Can’t they clear this out?  I often thought to myself as I walked into work. The pile of stuff in the hallway — two upside-down tables, several upside-down chairs, old computer monitors, some power cords, and an assortment of unidentifiable metal objects – made the hospital feel like a junkyard, like I should be coming to work in coveralls, covered in dirt, ready to dive into the detritus and recover some treasure; maybe a logic board, or a set of wheels, or paper rack. But I wasn’t a dumpster diver, I was a doctor, and just twenty feet from this pile of stuff was the door to my office, which I shared with two other doctors, and was actually not an office at all but an old patient room, with linoleum floors, oxygen spigots sticking out from the walls, and a tiny bathroom whose door was made of plastic, sliding open and shut like an accordion.

It was October 2020, and Covid had been ravaging the community for nearly eight months. We had been blindsided by the pandemic, which flooded us with patients, usually bus drivers or restaurant workers or house cleaners or others with low-wage and public-facing jobs, many with large families living under one roof, who arrived pale, even blue, gasping for breath, their oxygen levels dipping so low that we were surprised they were still alive. The first few months were a maelstrom of confusion; mixed messages from the hospital about whether to wear a surgical mask or an N95, whether to mask in the hallways or just patient rooms, whether to put patients on BiPAP when they desatted or intubate them immediately and send them to the ICU, whether we had enough PPE to last through the week or would need to start reusing our materials. After months of miscommunication, and sometimes even what felt like deception, I started keeping a stash of N95s under my desk in a paper bag, and labeling each one with the date against the leadership’s recommendation. As time wore on, my colleagues Kathy and Nazareth started to look more gaunt. Kathy had a baby at home, a son, and was resigned to the fact that she’d probably catch the disease (she was right). Nazareth had only started six weeks prior to the outbreak, and found herself learning to navigate a new hospital and electronic health record while also facing down her own mortality. It didn’t take long for the Covid patients to fill our emergency room, our hospital ward, and our intensive care unit. Even the cath labs had been converted into ICU rooms, which meant if you had a heart attack, you were out of luck — there was no place to do urgent coronary stents, so we were using thrombolytics instead.

By winter, we knew more about the disease. Fear morphed into exhaustion as we settled into a steady, mindless rhythm, treating our Covid patients with an algorithmic, detached, “watch and hope” mindset, while also tending to the new influx of non-Covid patients — heart failure, cirrhosis, cancer — who had put off visiting the hospital for months and were now arriving in droves, yellow and puffy and sick as hell. Kathy had pretty much given up on looking cute at work. Normally she wore silk blouses and dangling chandelier earrings, looking more like an interior designer than a doctor, but now she wore scrubs every day, her face and ears empty and colorless, her shoes growing more and more pliable and frayed as she wore into them day after day. “They’re my Covid shoes,” she said. “I don’t let them in the house.” Nazareth, on the other hand, kept wearing her usual cotton turtlenecks, but had grown quiet and started smiling less. She didn’t talk much, either; instead she came back from the wards, popped in her earbuds, and grinded out her notes in a persistent, focused way, often disappearing without saying goodbye, though she was never unfriendly. She was just more of a ghost.

In the beginning, well-wishers sent pizza and wool knit caps and glitter-encrusted signs that read “Heroes Work Here” and “You are Awesome” and “Keep Going.” Our division manager hung these signs around the snack room, just down the hall from the pile of stuff, where they stayed for months, becoming increasingly garish as the pandemic raged on and the public’s enthusiasm evolved into numbness, even hostility. Sometimes, I had nightmares: someone begged me to hook up a dying patient to a strange, unfamiliar piece of medical equipment; a swarm of enormous buzzing insects chased me, keeping their millions of eyes trained on my back as I ran from room to room, shutting doors behind me, doors whose cracks the bugs inevitably found and poured through, forcing me onward. Nobody was sleeping well, it seemed. Even the Chief of Infectious Diseases, who never cared for Covid patients directly, but was on a speaking tour at various institutions’ Virtual Grand Rounds, was starting to look ragged on the computer screen. His graphs grew more and more complex, lines undulating over time. People wanted answers. Could they get on a plane? Dine indoors with family?

