My eyelids flutter. I am not quite sure they are mine. A dream perhaps? Directly under a ceiling, with generic white tiles usually found in offices and schools. I attempt to move my head to the left and then the right. This causes neck pain. No stiffness. I have an extremely limited range of motion.
The minimal movements cause an uncomfortable sensation in my throat. Tickling, tugging, the gag reflex. It is instantly recognizable.
Intubation. I’d been here before. Twice. Open Heart Surgeries both times. The first caused me to gag and gulp for air. The second I allowed myself to relax and work through it.
I have no idea why I’m lying here. No idea why I’m intubated. I can, however, be okay with this part. I know I should be afraid. Not knowing what is happening. I must be very sick if I am intubated. I am too tired to be scared.
An unknown voice calls out, “I’m checking on Isla.”
Another says “Okay. I’ll be there in a couple of minutes to help you turn her.”
I hear footsteps approaching. The first voice belongs to a male. He wanders around the bed. I can only partially see him. He’s checking IVs, the ventilator, doing skin checks, and everything else I presume is on his regular rounds. He’s doing everything except looking at my face. My eyelids droop shut.
He addresses me, “How’s my favorite patient doing today?”
He gently rubs my arm. “I know you’re in there.”
I will my eyes to open. “Don’t let him leave.”
Just before he is going to walk away, my eyes crack open, just a sliver. I see a handsome young man change his expression from passive to animated. His mouth is agape.
He roars, “Julie. Come here. Now.”
I can hear footsteps, much faster than the man’s, approaching.
“Jesus Mike. No need to shout!” Julie says.
“Come here!” he shouts again.
She stops at the edge of the bed. I can just about see her. She puts her face directly over mine. A nurse who obviously has had a lot of experience with patients like me. Whatever kind of patient I am.
“Mike. Full set of vitals. Page Dr. Garcia stat,” she orders.
Julie starts sweeping a few hairs out of my face.
“Do you know who you are? No. Do you identify with a name, family, memories?”
I nod gently, the breathing tube still restricts my movement.
“Do you know why you’re here?” she continues.
I manage a small side to side.
“Okay Isla,” said Julie. “That’s as we would expect. Don’t worry about that.”
In truth, I’m feeling quite relaxed.
I try a smile that is hampered by the tube. Something is getting through.
“That’s the attitude. Mike and I have gotten to know you quite well over the last several months.”
She sees my eyes widen, puts a hand on my arm, and tries to reassure me.
“I know this is scary. You’ll get there.”
I know I have a family. I remember my children: Savannah; Colton; and Ruby Mae. We call our baby, now six. Mae Mae. She could be seven. I know they are safe. I don’t know how I know. I presume they are with their dad.
My eyelids feel heavy. Impossible to keep open. I let them close.
I feel a hand on my arm. Gently rubbing. Gently shaking. I have no idea how long I’ve been out for, if at all. I’m still in a haze which, I presume, will last for days. I somehow manage to open my eyes, just enough to see Mike, who was rubbing my arm, and an older, more serious man, looking down on me. I assume he’s a doctor by the white coat he is wearing.
He beams a wide smile, “Well Ms. Benson. I’m delighted to see you awake. We’ve been waiting for this. I’m Dr. Garcia.”
He goes through what I assume is standard questions for a patient in my position. A coma or the like. Dr. Garcia turns to Mike.
“I think we can extubate Ms. Benson now.”
As the doctor leaves, Mike reassures me.
“I know you’ve been through this. Julie and I will both be here.”
I close my eyes slowly and nod in understanding.
Julie comes in a few minutes later. She rubs her hands.
“Well Isla. Let’s do this,” she says confidently and encouragingly.
I manage a weak smile. I’m not dreading it; I just know it’s not the most beautiful experience in the world.
“You ready?” asks Mike.
I don’t make an indication either way.
“I’m going to count down from three, start pulling out the tube, and you’re going to cough at the same time.”
