Donald R. Fletcher, author
"That's right. Brady. I'm Mrs. John Brady. He's here as a patient."
The hospital receptionist looked flustered and uncertain, so I laid my driver's license and Social Security card on the counter.
"Naturally you need to be careful. Here is proof of my identity."
The young woman—she was really very young—seemed even more flustered.
"Can you wait a moment?" she said. "Excuse me; I'll be right back."
Our hospital is small, set in our town among the wooded slopes and high ridges of the Alleghanies that run through central Pennsylvania. The police spokesperson who called me had simply said that John had been in a bad accident and was here in the hospital. That was around 5:00 and I'd just gotten home from work.
So, into my car again, backing down the drive past that lovely little tree, brilliantly red-gold against today's cloudless, late-October blue.
I was lucky. When the young receptionist came back, Dr. Jim himself was with her.
"Katie," he said, "I'm so sorry about this mix-up."
Then he drew me aside, so that he could speak in a low voice. "The one who's most important is John. He's very badly hurt. We don't think he'll pull through; but if he does, his life—and yours—will be changed. Come; I'll go with you, if you're ready to see him."
"Of course, I'm ready," I said; "lead the way."
I was telling myself this would be a shock, and it was. John's face was so bruised and swollen I wouldn't have recognized him. And the small room seemed to be full of tubes, with a rhythmic whoosh and sigh, as a ventilator did John's breathing.
I asked Dr. Jim, "Do you think it's impossible for him to make it back?"
"We don't say 'impossible';" he answered, "but his brain took some bad damage. The police said they were driving with the top down, probably enjoying the fall colors, and that their seatbelts weren't fastened. He and his passenger were both thrown from the car.'
"That was like him," I said, "and I guess Joanna was with him."
"Joanna? That's good. You can give us a name. The police couldn't find a handbag or any kind of identification."
"I don't have anything more than that," I told him. "We had a quarrel last night and he used her name—just Joanna."
Dr. Jim let that pass. He went on.
"John had a living will on file with us—a very good thing to do. Of course, you are named in it. Now you're in charge."
That took me back to a winter evening, when John came home from an appointment with our attorney. He brought a draft of this living will and we discussed it. He agreed that the thing seemed morbid, but probably a good idea. Each of us should have a document, to state our decision, for a situation in which we could no longer decide. We would not want 'heroic measures', as they were called, to just keep us alive, if our mind, the cognitive part of our brain, was shut down.
Dr. Jim was saying, "I'll leave you with John. Stay as long as you wish."
I stayed, although it was very hard. The machine kept up its whishing, and an I V kept dripping in its glass cylinder—a slow, steady, mesmerizing dribble.
At last I left and went home; then back the next day, and the next. Down the hall, that third day, I saw a chart with a name on it that started with Joanna.
Perhaps that was what decided me. John's outlook was no better, and I knew that it couldn't be. I asked our attorney to come, and with him and Dr. Jim there in John's room, I spoke very calmly and clearly. An imagined picture of Joanna flitted across my mind, as I said,
"I have decided. No further heroic measures. Close off the tubes."
Author Notes: Donald R. Fletcher has published 9 books, available on Amazon.