The room was dark but for a desk lamp in the corner. Beneath the small circle of light, an eight-year-old girl slept hunched in a straight-backed chair. Her tear-stained cheek pressed against her crossed arms as she dreamt of better times. It was the first bit of sleep she’d had in days.
Her blonde pigtails were fanned out over her face and across the desk in a tangled mess. Her body was wrapped tight in a beige blanket that bunched up around the waist, showing her pale green sweats and the bottom of a gray T-shirt. The last time her mother spoke, if you can call it that, was just before the orderly had given her the blanket, no more than three hours ago. A kind gesture by an empathetic old man. But to her, it was at best a consolation prize for the lack of her mother’s words, her mother’s touch.
Her mother lay in the bed behind her, covered by sheets and surrounded by medical devices. Only her closed eyes were visible amongst the hospital’s mechanical adornments. There was no motion on the bed but that of her chest as the respirator pumped air in and out of her lungs, inflating and deflating the poor woman like a balloon. The room was silent but for the occasional beep of the heart monitor cutting through the low rasp of the ventilator device—a constant reminder that she was still alive, even if just barely.
A rising commotion outside the door shook the little girl from her sleep.
“What do you mean pull the plug?” she heard her father shout.
Another man—the doctor, she assumed— responded, saying, “I’m sorry sir, but the insurance company won’t cover any further treatments.”
“Please don’t. You know she’ll die,” her dad pleaded with the doctor.
The little girl sat upright, listening to her father’s pleas. She moved her knees to her chest, balancing in the chair as she rocked back and forth, hugging herself. She stared into the hospital bed, looking through her mother’s body, wishing it were her arms holding her, hugging her, loving her.
“We’ve reached the end, sir,” admitted the doctor. “Even if there was coverage there’s nothing more we can do.”
“You know that’s a lie!” her father shouted.
She heard the loud sobs as her father broke down, crying outside the door.
“It’s all about the money,” he said between shallow breaths. “You’re all the same. You’re no hero. You don’t want to save people. There’s no money in that.”
The door swung open. Her father stood in the doorway, his silhouette blurred by the hall light as he wiped the tears from his chin. The little girl leapt to her feet, crying, snot dripping from her nose as she ran to him. He fell to his knees and reached out for her. She wrapped her arms around her father and sobbed into his shoulder.
As father and daughter attempted to comfort each other, the doctor stepped past them with a nurse in tow. Moving to the hospital bed, the doctor directed the nurse to remove the respirator. He did so, sliding it from her gaunt face and placing it on the table beside them. The doctor nodded to the nurse and pointed to one of the panels of buttons. With a click, the bay of dim lights went off. The beeping of the heart monitor raced, accelerating into a rapid succession of blips. As the woman’s body began to seize, the beeps blended into a dreary dial tone—the signal it was over.
The nurse removed the IV from her forearm and the doctor declared, “Time of death, 2:34 am.”
It was over. The little girl’s mother was gone. Her father’s wife, dead. They sank into each other’s arms as the doctor and nurse left the room, walking into the hall.
As they passed, the doctor interrupted their quiet whimpers and languished sobs to say, “I know this is difficult, but you can’t stay here. We need to prep this room for the next patient. There’s a couch in the waiting area if you need some time.”
The little girl glanced up with her blue eyes, tears welling beneath the bottom lids, and found the nurse looking down at her from beside the cold doctor, pitying her. He mouthed the words, I’m sorry, and his eyes echoed the sentiment, but it made her feel no better. If anything, it offended her. She was only eight and she had lost her mother, the only mother she had in the world, and nothing could replace her. Not words. Not pity. She felt the anger fester in her stomach. The resentment burrowed into her soul. She knew she would never forget this moment. She would never forget them. She would never forgive them.
An excerpt from the Frank Black Series by Kurt Douglas