I am trying to compare these new faces with those of going home. There is more experience in the latter. Most of those who have spent here a long time leave having read the book of their lives anew; having finally discovered the meaning and purpose of their being. I know for sure: their attitude to life changes. Some hope that they have understood everything; others are still searching for something. I would really like to help them, to explain that if you want to find time to live, it is not necessary to search for anything; you just have to start and live. We all have a chance, even when life gets shorter, to live it well. Since a medical thinking does not disturb me, I can observe this environment with the eyes of a simple human being; well, perhaps, also with the eyes of a human being that has feared death, but was not yet ready to meet it.
My eyes slide on the walls painted with a light colour; a very well chosen colour for such a hospital. There are departments where even a light colour looks grey; I do not feel like going there - they are filled with some inexplicable tension. Then even walls are guilty, and they could tell most, perhaps. Sometimes I try to listen to their quiet confession. Whatever their colour, those are most proper Lithuanian walls of Lamentations guarding the most secret thoughts, desires and even maledictions. A nurse opens a window and lets some fresh air in; the deft fingered drafts disperse the unfinished confession of the walls. I try to guess the end of the confession carried away irretrievably by wind that has blown here the hardly perceivable smells of the kitchen. I understand: lunchtime - the time of hospital ration - will be soon. Somebody complains of the lack of appetite and offers his or her portion to the friends of his fate. Very few gain weight here. Most return home sickly, exhausted by difficult treatment and huge dozes of drugs: from them one not just looses appetite, but what has been eaten wants to get out. The food cart comes rolling; some bustle starts in the corridor plunged in twilight. Doors open one after another - the best feeling inhabitant of a ward takes his food; others spend much time messing about in their cupboards looking for something brought by their family that would smell of home and dear people. Sometimes even a remaining crust of dry bread seems to be nicer than any hospital steak. However, if you are being treated here for a second month, you do not have that dry crust, that tiny connection to home. Every thing reminding of home becomes endlessly dear when you roll in a hospital bed for a long time.
After lunch, when the sun turns towards the west, the time of peace and sadness starts. Procedures and all visitations are finished for today. Everything calms down gradually; the wards plunge into a mysterious light. Shadows lengthening in the evening sun as if prolong every minute.
Time for visiting hours. The lobby turns into a colourful village flowerbed spreading throughout all the floors. I can hear voices of relatives, rustling bags and opening the doors of refrigerators stuffed with food from the ward. If it wasn't a hospital, one could think these are preparations for a wedding feast. Bands of friends are visiting the younger patients: they find it difficult to reconcile themselves with the unexpected disease of their contemporary. Medics also find it hard to face the malaise of a young person knowing how cunning and dangerous this disease for a young body is where all cell division processes happen much faster. Some women fiercely tread the floor in the corridor making the rounds of boredom. I know that nobody is visiting them; not because they don't love them: they just live on the other edge of Lithuania from where not everyone can afford to travel. I see longing in their faces: this repeats every afternoon. They walk, sadly, along the corridors not willing to disturb other patients in their intimate moments with their loved ones. The door of the last ward opens and resonant laughter of a child tears the dull sheet of twilight without a tinge of sadness. The tramping small feet fill the ringing silence sharing the toothless smile with everyone and forcing even the austere walls to smile. Tiny arms twine around the neck of the dearest person - somebody brushes away a tear silently. Feelings are traitors; sometimes they become too open. I am asking myself - does a human being become immensely dear only when at the crossroads of his or her life? Why we clutch so firmly at her when we feel the imminent loss? Everybody can give this question only to oneself, and answer to oneself.
