Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Do Not Resuscitate by Jason Fisk
As she walked into the hospital room, she thought it smelled like an old person. Sorrow filled her heart. It was the first time her husband had smelled old to her. The room emitted dull blues and greens, framed by plastic hoses and rubber tubes. Saggy see-through bags hung from sleek metal poles. The numbers on the machines: regulating, dictating, sustaining, intimidating.
It had been years since his emanate death had been announced at the doctor’s office. The fluorescent lit office spins a dizzy, distorting kind of spin as she now remembers it. The doctor came into the room. His enormity sucked the air out and replaced it with clean hands and a name embroidered on a white jacket.
She remembered thinking about what a poor embroidering job it was. She and her husband shrank into the corner as his news towered over them. Their lanky, veiny, knobby limbs crossed in front of them, in front of each other.
“You’re going to die,” the doctor said, avoiding eye contact as he looked at his information.
“Well, no shit,” her husband said slowly, a sort of irreverent slur. “Everyone’s got that diagnosis… eventually.” She remembers feeling proud of her husband’s defiance. She pried her hand between his arm and skinny ribcage and held her hands together in front of him.
“Let’s just say that you’re going to die from this, and it’s going to be soon,” he said as he tapped the information on the file folder. She remembered being so angry. She remembered her ears feeling flushed, and the anger making itself known as it pounded into her ears, and rushed throughout her body. She was angry at the doctor for tapping at the information in the folder: It wasn’t the folder that was going to kill him, and it wasn’t the folder that was responsible for the bad news: She was angry at him. In retrospect, she knows the anger came from not knowing what, or who to blame.
And now, each breath seemed like work as his skinny, almost unrecognizable face pulled life from the breathing apparatus. The hospital bed seemed to engulf him, almost as if it were eating him. She laughed at herself, wishing it were that easy; that the hospital bed would just eat him. Its soft teeth would swallow him into nonexistence, but that wasn’t the case. She put her hands under his covers, searching for his hand, grabbed it, and knew from its warmth that he was still moving forward.
“Hello,” he said.
“Hi,” she said as she brushed his gray hair from his forehead with her free hand.
“They gave me my last rites this morning; the Eucharist and everything,” he said.
“Oh,” she said, occupying herself with the news scroll across the bottom of the muted TV, not wanting to
think about it.
“That’s all you have to say? Oh?” he said, struggling to readjust.
“What do you want me to say? I’ve never done anything like this before.”
“Did you bring the DNR papers?”
“Yes, but I thought we could talk about it again, before we turn them over to the hospital,” she said. “It’s all so permanent.”
“There’s nothing to talk about. I can’t do this anymore. I’m done.” he exhaled.
“I don’t want you to go,” she said, squeezing his hand.
“It’s not about you,” he said.
“Please don’t be like that,” she pleaded. “Not now.”
“You’re worried about how you’re going to get along with out me, while I’m being eaten alive by cancer… I’m throwing up blood.” He suddenly stopped. His eyes rolled upward as he shut his lids. He sucked air in between his teeth as he threw his arm across his stomach and released an agonizing bellow.
She reached over and hit the hand held button that regulated the morphine for his pain. She had grown accustom to these outbursts, almost immune to them. She got up and dipped the small blue sponge on a plastic stick in ice water, and circled his lips with it, hoping to bring him some comfort.
“Thank you,” he said, as the pain passed and he opened his eyes.
“You know, I’d do anything for you, don’t you?”
“I know,” he said, as his eyes began to get heavy, fighting the morphine, trying to stay awake. “Please just let me pass when the time comes. I don’t want to be a vegetable hooked up to life support.”
“Don’t try to fight it,” she said. His eyes opened wide at her words. The whites unnaturally exposed. “The medication, don’t fight the medication,” she said as she ran her bluish, bony fingers through his thinning gray hair.
“You know what?” he slurred, his mind in a morphine fog.
“What dear,” she said as she held his hand between hers.
“I could have done so much better than you,” he said as his eyes closed. “You trapped me,” he slurred.
“What are you saying?” Caroline said, as she sat erect in her chair. His eyes snapped open at her voice.
“My parents agreed… you trapped me.” His voice was distant and airy as he hung in the fog between consciousness and unconsciousness..
“It’s just the medication talking,” she said aloud to herself, and crossed her hands in her lap.
“You knew I was a nice guy, and you took advantage of that,” he said as his eyes shut and his face rolled away from her.
As he began snoring, she wondered how he could’ve thought she trapped him. She thought back to the late summer, forty-five years ago, when she realized that she wanted to spend the rest of her life with him. She remembered how the outside world seemed to be falling apart around them, and how she felt so removed from them in Augusta, a little farm town peacefully tucked in Wisconsin. She remembered how the dust was kicked up by tractors pulling wagons full of hay bails up dirt roads.
