"Take it from me, son - some wounds never heal."
I stand by the side of the bed, twirling my stethoscope around my neck, trying to look competent. He stares at me with those all-knowing, penetrating blue eyes. And tired. His eyes seem so tired.
"Uhm - okay. But Mr Wilson, really, from what I can see here - you're doing really well. You've definitely pulled through."
I flip through his folder. Fluid balance, temperature, blood pressure, drug chart. Improvements everywhere. The fluid in his lungs is drying up, the scars from his bowel surgery receding nicely. Three days ago he could have been dead.
"And I don't have to tell you this, I'm sure you've read your own chart - heck, you could teach me a thing or two about what these readings means." I smile. Mr Wilson was an army surgeon. He's seen enough of the cruel realities of life, of love, loss and what it means to die for your country. And he remembers. I know he's no doddering old fool. Those eyes say it all.
He turns away. Stares out the window, at the sun setting over the London skyline. I bet he remembers what it used to look like. How many times must he have stared at the Houses of Parliament, wondering if the people inside knew how much he was sacrificing so they could keep their lives?
"Some wounds don't heal."
I blink. I don't think he's talking about the scars on his stomach.
"After a while, son...after a while, you start thinking about what really matters."
It is only then that I notice what he's been doing with his hands. The dying sun glints off the ring on his finger as he twirls it round and round.
I put back his folder and begin muttering my goodbyes, wanting to give him some privacy.
"And the worst thing is...you remember. You remember everything. And you wonder if things could've gone differently." He looks down at the ring.
"Maybe...maybe if I hadn't been so selfish...she wouldn't have left. Maybe if I'd spent more time with her. If I hadn't been away from home all the time..." His voice trails off.
I hesitate. I am only a medical student. What right do I have to offer judgment? This thin frail figure on the bed before me could easily give me a tongue-lashing for forgetting my place with patients. And he would be right. But I venture anyway.
"Mr Wilson...I doubt selfish is a word anyone would use to describe you. Ever."
He turns to me, a faint smile creasing his face. Those eyes again.
"You're kind. And I shouldn't be wasting your time with an old man's mutterings. Go home, son. It's late."
I smile back, and promise to come look in on him tomorrow. As I leave, I hear his voice again.
"Just remember - some wounds never heal. The textbooks don't tell you that." I turn around. He isn't looking at me. The ring gleams as he turns it round and round.
I shut the door behind me, leaving him to his memories. For the briefest of moments, I think he'd be happier if he had died. I wonder if that makes me a bad person.
Image: "The hole in me since the day you died", copyright Mary Molnar.