Anita held her husband’s hand a little tighter, willing for a twitch, a blink, some sign of intelligent life. The doctor had left moments ago, leaving her with the decision.
Funds depleted. Insurance coverage dropped. Time was winning.
How much was a human life worth? How much was Tom’s life worth? Anita’s stomach churned, but she hadn’t eaten today so there was nothing to upchuck. Beams from the setting sun sprinkled light on the fairy-like particles in the sterile room, belittling the nausea overwhelming her.
A beep sounded, signaling low fluid levels. The beep would sound every three minutes until the nurse came in to change the bags. Actually, this machine was a little slower than some of the others. It would beep every three minutes and eight seconds. Anita had timed it earlier when she was sitting in the chair with nothing to do and too tired to press the buzzer to hurry the nurse along. She didn’t want to pressure any of them anyway. The nurses had taken excellent care of her brain-dead husband the past two months. Two months too long.
Immediately after the accident, everyone told Anita it would be okay and they would make it through. Then close friends and family reassured her. Finally, it was just her.
The doctor had put it kindly, but clearly. In so many words he’d said, this is it. Your life savings are gone, the insurance won’t cover anymore once I submit my latest report. If you want to keep this up, you’ll have to move him to another facility if you can afford it on your current salary. When you’re working that is, not spending every waking moment by your husband’s side.
Okay, the last words Anita added herself. What people didn’t understand was the part about “keep this up” referred to keeping Tom breathing artificially with the hope of him reviving someday. Of twitching, of blinking, of giving the sign of intelligent life Anita watched for now.
His skin was so changed from two months ago. The slight gray flecks over his ears that she’d teased him about days before the accident now hovered over the blotchy skin of his sagging lob. Her eyes traveled down to his pale lips, gaped open slightly, as if wanting to allow a taste of real air inside his body. His eyes…she saw them today when the doctor lifted each lid for a look. It was unnerving to see the blue eyes that once looked deep into hers now sunk in and hollow.
She rubbed her thumb over the back of his hand. She’d never felt it so soft. He had rejoiced in his carpentry work and never came in the house without bits of sawdust clinging to his clothes and hair.
The fluid monitor beeped again. Hot bile formed in the back of Anita’s throat and she let out a half scream, half growl. “Why? Why! What right do humans have to make the decision about life and death? Sure, doc, pull the plug. I don’t love him enough to sit here for one more day or a hundred. Or no, I want to let him lay here and suffer just a little longer, even though everyone knows he’s not coming back. But he still might.” She bowed her head, choking on the saliva built up in her throat. “Jesus, what am I supposed to do?” When she realized she’s prayed out loud, Anita hissed, “What am I supposed to do? Why didn’t You just take him or heal him? One thing or the other, but let it be. Don’t make it my decision!”
As Anita gasped for air and swallowed down her tears, something settled in her burning chest. It spread warmth and for a moment, she wondered if, at age thirty-eight, she would have a heart attack and beat Tom to the pearly gates. It was a few moments before she realized what it was. Her breathing slowed.
It settled in her heart. After a several minutes, Anita lifted the back of Tom’s hand to her lips and pressed it close. Till death do us part.
The door opened and Nurse Bailey came in. “Sorry about that alarm. Got caught with a patient down the hall.”
Anita kept her head bowed and tried to form words, but they came out a jumbled whisper. She knew Bailey hadn’t heard, so she raised her head slightly. “Would you ask the doctor to come back in here after his rounds? I’ve made the decision.”
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