Today is Friday - the last day of the working week. I leave at six. It is completely dark outside, freezing. Work continues in two operating theatres, and it is unclear how long it will last. I wish everybody a peaceful weekend. I remember that I have to visit a jolly male ward on the second floor of the chemotherapy department. A young man is laying there, the subject of my photographs. I open the door to the ward and see the extinct eyes of the young man. My heart fell - he was lying without moving a muscle connected to a drip for twenty-four hours. His gaze fades with every drop of injected "chemistry", convulsions twitch his meagre body with sickness. I saw him three weeks ago: he was a quick fellow with shining eyes. Now his slim body looks too small for the huge bed; his bold head has as if shrunk; shivers run along my back. Not everyone bears chemotherapy with such a difficulty, but I really feel pity for this young man suffering so much. Fate is merciless to him: he is condemned to pain when he has just come of age and still has not had time to enjoy life. Body weakens after each chemotherapy treatment; his blood gets worse and worse and much effort is needed to improve it in order to inject another doze. The strength of a jolly middle-aged man lying next to him keeps up spirits of all men in the ward. He could not care less of the chemotherapy course; he became even stronger, started to eat more and feel better; even his hair has not come off. Thus as he is the strongest he takes care of the friends in fate. I joke insensibly and feel as if I am in a company of funny friends among those men. Their optimism is enchanting. Only when I throw a glance at my young friend I return to reality: his tired silent gaze follows each our movement or word. I know he has no strength even to talk, but our presence here conveys him power not to give up. This is the first and the greatest trial in his short life. It seems the young man should dedicate this time to love and dreams. I am asking all possible Lords to help this man; I want to see his smile and shining eyes. He does not deserve to suffer so much. When I see the suffering of young people, I am thinking whose guilt they are redeeming.
A Lithuanian day: as usual, overcast, unable to dawn. We miss the sun very much: we shift all misfortunes in life to this lack. Due to the lack of light, it is difficult to know what time of day is it; the day becomes endless. I would like to escape for a cup of coffee, but I have promised the doctor to participate during another operation; they need my help to prepare filmed and photographed material. The operation is supposed to be extraordinary and, perhaps, very important for science. Well, what is important for science is not always interesting for a photographer; thus, hesitating, I put my camera aside. What happened in ten seconds affected me like ten cups of coffee drunk at once. Through the door of the operating theatre I saw a trolley flying straight into me with a patient twitching convulsively. I just managed to jump aside. This is the same patient whose operation I was waiting for, but the whole script has changed. The man has a decomposing tongue tumour, which had to be operated as planned. Everything was going that way until he was brought to the operating theatre. The patient was young, well built, but enormously pale. Well, hardly anyone in this place blossoms with red cheeks. However, there was no time for pondering; my eyes could not catch every sight; my ears, every sound. The decomposing tumour started bleeding and choked the patient. Here is an extra situation for you when the character of the operation changes completely. Luckily, the patient is already in a safer place. However, it would be disastrous to temporise even here. The man was coughing, suffocating, and everything could end tragically any moment. In such a case when there is no time to wait, only risk remains - one more professional test to the work of the team. Then one could hear a swearword that has slipped unawares or an emotional remark shouted out in a wrong place. This is only an unconscious attempt to decrease the tension in a stressful situation. I pay no attention to this. After all, most of us do not know how we would behave in extreme circumstances. I, for instance, as if stopped breathing when I realised that I could not help in any way or was afraid to harm. Gradually the patient under narcosis started to calm down; but the operation started when the tone of his muscles was still clear. I glanced at the man's date of birth in the case history and, as if I knew him for a long time, I was turning virtual pages of his life. In my mind, I was drawing the portrait of a young and beautiful wife, imagining how she with longing and hope was waiting for her only man, the father of her children, crying her pain out into the dark veil of night. I would really like to see the children with both parents.
Sometimes when you walk from one operating theatre to another, listen to the drowsing heart rhythm machine, you start thinking that you will do nothing of value today. You don't try to scold yourself because you know that all days can't be creative. In the first operating theatre they are going, it seems, to operate a young woman. I go there. The woman is really very young and beautiful. I stand in a corner observing how they are getting ready for the operation. The woman is shaking like a leaf: stress. Nurses are running around: injecting medicine, preparing gowns. It is difficult to see a suffering human being and to be unable to help her. Nevertheless, let us believe: there are plenty of sensitive hearts in the world. A lovely round nurse noticed how the patient was shaking of fear. She stroked her hair tenderly, took her hand, and encouraged her. I saw how a light smile slipped over the woman's face; the straightened line of her eyes was declaring peace inconspicuously. Have you ever felt that you are falling into a precipice and there is no escape; only somebody stops you suddenly; you bounce against something soft and light? If you have, you understand what meaning we can find in hundreds of trivial situations that, most importantly in our materialist world, cost nothing. And they are really priceless. If we stop someone's fall at least once a day, how many buds of joy will blossom around us? While I was observing that short contact of those two women turning into a huge cloud of white peace, filling with goodness the entire space, it seemed, my heart suddenly shone with numerous tiny suns. Yes, those are the situation it is worth living for. They inspire, push you forward, and do not let you break down. In such a moment, a certain part of your being lands up beyond time. Several simple words of goodness from the nurse's lips have charged me with some miraculous energy of her beauty. I love people for their simple ability to speak good words without waiting to be asked. I am counting how many operating women work here. I can't find more than two. As it happens, one needs here not only a good head, but also strong hands, huge physical power. Sometimes I see surgeons working up to the ninth sweat. Well, but not always strong hands are most important. There are such subtle operations where male fingers might destroy everything. However, men reign in surgery. Nevertheless, there is a balance in the operating theatre: nurses are popping in and out here, which makes men to square their shoulders. You feel that no robots work here, and that neither joy nor pain is foreign to them.
