The automatic doors slid open and I stepped through, hesitating at the threshold. I thought about the hard day that I had ahead of me. I look out to the parking lot, it was barren, only a few cars could be seen. No visitors were here yet, just the staff here to take care of the patients. I stepped through the door breathing in the heavy musk of sweet rose and dust. The bright green carpet laid down forever ago in the lobby was dimmed through years of heavy traffic coming through the doors. I walked past the security guard’s desk and gently nodded at George, he was a hefty man with a big heart and huge smile. He did not smile at me today, his eyes were just dull pools of mud whereas they normally glistened like amber. I walked to the front desk, my hand automatically taking up a pen to sign myself in as a visitor. “Jenna Carlisle Room 444”, I wrote out in slanted shaky handwriting. The nurse at the front desk, smiled at me, not warmly but not coldly either, distant. I continued on my way, giving her no sign I even saw her, she understood. Today I was on autopilot.
I trudged through the halls until I came upon the stairs. One by one I climbed, and each step felt like a mountain that stood between he and I. I felt as if I would never get to his room. Perhaps I hoped that if I never arrived the day would never begin, I would not have to face this. After an eternity I got to the fourth floor. I pushed open the heavy stairwell door, it creaked and moaned. The nurses at the nurse’s station looked up at me as I shut the door. Their faces expressed nothing, but I saw the sadness that they felt in their eyes. It was easier for them to put up a wall, to pretend they were not invested. But I had spent so much time here that we all talked, we laughed together and smiled together when it seemed that progress was being made, we cried together when we discovered our efforts had not worked. They were family. Joshua, my favorite nurse stood up from behind the desk. My voice trembled as I asked what he was doing here.
“It’s Thursday,” I said. “You don’t work on Thursdays.” My lip quivered and I could barely hold back the tears.
“Honey, did you really think I was not going to be here for the three of you? I wanted to be here.” He put his arm around my shoulder, it was comforting. I felt supported. I could not say the words but I looked up at him and nodded my gratitude. I leaned my head into the crook of his neck. I breathed in his spicy scent that I grew to love. He leaned down and gently placed a tender kiss on the top of my head. Tears were starting to flow down my cheeks.
“You ready Jenna?” Joshua’s piercing silver eyes looked into mine. He knew the answer before he asked. But I had to be ready, it was time. I nodded and with his arm still around me we walked to room 444. Each step was deliberately slow. I never wanted to reach that door. I would rather stay suspended at this moment forever. I felt safe with Josh here at my side. Once I got to that door my life would unravel no matter how much time I had to prepare for this day. We stepped up to the door. The number plate seemed to mock me. I placed my hand on the know and pressed down, it seemed to take all of my strength to turn the knob. I pushed the door open and plastered a smile on my face.
“Hi, Daddy!” The man in the bed looked nothing like my father, he was frail and grey. He looked sickly with tubes coming out of him in every vein it seemed like. I stepped away from Joshua and up to the bed. I sat on the edge and too my father’s hand in mine. My father was always so warm and now they felt lifeless.
“Daddy? Can you hear me? It’s Jenna.” My voice was higher than usual, it was strained. My father showed no signs of having heard me. I swept some of his long dark hair away from his face. “Daddy, I’m here.” I wrapped my other hand around the one that was holding his. Joshua sat down in the armchair across from the bed. For the first time, I really looked at him.
“You’re not wearing your scrubs?” It was the first time I noticed he was not donning the powder pink scrubs that was typical for the nurses in the palliative care unit.
“No babe, I am here just for you today. I’m gonna be here all day.” My heart swelled when I heard this. “If you’ll have me that is?” His knee bounced up and down as if he was nervous I would say no.
“Of course.” For the first time today I really smiled. He smiled back at me. I looked down at my father again. I knew it was not likely but I wanted him to show me that he knew I was here, that he knew I had been here every day for the past thirty days. I gazed down at him for a few more minutes before the doctor came in. I heard the door push open but I did not move.
“Hello Jenna, how are you feeling?” I felt his gaze on my back, I could imagine his brown eyes filled with pity looking down at me.
“About as good as I could be I guess.” My voice was steely, almost robotic. I did not mean to direct it towards the doctor, I knew this was not his fault and he did everything he could. Joshua flinched when I responded, I looked at him, my apology written in my eyes. He knew I was trying to be strong. I turned on the bed to face the doctor. He looked at me and I was surprised to see not pity but true sadness. He stepped all the way into the room and shut the door. Grabbing the stool from under the counter to sit by me. He took my other hand in his and looked up at me.
“This is gonna be really hard today sweetie. You have been so strong on this road, and if you need anything please let me know. I am so sorry it has come to this.” His eyes were watering just as much as my own.
“How long?” I did not need to specify what I was asking.
Dr. Roberts looked at me and looked over to my father before answering. He looked down at the floor while he said “I wish I knew Jen. It could be minutes, it could be hours. He could potentially pull through an entire day. It’s up to him.” His eyes met mine. “I am sorry I do not have a better answer. Are Marcy and Michael coming?”
“Yes, they are on their way.” Marcy was my little sister, she lived with my older brother Michael. They would be here any minute. “Do you think she should be here until,?” I paused before finishing the sentence, I did not want to say it out loud. “Should she be here until the end?”
“I don’t know Jen. It’s up to you, I don’t expect it to be anything graphic. All I see happening is him slowing down until his heart stops.” He looked at my dad again. “I wish I could have done more for him.” His head hung down. Dr. Roberts and my dad were colleagues, actually, they were best friends. “Do you need anything Jenna?”
