Stairs to Heaven

translation, © 1997 Aleš Vykypěl, Schody do nebe

Doctor suggested to me to lay a lot and to reduce moving to minimum. Who would argue with him in the time like that. I have usually problems just to get up. When one needed to go to toilet, they rather pissed in his pyjama.

When i first came into the hospital room and saw all the nurses, how they were trying to please those helpless people in every possible way, i told myself i would never be like them. It's not even a month since that sentence came out of my mouth. And today, i'm doing it three or four times a day, depending on how much i drink. Probably just thanks to the nurses i haven't collapsed yet.

I am H.I.V. positive and i already have been infected with A.I.D.S. When i was told that diagnose, i was walking on Nusels Bridge very often. I felt good there. It was summer, warm air blown there, cars with smiling children were going by and one had to deal with his doom.

A month ago, i got to the hospital. I was found at home laying in vomits. I did not resist. Whole four years, i managed to live with the disease, but everything fell apart three months ago. I was thinking about a suicide for a long time, but eventually i got my sanity back together and forgot about such ideas. Now i'm laying there like a helpless cabbage of flesh with other five people around, some are feeling worse, some better. Some of them are laying there like that for six months already. In other rooms, there are people that are staying there even longer.

The whole floor, which i saw only twice since i got there, is basicly divided in several wards, with it's special names. The place where i am now, is called Fifth Step. There is seven Steps altogether. Seven rooms in the floor. The last, seventh room is called The Chamber of Death. You don't hear a nurse saying "i'm going to room number five". They just say "i'm going onto Fifth Step."

When i used to go to college, i had to wake up every morning to go to seminars. I used to be so upset and frowned, but when i see a daylight there, i thank God for another day in this world. "Hey, wake up and take the thermometers" says nurse Anne. "Oh, not again. Nurse, do you realize, that even the holding of thermometer is exhausting us..." replies an roommate of mine. "If it is so exhausting to you to hold the thermometer in your armpit, i can stick it in your ass, but it's quite uncomfortable" In that case, i will keep it in my armpit. And this is how it goes every time. Nurse come, give us a thermometer and goes away. In few minutes, she's back, writes results, switch the lights off and go away.

Just imagine it. It is like that every single day three times and once more in night. One gets insane because of that. The only thing keeping us alive is the fact, that every following day is giving us hope, it won't get much worse. Many things get worse since i was talem to the hospital. Yes, there are some good things about it as well, but there is majority of the bad ones. This month i was moved from Third Step to Fifth Step and i've lost lots of my strength. It's not nice at all to wait for doctor's visit to hear my verdict.

We were brougth tee. Just even i woke up and noticed i was sleeping in my shit again. Everytime i'm calling a nurse, i have to feel humilated. To inform her that i couldn't holt it, is not pleasant and i always feel like a little baby after. But nurses understand that and they linger there.

I don't understand they are not afraid. I'm not sure i would be able to give a shot of antibodies to a human with a paroxysm, that is HIV diseased. I really admire all the nurses. But they all seem to be kind of frown all the time, but it is not surprising. I couldn't take such job for a long time and stay happy either.

Today, Lukas died. Eighteen-year-old boy, that got AIDS at disco. It was one of the cases, that progressed very quickly. In fact, seven months after he was infected, he got AIDS. Two years later, just today, he died. Next to me, in nice sunny day. The Death does not care about year time; it is July now.

Thinking about it, most of people out there are laying on beach, sitting in cinema, making love, cooking or doing another common activity, that is unavailable for me. I feel like crying and i want it to be over.

Lukas' place in the room was given to a new guy from Fourth Step. His name was Lubos and he was twenty seven. He was a gay by sight and he had lots of experiences. He was quite a funny guy dispite his diagnosis. Everytime he could, and i would say it was very often, he went for walk. He accosted nurses and because of him, the mood of our room rised a little. From time to time, he brought a nurses of night duty and we drinked a bit, despite it was strictly forbidden. But how cares about their health with what they already has. Sometimes it didn't go well. When head doctor discovered an empty bottle of Bohemia Sect, he knew immidiately, what that meant. But he wasn't angry with us. He knew, that we would brake it in spite of his prohibitations anyway.

It's a little after midnight and i've just woke up with a terrible pain. I cannot stand it, but it's not the first time nor last time. i feel like puking and i'm sure that i will not fall asleep this night any more. When something like that came down to me, there's not chance for me to sleep. The bell is to far for me to reach it and i don't want to wake the others. So i lay there now, without a movement not to bring the horrible pain back on. Few times i close my eyes, but in a short while the pain is pulsing again and it is unbearable.