On weekends, I see terrible exhaustion. I am thinking whether I could bear so much myself. I leave and find them working. I would like to scream that this is unfair. We all have a right to rest and to many other things, even to mortality... How strangely my thought has jumped. However, now I am constantly thinking about everything that is related to death. Passing out sometimes is similar to me to lying on a couch in a relaxation room: incessant voices will be heard from all sides, for there are more of those who have left than the remaining ones. Eternity is like a never-ending hum. Is this not a good enough reason to cling fiercely to life and do everything in your power to leave it as late as possible? Up to a certain time, the exit is too distant to think about it. It is still indiscernible. This is the first, the happy half of life. Then one day we see the end and cannot get rid of thoughts about it anymore. It is alongside us. There is always an entrance and an exit in the labyrinth of life.
After the second period of life, when a person is unable to take his eyes from death, the third one comes, the shortest and the most mysterious period, which we know or talk about very little. Power drains; a disarming exhaustion overtakes one. The world starts loosing its original lucidity, darkens, becomes incomprehensible, rolls down to obscurity, and the human being betrayed by the world runs away into himself, his longing, dreams. He deafens from his own inner voice so much that he does not hear external voices trying to thrust themselves forward to him.
A Theme with Variations
Today I felt the breath of death again. At first, when I saw that woman, I did not understand what was going on. She was extremely paled, whiter than paper, and she was quivering. I have never seen a person shaking this way before. She was trying to smile with her face distorted from pain; she pronounced a few words. It was then that I felt that ghost above her head, somewhere under the ceiling. The air in the ward as if pulsated with high tension from its presence. I felt strange, stood nonplussed being able only to give my silent respect to the woman's suffering. She had cervical cancer, unfortunately, incurable. I am asking a doctor whether it is possible to help her. After a long silence, I hear a negative answer. He was honestly sorry for the lonely woman for whom was nobody waiting at home. I understood from his words that when I would be writing these words, the woman might not be here anymore. The other day I stuck my head quietly through the door into the ward to see her face again; I wanted to talk to her. Somebody was sitting in the ward. I was filled with joy that somebody close to her turned up. The woman's face was absolutely calm; when I looked more attentively, she reminded of a silent saint. The only medicine - morphine - allowed her to rest a little from her terrible pain. Now she was silently dying in her single bed, submerged in the evening twilight. This woman is still quite young, around forty. It is difficult to face the fact that she will not be here anymore. I understand that it is a part of human essence to be mortal. However, nobody is able to reconcile with it, to understand it and behave properly. A human being has not learned how to be mortal.
I wish that this woman's transition from life to non-life were smooth and harmonious because her face is now shining with an unspeakable peace. According to the notion of classical art, only a frozen face is beautiful. My imagination takes me further and I see what happens to that face after death. I am scared. I have to come back. It is the first time that I am so close to somebody else's death. I do not know whether this young woman has had time to understand the cycle of her time, whether she felt that only one theme was most important and everything else was just variation. You cannot avoid the theme of your life. Thus, a middle-aged wish to start everything anew is unmotivated. After all, this is only one more variation of your previous life because it is all moulded from the same clay, from the same joys and worries.
The woman who came to visit the lonely sick woman was sitting with her neck bent, her eyes closed, only holding the patient's hand in hers and not letting it loose feeling how she was slowly but unstoppably passing to the world without faces. She doesn't belong to us anymore. She may belong only as much as her delicate body needs our help.
Let's open our soul and not get used to death. Let's reconcile with the idea that we are mortal, but let's not become dumb to somebody other's pain. The spectrum of soul is endless. We will have as much as we bring to it bit by bit.