Kathy, Nazareth, and I were sitting in the office when the email arrived. “Call for Proposals: Faculty Morale Funds,” read the subject line. Inside was an announcement that an anonymous donor, “inspired by our tenacity,” had given $500,000 to the hospital, which would be disbursed as one hundred $5,000 grants over the next few months for the purpose of boosting morale. Faculty from any division could apply by sending in a statement of intent and a budget. I initially closed the email — I was in the middle of interpreting the pleural fluid studies for a patient, and didn’t want to lose my train of thought — but Kathy had opened the email too, and turned to me and Nazareth.

“What could we do with $5,000?” she said.

“Hire someone to clean out the pile of stuff,” Nazareth said.

“Hire a pharmacist for a day,” I said. We’d been asking the division leadership for a dedicated pharmacist for years, but apparently the way the hospital funds were allocated, it wasn’t possible.

“What about that woman you love?” Kathy said. “From the retreat.”

“Beatrix?” I said. “I do love her.”

Beatrix was a seventy five-year-old MacArthur Genius-type woman who lived on a farm around forty miles outside of town. I’d met her a few years prior at a wellness retreat for women physicians, which I’d won a ticket to in a raffle at the division’s Christmas party. Attendees at the retreat were young and old, specialties ranging from psychiatry to surgery to OBGYN, even a few women who had dropped out of medicine entirely to take up herbology or writing or advocacy. We met at a low-slung conference center near a creek in a nature preserve, on a campus full of walking trails, and ate in a communal dining room whose chefs grew vegetables in the gardens out back. The programming included everything from journaling to meditation to ceramics, but Beatrix’s sessions were the most unconventional and thus the most memorable. She was a writer and improvisor and drummer and dancer, and urged us to express ourselves through our bodies, which made us uncomfortable. “Lift your right arm,” she said before a room of doctors, all barefoot on a wooden floor surrounded by mirrors. Our right arms went up so sharply and obediently that Beatrix almost did a double-take, sensing our ingrained desire to perform and excel. “Wow,” she said. “You’re all very good. Don’t worry. In fact, I want you to be less good.”

Before long, we had split into groups and were doing improvised movements with our bodies, which we’d pass back and forth like an illness. Occasionally she had us make sounds, especially at the end, when we found ourselves curled up on the floor in the fetal position, exhaling repeatedly with a high-pitched “wheeeee,” as if our voices were going down a slide. Afterward, over a meal of daal and roasted chicken, we rolled our eyes at the exercises but admitted it felt good to be silly for once, to drop the dispassionate mask of authority and be playful.

The night after the email came, I lay in bed thinking about Beatrix. I wondered where she was and what she was doing. She was older, which meant she was at risk for severe illness from Covid. Suddenly I was overcome with the irrational fear that she was dead. So I climbed out of bed, careful not to wake my boyfriend Jeremy, a freelance journalist who had never set foot in a hospital room in his life. The last few months had been difficult between us, since his two male roommates, one of whom had an autoimmune condition, didn’t want to live with me anymore because I was “a vector for disease.” They’d asked him, first obliquely, and then not so obliquely, if I could please move out, and Jeremy had become a diplomat of sorts, trying to keep a roof over my head while tending to his roommates’ fear. I already didn’t like his roommates, who left dirty egg pans on the stove for days until they grew crusty, and spent most of their time sitting around the living room smoking pot. Not wanting to stay in that house much longer myself, I’d asked Jeremy if we could get our own place, but he had barely any money, and while I had an attending physician’s salary, I was putting away a decent amount each month to pay off my student loans, send cash to my mother, and attempt to accumulate some savings. Plus, moving was a pain, and Jeremy and I were already dealing with enough, with the strain of my job and his constant hustling to get paid to write.

Sitting in the living room in the darkness, my face illuminated by the blue light of my laptop, I emailed Beatrix, asking if she’d be interested in applying for this grant together. She responded in less than a day. I’d love to help, she wrote. I’ve just been sitting around making collages out of old magazines. I imagined she was lonely, especially in quarantine. Several months after the wellness workshop, another one of the doctors and I had driven out to her farm and had dinner with her in her cozy two-bedroom cottage. She and her partner had split after a tumultuous relationship, she explained before showing us her latest project: a sculpture of a tree, made of recycled paper and plastic. She was happy to be free, she said; to be able to do what she wanted without the burden of another person’s judgment. But the loneliness came through, in the smallness of her pots, and the exaggerated warmth of her demeanor.