“3… 2… 1… cough, cough, cough.” He orders as he pulls the tube out of my body.
I ignore the instructions. I’ve done this twice before. Coughing the first time sucked. Not coughing the second time was much better. I’m sure there is a reason for the coughing part, but I, as I usually do, ignore the rules. A few involuntary coughs pass, as Mike and Julie give me sidelong glances.
“Sam told us you were a handful,” says Julie.
I smile at the mention of my boyfriend.
“We’ll call him once we have you settled,” says Mike. “We’ll need to monitor you closely for the next day or two.”
“Neuro will want to perform tests every hour for twenty-four hours.” Julie informs me. “We’re going to turn you slightly on your side. We’ve been doing this since day one.
Mike pulls my back and just below my butt, so that I’m at a forty-five-degree angle, as Julie stuff pillows beneath me. Once they determine that I am comfortable, they leave the room reminding me they are a call away. I now have a relatively decent view of the world outside.
It looks to be summer. The trees are a lush green and the sky a beautiful, never ending, blue. The most recent thing I think I can recall, is February 15th. Milana and I talked about what we’d done with our respective menfolk the night before. We met in work, but quickly became close, and after four years as friends, we became best friends. The closeness of sisters, with fewer arguments. I don’t remember an end to our chat. Does that mean something happened at that point? Is it just that most people wouldn’t remember a distinct ending to a conversation? I have seen in movies, that those in comas, or with head injuries, often lose the memories from the days immediately preceding the event.
I notice that my body feels strange. Different. Being at a forty-five-degree angle is certainly odd. I haven’t been in this position since I was pregnant seven years ago. Then I had a monstrous belly and needed pillows under it, and behind my back. I feel the opposite to that. Is there is an opposite to feeling pregnant? My arm is draped across my body. Realization hits me. My stomach, which had its fair share of the extra fifty pounds I was carrying, is all but gone. No weight is pulling me over. My breasts, while not small, have shrunk from the 36DDD cup. At a guess I am now a 34C. Again. I laugh to myself at the thought I might miss them. It appears I have gladly given up my 36DDDs if the other side effect is a huge shrinking of my gut.
I burst out laughing. It hurts my throat from the intubation, but it stills pours out of me. They left a cup on my bedside table. I don’t think I can reach it. Not because of distance, because my muscles and joints aren’t reliable. I need to wet my throat. I continue to laugh anyway.
Mike strolls in. “What’s so funny?”
In between giggles I manage to get out that I’m delighted I’m skinny again. He puts on a stern face.
“Isla. That should the least of your worries.” He scolds.
I stick my tongue out at him playfully.
“You’re not the one who’s been fat for years. Stupid psych meds.” I counter.
I laugh and almost cry simultaneously. I realize that I might be glad that this happened, whatever ‘this’ was, since I lost the weight.
“Isla. I’d like to discuss your medications with you.” Mike says with some trepidation.
My heart sinks. Oh God. I didn’t even think being of my medications could be the cause of my weight loss. I stare at him with tears in my eyes. Wanting him to talk. Wanting him to remain silent. I shake my head barely imperceptibly, cast my eyes downward. He is very empathetic and comes to hold my hand.
“Isla… Isla…” he starts. Slowly. “I know. I haven’t been through this before. I have seen many others. I know this is not easy.”
I squeeze his hand. He relays that my psych meds were all stopped the minute I was hospitalized. Unconscious patients for not need mood-altering, emotion regulating drugs. My cardiac medications are still on board. Whether conscious or not, my heart needs the drugs that help it function more efficiently. Dread hits. I know they’ll reintroduce them. I could fight it, but I already know I won’t. The anguish I put my family through, and the times I put my life in jeopardy. I’ll do it for them, and I’ll be fat again.
“Isla. I know. I truly do. As you lost the weight quickly, Sam and I discussed it,” says Mike. “He told me how it piled on with the meds.”
He left, and on his heels came Dr. Garcia. He smiled as he looked quickly at my chart.
