There was a spot of dirt under the middle fingernail of Mark’s right hand when he was in the hospital the second time. Every day we put lotion on his hands and Carmex on his lips and aftershave on his cheeks as he lay unresponsive. But I couldn’t get that speck of dirt out from under his fingernail, and I didn’t want to try too hard. His body was becoming so fragile I was afraid I’d cut him or hurt him in some other way if I used any force. The speck bugged me. The ICU nurses kept him very clean and by then he was on a feeding tube and a vent so it’s not like he was doing much to get dirty. But that fucking speck was there. And then a new nurse came to the unit an the speck was gone. I commented on how clean his fingernails were and the nurse said she had noticed the speck of dirt so she wrapped his hand in warm washcloths, put a plastic sack around them and let them steam a little. She said it’s like a little steam bath and it loosens all of the dirt. I was so appreciative of that speck’s disappearance.
Later, Mark’s Mom and I were sitting with him, one on each side holding his hands. That seemed to be the way we ended up when we were in the room at the same time. She’s the one who pointed out that his fingernails seemed to have stopped growing. I don’t know if that is technically true, or if they were just growing so slowly that we couldn’t tell. It seemed like a bad sign to us, like his body was already putting its energy toward more important things. I think about it almost every time I cut N’s fingernails. I think that I’m glad he’s healthy enough that his fingernails have to be cut every few weeks.