Eventually I got Beatrix on the phone to discuss the grant. We’d propose a three-part workshop for the entire Division of Hospital Medicine, which would incorporate meditation, movement, and storytelling, and take place in the park just across the street from the hospital. The goal would be to loosen up; rest our brains; bond with each other; spend a little time outside. A few weeks after I submitted the proposal, it was accepted. I felt a rush. I’d been applying for things for my entire medical career — leadership roles, medical education grants — and rarely ever got them. Only once was I successful: I got a grant to teach third-year med students about addiction medicine through a series of case studies. The students gave the curriculum rave reviews, but the grant expired after one year, leaving me back where I began. Grant recipients are responsible for creating a sustainability plan, the grant description had said, but I didn’t know how to create a sustainable business model for my curriculum; I was a doctor, not an entrepreneur. After a few failed attempts to get ongoing funding, the project dissolved.

“Beatrix is coming to the hospital,” I told Kathy and Nazareth one morning.

“Fantastic,” Kathy said, her breasts moving mechanically back and forth in a pair of plastic phalanges. Milk accumulated in two canisters over her chest.

“Wonderful,” Nazareth said, and then tossed each of us a yellow bag of M&Ms, which she’d picked up from the vending machine downstairs. “I got us breakfast.”

And then we went to work. 

***

It took longer than it should have — writing the email to the seventy-five members of the Division of Hospital Medicine, announcing the three-part workshop, which would be called, “Finding Calm in the Midst of Chaos.” When I finally hit send, the email arrived with a “ping” on both Kathy and Nazareth’s computers, and Kathy turned around, concerned.

“Are you allowed to do the workshop in-person?” she said. “I thought the hospital had officially halted all in-person meetings.”

Crap, I thought. I should have checked in advance. So I hurriedly emailed the administrator for the grant, a woman I had never met named Rita Thomas. She responded immediately. Unfortunately, due to hospital policy, we are not able to support in-person activities during this time, even if they take place outdoors, she wrote. We recommend you conduct your workshop virtually. 

A wave of regret coursed through me. Now I had to retract my email and explain the situation to Beatrix, but I had no time — I had to meet with the social worker to run my list, and then round on my patients, eight of whom had Covid, and one of whom had been put on high flow oxygen overnight, and needed to be assessed. It wasn’t until two days later that I sat on the couch in my living room, freshly showered, Jeremy pawing at my shoulder — one sec, I told him, I have to do this — that I was able to reach Beatrix, let her know the sessions would have to be virtual, and then draft a correction email to the division to let them know the same. Strangely, I got no responses to my email, nor had I gotten any responses to the initial email, and so, I wasn’t entirely surprised when, on the day of the first virtual session, I logged into Zoom to see Beatrix’s face in a little box, and no one else’s.

“It might take some time for people to trickle in,” I said.

“Of course,” Beatrix said. An antique hutch loomed behind her in the frame, full of ceramics and vases.

But nobody trickled in. After ten minutes, my face began to flush with embarrassment. I texted Kathy and Nazareth. Please come, I said. Wish I could, Kathy replied, but Henry has a fever and we’re on our way to the ER. Moments later, Nazareth popped into the Zoom room — she had totally forgotten about the session — and the three of us made small talk about the hospital census and the weather, still waiting.

Eighteen minutes in, it was clear nobody else would come.

“People are busy,” Nazareth said. “And they have Zoom fatigue.”

“Zoom was our only option,” I said. “Hospital policy.”

“Why don’t we put this on hold for a few months?” Beatrix said. “Maybe the hospital will change their policy, and we can come up with a different plan.”

The meeting closed with a futuristic sound effect. I felt like a failure, and to make matters worse, I was now staring at my overflowing inbox. I’d been neglecting my email terribly in recent weeks; I was overdue in submitting intern evaluations from my stint on teaching service back in February, kept ignoring reminders to re-up my biennial sexual harassment training, and needed to fill out a slew of death certificates. I was also waiting for an email from our division manager about the $800 I had recently spent to renew my medical license. The division was supposed to reimburse me for the renewal, but the paperwork hadn’t gone through, and now I couldn’t find my original email anywhere.

“Just put the laptop away,” Jeremy said. I closed it and let him kiss my neck. His mouth felt nice on my skin, but no part of me was interested in sex. What I really wanted was a bowl of chicken soup.

“Will you make me a bowl of chicken soup?” I said, as he started cupping my breast.