“How’s my favorite patient doing? Don’t tell the others,” he jokes.
I manage a weak smile.
“I just saw Mike in the corridor. He told me you’re concerned about weight gain due to restarting the psychiatric medications.”
I nod slowly, a few large teardrops fall down my face. I look away.
“Are you feeling any effects of being off them?” he asks.
I shake my head, then nod it.
“I guess. Irritable. Shaky. And now tears. I thought it was coma stuff.” I said.
“Some might be.”
“We’ll restart them slowly. You’ve experienced the side-effects before. Some may not reappear. New ones may appear.”
He puts a hand on my arm, turns, and walks away. Just before he reaches the door, he turns to me.
“Isla. I feel it’s likely I will only upset you more, but you have a right to know,” his face somber. “Your depression symptoms are likely to be stronger than ever before.”
“Why?” I ask angrily. “Why?” I quiet and hang my head, putting it in my hands.
Dr. Garcia approaches the bed once more.
“I know none of this is not fair, but we may have to put you on suicide watch.”
I nod. It doesn’t surprise me. I wonder if the downturn in mood is the start of it. I nod again and Dr. Garcia walks out of the room. I turn my head to face the window again. I try to see the positive in my negative frame of mind. It doesn’t work. I touch my stomach and my breasts again. I don’t remember how they felt, just that I like them now, and I didn’t before.
I must have dozed off. I wake slowly. My blurry eyes clear. I see Sam beaming at me, as he leans in to envelop me in his arms. He pulls back and places kisses all over my face. I laugh. He sits on the edge of the bed, and the words come flying out of his mouth – mostly telling me how much he loves me. I drink him in. God, I love him. I let him talk and talk, both of us with wide smiles.
When he takes a breath, I ask him, “What happened?”
His face turns red and looks down. “I was told not to tell you. They want to see if you regain your memories yourself.”
“That’s a load of bullshit,” I shout at him, and burst into tears.
He pulls me into him and remains quiet. After a minute, he says in a near whisper, “They know what they’re doing, Isla.”
I know he is right, but it doesn’t change my feelings. He sits with me a little while longer. We hold hands, and there are few words spoken. I’m not angry with him. I’m just angry. He stands to leave, kisses me on the head and the cheek, and tells me he loves me. I merely nod.
I don’t know what time it is, but the neurologists’ hourly visits give me a rough idea. I lose count somewhat. I have no urge to watch TV. I’ve never been a huge fan, and the thought both bores and angers me. It’s such a futile pastime. It would tell time for me, but I realize it doesn’t matter. I’ve nowhere to go, nothing to do, my role is to lie here, and drift in and out of sleep until the next phase of my life begins. The only TV shows I watch are medical ones. I have the knowledge, perhaps, that rehab awaits me. My mind takes me into a fitful sleep. It is one of dreams and nightmares, commingled. Me dying. The kids gone – not knowing why. Feeling free. Me running. Over and Over. An accident. Not tangible. Different ones. Upon waking I have no idea what is real, if any of it. Suddenly, panic hits. I didn’t ask Sam about the children. More concerning, he didn’t offer any information about them.
I press the call button. I keep pressing it, knowing it won’t make a difference. I feel compelled to. In fact, it’s mostly involuntary. A voice finally comes through the speaker.
“Yes. How can I help you?”
I talk, but only incoherent utterances mixed with years come out of my mouth. I gulp for air.
“I can’t hear you darling. Slow down.”
My speech becomes more and more garbled as my panic rises. The voice assures me that someone will be right in.
Mike strolls into the room, just as my brain lets loose. My head is in my hands. My tears mix with my snot as I gasp for air. He rushes over. First, he just rubs my back and pulls my hair back from my face. He assures me ‘it’ is okay. He doesn’t understand. I try to talk again. It’s pointless. He manages to calm me enough so that I can clean up my face a little. My speech forms words. One at a time. I hiccup but in between tell him:
“Mike. My kids. My kids. Where are they? What’s wrong?”
