The Strength of Ada

Originally written on December 5, 2016 as part of the story Verity

Mildred looked up from her reading as the monitors started to make the soft pinging noises that indicated a wave of pain was about to overcome the patient. Ada had been sleeping quietly, but just as the monitors knew what was coming, so did her body. Her eyes opened gently, and she took a brief moment to gather her senses and realize where she was and why she had woken. And then it hit her.

The first wave was always the weakest, and yet so did it wrench a patient from their relative tranquility that most immediately cried out in pain. Ada merely gritted her teeth and closed her eyes again, though of course she would not be drifting back to sleep.

Already Mildred had rushed to her side and upped the pain killer dosage, for all the good it would do. She mopped her patient’s brow, held her hand until the contorted grip became too tight. Of course she knew how to handle this situation, but it was nonetheless terrible and heartbreaking to witness. This was her primary reason to be there: to be present with the patient during their worst suffering, so that they need not go through it alone, at the very least. If it truly helped or not it was hard to say, but it was something, and Mildred knew and believed deep in her heart that no one should have to bear such agony in solitude.

After a very long moment the pain subsided to a manageable level, and Ada’s muscles decontracted. It was however a very brief reprieve. The second wave passed through, more terrible by far than the first, and she tried again to grit her teeth and bear it. Most patients would now begin to sob and gnash their teeth and plead between labored breaths for relief in whatever form it might take. Ada did gasp, and did begin to whimper, as tears began to form in the corners of her eyes, but she did not cry out, she did not plead, she did not curse the world and everyone in it for her suffering.

An episode would often last nearly five minutes, wave after wave, which, according to reports in the aftermath, felt as though they lasted several hours longer than eternity itself. Midway through, the shrieks and wailing would typically be nearly deafening, though by the end the patient would have so exhausted themself that the force of their cries would be rather lessened, their throats ragged, their lungs clutching for air.

Ada reached the six minute mark, and still she made little more than a whimper and a thick, wet gurgle in her throat. Tears streamed freely down her face now, and her muscles contracted forcefully with each wave. Her face contorted, her back arched, she thrashed almost delicately in her bed. And then it was over.

She panted from exhaustion, sweat and tears drenching her body. Her grip relaxed and she sank lower into the bed. After many seconds had passed, she said in a near whisper: “I think I’ll sleep now.” And sleep she did, and for many, many hours.

Mildred observed her carefully for many minutes, wary of any aftershocks or other complications. She had been so focused on the physical manifestations of Ada’s episode that it was only now after it had ended that Mildred became aware of how unique the situation was. Never had she witnessed or even heard tell of a patient maintaining such a level of what, even under the circumstances, could only be called composure. Beyond that, the six-and-a-half minute long episode was far beyond the norm. Not unheard of, but definitely rare. She really didn’t know what to make of it, but it was consistent with her initial intuition that this was no ordinary patient.