The purpose of my endeavour is not to satisfy curiosity, although I am not rejecting it either. I wish that this would reach everybody's soul. A life that concerns us unavoidably or will concern through ourselves, through close and dear people is accumulated here. It is always next to us. We try to close our eyes, to plug our ears and feel nothing. Today I see there myself - I was lucky; tomorrow I will see somebody else there - maybe he or she will be also lucky. However, we come across failure as well. Nobody of those who work here gets scared or panics. Having chosen the mission they have learned to be next to those who are coming and leaving. Without losing humanity they have learned to see the pain and tears of their neighbour; they have become doctors not only of the body, but also of soul. When our body ails, we bare it and give it to doctors charging them with all the responsibility. We want to get rid of such our body; we throw it stiff and heavy. Like old mattresses brought out to the street secretly at night. We have scuffed them, didn't treasure, we have worn them off. Without having read the warranty of our life, we have behaved with it like with an exchangeable thing. Medicine is in a hurry and it is able a lot, but it is falling behind in surpassing the human non-love to one's self.
In addition, at nights you hear souls complaining: their moaning makes you feel uncanny. They flounce about in darkness through the long corridors of the "nine-storey-factory" and start calming down only with the first ray of sunlight. And so on every night. Only a few manage to escape, to free themselves. However, there is no vacuum here: the doors are creaking from thrusting moans. An old woman crouching in a corner does not moan anymore; she gazes with frightful eyes of a begging child, crumpling silently the corner of a snow-white headscarf with her weather-beaten fingers. She came here from the peace of her village, and fear becomes greater for her than any physical pain. Fear does not let her either move or moan. The tiny wrinkled treasure of life in her face raises an immense pity and love in me. I would like to take her unusually large, benumbed from work hand and lead her wordlessly to a place where nothing would threaten her. I see my grandmother, still alive, in her and I cannot afford not to respect and not to love her silent suffering, which, speechless, I see in her eyes.
Yesterday, a blizzard was raging: it felt the end of winter. The earth was mixing with the sky, like the life of recent days. At six o'clock in the afternoon the last operation finally started. Outside I was greeted with the darkness of night and a cat mewing next to my car. I searched in my pocket and found a piece of wheat cake, but this is, perhaps, not food for cats. The cake was left to lie on the ground and the cat continued tearing the silence of night.
I am working only until lunch today. I can't focus: I overworked yesterday. Sometimes I feel as if I was somebody's guardian; I keep observing continuously the environment, hearing every movement even as I drink tea. A half of me is listening to my companion, the other half is keeping a vigil, watching. Thus, intensive attention all day refuses any work in the evening.
Friday, February 13
We joke and are happy that it is not full moon tonight. Next week I am going to work to children's hospital. I am happy that I leave the ninth floor only temporarily; otherwise, I would be sad. I feel that a huge trial is waiting for me. I will have to hold my feelings. Some doctors treating adults admit openly that they would not be able to work with the little oncological patients. It would be too hard for them. Perhaps, the flush of pity will break me the first day. I will think about this later. Now we are waiting for the last operation this week to a twenty-two-year-old youth. A very young man, and he is having the second oncological operation; the prognosis is not promising anything positive. Several years ago, he had operation on his kidneys, now - secondary tumour in his lungs. I wish strongly that there were less of these unfortunate ones, especially young. Perhaps, we are punished this way for forgetting the heavenly affairs for the sake of the worldly ones. We perceive the disease when it comes out on the physical level, when we feel clear ailment. I think, the disease comes much earlier, and it could be often stopped on the subtle level. However, the speed of our life with growing aggression, anger and wrongs do not let us thrust towards love and repentance. We are so busy with our careers, building up our material wealth, with its adoration, that we do not see the first rays of the sun vibrating in the air with unique smells awakening the empty streets of the city. We do not hear the trickle of a source, birds singing - the most beautiful music of the world. We forget to look back at the original creator and his creations pleading the lack of time and tiredness, closing the door to love and opening to diseases. We are twining ropes from hatred, envy and aggression all our life, which we will use later to strangulate our necks. Diseases educate humans.
Let's leave the subtle things for short and return to the wards. My credo is this: let's love people and the wards will be empty. I will not operate; I will cure with love, and the doctors, I believe, will not be angry with me for that.
I push my shrunken, unawakened body into the sharp frost of the dawning day, and I see it as if from aside shrinking more and more, until it disappears from my eyes. I wade into the snow covering the city like an eternal traveller towards the spring. There are no signs of thaw in sight, although it is the middle of February and sparrows are bathing noisily in the snow. February often surprises us with deceit bringing an unusually cold and varying weather. However, the more and more happy ticking of my biological clock overshadows the torpor of my freezing fingers; I feel - the spring is not far away.