“I have to get to bed soon,” he said, checking his phone. “But there’s leftover pizza in the fridge. Why don’t you have that?” 

***

When the vaccine came out, the hospital started offering appointments to employees in stages, starting with emergency, hospital medicine, and ICU staff, and later opening up to other departments, like cardiology and psychiatry and primary care. Kathy got her email first. The subject line read “Invitation to Receive the Covid-19 Vaccine,” as if she had been summoned to a secret party. She came to work the next day with a Band-Aid on her upper left bicep, which she flashed from under her scrub top. Nazareth and I wheeled our chairs over and peppered her with questions. Did it hurt? (No.) Any side effects? (Fatigue and chills.) Where did she get it? (At the campus auditorium.) I was nervous about getting jabbed — after all, the vaccine was so new — but also jealous of Kathy’s immunity. I started to check my email on my phone compulsively: between patient encounters, between writing notes, even while sitting on the toilet. Nazareth was invited next, but got quiet when I asked her about it.

“I think I’m going to hold off,” she said.

“Why?” I said.

She looked around, to make sure we were alone.

“I’m pregnant,” she said. “Twelve weeks. I’d rather wait until I’m farther along. Just in case.”

I imagined Nazareth and her husband pushing a stroller through the city; their minimalist apartment across town filled with toys; the smell of a baby’s head under Nazareth’s face, as she read aloud from a book. It had been so long since I’d heard good news of any kind, and something about this revelation caused me to lean forward in my chair and cry. 

“Sorry,” I said, trying but failing to explain my outsized emotions. “Sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Nazareth said, sliding a packet of fruit gummies across the desk. “I know.”

***

By the spring, most of the hospital was vaccinated, and Jeremy and I had finally moved out of his house. One of his roommates had thrown a fit because I left my hospital clogs in the living room, where they had “contaminated” the area — a hurtful accusation that made me want to scream, which I actually did a few times, but only in the shower. I didn’t care if anyone heard me through the water, whether it be Jeremy or his roommates or the neighbors or the entire block, because deep down I knew they all probably wanted to scream too. Maybe my scream would bring them solace. Maybe we could share my scream, the way we shared each other’s air.

Our new apartment was small, but had everything we needed — a bedroom, den, kitchen, and most importantly, an in-unit washer dryer, which I hadn’t had since living in my parents’ house. Not having to run to a laundromat or carry my hamper down a flight of stairs into a dank basement, bumping up against cobwebs and raw wooden beams, felt like a delicious luxury, and I took comfort in the rumbling mechanical sound of the machines. On the other hand, the place was expensive, and Jeremy couldn’t afford to pay his half, which meant I was shouldering the majority of the monthly payments, and no longer saving. Suddenly money seemed more scarce than ever. My loan payments were still automated, and occasionally I used an online calculator to check how many years it would take for me to pay them off. The results were always the same — I’d be fifty-three years old. I wondered what life would be like at fifty-three. I wondered if I’d be lucky enough to live that long at all.

I was boiling some peeled tomatoes when I got an email from Beatrix, wanting to check in on the status of the grant. Despite her gentle tone — she signed the note, “breathe deeply and with ease” — I couldn’t help but feel a pang of annoyance. I’d applied for this grant months ago, and now it had become the task that never died. Part of me wanted to just withdraw my application; forget the whole thing, and resume my state of non-leadership, of non-ambition, of anonymity and simplicity, where I could just take care of patients and go home, wanting nothing more and nothing less. But then I remembered Beatrix — her cottage, her genius, and what I imagined was a vastly reduced income stream, since most of her livelihood came from live performances. So I responded, letting her know I would check in with the hospital about whether we could finally do our session in person.

Yes, in-person activities are now permitted, Rita responded in a terse line. She never signed her emails. And so after a few more difficult shifts — including one where a mother was intubated for severe Covid, leaving her disabled teenage daughter without a caretaker — I jumped on the phone with Beatrix to revise our plan. This time, we settled on a single session. I emailed the division, announcing the new date and format. We’d meet in the early evening, in the conference room behind the pile of stuff, and walk over to the park together.