Mike’s face is serious but soft. Oh shit. Something is wrong. With the kids. Fuck. Fuck.
“Mike. Don’t fuck me over. Tell me. What happened? Tell me!” I end in a shout.
Mike tells me he’ll call Sam, and that when he arrives, we’ll all talk. I refuse to let go.
“No. Tell me now. Right now!” Everything I’m saying is aggressive and loud. Screw Mike. I don’t even know him.
“What happened them. Mike! What? Were they in whatever made me like this? Tell me!”
All Mike does is to tell me we’ll all talk about it together soon. I burst into tears. Mike holds me and just lets it all come out. He asks if I’d like some medication to relax me just a little. It won’t perform miracles but make things a little easier. I don’t want things to be easier.
In between somewhat calmed sobs, I beg with Mike to tell me. He refuses and I can see it pains him to do so.
“I’m gonna call Sam. Have him come in. Okay?”
I nod, silently allowing tears to flow down my cheeks. He rubs my arm for a few seconds and leaves. My tears dry up. I stare blindly at the blue sky, the beautiful trees. Numbness takes over. I don’t notice Mike return. He walks around my bed to the window side.
“Sam will be here in ten to fifteen minutes. The three of us and Dr. Garcia will be here.” Mike informs me.
Once again, I just nod. I turn my head toward the outside again. I feel like I’m suffocating. I need to know what has happened. Yet not knowing, means for me, that whatever knowledge is to come, is not real. This is still the before. I don’t want there to be an after. However, I must know.
Sam, Mike, and Dr, Garcia enter the room at the same time. I suppose this was their plan. Sam would not have been allowed come in on his own. They need the ability to correct his course. Sam leans over me, holds my face, and kisses the top of my head. He sits on the edge of the bed and takes my hand with both of his. Mike and Dr. Garcia are serious but have barely perceptible encouraging smiles.
Sam starts, “Baby you know you had some kind of accident.”
I nod in frustration. I want him to spit it out. He notices my furrowed brow and impatient eyes.
“Isla. This is hard. You were driving the kids to swimming. Do you remember?” he asks.
I shake my head.
“The girls were in the middle row. Colton climbed into his ‘Boy Cave’.”
I smile. He loves being back there on his own. The back row is always littered with books, drawings, and candy wrappers. I turn a blind eye to the mess. My little man. Sam returned my smile. Colton, his ideas, and plans cracked us up. My little man is nearly eleven. Not exactly little. A tear drops onto the bedcover.
“A semi hit the car hard from behind, pushing you into oncoming traffic. Another semi hit you head on.”
I start shaking. Sam lifts my hands to his mouth to kiss but I pull them away. I don’t need him. I need Colton.
Mike approaches and puts a hand on Mike’s shoulder, who stands and moves away. He wipes away a tear of his own. Mike pulls a chair to the bed.
“Isla. Listen to me. Isla,” he raises his voice slightly. “The girls are fine. They are just fine. Mae Mae is quite the character. Every time she comes to see you, she tries to play a trick on me. She usually wins!”
I smiled, even giggled. That was my Mae Mae. If she had been hurt, I would have been devastated. She’s my baby. Even at seven-years of age. And Savannah is my first born. The one who taught me to be a mother. The one I held first. Nursed. Saw my child smile. Thank God they are okay.
Mike interrupts “the girls suffered injuries, but nothing that have not, or will not heal.”
“What?” I ask bluntly.
“Savannah fractured a few ribs which have healed. Ruby Mae broke her left leg in two places. She has pins still in place but should make a full recovery.” Mike finished.
I felt a blow to my stomach. Learning your children were seriously injured, and that you may well have been at fault.
“Was it me?” I ask. I shout “was it me!? Fucking tell me!”
Sam runs back over. “No baby. No.” he tries to calm me. “The first trucker was on his phone. He said he looked up and was a few feet from you.”
