Juan Luis Guzmán
Excerpts from an essay
The ICU is on the second floor of Hospital Country 2000 in Guadalajara, Mexico. For four days, we take over the waiting area directly outside its entrance so that we don’t miss either of the visiting hours, one in the morning and another in the evening. My mother, sister, aunt, and I keep ourselves busy and rotate who enters to see him; each of us spends 15 minutes with him. When it’s my turn to go in, I’m first led to a washing station where I scrub my hands clean and am helped into a hospital gown, a hair net, and a mask. I catch a glimpse of myself in a small hanging mirror. This is what contagion looks like.
The day before I board the plane to Guadalajara to be at my father’s side, an unexpected trip we make when friends call to tell us he has collapsed and has been rushed to the hospital, Mexico participates in the World Health Organization’s World Blood Donor Day. I didn’t know it then, but only 3% of the total blood donated in Mexico is done so voluntarily. The rest of the blood is collected when patients, knowing they will need blood during a surgery or procedure, bring a donor to the hospital in advance, in anticipation of their need, to add to the supply. Blood in, blood out. You have to give some to get some. That is the bloody truth.
The room is dark when I enter. He is a figure on the bed connected to machines that feed him medicine and oxygen. He is conscious, but his eyes reveal to me that he is in another place altogether. When he tries to speak, I quiet him. Labored and unintelligible, I can only make out a few of his words. I’m left to do all the talking.