It's starting to dawn and sleepy voiced of my roommates are heard. How i envy them. If they are able to, they stand up and walk around the room. They finally learned about my wakeful night and a nurse is bringing me some pills. They reduce the pain only for a while, but at least i will be able to get some sleep.

There i am... It's July now and i've got a visit - my mother and brother. It's very nice to see them and hear them. Visits are allowed there only once a month and just after prior reservation. They brought me some fruit and juice. Not mentioning newspapers and magazines, because they bring them regulary and i'm happy for that. "How are you? Did the doc said something new?" No. I was said it doesn't getting better; that it will be only worse from now on. "Nothing more? Doesn't even the new medicine helping?" I hear lightly but certainly fear and anxiety in my mother's voice. I'm given it once in a while, but it is said to be a strong dose, so they can use it only occasionally. "So how do you do in other ways, bro?" I manage, as good as one can do, when they have only two Steps ahead... "Stop that and think of something else" both of them tells at the same time. It's quite possible we see each other for the last time now. "Give it a rest, bro. Cathe and Carol says Hello. If they will be allowed, they are planning to see you." That would be nice.

It's like in graveyard there. I wish it would ended finally... I'm not sure how that happened, but i can't remember how or when they left. A nurse told me later, that i felt asleep because of the pills and i slept for five hours. I was sad i didn't say Bye to them. I woke up around eight o'clock in evening and i felt a bit better. There were only two of my five roommates laying. The others were either sitting in front of our room or watching TV news in lounge. I haven't seen a television for a long time. In fact not at all, since i was moved to Fifth Step. I kinda miss it.

I gathered all my strength and sit up in bed. I opened my multi-vitamine juice and opened my three weeks old newspapers. It's a delight to read about events for most of people already forgotten. About events, that are up-to-date for me in that moment. After a while of reading, i'm tired again and i feel like sleeping. Not even a month ago, i could read three volumes of newspapers with ease and now i can't read even a single article. And I can forget about writing something. I used to sit with a paper trying to knock out something. Kind of my memories. But now i write three lines, before i'm out of inspiration or strength.

It's around half past ten and i've just woke up frightenly. There are doctors and nurses everywhere. Around the bed in the corner next to the window. It was Igor, thirty-year-old business man from Ostrava, that got infected in Bankgok eight years ago. He died, and i don't hesitate to say that he begged out, at half past eleven. I saw it all. I also saw how they was trying to bring him back to life almost for forty-five minutes. One learns lot from it. Firstly one sees his close future and secondly, there is an enlightment in it - even sleep can kill in this room.

The next day, there was a another guy. His name was Robert. We questioned him a lot, but throught all of it he just lied there and looked out of window. We could ask him all day, we could offer him graciously tee, lunch or dinner. He refused everything. After four days we were said by doctors that he's like that already half a year and what more, he has a bad hearing. Nurse Ann told me that Robert was infected by AIDS during transfusion nine years ago and he stopped to comunicate with the world.

Sometimes when i felt better, i stand up from my bed and stand in his view. It become a routine that we react to such act in a way very unusual. You've just got a slipper land on your face. I'm not sure, but i would say i liked Robert the most from our room. We didn't argue with him, coz he always noded to everything and he lend us everything. It was an advantage. He was the only one, who was allowed to have visits more often than once a month. Because of that, he got newspapers more often. Sometimes he even offered me a cookie, but that was only occasionally. Only when we discoverd he had them before they get mouldy.

Sometimes i sit with Robertovi and talk to him. I didn't care it was like talking to a wall. Few times, his parents saw mi doing that and it was them, who told me, that Robert studied law college in Prague and after doctors told him the diagnosis, he collapsed. Since that we didn't comunicate with surrounding world and he didn't care about it. He lived in his own world. Interesting fact was, that he reacted only when the real world crosses his.

I've become friends with Robert's parents and i tried to call them as often as i could, despite my worsening state and inform them how is Robert doing. Even after i was moved to Sixth Step, Robert's parent keep visiting me everytime they came to see Robert. It will sound like a obtrusion, but it always made me happy, when they brought me newspapers and some fruit. They did that when i was sharing room with Robert as well as later when i was on Sixth Step.

September was coming gently but surely. We heard harvesters and tractors going by outside. At that thime it was already hard for me to get up. I had to ask for everything my roommates, that was feeling a bit better, or nurses. Most of nights i was awake and crying. Human begins to balance his life in a situation like i was in. One remembers his old loves and regrets. One don't want to forget about it, they wants to go back and experience that one more time. Go back to that moment, where and when they made the mistake and try it again, differently. So he would pass by the person on the event that spoil their life. Sometimes i remember the time i went to school. I played with boys outsite and rised girls' skirts. The time when i still have no idea about what is waiting for me in few years. I played with my gramps and thought about what i would become in few years. If i would become such a grandfather like mine.

