“Mr. Denning? Can you hear me? This won’t hurt a bit, Mr. Denning. It will help the pain, ease your heart.”
The voice came from a great distance away, madly ricocheting through a narrow hallway, and bouncing madly like a ping pong ball in John’s head. Closely following the voice was a most definitive poking, brief firework of pain, as a needle poked into crinkled, paper-thin skin. Heat seared up John’s arms, followed by a sense of cool liquidity, of being wrapped gently in golden clouds backlit by a setting sun.
“That should help quite a bit, Mr. Denning,” the voice seemed both nearer and yet further away John noticed. It figured they’d give him the good stuff when he was done with the whole mess – rather than when the mess first started.
“No, you idiot,” John replied silently. “I’m supposed to be dying – leave me alone. Can’t you read? There’s a ‘do not resuscitate’ order in place.”
The needle was withdrawn and a coolness lightly touched his arm, followed by a sticking, tearing sound as the tape was torn from the dispenser and used to keep the cotton ball in place.
The relief from the heaviness in his chest was remarkable. John felt like it had sat there, steadily growing heavier each year since Nan passed away. Sometimes he could see it taking root in his mind’s eye, and it pleased him to see it so . . . a small seed of a noxious weed, just like the ones he used to pull from the gardens and flowerbeds with Nana, sending out tendrils of roots that wrapped around his heart, tightening and growing each year, squeezing, ruthlessly choking out his . . .
The absence of pain was seductive, and John reached for any shreds of energized anger he could find. This fool of a doctor was going to take away his wish. All he wanted was to be done. To join Nan in whatever was next. She was supposed to wait for him. Why hadn’t she waited?
Nan, he mourned again in his head. We were going to be together forever. You left me. You left me, you left me . . . the words settled like heavy stones, thud, thud . . . longer pauses between thuds, each breath shuddering.
“Doctor?” another voice called across the growing stillness which John called to himself, gathering it around as he had the last quilt Nan had carefully made for their double bed.
“It’s my turn, my time,” he repeated to himself, “my turn, my time . . . . my turn, my time.”
“Yes, I saw the order,” the Doctor’s voice hovered in the air over John’s head. “Still have to give it one try – liability reasons, you know.” The doctor and nurse chuckled as papers crackled and flipped. “Look at the medical history, though . . . it certainly never reflects the fullness of a person’s total existence, you know?”
“Let my spirit fly,” John urged silently. “Can’t you see that I am flawed? I am incomplete without Nan. I want to be done, I need to be done.” John felt a warm rush of shame as a tear slid between crusted eyelids.
“There, there, Mr. Denning,” the nurse’s voice soothed, laying a soft hand on top of John’s gnarled knuckles. He had labored mightily all his years, building foundations, laying bricks, and at the end inspecting the labor of the younger generations.
Tricky work, that – he had had to develop a stock of both pointed critical observations well-seasoned by jokes, and a string of encouraging compliments, as crew foremen trailed him around worksites, puffing on smokes and anxiously pointing out anything they could grasp to get him to miss the inevitable flaw. He was known as a tough but fair inspector, with decades of experience behind him. John liked working, and had not retired until he had his first heart attack — a year before Nan slipped away from him.
“Don’t worry, Janet,” John could hear the scraping of a chair against the linoleum floor, a squeaky, irritating sound. “What I gave him will help him hold on long enough for his daughter to get here to say her goodbyes, and he’ll slip quite peacefully away. She should be here in . . .”
“Well, then,” John thought, “that’s better.”
He drew a labored breath as deeply into his lungs as he could after years of blackening his lungs with Camels, surprised by the fact that he could do so without gasping, coughing or the ache that had grown ever larger over the years. His spirit was slipping away, fleeing his worn and tired body.
“Susan had better hurry,” John thought to himself, if she wants to say goodbye. “I don’t feel like waiting around.”
“Doctor?” The nurse’s voice sounded strained.
“Sometimes, families don’t get here in time, Janet. I won’t extend more than once.”
John smiled. Decided that at the end of his life, he may have found a doctor he could like. He was so tired, though, and just wanted to let go and sleep. Would the man let him?
“He’s almost gone, Doctor,” the nurse said quietly.
“He’s lived a full life, Janet. If he’s ready to go, I’m going to let him go. He’s made it clear what he wants. If Susan can’t get her selfish behind in here to say goodbye to her father, that’s really not my problem.”
“He was so proud of you, Doctor.”
“No one has ever had a better father,” the doctor’s voice broke, and John felt a drip on his hand, realizing with a start that the Doctor was holding his worn hand.
“I love you, dad . . . go in peace. Give mom my love.”