Charleston, South Carolina, United States
Woman treating a patient in an intensive care unit. U.S. Government photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ryan M. Breeden. U.S. Navy Medicine on Rawpixel. Public domain.
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold…and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned…
— W. B. Yeats, The Second Coming
It is their tenth wedding anniversary. They are traveling to a restaurant on a black, moonless night. They round a curve as a semi-trailer truck veers across the center line. The force of the impact thrusts the car’s engine into the front seats.
The bedsheet is pulled to her neck; she appears to be asleep. I glance around the room. The bloody swatches of footprints have been scrubbed, the heart monitor muted, and the vials and gauze and syringes—the debris of resuscitation—tidied. But she is without pulse or breath; she is dead.
He is in intensive care, a ventilator forcing oxygen into his lungs, wires and tubes springing from his arms and legs. Bags of blood and drugs and fluids dangle from a steel pole. A voice shrieks. “V. fib. Shock him.” There is a blunt thud; he flops like a hooked fish. His heart sputters. “Shock him again.” An odor of scorched hair and charred flesh wafts through the room. “He’s got a pulse.” He is alive, for now, but he is dying.
I prepare to speak to the family. My words will be gentle but frank, molded by years of family meetings and bad news. They will weep, they will wail, and they will hurt. And they will grieve, forever.
I gather sorrowed thoughts, heave a deep breath, and open the door. The room is crowded, the air redolent of sweat and stale coffee. Family members approach, slowly. They are fearful and despaired, wondering how they will live if I tell them of death. Two children, a boy and a girl, rush to my side and grab my hands, hands that have just touched their mother and father. Their faces are red and tear-stained, their lips trembling and grimaced. “Are mommy and daddy gonna be okay?”
PAUL ROUSSEAU is a semi-retired physician and writer published in The Healing Muse, Blood and Thunder, Hektoen International, Intima. A Journal of Narrative Medicine, The Human Touch, Pulse. Voices From the Heart of Medicine, Please See Me, Months To Years, (mac)ro(mic), The Maine Review, 433 Literary Magazine, Sunspot Literary Magazine, The Examined Life, Dr. T. J. Eckleburg Review, Tendon, and others. Nominated for The Best Small Fictions anthology from Sonder Press, 2020. Lover of dogs.