CHAPTER IV: Sometimes They Do That

“You may want to step out,” the doctor warned. She smiled, like doctors with bad news do, and I took a step back.

The nurses gave a quiet count to three and with a gentle tug of a thin sheet, pulled his body, with wires still attached, to its side. The doctor examined the sore, poking the center with blue latex, as I replayed the previous day’s conversation:

I need to go see him; this may be my last chance to see him. My lawyer had granted this motion, like all of the ones before. I kissed our sleeping children and drove all four hours alone – whispering bits of Catholicism I had heard him mumble during his father’s funeral.

The doctor peeled back the gloves and the nurses began fumbling with gauze.

“I realize this may look worse than it is. Bed sores are dangerous, but completely manageable.”

His collar bone protruded as she discussed toxicology and brain activity, His elbow hung across a nurse’s hip – exposing a perfect outline of a skeletal hinge. His spine pushed up like a fresh grave amidst the existing; and for a moment, I considered him this mound of ashen dirt, but the sore, lacking its scab, burst with vibrancy.

“His numbers look good for now. Try to get some rest.” She patted my shoulder and my eyes began to flutter, perhaps from fatigue, or out of survival, reminding me this ICU room was tactile and now a piece of me forever.

Crinkled trash drifted along the edges of the bed. The nurses gathered their mess, filed out, and I returned to the hospital chair. I stared at his hands: the hands that had once drifted along my own edges; the hands that held our newborn babies under a kitchen faucet bath; the hands that chose the pipe.

I stood and ran my finger across his hand and over each finger. I pushed towards his forearm, circled my favorite freckle twice, and drifted towards his shoulder. The joint was thick and still. I clenched the railing. I hung my head.

The machines worked around us, calculating everything they could, Tiny engines pulled him along. The ventilator was stoic with heavy pushes. His chest rose. His chest fell. His lips were wide, laced with emergency room reminders and dying skin. His eyebrows were still brown, his beard still in tact, and his hair remained curled and calm. I thought about screaming at him. I thought about climbing in with him and asking if I could take a sip of oxygen. I smiled.

The nurses churned away on the other side of the glass wall. I took a deep breath. I thought about when our dog had died and they asked if we’d like to say ‘goodbye’. We had both entered the room- a space prepared so thoughtfully- but when I bent down to hold her, she was stiff. She was cold and her fur did not wrinkle. Her tongue peeked out between her tiny white teeth. There was nothing left. She was gone; and all that remained was a parcel destined for a red plastic bag, a back room freezer, and a furnace if we insisted. He shook his head that day, much like he had the day I tried to release a mass from my pelvis.

And without him now, I held my own hands. I clenched them together. I squeezed my nail beds, hoping to see a vibrant red, purple, or blue, like the sore eating away at his spine. I pulled at my wrists. I clenched my teeth. My eyebrows shook along with my chin until the chords of tears began to play like a song for the dying.

But between a chorus of tears, the tubes went swooooosh! Machines slid towards the bed and his body came to life.

Oh my God! I shouted. I stepped back. A nurse rushed in.

He sat now – eyes open and staring wide into an abyss, mouth gaping and fighting the fat tube.

She approached the bed carefully and gently rubbed his arm. His body relaxed, eyes closed, and he fell onto the pillows.

I was horrified. I shook. The nurse straightened the pillows.

“They do that sometimes,” she smiled. “Sometimes they partially wake up and feel the tube in their throat, but don’t worry,” she continued, “he is not aware of it. He did not see you. He can hear you, though. We encourage loved ones to speak to them.”

She fiddled with a few buttons, straightened the wires, and returned to the other side of the glass. I sat back down in the hospital chair. His eyes remained sealed. His chest rose. His chest fell. I leaned towards the railing and gave up on holding my own weight.

I slid my hand between the metal railing and into his hand. There was no life there. I squeezed.

I swallowed what I could, and looked at his lost face, wondering if he was really inside.

“I miss you,” I whispered.

I waited for a sign – for a flinch or a sound- but the ventilator, a watchtower of the dying, was the only one to respond.