I throw my head in my hands and start weeping softly.
“When you crossed the median there was no hope of you and the second truck hitting you,” finishes Sam.
Dr. Garcia takes his place this time.
“The first truck pushed the back row up against the middle row. The second caused your head to smash the window and you were ejected from the car,” he tells me what had happened. Finally.
“Colton…” I whisper.
Dr. Garcia explains that he is in coma at Children’s Trauma Center. We have comparable injuries. There is still hope he might wake, but each day that passes makes that less likely. I just came out, so we should be positive. The doctor goes on to explain that he has been in constant contact with Colton’s neurologists. He explains his injuries in more detail. I retain very little information. I barely hear him. I start to drift off again. Mike explains that is normal for several weeks after coming out of a coma. His face goes in and out of focus until it goes black.
It is dark outside when I wake. I lie there for a while. Maybe ten minutes. I want to talk to Mike. Or Julie. The energy is all gone. It has a limit and that limit has been reached. After trying to reach the call button several times, I give up, and simply lie there. It feels like an interminable wait until someone I don’t recognize comes into the room. An overweight, short woman with an open face, and a beautiful smile.
“Well Isla. It is nice to finally meet you. We been hanging out together for months overnight. I’m Loretta. We’re gonna be good friends.”
I manage a smile and a greeting in return.
“Are Mike and Julie gone?” I ask.
“They are. It’s two a.m. Just you and me until seven.” She informs me.
I can’t remember what I wanted to talk to Mike or Julie for. It is so frustrating. It was only a few minutes ago I needed to. Dr. Garcia had told me my memory would be awful. From immediately before the crash. Forming new ones now. Recalling things, I was thinking about minutes earlier. Remember the crash was unlikely to return. The other two were expected to return fully given time. It was petrifying to think of the possibility I might lose the ability to form or retain short-term memory. I have an acquaintance, Valerie, who suffers that symptom as a result of extreme alcoholism. So called wet brain. She remembers me and most of what we talk about. She lives in a nursing home and write everything down. She seems somewhat content. She is forty. This is her life. No turning back. There but for the grace of God…
I look at Loretta. She smiles again. She is patient. Allowing me to process and talk at my own pace. Sam brought in a picture of the kids when he came in earlier. It is my favorite picture of them. Sam knows things like that. The small things that add up to a bigger thing. That remind me how much he cares about me and the kids. I turn to face the photo. Loretta comes around that side of the bed. She wipes a solitary tear I don’t know is there, with her thumb. Picking up the photo, she offers.
“They really are beautiful kids. I know you’re scared about Colton. I can’t imagine. Dr. Garcia says the girls come in when you feel ready, and of course you and Sam think they’re ready.”
I nod vigorously. I want to see them. We agree to call Sam in the morning and see what he thinks. The rest of that second fitful night I drift in an out of sleep. The girls and Colton never far from my memory.
I sluggishly wake up, feeling groggy. It takes several minutes for me to realize where I am. Indeed, who I am. Sam is sitting by my bed. Loretta must have called him at the end of her shift.
“Morning sweetheart. Lorette said you wanted to see the girls…”
I nod. He kisses my forehead, sits on the edge of the bed, our legs touching, and takes my hands.
“Isla. I think the girls are ready, but we need to handle a visit delicately.”
I nod again. I am a little pissed that he thinks I wouldn’t put their well-being first.
“I am their mother, Sam. Of course, I’ll be careful.” I defend myself.
“Isla. I just mean, we need to plan a little. What to talk about. How much to tell them about you? About Colton? How much to discuss their injuries? What to say if they start asking questions outside what we want to tell them?” he explains his point of view.
I realize I’ve been so excited about seeing them that I haven’t thought of any of this. Sam picks up on my reaction.
“Hey. Isla. We will get through this. This is the hard part. Things that most parents, most people, don’t have to go through.”
“Isla. The girls are in the visitors lounge down the hall. Should I go get them?”
