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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Writing (01/11/07)

TITLE: Brain dead
By Folakemi Emem-Akpan


Brain dead

I pray for pain but my prayer is unanswered. If only I could feel a combustion of pain, a fire that burns, peppers and tortures. Instead, I lie down here, hearing, smelling but unable to do anything else. Inert.

A smell of fresh powder suddenly bursts into the room.

I know it's the afternoon nurse. I also know that she's now off duty and ready for home. For a date. For life. I have never seen her face. I might never see it. But in my mind, in that only part of me that it still alive, I have drawn her a profile.

She is tall, fair, with a shock of dark hair. Irresistible brown eyes and a pinkish mouth that usually tends towards a pout complete the picture. If I were to cast her as a character in one of my books, she would be a flirt. She would be…

The door opens again. Gently this time. I know it's Dave. Dave is my husband of ten years, had never been good at holding up under pressure, in my opinion had never been a strong man. But he's doing well. I now know he's the kind of least-expected hero that only few writers can develop into a wholesome character.

"Say hello to mommy."

I can't see her but I know Katie is frightened. She's never seen her mommy like this, and I know it’s a dreadful shock to her seven-year-old mind. Two weeks ago, I'd been in charge of our home, of the lives of these two precious people. I'd driven Katie to school. I'd been in full charge of my writing career, scheduling an interview with an old eccentric professor. I'd wanted to get into his head, explore the mind of a man who'd fought in and survived two wars and yet gone on to become a philosopher.

But now, I'm here unmoving and my continued existence is just because of Dave's faith, of his belief that one day I'd open my eyes again, be a wife and a mother again, a writer, a person.

"Would you like to tell mommy about your drawing."

In a trembling voice, Katie begins to tell me about the yellow sun and stick figures she'd drawn for her coloring class. She is urged along by Dave. After a while, the nurse wishes my family a goodnight and finally leaves.

I wish I have the ability to tell Dave and Katie that I can hear them, that I can smell them, that I long for the day I can write again.

The doctor painted an altogether different picture.

She's brain dead. Legally dead. She can't feel or hear anything. She's gone and you need to come to terms with that. We need to pull the plug.

But I am not brain dead. If so, how is it possible that I can hear and smell these people? How is it possible that I can still think of writing? How is it that I can still love so much?

Katie's narration is interrupted by the doctor. I bet he's thickly built and carries a flabby stomach . From his voice, I guess he's old and has seen life at its worst.

In this trap that an untimely stroke has hedged me, imagination is my only release. From voices and smells, I construct whole persons and label them heroes or fiends, victors or vanquisheds, lovers or haters, dreamers or realists. The only snag is that there is nothing more I can do. I can't sit at my computer and build scenes around them.

As usual, the doctor's words are hard and deliberate. "Dave, it's been two weeks. The insurance company has said it would stop paying. She's dead and there's nothing we can do about it. It's the machines that keep her partially alive and…"

"The insurance company won't pay." There's a firmness to Dave's voice. "But I'm not going to authorize anyone to turn off the machines. I've prayed and I know she'll live."


"I don’t want to talk about this, especially not in front of Katie."

Real or imaginary, there's a lump in my throat. Just this morning, I'd called out to the one who made me. Take me home to be with You or show me a sign that I still need to be here.

This is my sign.

One day I'll breathe on my own again. One day I'll hold Dave and Katie again. One day I'll write again.

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julie wood01/18/07
I loved this story! It's beautifully written in every way--descriptions, dialogue, expression of feelings, originality of viewpoint--and has a powerful though painful message. It's so easy for us to assume that someone who appears completely inert is without all consciousness--I've made this mistake with others.

This also reminds me of a friend of mine who, a year before her death, was bedridden and paralyzed from the neck down with MS--yet whose faith and spiritual wisdom proved so much greater than mine.

The title of this story drew me in as well. An excellent job in every way! Thanks for sharing.
Donna Powers 01/19/07
This is an eloquent and precious story. I have many patients like your narrator and I always am so glad when families approach their illness with faith and hope rather than discouragement and despair.
An excellent story that needed to be told. Well done!
Marilyn Schnepp 01/20/07
A sympathetic story told well told. But at the ending I thought more about the patient than the topic of "writing"...which was this week's word. It was definitely thrown in many times in thought, but from this reader's viewpoint - secondary. However, very creative.
Edy T Johnson 01/20/07
This is so heartbreaking, I am crying all over again over the Terri Schaivo case. If only she had had a husband like this narrator has. You have done a beautiful job of giving voice to the voiceless (I've heard similar stories from recovered "brain dead" patients). My applause should be deafening.

Beyond that, I recognize how many of us as writers do the lion's share of composing our rough drafts in our head, before we ever tackle the letters on the keyboard. As my old journalism professor used to write on my papers: "On Target!"
Jen Davis01/21/07
A very powerful story. “But I am not brain dead. If so, how is it possible that I can hear and smell these people? How is it possible that I can still think of writing? How is it that I can still love so much?” I also thought of Terri as I read this story. Just as Edy said, you have given a voice to the voiceless. I hope that you will find other ways to share this story.
Mariane Holbrook 01/25/07
Wonderfully written!

I'm sitting here wanting to scream, "No, no! Don't do this. Can't you hear me? These wretched machines don't know everything. Is it too much to ask for a little more time?"

The frightening thing is, this scene has doubtless been played over and over thousands and thousands of time while the immobile patient receives the goodbye kiss from her loved ones, hears their weeping as they depart from the room, and horror of horrors, hears the snap as a nurse pulls the plug.......
Joanne Sher 01/25/07
Wow - absolutely exceptional, and completely deserving of your placing. Congrats!!
Hope Horner01/30/07
Beatifully written with creative, vivid detail - held my interest the whole time. I think it was stretch to fit in under the topic of writing, but still very good. I know other's have commented that this teaches a lesson, or gives a voice to the voiceless, but let us not assume that this is what really happens, just merely one side of the argument that you beautifully express. Congrats!