Again, nobody responded. I tried to drum up interest among my colleagues, mostly because I wanted to avoid the embarrassment of another no-show event. Lucas said he would try to attend; it depended on his child care situation, as his wife was working from home and they’d lost their nanny. Victoria hoped to attend, but had a committee meeting scheduled just before, so it depended on whether the meeting ran over. Arjun loved the idea, but was heading out of town to visit his family. “My dad died of Covid,” he told me, stunned. He was still wearing his blue latex gloves from rounds; when I pointed this out he sheepishly peeled them off, and then disappeared into his office and shut the door. Now I really felt like a pest. I continued to advertise the workshop with as much enthusiasm as I could muster, wondering why it hadn’t occurred to me initially that the event’s marketing and publicity would become a job all its own.

On the day of the session, Beatrix arrived at the hospital and immediately got lost. She had gone to the sixth floor, as I instructed her to, but she was in the wrong building, and had landed somewhere in the dialysis suite, weaving her way through the bodies of people hooked up to machines, their blood coursing visibly through tubes and circuits. No, we’re in the old building, I texted her, and eventually she found her way to the right place — the abandoned hospital ward-turned administrative area, with its empty nurses’ station, row of shared offices, and toward the back, the pile of stuff, which was still gathering dust, just as it had been since before the pandemic. Beatrix looked around, taking in the ugliness of the place, and suddenly I felt self-conscious, like a person seeing their home through the eyes of a visitor for the first time. Kathy and I showed Beatrix to the conference room.

“Where’s Nazareth?” I said.

“Wrapping up a call with neurology,” Kathy said.

“Can you grab her?” I said.

And then Nazareth arrived, waddling a bit, her baby bump having blossomed over the last few weeks. She looked tired but beautiful.

“Well, that looks bad,” she said immediately, gesturing toward the whiteboard. On it someone had scrawled a series of arterial blood gas results, each looking progressively worse. I jumped up and wiped the numbers away with an eraser, but ghostly traces remained, which we did our best to ignore. We waited for five minutes, then ten, but still nobody else came. I did a lap around the area, peeking my head into the other offices, but they were mostly empty. People were either on the wards, or in meetings, or at home. Eventually I returned to the conference room and sighed.

“I think it’s just going to be the four of us,” I said.

“That’s okay,” Beatrix said, ever so polite. We decided to stay in the conference room instead of walking to the park, in part because it was a cloudy day, but also because Nazareth was feeling tired, and needed to return to her office immediately after the session to call a patient’s relative. And so we pulled our chairs in a tighter circle, the hard white light of the sky pouring into the room through the back window.

To start, Beatrix coached us through a meditation, her voice placid, her sentences curling down authoritatively. Then, we went in a circle and did a “check in.” I spoke about the stress of the move, and lymph nodes in my armpits which seemed to be enlarging for no apparent reason. Kathy talked about how the pandemic had forced her to take on the multiple roles of doctor and mother and home-school teacher. Nazareth gave the shortest update, describing how the nausea of her pregnancy had made coming to work especially difficult.

Next, we did the usual Beatrix stuff: glided around the room in a circle, threw hacky sacks to each other in an elaborate pattern, and moved our bodies spontaneously, acts that felt even more absurd than usual, considering how close we were to our offices and our white coats, which hung, solemn, from pegs in the wall. Lastly, Beatrix made a beat on her thigh with her hand, and one-by-one, we went around the circle and added our own sound effects, repeating them at regular intervals, until our voices fused in a jangled rhythm that somehow made sense. Using her hand as an instrument of command, she silenced us one-by-one, until she was the only one left, making her sound again and again, and then the noise stopped, and we sat in silence, wondering exactly what had just happened, and why we knew it had helped us, even if just for a moment.

Afterward, I walked Beatrix to the parking lot to make sure she wouldn’t get lost again. When we got to her car, she looked at me with piercing seriousness and told me not to hesitate to reach out if I wanted to try another workshop, or even just to talk or have dinner. I hugged her tightly, her cotton scarf brushing pleasantly against my face, and I noticed a fragrance on her too, low and mature, like a vase of dark glass. By the time I got back upstairs, Kathy and Nazareth were back at their computers, shoulders hunched. Kathy was typing up a discharge summary, and Nazareth was speaking on the phone to her patient’s mother through a Spanish interpreter, and repeating over and over that yes, her son had been hospitalized for Covid. I had a pile of notes and emails to finish myself, but couldn’t bear the thought of going back to work, so I waved goodbye to the others and shut the door behind me, noticing for the first time in several weeks the “You Did It!” sign taped to the door, and of course, the pile of stuff, which today provoked in me a boiling, irrational anger. I couldn’t believe that it had been years and nobody had cleared out the debris. I couldn’t believe we were expected to do the work we did in this depressing, godforsaken space. Even our snack supply had abruptly disappeared; the other night, I’d opened the rusty metal file cabinet, which usually stored popcorn packets and granola bars, to find it empty except for a paper sign taped to the bottom, announcing that the division had run out of money, and snacks were no longer available. I knew about the funds drying up — the division manager had finally emailed me back about my medical license, and told me I’d have to pay the renewal fee myself — but I hadn’t expected the granola bars to go away. Back at home, Jeremy and I ate Greek food out of takeout containers, and reveled in the privacy of our new existence. At least that was a win. I leaned my head on his shoulder, and he pulled me close; fed me a crushed olive off his thumb.

