“Doc. I’m eighty-nine years old. I know I can’t live forever. Don’t want to neither, truth be told. But I’d like whatever time I got left me in this world to be dignified. This ain’t dignified. I can’t walk from my bed to the toilet without falling, sometimes twice. I can’t do the crosswords no more neither. Can’t hold the page still. Can’t hardly make my own supper and when I do, I can’t lift it to my mouth no way. My niece feeds me. I’m plum embarrassed to say I pee myself daily. And sometimes worse. I always been a proud woman. Never needed no help from no one.”
“A growth you say? Like the wart I got on the side of my nose I’m guessing, only pinching my spina cord nerve, high in my neck like you say. Well that’s a bumpy road but I been down it before.”
“My husband Carl, God rest ‘im good man he was. I loved that man eight days a week ever week of the thirty-one years we was married. I watched him waste to nothing the last month of his life. Tubes coming and going all which way. They fed him through a tube in his nose. Can you imagine? I couldn’t, but I won’t never forget now.”
“I was there ever day, doc, in that ICU. I watched Carl’s eyes ever time they poked or prodded him, ever time they took his blood. I never thought how a body makes so many things. And I damn sure never knew doctors was like miners, always going under and over and through things, always panning around for answers, as if answers was gonna change things somehow. As if knowing a person’s numbers is a cure. That’s how they use to say it ever day. Yes ma’am, his numbers look good today. Or, Mrs. Gatty, his counts are down a bit, or up a bit, or — Christ almighty, I don’t know. Do you know he was ready to go? Me and Carl we said our goodbyes and he was ready to go, but when his natural time come they cut a hole in his neck. For breathing. Said it would give him more time. Biggest regret of my life is how I let them do that. It didn’t give him no more time. Not the kinda time you’d want anyway. What he got was another month of prodding and poking till he was black and blue all over. It was like they couldn’t let him go until they had used him up. They’d have done better by him if he’d been a dog.”
“Carl died twenty-one years ago, but even in my waking hours, I see that damn breathing machine — and his tears — like it was yesterday. Biggest regret of my life. No, doc, I won’t go like that. I ain’t gonna give those memories to nobody else. Those memories is ungodly.”
“You do what you gotta do doc. You do your best and I’ll do mine and we’ll both of us pray that’s enough. But if it ain’t, if something goes wrong, don’t you fret none about it. I’m a child of God and I’ve had me a good run over the years, and those years been a lot more than most. My sister died in her thirties, her kidneys I guess. By that measure, I’ve lived near enough to three lives.”
“You go in there and you cut this thing out, and if God wills it I’ll be fine. But if it goes the other way, I’ll be fine too. You just let me go. I forgive you right here and now if’n that’s the case. Not one day in the ICU. You gotta promise me that here and now. I don’t wanna be cut on over and over neither, don’t want no tubes, especially ones what feed me through my nose. Don’t cut no hole in my neck for breathing neither. Just let my family say goodbye and let me go. No heroics.”
“I guess I know it didn’t go too well, but it don’t hurt too much so don’t you fret none. A little short of breath, but mostly I’m just tired. So tired. You done good, doc, done your best I’m sure. It’s like you said way back when we first met: healing ain’t robust when you’re within spittin’ distance of a hundred year old. I know them ain’t your words exactly, but that’s horseshoe close.”
“So no more operations, doc, like you promised. No tubes neither. You gotta know nobody gets outta life alive. I’m leaving this world content though, and just the same way I come into it too — by the grace of an almighty God and the love of my family around me. I’m ready to go all right. Besides, I got a secret weapon.”
“When you was operating, I was watching. Now I know you ain’t gonna believe that, but I saw how hard you tried, saw those hands of yours moving just so with great care, saw that tear in your eye when you realized it wasn’t gonna work out. Then my husband come to me. Stood right there with me. He told me we’d be together soon and not to worry. Don’t you worry none neither. Carl, he looked happy. First time I seen him without tears in years. There was a shine to him too. No, not like a angel, more like a lover. My Carl was always a lover.”
“I’ve done said my goodbyes, doc. You didn’t have much to work with, just this here practically ninety-year-old broken body. But we are fearfully and wonderfully made doc, so the thing is the more broken we get, the closer to perfection we come. So I’m going home. And I’m anxious to go, anxious to see Carl again too.”
“I’m gonna close my eyes now, doc. Remember, you promised. No heroics.”
Edison McDaniels is a writer and novelist living in the American South. His writing tends to involve ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances and is often informed by medicine. His stories showcase historical fiction and the supernatural, especially ghosts. His latest novel, Not One Among Them Whole, is a steep descent into the insanity of battlefield surgery during the American Civil War. Described by one reviewer as “intense, heartbreaking—and absolutely fantastic.” It is available in trade paperback and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and Kobo. McDaniels is also a practicing neurosurgeon, and has a passion for baseball.
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