I hyperventilate with excitement. Sam returns quickly,
Mae Mae behind his back holding onto him. Savannah in front. She bolts for me and grabs me around the neck. She says mom over and over. I hold her tight to me. Smell her hair, her arms, her neck. She is real. She is her. She starts crying softly, the sobbing. Sam walks up to her, Mae Mae in tow, and rubs her back. She turns to him and holds on for dear life. Sam and I dated for six months before I introduced him to the kids. That was three years ago. Colton and Savannah took to him quickly. They enjoyed each other’s company, and they could see he made Isla happy. Mae Mae took a little longer. She felt guilty. She took daddy’s side over Sam’s. There was no side, but as a four-year-old she didn’t see that. Daddy had a girlfriend for a couple of years at this stage, but Sam was the first man in my life after my husband and I separated. Sam took it in its stride. He let her warm-up to him, rather than trying to win her over. She learned to accept him over time, and now they have a loving relationship. It doesn’t surprise me that Mae Mae clinging to him. She hasn’t seen me in several months, and he has been there for her through the worst time.
I bring my head to the side. Mae Mae and I just about make eye-contact.
“Hi sweetie. I love you.” I say with a smile. “This feels kinda weird. Right?”
She nods. I stop looking at her. “You can stay there, sit by me on the bed. Whatever you want.”
She holds tighter onto Sam’s arm. “I’m gonna stay by papa.” She has never used that word to address Sam.”
She came to me one morning. One of those glorious mornings where we hung out in my bed, laughing, joking, and Mae Mae telling and asking me her big thoughts. A few months ago, I’ve no idea how long before the accident, she and I were having such a morning. She asked would it be okay if she called Sam ‘Papa’ someday. Her dad’s girlfriend had been ‘mom’ (same as me) from the start. I was not bothered, apart from the confusion of having two moms! Mae Mae said she wasn’t ready, but she thought she might like to later. Sam had tears in his eyes when I told him. Apparently, since the coma, they had the discussion, and Sam was ‘Papa’, and Mae Mae was a Papa’s girl. As hard as it was to be rejected in a way by her, she knew they would all be stronger.
Sam and Mae Mae go and sit by the window. Savannah stays by me holding my hand. We chat, mostly about superficial things initially. Mae Mae pipes in now and then, quietly. At one point she tells me she loves me and looks down immediately. I return the comment. A small smile. As I knew it would, the conversation veers to discuss their injuries. Part sharing their more vulnerable moments, but also competing against each other for whose was worst. Behind them Sam winks and I smile at him. He’s obviously dealt with this, many times during the last few months. I listen to each of them, ask questions, and make sure not to show my terror at what they went through. The sadness that I hadn’t been there to love them.
Mike comes in, tells us he’s on break, and offers to bring the girls to the gift shop. They beam and nod. Before I can express doubt, Sam gives the three of them the go-ahead. Once they leave the room, I turn to Sam.
“Sam. You’re always so protective of the girls. Why are you okay with this?” I quiz him. “I’m not comfortable.” I am somewhat panicked.
“Mike has been a Godsend Isla. For the last three months, he’s distracted them on my bad days, played with them when they were bored. Been a shoulder to cry on and listened to them when they needed to talk. I trust him one-hundred percent.”
He smiles and I can’t help but return it. I’ve missed so much in the last three months. Sam kisses my hand. I heave a cleansing breath. We talk about nothing. A normal conversation. Just like before. It was wonderful. We finally get to talk about Colton. I wish I knew more. I should be sitting at his bedside, but that’s not possible right now. The news is neutral, which in turn is not good news. He is stable but there is no sign of him coming out of his coma.
Mike comes back with the girls. “We played an incredibly long game of eye-spy. The trounced me of course.”
They giggled, as did Sam and him. I smiled. The room cleared at Mike’s adamance.
