A feeling of warmth caused him to awaken. He opened his eyes and felt white-hot blazing pain. Please, he thought, somebody walk by and shut that blind. No one did, so he turned away from the light. Glancing up at the wall to note how much time had passed since he had awakened he thought for the hundredth time this week that the clock must be broken. Three minutes had passed, although it had seemed like thirty. The staff had assured him that the clock worked perfectly. No, the problem was his. Time had slowed down for him as if he were on a rocket hurtling through space at the speed of light.
Carrie-Ann, an older nurse’s aide, walked around the curtain, arms full of linen. “Time for your bath, hon.” She had a southern accent, drawing her syllables out like honey. She had probably been a farm girl before coming to work in the hospital.
With practiced efficiency she stripped his flaccid body and began soaping every inch of it. Occasionally she tried to carry on a conversation with him but he was rarely in a talkative mood. He would get over some of the depression, they assured him. He had shrinks, neurologists and neurosurgeons to tell him that even paralyzed from the neck down there were still productive things he could do with his life. Right now he wanted someone to pull the damn blind shut.
With his bath finished, and him decked out in nice clean hospital gown, Carrie-Ann declared that he looked “real spiffy”. She called to another aide to help her “flip” him. They turned him on his side, pillows behind him so that he was not lying on his back. They shoved pillows between his knees, cushioning his limbs to prevent pressure. All this was to prevent him getting bed-sores; which he wouldn’t feel if he got one; so who cared? He certainly didn’t.
The aides left and a young nurse came to add a milky-looking liquid to the bag hanging from a pole by his bed. She smiled at him, but didn’t speak. The milky looking stuff was his “food,” which flowed into a tube that passed through a hole in his abdominal wall. He hadn’t had a taste of anything since the accident, not even water. He relished the times when the aides cleaned his mouth with small sponges moistened with water. He thought he was losing weight on his “nutritious” liquid diet. He hadn’t asked about his weight because he just didn’t give a damn.
For weeks after the accident, he couldn’t speak because of the hole in his neck that allowed him to breathe. Then as he “improved” the lung doctor ordered a plug to be placed into the hole, allowing him to talk.
A tube inserted into his penis drained his urine into a plastic bag. The catheter kept him dry. They didn’t want him developing a bed-sore. He was assured that he was getting the best of care. He wanted to ask how long he could be kept alive in this condition, but he was afraid of the answer.
The others in the vehicle had been killed instantly. He was the “lucky one.” The accident was a running loop of video in his mind, played over and over. Each time, he wished for the alternate ending; one where he was among the dead. He wished it with such intensity that he felt that he could make it so. But day after unending day the ending remained the same. His best friend Roger lost control of the car. The car went into a ditch, came out and hit the tree. Just an accident, the police said. No drugs or alcohol involved. Blame it on a friend’s poor driving skills. It was just a karmic blink that left three people dead and locked him in a useless lump of flesh.
When he could speak, he had pleaded with the doctors to help him end it. No, they had taken an oath to preserve life. Yadda yadda yadda. He didn’t give a flip about their oath. He begged his girlfriend for help when she came to tell him that she had started seeing other guys. She cried, shaking her head. Oh, she couldn’t do a terrible thing like that.
A shadow fell across his bed. Turning his head he saw the young nurse he’d seen earlier looking down at him. She wasn’t smiling. Her expression was neutral, as if she wanted to gauge his mood.
“My name’s Gail, Mr. Cotton. I won’t bother you if you don’t want me to. I wondered if you had anyone you want to write to. I could come by for fifteen minutes when I’m on duty to help you with that if you’d like.”
He looked at her for a few seconds. “Why would you want to do that?”
“My husband died six months ago. He had Lou Gehrig’s disease. Have you ever heard of it?” He gave a negative turn of his head. “The paralysis started in his feet, moving up his body until he couldn’t move. As it reached his lungs he quit breathing. Before he died he dictated letters and stories for me to write down. He got great satisfaction from telling the story of his life.”
“My life hasn’t been very interesting.”
“Everyone has a story to tell. I’ll be here Wednesday. If you want to send a letter I can help. If you aren’t interested I won’t bother you again.”
She gave a quick smile and walked away.
She’s just a do-gooder, he thought. She’s trying to relive her time with her dead husband.
Maybe he’d let her send a letter to Roger’s mom. The old lady had come by to see him a few months ago but he had turned his head away from her. He’d have to think about it.
He looked up at the clock, watching the second hand move ever so slowly around the dial.
Carol Ann Fears is a neophyte author/poet with many ideas who writes more or less continually, and a retired Registered Nurse. She began writing her memoir one year ago and found she loved writing so much that she hired a tutor/mentor who is a retired English Instructor. They have been working together for six months.