Soft music from an era almost forgotten played in the background. It floated about the room, gently brushing against and sliding into each object it touched. JD stood in the doorway a moment and listened. The elderly woman in bed hummed along with the happy tune, her fingers keeping time against the blanket.
The song ended, and JD pushed away from the doorframe. "There's my favorite patient," he stated with a grin as he walked into Mrs. Colley's room. The next track began.
The small woman smiled at the young doctor. She reached out a trembling hand for his. Moving to her bedside, he took her hand and gently grasped her cold fingers between his own. "And here's my favorite doctor," she replied, her voice quiet and clear.
"Well," JD said, nodding his head to her, "coming from a woman who's never been sick a day in her life, that means a lot to me." She chuckled with him at his joke. JD lightly squeezed her hand, his expression sobering. "How are you feeling today?"
She shifted a little. "Like there's an elephant sitting on my chest."
JD frowned and released her hand. He moved to the foot of her bed and picked up the metal chart from where it was hanging. "Still having difficulty breathing," he muttered to himself. He quickly scanned through her papers, noting that all her tests had come back negative. "Well, you're temperature is back to normal and your blood pressure is much better than what it was yesterday." He looked up at Mrs. Colley. "My supervisor thinks it might be time to send by you back to the nursing home, but I'd like to keep you another twelve hours, just in case."
"In case of what, Dr. Dorian?" Mrs. Colley asked. Her tone was light, but JD noted a level of concern in her eyes that he had never seen before.
He smiled and returned the chart to the small metal hook protruding from the bed. "In case I get bored and need someone intelligent to talk to." He was rewarded with a small smile. He headed for the door and waved at her over his shoulder.
The music seeped out into the hall. It crawled into the air vents and trickled throughout the length of the hospital. Every room he stepped into, JD thought he could hear the sad strains of a single clarinet, low and haunting notes followed by a more upbeat saxophone. Trumpets whined softly at one another while a tuba plodded along behind, slow and steady. The sounds blended together so quietly it left one with a sense of having felt the music rather than having heard it.
JD followed the notes to Mrs. Colley's room. He peered in around her door. The room was dark, lit only by the pale light of the streetlamp outside her window. Her eyes were closed. Her chest rose and fell in a smooth motion, but her breathing was rough. He could hear it from ten feet away.
He sighed and crossed his arms tight against his chest. He knew what her prognosis was. He had seen it many times in patients like her. She was old. Her body was tired.
JD bowed his head. It was times like this he really understood the futility of being a doctor. Every success was a failure in the making. Every triumph was a catastrophe waiting to happen. It was hard to be positive during these times. He could tell himself that eighty-six years was a long time. He could say that she'd had a wonderful life and a family that loved her. He could make believe that there would be something else after this, something better. He could do all that. But he would still be angry when she passed. He would think, selfishly, that it wasn't fair.
It wasn't fair.
A soft sound pulled his attention to the present. "It's too early in the day for a young man like you to look so unhappy."
JD offered the woman a small smile and stepped into her room, closing the door behind him. "I was just thinking."
She reached out a hand. JD took it and sat in the uncomfortable chair beside her bed. "About what?" she asked. Her free hand tapped against the sheets in time in time to the music.
JD wondered what he should say. In the end he decided the truth was easier. "You," he whispered.
She chuckled. "I love when handsome men spend their free time thinking about me," she stated with a smile. Her soft laughter turned to a rough cough. The line of her mouth tightened. JD squeezed her hand lightly. There was nothing else to do.
Mrs. Colley looked to her doctor. She saw the expression on his face.
"Do you like my music?" she asked.
"Yeah," JD said.
"How does it make you feel?"
JD looked down at their clasped hands. Her grip was weak. "What do you mean?"
"Well," she said, "music is full of memories. What does it make you think of?"
JD listened to her music. "Sunday afternoons at my grandparent's house," he said. "Warm summer evenings sitting on the front porch. Counting the stars as they appear in the sky." Mrs. Colley smiled at the images. "Oh," JD added, "and ice cream. Lots of it. But then most of my thoughts are only a jump away from ice cream." He grinned at her.
"Those are lovely memories," she said. "You should hang on to them."
He nodded. "What does it make you think of?" JD asked.
Mrs. Colley smiled. Her eyes slipped closed. When she opened them again it was with some effort. She looked tired. "Tony," she said.
"Who's Tony?" he questioned.
"My late husband," she answered. "He loved to dance. When we were first married - well before children came along, mind you - he and I used to go honky-tonkin every night."
JD raised an eyebrow. "Honky-tonkin," he repeated.
"Night clubbing, dear," she said. "We used to dance and twirl like there was no tomorrow. I loved twirling. I would get so dizzy from the excitement. But he always caught me."
JD leaned forward. It was becoming difficult to hear her words. "Go on," he said.
"Once we had the children, we taught them to dance. The girls would dress up and take turns dancing with their daddy. Then when they were too excited to stand straight he would reach out his hand to me and we would dance. I loved placing my nose against his neck. He always smelled nice."
She paused and closed her eyes. "Keep talking," JD whispered.
"We had our fiftieth anniversary not too long ago. The children took us to a nice restaurant with a live band and a large dance floor. I'd never seen Tony smile as much as he did that night. He stood, and held out his hand to me... just like he used to. He led me to the floor and pulled me close. And then we danced..."
The music track ended, and for a moment the room was deathly quiet. JD felt his chest tighten in panic. He suddenly couldn't stand the silence. It pressed too completely against his ears. He felt deaf. Then the slow strains of the next piece began.
Hot tears fell against cold skin. JD lowered his head to the bed and listened to the music play.