I really miss my grandparents and also my parents. My mum tried to please me in every possible way and she wished he the best. My dad was more strict, but he always managed to come in the right time. If he wasn't been there, i would end up somewhere on the street. It was him, who i have come to first and told him, what happened. He bow his head and he was quite for about five minutes. He didn't answer by questiones, he didn't rise his head when i asked him to. After the five minutes he told me something i will never forget... "I will do anything for you, whatever you will want me to, and i always be there for you."He didn'T kept that promise and died two years ago. When i sit with him in hospital and cried, i will never forget his expression in face and his displeasure to die. He knew he didn't kept the promise, but i had to told him, i was thankful for everything he did for me. And now, i'm laying there and i'm going to follow him. But i have to admit it's not so sure. Maybe i will not end in Heaven, but down there.

It was begining of September and i began to realize, that in that time only about ten years earlier, i was waking up to go to school. I have my lunch ready on my table along with checked homeworks and keys. Do you remember those lether bags, that everyone hated to have? All the kids have nice bags from Germany and only you have that bag with Křemílek a Vochomůrka (chech bedtime story). I always felt ashamed for my bag, but i liked the bedtime story.

Occasionally, when i gathered strenght, i got up and walk to the window. There were kids playing on a former school playground. Their bags was laid under a tree. It was a joy to watch them. Every day they can run in the world, joy all the different things and mainly they have no concerns. I would wish them so much better future than me, for example, but in todays world one cannot trust in anything.

Gently but certainly, the Fall was comming and it was quite noticable. The leaves on trees was turning yellow, the dark came earlier and my birthday was comming. I survived another year and i will be older of a year. But it doesn't matter how old one is when they has this disease. Noone can fortell they will die as humanely. I've already seen lots of deaths connected to AIDS. Sure there are also the regular, quite ones, when people die like they would for other reason, but there are also deaths accompanied by great pain and pleads to doctors to end it and not to lengthen the suffering. I would so like to die quitely and while sleeping.

But one cannot choose his own death. It's given to everyone of us. What a logic and fairness is it anyway, to give a life to a being and already to plan its death. What fairness is in it, when people are born blind, deaf, without hands, without legs, impotent. It's not fair. It's an uneven fight for existence. When i have the opportunity and resources, i used to go around the city by public transport, just to enjoy the freedom and ability. Not that i would know they would take me here, but i suspected something like that and i wanted to enjoy it. The walking was completely innocent, no looking for chicks or visiting nightclubs. I din't have a mind for that and guts either.

Have you ever thought about a trip by subway from one final destination to another could be interesting? Just to ride, for example from Českomoravská to Zličín - almost 45 minutes in tunel and sometimes a light. Or just to go by train round Prague. When one travel every day to school or work by train and think about it as a matter of course, it would seem as a crap, but until recently, it was much more fun for me than going to cinema.

Once when i go by tram, there was a blind man next to me. I don't know what that was caused by, but suddenly i was thinking about all the things he has to think about. I had things on my mind, that wouldn't usually get in a mind of a person, that see. I pity these people. They are missing so much and they have to get over with it. I couldn't get over with such handicap.

I woke up with a high fever. Doctor gave mi about twenty shots to calm me down and let me sleep. I was feeling great... Suddenly i was levitating above water and there were golden fish swimming under me. Once in a while they jumped above the surface and i heard a quite splash. In a distance i saw a fisherman, who was just fishing out a mermaid from the lake and then i saw a beautiful girl in bikini, that almost wasn't a bikini any more. I flew to her and throw a golden fish to her. She was really scared and then her boyfriend take a shotgun and begun to shoot at me. I felt like in some war battle. The more i flew away, the faster the guy was. I had to look back to see where he is and suddenly there was a big hit...

"Come on, wake up. You have to take your pills." Nurse, what's the time. How long have i slept? "About eighteen hours and maybe even longer. I came in morning" I have a terrible headache. That's because i hit that tree. "What are you talking about, what tree? You have been out for a walk?" No, i didn't, nevermind... Could you give mi some pill for the headache. "Just a sex, i will bring you something." And that was the best thing about it. The nurses were always helpful. They always obliged us, except few things, and they were always nice.

Recently i'm feeling worse and worse. I'm begining to suggest to the doctor that i'm ready for the Sixth Step. Everyone is afraid of saying that and i'm rushing it. But the doctor doesn'T give up. I don't know why. He told me that i was the last one he would sent there right now. I can't do anything more than to laugh to it.

When i was capable of it, i used to take baths. I used to shower myself at least once a day. Now i'm happy to take a bath once in two weeks. When one want to shave himself, they needs to ask a nurse. You may think that living in here is very pleasant, but it's not like that. I would so much like to go for walk outside or to swim in a lake. The living there is harder and harder day by day. You cannot do nothing more that to wait for next day with crossed fingers and hope to wake up in the morning.

