I’m no Catholic, but I’m thinking of Saint Rita. My friend Cathy says Rita is the Saint of the Impossible, and since we work the night shift in transcription for HealthWest, me and Cathy get the impossible from 11p to 7a. Intakes, notes, and records—whatever the doctors say—coming at us in our headphones as fast as we can type it.
Cathy has Radiology; I do Psych and Geries. That’s the geriatric patients, the Alzheimers and dementias. Doctor says, “Helen Leonard, ate half her lunch, the chicken and creamed corn, put the apple slices in her purse”—I type it up; I make it official. They make a lot of notes up in Psych because of Legal, because most of our patients are Medicare, Medicaid. You can’t cheat on your taxes and you can’t have a runny stool without the government taking notice, making somebody write it down.
Cathy says Saint Rita was a regular person once, before she became a nun and got a miracle from God. She asked for suffering, says Cathy, and got a thorn in her head, and that’s how everybody knew she was holy, a saint. But then Cathy, she’s a drinker.
Tonight’s Sunday, so it’s weekend intakes—histories on new arrivals. Mrs. So-and-So, diabetic. Mr. Whatever, ischemic stroke. Number of heart attacks, missing teeth, broken bones, STDs; prior incidence of mental illness, cancer—you know.
Other stuff gets in, too. Miscellaneous, they call it. Twin brother, aged 12, killed in granary fire. Amputation of left leg, Inchon, Korea. Miscarriages, 3; live birth, Trudy. Paternal grandfather, hanged. Averse to water; do not bathe.
Okay, so, Cathy’s not the drinker. I like a little wine, a shot of bourbon after work, like my dad did when he was younger, before his kidneys gave out. He died here at Thanksgiving. Somebody else typed it up.
People keep saying the whole hospital’s going digital and that records won’t have to be transcribed anymore because the doctors, they’ll be doing their own charts on computer. Nurses, too—every med and every order, by code. Clicking boxes, efficient, say the insurance people.
Guess me and Cathy, we’ll be looking for new jobs. I wonder if when it happens, the doctors clicking boxes, they’ll be getting in all the things that me and Cathy get down. Like who suffered what, and when it was, the whole story—the stories about people before they end up here.
Cathy’s telling me now we have to get back to work, because our break’s almost over and it’s Sunday, the intakes. I’m going to ask her if Saint Rita died young or died old, and if she wanted to be the Saint of the Impossible at all. Who asks for suffering? Who wants more of that?
* This piece was the winner of the 2018 Tennessee Williams Festival’s Very Short Fiction Award, judged by Robert Olen Butler.
Lori Isbell is a prose writer and playwright whose work has recently appeared in Inside Higher Ed and at the Springs Ensemble Theatre in Colorado Springs. She is at work on a new play about academia.