It was spring in the morning; summer in midday; autumn in the afternoon; winter came at night. This is how I count the year I have spent here. Although in a very unusual environment, the year has passed like a day. Every day enriches me by bringing something new and unique. I touch different destinies, disasters and joys every time; inexperienced feelings reveal themselves. I get richer through suffering and love, rejecting intrigues and anger, envy and wrongs; I purify my feeling up to becoming painful and transfer it to photography. Such is my work, one of the reasons of being here, without waiting for a universal approval.
Last night had a dream of Viltė, a little girl with a beautiful name. She is not romping with children; abandoned toys are lying silently in the corner. The little body is enlaced with wires and cords through which her present life is floating, too heavy on her fragile shoulders threatening to take away the coming day. The ward is submerged in twilight soaking in her weak moans. I glance inside with the corner of my eyes: her father bending over the bed is shrouding with love and patience little Vilte, forgetting everything that has been left behind the door. This is not a simple fever that passes and one's troubles finish; this is life and every day is a heroic deed.
However, there is so much life and jolly clatter in this hospital. I come and breath in the childish joy, the air is saturated with it here. The little medical encyclopaedias, who have barely learned to speak, tell about the desired friend thrombocyte for which they are waiting so much and, as if by the way, recite the names of medicines they are given. There are no computers or trips to Lego land in their dreams. One would like so much to skate on ice, another to walk along the corridor in the hospital. All children in the subdivision of bone marrow transplantation have the latter dream. They spend three or four months in the ward, without going anywhere. This is required before the transplantation of bone marrow and after it, because at that time the patient has no immunity at all.
Eimantas's mother works; he lies alone. Before entering his ward, I change into sterile clothes; before opening the door, I disinfect my hands; and then I wash them with soap and disinfect again before opening the second door. It is warm and spacious in the ward; I can visit Eimantas without a mask. Bone marrow has been transplanted to him several months ago; he came back with sinusitis. We are sitting and chatting about all sorts of childish things, watching TV and forgetting everything in the world. He is a very kind and warm boy whom I miss so much. Eimantas is eleven; he is of a similar age with my daughter.
Today I have decided to leave the subdivision of bone marrow transplantation for a short time, and look around the oncohaematology department. In a few minutes, I find a wonderful companion - the five-year-old Simona who is philosophically expounding her thoughts on her family and life. The girl has endured all treatment, the bone marrow transplantations, and came back because a relapse occurred. Now a long treatment is waiting for her again. Drugs are constantly dripping into her veins. She is very weak - she weighs only ten kilograms, but I see a clever and talented child. I wake up at night and pray for those children. To me they are angels. I would collect them in a bunch, embrace them firmly and share my strength.
Six-year-old Vaiva died yesterday, a little girl I heard a lot about, but never saw. In the wardrobe of the bone marrow transplantation subdivision, I find tiny black shoes. They are Vaiva's; she will never wear them. During the two weeks of my presence in the oncohaematology ward, this is already the second pair of sad shoes. At nights, I hear their white tiptoeing...
I AM FED UP. Eight-year-old Monika is saying the words in syllables and kicking the wall. What is she fed up with? The hospital. Monika wants herself and other sick children to leave the hospital empty. The girl cannot walk and she is only starting to speak in separate syllables. This is due to complications of operation and treatment: the motor functions and vocal chords have been impaired. Monika is smart, she is recovering fast and she is going home today. After three months, Monika will come back for a check-up; we will see each other again. I said "good bye" to her knowing that I would miss her. I know that no matter how many children I meet here, they will all find enough space in my heart.
The oncohaematology department consists of A and B wings. One was undergoing renovation. Children who lived squeezed in one wing are being separated. Adults realise only now that the lack of comforts is not so important to children as the separation from one's ward-mate. White-hot feelings overshadow physical pain. Emotional rebellion is rising.
Brown-eyed Rytis is, according to the doctor, a serious patient. His huge, shining eyes do not betray the dangerous disease. To me, he is a jaunty, lovely child interested in everything around. He catches the sweetie that has been thrown to him, and it immediately disappears in his mouth. He demonstrates, chatting, the technical possibilities of his bed, until his mother stops him gently. I escape to have breakfast. After an hour music roars in Rytis's room. I open the door; children do not pay attention to me and continue dancing. A drip attached to Rytis is dancing together. I join in. Have you ever seen an unpretended, real joy of being? It is here. You will not see it more genuine anywhere else. If you are tired from the performance of your life, come to these children. You will feel the purest colours of life. They won't give you just sadness. Every morning I get a present: so many smiles and gentle touches. I bring them home and share with everybody I meet.