Sometimes when i can't sleep, i just lay in bed and watch stars. I wish to be one of them, to be free up there in the sky. Tears are rushing to my eyes and i feel like crying. Just seeing an airplane flying over the building is getting my hearth hurt. A plane ful of people going somewhere, just i have to lay here.

Nurse brought me my pills. I really needed them that time. I was feeling worse than ever in the last month. I was still asking my doctor to sent me to Sixth Step, but he didn't want to hear me of. If for no other reason, then because there is not an empty bed. It is ridiculous, that we are waiting for someone to die, so we could die as well. Three people are already taken away from the Fifth Step. It's changing there like an endless band. Just i am laying there for a month and half. I don't even count it anymore. Not that i couldn't, but it gets weary after a while. In the beginning you thing you are there only for a short while, but soon enough you know, it's not that case. Then can only rely on monthly visits and friends from your room. Most of them just laying there like a death corpses and looking to the ceiling. I can't say i'm in better condition.

Doctor how does it seem...? "To tell you the truth, it's not getting worse lately in any way" Sure, according to your test maybe, but i'm feeling terrible. "I will tell nurse to bring you some pills." But i don't want any pills. I want it to be over... "Come on, don't say it. You know it's not possible." But it is and i know it. "Sleep."

About this thing, taking my life, i was thinking since a conversation with two on my roommates back when i was at Third Step. I didn't thing about it for a long time, but when i got on Fifth Step and since i was feeling worse than ever, i began to think about it quite often. What else left for me. In the long time i've been laying there, i had to think about just everything and eventually there are the things i never thought i would thing about...

The Last Step... It's end of October. There are laying wrecks of human being around me and two of them have 24hour duty assigned to them. I'm probably in the best shape of them. I will probably cheer for myself, but i'm not sure why i has so keen to get there. I could at least talk to someone on the Sixth Step, but here, most of them just lay there and shiver. They even brought a man from outside to Seventh Step. They found him somewhere near Republic Square in a dumster. He was said to be a drog addict. They didn't need to send him to lower Step and they put him directly on Seventh Step. It may seem that Seven is a lucky number, but it's not like that. It is this room, where people die.

I survived another month and visits were allowed. After five months i get to go outside. My mum and bro came to me and even Carol - my first girlfriend, that helped me to get to know the world and to find the right way. Probably just because i break up with her, i end up like that. It was wonderful to breath a fresh air without the awful stink of hospital again. I probably get in some state of depression, coz i asked my brother to take me home. But he can't do anything about that and i just make him more concerned. My mum and bro leaved us for a while so i could talked with Carol.

"So say how are you?" Look at me and you see, how are you. I always thought it wouldn't be so bad and i believed they would take care of me, but i would never believed in this. "Don't say they are not taking care of you?" Oh, they care. I would be probably already dead without them, but it can't be compared with peace and quite of home. Do you understand...? "I would so wish i didn't do what i did." You know well, that it couldn't be any other way and believe me, if you didn't do that, i would be laying there as well, just a floor lower. I'm really glad you are here. "Before i go, i will ask doctor if you would allow more often visits for you?" It would be very nice. I would like to see you again before i leave. "You know damn well you will see me much more, so quit that..." Noone knows, i'm there day after day and it's all in starts, when day come for me. came out of the main door and Carol get up to go to him.

Doctor, i'd like to ask you two things. "Well, shoot." I know it's against the hospital rules and you do it only in special cases, but i would be very glad if you woulda allow more visits for Tomas. "It's just as you said. It's against hospital rules and i do it only in special cases, but Tomas will need that now more then anything else." Do you meant by that, that it's bad with him? "It's not worse than with anyone else, but sometimes it depends also on his own will, not only medicine. That is what i meant." I'll speak to him. "He talks about you a lot. One can use anyone they can talk to. You are the most precious, what he ever had." Thank you, doctor...

I was leaving doctor and i saw Tomas laying on the ground. He was laying under a appletree and dying. I held his head and began to cry. I knew he was leaving but i couldn't believe it. I called for doctor and Tomas' mother and brother. Tomas asked us to let him lay there. He always wanted to die outside under a tree. At least that wish of his was satisfied. He died half hour later. There was crowd of people around watching. I bowed my head and kissed him last time. I eventually realized, what he meant for me and what i have just lost...

The leaves begun to fall from the tree and i knew that the Autumn begun.

This story is dedicated to my friend Tomas, who died of AIDS on 25.6.1996. I'd like to thank to every one, who read the whole story.
-- Aleš Vykypěl