By Glendon Perkins
The nurse walked in, said to me, “It’s time.”
My shoulders slumped. I drew in a deep breath, held it, and let it out slow. If I could have prevented the moment by holding my breath, I would have.
I followed the nurse through the door and down the hall. While I followed her through the constricting corridors, I focused on the carpet. There was consistency in the bluish-gray carpet; no change. Soon everything would change.
“Are you alright?” she asked.
I hesitated, trying to find the right words. Were there words that could convey how I felt? I’m not sure. I decided a simple response was best. “No.”
“We could try some other things.” Her face was drawn, as though she’d had a long night as well. “I know we could approach the doctor and find something or someone. We could contact Mayo or Johns Hopkins.” Her voice cracked a few times
I read clearing your throat helps to keep the tears from coming. I cleared my throat, my tears stayed back. “I…I…I th—think it’s b—best if w—w—we don’t.” Covering my mouth, looked away.
She hugs me. We stood embracing for several minutes. I broke away first. Time to finish this.
We walked the rest of the way in silence. My emotions were wound as tight as a guitar string, and the slightest plucking would send me into a chorus of tears.
She stopped in the doorway. Pointing at a laptop on a stand she said, “Just press the DISCONNECT button. I’ll leave you with him.” She gave my forearm a pat and a squeeze before walking away.
Despite the warmth of the room, I felt like I had walked into an icebox. Shivers raced across my body, my blood cold, my heart solid ice.
I felt cruel. Was I the Reaper, the Angel of Death? Wasn’t I about to do what he did?
I walked further into the room, making a wide berth around the laptop. I looked up at the life support monitors. Several lines showed vital functions with jagged peaks and valleys. Some consistently moved up and down, others were furious with activity, their readings jumbled and mismatched.
A web of wires and tubes crossed each other and meandered around stainless steel poles and computer monitors. A respirator with a white corrugated tube led to the intubation line. White adhesive patches connected his damaged brain to the EEG machine with wires of several colors. The room smells of copper wire and plastic from life-supporting devices.
I approached his bed with trepidation and sat on the edge. He lay in a beige hospital gown, blankets tucked neatly around his waist. Clear tape secured the IV catheters to his wrists. The intubation tube connected to the tracheotomy.
I wrapped my fingers his hand, “Dad, I…” The words lodged in my throat.
Wiping my eyes and running nose with my forearm, I found the strength to continue. “The doctors don’t think anything can be—”
I broke down in rivulets of tears, every pent up emotion over the last three months pouring down my face, my head bobbing with each sob.
I was about to turn off machines that kept my father alive. Would I ever find peace again? Would I wake up every night screaming in the darkness? Would every look I received on the street, at work, or from my family and friends be anything but contempt? Worse, what if my dad lay there getting better and the doctors couldn’t see it? Would my dad forgive me? Would he look at me from the Afterlife and ask me, “How could you?”
As my contemplation threatened to destroy me, a voice from the past spoke up. “Son, I don’t want machines to keep me alive. I am going to trust your decision. Give me peace when I need it.”
I choked back my despair. I whispered in his ear, “Dad, I came here to give you peace. I love you.”
Looking at his face, I wondered if he heard me.
I stood, walked over to the laptop, and stared at the screen for a moment. I raised my had to the keyboard, fingers shaking, palms sweating. I slowly lowered my fingers to the mouse pad…I pushed DISCONNECT.
I walked back to the chair and sat down. I rested my head on his chest, placed his hand on my face, and felt his pulse and respirations slow, “I love you, Dad. May you be at peace.”
Would I ever have peace?