“I think you know what’s best right now.”
He sighed at the doctor’s statement, and I could hear the tears clogging his throat when he spoke next.
“That machine says she’s still breathing.”
“Still breathing, yes. But all the tests show there is no more brain activity.”
“How can that be? She was fine a week ago.”
“Maybe we should give it a little more time,” I said. I could tell how upset he was, could hear the quiver in his voice. He wasn’t ready to let go.
“When the brain is denied oxygen for too long there isn’t much that can be done to bring it back.”
“Maybe there’s a chance,” I tried, but the doctor continued.
“The stroke ruptured a blood vessel that was carrying oxygen to her brain. If we catch it soon enough, sometimes we can do something. But, in this case . . .”
He choked on a sob. “I should have been there. She was all alone.”
I wanted to reach out and hold him. To stroke his hair and tell him it would all be okay. Instead, I said, “He needs more time.”
The doctor’s feet moved toward the bed, his heels clicking on the tile as he read the machines, mumbling under his breath as the man next to him sniffled and tried to regain his composure.
“I said he’s not ready. Can’t you give him some more time?”
“You’re absolutely sure there’s nothing else you can do?” he said shakily.
“We’ve done everything we can. Her vitals haven’t changed in 48 hours.”
“Honey, if you need more time, don’t let him rush you.” I was trying to keep my voice calm yet firm, but no one acknowledged me. The springs of his chair squeaked as he stood and his footsteps approached the bed.
“Somehow,” he whispered, “I already miss her, even though she’s right in front of me.”
“Listen to me,” I finally raised my voice, “we can get a second opinion. We can run more tests. If you’re not ready to say goodbye, we don’t have to listen to this guy.”
I loved that he was so trusting, but I’d always been the one to make deals and stand firm when the cable company tried to swindle us. I’d always been able to command the attention of a whole room or any individual. Debate, public speaking, theater—I was not used to being ignored. But, instead of turning to me, the question of what to do next dancing in his sweet brown eyes, my husband again addressed the doctor.
“What should I do?”
“I think you know,” he said, again opening the decision up to the grieving man before him without actually answering.
He sighed and swallowed another sob. “But, she’s right here. She’s right in front of me, and you’re telling me it’s time to let her go.”
“It’s not time,” I practically shouted. “Why aren’t you listening to me?”
“Her body is here. Her blood is flowing and her heart is pumping because of the machines. The woman in that body? Your wife? Your wife is gone.”
“No!” I screamed. But no one moved. And then, like a movie playing in reverse, my senses began to catch up. He was reaching out to touch my hand, but I couldn’t reach back. My hand, my arm, both were attached to the bed with an invisible strap. My head wouldn’t lift, my feet wouldn’t kick.
And then I noticed the dark. I couldn’t see my husband or the doctor. I could see his movements, as I had every day for the last ten years, dance across the back of my eyelids but I couldn’t open my eyes to catch his gaze. I could picture him standing from his chair and moving toward my bed, just as he had after my bout with appendicitis, but I hadn’t actually witnessed it. I knew he would rub one hand over the stubble growing across his chin and cheeks after days by my side, begging me to wake up and look at him, but I couldn’t see the coarse, wrinkled fingers ball into a fist as his frustration grew.
The movie continued to reverse and the hospital faded to our kitchen where I stood, less than a week ago, on tiptoes, reaching into the pantry for the last can of dog food while our Schnauzer waited not so patiently, and I cursed at her while I reached. And then I couldn’t remember what I was reaching for and the ground was rising up and the arm that I threw out to catch myself proved useless and I crumpled into a heap next to Sadie. She barked and barked for help, trying to tell someone, anyone, that there was danger, but there was no one to hear her. He was late. I was alone as the kitchen and the barking and the world faded around me.
I felt him next to me, I could hear him sniffling. I could hear them talking, debating over the next moments of my life.
The warmth of his chest pressed me into the bed, his cheek against my shoulder. His head lifted and I felt him studying me. “I can’t leave her now . . .”
He was looking for a response. I begged my body to answer, my lip to twitch or my eyes to open. He touched my cheek and I tried to scream. But my body wouldn’t listen to me and I could feel him sag under the weight of my stillness. His thumb swept across my cheek as the pressure of his chest lifted. He sobbed again. “She’s already gone.”
“I’m not! I’m not gone. I’m still here!”
“I’m sorry,” the doctor said.
He squeezed my hand. “I’m sorry,” he whispered, kissing my cheek.
I screamed harder. He still held my hand. I begged my limbs to work. I squeezed. He gasped.