Dr. Garcia comes by a short time later, rather late in the day for him. I am exhausted and can barely hold a conversation. He keeps it short. After he is done, I ask him abut Colton. Is he still in contact with the children’s hospital? What do all thee things I’m hearing mean? Is there more information regarding his outcome, or possible outcomes? He is more forthcoming than I thought he would be.
“Isla. Things are not looking good.”
I feel a punch to my stomach. A retching.
“You were stable the entire time during your coma. For the last week, in fact, you made minimal progress. Your moderately high blood pressure came down a little. Your neuro tests also improved. Minimally, but some.”
I look at him, my eyes welling up. There have been enough tears. Colton is still alive. There is hope. I came through, and he will too.
“Isla.” he starts, putting his hand on my arm.
“He’s not improving at all. In fact, his doctors say there are minor changes that could indicate his body in shutting down. Very minor, but present.”
I zone out. My breath catches in my throat. I start hyperventilating. I scream. “No. No. No.” I vaguely hear Dr. Garcia call for someone, and then place an oxygen mask on my face. Julie rushes in and injects me with something. Almost instantly my body relaxes, my mind calms – somewhat, and my breathing slows. Tears flow freely down my cheeks. The sensation of pain over what is happening is present, but it is dulled. It reminds me of when I broke my wrist years ago. Whatever medication for ‘pain’ they gave me did nothing for the pain itself, but made me not care about the pain. I remember crying and laughing simultaneously. This was the mental version of that physical pain. I mumbled incoherently about broken body parts.
I must have fallen asleep for a while because it is dark when I wake. Loretta clears her throat as I’m turned away from her. She displays a slight, nurturing smile and waits for me to speak. My voice is raspy initially and I am still a little groggy. Not as upset as I should be.
“Loretta…” It’s my turn to clear my throat. I leave a pause hanging in the air.
She pats my thigh. “I know what happened. Mike told me. I’m sure you have a lot more questions.”
I pull away from her touch, nod, then shake my head. I don’t know what I have.
I dig deep to utter “If he’s going to die, I’m going to see him first.”
“Now you don’t know th…” she begins.
I interrupt. “Loretta… don’t bullshit a bullshitter! You and I both know how this ends.”
My eyes bulge. I zone out. I don’t cry. Loretta looks out the window. She seems to be searching for the right thing to say. Maybe to stay quiet. I make no effort to make this easier for her, but I can tell she’s been here before. She’s given patients terrible news. She’s attempted to comfort but been spurned. It was all part of the job. I don’t know how I can observe these things, as numb as I am.
I wake due to people talking in my room. Whispering is worse than normal speech. It is Loretta and Julie going through the change-of-shift report. I wake to hear them discussing Colton and the strong likelihood he will die in the coming days, maybe a week at best. I turn away from them before they can see that I am awake, then purposely toss and turn loudly, snort, and throw in a few loud yawns for good measure. That gives them the chance to stop and act innocent. I turn and feign a smile, then act ‘naturally’, as a nearly-grieving mother would. The smile sliding right into pain.
“I need to see Colton. Today. End of story. Now.” I beg angrily.
“I know.” Julie says. “I’m working on Dr. Garcia. I hope he will say yes today. He hasn’t been comfortable up to date.”
As if on cue, he walks into the room. He can tell from my pointed stare what Julie and I are discussing. He holds up his hands in surrender.
“You may go…” he starts.
My eyes light up.
“…under certain conditions…” he finishes.
“Anything,” I say. “Anything.”
He goes on to explain the I will have a nurse with me at all times. That my heart monitor will stay on, and monitored on the unit remotely. That the visit can only last one hour. He had planned to limit it to thirty minutes but Mike and Julie had bullied him to give me more time.
I am eager to leave immediately and am frustrated by the delays caused by preparation for the visit. After what feels like hours and hours, I am in the ambulance. I have lived here in Goldview since I left college almost twenty years ago. I know the route from my hospital to Colton’s. They are very close to each other and the trip flies by. I can’t get there fast enough and I want to prolong the state of the unknown as to damage to by baby boy. If it is as bad as they are saying, I don’t want to know. Let me picture him about to wake. To smile. To touch. I am there. The Children’s Hospital. I am loaded off the ambulance. I am wheeled down corridors. The panic kicks in again. In waves. Each crest higher than the one before. Mike sees me shaking and pale. He halts the gurney.