A few days after the session with Beatrix I got an email from Rita asking for a report describing what I had done so that she could disburse the funds. I dreaded doing this the way you dread small tasks, like replacing a light bulb, or running to the drugstore to buy a bottle of shampoo, but finally, one night after scrolling through the news of our country’s waning vaccination rates, I poured myself a glass of wine and wrote the report, confessing that my initial plan, of hosting three sessions with the entire division, had not materialized, and that instead we’d done a single session with a “handful” of faculty (I didn’t have the heart to give numbers). Relieved to finally be done with the whole thing, I closed my laptop and went on with my life — but then got a message from Rita a few days later:

As your session deviated significantly from what was described in the proposal in both scale and impact, I will have to talk to the grant manager about whether it is appropriate to disburse these funds. I will reach out to them and get back to you with more information as soon as possible.

I turned to Kathy and Nazareth in a panic. Were they going to withhold the funds? How would I pay Beatrix?

“That’s messed up,” Nazareth said.

“It’s not your fault people didn’t show up,” Kathy said. “You had no control over that.”

That morning I disappeared myself in the work, moving swiftly from patient to patient, my pager beeping nonstop. And then I got an email from Beatrix, asking about the money. I hate to be a bother, she wrote, and I remembered the tree she’d made of recycled materials — the newspaper leaves, the plastic branches, and the six-foot-tall corrugated cardboard trunk, all assembled so painstakingly, for the sake of nothing but itself. I emailed Rita again, but she didn’t respond.

“Maybe you should just pay her,” Jeremy said one night in bed, after I told him I couldn’t sleep. The truth was, I felt guilty for not being able to compensate Beatrix. I felt guilty for not being able to muster any interest in the workshop from the division. I felt guilty for not being able to save the guy who worked at my favorite Mexican restaurant, who had come into the hospital with undiagnosed diabetes and a florid case of Covid, his chest x-ray growing whiter and whiter and the expression in his eyes growing more and more desperate. Jeremy and I had just finished watching yet another episode of Seinfeld; I’d pretty much stopped watching contemporary prestige dramas, preferring instead to binge sitcoms from the 90s with familiar celebrities, their faces young and bright, the reality of Covid still decades in the future, glistening like a scythe. I couldn’t explain why, but paying Beatrix felt very important — a thing that needed to happen immediately, or I’d never sleep again. So the following morning, I dug out my check book, wrote a $5,000 check, and mailed it to her in a thin, floppy envelope, accompanied by a heartfelt thank you note.

“You could have waited,” Nazareth said.  

“That wasn’t your responsibility,” Kathy said.

Only I didn’t know whose responsibility it was to do anything anymore. People everywhere seemed to be abdicating their responsibilities, and the least I could do was break the chain, or at the very least, get one person’s debts off my conscience. I explained this to Kathy and Nazareth and they seemed to understand, at least partially. Nazareth popped in her earbuds and went back to work, her hair looking noticeably fuller and thicker as her baby grew. Kathy tapped her foot anxiously against the leg of her desk, her shoes looking as if they really might fall apart any second. A mini-fridge hummed beside her desk, where in addition to her breastmilk she’d begun to stockpile her own snacks, since the division had stopped providing them, as well as a blue rectangular ice pack, which she occasionally applied to her lower back. Lately her sacrum had been aching, and sending jolts of electricity down her right leg, causing her to make little surprised noises, which Nazareth and I sometimes ignored out of respect, and other times responded to with a casual, “You okay?”

“I’m fine,” she always said. And then she repositioned herself.