I met his eyes and shook my head. Anything I needed he could not provide. I needed my daddy to tell me everything was going to be ok. He stood up from his stool and bent down to kiss my cheek. I wrapped my arms around his big frame. Dr. Roberts was the closest I would get to hold my dad ever again. We stood like that for a moment until Marcy and Michael walked through the door.
“Daddy!” Marcy called out. She was only 8 years old. She thought daddy was sleeping, I did not know how to explain to her what was really happening. She hopped on the bed next to me and hugged my dad. Tears began to leak out of my eyes. My brother Michael came around the bed and shook Joshua’s hand. We all grew really close through this whole thing. Michael hugged Dr. Roberts and then placed his hands on my shoulders. I leaned back against him. Dr. Roberts called a nurse in to begin removing the machines that were keeping my father alive. I picked Marcy up and sat down in another chair in the room. She laid her head against my chest, and I rested my chin on the top of her head. She was watching Dr. Roberts every move, her eyes darting from him to the machine he was unhooking to my father.
“Wait!” Dr. Roberts and his nurse stopped to look at me. “Can you leave his heart monitor on? I want to know when…it happens.” Michale and Joshua looked at me from their chairs, confusion filled their eyes. “I want to know when we should say goodbye for the last time.”
Dr. Roberts nodded and left it hooked up. Joshua placed his hand on top of mine and looked at me with tears in his eyes. He was crying because I had been crying for the past hour. This was all so real now. We had talked about my father’s wishes for so long. Thirty days in a coma and he wanted to be pulled off the life support. We planned for this day, I thought I was ready for this day. But I never would be. His heart monitor was the only thing that let me know he was still alive. If I stopped hearing that beep, he would be gone for a lot longer than he needed to be.
Dr. Roberts and his nurse left the room, he placed a kiss on Marcy’s forehead and squeezed my hand gently. Michael and Joshua both stood up and shook his hand. He closed the door gently, but not before he looked over at my dad one last time. The minutes felt like years, we all sat on the edge of our chairs waiting for some kind of sign that the end was near. Marcy and Joshua eventually fell asleep. I found it comforting to be holding her while she slept, I felt like it was proof she was ok. She was not acting any differently than she normally would, except normally my dad would have Marcy on his lap.
The minutes turned into hours and I felt like my eyes never closed. I stared at my father’s bed hoping for some sign he might pull through. It was a pipe dream, but any little girl who loved her dad as much as I did would hope the same thing.
At six in the evening, it had been ten hours since we pulled the plug. My father’s heart rate had slowed to about fifty beats per minute. His breathing was shallow but even. Marcy had woken up and was curled up on the bed next to my dad. She was telling him about school and her friends. It felt like a normal night at home. Dr. Roberts had come in several times to check on us. The waiting felt like agony. It seemed the reaper was taking his time in getting here.
“Do you need anything Jenna? Are you hungry? Want some coffee?” Joshua was looking at me from his chair, his eyes said he was concerned about me.
“If you could find me some hot chocolate, that would be great.” My dad always used to make me feel better with his hot chocolate. He used it to cure every ailment. Broken hearts, failed tests, anything that could go wrong could be fixed with hot chocolate.
Joshua nodded and stood up to begin his quest. Marcy jumped up and asked to go with him. Once the door closed behind him I looked over to Michael.
“Do you want a moment alone to say goodbye?” I asked, my voice sounded tired.
His blue eyes were rimmed with red. He gently nodded and I stood up to stand outside the door. I pulled the door closed behind me and sank to the floor. I put my heads in my hair and my brown messy hair fell around my shoulders. I could not think of anything. There was so much I felt I had to say, but I could not remember any of it. I was angry and sad and felt so betrayed. I felt like I was robbed. My father would never meet his grandchildren, he would never walk me or Marcy down the aisle, he would not see me graduate med school or college, and it is all because some stupid drunk could not take a cab home. My heart was in a million pieces and it hurt. For an eternity I would feel that pain. I felt the door pull away from y back and I stood up. Tears flowed down from Michael’s eyes and I wrapped my arms around him. He was so tall I had to stand on my tiptoes to reach his shoulders. I felt his scruffy cheek nuzzle into the nape of my neck, tears traveled down my shoulders.
We stood like that for a while, just holding each other. We had been through this before with my mom. She died in childbirth with Marcy. We knew we did not need to talk, we just needed to be there for each other. After a few more moments he let go and I went in to talk to my dad. I sat down on the bed and was at a loss for words. I took his hand in my and lowered my head to his chest. I listened to his heartbeat It was faint and slow but it was there. Tears fell onto his crisp white hospital gown.
“Daddy, I love you. I’m so sorry this happened. I want you to be proud of me.” I felt sobs beginning to form in the back of my throat. I did not know what else to say. “It’s okay daddy, we’re going to be okay. Marcy, Michael and I, I mean. We’re going to be okay.” I let the sobs come through. I felt a hand rubbing circles on my back. A little hand was tugging at mine. I pulled Marcy up onto the bed with me and I laid down with my dad. Marcy laid between us and I held her tight. Michael came around the other side and held our dad’s hand. His breathing started to become more shallow and his heart rate more sporadic. I sat up with Marcy. Joshua took her and sat with her in the chair and I laid back down, my head resting on my dad’s chest.
This was it. Nurses came in and Dr. Roberts came to stand beside Michael. I closed my eyes and listened to my dad’s dim heartbeat until it faded away completely.