The day of the little beloved angels. It is the saddest for Karina, although she does not know yet that the sentence over her short life has been announced and the countdown of the remaining days to live started. Only her mother has listened to the sentence. Karina is enjoying the presents she received during her recent birthday and she is surprised, when we enter the ward, why her mother's eyes are tearful. Her mother finds it difficult to hide the heart piercing pain from her four-year-old daughter who does not understand death. After all possible chemotherapy treatments the tumour has not disappeared, it is growing fast further. The sentence: there is no further treatment. The doctor's advice: sensible mothers go home with the condemned child, getting morphine for injections as a present. Does this mean that, after hearing those merciless words, one has to stop fighting and, gazing at the child slowly dissolving in agony, wait for her death? I would never be a sensible mother. I feel the enormous pain in this woman's heart bursting out with wail, and I don't know how to help her. Karina's piercing eyes observe me: I feel uncomfortable, as if I was guilty for the fate of this girl, for everybody's inability to save her.
I am just afraid to stop photographing those children, to see them every day - as if, if I ceased doing this, they would leave irreversibly.
At home, I am hopelessly looking for something to cheer up the girl. I find some wonderful books that my adolescent daughter has read long ago. I am depressed, and I can't think of how to help this beautifully unfolding little blossom that will not bloom.
I see every day so much strength, patience and love accumulated in one place. You will not find so much of it anywhere else. Those mothers do not sleep, do not rest, and do not complain - they love. At nights, they count the last drops of quietly dripping drops guarding the peace of their babies. Temporarily, they have no home, any ambitions or whims, but they still have children. When there are no beds left in crowded departments they agree to lie on the floor, to stand at their child's bed with warm pottage and hope that he will at least touch it with his lips ulcerate from chemotherapy. They are ready to endure all inconveniences of hospitals. In any part of the world, mothers are the same.
As a child I thought that flowers wither when they deflorate. Now I understand that they may die even before blossoming. In my mind I am wandering through the meadow of such flowers that have not blossomed hoping to see opening flowers. However, darting through the fields I leave a path. I try to raise the broken buds to blossom and I burst with cry; the path is so wide, and there are so few hands to raise those flowers. I am collecting scarce drops of rain to revive the little blossoms; I carry a ray of sun squeezed in my hand observing, hopefully, the sigh of their life and movement. My heart quivers: I hope and I live.
Today I lost my strength. I lean against a shoot of rye, and I know it will not betray me. I stuff my pockets with the wind of spring and dreams of the road - and I rush. After all, I cannot come to the little angels weak and empty. We exchange presents every day; today in exchange of the wind, I get a dream and a pile of secrets. A little girl asks for one more dream that does not fit into my pocket and asks whether I have the smell of morning. I feel ashamed that I do not have it and promise to bring it tomorrow. In evenings, I arrange dear presents from those who are and from those who will be no more.
My maddened soul cannot spit out my purulent pain. I crawl on my bleeding knees scattering lamentations I have experienced. On the 25th of June, a death sentence was declared to her. That day she, not aware of it, takes the kitten I give to her and, cuddling it goes to wait for death. These are the last joys of her short life that lasted hardly five years. I don't have enough fingers to count their deaths in such a short time; I don't have enough power to endure them. Sometimes I wish to die in order not to know how many of them die, because I am in pain even from knowing it.
The last summer of your small life has flown with multicoloured butterflies. The fresh morning wind is caressing your hairless head. You are so beautiful to me, little child, when the rays of sun adorn your eyes instead of eyelashes that have fallen out. Your cheeks of porcelain lucidity tell about the summer embroidered with the drops of dew, which will never repeat. Bare feet will no longer count the tiny stones on the country road of your grandmother's village, from which you used to arrange the most fascinating drawings of your short childhood. Warm rain turned your childish puzzles into small clouds waiting for you. All flowers of meadows swinging in the morning mist are blossoming only for you this summer. They will decorate the blue cloud of your stone puzzle and will stay together with you. I have brought to you the last handful of dewy strawberries fragrant with the morning of humming June. Your lips are not able to grope them. I leave them on your pillow, having no idea what to do. I find your tiny face with closed eyes sunken in the see of strawberries, covered with the morning veil. I want to talk to you: you run away on a pink path towards a cloud. I see your shining face; I call you to come back. The path covered with petals is inviting me to come along...