“Isla – you don’t have to do this. We can stop whenever you want,” he said quietly and gently.
I shake my head and immediately burst into tears.
“I have to,” is all I manage.
“We can stay right here as long as you need,” he advises.
I shake my head vigorously., I have not come this far to turn around now.
My petrifaction continues to rise but my resolves grows too. We reach his room. I know immediately it is his. Mike looks at me and nods once. A wheelchair materializes out of nowhere and I am wheeled into his room. I am shocked. I knew what he would be hooked up to. Dr. Garcia had explained over and over how he would look. Yet nothing prepares you for looking at your child in that state. His chest is heaving large regulated breaths visible unnatural. His eyes aren’t fluttering like they always do when he sleeps. He skin looks pale. Is that from the wretched condition of his body or having been out of sunlight for so long? Probably both. I look to Mike for reassurance. He returns my glance with a slow blink. Telling me I am doing okay. A doctor walks into the room and comes to me. He gives a restrained smile from societal norms rather than a warm greeting. We both know why we’re together in this room. He appeared very formal and stern. Apart from his initial half-smile.
“Ms. Quentin…” he starts.
“Isla. Please. This is hard enough without formality.” I request.
“Isla. I’m Dr. Williams. I know Dr. Garcia explained a lot to you. I want you to make sure you understand everything before making any decisions.”
“What decisions?” I hurriedly ask, fear building once more.
“We’ll get to that shortly. You know Colton’s took a huge blow to the head, and he suffered further injury as the car flipped. It’s surprising he wasn’t killed in the collision.” he explained.
I continue to wince inside. I can’t hear this, but I must. The next couple of minutes are a blur. I realize I haven’t taken in a word he said. I shake my head and ask him to retell everything. He puts a hand on mine. Such an odd gesture from someone as rigid as him.
“Patients like Colton can go either way. When he came in we gave him a very slim chance of partial recovery. As time went by that looked slimmer and slimmer. The damage to his brain is catastrophic. I’m sorry to say there is no coming back. He has no brain activity. The machines are keeping his heart pumping, so his body appears alive,” he stopped.
I expect more. There should be more. Colton’s life, his death boils down to a few sentences from a man I have never met before! Regardless, I know. I know it’s over. I know there’s no point fighting against it. I never thought I wouldn’t fight back, but I know enough to know we’re done.
“I know this is very sudden for you…” he starts again. “I’m going to add insult to injury. We have a very small window from brain death to organ deterioration…”
I know what he wants. He wants to cut my baby up. Remove from him, parts of him. It is abhorrent. It is the right thing to do. Why didn’t I ask Sam to be here? I need him badly. I wanted to do this alone. To have some time with my boy alone. That doesn’t matter now. I didn’t even tell Sam I was going. And now at the hardest thing I am and hopefully will face.
Dr. Williams explains what occurs during donation. It disgusts me, but I still know it is the right thing to do.
I hole Colton’s hand. I know it’s not really his hand. It’s not anything. Yet I hold it. Wipe his floppy hair out of his eyes. Kiss his cheeks. His mouth. Look at him, trying to imprint his face into my mind. Not the tubes. Not the lack of natural visage. Him. My last view of him. I need to remember that.
I nod to Mike, drop my head, and weep as he pushes me back along the corridor we’d come along before I know my life is over. I have to keep strong for the girls, but I’m allowing myself time to resent the world, for taking my boy from me. I don’t know why I’m not bawling, but weeping. I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. In. Few days my baby will be in the ground. Hollowed out so he can help others. I hope his donations help others. It is all I can think of to get my through. It will get me through and pull me down. I just don’t care.