She remembered it was that summer that playing kick the can with the other kids lost its appeal for both her and Jim. She remembered how intense Jim was, and how he seemed so knowledgeable about the world beyond their tiny town. He had dreams of going to college in Washington D.C., and eventually getting into politics to change the world. She loved listening to his dreams on their late afternoon walks.
She remembered when he first took her to a childhood fort that he had built years before: The one that slowly became populated by old towels and blankets to make the floor more comfortable. She remembers how she would gather flowers on the way to the fort, and put them in a shiny old soup can that he had picked up along the way.
The minute they passed the threshold, they were in their own world. She remembered kissing him. She remembered the first kiss, not closing her eyes at first, until she found herself lost in him. She remembered the days when he would gently brush his hands over the clothing that covered her breasts, and how she desperately wanted him to touch them. She remembered asking him how he knew to kiss her there, in the crook of her neck. He just laughed.
She remembered the days building up to the day when it actually happened. They both knew it would happen, and they both let it happen, without preparing for it. It was a glorious crescendo to a beautiful summer. And she remembered how those were warm glowing days, the days before it grew colder. The colder it got, the more suspicious her mother became of her walks. “Where do you think you’re going in this cold?” her mother asked. It wasn’t long after, that she began to show, and where she had been going became obvious to her mother. She remembered feeling excited, not worried. She had dreamed of a real glass vase to put fresh cut flowers in on a table in their own kitchen.
“What would make him say that?” she heard herself ask. She scooted her chair around so it was facing the TV, not him. He was now in her peripheral vision, at her side. She wondered if he resented her; if he felt like he had to marry her. She was hurt; the kind of hurt that the betrayal of four decades brings. She questioned the world that she had built with him. Had it been a deception? Had he not wanted to be there?
She felt like all of the air, the warm feelings she had for him, had been squeezed out of her, and with the exit of all the air, went everything she had lived for. She fidgeted with the remote control, trying to turn up the volume to the TV. The older she got, the easier it was to let herself become distracted. It was an asset to her survival. She watched the news and nodded off.
She woke with a start, to her husband’s agonizing moans. “Oh God,” he said, doubled over in the bed.
“Please…take… me now… God,” he said, as he gasped for air. She leaned over, fished around in the sheets for the morphine regulator button, and pressed it over and over again. She knew that the doses were regulated, on a timer, and that none of the medication had been dispersed; it was too soon. The pushes were done in a combination of panic, and an effort to show her husband that if she could give him more, she would. “Thanks,” he said knowingly.
She sat next to him kneading her hands, like dough, in her lap. “What’s wrong with you?” he asked.
“Do you remember our conversation before you fell asleep?” she hesitantly asked him.
“Oh, God Caroline, I don’t know. I’m in the damn hospital; everything in here’s a goddamn blur.”
“Just wondering,” she said, looking up at the TV.
“Why? What’d I say?”
“Nothing.” Her blue eyes locked on the TV.
“Christ Caroline, I’m gonna die here. Does it look like I’ve got time to play these goddamn emotional games with you anymore?” He shut his eyes.
Tears rolled over the wrinkles age had added to her face. She could feel the muscles in her face giving over to emotion as she frowned involuntarily. She sniffled a sniffle that only comes with crying. Jim opened his eyes. “What’s the problem?”
“Jim, you said you could have done better than me… that I trapped you.” She looked to his face for answers. He shut his eyes again. “Well?” she asked.
“Well… I don’t remember saying that,” he said, eyes still shut.
“Well, is that how you feel?”
“I don’t feel well right now, is how I feel,” he said.
“I need to know. I thought…” She grabbed a tissue from the box on the table and turned toward the TV. He opened his eyes to account for the silence. He saw the light from the TV flicker in her blue eyes full of tears.“I just need to know,” she said to the TV. She looked at him. He looked for the morphine, found it, and pressed it repeatedly. Enough time had lapsed that it dispersed a dose, and he shut his eyes. She got up quickly, the backs of her knees sending the chair sliding a few inches across the floor. She walked out of the room. As she walked past the nurses’ station, she reached into her purse and grabbed the Do Not Resuscitate form, crumpling it in her hand. “Trapped?” she asked herself quietly, as she threw the papers in the garbage can. She kept walking, not stopping until she exited the building. She was mindful of her footing as she stepped out into the falling snow.
[Music no longer available]
Jason Fisk lives with wife and children in Chicagoland. The Sagging: Spirits and Skin is the title of his first chapbook published by Propaganda Press. He also recently released a multimedia project titled Trapped Within Myself with Tucson musician Jeremy Cashman.
This Zine Will Change Your Life previously published Terry by Jason Fisk. Check it out.
Photograph by Adam Lawrence.
Street art by The Viking.
Eau Clair, Wisconsin's Peter Miller is the man between the high-pitched fold of We Are The Willows. This track comes from his 2009 ep A Collection of Sounds and Something Like the Plague.